Reflecting on “A Different Kind of Christmas” for the New Year

As we are about to enter into a new year, I’m reflecting on the different kind of Christmas we recently celebrated. The transition into 2021 can be spent just as Megan, the main character in my story, “A Different Kind of Christmas” celebrated Christmas Eve. A beautiful celebration indeed.

Check out the link to my reading of this short story, friends. May God bless you as you celebrate the new year with our King!

When Christmas Hurts

 

I remember standing in the cemetery at Grandpa’s funeral on a cold December day. The wind was bitter and my soul hurt beyond words. How could I possibly be joyful days later? My grandpa, the one who took me fishing, bike riding, and introduced me to church, was gone from my world.

Sometimes Christmas hurts. It seems like the whole world is celebrating while we feel completely removed. Alone.

There are times when relationships in our lives have been strained, even cease to exist, and we are reminded of it at Christmas when we reflect on the year that’s gone by.

Loneliness can strike harder than usual. It seems families and friends are gathering, and you’re alone in the corner while the whole world is celebrating.

It seems this way. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Christmas is personal. It’s between you and Jesus Christ. If you want to bring others into it, to love and share with them, that’s fine.

But my friend, don’t let the struggles of failed or strained relationships, the loss of someone you love, or even the looming darkness of loneliness steal the joy that is yours.

Joy is waiting for you because Jesus Christ is waiting for you to spend time with Him.

Remember when Jesus was visiting Martha and her sister Mary? (Luke 10:38-42.) Martha was distracted, worried, and upset about so many things that she failed to see her sister was fulfilling a greater need and desire of her heart.

Mary was spending time with Jesus. Sitting at His feet. Listening to Him.

It’s no wonder the enemy tries to distract and discourage so many during the Christmas season (sometimes with all the preparations just like Martha) as we reflect on Jesus. Satan will distract you with past hurts, current struggles, pain and loss. He will magnify it like holding a magnifying glass in the sunlight to destroy a bunch of ants.

Let God be magnified in your heart. Let Him swell and fill those hurting places. Give Him the room to stretch through every part of your life. And allow yourself the time to sit at the feet of your Savior. Allow moments of stillness and prayer to draw you closer to Him.

Perhaps you could step outside after your corner of the world has gone to sleep. Gaze upon the stars. Remember the mighty One who knows each one of those stars by name knows you. He knows everything about you. He knows why you’re struggling, who hurt you, who you’re missing. Remember, He sees every tear you cry.

There are painful times in all of our lives—we live in a fallen world. But don’t let them become the focus during this miraculous season.

Don’t give the enemy control of your focus. Don’t give him the magnifying glass so he can destroy this moment in your life.

Turn away from the enemy’s lies. Rebuke Satan out loud in the name of Jesus Christ. Use your voice and take authority over the enemy.

And let Jesus Christ be your focus.

Think about the light piercing the dark night when the angel appeared, when the heavenly multitude showed up praising God (Read Luke 2:8-20). Imagine how the earth must have trembled with joy at the appearance of the One who came to save. Can you feel the shaking in your own spirit? Can you imagine rushing as a shepherd, your heart pounding, your legs feeling numb as if you’re flying, to find the baby just like the angels proclaimed? What joy your heart would feel! To be a part of this. To be included in this moment in history.

You can have a moment like this right now. Reflect and think about it. Focus and pray and put yourself in the Scripture. Let that night encompass your heart in the miracle that is Jesus Christ. Let the light of that night break through the darkness of your suffering.

It is very personal.

Jesus left all of His majestic glory behind for you. He suffered greatly for you. He is coming back for you.

If you’re hurting and the burden is too heavy, sit with Jesus in prayer and give it to Him. Listen for the sweet voice of our Lord. Wait for the Comforter to bring you peace that makes no sense to your human reasoning but is exactly what your fragile heart needs.

He will be there for you. Cry out to Him. Whisper His name.

Jesus Christ. Savior. The One we celebrate at Christmas.

You can celebrate. Deeply. In your heart. With Jesus. Just the two of you.

What a special Christmas this can be for you.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 NIV.)

Hating Christmas?

I was recently in a store when I overheard a woman at the register saying, “I’m beginning to hate Christmas.”

My heart sank because I adore Christmas. But not for reasons most would know.

