“Christmas is a time to bridge the gaps between us. It’s not about the gifts, it’s about the heart. A unique time of year when we can find a common ground…even if we don’t have common beliefs.”
Here we are, only a day away from Christmas Eve.
It’s been a rough year, with both tragedy and miracles.
Though I know this is a bit late, I wanted to repost one of my favorite Christmas posts from WantedHero.com, which I thought was lost forever.
Another miracle—I found an old copy of the post, and it’s worth sharing =)
(This article was originally posted on December 16th 2014)
I teach 12 to 15 year olds in Sunday School and in this community, the Church likes to do holiday programs. Now, I’ve been teaching for well over 15 years, but there’s one thing I don’t do and that’s programs.
Kathilynn does programs—both for little kids, teens, ladies, you name it. All my eight daughters can sing, heck even one of my boys can sing (I’m still trying to convince Nathan to do a recording, so I can show him off to you).
…but I do NOT do programs.
However I do teach and I’m a storytelling nut so….
I took the idea to the kids and got an explosion of feedback. No one wanted to sing (thank goodness). Only a handful wanted to do a skit (also thank goodness), so I finally asked the children what they thought of the idea of reading a story to the congregation?
Not one from a book—but one we would write together.
That got their attention.
Hey, my best selling book to date is still Advanced WORLDBUILDING—so why not use it in class, right?
**insert fun here**
For the next few weeks, we hammered out a series of ideas, using the guidelines and techniques from my book and you know what? Those kids are clever.
We started with what we wanted to have everyone feel. Then we listed secondary reactions and what we wanted to have people take away from this story.
They were very specific—especially about making the mom’s cry…but in a good way.
When we fleshed it all out, added the specific events they wanted, they turned the list over to me and I got it written.
So I present to you and original story, by Wanted Hero and my Sunday School class.
Do me a favor and let the kids know if they did good in the comments below—they’ll love it. Enjoy.
Gifts to Jesus: A Christmas Story
It was that time of year again & Joseph stood patiently in the doorway, staring at his wife.
The snow continued to fall outside the windows and if the weather reports we correct, the family would be snowed in over the weekend.
The news made Mary cringe.
She dreaded the Holidays…especially Christmas.
“Would you like to join us, dear?” Joseph asked her softly. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
Mary didn’t answer. She simply fixated on the falling flakes outside the window of her bedroom.
Joseph waited patiently for a minute, then added, “Would you like to open the box tonight or tomorrow morning?”
Again he waited for a reply which he knew would not come.
Silently nodding, he vanished from the doorway.
Joseph knew she wouldn’t answer, but it was important to include Mary anyway.
To give her that chance.
It was only right.
The two children were waiting in the family room, a fire roaring in the hearth. Amy looked up from the rocking chair, her baby brother Jake, on her lap, quietly sucking his pacifier.
Joseph’s steps were heavy as he worked his way down the stairs, not sure what he would say. Another year of Christmas without mother.
“She’s not coming down, is she?” his daughter asked soberly.
He shook his head, “Don’t think so, sweetie.”
Kissing her brother on the forehead, Amy set Jake on the floor to play with the small collection of wooden blocks.
“She has to face this, Dad. It’s been two years.” “I know.”
“We all miss Josh,” she said, choking up, “but we need her too.” Her eyes flickered to the small golden box on the mantle.
Every year, on the last day of November, Mary and Joseph would dress up and pretend to be the Mary and Joseph of old. The family would gather together, warm in their pajamas, and read about the birth of Jesus from the New Testament. After the story was over, each family member would write a personal letter to the Christ child, making an offering, much like the Three Wise Men.
Yet these were tasks, to be accomplished before Christmas Eve.
Each letter was then folded up and placed in the small golden box, which rested, undisturbed, upon the mantle during the month. On Christmas Eve, the box was taken down and the letters read aloud for all to hear. The offerings were revealed and all could see if each task was completed.
It was a precious family tradition, focusing on these gifts to the Savior instead of the present under the tree. Everyone loved it.
There was a seven-year gap between Amy and her little brother, who she called her ‘angel’. From the moment Joshua was born, the two had been close…and the gifts to Jesus was their special time. Together they would think of the things they could do for others, together. Brother and sister.
Joshua was always the last to put his letter into the box and the first one to read his aloud. Set upon writing his own letters to Jesus, even at four years old, Amy would help him by writing the small notes dictated to her. Joshua would then carefully and meticulously trace letter by letter onto blank typing paper, until he had learned to write by himself.
It took him longer than anyone else to complete, but it made the experience…special.
Unfortunately, Christmas Eve didn’t come last year.
A car accident forced the family to spent several days in the ICU, oblivious to the season.
Jake had been born early…while Joshua, only eight years old, passed away that morning.
Mary had placed Joshua’s picture on the mantle, nestled behind the golden box. The box which had never been opened or taken down.
She could cope well enough during the year, but the closer the Holidays arrived, the more distraught Mary became. She ignored everyone, including her new baby boy.
