If you're like most people, you're still recovering from your Christmas celebrations...as you also prepare for the start of the new year.
We hope we can extend the Christmas festivities for a little bit longer with this second sharing of stories submitted to our Christmas Blessings e-book challenge.
(In case you missed it, Christmas Blessings: Real-Life Stories to Warm Your Heart was our first-ever Southern Christian Writers Conference e-book. SCWC members submitted stories and ones by Christy Bell, Bettie Boswell, LaDonna Brendle, Miranda Herring, Chris Manion, Sylvia Melvin, and Warren Whitmire were published in the book. You can still find it on Amazon.)
We wanted to share some more of the stories submitted to the publication contest, and are happy to have more with us today on our blog.
"God With Us"
by Terri Miller
The Christmas of 2017 went much the same as every other Christmas has gone for my family since my brother and I have been grown with families of our own. We gathered at my parent’s house for a day of food, gifts, playing games and just being together. Now that all our children are grown, it has taken a Herculean effort to coordinate everyone’s schedule and find one day that works, but we had somehow managed it.
The menu didn’t vary much from previous years. There was the usual oven roasted turkey breast, Mama’s cornbread dressing and gravy, and green beans. Delaine, my sister-in-law, brought her cherry salad, and I contributed the sweet potato casserole. All of this and more lined the counter by the stove. As usual the opposite counter, designated as the dessert counter, held a truly shameful amount of cakes, pies, cookies, and candies.
Over the years, the tree had gone from a handpicked wonderfully aromatic live tree to an artificial tree. Now even that was reduced from its original full size to just a four-foot mini tree perched on top of the sewing machine cabinet. Twinkling multi-colored lights adorned its branches, and gifts littered the floor below all ready for a game of Dirty Santa.
We enjoyed our food as we discussed topics ranging from politics to trips down memory lane. Lingering there at the table enjoying everyone’s company has always been one of my favorite parts of the day. Once the meal was over and the kitchen put back in order, we each took a place in the living room ready for the game and the unwrapping of gifts. But first, Mama asked for a volunteer to read the Christmas story. Although this was sporadically done when my brother and I were growing up, some time back my Mom and Dad made a conscious effort to have it as part of the family tradition when we are gathered around the tree and specifically before gifts are exchanged.
It was my daughter-in-law, Tori, who offered to read. She sat on the floor the Bible lying before her on the large ottoman and opened to Luke’s account of the story. As she read, I thought of how fitting it was that she should be the one this year. Her rounded belly resting on her lap nestled my unborn grandson. A child. A son. A gift to us all.
It was a beautiful time together as a family filled with laughter and love, and when it was over, we moved ahead into the new year taking for granted that we would continue on with the status quo indefinitely. There was no way we could have known as we spent that day together that we were perched on the edge of life as we knew it. We were about to plunge headlong into uncharted waters and nothing would ever be the same again.
A few short weeks later in early January my dad suffered a stroke. A brain bleed is what the doctor said. Thankfully he survived, but not without some limitations. He can walk on his own but is sometimes unsteady, and the risk of falling is always present. Because he can no longer drive, the frequent long trips my parents had become accustomed to have come to an end as my dad is the principle driver and my mom isn’t comfortable driving in unfamiliar places.
They own a large amount of property and need help taking care of that. We had some ‘work’ days where everyone came together and pitched in, but for the most part, my brother and his wife took over things like mowing the grass, tending the garden, and general repairs and upkeep because they live much closer than we do. My brother has gracefully stepped up and taken responsibility for many of the things that my dad would normally have done. I have been amazed as I’ve watched him walk out his new role with the utmost tenderness and respect for my dad.
The huge woodworking shop of my dad’s always humming with the sounds of saws and lathes and where he built baby beds, blanket chests, and beehives is now silent. Unfinished projects and piles of wood for projects dreamed of lie untouched.
You may be asking yourself what all of this has to do with Christmas blessings. Well here it is. That Christmas, like every Christmas before it and every Christmas since, we celebrated the fact that the Eternal God Who existed before the foundation of the world stepped into time becoming fully human. In one of the most humble settings imaginable, The King of Kings came to us. Came for us. The Child Who was born. The Son Who was given. A gift to us all.
As I look back on that Christmas before daddy’s stroke, I can see Jesus there seated at the table with us as we broke bread and shared ourselves with each other. Gathered with us around the tree listening the story of His birth. As we laughed and played games, the Light of the World was sealing our hearts together in love and the knowledge that He was the center of our family.