When I was a little girl, I went to church but never really knew God. And what I knew of Him, I was afraid of. I felt like He was this big monstrous person who was out to get me.

Until Christmas.

Christmas time, the church was decorated with trees in the front of the sanctuary. The harsh, overhead lights were dimmed and the soft glow from those trees gave a gentleness to church.

And there was baby Jesus lying in the manger right in front. I found myself standing on tippy toes (we always sat in the back), believing He was going to move any minute, and I was going to see Him and tell everybody. I spent most of those December services, staring at baby Jesus. I was hopeful. Expectant.

It took years (that’s another story), but I realized God wasn’t a cruel god who was out to get me and zap me with a lightning bolt whenever I messed up. Like the baby Jesus with His arms reaching out from the manger, God was reaching out to me. And He’s done it every Christmas since.

It has nothing to do with decorations, although I enjoy them immensely. It has nothing to do with baking and presents and watching my favorite Christmas movies (there are many).

Christmas has everything to do with Jesus Christ reaching out to save us from eternal darkness and from our own personal dark places (mine – the falsehoods I thought were true about Him). It’s about Him drawing us into a relationship with Him by showing us how much He loves us. He came for us. He’s coming back for us.

It’s all about standing on tippy toes with expectation and excitement and joy sending you into fits of laughter because His love is swelling within and you can’t  contain it. You just can’t.

So, my dear friend, if you’re saying you hate Christmas, ask yourself why.  Commercialism, despair, stress, and anxiety are all thieves. They will steal your joy if you let them.

Don’t let the darkness distract you from the Light of the world that’s reaching out to you. Instead, dance in the light of life this Christmas with the One who came to draw you into His arms for all eternity.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12 NIV.)

A Christmas Moment in October

pexels-nubia-navarro-(nubikini)-714898

As the leaves are changing and the air is getting chilly here in small town USA, I’m thinking about Christmas.

Yes, that’s right. Christmas. Already. (Cue eye-rolling for those of you who still think I’m nuts.)

Maybe I’m a little biased. I did spend a good bit of this year writing and rewriting a Christmas novella (I JUST sent out the manuscript!!), so my brain has been on Christmas mode a lot. (And LOVING every second of it!) And thanks to my sweet hubby who relinquished part of his man cave, I now write in my own little Christmas corner of the world.

But I’m thinking we could all use a Christmas moment right about now. A moment where we step back from the darkness invading our world to immerse ourselves and bask in the presence of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

You see with Jesus, He gives you rest. He gives you peace. He’s given you His Holy Spirit, so you are always connected to Him.

With Jesus, you never struggle alone. Darkness will not overtake you.

Of course you can play your favorite Christmas songs and movies. (I’m there with you!) You can start baking those cookies or making the dough and freezing it, so you’re ready when people start hollering at you from across the room that they need your chocolate covered marshmallow cookies. (Or maybe that’s just me!)

But there is more JOY in spending time with the One who came to save, the One who is coming again. There is joy and a calming stillness in His light that the world can’t touch.

Take a moment, my friend. Take a Christmas moment. Spend time with Jesus Christ. Call out to Him. Read His Word. And don’t let the world tarnish or steal that time from you.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” (John 8:12 NIV.)

A Christmas Moment in July

 

 

table-setting-with-christmas-theme-3329110

As the blistering sun toasts our grass into a crispy brown, I’m thinking about Christmas.

Yes, that’s right. Christmas. In July. (Cue eye-rolling for those of you who think I’m nuts.)

Let me explain. I’m not thinking about the Christmas in July sale ads or even the Hallmark Christmas movies that are playing right now.

What I’m thinking is we could all use a Christmas moment.

A moment where we pull back from what’s going on in the world around us and focus in on a little miracle that wasn’t so little after all, changing our lives in a big way.

Jesus Christ. Our Savior. The Messiah. The One Who came to save us. The One Who’s coming back for us.

Of course, we can think about the smell of almond extract coming from the candy cane cookies baking in the oven (my daughter’s favorite). We can think about snuggling under a cozy blanket with a cup of hot cocoa while reading a Christmas book or watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. (Where’s the remote?!)

We can even think about snow, remembering how those delicate flakes reflect Christmas lights like wintry fireflies. Or the way the snow frosts the ground like a sugar cookie, those tiny flakes dazzling like sugar sprinkles in the moonlight.

