A Gift Has Come
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. ON that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a gift of . . .
We have all received a gift. . . a gift of HOPE, a gift of PEACE, a gift of JOY, a gift of LOVE through the life of Christ. We celebrate this advent season looking at the Gift that has come, the Gift that has changed our world, and how we can, in return, offer the Gift and our gifts to the world around us. Join us this Advent season as we experience and offer hope, peace, joy, and love.
Crescent Hill Baptist Church
Advent Devotion Book
2800 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY 40206
Table of Contents
For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven ……..……Mera Cossey Corlett
The Gift of a Book………………………………John Arnett
The Gift of Treatment…………………………. Bethani Massey
Memo from God……………………………….Sara Jo Hooper
A Christmas Gift in Summer …………………John Birkimer
The Safest Place on Earth……………………….Paul Debusman (1992)*
The Clarinet……………………………………...Jane Crecelius
Best Christmas Ever……………………………. Sharleen Birkimer
Best Gift ………………………………………..Sara Jo Hooper
A Potpourri of Gifts Remembered ……………...John Arnett (and family)
The Teddy Bear…………………………………Brian Williams
A Gift That Changed My Life ………………….Betty Schnur
Christmas Away ………………………………..Diane Robl
No Strings……………………………………… Sara Jo Hooper
Extravagant Giving………………………. …….Colleen Burroughs (1992)*
Happier Giving ………………………………...Peggy Schmidt
The Unexpected Gift…………………………...Jason Crosby
Receiving and Giving ………………………….Marjorie Ash
Simple Things ………………………………….Margaret Graves (2002)*
The Gift of Community ………………………..Hope Academy and Andrea Woolley
*These devotions have been taken from earlier editions of the CHBC Advent Devotion Booklet.
Editors: Janet Cole and Andrea Woolley
For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. ~Ephesians 5:8
Christmas 1964. I am five and have been given not one but two dolls with alabaster skin, open-and-shut eyes and pink puckered mouths. Another child might be offended to receive the exact same doll from two different givers, but I consider it nothing short of a Christmas miracle. The twins become extensions of my self. They sit on either side of my plate at the dinner table; they shut their eyes on the east and west sides of my pillow. I am doubly blessed and my playmate, Angie cannot help but be envious.
In the bleak gray days of late winter, our phone rings. I hear a muffled cry from the next room. In no time, I am bundled up with both baby dolls in my arms and ushered into the backseat of our Chevy. Looking over her shoulder, my mama explains Angie’s family has lost their home to fire. The rooms where we have tied ropes to chairs and have jumped on countless afternoons have burned to the ground. Everything we have known of their home is gone. Their furniture, their clothes, all of Angie’s Sunday dresses and play clothes—all her dolls and playthings are no more. There is little we can do but be with them in their loss and cry with them in their pain. We are on our way to do just that.
There is one thing more I can do. The crackle of the gravel ends signaling we have reached our destination. I follow Mama into a neighbor’s home, making a beeline to Angie. Straightaway, I push one of the dolls toward her, insisting she take it as her own.
Every kind act I have witnessed, every lesson I have heard at Sunday School—they all culminated in that one act. May God restore childlike generosity in each of us. After all, such extravagant giving in the midst of suffering is the essence of Christmas.
God of love and light, Open our hearts so we might demonstrate Your love in acts of kindness and generosity. Amen.
by Mera Cossey Corlett
The Gift of a Book
Having been disillusioned by religion after leaving a cult I’d joined in the summer of 1963, I joined the ranks of agnostics and pseudo-atheists with a loss of spiritual sentiments and a belief in cultural relativism. Unsure of my future I joined the Naval Reserves in the spring of 1964 (unaware they’d soon be called for duty in Vietnam), and during my junior year of college over Christmas vacation in 1964 I had to spend two weeks at Barksdale AFB near Shreveport, La attending a radio school. The base was bleak and I recall the sky being overcast most of the time. There was a library on the base and a few days before Christmas I was browsing through the stacks and happened upon a book I’d never seen before. The book was "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran and over the ensuing days of Christmas as I read the magical pages of Gibran’s poetry and wisdom the reality of the spiritual seemed to spring forth again. I’d received a gift. I don’t know which section it was that turned me on, but I share now some of the words Gibran spoke about religion as a gift to others this season:
"Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,
And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom? Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations? Who can spread his hours before him, saying, ‘This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?’
