Category Archives: Christmas

A Christmas Story: The White Envelope

This Christmas Story was first published in Women’s Day magazine in 1982 and was written by Nancy W. Gavin. The original title was “For The Man Who Hated Christmas.”
WHITEENV

“It was just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.

“It all began because my husband, Mike, hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma; gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

“Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

“Our son, Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy red and black uniforms and sparking new wrestling shoes.

“As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the opposing team obviously could not afford.

“Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated next to me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have lots of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”

“Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

“That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and this was his gift from me.

“Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition — one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and so on.

“The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children — ignoring their new toys — would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

“The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was wrapped in grief. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. It looks like this family tradition will continue.”

 

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Advent 2012 – Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

This post is part of the December Synchroblog “Tell Me A Story” in which we are invited to tell an Advent story from our own life.  I will provide a list of the other contributors at the end of this post as they become available. I hope you will check them all out!

“The hard work of Advent reflection and waiting is mingled with the gift of time and space to dream new dreams, to bathe in pools of hope, and to stretch the canvas of our imagination wide enough for God to paint God’s own visions for our lives. Advent is a season for our imagination to run wild as we contemplate a God who becomes human. We are given a wider glimpse of God when we allow Advent to be an invitation to dream beyond our comfort zones of what we think can happen in our lives and what God can do. In Advent we receive four weeks to dwell on what God’s vision might be for us and for those we touch. Four weeks to dwell on how the courage of expanding our imagination might feed into the growing kingdom of God. Four weeks to gather our wits about us for another year; preparing our bodies, minds and spirits to receive the Christ child and take him out into the world for others to see and praise, worship and obey; the Christ with whom we dream big and imagine wildly.” 

Taken from the Preface of Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent  By Enuma Okoro

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Years ago I had a dream that I was a student at an elite dance academy.  In the dream I was “a dancer” and I loved to dance and I loved the dance class. But I wasn’t just a dancer or someone who loved to dance, I was a very good dancer and I knew it and took great pride in the fact.

There was an important upcoming production that all the students were auditioning for and I was quite certain that I would get a part but I didn’t and I was very disappointed.

Next thing I know I am rehearsing with the dancers who were going to be in the show because one of them got sick, had to drop out and I was chosen to take her place. I was very excited and felt that I was just where I should be. The instructor was giving us direction and correcting us as we were rehearsing and then suddenly the rehearsal was over. As we were all walking out, the instructor asked me to stay behind for a moment. After the other dancers left she told me that I wouldn’t be able to be in the show because I just wasn’t good enough. I was crushed and devastated. I began to cry. I realized that I was not only disappointed about not being in the production but I was also very disappointed that the instructor did not think I was good.  How could this be happening to a good dancer like me?  If my good dancing didn’t make the instructor like me what in the world could I do to earn her approval and affection?

Then the scene suddenly changed, the way it does in dreams, and I was in a huge industrial kitchen.  I had no idea what I was doing there or why I was wearing a chef’s coat. I looked around and found a man preparing some food at one of the nearby steel counters. I walked over to him and asked him what was going on. He told me the Executive Chef was looking for a new Sous Chef and wanted to talk to me. I was completely dumbfounded! I knew I wasn’t much of a cook and certainly not capable of being a chef.  Why in the world would he want to talk to me? Where did I even get the chef’s coat I was wearing?  How did I get here? What in the world was going on?

Then suddenly a tall man all decked out in chef’s attire walked towards me with a huge smile on his face.

“Congratulations, Liz,” he said, “you got the job.”

“What job?” I asked.

He went on to explain that I had been awarded the Sous Chef position.

“But I’m not a good cook,” I exclaimed.

He just looked at me with that smile on his face and said, “I know … It’s because I love you.”

And then I woke up.

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Sometimes dreams do come true.

So go ahead this Advent season and dream big and imagine wildly!

