The Best Christmas Ever

It’s Christmas Eve and I want to share one of my most cherished Christmas photos with you. It’s a portrait I took of my son, Dallas, when he was two. I am infamous for dressing little ones up to create a meaningful memory. For a long time this was just my precious “Little Drummer Boy.”

Not anymore. Dallas is all grown up. I think of him as my son, a wondrous young man, and a superhero all in one. He loves Jesus and teaches me what that means.

Because of Dallas, now when I look at this portrait I ask myself, “What can I lay before the King?” My finest gifts aren’t all that fine. Especially this year. 2016 been brutal and seems to be ending as wickedly as it began. I’ve never worked so hard to have so little to show for it, so little to lay on the altar…or to put beneath the tree.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to do what I’ve seen Dallas do…and his brothers and sisters do. I’m going to share what I’ve been given. I’m going to be grateful that I’m still alive to celebrate the birth of Christ. I’m going to stop thinking how hard life is, and focus on how glorious it is.

Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

That does not mean a heap of presents beneath the tree.

It means a heart full of love. It means gratitude for the wonderful people who step in to fill in where I fall short. It means marveling in the light of the season. It means helping those less fortunate than I am. And believe me, I know how very blessed I am.

So today and tomorrow, I pray that it’s all about Christ and nothing else.

“I played by best for Him,” says the song.

That’s what I’m going to do—my best. If all I can do is beat a drum, then I’m going to beat it the best I can. That’s all that’s required of us. God knows our hearts. He knows our circumstances. When we have “no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King,” He knows better. He knows it’s not the price tag on the outside of the package that matters—it’s the cost our hearts pay.

That means we not only show Him how much we love Him, but we allow His love to fill our hearts and our lives.

So today and tomorrow, friends, may you accept and feel the love of the God of Love. May all the beautiful things about Christmas bring you closer to Christ.

The other night the manager of a bookstore told me that she was only allowed to wish me “Merry Christmas” if I wished her a “Merry Christmas” first. Otherwise, all she could say was, “Happy holidays.” Or risk losing her job.

I get it. Let the tinsel, the trimming and trappings belong to the holidays. Let the “Ho, ho, ho,” and “ca-Ching” echo through the holidays.

But let Christmas belong to Christ, and only to Him. After all, it’s His birth that we celebrate.

So I wished the bookstore manager, “Merry Christmas!”

And with all my heart, I wish you “Merry Christmas!”

May it be your best ever.

Pa rum pum pum pum

3 Christmas Memories Everyone Should Make

You know that I’m convinced relationships are simply memories strung together. The strongest bonds are the ones with the strongest memories. And if you know me, you also know Christmas season is the hardest part of my year. Maybe because on Christmas night when I was ten, I ran away from home…and never went back. Anyway, I’m so exhausted by the painful memories that for decades now, I’ve tried my best to overlay new memories on top of old ones. It’s how the brain works…you recreate and recall new memories over old ones. The more you think about and talk about the good times, the deeper rutted your good times become neurologically.

So here are three memories I believe everyone can and should have stored in their brains and in their hearts:

1) Make some magic. The dictionary says magic is “wonderful” and “exciting.” Sure, it can require elements of supernatural, but what’s faith if it’s not supernatural?

I think it’s magic when a chef can take sugar, butter, eggs, flour and food coloring and turns those things  into cookies and candies and holiday delights.

I think it’s magic when you can toss a blanket over a card table and turn it into a fort.

I think it’s magic when you contort your fingers in front of a light and make puppets on the wall.

The photo is of my g-baby Adelaide. She wanted snow for Christmas. Problem is Adelaide lives in Florida, so I did a little magic in Photoshop and gave her snow. No. It’s not a convincing job because I’m not so gifted in Photoshop, but it’s a labor of love, and it might just confuse her as well as delight her. That’s magic.