Jesus is with us now too as we learn to make our way on this new journey. Each time we must cross a bridge that we haven’t crossed before, He’s there giving us the grace to honor one another in the choices that we make and stirring up compassion in our hearts for each other. Our time together now is richer and sweeter because we understand the value of it, and He’s helped us to not lose sight of that. Though we’ve always been an affectionate family, the hugs now are tighter and the “I love you’s” more earnest.
Because Jesus is not bound by time, He has simultaneously been with us in the past, is with us now in the present, and has gone before us into the future preparing the way and beckoning us with outstretched hand to come and not be afraid. We don’t know what lies ahead, but He has already been there making a path for us to follow. What a comforting thought to know that there is no place or time where we can go that He has not already gone.
At Christmastime, I’m reminded once again that the Lord of heaven and Earth wrapped Himself in flesh and walked among us. He was with us then. He is with us still. He is Emanuel, God with us.
"Oh my, Tannenbaum!"
by Christie Lovvorn
Every Thanksgiving we had a system: Mom cranked up the Christmas carols and made hot chocolate while Dad dragged the artificial Christmas tree into the living room and assembled it with the help of his elves—me and my sister, of course. He tinkered with the giant tree stand bolts until the tree was predominantly vertical and unlikely to topple under the substantial weight we were about to add to it. Then Mom, my sister and I fluffed the branches that had gotten squished while the seven and a half footer had hibernated in a cardboard box for 11 months.
Once we finished pulling and lifting and maneuvering each scratchy, prickly branch, Dad headed up the great light untangling marathon. He methodically untwisted yards and yards of the 6,000 multi-colored miniature lights, checking bulbs and swapping out fuses. With the strands of lights wrapped around his forearm like a glittering lasso, he then fed them to Mom as she painstakingly wound them from the tree’s base to the tip of each individual branch.
The effect was stunning, but during the process, there was sometimes an occasional curse word interspersed with Karen Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas, Darling” and Johnny Mathis’ “The Christmas Song.” And I can’t claim as a teenager to have never sighed loudly or rolled my eyes in exasperation when things were moving too slowly. But once the lights were on, creating the fairyland magic Mom was after, we got to my favorite part of decorating: adding the ornaments.
Every year, Mom would buy my sister and me a special ornament and later she began to buy ones for Daddy and herself, too. When I was in college, I carried on the tradition, buying my parents special ornaments, particularly as mementoes from my travels. I bought Mom a porcelain Madonna and jeweled heart when I went to Disney World and during a grad school trip to Savannah, Georgia, I bought them a wooden teddy bear couple with their names written on it. So, when it was time to bring out the ornaments, with hushed anticipation I would help Mom unwrap the spun glass harps and crystal angels and delicate icicles, all of which brought back such precious memories. The four of us took great pains to select the ideal location for our own ornaments, and then Mom and I were in charge of hanging the rest on the tree. For the two of us, that giant green plastic tree was like a blank canvas on which we painted with pink and green and yellow and blue lights and little stars and nativity scenes.
Mom once confided that the reason she spent so much time and energy on the tree was because creating it was her birthday gift to Jesus.
It was also her gift to us and our extended family and friends who dropped in at our annual
Christmas open house to gawk at the tree while munching on homemade Chex mix and from-scratch peanut butter balls and drinking Mom’s special red tropicalChristmas punch.
The tree was probably a gift to Alabama Power, too. Once we turned it on, that tree gave off so much light we didn’t need any other lamps to see by, and the tiny living room got so hot we had to turn down the heat and turn up the ceiling fans. Once or twice we even to crank on the A/C. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
by Marion Surles
I don’t know how we muddled through that first Christmas after the wreck. Everyone had told us all the “firsts” would be hard. We had made it through her tenth birthday by having a balloon launch at the cemetery. Thanksgiving had a ski trip already scheduled, but it was not the same as before. There was no one shouting “mama” from the chairlift as I still struggled in ski school. And then Christmas rolled in fast behind.
Shopping for Beth’s younger sisters was hard. Neither one needed anything. Fran, our second daughter, had received so many gifts at the hospital as she recovered from her injuries. Callie Jo was only two and had all the hand-me-down toys the third child inherits.
We just wanted Beth back to have a normal Christmas.
Santa did come up with one original present that Christmas. Fisher-Price had come out with a real camera for children. This was before cell phones and digital cameras. This camera had two eyeholes, was made of an indestructible plastic, and used a small roll of 110 film.
