As a mom, I want to give my kids their hearts’ every desire; tempered with a healthy dose of fiscal responsibility and work ethic, of course. As my kids create Christmas wish lists, we discuss the limits of our budget but also, that we indeed have a Christmas budget. While they may...
It was a cold, dreary November evening when the shipment of Christmas trees arrived at the lot in the middle of town. Most of the people were getting ready to celebrate their Thanksgiving meals. All of the trees being unloaded off the trucks were handsome trees of all varieties. Some of them...
When I was nine or ten years old, the most desired item on my Christmas list was a Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. It was a lab kit that you could make all kinds of jello molds shaped like spiders, worms and all kinds of unappetizing things that kids can't get enough of. Now being, by far, the...
During the Christmas holidays it is custom that we listen to Christmas and winter themed music. Many of us go out and decorate, purchase greeting cards, and look for ways to see close but distant family members. What we also try to do is make lasting memories with our children and spouse. Many...
You see the message everywhere…billboards, television, shops, malls, front yards, newspapers, magazines…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!! Feel the joy! Joy to the World rings out from the radio, church choirs, elevators, carolers, and the speakers of every...
The message of Christmas is that you and I live in the dark, and the truth is that we live in a world that is so massively broken, and so massively accustomed to life in the dark that we cannot even see the dark any longer! We live in the shadow of death, that is the shadow of hell, and in...
As a mom, I want to give my kids their hearts’ every desire; tempered with a healthy dose of fiscal responsibility and work ethic, of course.
As my kids create Christmas wish lists, we discuss the limits of our budget but also, that we indeed have a Christmas budget. While they may be disappointed that much to their dismay, we do not have unlimited funds for toys, books, games and the highly desired video games and electronics, they do have hope that some of the items on their lists may actually end up packaged neatly beneath the tree on Christmas morning waiting to be unwrapped.
However, this is not the reality for many children in Curtis Bay. They may or may not have gifts under their tree this Christmas.
This is why The Well hosts a Christmas Toy Store.
New, unwrapped donated toys are carefully displayed by age and gender in a large room that becomes the toy store. Community members begin lining up by 8 a.m. in a line that begins to snake around the building on the corner of Church Street and Pennington Avenue. Children are led inside, out of the cold, to a “Christmas Party” where they play and make crafts while their parents wait for their turn in the toy store. Line volunteers serve warm beverages and treats, while they make conversation and offer to pray with those waiting to get in.
At 10 a.m. the first of the community members comes inside. They are paired with a “personal shopper” to assist them through the toy store. The personal shopper gets to know their needs and guides them to the proper areas of the store where they are likely to find age-appropriate toys for their children. After they have made their selections, they make nametags for the packages and hand the toys over to gift wrappers.
The personal shopper leads the guest to The Well’s desk where they are given flyers and information about upcoming events and programs. They can make appointments to visit the Hope Chest (clothing closet) or fill out an application for the mentorship program. While they wait for their gifts to be wrapped and delivered, guests make their way upstairs to enjoy more treats and mingle with other community members before receiving their packages, picking up their children from the party, and heading home.
The Well’s Toy Store enables low-income families in Curtis Bay to purchase donated toys (valued at $10 or more) for a fraction of the store price ($2 per toy). The toy store allows them the opportunity to shop and choose toys based on their children’s interests as well as promotes dignity and responsibility in the act of being able to purchase toys while on a limited budget.
Severn Runners have the opportunity to be involved in a couple of different ways! Be sure to sign up on severnrunner.info and look for:
Be the Difference Level 2
- Donate new, unwrapped toys that are valued at $10 or more
Be the Difference Level 3
- Sign up for a volunteer position in the Toy Store
Help spread Christmas joy this year in Curtis Bay by helping meet such an important need for the community.