We can remember Christmases where little feet in footy pajamas raced to the tree, sleepy eyes opening wide with anticipation and excitement. Or the first Christmas we wore wedding rings or just settled into a new house with hardly any furniture.

We can even remember final Christmases with someone we loved before we had to let go. Those painful moments replaced with joy when we remembered where they were going, Who they were going to be with, and the celebration they would experience like nothing we could even imagine.

And we can remember the moment when the true meaning of Christmas became real to us—when we began to understand the miracle that took place so long ago that still changes lives today.

The calendar may tell us Christmas is still months away. The temperature may be a scorching ninety-something and summer chores may be tugging on our shirt sleeves like impatient children. And it may be the season to toast marshmallows over a fire instead of plopping them into a mug of hot cocoa.

But Christmas is just a moment away. All we need to do is take the time to remember Jesus and be thankful.

And the joy that fills our hearts will undoubtedly spill out and into the world around us, reminding us all that when God brings great joy, He brings great hope.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV.)

 

(Photo from pexels.com.)

 

 

 

 

Be Ready

steel-door-handle-on-door-147634

I’ve been getting ready for Christmas deliveries:  shoveling the sidewalk, pulling back the curtains so the UPS, FedEx, or USPS driver knows I’m home, getting dressed a little bit earlier so I can answer the door, checking email updates, tracking packages, etc. etc. etc.

And I’ve been watching for porch pirates. Those pesky thieves that want to steal what doesn’t belong to them.

But there is something else, something much more important you and I need to be ready for, watching and waiting with eager anticipation and really, a soul-stirring urgency:

Jesus Christ is coming soon. (Revelation 22:20.)

As we edge closer to the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth as that babe in a manger some two thousand years ago, we need to look forward to His return.

ANY. DAY. NOW.

It’s going to happen and no one can predict the day or the hour. (Matthew 24:36, Luke 12:40.)

If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, Satan would love to steal the gift of your salvation through Jesus Christ by lying to you, telling you it’s not for you or you’ve sinned too much or you’re not perfect enough.

Or maybe Satan is telling you there’s time to do that later, that you’ve got time to make things right with God.

But what if you don’t have more time?

Jesus came for you. He died for you. All you have to do is accept Him and believe.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18 NIV.)

Satan wants to destroy all hope. He wants to steal the knowledge that Jesus Christ is returning to take us home, that God has not forgotten or abandoned His children. Satan tries to take all of this from us by distracting us, especially during the Christmas season.

The enemy wants to dilute our faith and focus. He wants to keep us so busy buying and shopping and planning and running around to the point of exhaustion and depression and the sense that something is just “off.” Like the nostalgia of the “good old Christmas days” is gone or has grown stale.

Perhaps what has grown stale is the reality that there is only one God and we are either choosing Him or evil chooses us by default.

You and I…we can’t stand in the middle, trying to please people and hoping to please God somehow. When we do that, we’re putting people and their opinions above God. That, my friend, is idolatry.

We either stand with God or fall with the enemy.

Are you ready, my friends?

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10: 9-10 NIV.)

(Photo from Pexels.com.)

A Star Shining in the Night

macro-shot-photography-of-star-with-lights-1671431

A Star Shining in the Night

I never liked the shed next to our house. Mom kept it locked with a silver padlock like there was something valuable inside, something worth protecting. But it reminded me of a slouching old man with a silver tooth, the peeling blue paint revealing gray slats underneath like gray stubble on his face.

“Run out to the shed and see if you can find some wrapping paper,” Mom said as she knelt on the carpet in the living room. “And don’t go rolling your eyes at me. You may be sixteen but…”

I walked out before she could finish telling me that I still needed to respect her even though I was a teenager. I’d heard the same sentence at least a thousand times since my thirteenth birthday; the birthday I celebrated at home without any of my friends because Mom said we didn’t have enough hamburgers to feed anyone other than my two brothers and me. I felt bad that she ate peanut butter again, and I offered to eat it too if I could at least invite Shay over. She still said no. I quit asking after that.

I stepped outside, the cold air taking my breath away like it did when I went swimming with Dad at the lake before the water warmed up. I wrapped my arms around myself, hoping to shield my body from the wind and the fat snowflakes, not wanting to go back inside for my coat; I was sure Mom’s lecture about respect was still dangling in the air like a cobweb I wouldn’t be able to escape.