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
And if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles
Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children. And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.
You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees." (The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, 1923)
by John Arnett
The Gift of Treatment
I once received a gift at the holidays that changed my life forever, possibly even saved it. I was desperate to understand what was happening to me. My mind, my vision, my whole body was failing me. Something I had always counted on to be part of my life, running, proved nearly impossible. When I wanted to go for a run it was as though I was in slow motion, having to specifically direct every muscle and limb to work in unison. Attempting to run showed me that movement and coordination had gone completely haywire and that my vision was failing as well. My vision was blurred and my field of vision seemed to be shrinking. Running, my escape, was now the activity that made the issues most obvious. I had no idea that these symptoms were completely explainable and textbook examples of the kinds of things that happens to people with chronic Lyme disease.
I knew these things weren’t normal and it seemed to be getting worse and worse. I was getting horribly stiff and dysfunctional all around. Still, because I had been told such, I thought it was all in my head. I researched something called ‘neurofeedback’, a form of brain training that is known to help nearly every neurologic issue from addiction to ADHD to PTSD to depression and anxiety. In my line of thinking, I had to change my brain and this training was the way to do it. It was a shot in the dark but it could change my life.
The gift came because neurofeedback is expensive and I had no way to pay for it. I must have known on some level that I was dying, it certainly felt like it, as I don’t like asking for things, but I reached out to the people I knew would help me if they could. I remembered an offer from a church member in the past, "If you ever need help paying for medication or something, let us know." Well, it wasn’t medication in the traditional sense, but it was the medication I needed. And it proved to be such. The practitioner nearest to where I was, in Virginia, was actually one of the best. He had an MD from Dartmouth and a PhD in Psychology. He’d written two books on neurofeedback. If anyone could help me with neurofeedback, it was Dr. Castro. I went to his mountain clinic, in Mt. Rogers, Virginia, stayed on site, and received feedback trainings for three weeks. After two weeks, I had made no progress. Dr. Castro said he had never seen anyone in his 20 years of work make zero progress after two treatments a day for two weeks. He reached out to his most esteemed colleague, the co-author of one of his books, who told him the only time he’d ever seen a situation like that was with a patient who ended up having chronic Lyme disease. He said her Lyme disease was treated, she returned for neurofeedback, and the training took. Finally, everything I had been telling Dr. Castro for the last two weeks made sense to him. I had told him again and again about the stiffness in my neck, the pressure in my head, the feeling that my head would soon explode, the painful burning in my head and neck, the vision issues, the lack of movement and coordination. I’d been seeing him in 30 minute intervals but I had managed to paint him a full symptom picture over the course of two weeks. That I’d been running in upstate New York and New Jersey (where Lyme is endemic) for the last 3+ years was also relevant. Before now, he’d had no explanations. He came to me one morning and said, "Bethani, we need to do a CD-57 test on you. If you’ve had Lyme for a long time, it may not show on the traditional blood tests for the disease, but this marker of natural killer cells is only known to be affected by AIDS (which I tested negative for) and chronic Lyme disease." My test revealed my level of these white blood cells to be below 60 (normal is 200-360), indicating that I was fighting a chronic infection. Based on my symptoms, and a positive blood test for one of the co-infections of Lyme, I was eventually given the clear diagnosis.
Though I did not handle the news well, the gift of neurofeedback, which ultimately found the answers I was looking for and put me on the right treatment path, was the best, most important gift I have ever received. It came right at the holidays and will always be unparalleled in terms of importance and in terms of the immense gratitude I feel to this day. The persons of CHBC that helped me pay for and receive this treatment three Christmases ago have certainly changed, if not saved, my life. Since treatment, my white blood cell count is almost twice as high and Aurora has so far tested negative.
by Bethani Massey
Memo from God
I have a recurring dream theme when I’m stressed—I am driving some kind of vehicle; I suddenly realize that either the accelerator is stuck, or I can’t get any response from the brake. I am headed straight for the big tree, a chasm, or the river; I’m terrified. Abruptly, the scene shifts, and I’m on the other side. Nothing about how I got past the danger point; I’m just okay and going on with the next thing.