It was a cold, dreary November evening when the shipment of Christmas trees arrived at the lot in the middle of town. Most of the people were getting ready to celebrate their Thanksgiving meals. All of the trees being unloaded off the trucks were handsome trees of all varieties. Some of them were spruces, other were firs, and others pines. Only the finest of trees had been selected and cut down to be brought to the lots for sale. One of the workers off-loading the trees picked up a large and magnificent spruce tree and put it on his shoulder. He took it over to the spruce section and set it next to the other proud trees already there. As he returned to the truck, where the spruce once lay, he saw an unsightly little tree that barely qualified as “merry”. It was, in fact, quite homely and just shy of 5 feet tall. It looked as if it had been a bit mangled under the other trees, because a few of its branches were broken. The man wasn’t quite sure what to do with the tree, but it wasn’t his place to decide, so he shrugged and carried it out to the lot and set it off to the side of the others. It was very cold that evening, and the little tree shivered all alone as the other trees huddled together for warmth.
The next day the lot was prepared for an early morning opening. The lot owner frowned when he saw the little tree off alone in a corner, for he knew that it paled in comparison to the others, and he likely would not be able to sell it.
Potential customers began emerging from their homes at the first signs of light, all bundled in their warmest winter clothes, which were perhaps a bit tighter after the previous night’s festivities. The little tree could see them coming, and wished that he could warm himself as they did, but he was hopeful that perhaps one of them would take him home, wrap his trunk in a tree skirt, and warm him by the fireplace. The little tree had heard the stories. It was a pine tree’s greatest triumph to be selected as a Christmas tree. And so he waited patiently, trying to spread his branches and look as tall as he possibly could.
One by one the customers came. Day after day they gave him little notice and grabbed the much taller and fuller trees off the lot and took them into their homes. Soon it was the day before Christmas Eve, and only a few trees were left on the mostly empty lot. All the trees left had some small defects, but none of them compared to scrawniness of the little tree. He had never even been considered by any of the people that had come. A few procrastinators came by and grabbed the last of their trees, and eventually only the little tree remained in the center of the lonely and empty lot.
That night was the coldest night that it had been so far, and the little tree wondered why such a terrible fate had befallen him. What was so wrong with him that no one wanted him to come into their home? Why did no one want to decorate and lay their presents under him? The little tree had hoped once, but now he only felt despair. The cold wind that blew bit to his very core, and the tree knew that he had nothing left to live for. He began to feel himself drifting off slowly into the darkness from which he knew he would not awaken, and at this point he didn’t even care anymore.
As the tree faded off into an eternal slumber, some sort of sound awoke him. It was a sound that he was not familiar with, and it went, “Tap, tap, tap.” The tree fully awoke and noticed a small, frail man who had hobbled onto the lot with the assistance of a walking cane. The man must have been nearly 80 years old, and he seemed nearly as weak and small as the little tree. The lot owner had been inside his booth counting all the money from the trees when the little man tapped on the glass. The tree could see the two exchange for a moment, but could not make out what they might be saying. The lot owner shook his head as the little man asked him a question. Then they both looked in the little tree’s direction and the old man pointed to the little tree. For a moment, his heart skipped a beat. Was there a chance? Could he really find a home after all?
The owner shrugged his shoulders, but nodded to the old man and went back inside his booth. The old man began walking towards the little tree. As he approached, there was not the usual look of distaste as the little tree had seen so many other times from previous customers. The little man smiled and said, “Look at you. You may seem small and incomplete, broken and frail, but I see what the others could not. All they saw was brokenness, but I can picture you whole, decorated with all of my ornaments and gleaming like the finest of Christmas trees. Besides, I could not carry any of those other bigger trees on my own. The others did not appreciate you, but I…well, I understand you. For you and me both are alone in this world. But now, no longer. Let’s get you home and celebrate Christmas.”