Surprisingly the shed wasn’t locked; an open invitation to any thief walking by who might want to go through Mom’s secret stash. I pulled the door open and tripped my way through large coffee cans and cardboard boxes. Sitting on the table Dad used to keep in the garage at our old house were stacks of shoeboxes, each with their own assortment of costume jewelry, socks, or toy trucks and dinosaurs. Resting on the rusty metal chair Mom snagged from the dumpster at work was a brown paper bag holding a couple of curtain rods and a single roll of wrapping paper with red and pink hearts. I wished she could wrap Christmas presents in normal paper like everyone else. Last year she’d used wedding paper covered in doves with the word “love” written in silver. Aunt Rebecca had smiled at me when I handed it to her like it was completely normal to get a snowman mug wrapped in holy matrimony paper.

Everyone knew we were broke and that Mom visited every garage and rummage sale within a twenty-mile radius all year long to stretch her single paycheck. I liked it better when we could buy new things at the store before Dad died, before we had to move into our house with the slouchy old man shed and his fancy tooth.

“Hurry up!” Mom yelled.

I grabbed the wrapping paper, closed the door, and left it unlocked like I’d found it; maybe someone would steal the whole thing. As I hurried through the cold, I noticed the neighbor lady, Mrs. Switch or Fitch or something like that, staring at me from her window. She waved at me like she wanted me to come over, but I ignored her when Mom yelled again.

I rushed inside and stepped over my brothers who’d stretched out in front of the door to make paper airplanes from the coloring pages they ripped out of a snowman coloring book. I handed Mom the roll of wrapping paper.

“I thought you fell asleep out there.” She unrolled it and cut a section of the paper and started to wrap a gardening book she’d bought at the library book sale for a quarter and a pair of fuzzy socks for Aunt Rebecca. “I’ve got to get this done, so I can get ready for work.”

“I thought you were off today.”

“I know. But they offered us overtime.”

I sighed. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

She pulled a piece of tape from the dispenser. “I should be home in plenty of time to tuck you guys in.”

I crossed my arms. “I don’t need tucking in.”

“Somebody’s here!” Brady yelled, lifting off of his belly to sit on his feet while Brandon focused on perfecting his airplane.

I stepped over the coloring book pages and opened the door. It was the neighbor lady Mrs. Snitch or Twitch holding a plate of cookies covered in plastic wrap.

“Hello, dear. I tried to get your attention earlier. I’ll be leaving in the morning to go to my son’s, but I wanted to give you these cookies I made for you all.”

My brothers jumped up like someone lit a bottle rocket underneath them.

“How thoughtful! Thank you so much, Mrs. Fitch,” Mom said, abandoning her wrapping.

At least now I know her name.

“Just a little something I like to do,” she said, her cheeks pushing up her glasses when she smiled.

“I’ll take a few with me to work.”

Mrs. Fitch’s smile faded. “You’re not working today, are you dear?”

“Yes,” she said, shooing both boys away from the plate of cookies.

“But that snow is really coming down, and the man on the weather program said it’s going to get a lot worse. And these backroads of ours can be dangerous. They already canceled the Christmas Eve service at church.”

“I’ll be careful,” Mom said, taking the plate. “Thanks again for the cookies.”

“You’re welcome, dear. I’ll be praying for you.”

Mom stopped and for a second I thought she was going to say something, but instead she smiled one of her fake smiles, giving Mrs. Fitch a nod. I tried asking Mom about God one time after Dad died, but she locked herself in her bedroom and cried for half the night. I stopped asking her about God after that.

Mrs. Fitch left and before long Mom was wearing her work clothes and buttoning her heavy coat. “Now don’t forget there’s leftover spaghetti for dinner in the fridge, and put the load of whites in the dryer for me. And I want you to go to the shed and find something nice for Mrs. Fitch.” She pulled on her boots. “And I want you to wrap it and take it to her before the weather gets worse.”

I sighed, knowing not to argue. After she kissed the boys goodbye and made her way to the car, I threw on my coat and crunched through the snow that was quickly piling up. I knew I was losing daylight and needed to hurry or I might blindly grab a book about windsurfing or a pair of socks with chickens on them. I made sure the shed door was wide open to let in as much light as possible before digging into a shoebox. The first one I opened was full of ornaments. Jackpot. I fished through a few bulbs without any hangers, tiny book ornaments, a cloth candy cane that was torn, and a star. I lifted the star to inspect it. It looked like a cookie cutter filled with pinecones and tiny red berries, and on the top, a piece of twine to hang it. If she didn’t like it, she could always tear it apart and use it to make her cookies.