2) Give until it hurts. By that I’m asking that you give of yourself. Your time is your most valuable asset. When you stop to listen to someone, you give of yourself. When you put your phone down and don’t divide your attention, that’s rare and precious. Go somewhere together. Sit besides a fire. Walk. Hike. Shop. Sing. Dance. Do whatever you like to do, but do it together. Don’t think of it as spending your time, think of it as investing your time.

And if you’re in the mood to give something material away, give something away that you cherish. A clothing item. A piece of jewelry. Art. A dish. In order to be a true sacrifice, it has to hurt at least a little to part with it. Give something you love to someone you love.

3) Get to know Christ a little better. This means you’re going to have to invest in a relationship with the Reason for the season. I have a friend who is not Christian, but she loves Jesus because the things He taught, the way He lived, make her a better person when she tries to walk in His footsteps. She quotes Jesus. She tells stories about Him. She spends time in December reading His words and listening to His teachings.

I love that idea, and I love my friend for loving my Savior.

Whoever or whatever your god is, I hope that you’ll draw closer this season.

Just imagine if a week from now you say, “I’ve made some magic, renewed a friendship, and feel closer to my Creator.”

Three memories worth making to make Christmas truly meaningful. And I think the Grinch was right, “Christmas, perhaps, doesn’t come from a store. Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more.”

The REAL Santa

So I met the real Santa Claus the other day. He was taking a quick break from his shift at the mall, sneaking out the back way because kids were still lined up and his bladder was about the burst.

“Santa, you got a minute?”

“Not really,” he said, bouncing on the tips of his boots.

“I’ve just got a quick question,” I pestered. “I’ll walk you to the restroom and keep aggressive kids at bay.”

“Fine.”

“So how’d you get to be the real Santa?” I asked.

He turned his head so fast I saw the elastic string used to tie his beard tight. The guy had dark stubble beneath all the snowy white.

“What are you, a wise guy?”

“I guess,” I said. “I’m a writer, and I noticed the sign in front of your North Pole photo display.”

We both glanced past the gingerbread wall at the sign that, in bold red letters, declared: The REAL Santa.

His bells jingled as he hurried through the curious crowd. I had to jog to keep pace.

“Listen,” he said, “if you want to know how I got the job, I’ll tell you. My brother used to have it. Then he died and they gave it to me. Big bellies run in our family.”

I felt a little foolish for even asking, but I was curious. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ve been trying to feel the spirit of the season. When I spotted your sign, I figured you’d have some insight on the real deal.”

We were almost to the restroom. He paused long enough to nod in my direction. “You got kids?”

“A houseful,” I said and something pricked my heart.

He lowered his voice and crooked his finger so I’d lean in to hear. “I’m not sure what you’re after, but I’ll tell you this—I’m not the real Santa. You are.”

Right then two little boys came tumbling out the restroom door, twins about four years old. They made a beeline for the man in red while I ambled back the way we’d come.

I was searching my brain, trying to fine some profound meaning in Santa’s two-word response. That’s when I stopped right in front of the Christmas display, complete with gingerbread siding, synthetic snow, a camera and a big ol’ digital printer, and the empty red throne waiting for Santa.

The line coiled all around the North Pole display. Little kids, big kids, babies, and in-between kids. Some dressed right off a Gap Kids cover, others looking like they’d just rolled outta bed. They were with parents trying to hold hands sticky from the free candy canes elves were passing out. One mother clutched both a toddler and an infant, squirming and crying, but matched perfected in red and green stripes. A grandma looked weary and threatened coal if her grandson got out of line “one more time.”

Then above all the bustle, I heard, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa was back. He jingled and jollied his way to his chair while elves hurried to snatch credit cards from adults’ outstretched hands. Twenty bucks for a snapshot of their precious little one on Santa’s lap. But the first little girl in line was having none of it. She writhed and screamed like she was about to get immunization shots.

“Mommy!” she screamed.

Her mother bribed her, threatened her, then finally hid out of the way, just around the corner of the gingerbread wall.