I finally got what I believe is God’s message to me through these dreams: "It will be all right; there will be fear, there will be bad stuff to go through; but I will be with you and will help you bear whatever comes. You will be all right."
Recently, after receiving some scary medical news, I had the ultimate God-memo dream.
I was driving on a bridge over a sound when disaster struck; there was no way off either end of the bridge. All I could see on either side was water. Far out in the sea, someone/something beckoned me to drive off the side of the bridge.
"Do you think I’m crazy? I don’t want to die!"
"No; you’ll be okay, come on out."
And I did. I drove right off the side of the bridge and awoke driving across the water toward—I had no idea what—the rest of my life?
Thank you, God, for reminding me again that I’m not in this alone.
by Sara Jo Hooper
A Christmas Gift in Summer
The dating of Christmas as December 25th was, as I understand, based not on historic fact but to compete with an earlier Roman holiday. And a gift need not be intended as one in order to so serve. Thus the following.
Last June a group of us from CHBC accompanied Jason to Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange. We went at the invitation of Rev. Dean Bucalos, pastor of Luther Luckett Christian Church. (Learn more athttp://www.luckettprisonministry.com/) We arrived on a beautiful sunny evening and were welcomed and escorted through tight security to the prison chapel.
The chapel was quite nice. The men welcomed us warmly, shaking our hands vigorously anytime we offered the opportunity. Jason led the service, some of our group helped lead, and inmates offered a duet and joined vigorously in joyful hymns and vigorous "amen"’s. Jason’s sermon was on how very much God loves each of us, regardless of how we feel about ourselves, and that this love is not earned but flows from God’s very nature. The sermon was quite warmly received by the men and us visitors.
The gift. All I have known of prison life has been from movies portraying it as bleak and brutal. Perhaps much is. But these men at LLCC were so warm and welcoming that my views of prison life and prison inmates were quite transformed. Their sincerity and joy in worship will be with me always. A beautiful Christmas gift in June.
by John Birkimer
The Safest Place on Earth
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped
him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for
them in the inn. ~Luke 2:7
Several years ago our family received a very welcome Christmas gift. It was not wrapped in bright paper; in fact, it came after Christmas! We had celebrated Christmas with my parents in Kansas and were returning to Louisville. The weather was not good when we left Wichita, and the roads became slick with ice as we drove to Missouri. As darkness approached, we decided it was time to find a motel. However, many other travelers had made the same decision earlier, and as was true long ago, "There was no room for them at the inn."
We were weary and uneasy, but there seemed to be no place to go to avoid the dangers of the highway. Finally, lights from a building in the distance offered hope. We discovered an "all night" truck stop and restaurant. I tried to forget some of the stories I had heard about such places, and we went inside. The place was filled with stranded travelers -- it may have been one of the safest places on earth that night! We found a booth where our two children could rest on cushions, and Amelia and I could alternate saying with the children or resting in the car for a few minutes. Several hours passed, the weather improved, highway crews came, and it was safe to travel again.
Although we journeyed from Louisville to Wichita and back again many times after that year, we did not stop at the restaurant again. But I could see the place from the highway, and every time we passed I offered a silent prayer of gratitude for a good gift which came at the very time we needed it.
Gracious God, thank you for coming to us at Christmas
and at other times when we are most in need of You. Amen.
by Paul Debusman (1992)
When I was in the 8th grade at Barret Jr. High School I joined the Barret Band. I was using a school instrument. It was a metal clarinet. I wanted to have my own clarinet so I could take it home to practice the music. My father ordered me a clarinet from the Sears and Roebuck catalog for Christmas. As it turned out the clarinet did not arrive by December 25. That was a big disappointment for me. But it finally got there about a week later. It was the best present I ever got in my life. I used it all the way through college. Later I got a much better clarinet which I still play. But the old Sears – Roebuck clarinet was the best present I ever received.
by Jane Crecelius
Best Christmas Ever
My best Christmas gift was one given each December of my childhood. On Christmas Eve dad read the Luke Christmas story as we sat around the tree. Then we opened gifts and sang carols while dad played either the organ or guitar. Every year, I called this "the best Christmas ever."