While the boys were busy building forts out of a deck of cards, I wrapped the star and started outside again. The snow would have been pretty if it wasn’t so scary. I could barely see Mrs. Fitch’s house, and I wondered how Mom was able to drive. I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I realized I didn’t hug her before she left. I didn’t even tell her goodbye. I knew she was working overtime for us. I wished I would have hugged her and thanked her.

As I kept my head low to keep the snow out of my eyes, I did something I hadn’t done since I was little. I prayed.

“Please, God, help Mom to be okay.”

I stepped onto Mrs. Fitch’s porch, knocked, and waited.

“Oh you sweet child,” she said, barely opening the door while pulling a shawl tighter around herself. “What are you doing out in this weather?”

“Mom wanted me to bring you this.” I handed her the package covered in hearts.

“What lovely paper.” With her frail hand, she took it and started to unwrap it. She gasped, and I worried one of the pinecones had fallen out.

“It’s a star,” she said. “Oh, it’s just perfect.”

I wondered if she needed new glasses.

“It makes me think of the star that led the way to Jesus. You know about Jesus, don’t you?”

I nodded but something lodged in my throat. It had been a long time since I’d heard someone say His name like that. In such a kind way.

“I’ll hang this on my tree right now. Thank you so much.”

I cleared my throat. “You’re welcome. I better get back to my brothers now.”

“Of course. Of course,” she repeated. “Be careful, dear.”

I trekked home through the blinding snow just in time to see my brothers demolish their forts with the paper airplanes they’d rigged to drop pennies.

While heating up a large bowl of spaghetti in the microwave, I stared out the kitchen window but couldn’t see anything in our backyard. With heavy snow falling and no moonlight, there was only a thick darkness. I wondered how Mom would find her way home.

As I set our plates on the table, I heard something. At first, I thought it was a snowplow clearing the road, but when the lights pulled into our driveway and lit up the living room wall, my stomach twisted and my legs felt weak. I’d seen plenty of movies to know when someone unexpected shows up in your driveway in the dark that something was probably wrong. Did something happen to Mom?

“Somebody’s here!” Brady yelled.

Before I could tell them not to open the door, it was already opening. It was Mom.

“It’s Mom!” Brady yelled as if we needed him to tell us.

She closed the door and stomped her feet, snow landing on the floor. “It’s terrible out there. I couldn’t even make it to work. And then I didn’t know if I could make it back home. I couldn’t see a thing. I went off the road twice.”

The boys busied themselves at her feet, picking up the snow and forming miniature snowballs to throw at each other. But I stepped around them and hugged her.

“What’s that for?” she asked.

I felt something in my throat again, making it hard to talk. But I managed to say, “I’m glad you’re home.”

She smiled. “So am I. And I’m glad Mrs. Fitch has the star on the top of her house lit up tonight or I might not have made it. I couldn’t even see the road. That star led me home.”

I followed Mom into the kitchen. “I was really scared. I thought something might happen to you.” I paused. “I prayed for you. That you would be okay.”

Mom’s hand went to her mouth and the tears started to form. I didn’t know what to do. I prayed again, silently, that God would keep her from locking herself in her bedroom.

“You prayed for me?”

I nodded.

She sank down on the kitchen chair. “I’ve been so mad at God since your Dad…” she stopped. “But when I went off the road I realized I was in trouble. I needed Him. I wanted to get home to you and your brothers. I didn’t want something to happen to me too. So…I prayed. I told God how sorry I was. I told Him how much I miss Him.” She started to sob, and her voice cracked.  “I begged Him to please get me home to my children. And He heard me. I know He did. I felt such a peace in that awful snowstorm.”

The sound of the phone made me jump. Mom reached for a tissue to blow her nose, so I answered it.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Fitch said. “I just wanted to make sure you all are okay. I saw a car pull into your driveway.”

“Yeah, we’re okay. Mom came back home because the roads were really bad. She said the star on the top of your house led the way home.”

“My star? Goodness. I told my son to just leave it up there. But it hasn’t worked in years.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Oh my,” Mrs. Fitch whispered. “It sounds like God led your Mom home through the storm tonight.”