And with that, the little man grabbed the tree by his trunk and began slowly dragging him home. It was slow progress, for the man relied frequently on his cane to support him, and pulling the little tree was not an easy task for his tired muscles. The little tree could see the struggle that the man was going through, and he thought that he caught a hint of pain etched across the man’s brow. But no matter how hard it seemed, the old man keep walking, leaning on his cane, and dragging the little tree along. After a little while the man stopped in front of a quaint little cottage near the heart of the town. The house was quite small and plain, squished between two large department buildings, but it looked warm and friendly.
The man dragged the tree up to the front porch and dropped it. He walked up and opened the door and disappeared inside for a few minutes. The tree waited eagerly for his return. The old man dragged the tree inside, and the little tree could feel the warmth of the fire as they entered through the door. The old man had set up a corner in his living room next to the front door, opposite a small fireplace, which was where the little tree was to go. The old man set down his cane and picked up the tree, slightly leaning on it for support. The little tree tried to be as stiff as possible, so that the old man would not fall, but he was not very strong and buckled a little under the weight. However, they made it to the tree stand safely. The old man once again struggled with the tree, barely able to get it into the tree stand. The little tree saw him wince in pain as he finally got it in.
Once the tree was in the stand, the old man bent over and quickly tightened up the screws that held the little tree up straight. Finally, with a sigh of relief, he was finished and crawled over to his chair to rest for a few moments. He stared at the little tree for a long time without saying a word. The little tree stared back and wondered just what the old man might be thinking. Perhaps he had second thoughts about the little tree now that he saw him in his house?
Finally, the old man spoke. “I think we’ve had enough excitement for one day, don’t you think? Perhaps we’ll both rest now and I’ll get to decorating you tomorrow. Sleep tight little tree, and I’ll see you in the morning. Aha ha, but first…you must be thirsty!”
The man hurriedly went into the kitchen, filled a cup, and brought it back and poured it in the stand. The little tree hadn’t realized just how thirsty he’d gotten, and he started soaking up the water almost immediately. It felt good to finally be warm and have some water back in his branches. The old man smiled at him and went off to bed.
That night the little tree thought about everything that had happened to him so far. He didn’t feel hopeless anymore. He had a hard time resting, for he was terribly excited to get decorated tomorrow and finally celebrate Christmas as a true pine tree should. As the fire in the fireplace was burning its last few embers, the little tree finally dozed off.
He awoke to a start the next morning to sounds coming from the kitchen, and some sort of pleasant smell wafting about. The little tree was not quite sure what was transpiring, but it seemed wonderful. After a short while the old man emerged from the kitchen from the opposite side of the room and walked over to the fireplace. He put several logs in the fireplace and got a small fire started. He got up, turned to the little tree, and smiled, then returned to the kitchen. As the old man was away, the little tree watched the little fire slowly grow and crackle. The tree had never seen such a sight, and wondered what it was like to burn. He supposed that that might have been his fate if the old man had not brought him home. The old man emerged from the kitchen with a tray of food and sat down in his chair.
The tree watched him eat slowly, and the old man watched the tree as he ate. After the old man had finished, he got up and went down the hall. He came back all dressed up to go outside. He looked at the tree and said, “I’ve got to go buy some things from the store. I think you deserve an extra special Christmas, so I want to go buy some more decorations.” And with that he left.
After what seemed several hours, the old man finally returned carrying several bags. He set them down next to the tree and took off his coat, hat, and gloves. He threw another couple logs on the fire and got to work on the decorating.
It was the little tree’s proudest moment. He could not believe all the effort that the old man was going through to lavish on him all this attention and splendor. The little tree could not see himself completely, but he could see the decorations a bit and felt very proud of the way he looked. The old man finished and took a step back to judge his work. A large smile formed across his face, and the little tree’s heart melted. He had only known the old man less than a day, but still felt like he had known him his whole life.
The man spoke with a soft voice, “This is how I’ve always seen you. The others did not take the time to see what you could be, they only saw what you appeared to be. But I knew all along that you could shine just as bright as the rest of the trees.”