Christmas day breakfast was at the Reiquams, my maternal grandparents. We had a big Norwegian breakfast and my grandmother’s special sugar cookies. After breakfast we had more Christmas Bible stories or family holiday stories.
Christmas dinner was at Grandmother Johnson’s. We were joined by numerous cousins plus dad’s siblings and spouse. The love of one another and the families’ devotion to Jesus made it a monumental Christmas each year.
As I grew older I realized that my parents were somewhat unique in providing a very modest Christ-centered holiday time with the emphasis being not on gifts but on the birth of Jesus. None discussed how expensive the gifts were that they received or gave. The purpose of the holiday time was to help me and my three siblings (later four) feel loved by my family and learn to appreciate the wonderful gift God has given to us in the birth of His Son. No one taught us to be afraid of God. The emphasis was on the love of God for us and the love that created us and the world around us. I am so thankful for this greatest of all Christmas gifts.
by Sharleen Birkimer
The best gift I have ever received came, not on Christmas, but on October 8, 2007. After five months of frantic dread over why Ian was not calling from New Orleans, I wept when I heard his voice. Regardless of what he wanted to say, this call meant that he was alive. "Mom," he said, "I need help." Three words—"I need help," gave me hope I had not had for over a decade. You know the rest of this story: you celebrate with our family every week as Ian walks and serves God among us, radiant in his new-found joy. Thanks be to God.
But my point here is the spoken words. For years our family suffered under the weight of unspoken needs, pain, and Ian’s attempts to ease his pain. Advent is a perfect time to say the words that need to be said. Letting go of our pride, swallowing our fear, moving the anger aside for a moment, just taking the time, is the perfect gift for you and whomever you call. Sometimes we just need to say, "Hello," to acknowledge the existence of another person. Make someone’s day: call and say "I was just thinking about you. How are you .....................?"
Who knows? Maybe your call will turn both your lives upside down.
by Sara Jo Hooper
A Potpourri of Gifts Remembered
We sat around the table this Thanksgiving sharing stories we’d remembered about Christmases past and gifts we’d received. Although, for most of us, the years pass by in a blur with similar traditions and the giving and receiving of gifts, there were a few unique memories of Christmas experiences. I’ll highlight a few in the space below:
While living in Portsmouth Carolyn surprised me with an exquisitely refinished roll top desk that had belonged to my great grandfather. Dr. John Moran, pastor of the First Baptist Church there had allowed her to use his furniture refinishing shop and given her expert advice. Peggy had come for the occasion, and Anne-Britton recalls thinking she’d never arrive and being grateful when she finally showed up.
David recalled the lessons he’d learned collecting aluminum cans to help purchase his first computer, a Commodore 64, given as a Christmas gift. He and Anne-Britton experienced the thrill of finding it hidden in a closet and playing with it several weeks before the actual Christmas day arrived.
Peggy and Carolyn recalled a Christmas when their sister who had been working many hours at a department store in Tulsa said she wasn’t ready for Christmas, and their father, Kermit Schmidt, said they’d wait a day or two until she was ready. He graciously gave them the gift of time. Peggy’s mother once gave her the gift of presence when she drove from Tulsa to Dodge City, Kansas, to take care of Peggy when she was sick over the holidays and unable to make it home.
Peggy recalled a sad Christmas that her (and Carolyn’s) aunt Gail told them about during the Depression in Oklahoma when she and her brother Kermit’s parents were only able to afford two gifts for their children: a ball for Kermit, and a doll for Gail.
We recalled a time when having Christmas in New Jersey everyone got sick from an intestinal ailment, and can affirm that whenever people gather for Christmas and get through the holidays without getting sick, it’s a gift. It was also a gift when on Dec 25, 1999, Anne-Britton was able to go to the hospital in Richmond, not for an illness, but for the successful delivery of Morgan.