But when I realized Mom was smiling a real smile, even with her eyelids swollen and pink, I wanted to tell Mrs. Fitch it was more than that. God led Mom out of a much darker storm than any of us understood. And He brought her back home to Him.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this year’s story. If you’d like to check out last year’s Christmas story, you can find it here.

Merry Christmas and God bless you!

(A big shout-out to pexels.com for another wonderful photo! Thank you!!)

Overwhelmed at Christmas

overwhelmed at Christmas2

With so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at Christmas. There are parties to attend and host, baking and more baking, gifts to buy, wrap, and exchange, cards to deliver, and perhaps a little something God whispered to your heart like volunteering or helping someone who’s really struggling this time of year.

It can be a bit overwhelming.

Since visiting Walmart and our local mall yesterday, I know I’m not the only one. The overall feeling was “hurry” and the basic maneuvering of pushing a grocery cart was at breakneck speed, dodging others who were doing the same.

But let me tell you what God has done to help me slow down:

I sprayed myself in the face (with God’s help, I believe 🙂 ) with the sink sprayer while hurrying to clean up, the water also hitting my arm and landing in a puddle on the floor. I found the puddle after laughing, thanking God for the wake-up call, and turning to leave the moment behind; I left with an even bigger smile and a wet sock.

I watched deer playing in the backyard, chasing each other and circling around; their white tails wagging and waving at me as if to remind me to find joy in the moments all around me.

I “found” a bright and beautiful dandelion (my favorite!) on my walk…in December?! Of course I picked it and put in a glass on the windowsill.

Laughter, so much laughter and joy. Laughing at a silly reindeer hat and broken glasses with close friends, cracking up over eating bread (long story!) with some wonderful friends from church, and laughing with God as I remembered Him spraying me in the face (see above).

Our dear Pastor stopped what she was doing to hug me and breathe with me. It was as if God used her to wrap His arms around me to tell me to calm down and breathe.

I can’t tell you the number of times I looked into the eyes of children (those riding in grocery carts, walking through stores, and talking with me at McDonald’s) and saw the peace and love of God Himself.

And something God did to not only slow me down, but to remind me Who Christmas is about and to fix my eyes on Him:

He reminded me why Jesus came, and He led me back to the cross. (To go there with me, click here.)

God taught me being overwhelmed at Christmas is a very good thing, not when we’re overwhelmed by the world and its demands, but when we’re overwhelmed by Jesus Christ Himself.

I pray you and I are overwhelmed by Jesus Christ this Christmas.

Merry Christmas and blessings to you all!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

pexels-josh-willink-701020

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I hid in my pickup truck in the garage. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of Maddie. It was bad enough my daughter lost her mom so close to Christmas. I didn’t want her to think she was losing her dad to loud sobbing fits. I was supposed to be the strong one, the tough guy. But somehow I felt smaller than my five-year-old who played with baby dolls.

Leslie, my wife, always knew how to talk to Maddie. But since three o’clock in the afternoon two Wednesdays ago, after a horrible accident involving my wife’s minivan and a big rig, I was on my own to raise our daughter.

The truth: I was lost without Leslie. I was lucky I could get myself out of bed every morning and make coffee. And somehow I managed to wash our clothes and boil water for hot dogs. Other than that, I dragged myself through the dark nightmare my life had become. The only thing that brought me any light was when Maddie held my hand when we walked to her ballet class.

I wasn’t much of a praying man, but I found myself bent over the steering wheel and crying as my heart split open and the words spilled out.

Please help me, God. I don’t know how to go on from here.

More tears fell until I finally pulled myself together, blowing my nose on some napkins I found tucked in the glove box under a church bulletin. I hadn’t been much of a church goer since I was a kid, since accepting Jesus. I’d gone a few times to make my wife happy, but my dad always said, “Men that go to church are weak” and I had my “tough” reputation to uphold.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. Both of my eyes were swollen like someone had sucker-punched me. Oh sure. I’m a tough guy all right. I felt like a big fake.

I got out of my truck, slammed the door, and grabbed a screwdriver from my toolbox – my excuse for coming to the garage. I went into the house and found Maddie sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor with Sylvia, her favorite baby doll, resting in her arms. Maddie’s strawberry-blonde hair was the same as her mom’s, and I wondered if I would ever be able to braid it like my wife had done.

