By Laura Adams
The glittering paper was folded around the box with crisp, sharp seams. The bow was a deep, soft, velvety red. The gift seemed to emit its own light under the Tree. My then six-year-old eyes were captivated by its beauty and mysterious contents. Oh the wonder of innocence!
By the time I was 11, Christmas held no wonder at all. My parents were divorcing and my mother in all of her brokenness shattered what was left of my childhood. In order to spare my six-year-old brother, she informed me I was too grown up to believe in Santa (I actually still did) and that I should be a good big sister and understand that we (her and I) would need to give up our Christmas so that he could have a special one…
Christmas… that magical time of the year when anything was possible immediately dissolved into nothing more than the display of garish decorations, of fantasy for other people. Oh how I wished I could still believe in something magical.
Too soon Christmas became the time of year when the “haves,” and the “have nots” were on public display. A new doll for Susie and a new bike for Jimmy meant their parents loved them. I envisioned a warm fire in their family room with Susie on her daddy’s lap and Jimmy playing trains with a puppy in the background… (Every Christmas movie I had ever seen playing out in my imagination.) I ached for that kind of family love.
But my world was very different from any Christmas special I had ever seen. My mother worked two jobs and there was little food in our cramped, government subsidized apartment. There was no room for a kitchen table- much less a fireplace. My mother drank her sorrows and my brother and I were left to fend for our own happiness most days. Christmas was a very hard time for me…
My mother chain-smoked in that tiny apartment and of course everything in it reeked of stale smoke including my brother and I. We were used to the smell and didn’t realize what we smelled like to other people. That is, until they said something. I never felt so dirty as the time I was invited over to a new friend’s house after school. When her mother greeted us at the door she wrinkled her nose and made a face that I will never forget… disgust.
They had a plastic Nativity on their lawn at Christmas… they were a “have” family.
When Christmas is on display, the words “BELIEVE” or “JOY” are everywhere. To me, “believe,” meant the “make believe” world of Santa and the magic that comes to children who are privileged to keep their innocence. “Joy” is the feeling you get when you are one of those kids… My eyes had been opened to the harsh light that had no room for such nonsense. My heart was growing hard.
I would not hear the Gospel or enter a church for the next 14 years. My greatest desire was once the love of a family. And now I had one. Yet even my own desire to do things differently did not change my reality. With a six-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, I was just as much of a hot mess as my own mother. I had different problems, but I was just as dysfunctional as a wife and mother.
Then I heard what the Nativity actually meant. It was no longer the symbol of the love of family, but became the incarnation of a Love beyond all loves. For me, it was as if God redefined every hope I ever had and offered it to me in the wrapping of His Son. Christmas wasn’t about material wealth, or even homes with intact families. It was so much more. And I saw that even if I had been one of the “haves,” my heart would still not have been satisfied…
Today Christmas is a totally different reality, yet my childhood plays out in my head in the background of the Grace I have been given. I still see the disgust on that mother’s face when she encountered me at her door. I wonder now if she was a “Christian”.
I still see the “Haves” and the “Have nots” play out on the landscape of the holiday season. Only it isn’t about food and presents, it’s about those who have been given the Gift, and those who still need it. Ironically, Christians are talking among themselves about what coffee shop “puts Christmas on their cup” and which businesses are worthy for them to spend their holiday money. And maybe for conscience sake they will take an ornament or stocking and fill it with goodies for some unfortunate child.
I was one of those kids, (without the filled stocking) and I can say with absolute confidence that although it is nice to get presents, the real Gift is sharing Jesus in a real and tangible way. I say this from the still fresh memory of a life filled with empty hope. Please understand that every toy will soon break and every sweet hug from a well-meaning stranger will fade into resentment of the child who does not know that they are truly and eternally loved.
There are two worlds in our world…
One has the Gift and one desperately needs it.
It is far easier for us to wrap up presents to give away, than to be the wrapped up Presence of the Living Hope of the Eternal Love of God.
I BELIEVE in the JOY of Christmas now, because it was given to me…
And it is so much more than magical…it is miraculous.