That’s when my answer began to come. That’s when I realized what Santa meant.

I kept watching and sure enough, the scene repeated. When children went to have their photo taken, the adult that brought them, the one that loved them so very much, stepped out of the way, right smack dab in front of the sign that declared: The REAL Santa.

The truth was so Christmassy plain and perfect…even I got it.

And I think you will too.

 

I Love Jesus But I Hate Christmas

Yeah, that’s me as the Grinch. I know. It makes no sense to feel the way I do, but it’s been an especially hard year around my house and I’m just not feeling the spirit of the season the way I want to feel it. I mean, come on friends, Christmas is the commemoration of Christ’s birth—someone who did nothing but good in His lifetime. It’s about His spirit. His love—and the love of His Father for us.

Bah-frickin’-humbug.

It’s about Black Friday and extended credit. It’s about buying big-ticket items this single mom can’t afford for kids who don’t need squat. It’s about being politically correct and wishing people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” even though it’s Christ we’re celebrating. So happy up, folks, to the spirit of guilt and greed. It’s about decorations and calories and countdown. It’s the advent of panic and pressure. It’s about a man in a red suit that lavishes rich kids with gifts galore while my kids (who’ve been good all year) open a new box containing old shoes.

Okay. Okay. I’m done. My rant is over and I beg you and Jesus to forgive me. I realize that I’m exceptionally blessed and I’m honestly grateful. It’s just that Christmas is hard for me because I can’t be as generous as my heart leads me to be. But then Christmas doesn’t come from the mall. Or Japan (or wherever they manufacture Play Stations and Nintendos). It’s supposed to come from our hearts. It’s supposed to make us feel closer, more hopeful, and above all—loved.

Do you feel loved? I hope so. And I hope that this season you won’t succumb to anybody jingling bells and half-off promises to get you to buy something you can’t afford or don’t need. Do you know what else I hope for you between now and December 25th?

  • I hope you’re swaddled in love
  • I hope you hear laughter, all kinds of laughter
  • I hope you create memory upon memory upon memory
  • I hope you catch a snowflake on your tongue
  • I hope you make a recipe that’s been in your family for years
  • I hope you get shivery cold and then warm up by a blazing fireplace
  • I hope you sip eggnog or hot cocoa or apple cider
  • I hope you write Christmas cards out by hand
  • I hope you crack the spine of a Bible to recount an ancient story
  • I hope you sing carols around a piano
  • I hope you at least make a brief appearance on Santa’s naughty list
  • I hope that your heart grows a couple of sizes but your waistline doesn’t
  • I hope you have your picture taken with Santa
  • I hope you experience the wonder of surprise
  • I hope you witness children reenacting the Nativity
  • I hope you drive around and marvel at Christmas lights
  • I hope the child in you emerges big-time
  • I hope you taste peppermint and chocolate
  • I hope while you’re waiting in a store line that you make friends with a stranger
  • I hope you dress up and take family photo
  • I hope you dress the dog up in red and green
  • I hope someone makes you a plate of homemade candy
  • I hope you find time to pray
  • I hope you gather ‘round a table with food, friends and family
  • I hope you get invited to a holiday party and I hope you host one too
  • I hope you light a candle
  • I hope you get to lick a beater
  • I hope you hear sleigh bells
  • I hope you enter a church
  • I hope you help decorate a tree
  • I hope you wear soft, warm jammies on crispy cold nights
  • I hope you look for silver stars against a night sky, one star in particular
  • I hope you read Christmas stories to a child
  • I hope you wonder about wisemen and shepherds and why there was no room at the inn
  • I hope you smell baking cookies or baking bread or anything baked at home
  • I hope you wrap a gift for someone you don’t know
  • I hope a little kid kisses your cheek
  • And I hope, oh I hope, that you celebrate the birthday of a very special King

Because no matter the tinseled distractions, when it comes down to the barest truth, Christmas is about the birth of a baby and the rebirth of all of us.