As soon as the man said that, the strength of his tried bones seemed to fail. He slumped down in his chair and sat for a while looking at the tree, his breathing slow and steady. The little tree wasn’t sure if he was ok, for he barely moved a muscle or made a sound other than his breathing. After what seemed an eternity, as the fire slowly faded, the man closed his eyes and all was silent in the house. The little tree could see outside the window that it had begun to snow, and he was excited that tomorrow was Christmas. He was very much looking forward to see what would happen, for none of the trees on the farms quite knew what happened on this glorious of days.
At the first light of dawn the little tree awoke. The old man still sat in his chair, eyes closed. As the light began to creep slowly in through the window, the man still did not stir. For 80 years Christmas had come and gone for the old man. He’d had had wonderful years with his family and kids, and they’d spent many Christmases just like this one next to the warm fire, which now sat cold. They’d spent many years decorating trees as he’d done the night before, but this time by himself. He’d had many Christmases alone with his wife as the kids moved on, though occasionally they’d return to celebrate for a day or two. None of the Christmases had been quite the same since his wife had died nearly 6 years ago. Except for this one. The little tree would never know just how happy the old man had been to share this Christmas with the little tree that he’d found a home for. The little tree would never know that he was the first tree the old man had had in the house since his wife had died. And the old man would never know how happy he had made a poor, lonely little tree feel, when on his darkest of nights, someone had cared enough to sacrifice all they had just to make him feel special.
Outside the world began to awake. Children rushed downstairs to see all the gifts that Santa had brought the night before. Parents rolled over in the beds as the light of the sun reached in their rooms, and the excited sounds of children hit their ears. People of all ages got out of their beds and warmed themselves with fresh cups of coffee next to the fire. The world was ready to celebrate another Christmas, just as it always had. Few would know or care, that on this morning the ultimate sacrifice had been given, all so that one, broken little tree could experience the greatest of Christmas gifts…love.
The Meaning of this Story:
Christmas time can be a joyous and wonderful experience for many people, but it can also be a stressful and lonely time for others. Perhaps you, like the little tree, feel alone and unwanted. Know this; that Jesus came into a world full of lonely little people, and like the old man, he would not ignore the ones that so many other people might. He does not see you as broken, he only sees you as you could be, as a child without fault. He doesn’t not see our flaws, and he does not want you to be alone. We may not always understand why these things happen to us, but there’s hope that there is always someone who will love and cherish us beyond anything we could ever imagine.
The holiday season can be crazy, and it’s easy to lose ourselves IN all the hustle and bustle that the world has created in celebration of Christmas. But just remember this: Jesus came into this world, in the humblest of ways, all so that he could die on a cross to keep us from being separated from our heavenly father who will never disown us or let us down. And the best part of it is, we’re not an only child. There are people out there, brothers and sisters of all races and colors, who are fellow children of our father in heaven. And let me tell you, it’s the best family that you could ever have.
So, if you’re feeling alone and lost this holiday season, try to find comfort in the presence of a Father who loves you unconditionally, and of an adopted family who’s always willing to welcome you with open arms.
When I was nine or ten years old, the most desired item on my Christmas list was a Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. It was a lab kit that you could make all kinds of jello molds shaped like spiders, worms and all kinds of unappetizing things that kids can't get enough of. Now being, by far, the most mischievous child my parents produced, I spent much of my time searching out the place my mom hid our Christmas presents. This particular year, she went with hiding them under her bed (c’mon mom, you gotta try a little harder than that). After I spent a few minutes sifting through what was surely gifts for my older brother and sister, I saw it.
My Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. And I couldn’t believe it!
My parents are generous givers but by nine years old, I had learned that there was no guarantee of receiving what you had on your Christmas List. But this year I had, and of course I was too excited not to share. I ran to my older bother and told him what I had done and what I had seen. Once I had gone, he went to my mother and told HER what I had done and seen. My mother took this as an opportunity to teach her young daughter a lesson and without saying a word, returned the food lab and let me discover this on my own when come Christmas morning I had nothing to make jello in the shapes of spiders and worms.
