Another Christmas has passed and the New Year is around the corner. I wonder what memories you will have of this Christmas season? Do you want to hear mine?
Sitting on the sofa with our feet up while watching one of my favorite movies, “White Christmas”. My husband, the good sport, complaining, “They’re not going to sing again, are they?” My son laughing..."It’s a musical, dad."
Putting my stethoscope on a sniffling 3 year old’s chest. Tiny breaths move in, out, in, out. I watched as her eyes widened suddenly and her mouth went into the shape of an ‘o’. She reached out a petite index finger and softly touched the Santa pinned on my sweater. When her eyes met mine, she smiled at me like we were sharing a wonderful secret.
My next memory needs a bit of history.
Years ago, I was teaching a Vacation Bible School class. The theme was camping and the kids would get stickers after competing activities. It wasn’t unusual for them to want to exchange a raccoon for a squirrel or a turtle. This boy stood in line with a special request. He asked me...”Do you have a sticker of a bear mauling a man?”
“WHAT?!?” It took me a minute to realize he was sizing me up... wanting that very reaction. I shooed him back to his seat and thought to myself...”I’m going to have to watch that one.”
This year, that same boy...now a man... explained the Christmas story through the eyes of Joseph, Mary and the shepherds. I’ve heard the nativity story a million times. But this was from different angles and for the first time in years...I was able to see the birth of Jesus in a unfamiliar way.
He paced the stage, stopped to face the crowd with quips, sarcasm and truth.
The sanctuary was dim. Quiet. No one gossiping to their neighbor. Light from the altar streamed, glowed onto the worshipper's faces and it was clear that he held them all in the palm of his hand. It was an extraordinary experience.
At his conclusion, I looked at all the faces in the sanctuary and thought to myself, “They think he should be watched too...”
Charlie Ridenour preaches at Crossroads Bible Church in Double Oak, Texas.
It was a religion that I’d never heard about before. I was horrified and wanted nothing to do with it. But maybe I was wrong.
I was in fourth grade when my teacher announced that while she celebrated Christmas... she did not believe in exchanging gifts.
My mind spun at the thought. I was outraged that such a religion would even exist. What about tradition? The happiness of children? Brightly wrapped presents?
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when my daughter and I had a conversation.
“What would you think if we stopped exchanging gifts?”she asked. My mind spun at the thought. Not give Christmas gifts to my children? Over the years, we have purposely made our Christmas less chaotic. My sisters and I decided it was silly to buy gift cards for each other's children. We stopped exchanging with other family members because we didn't want them spending their retirement money on presents. For different reasons our Christmas list was shorter. But not buy presents for my own kids?
“Lets see how your brother feels about this...”
I needed time to reflect. Why did I have such strong emotions about giving gifts in the first place? It wasn't receiving gifts that mattered...although one of my all time favorite Christmas gifts was an old shoe of my son’s. In preschool, they put some clay inside it, stuck some hearts on a stick and made a sign (I love you heart and sole!)
It was giving gifts.
My children know that I love them. But they're adults ...with jobs...they buy what they want or need. So what was the big deal?
It's not like this hasn't happened before.
I started thinking more about my Christmas list and decided that I had it backwards. Giving was still okay. But I should be giving more to those that need it...and less to those that are already blessed.
So, Christmas 2018 is going to look different. I’m putting total strangers at the top of my list. I’m going to dig deeper and give to more charities and try to remember those around me that could use a little help.
And my children will get nothing. (Even typing that feels wrong)
I'm going to try to find some different way to celebrate....I don't have any ideas yet but I've got a whole year. Something radical and fun and unique.
Skydiving will not be on the list...but I'd appreciate any other suggestions!
I want to finish by saying how grateful I am for all the support I have received in the last several months. Thank you for reading my book. Thank you for helping me support local charities. Thank you for being in my life.
Until that moment, I was on top of my Christmas game.
I’d sent the packages to relatives in advance of the rush, draped lights on the shrubbery, hung a wreath on the door... and put a line through every item on my Christmas gift list. That year, I was ready.
To celebrate the season, we bundled the kids up in the back seat and took them for a surprise drive to see the Christmas lights in Farmers Branch. My son’s eyes were wide with fascination and my daughter excitedly pointed and giggled at the glowing displays. I squeezed my husband's hand and felt pride at delivering such a wonderful event to my family.
The crowning moment was when we rolled down the windows and Santa approached the car. As he handed my daughter a tiny candy cane, he asked her a single question. “What do you want for Christmas this year?”
She answered quickly and with some urgency. “A teacher Barbie...that’s all I want...a teacher Barbie.”
My husband and I froze (and I don't mean from the weather). We looked at each other in confusion. There was no teacher Barbie on the list. It was mere days before Christmas. Mentally I was already punishing myself. How could I have missed this? Her voice gave away how important it was to her. I questioned her about the other items on the list...the ones I had wrapped and hidden already. She would not be swayed.
There was only one thing in her mind that year.
My husband could see the panic on my face but he grasped my hand and tried to reassure me. "I'll just find one,” he whispered.
That was easier said than done. He searched, I searched. Between phone calls and visits, my husband and I covered most the toy stores in the DFW area. My mother-in-law covered the rest.
I felt defeated. There were no teacher Barbies left on any shelf. As mom-in-charge of Christmas buying, I had failed. I kept seeing her face looking up at Santa's.