Finally, there’s the gift of special music during Christmas, and we all have our favorites. And some of us are even performers. I don’t play the trombone much anymore but every year practice just enough to play Christmas carols for our office holiday party. A couple years ago when Leila was at Jefferson Place, we were blessed with the gift of CHBC carolers who stopped by one Sunday evening to sing for us, and then there’s one of Leila’s musical favorites, The Holy City, which could be sung at either Christmas or Easter.
With more thinking and perhaps some hypnosis we’d come up with more memories, and we’re thankful for all the memories we have.
by John Arnett (and family)
The Teddy Bear
You may know I have a special affection for old Teddy Bears. On Christmas Eve 1992 I was given a very old, loved Teddy Bear by a special friend. The note she wrote inside the card that came with the Teddy Bear says,
Given to Alice Walter Bell
by her parents William and
Malinda Walters on her
5th Christmas – 1918.
Teddy has seen a lot
of hard play and much love.
Cherish him, Brian
She gave me her Teddy Bear because she believed I would love and cherish him. I have! The Teddy Bear has a name, Robert B. Bear. He took a trip all by himself to New York City for a photo shoot and was featured in the 1993 national Teddy Bear calendar. He has a special place under our Christmas tree each year and a special place in the house so Greg and I can see him every day!
I believe this is one of the reasons why God gave us Jesus, to love and cherish Him. So the question for me today is how can I show God I love and cherish His son Jesus?
My prayer for today and hopefully ever day is: God help me see the people that are in my life today that need to be Loved and Cherished. For by loving and cherishing them, I know You will see my love for your Son Jesus.
by Brian Williams
A Gift That Changed My Life
When I was eight years old and my sister was six years old, our birth father left us. It was a very difficult time for my mother, my sister and me for about two years. Then my mother met this wonderful mane; they fell in love and were married when I was twelve years old and my sister was ten years old.
In the fall of 1948 Daddy expressed a desire to adopt my sister and me. My birth father gave his consent! We became Lotta and Betty Roth. What a gift of unconditional love and acceptance. We became "the girls" to all of Daddy’s family and were accepted as if we had been in the family from birth.
Daddy gave me the gift of having the love of a father who was steadfast in his love for me. He gave me the gift of truest acceptance and tolerance. He and Mama lived a life filled with love and devotion for fifty-six years.
by Betty Schnur
Many Christmas's ago I was working as a police officer
and pulled the Christmas shift. This would be my first Christmas away from
family and little did I know how different Christmas would be. While
families gather together, another world devoid of love, friendship, hope and
faith exists to those who must answer calls for disturbances, for fights, or for
the help that a police officer provides.
The people that one is likely to see as a police officer on Christmas are desperate and lonely. In my naďveté I thought all people gathered with their families to enjoy fellowship, gift-giving and happiness. My greatest gift that year was rushing home to my family (after the shift was over) and delighting in just being together for this wonderful holiday.
Prayer - - Dear Lord: Wrap warm, loving arms around the lonely and the desolate this year, reminding everyone of your words: "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you." John 14:18 (R.S.V.)
by Diane Robl
"Daddy has something very special for you," Mother confided, adding "But you have to promise you will share it with the other children." This scene repeated itself several times as the holiday approached. I knew he got whatever it was for nine cents on a punch card, but, regardless of how much Daddy actually paid, this gift was apparently going to stand out as something to be coveted.
A week before Christmas I stumbled across it while looking for a bar of soap. Right there in the pantry! Some secret! It was a pretty camera, burgundy and cream; the surprise was ruined. I was a relatively generous 11-year-old, and the repeated warnings to be generous didn’t sit well with me either. I almost wished it was going to someone else.
I don’t remember that Christmas morning; but I do remember that, although I liked the camera and used it for several years, I never felt it was really mine. I remember only one time when a sib even asked to use it, but that camera was so bound in the strings attached to the giving and receiving that I was never able to allow myself to become attached to it.