I am sure many people can say the same but, growing up there were some years of plenty and some years of less when it came to the number of gifts under the tree. And you know what? To this day, there are only a handful of presents that I remember.
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” -Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
Keeping Christmas special in a culture that teaches us it is better to receive than to give and that more is never enough, is a challenge. So how do we keep Christmas special in an over-commercialized society?
Give Christmas back to Jesus
There are so many things vying for attention during the Christmas season. Between mom stressing over out of town guest, parents stressing over how to pay for gifts, Santa and those reindeer and Elves on shelves, there are no shortage of distractions. Give all of Christmas back to Jesus. Not part of it. All of it. Make time to celebrate with your children and family the birth of Jesus. Make a point to talk about and obsess over the fact that Christ came to the earth in the form of an infant to save us all. Be passionate about this and stop to think about two scared teenagers who traveled a considerable distance on a donkey to give birth in a smelly, dirty stable to a baby who would grow up to redeem us from our sins.
Turn off the TV and stick to family favorite Christmas movies
We generally only allow our kids to watch approved movies. When they watch cartoons on regular TV, they are bombarded with an endless barrage of crazy toys on commercials that they are convinced they need. Literally year round I was hearing, “I want this! I need this! Can I get this for Christmas?!” Once we cut out TV with the commercials, the constant comments of “I want! I want!” were significantly reduced. It is a difficult task of raising children who are grateful for what they have, it is even more difficult when we put things in front of them they don’t need. We have a long list of Christmas movies that we regularly watch in our family. Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, The Small One (a story about the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem), the old claymation Rudolf, Lord of The Rings (For adults only at this point. I have no idea how or why we started watching this at Christmas but we snuggle up with the lights off, a fire in the fire place and enjoy watching goblins, orcs, hobbits and all of the amazing Christian symbolism that J.R. R. Tolkien’s beautiful mind gave us) and last but not least, my personal favorite, The Muppets Christmas Carol. It doesn’t get much better than a bunch of sarcastic puppets telling a great story.
Or better yet, turn off TV and read books together
My Mother is a Reading Specialist and she has a knack for finding the most amazing books. There are several that I read as a kid that are still popular today:
- The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett
- The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
- Bear Stays Up For Christmas, by Karma Wilson
- Letters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R Tolkien
And of course, by far the best Christmas story happens in the book of Matthew and Luke.
Celebrate Advent as a family
Growing up in the church, I remember the Advent wreath at the front of the sanctuary with four candles that someone would light every Sunday while reading a scripture verse. At the end of the service my sister and I would get to blow out the candles (blowing out candles and drinking the left over grape juice after communion were perks of being the Pastor’s kids). We get Advent from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming," it is the time for preparing for the coming of Christ and I can’t think of a better way to teach children and family about the birth of Jesus than inviting Advent into our homes. The advent calendars counting down to Christmas filled with chocolates are great but if you are looking for something more substantial, LifeWay.com has an article- 6 Ideas for Celebrating Advent as a Family, you can download a free Advent Family Guide that includes family activities, weekly devotionals and daily readings.
Create your own family traditions
Today with free WiFi, tablets and smartphones, it has never been easier to jump online and peruse the hundreds of websites and blogs filled with family friendly Holiday ideas. Do some good old fashioned research and find some ideas that fit your family. Some of my favorite traditions with my family are making Christmas cookies for our neighbors (that the kids decorate themselves...which make for some interesting looking cookies, who knew Christmas trees could be orange and purple?), my oldest daughters and I make a large batch of homemade cinnamon rolls to enjoy on Christmas morning, Maryland has several great places to see Christmas lights from the comfort of your car (adding some hot apple cider sounds even better). This year I want to try a hot cocoa party, where we get all bundled up, stay up late and drink hot cocoa, look at the stars and just spend time together.
