The next six posts will be short recollections of holiday times with family. Each will include something that somehow is etched permanently into my memory from holidays past. And each will include some lesson learned from that magical (or, in some cases, mournful) holiday moment. Do you have a Christmas memory you’d like to share with readers? If so, send it to email@example.com. The best three entries will earn the writers one of each item in our three holiday specials this year. This prize set will include:
- 1 “How to Build Great Kids” DVD
- 1 “Shepherd’s Special” DVD
- 1 “Digger Doug Rocks” CD
So, take a few minutes to tell us what rocked your brightest holiday. Tell us that sentimental story about the good old days or even about the year you accidentally left the 90% off tag on your mother-in-law’s purse or the year the dog got into the Christmas turkey before you did. Be sure to complete this sentence at the end” “The moral to this story is…”
So hear goes: Merry Memories Countdown
#6 A Dickens Christmas
One of our favorite pastimes is reading aloud to each other as we travel. For 25 years or so we read as a family. Now I mostly read to Glenn. It helps keep us awake on the long speaking trips and passes the time in airports. Sometimes we read biographies that help us understand events in history. We love British fiction and both fiction and non-fiction by C.S. Lewis. Sometimes we read Jan Karon or James Herriott. But for the past couple of weeks we’ve been reading various sections of a Dickens anthology. More specifically, for the past few days, we’ve rather labored through a tale called “The Chimes,” featuring what seems to us to be a somewhat psychotic little crippled man named Trotty and other characters with funny names like Mrs. Chickenstalker, who is really Mrs. Tugby. I know…it hardly makes sense to us either, and we’ve spent a lot of hours in that New Year’s tale. We’ve decided Dickens really came into himself somewhere between this tale of a man who learned a lot from his long and labored dream and the famous one in which we watch the Muppets or my personal favorite, Patrick Stewart, every year.
Thanksgiving Day this year found Glenn and me out in the country at a beautiful Christmas tree farm. Our son, Caleb was visiting from grad school and we were expecting our daughter Hannah and her husband, Ben, later in the afternoon. Putting up the Christmas tree is a pretty important tradition at our house and nobody wants to miss the raising and lighting of the 12-16 footer that graces the eastern window of our red saltbox house every December. (We’re good with the tree decorating tradition being a priority for Caleb and Hannah. And one day if grandchildren have their own traditions in their own houses–traditions that trump ours–we’re good with that, too. We’re good with pretty much anything that has to do with potential grandchildren!)
Since Thanksgiving night was the only feasible time the whole gang could be together for decorating, I had to call the tree farm and make a special appointment to go and choose our tree and chop it down. (The farm doesn’t officially open till the day after Thanksgiving.) So 11:00 a.m.–we’re there. We have exactly one hour before the farm owners need to leave to go and celebrate the holiday with their family. That’s plenty of time to choose the perfect tree, cut it, load it on our trailer, take a few pictures, measure, and be on our way…our merry way.
We’re pretty indecisive, though. I mean Cheesecake Factory is not a good dessert place for us. Playing Monopoly takes forever at our house (No, I mean, more “forever” than at your house!) and you sure don’t want to accompany me to the paint store to pick a color for the bathroom. We don’t even know what “Is that your final answer?” means. So by the time we decided between pine and cedar, it was already 11:40 and we still had a lot of trees left to eliminate. The pressure was on. We had to decide quickly.
“Wait. Before we make a final decision, can we drive back to the entrance and look at that giant cedar one more time?” Caleb asked. By now, we had wandered far from the entrance to the tree farm…far from any workers…and we were absolutely the only customers on the big tree farm.
Glenn said, “Okay, but then we have to cut a tree! We can’t make these people late for their family Thanksgiving dinner.”
And so we got back in the SUV and, as we accelerated on that hillside, it took just a few seconds to notice that the Pilot wasn’t cruising along like the one on the current “Happy Honda Days” commercial. The front right tire was completely flat. Have you ever changed a tire on a Pilot? First you have to unload everything that’s in the hatch so you can access the spare compartment. Then you have to get the wrench and twist and twist and twist on a bolt that lowers the spare tire to the ground beneath the rear end of the vehicle. Then of course you do all the regular things. But if you’re on a hillside, you soon learn that, even when you get the car jacked up to the maximum height of the jack, you still can’t get the flat tire off.
So there we sat, scratching our heads about what to do. “We need something to put under the jack,” Glenn said,”something to lift the car just a few more inches.”
So we started looking. There was a dolly wheel in the trailer…too unsteady. A bag of clothing…not substantial enough. Things like cameras and shoes, but nothing that would hold up under the weight of an SUV.
“Well, there IS that Dickens book in the console,” I said.
“That might work,” Glenn said. “Besides we have to try it because we have no other choices.”.
The inscribed etching of Charles Dickens went face down and the jack rested on the back of the book. Slowly Glenn turned the wrench until the entire weight of the Pilot, all 4400 pounds, rested on the Dickens anthology.
In another couple of minutes the tire was changed and we were glad we had brought along that chainsaw. We picked, cut, measured, loaded and paid in very short order. Deadlines remedy indecision.
The tree is up now and we have finished “The Chimes.” It got better once the hero woke up and the heroine got to marry her good, albeit, poor betrothed. For a while, we thought the heroine was ON heroin. I think we may start a new tradition of finishing a Christmas tale from this anthology around the newly decorated tree. There is an impression of Dickens on the front of the book. But there’s a much deeper impression of a tire jack on the back now.
The moral to this story is…That book was the most unlikely object to be bearing the weight of an SUV on a cold December day. It was placed way out of it’s normal sphere to do a job that, at that moment, no other available tool could do. Sometimes people are like that. We somehow get into situations in which, if we get out of our normal routine a bit and step out of our “regularity”, we are able to help bear a load that no one else may bear. I think there are lots of examples of unlikely people who saved the day in the Word. A little girl stepped up to a princess and spared baby Moses the separation from his mother in Exodus 2. Gideon, the great victor, was terrified because his family was “poor in Manasseh” and he was the “least in his father’s house” (Judges 6:15). Peter and John were called “unlearned men” (Acts 4:13), yet they still teach millions of people the saving gospel each year. People even said of our Lord, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) and “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55).
Decide today that, at least once, during this holiday season, you will step out of your comfort zone. You will take a gift, along with an invitation to worship, to a neighbor you’ve not yet met. You will take a tract to your dentist, your favorite waitress at the diner or your mail carrier and say “I just thought you might enjoy reading this.” Maybe you will make a meal for a shut-in in your congregation, someone you don’t know well, and go and spend a few minutes getting to know her. I know people who have, with a simple step outside the comfort zone–with just a few words–begun to forge strong bonds of friendship, initiated relationships that turned into strong Christian marriages and started Bible studies that evolved into eternal salvation.
And these people, just like the book, are forever changed. The task completed left an imprint for good that continually reminds all who are “reading” their lives that great good comes when unlikely candidates stretch from the everyday to the extraordinary…when we stop being just the common and start acting like the called.
Okay, so maybe I’m stretching to get profundity from the Dickens anthology. It’s okay if you stretch. It’s the holiday season and this season is for having fun. So write it down. Have fun with it. We can pull little lessons from our memories without trivializing the greatness of our God and what He has done for us! All entries must be in the inbox by noon on December 20th!