I don’t know if the words “Three days till Christmas” evoke terror in you, but they sure do me! Every year I think I’ll be more organized; more on top of things; more relaxed and therefore able to roam the aisles and shop, cook, and decorate with ease. Last year the picture for our Christmas card was taken in a parking lot that happened to have a tree, I plowed through decorating the tree while running a fever with the flu, and I didn’t do any cooking unless you consider buying peppermint sticks a move towards baking.
Truthfully, I’ve never defined Christmas by gifts or the hoopla surrounding the season. For me it’s always been about a Savior. It’s about God’s gift, not the gifts I run around trying to buy—and it’s that simple mindset Bobby and I tried to pass on to our kids.
When they were in elementary school I remember proclaiming to the household “Christmas Eve is our family goals night!” With this proclamation we informed our three lambs that they were to come up with goals they wanted to lay before God and one another for the upcoming year. We’d gather next to the tree with the lights dimmed; only the blaze of wood from the fire painted light across the room. I’d place a single lit candle at the center of our table, along with individual candles ready to be lit in unison from the one burning wick as we sang a chorus of Silent Night quietly and a bit off key. What a delight it was to hear the hope our kids shared as goals: a better grade in Math, first place in a dance competition, a best friend, to hit home-runs and have a high batting average… No Pulitzer Prize winners in the bunch, but a rag tag sack of dreams that begged God to fan them into flame.
At times I wondered if our goals were deep enough—spiritual enough. It wasn’t until our oldest child Brooke entered high school that I began to see the strength of these gatherings. In eighth grade she decided to try out for the freshmen cheerleading squad at the high school. Barely able to do a somersault—the task of doing handsprings, splits, and other high-flying tricks seemed near impossible. When she wasn’t chosen for the squad she sunk in a sea of despair, but our Christmas Eve goal night that year proved interesting. Brooke committed to doing whatever it took to make the team. She vowed to attend gymnastic lessons, and practice skills on her own so she’d be ready for the grueling try-out. I recorded her goals with pen and paper, and pointed out that this was a large commitment given the fact we’d start into a new type of lesson—acting, music, soccer, dance—only to be back at the drawing board, trying to find her niche in the world of activities. I explained that this was her chance to learn perseverance, and since it’s a fruit of the Spirit she’d never really learned to squeeze, this seemed like God’s chance to make juice.
I’d drop Brooke off twice a week for her class, and arrive an hour later to see her ready to jump in the car full of pep. Years later Brooke shared with me that after I pulled away from the gym, she hid in a waiting room behind a door for the full hour. She was embarrassed to be in a class of girls half her age. She was mortified that she didn’t know the first thing about tumbling. It was only after she saw me handing hard-earned money to the receptionist for the lessons that a wave of guilt hit her, and she began to actually attend her classes. Remarkably, she was a fast learner, and within a few short months she was tumbling like a circus clown—just in time for spring try-outs.
The morning of try-outs I laid a note on her bed to take to school with her that day:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything let your prayers and earnest desires be known to God, with thankfulness—and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”
When we received word late that night that she’d made the team we jumped around the house like lunatics, but soon settled into a serious huddle as I recalled our Christmas Eve goals night and the fruit of her prayer and perseverance. Perhaps gathering around goals is more important than gatherings around gifts. Perhaps cheering one another toward hope is the best gift of all.