That gift, and the way it was given, taught me an important life lesson: If you’re going to give something, give it; no strings attached; no conditions. Give freely, the way God gave us his Son and pours out gifts upon us every day of our lives.
by Sara Jo Hooper
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we
have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and
truth. ~John 1:14
Have you ever been given an extravagant gift?
It was the last day of my summer mission trip to Panama City, Florida, and I was going to see Shirley. She lived in a shack in an extremely poor part of the inner city, the kind of area where people warn you to roll up your car windows as you drive through. She and her husband didn't even have a stove to cook on, and over the summer I had brought her bread for sandwiches, a file to sharpen the axe they used to chop wood, a couple of ribbons for her hair, an almost-new Bible. Life had been hard for Shirley, who had lost one brother to suicide and one to murder. Her mother couldn't recognize her any more because she had a brain aneurysm. Stories about devastating crises flow as matter-of-factly from Shirley as stories about the weather. I wasn't prepared for what she taught me about giving.
On my last day in Panama City, Shirley nervously told me that she wanted to give me a gift. She had made it -- a beautiful, almost-white, crocheted book mark "to put in my Bible," she said. It had taken her a month to find the book on how to make it and to get the string and starch to make it with.
My heart was quiet as I drove a vanload of teenagers home. When the reality of the gift finally sunk in I began to cry. Never before had I understood the word "unworthy." I was the missionary, but Shirley had taught me about extravagant giving.
Then I noticed that the bookmarker was in the shape of a cross, and for a brief second, I understood the value of the gift of Jesus.
Dear God, Thank you for all the extravagant gifts you give us, especially the gift of Jesus.
by Colleen Burroughs (1992)
The Unexpected Gift
In the fall of 2003, Kate and I were engaged and living in Nashville. I was working at a small deli. The building next to the deli housed a pet-adoption agency, Love at First Sight. That name was fitting, at least in my case. I visited Love at First Sight during my breaks at the deli. Early that fall, a young puppy named Wynona, a brindle lab/terrier mix (we later found out that lab/terrier mix meant a hint of lab and mostly pit bull terrier) appeared there. She instantly stole my heart. However, I could only adore Wynona from afar. The apartment where I was living did not permit pets.
At any given time, the agency had about 10 puppies up for adoption. As the weeks ticked by, other puppies were adopted and new puppies appeared, but Wynona remained. And, she grew. All the other puppies were kept in small crates, but Wynona outgrew hers. She was moved to a larger pen placed on the floor. Even though I was delighted to see Wynona everyday I walked into adoption agency, with each passing day I grew more and more worried that Wynona would never find a home. One day in November I walked in and saw Wynona was gone. I was glad she found a home and thought that was that. However, a couple days later she was back. The family that adopted her wasn’t ready for a puppy after all. My heart sank.
One evening in mid-December, I went over to Kate’s apartment for dinner. She told me to wait in the living room and close my eyes. When I opened them, there was Wynona. Kate adopted her for me. Kate wasn’t as wild as I was about Wynona. That whole pit-bull thing caused her more concern than it did me. But, Kate’s apartment permitted pets.
Wynona is nine now. She helped us get through our wedding preparations. She moved with us and braved the cold along with us in Ann Arbor. She put up with us when we adopted another dog, a deaf Boston-Terrier/Chihuahua mix named Lucinda. She was there waiting for us when we brought Brooks home from the hospital. She sits by my side when I write sermons.
Wynona was the most unexpected gift I have ever received. The unexpectedness of it all increased the joy of her arrival in my life. I experienced the joy of a completely unexpected gift because Kate put me before herself. I can't help but think that this is a taste of the kind of joy that God, who gave God's Son for us all, has in store for us. Jesus suffered on the cross so that we may all experience a variety of unexpected gifts. As we close our eyes and wait to celebrate the birth of Christ once more this season, who knows what kind of unexpected gifts we might discover when we reopen them and look for our Savior.