Christmas morning was not the usual giggling and excitement, but the camera was a hit. We went down to the barn to take some pictures and deliver Christmas goodies to the ponies. It was a beautiful cold day with a nearly cloudless blue sky. After a few photos we were all freezing and ready to return home. But Fran stopped and turned her camera up to the sky saying, “I’m going to take a picture of heaven. This is you, Beth.”
Family arrived later and filled the house with a little more laughter. I think we were all glad to have made it through another “first.” It had been six months since the wreck, and I was still having trouble praying. I know for sure that the prayers of others pulled us through our darkest times. That and the Holy Spirit who takes our groans and makes them prayers. “God’s spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayers out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” (The Message Romans 8:26) There were still many sighs and groans, but God was with us each step of the way, providing just the right person or event at just the right time.
A couple of weeks after Christmas, Fran had finished the roll of film and was ready to get it developed. The next week we picked up the prints and were awed, amazed, and nearly speechless with the photo of “Beth in heaven.” Across a beautiful blue sky was an angel. I can’t believe it was anything else. Of course, some would say that a professional photographer with special effects could reproduce something similar. But that makes it even more of a miracle, don’t you think? Because God used a two-eyed child’s camera and a six-year-old to give us a happy miracle just when we needed it. Thank you, God, for our angel, Beth.
"Jesus' Birthday Party"
by Stephanie Holbrook
“Momma! Momma! Come look! Elsa the Elf moved!” Ann’s eyes lit up with excitement, and her toothless smile was contagious as I blew into my morning brew from the rim of my coffee mug.
"Oh! She sure did! Did she bring you anything?” I grinned as I took my seat in my comfy, truffle colored recliner as Ann continued her scavenger hunt, following the clues her Elf on the Shelf left for her. Still groggy-eyed, my husband made his coffee and claimed the couch.
The twinkling of glowing lights against the navy, early morning sky tempted us to succumb to
sleep yet again, but Ann’s excited squeals thwarted such efforts.
“I got a new nightie!” She had figured out the riddles and earned her prize, holding the green and red flannel up to her small frame and spinning around you would think she had just received a designer ball gown.
I forced my face into a surprised expression followed by a smile. Offering a quick nod to Elsa
who sat lifeless atop the ceiling fan blade, I instructed Ann to begin getting dressed.
As my husband heard the door catch, he looked over at me and asked in between sips, "How much longer are you gonna keep this up?” I shrugged and took another sip.
“I feel like we are teaching her, it’s ok to lie.” He persisted, and I could feel him studying me,
trying to read the invisible words my silence penned. I let his pushing fall to the floor just as Elsa did from the overhead fan.
I scrambled to snatch the stuffed elf that laid in a crumpled mess off the floor before Ann came back in. I wasn’t quick enough.
“Momma! WE. CAN’T. TOUCH. HER!” Ann stood in the hallway with her hands outstretched
towards me as if she were offering a sacrifice. “It’s ok! I can touch her. She fell, and I was just helping her back up.” I crossed the living room and placed Elsa on the mantel.
“See…All better.” I imagined I looked like Vanna White from The Wheel of Fortune as I
displayed Elsa and began clapping, except I didn’t have a stunning gown, just a humble Grinch bathrobe.
Ann was not amused.
She furled her eyebrows beneath her dirty blonde bangs as she studied Elsa, careful not to touch her.
“I’m gonna pray for you, Elsa.”
I avoided my husband’s raised brow and reminded Ann to brush her hair as I guided her back towards the hall.
The sounds of clanking pots and pans and the sizzling of bacon filled the awkward silence
between my husband and I as I began cooking big breakfast. Once the grits had reached the
perfect consistency, I called everyone to the table and when everyone had taken their seats my husband prepared to pray by clearing his throat, only to be interrupted by Ann’s small voice.
“Daddy, I want to pray?” After exchanging surprised yet prideful glances at one another, (because we thought we were the ideal parents.) I encouraged her.
“Absolutely! Go ahead, baby!” as we all bowed our heads.
“Dear Santa, thank you for this food and help Elsa to feel better. She fell down. Amen.”
I liked to have died right then and there. And for a moment I thought I smelt the smoke of sulfur over the smell of the cinnamon broom that hung on the wall.
What had I done? How did my child manage to conclude that Santa is God?
My husband’s eyes bore through me. “Fix it," they demanded.
I couldn’t say anything, only nod.
The rest of the morning was uneventful except for the wrestling in my mind of the best way to
tell my five-year-old that her favorite person, Santa, wasn’t real. I decided it was best not to beat around the bush. I called her into the living room and patted my lap.