She stopped rocking Sylvia when she saw me. “Want to hold her, Daddy?”

I smiled. “Maybe later. Are you getting hungry?”

“I don’t want a hot dog.”

I chuckled, the sound startling me. “Me neither. Why don’t we go to town and get a pizza?”

Maddie smiled, revealing the tiny window where a front tooth had fallen out last week.

When we got back with a large cheese pizza, the house was completely dark. Quickly I turned on some lights and those on the Christmas tree. I couldn’t stand the darkness – there was enough of that inside of me already.

“Can we watch a Christmas movie, Daddy?”

She was the spitting image of my wife; those hazel eyes pleading to watch Christmas movies. I could hear my wife’s soft response in my ear, and I repeated it to Maddie:

“Only if you put on your PJs.”

She squealed, ran to her bedroom, and moments later, emerged wearing snowman footy PJs with Sylvia wearing the same.

“You have to wear yours, too, Daddy.”

“Maybe later. Why don’t you pick out the movie, and I’ll get us some milk to drink.”

After we finished eating a few slices of pizza and somewhere in the middle of Frosty the Snowman, Maddie fell asleep beside me on the couch – her head rested against my arm. Carefully, I scooped her up and carried her to her bed – it was one of a thousand moments that made my heart ache for my wife who loved tucking Maddie in at bedtime.

I pulled her covers up, turned on the nightlight, and quietly closed the door. I didn’t want to go back to the living room yet, so I went to our bedroom closet where Leslie had stashed some Christmas presents in a large garbage bag, those she’d already wrapped. I liked holding them, knowing her hands had been the last ones to touch whatever was underneath the red and green paper. I was sure there was a flannel shirt for me and an ornament for Maddie.

Every year, Leslie and I would pick out an ornament for Maddie, something she’d done or enjoyed that year. Last Christmas was the year she fell in love with eating ice cream from the cone, so of course we got her an ice cream cone ornament. This year, Leslie and I decided it should have something to do with dancing, although I hadn’t seen the ornament yet.

I returned the garbage bag to the back of the closet and opened my bottom dresser drawer where I hid Leslie’s gift.  I bought her a soft, red blanket because she was always cold and wanted nothing more than to cuddle on the couch and watch Christmas movies. It was folded and had a cardboard sleeve around it and snowflakes in all different sizes. Leslie would have loved it. I held it to my chest and lost it again, the blanket holding my tears and muffling my cries.

Christmas Eve, I sat beside Maddie in her velvety green dress and shiny black shoes, her feet dangling above the church floor. She’d begged me to take her, and I was glad I did. I found myself feeling closer to Leslie and when the choir sang “O Holy Night,” I found myself feeling closer to God, too. It had been years since I’d felt that way.

When we got home, Maddie kicked off her shoes and ran to her bedroom.

“I need to get Mommy’s present,” she yelled.

My heart hurt so much I thought I was having a heart attack. I took a few deep breaths and the pain went away. I braced myself for our little family tradition of opening one present each on Christmas Eve – the first tradition of many without my wife.

Maddie returned with two packages she’d wrapped with a little help from the Christmas Store helper at school. She handed me something skinny with a silver ribbon.

“I got this for you, Daddy.”

I knew better than to hesitate. When Maddie handed you a present and stared at you like she was holding her breath, it meant you needed to open it before she busted a lung.

I ripped off the ribbon and the paper. “It’s a tire pressure gauge,” I said. “Thank you.”

She jumped into my arms and kissed my cheek.

“Can I open Mommy’s for her?”

I didn’t know how she was handling it all so well. A lump had lodged in my throat so I nodded. She slid to the floor and shredded the Christmas tree paper.

I cleared my throat. “That’s a really nice candle you got for her.”

“It smells like coffee,” she said, sniffing it and smiling like this was the most natural thing in the world.

“Your mom would have loved…”

She jumped up. “Can I open mine?”

I was glad she interrupted me. The words seemed to stick in my throat like someone squeezed and held them there.

I nodded, went to the bag in the closet, and returned with a small package I was pretty sure was her ornament. Maddie stopped fiddling with my tire pressure gauge and clasped her hands together in front of her mouth like she could hardly contain her excitement – something her mom always did.

The gift barely left my hands before Maddie ripped off the paper.

“Wow,” she whispered.