by Jason Crosby
Receiving and Giving
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…"
I was born during the depression, yet I had a very happy childhood with wonderful Christmases – the smell of fresh cedar, the aroma of cookies baking, candy, oranges, nuts, and an emphasis on the story of the birth of Jesus. Until I was about nine, my Christmases did not include toys – maybe a little something, but something so insignificant that I no longer remember. There is one Christmas, however, that has a place in my memory as truly special. I was almost six and my sister had just turned ten. We awoke first in our household that Christmas and slipping out to the cold front room where the piano was, my sister played and together we sang "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" and some other carols. My sister said later that it was only three o’clock, but Daddy got up and built us a fire, and Mother said that was the sweetest way to wake up on Christmas morning! That afternoon Mrs. Purvis, a neighbor, came over and brought me and my sister a wonderful gift. Her girls were older and they had given us two of their dolls. They were large dolls, not new but they looked new. Mine had a porcelain head with eyes that opened and closed, porcelain arms and legs, and a soft body. Both were dressed beautifully and mine even had a green glass necklace. I had never seen anything so wonderful. I named my doll Betty; my sister’s became Joyce. I shall always remember that gift with gratitude and joy.
A few years later when my sister and I were working, we always managed to prepare Christmas food and toys for a family less privileged. When Buddy (Tom) and I were dating, we decided to do that for a family in the country that we had heard was struggling. I’m sure our families helped us with the project; I simply remember that we had a big box of food and a number of gifts. On Christmas Eve afternoon Buddy and I delivered the things to the family. The front of the house was dark, but there was a light in the back. As we walked around to the kitchen, we saw through the living room window a cedar tree, without lights, without ornaments, but with construction paper chains around it. We knocked on the back door and three children answered our knock, eyes wide with wonder and surprise. They told us that their parents weren’t home, but when we asked if we could put some things on their kitchen table, they opened the door wide. They did not smile but they were polite as we stepped in and put down the gifts we were carrying. They thanked us and we left. Perhaps, being young, we were a bit disappointed that they seemed almost indifferent. Rounding the kitchen, however, we could see through the window a scene that astonished us. They were diving into the food with absolute glee! What a joyous Christmas for us!
These two incidents did not change my life, of course, but they informed my life. Both internally and externally, I know the joy that comes from giving and receiving. The true meaning of Christmas is in giving with love, even as God gave us his son.
by Marjorie Ash
How does a child learn to believe in
things they can’t see, touch or feel or hear? How does a child learn to have
When I was 3 years of age (as the story goes) I was nosey and I had found everything that Mom had hidden for Christmas. Christmas Eve came and there was no way that Mom could buy more presents. What was she going to put underneath the tree so that I would know Santa had been there, so that my belief would continue?
I came downstairs Christmas morning and Santa had been there! There was a box of chocolate covered cherries underneath the tree. Santa had come! My belief and faith continued and a tradition was begun of chocolate covered cherries at Christmas.
Most of all I was learning to believe in things that I couldn’t see, touch , feel or hear. I was learning that all things are possible and that I was loved. Without this beginning I may not have become who I am.
by Beth Wade
You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep
remembering that our Master said ,"You're far happier giving than
getting. ~Acts 20:35 (The Message)
It was incredible to watch the children's faces as they experienced the truth in Acts 20:35 -- "You're far happier giving than getting."
Last Christmas morning, the family gathered for breakfast, stories, laughter, and music and to exchange gifts with Morgan and Logan. But the problem was -- they couldn't stay focused on receiving treats. No -- the big excitement for them was delivering hand-wrapped gifts to each special adult in their world.
Having been gifted that year with oil paints, brushes, canvases and "lessons with Nana," they had lovingly produced original art for each. And they couldn't wait a minute longer for these special gifts to be received.
The family enjoyed the talent and the composition each child had chosen for each gift -- from stained glass windows, to fields, to mountains and rocks -- What a wonderful reminder of all God's gifts to us.
What a gift!! The children's recreations of a glimpse of God's Grand creation!