Joseph pulled his daughter close and hugged her tightly. “You’re a good girl…and I’m proud of you, Amy. Your mother couldn’t have made it,” but he corrected himself, “WE couldn’t have made it, without your help. I hope you know that.” He searched for the right words. “We will get through this. She’s just hurting–and doesn’t know how to cope with the loss.”
Amy sobbed onto her father’s shoulder. “I just want her to get better, dad. I miss her–almost as much as I miss Joshua.”
Wiping the tears from her cheek with his finger, Joseph smiled and then reached down to snatch up Jake from the floor. He gave the toddler a hug, growling as he did so. Jakes smiled and growled back.
“Let’s have family prayer and call it a night, ok?” said Joseph.
“Why don’t you lead us,” he smiled, kissing her on the forehead, though now his smile looked weak and taxed. “God tends to hear a wounded and troubled heart more readily.” Kneeling together, they shared their tears.
“Dear Father in Heaven,” Amy started, her voice barely above a whisper. “Thank you for this time of year, for the love that Thou has shown us, especially in the gift of Thy Son to the world.
“Father, we love Thee, and we thank Thee, especially for our family. We thank Thee for helping us through the pain and heartache of losing my little brother, Joshua.
“But Father, we ask Thee, in the name of Thy Son, to please…please help our mother to heal. Please…help our family to heal and bring her back to us.
“This we ask Thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
That night, Joseph tried again.
“Why won’t you join us, Mary?” he pleaded softly, climbing into bed. “Amy is so distraught. She’s worried about you.” But that wasn’t the whole truth. “I’m worried about you also,” he admitted. “Your family needs you. The children need you. I need you.”
Mary’s drawn face looked all too pale in the moonlight. The snow was still falling. There was no way she would be able to slip out Christmas morning and take a walk to escape the festivities.
It was so painful to see the decorations. To see all the reminders of her little boy around them at this time of year.
Joshua’s favorite time of year.
“I’m not ready,” Mary choked, thoughts of Joshua pricking her mind. She looked to her husband, pain reflected in her eyes. “It’s too soon.”
“Alright. Then let me try and create some semblance of our traditions. You can seclude yourself while Amy and I read the letters to…”
“NO!” Mary snapped, “You can’t! It…,” but she wasn’t quite sure what to say. It was never going to be easy to read the last letter written by her little boy. The child who was always there, always smiling, always cheerful.
And God had taken her child away…on the morning of Christ’s birth. “Please don’t,” was all she could think of. “It’s not Christmas Eve anymore.”
“Alright, Mary,” Joseph sighed loudly. “One more year.” He patted the comforter next to him. “One more year, IF you agree to have breakfast with us. Together, as a family.”
Slipping from the window seat, Mary shuffled across the floor and climbed up onto the bed. “Alright,” she agreed, slipping under the covers.
…and Joseph turned out the lights.
In the soft blue glow of the moonlight, Mary lay there awake, listening to her husband softly snore beside her.
She couldn’t sleep.
Her heart felt as if it would burst.
Pictures flashed in her mind–the night she drove home, and the accident which changed their family forever. It was no ones fault. Black ice, fog, and the sharp corners of Mill Creek road…
Why hadn’t they let her see Joshua before he died?
She was strong enough. Jake had been successfully delivered. They should have let her at least say goodbye!
Mary clenched the covers tightly to her chest.
That’s what hurt so terribly.
She never got to say goodbye.
Biting her lip, she sobbed silently, tears rolling down her cheeks until they pooled under her head, soaking her pillow.
She blinked. Then she squinted.
A lightning bug was outside the window.
No–it was too cold.
Mary sat upright when the tiny light drifted through the glass and gently bounced about the room until it hovered just above the corner of her bed–right at the end of her feet.
Then it grew.
It was several moments before Mary realized she was holding her breath. She gasped.
There…at the end of her bed, sat Joshua.
His round, piercing blue eyes staring up at her.
Reaching out with a quivering hand, she whispered, “Joshua…is that…really you?”
He smiled brightly.
“Dad?” came a soft voice.
Joseph blinked once. Then again. Lifting his head, which felt as large as a watermelon, he stared at the alarm clock.
“Ohhhhhhhh,” he moaned, letting his face plop back down into his pillow.
“Dad!” Amy hissed. She was standing in the doorway, bouncing Jake on her hip. Her eyes were wide and fixed.
“What’s wrong?” Joseph asked sleepily. Reaching behind him to waken Mary, his hand found only the cold spot where she should have been.
“Dad,” Amy said again, “it’s mom. You’d better come downstairs.”
Mary was standing in the center of the family room, her thin robe wrapped around her shoulders awkwardly, like a shawl. Her pajama pants were twisted and she only had one sock on. Mary’s face was pale.
“Dad,” Amy whispered behind him, “I think she’s been down here all night.”
Mary’s attention seemed fixed on the golden box a top the mantle.
Placing a hand on her shoulder, Joseph asked her, “Mary, are you alright?”
Her skin was cold to the touch and her body shook ever so slightly as if it took all her strength to remain standing.
“I’m sorry,” Mary suddenly said aloud.
