I am privileged today to have a very special guest post. Matt shared this with me last week. He said he woke up one morning and started writing and just couldn’t stop and before he knew it, this had been poured out on his keyboard, filling the screen with words, memories.
May you be blessed by his reflections on Christmas, sacrifice, and what it means to give. And may you enjoy a wonderful Christmas weekend, sharing love and hope and joy with all those you meet.
For His Glory ~
My Favorite Christmas Gift Ever
I still remember the night. I was sitting, playing with my brother Patrick on a green, indoor-outdoor carpet in the unfinished area of our basement. At the time, that basement seemed huge. I’m sure if I were to visit it again, it would feel much smaller. Next to us were some storage racks, one of them holding a green, well-used baby walker and a pea-green, well-used baby-backpack carrier.
On the other side of the furnace and water heater was a room filled with all sorts of enticing treasures. Most of them were of the old military variety. A large cabinet with doors was packed full of dark green pouches and thin cardboard boxes – both of them filled with musty smelling “c-rations”. One of my best childhood memories involves the theft of these items. I don’t ever remember being given permission to eat the seemingly endless supply of this treasure-trove of snacks. Yet, on a fairly regular basis we would indulge ourselves on these forbidden treats.
I still remember the taste of the stale crackers. If you spread a little of the copper tasting cheese or peanut-butter on them, they tasted a little better. However, as anyone with experience in c-ration consumption surely knows, the real culinary ecstasy came from the chocolate covered coconut macaroon cookies. I’m not sure if it was because no one knew I was sitting under the stairs eating these goodies or if it was because my mother was completely obsessed with the health of her family (which primarily meant NO sugar). Regardless I remember feeling as if I was in heaven.
Then, there were the packets of hot cocoa. However, drinking hot cocoa would require using the kitchen and using the stove because microwaves hadn’t been invented. Further, it would require coming out from under the stairs, which would surely lead to some sort of military-style inquisition. After-all, these were covert-ops we were engaged in, and we were sworn to secrecy under threat of severe penalty. So, we ate the hot coco mix straight out of the packets. I believe I remember with the faintest of memories a time when either Patrick or Noah failed to completely clean up the evidence of a coco binger, usually left in the form of a chocolate-dust goatee. I also seem to faintly remember quickly coming up with a story about them eating dirt or something along those lines. The memory I have is that of being surprised at myself for thinking of that story so quickly and that my mom bought said story. Looking back, I’m guessing she knew exactly what was going on. Maybe she was willing to overlook our obvious transgressions because they meant the basement was slowly, but surely getting cleaned out. Maybe we fooled her. Maybe she realized in this instant that she was depriving her children of too much sugar. Regardless, in hindsight, I appreciated her mercy.
On the other side of the knotty-pine door that had a j-shaped black iron clasp-style door handle, was a knotty-pine room taken straight out of Colorado. In fact, we had a window with a mountain-view! Even as a child, I remember thinking “that is really odd”. Honestly, why would someone put a mountain view mural on the wall, then go to the trouble of building windows around it? Did they honestly think they could fool someone into not thinking they were in a basement in Kansas? Did they bring people back from far away, blindfolded and after a long drive sit them in front of that window and then expect them to absolutely love the view? I just remember being confused by these questions as a child, among other things.
However, this side of the basement also holds many fond memories as well. For this is where we first held class. The beautiful Colorado mountain view was quickly obscured by a dark chalkboard. Desks were set up facing the board. I distinctly remember my father standing at the board with a dowel rod teaching us classes before going to work. He would use the dowel rod to point out whatever it was that he was trying to teach us on the board. Then, if we didn’t learn whatever it was (probably advanced logic, or an obscure foreign language) the dowel rod also doubled as the instrument of correction. One of the things I appreciate about growing up in an unknown state of meager means is that it taught you to find multiple uses for objects.
I remember an old wooden table in the left-hand corner, with a homemade bookshelf above it. I remember that regardless of how early I got up in the morning, my mother would be sitting at that desk preparing our schooling for the day. I didn’t realize at the time that initially she didn’t really have any curriculum for us other than what she came up with. Sure, math books and history books followed, but this was a different time before homeschooling became popular, before there were more curriculum possibilities than you could possibly count. She poured her life into us in that room. She made us create “life-notebooks” which I remember hating. The lessons learned sitting there with a partially obscured view of the Colorado mountaintops are the lessons that shaped me into what and who I am today.