Thanks be to God for gifts of creation, for beauty and for children.
by Peggy Schmidt
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Our friend Gary spends most holidays at our house. The rest of the year he lives in a group home for developmentally delayed adults in Brandenburg, KY. Gary looks forward with anticipation to his visit with us at Christmas and the rituals that have become a part of it. When he is with us, he follows David's every move. On Christmas Eve, he and David shop for things on Gary's perpetual wish list: two Elvis Presley CDs, a watch, a ring, and either a cowboy hat or a CD player. On Christmas morning, Gary can hardly wait to see what Santa has left him in his stocking and impatiently waits for the family to gather and open gifts. He opens every gift with total relish and abandon.
The joy continues in sharing Christmas dinner with family and friends. He greets each person as they arrive with a handshake and, if possible, a hug. He gets to sit at David's right at dinner. We know the meal is over when Gary announces, "See, Mrs. Graves, I cleaned my plate."
In our eyes, Christmas has a certain poignancy for Gary. On Christmas Eve, when he had just turned five, his mother committed him to the Kentucky Training Home in Frankfort, KY. His entire childhood and early adulthood were spent in state institutions without family contacts. What a miracle that out of such a lonely life Gary can so joyfully experience the love surrounding the coming of the baby Jesus.
We experience the full meaning of Advent with Gary at our Christmas Eve service. He seems to be engulfed in true anticipation, as he raises his candle and sings, "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. . . ."
O Lord, help us, like Gary, to take joy in simple things. Amen.
by Margaret Graves (2002)
The Gift of Community
Now I’m turning you over to God, our marvelous God whose gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends. ~Acts 20:32
This collection of memories was shared with me by our Hope Academy students. Though their stories differ, there is a reoccurring theme throughout – the gift of community. As they told their stories and memories, their excitement grew. Often multiple boys were sharing at once and faster than I could record their memories. I share a few of those memories of the gift of community with you, as told to me by the students.
We celebrate Christmas in Tham Hin camp. All the kids wait outside for Santa Claus to come. Santa has a big bag in his shirt like it is his stomach and then he throws candy to the children waiting. Of course, it is a Karen man being Santa, but like an American Santa with the white beard and everything. All the kids run for the candy. Not as much candy as in America so we had to be fast if we wanted to get candy. But if your friend didn’t get any candy we would share what we got. We would have a big community concert and after the concert Santa would come.
~Eh Thaw Thaw
Me and my friend went to people’s houses and knock. We would sing for the people. When we finish the song we said, "Halleluiah! Good Night." Some people would give us money, so we would go to many houses. We share the money with everyone that was singing in the group. We would use the money to buy food. We would share the food with our friends.
~Moo Rah Soe
At Christmas everyone in the camp got together. We played 3-legged races and games where we hop like a frog. We played these games at Christmas and New Year and we got candy if we won. Everyone would cheer you on. You wanted to be the fastest to get the prize. Whoever won would share the candy with their friends.
~Der Lwe and Kaw Doh Soe
Referring to the conversation about caroling.
In Thailand they are waiting for people to come sing to you. America they are surprised if you come to their door.
The Buddhists would let a hot air balloon go every year. The basket was filled with money and things. When we would see the balloon we would run after it and wait for the fire to go out and the balloon to fall and we would try to get the money. They would let the balloons go every year. When we found the money we could share it with our family to buy food. Sometimes the sent little boxes down the river with things inside. We would try to find those when we were fishing.
~Eh Thaw Thaw, Kaw Doh Soe, Moo Raw Soe
(Note: Buddhists in Thailand have two festivals the students were referring to. In the festival of Yi Peng, small hot air balloons are released as a way of releasing their sins. In the festival of Loi Krathong, small boxes or items wrapped in banana leaves are floated down the river as a way to bring good luck.)
Some of the boys recounted an event much like Special Olympics. It was a community gathering of competitions for individuals with physical disabilities.
…you know like they have no leg. They would play soccer and draw. The whole community came out to watch and cheer them. The community would give them things like soap, rice, and a toothbrush. Sometimes we would get to play too. We had fun playing with them. They played better than some people who had legs. It’s a big day.
told by Pe Heh, Chee Low, Kaw Doh Soe
God of Community, may we all see the gift of those around us, who share what they have with us, who cheer us on, who celebrate with us. Amen.
by The Hope Academy Students
edited by Andrea Woolley