“Come sit with me; I need to tell you something.” She climbed into my lap, and her big doe eyes gleamed, awaiting the wisdom about to be imparted.
“Baby, You know this morning when you prayed?” She nodded.
“You prayed to Santa.” She nodded.
She thought for a moment before answering, “Because he sees me when I’m sleeping, and he knows if I’m bad or good, and he brings me the toys I ask for.”
“Well, baby, Santa is not real. We buy you the toys.” She stared past me. It was if her tiny mind couldn’t comprehend the words it processed.
“Baby, are you ok?”
“But Elsa moves.”
“I move her.”
“But I seen him.”
“No, Baby, that was just someone’s grandpa dressed up.”
“But he sent me a video.”
“I created that video.” I showed her the app on my phone.
Tears began to flood her eyes, and my heart shattered as she sobbed into my chest.
Santa didn’t just cease to exist at the realization he was just pretend. He died. She mourned him.
“Ann, do you know why we have Christmas?” I petted her hair. She mumbled into my chest, so I sat her up and looked into her eyes and wiping the tears from her cheek. “What’d you say, baby?”
“It’s Jesus’ Birthday.”
That’s right baby. It’s Jesus’ birthday.”
That night, while my husband and I assembled gifts and set them out while bingeing on sugar-laced cookies, we ran out of tape, prompting me to raid the birthday party closet for a roll; I found the tape, but also a couple of packs of balloons and a fantastic idea struck me.
“Momma! Daddy! Look at all these balloons!” We awoke to gleeful squeals and the pitter-patter of tiny feet. We stumbled through the hall, kicking balloons as we went until we reached the living room.
Ann was dancing and kicking the balloons that covered every surface of the flooring.
“Momma! Daddy! Come on! It’s Jesus’ Birthday Party!”
"Our Flight Before Christmas"
by Diana Stuart
Our plan for Christmas was ongoing that night
Preparations had been made - a seven-hour flight.
The bags were all packed with extreme care
in hope that our ride on time would appear.
Our grandchildren, we knew, were all tucked in their beds
Visions of gifts - swirling round in their heads
The alarm went off with a musical tone
Waking us up in time to heave home.
I turned on the TV to a weather warning
Then asked myself, “Why an ice storm this morning”?
I ran to our window without missing a beat
Opened the curtains - looked down on the street.
The lights showed our drive was icy below.
I wondered if we'd we be able to go.
Then in delight, our driver appeared
His SUV ready to load up our gear.
I said to my husband, “We’d better move quick
The weather might worsen; the roads are so slick”.
More rapid than ever we loaded things up
Checked our contents, gifts, and stuff.
Smoked Salmon and Kringle, IPod, and Planner!
Cosmetics in Ziplocs, the homemade pajamas!
Off to the airport over the ridge!
Watching for ice slicks across the bridge.
Arriving at the airport without altercation
We checked our luggage for our Christmas vacation.
Once in our seats, east we would go
Our bags safely with us; little did we know.
In a twinkling, we arrived in our town
I picked up my bag… my husband's, not found.
We threw up our hands and turned to an agent
Who promptly replied, "Please try to be patient".
We headed outside being glad it was warm
The bus was on time; nothing else could go wrong.
We arrived at the house with a brief delay
Sure that the bag would arrive early next day.
I awoke early morning in great expectation
Delayed bag on the way- a resolved situation.
But it never came – when would it be back?
After dialing the phone I began to unpack.
Twenty minutes on hold, I began to worry
When an agent replied, I wasn’t so merry.
The bag had been sent where it should not go
I was ready to scream, with harsh words strike a blow.
“No, no this cannot be", I gritted my teeth
“My husband needs clothes, some socks for his feet!
Day number- three; no suitcase sent
Nothing arrived; my patience was spent!
That night when in bed I said a long prayer
In hopes that by morning, the bag would be there.
When I awoke, I called just once more
As I heard my spouse say as he came through the door,
“Good grief it’s Christmas and you’re on the phone!
For the sake of us all, please leave it alone!”
I promptly hung up - I’d been a jerk!
There were gifts to unwrap, some coffee to perk
Then a knock at the door-“Look what is here!".
The bag has arrived; the outcome of prayer.
I humbly recalled God’s true gift that night
And the very first Christmas; when all was made right.
(Look forward to more writing contests and challenges in the new year. We love getting to share your writing with one another, and want to provide more opportunities to do so in 2020.)