It was also at that table that I remember my father meeting with his first legal client. I don’t know much about that meeting; not who it was, not what they were meeting about. There was a feeling of confusion about why my dad was meeting some guy at our school table. My mom quickly whisked us off after we came into the room to inquire what was going on – maybe we had hot cocoa goatees, I’m not sure. One thing that I will always remember is the look on my dad’s face. I’m not sure why this sticks with me to this day, but it was a look of absolute terror and absolute satisfaction at the same time. It was not until I started my business that I understood that look. Surely, he was scared to death of the future, yet relieved to be in the present and past his formal training. He never said that, but I saw it. It was at this old wooden table that I first saw what it took to run a business, to work diligently, to serve people through my occupation. I also now know that he probably met with them there because of the incredible views, for surely they would think he was a high-powered city attorney with a view of the mountains in his office!
On the other side of that desk was an old kitchen. When I was still quite young my mother ventured out into business. From what I remember, she saved her birthday and Christmas money until she had enough to buy jars, various goods to sell and a receipt book. She named her business “Chris-Teas-and-Spices”, an obvious play on her name. I don’t remember how long this business was around. But I do remember a few times a customer would come over and buy some of her spices or teas. I remember how excited she was and how she would tell my father what she had been able to sell. Personally, I remember how thrilled I was that she allowed me to help measure out, weigh and bag the spices she sold. Again, some of the lessons I learned here I would not fully comprehend until I was embarking on my own entrepreneurial ventures. But, I remember that I loved to be involved in this part of my mother’s life.
Memories. If given some thought, sometimes they teach us just a little bit about why we are the people we become.
Going back through the knotty pine door to that night, sitting, playing with Patrick. I distinctly remember the scream. A little boy isn’t supposed to hear his daddy scream in pain. I never had before. I knew I had been told not to go over into his workshop because he was working on something special. My father, while never particularly gifted in woodworking, had always built us many of the things we used, the things we played with and the things we loved. It was shortly before Christmas this particular year and I’m guessing I assumed he was making my mother another shelf or something of the sort.
When the yell went out, my mom ran down the stairs and ran over to my dad. Then, she quickly ran over to our neighbor’s house and frantically pounded on the door. The look of panic in her face said it all. I knew something terrible had happened. She asked for ice and a baggie and if our neighbors could watch my brothers and I while she took my dad to the hospital. After an evening of watching television – something that was a rare treat indeed – my mom came back over and got us and took us back home.
It was there that I learned my father had cut off the end of his finger in a table saw. They had tried to reattach it, but could not. He had bandages on his finger, on his hand. I remember feeling very sorry for him, wishing that I could do something to help. But the memory that is even stronger is that he never complained. Not even once. In fact, he would joke about it and still does from time to time. He said he had one less fingernail to cut now.
Christmas morning came. We were always so excited for Christmas morning, enough that I could barely sleep the night before. In those years, we would mostly get things that we needed: new socks and underwear, clothes, maybe a toy or two, some candy and for some odd reason, my mother always gave us an orange. To this day, I’ve never asked her why she did that and still find it curiously strange. This year, we had a large box to open that was tagged to “all of the boys” from “Dad”. We opened a large box of various size wooden blocks to build whatever our imaginations demanded. It even included castle turrets that my dad had cut out and routed so that they appeared as if they were from the Narnian castle Cair-Paravel. They had a recessed area to put our army-men or lego figures.
I remember my mom getting a little choked up when she told us that this gift is what my dad had been laboring on when the accident happened. Even at that young age, a sobering feeling came over me. My father had sacrificed deeply for this gift. He gave of his own flesh and blood. He injured and gave a part of his hand away to create this child’s masterpiece, just for us. He did it because he loved us.
To this day, I remember how touched I was by that gift. While it probably lost its glamour relatively quickly, it didn’t lose its meaning. It was and is still one of my favorite Christmas gifts ever.
But these days I think more about what this experience – this gift, this sacrifice – taught me about the greatest gift I’ve ever received on Christmas. Jesus came down to this earth as a baby and gave himself as a gift to me. He didn’t complain about leaving the perfect environment of heaven. He did it because He loved me.
Ultimately, this Gift was injured, just like my father. However, He didn’t just have His finger severed. He had His hands pierced for me. He gave His life for me – for me! Just as I remembered being sobered by my earthly father’s sacrifice for me, even now among the lights and the holiday parties, I’m sobered by my heavenly Father’s love.
So, this Christmas I’m reflecting on past Christmases and past times. I am remembering a Christmas gift of wooden blocks under a tree, born out of a loving sacrifice. But, I’m also remembering a Gift that came in a wooden manger and eventually died a sacrificial death on a tree because of His love for me. Oh, and I also remember how good those packs of hot cocoa mix and military issued Chiclets were as well!