Maddie held a snow globe ornament in her hands, staring into the tiny world like she could will herself to step into it. A girl wearing a long, silver dress and rosy cheeks stood in a field of snow with her head titled back and arms outstretched as if she were dancing.

Carefully, Maddie tipped it upside down, then right side up, and watched as the little flecks of white floated down, landing on the girl’s face.

Kisses from Heaven.

The thought startled me. I remembered the night I took Leslie to dinner while we were dating, and she stopped right in the middle of a crowd of people on the sidewalk when it started to snow. She stood there, looked up, and smiled. And when I asked her what she was doing, she’d said, “Someone is sending me kisses from Heaven, and I want to take them all in.” Funny, I’d forgotten about that until now.

“Daddy, don’t be sad,” Maddie said, noticing the tears I couldn’t stop. “People in snow globes aren’t stuck forever.”

I wiped my eyes. “What?”

“I used to be sad for the people stuck in snow globes, too. But Mommy said it’s like all of us on the earth. We’re sort of stuck here until Jesus says it’s our turn to go home. And Heaven is our real home. This is just where we have to stay for now.”

I nodded.

“Mommy said the earth can be pretty like a snow globe. But Heaven is going to be really, really pretty.”

It sounded like something my wife would have said.

“Daddy,” Maddie said, picking up Sylvia from the couch, “can Sylvia have some hot chocolate?”

“And watch a Christmas movie?” I asked.

She grinned and squeezed Sylvia.

While Maddie changed into her PJs, I retrieved the red blanket I’d gotten for Leslie. My heart began to ache again, knowing I would have given it to her tonight to cuddle with while we watched a Christmas movie. I decided to give it to Maddie to use, knowing Leslie would have loved the idea.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and two mugs of steaming hot chocolate were ready when Maddie flopped beside me in her PJs. I pulled the cardboard sleeve off the blanket and unfolded it, gasping when I realized there were words I hadn’t seen hidden in the folds.

“What does that say, Daddy?”

“I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Maddie smiled. “Mommy is home for Christmas. It was her turn to go home.”

I stared at my five-year-old. “How did you get to be so smart?”

“God. I talk to Him all the time.”

I smiled because I knew it had to be true.

“And He said you can talk to Him too, Daddy. He said He misses you more than you miss Mommy. He said He will help you not to be sad anymore. And He said you don’t have to be afraid of the dark. He’s going to bring you lots of light.”

I fought the tears, but they came anyway. “Did He say anything else?”

She nodded. “He said you should learn to cook something other than hot dogs.”

I laughed a real, honest-to-goodness laugh and it felt so freeing. And somehow, someway, I felt like my wife was with us, kissing my cheek and laughing too.

The Story Behind the Christmas Stories

pexels-ylanite-koppens-1883378

I started writing fictional Christmas stories in 1996 just because I LOVED to write them.  And over time as I grew closer to God, the stories grew too, evolving from a fun tradition into something that deeply touches my heart and draws me closer to Him every year.

The stories began as printed and stapled copies I’d share with family and friends. (Hello to all of my P.C.C. friends! Thank you for the YEARS of support!) A few years later, I was hauling a bag of them around and recruiting my hubby and a few friends to help me pass them out in order to raise money for charity or families in need.

And by the grace of God, I’m humbled and so deeply honored to have seen them printed in The Outreacher for the past five years. Thank you to one amazing and lovely Editor/Publisher, Julie Schultz! And thank you to the talented Christy Bloom for layout and graphic design – you bring such visual beauty to my stories.

I’m truly in awe of God and how He takes these short stories to places beyond my own reach here at home and to various countries through this blog. Thank YOU, dear reader, for reading!!

I’d like to continue blessing others through these stories, but I’m doing something a little different this year. I’m giving a shout-out to a local bakery owner, Amanda, at Ginger’s Bakery in Uhrichsville, Ohio. If you are blessed by this year’s story, “One Cookie at a Time,” maybe you can give this wonderful bakery a shout-out of your own by ordering some of their delicious Christmas cookies – everything is made from scratch! To order, call (330) 691-7201.

And if you’d like to support The Outreacher as it takes the Good News of Jesus Christ into Tuscarawas County and beyond, you can email Julie Schultz at:  theoutreacher@hotmail.com.

Thank you!

I pray you enjoy this year’s story, “One Cookie at a Time.”

And I pray you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas as you remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.