Turning to look directly at her daughter, tears welled up. “Your little brother died, Amy, and I miss him. I miss him SO MUCH,” she blurted out, “and I let myself die with him.”
Reaching out, Mary pulled Amy and Jake into her embrace. “I left you alone,” she sobbed. “My sweet, darling child, who stood by me for these two years, waiting.” She kissed Amy’s forehead and cheek, “I am so sorry I left you alone. Please forgive me.”
Amy sobbed and then smiled brightly. “I love you mom.” “And I love you back.”
“Mary,” Joseph stepped up and wrapped his large arms around his family, “you look like you’ve been up all night. You must tired.”
“Yes,” she replied, letting her head rest on his chest, “I am. I’m tired of hiding. Tired of crying. Tired of being angry at God.”
Then Mary smiled. Not a forced, mechanical smile they had seen for the past two years?but the warm, bright smile of hope they remembered.
“I’ve seen Joshua,” Mary whispered. She looked from Amy to Joseph. “Our son came to me last night.”
Joseph went rigid. “Mary, I…”
“Oh, I’m not crazy, Joseph,” she clarified, “It was only a dream, I know that,” but she paused, “it had to be…but it was a wonderful dream.” She reached out and squeezed his hand. “I couldn’t have asked for a greater blessing. One that I will cherish for the rest of my life.” The tears fell freely, but the smile remained. “I was able to say goodbye.”
“What did he say, mother?” Amy asked curiously. She handed Jake to her mother. “What did Joshua tell you?”
Mary wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and kissed the baby fiercely on the cheek. “He said the angels are excited. All of heaven is excited, especially at this time of year. He sat there, on the corner of our bed, and said he was sent to tell us that heaven is preparing for the second coming.”
Amy blinked twice, “God sent…my eight-year-old brother?”
Mary smirked, “Makes sense, doesn’t it? His favorite time of year…,”but she looked at Amy soberly. “Joshua said he was to tell us that our time is sacred and not to be wasted. It is time to build our love, heal wounds between us and to reach out to those around us.”
Mary smiled at her husband. “It is at this time of year that Heaven is closest to us and hearts are more easily touched.”
She then took a deep breath and exhaled as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Joshua said that Christmas was intended to be a reminder of what has been given and of how much we are loved.”
Handing the baby back to her daughter, Mary then wrapped her arms around her husband. For a small eternity, she rested her head against his chest, closing her eyes to the soft beat of his heart.
“There will always be a hole,” she said softly, “in my heart. I know that now. Because a part of my heart belongs to Joshua. To the child I lost…and he can’t be replaced. But last night I was able to hold him once more. If only in my dreams, I got to touch his perfect face and see his precious smile one last time.”
Looking up at Joseph, she smiled behind large tears. “He said our loved ones are always close by. That when we live worthy lives, we can feel them and have more of their influence in our lives. That’s why Christ was born into this world. To save us…and to make us whole. The perfect gift…to an imperfect world…because we are family. God’s family.”
Before Joseph could reply, Mary’s attention was once again drawn to the small golden box. For what seemed like forever, they stood together in silence.
Finally Joseph put his strong hands on Mary’s shoulders. “It’s not Christmas Eve.”
Mary nodded. “I know.”
Amy walked to the mantle. Lifting the box down, she paused. “Do you want me to read for Joshua?” “No,” her mother replied, sitting down on the couch, “I’d like to do it if you don’t mind.”
Amy handed her mother the golden box with delicate ribbon.
Only the popping coals could be heard as Mary lifted the lid and stared down at the yellowing, roughly folded piece of paper laying on top. Hands which quivered more and more as the moments passed lifted the paper out and unfolded it.
Eyes flickered across the page.
A hand popped up to cover her mouth as eyes grew wide.
Joseph knelt down at the arm of the couch. “Darling? Are you alright?”
“Could it have been real?” Mary whispered to herself in disbelief. Her now trembling hand passed the paper to her husband.
Frowning, Joseph studied the letter. The writing was uneven and labored, with crossed “t’s” and dotted “i’s” as an afterthought. There was no question Joshua had written the letter.
Joseph gasped as he read to himself.
When he looked up, he found the wife he loved, smiling at him. The letter read…
You said in the Bible that if we do things for other people, we do it for you too.
So this year, I want to give you two presents.
For my gift to you, I promise to find someone sad and help them to be happy again.
I’ll tell them about you and how wonderful you are. That even though your Father took you home, you will come to us again someday, because you love us.
I think if someone knows you love them, they will feel happy.
So I will tell people about you, and remind them to remember you on Christmas. Love,
Christmas changed that year, for everyone.
The golden box and gifts to Jesus became more than just a family tradition. It became the center point of each Christmas season. A time to remember the greatest gift mankind has received…and the example the Savior set for us to follow.
Now grandchildren and great grandchildren joined in the festivities–writing their letters and making their offerings of the heart to the Christ child, then placing them in the golden box upon the mantle.
The box is a bit bigger now…and it sits under a smiling picture of Joshua, his last letter now framed and hanging from the wall.