Christmas 1965. Under the tree was an electric race track, complete with a blue and a red car. It was a small scale model. And exactly what I wanted. I spent hours racing on that track, adjusting the speed of the car with a trigger control wired to the track. Every time I catch a whiff of an electric motor overheating, the memories of that race track flood back. What a great gift for a young fellow.
Christmas 1978. I should say pre-Christmas. We were newlyweds living in an apartment the size of a two-car garage. I know it was the size of a two car garage because it was the second story of a two car garage. A few weeks before Christmas we drove to Kroger's grocery store on Shepherd Street where they were selling Christmas trees. We picked out a good looking pine, stuffed it into the back of my pickup and drove back to the apartment.
We tugged and shoved the tree up the stairs only to discover that an evergreen doesn't bend, no matter how hard you try to force it around the corner from the stairway into the kitchen. My brother-in-law, Steve, and I decided to take a break and think.
We pulled the tree up straight only to discover that we were trying to get a 9 ½ foot tree into an apartment with an eight foot ceiling. It didn't seem nearly that big in Kroger's parking lot. We cut some off of the bottom and some off the top until it fit. Just barely. That is it fit vertically.
It was then we discovered that a 9 ½ foot tree is really, really, REALLY wide. No matter how much we pushed the tree into the corner it still spread its wings over half that small living room. Fortunately, we only had a borrowed couch and a furnished easy chair to work around.
It was then we discovered that we didn't have any ornaments. Sheila and I purchased some inexpensive glass bulbs, several strings of lights, an angel topper, and some silver garland. It was a blast putting that together. We also found some cheap "paint yourself" wooden ornaments, 99 for $9.99. We still have them. Every day during that December I'd wake up to the wonderful smell of pine. A great first Christmas for a couple of newly married kids.
Christmas 1983. Living in the hills of central Pennsylvania where it never stops snowing. Our first born, Andrew, was 14 months old. Tow headed, bright blue eyes, barely walking and full of life. Sheila and I were excited about sharing Christmas with a child. The three of us sat on the floor and pulled out Andrew's first present. He opened it with a squeal. Out emerged a tiny, plastic, Fisher-Price, 3 keyed typewriter with plastic keys that moved up and down and rang a bell when you hit each key. He loved it. So much so that he didn't want to open up all the other gifts we got for him. Like good parents, we forced him to leave the present that he liked to open up all the other gifts we purchased. But as soon as he got the gift open he went back to the typewriter. Of all the stuff he got, that little typewriter was the simplest, the least expensive, and the one he liked the best. He spent hours playing with it. As he prepares to major in computers, I think it all started with that typewriter.
Looking back, Christmas 1965 was not really about a race track. I treasure the memory of it because it caused my dad be with me. Side by side we'd race the blue and red cars. He showed me how to sand off the contacts on the cars to make a better connection, how to change the bodies on the cars, how to slow in the curves and speed through the straight a ways. And it caused him to smile because he's given me something I enjoyed.
Looking back, Christmas 1978 was not really about a tree either. It was about sharing life together and creating couple memories. We discovered things about life and each other through that season that we didn't even know were there. Life was simple and fresh. And it caused us to smile at ourselves.
Looking back, Christmas 1983 was not about a toy typewriter. It was about a toddler who has grown into a wonderful young man. It was about a boy I love more deeply than I ever thought possible. It was about the pure, untarnished joy that only a kid in a diaper can express through his laughter. And it caused us to smile.
Christmas memories that mean the most are not about the "stuff" - the presents, the food, the activities, the reunions. They are about the people. The "stuff" is the means by which we connect with the people. The stuff is not bad, it's just not the point. Life is all upside down and frustrating when the "stuff" gets in front of the people on our value list.
As Christmas approaches this weekend, I encourage you to deliberately use the "stuff" to create shared memories that will last. Cherish the people who mean the most to you.
And most of all, deliberately cherish the God who loves you more than you can imagine. Only because of Him do we have the people and the stuff in our lives. Jesus really is "The Reason for the Season." Worship Him, honor Him, give yourself fully to Him. If you do you will cause Him to smile at YOU.
When the final page in your life is turned, those two relationships are all that will really matter.
"Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."" Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)