Fortunately, my mother-in-law did not give up. She was not about to allow her granddaughter to experience disappointment on Christmas. She contacted her daughter who lived in another state. My sister-in-law joined the search, and found the last teacher Barbie in the US (at least I think so) They promised to overnight it but by this point, I was feeling hopeless. It was December 23.
The box arrived on Christmas Eve. Literally, that evening. Unbelievable. With the children hovering by my side, I slipped the box to my husband. He slid it under the bed.
Do you know what else is unbelievable?
We forgot it.
We had a list of things to do and we both just forgot to get it out again and wrap it.
Fast forward to the next morning where my daughter has opened up her gifts and no teacher Barbie shows up. Worst feeling ever. Tears glistening in her little eyes and my throat burning with my failure.
My husband whispered to me..."Distract her, I’ve got this.”
I took my daughter to the kitchen, poured her some hot chocolate and wiped away her tears. We came back and found her daddy peering at the fireplace.
“Something’s in there...something must’ve gotten caught in the logs.”
My daughter is very smart and knew exactly what happened. She explained it to us: “It fell from his pack when he came down the chimney. He must not have noticed it, so he didn’t wrap it”
We nodded and I silently toasted my genius of a husband.
One of my best memories of Christmas is how we scrambled so we didn't disappoint a little girl. I have other great ones- the year my husband fell into the pool with the Christmas tree in his arms, the morning my brother-in-law appeared at the door as a surprise to his wife, the reflection of the Christmas lights in my children's eyes.
I had a recent disconcerting conversation with my daughter. I need to think about it more (I'll tell you later)...and continue to remind myself of what Christmas memories are supposed to look like. It's more than gift-giving, it always has been.
I've been working on simplifying my life, including Christmas.
For years, I agonized to achieve a magazine worthy look to my Christmas decor. Bedecked garlands ran up my banister, greenery with properly placed candles and stockings draped over my mantle, clusters of poinsettias by my front door and steps. Boxes and boxes of lights and ornaments for the tree. It took strength, endurance, and stamina. And some years, it was totally worth it.
But for other years...it was just draining.
I talked to a woman recently who dreaded decorating her house. She uses actual live greenery! This year, a family member experienced a serious medical issue and everyone was feeling drained. I encouraged her to consider skipping the holiday decor and she looked at me like I ask her to skip Christmas.
That's not what I meant at all. I think you should only do all the work of decorating if it brings you joy. If you're dancing to the Christmas tunes, keep going! Sara Teasdale said "You will recognize your own path when you come upon it because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need."
Maybe this year you need to spend more time with your friends. Go to church and listen to the choir singing your favorite Christmas melodies. Make cookies with your kids.
I started downsizing Christmas a few years ago. Now I have a table top tree whose lights pop on at exactly five o'clock. Their glow greets me when I come home after work- it's a lovely end to my day. Sprinkled around the house are a few more holiday reminders. Not too many...but the right amount for this year.
I'm less stressed out and I'm enjoying the season a lot more.
So, maybe you should try it too...have yourself a merry LITTLE Christmas!
In our pediatric office, we have different themes for the rooms. An airplane room, a jungle room...this is the castle room. Wallpaper displaying ivy covered turrets and wooden drawbridges cover three walls. This is the fourth wall...and the chair where she sat.
On my schedule, it said that this teenager was coming in to see me about a sore throat. I'd known her for years and we caught up a bit while I examined her. Right in the middle of our discussion about sinus drainage, she informed me that she'd been molested.
By a family member.
I think I stopped breathing. My thoughts scattered for a moment. I told her that I'd call the police... that I'd call the Children's Advocacy Center. But all of that had already been done. And then she started telling me what happened.
I'll confess, I didn't want to hear. Don't get me wrong, I would do anything to make sure she was ok. But stories like hers spread like poison in your brain...you can't unhear those molestation accounts. She needed to talk...so I listened.
She described how he pushed her down onto a table. Her gaze shifted to her feet as she spoke, now reluctant to meet my eyes. I looked up, didn't want her to feel any more awkward than she already felt. Saw the unicorn above her chair.
Unicorns were a symbol of virginity in medieval times. It was thought that the only way to capture a unicorn was to have a virgin sit quietly in the forest. The unicorn would come out of hiding and lay its head gently upon her lap.
He held her hands so she couldn't push him away.
I looked at that unicorn and it was as if the unicorn was looking back at me. Right there, in a field of flowers, I imagined it faltering, staggering as she spoke of what happened next.
He pulled down his zipper.
I was silent. My chest felt so tight that I found it hard to breath. The unicorn crashed down as she spoke, disappeared, leaving a empty space in the green field.
My throat hurt from the urge to scream at the injustice, the pain.
Unicorns also had a reputation for their ferocity in medieval times. It was not uncommon to find them on shields and banners, along with lions and dragons. That horn, after all, was not just decoration.
In my imagination, a second unicorn took the place of the first. Where the first unicorn was white, this unicorn was dark, with slashes on his hide from previous battles. It was massive like a Clydesdale and it was furious. Steam billowed and rolled from his nostrils. He drew up on his hind legs, opened his mouth and let out an unearthly roar of rage. His tail whipped, slapped his thigh, and dust flew up when he slammed back into the earth.
His eyes bore into mine and I saw what I wanted to see...a promise of vengeance. A promise to inflict punishment for what had happened to her.
I wrote a book about unicorns. Probably different than the unicorns you're used to seeing. No rainbow colored horns over snowy hides. They're darker and their sole purpose...is to keep her safe.