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Here are the links to all the December Synchroblog posts:

Carol Kuniholm writing at Words Half Heard

Jeremy Myers tells us about Santa Clausette

Liz Dyer celebrates Dreams Do Come True

Leah Sophia digs in with Planting Hope

Glen Hager reveals a story of Christmas Surgery

Kathy Escobar wrestles with holiday expectations

Wendy McCaig  ponders storytelling in  Once Upon A Time

Christmas Story: The Christmas Rifle

The Christmas Rifle
by Rian B. Anderson

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.

It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted so bad that year for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. So after supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read scriptures.

But Pa didn’t get the Bible, instead he bundled up and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good, it’s cold out tonight.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see.

We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up the big sled unless we were going to haul a big load.

Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. “I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.” The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on.

When we had exchanged the sideboards Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood—the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. “Pa,” I asked, “what are you doing?”

“You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight.

Sure, I’d been by, but so what? “Yeah,” I said, “why?”

“I rode by just today,” Pa said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.”  That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him.

We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.

“What’s in the little sack?” I asked.

“Shoes. They’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the wood-pile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us. It shouldn’t have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door.

We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, “Who is it?”

“Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?”

Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all.

Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp. “We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children—sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last.

I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.

“We brought a load of wood too, Ma’am,” Pa said, then he turned to me and said, “Matt, go bring enough in to last for awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.”

I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and, much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too.

In my mind I kept seeing those three children huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks and so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy filled my soul that I’d never known before. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference.

I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people. I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The children started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord himself has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the children in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go. I could see that they missed their pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two older brothers and two older sisters were all married and had moved away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Miles. I don’t have to say, “‘May the Lord bless you,’ I know for certain that He will.”

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn’t even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough. Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that. But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. So, Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.”

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Just then the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children.

For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life.

 

Christmas Story: Hear The Angels Sing

I love Christmas stories and have collected some favorites over the years.  I found one today to add to my list of favs on The Livesay Haiti Blog (great blog of a family that lives and serves in Haiti).  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Hear the Angels Sing

By Rick Porter

Hear the Angels Sing ( Dickinson County News, December 12, 2006)

Perhaps it’s just the Ebenezer Scrooge in me, but I’m not much of a caroler. When pressed into participation I sing, but rarely with the gusto of those around me. And too often I sing in a rote way, not giving full attention to the words. There is however, one line of one verse of one carol that always captures my attention.

A story is told of a man seasonally employed to bring the presence of Santa to Christmas gatherings for businesses and schools. He was on his way to a gig, an office party, but had been asked to stop by the nursing home to make a quick visit to the residents. This was pro bono work, but if Santa won’t do it who will?

He quickly made his rounds with a “ho, ho, ho” to each room. Just before departing, he peeked into a darkened cubicle where an elderly man lay apparently asleep, curled on his bony side. Santa prepared to leave in a flash. But the man made a feeble beckoning gesture visible in the dim light of a tiny Christmas tree. The volunteer Santa approached. The man whispered something so faintly as to be inaudible. Santa moved his jolly old ear very close to the man’s dry mouth. “Forms are bending low,” the man said. Santa did not connect the phrase, assumed confusion, gave a patronizing pat, and hurried off to his paying job.

As he arrived at the office party, holiday music was filling the room. The words of an old carol floated from the ceiling speakers:

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

The song was “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” written as a poem in 1849 and put to music 10 years later. The essence of the song is that angels did not just appear and sing at the birth of Christ. They show up and serenade regularly and often.

Just when we are so burdened as to not hear, at the most difficult of times, when life’s loads crush and our forms bend, they minister most. Immanuel, meaning “God-with-us,” attends us as His invisible person, the Holy Spirit, and He is attended by angels. The heart of God is to meet us at life’s darkest intersections with comfort, encouragement, a touch of heaven, and a breath of hope. The old man in the nursing home wasn’t just complaining to Santa about his lot in life. He was acknowledging that in Santa’s visit, no matter how hurried, there was an angelic grace.

Whether or not you sing the carols this year, be encouraged to live the carols. For you, this season may not be one of happiness, good memories, or togetherness. You may be grieving, regretful, or lonely. Life’s road seems crushing and your form is bending low. That does not disqualify you from the true Christmas message. While others scurry in apparent happiness, the invitation to the crushed and the bent still stands:

Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.