In the end, the key to making Christmas special instead of commercial is time and a little preparation- take extra time to slow down this Christmas to really connect and make memories with family, friends and the community around you.
During the Christmas holidays it is custom that we listen to Christmas and winter themed music. Many of us go out and decorate, purchase greeting cards, and look for ways to see close but distant family members. What we also try to do is make lasting memories with our children and spouse.
Many of the memories we make with our families are not planned and can be things that just happen. But as you know, even God had a plan. Setting things up for a nice craft or evening in couldn’t hurt. Planning an outing is even a plus. But even those can become tedious, everyday things for some people.
Matthew 2:10 says, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Who doesn’t want that reaction from their family while creating a lasting memory?
If you are looking for something a bit different for this season of giving, gifts, and love, here are some ideas for memory making and family time.
- Indoor Campfire – Light a fire and complete the experience with hot chocolate, marshmallows, and s’mores. This can also be a time to read stories to each other, make ornaments, share a favorite Bible verse/story or watch the Nativity Story.
- Kindness Elves - The Kindness Elves leave an idea for an act of kindness or service they hope the kids will do that day. It can be anything from smiling to everyone at school, making their siblings bed, or taking cookies to a neighbor.
- 12 Books of Christmas – Wrap a book for each of the 12 nights before Christmas. Each night unwrap a book and read it as a family. It will bring the family closer and create a love of family reading.
- Christmas Eve Game – Unwrap a new game and play it on Christmas Eve. Learning the rules and playing something new will be exciting and thrilling for the family. It could become an amazing tradition.
- Jesus’ Stocking – Everyone has a stocking, right? Why not leave one up for Jesus? Every day or so, family members can drop in slips of paper saying what they are thankful for or what their gift to Christ is this year. Each one is anonymous but they can be read aloud on Christmas Eve.
However you look at it, it is important to keep the Christ in Christmas! Spending time with family and sharing the love of God with them is one of the best ways to do that. Spend time in prayer with family and remember to have fun!
You see the message everywhere…billboards, television, shops, malls, front yards, newspapers, magazines…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!!
Feel the joy!
Joy to the World rings out from the radio, church choirs, elevators, carolers, and the speakers of every store you enter.
Is that real joy?
Start your list of shopping, baking, decorating, letter writing, card signing, party prep, volunteering, donating, caroling, gift wrapping and spreading of good cheer.
Where’s the joy?
Prepare for the relatives, for Santa’s visit, stuff the stocking, calm the children, fix the meals, settle the arguments, diffuse the tension, set the perfect table, be seen at the right gatherings, and deal with the dissatisfaction.
There is no joy.
Swept up in the chaos of Christmas. Missing the joy of the season. The world eagerly steals our joy as we stretch and strive to meet and exceed all the expectations around us.
Can we find joy?
The Psalmist had some insight throughout the Psalms. When he spoke to God in Psalm 5:11 we read, “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name rejoice in you.”
In the rush of December and throughout the year, our God will protect us. Loving God leads to rejoicing as he protects us from all that’s drawing us into the world.
Yet we want to meet the Christmas challenge head on, taking charge of all that is around us. We sleep less, we read our Bible less, we eat more, spend more and do so in the name of “holiday cheer”.
We have a choice. Push ahead and force our way through, determined that we’ll get things right again in January. It’s Jesus’ birthday after all. It’s the key event to our Christian faith. It’s the least we can do is to be of service to him and others, right?
Or we can slow down and seek the presence of Jesus, knowing we will be right with Jesus now.
Let's change our mindset to celebrating the birth of Christ with Christ at the center. Drop the desire to meet all the world’s expectations. This is the service he wants from us. He just wants us.
Maybe it is a radical change in thought process. It may be uncomfortable at first. But as we spend time focusing on his presence we will find more than joy. We will find peace, be filled with love, and know Jesus more fully.
When we find Jesus is all we have, we will find Jesus is all we need knowing the best is yet to come!
And that is the Joy of Christmas