I was 18. I had just celebrated my birthday and Christmas was fast approaching. That particular Christmas proved to be especially impactful. It shaped my heart and mind forever.
We weren’t the poorest family on the block, but we struggled. My mom was the sole provider for my sister and I, and for as long as I can remember she worked two jobs to make ends meet. We were used to sparse holidays, but my mom had warned me that this Christmas would be particularly lean. She simply had no money for presents.
GeGe, as my children now call her, basically took a bunch of old Christmas cards people had given her and turned them into my Christmas present. It was all she had. She cut out the pictures and made a small storybook album for me. Around each cut out picture or old card she personalized a message for me. She presented me the “gifts” of wisdom and encouragement in place of “stuff” that Christmas. I will never forget it.
I remember sitting next to the small pitiful Christmas tree we had and seeing that there was only one present wrapped. Mom apologized, teared up, and then told me to open it. As I did, she just sat there quietly and watched me as I read each page slowly and deliberately.
Sure I was disappointed for an early moment, but the more I read these re-purposed, highly personalized cards, the more the Spirit of God worked in the heart of an impressionable teenage boy and made one huge deposit after the next into my inner man. It was stuff money couldn’t buy and the deposits were life shaping. Among them:
- A sense that I was deeply loved and that nothing could ever make me feel insecure.
- A boundless gratitude for my mom’s tenacity, character and commitment to my sister and I.
- A bridge of dependency upon the God of the universe to be my ‘daddy’ in the midst of not having an earthly one.
- A recognition that God had a plan for my life and that I was not stranded on my own trying to figure this thing out called “life.”
You talk about the gift that kept on giving. That gift paid more dividends than if she had given me a thousand shares of Google stock. Not a Christmas has gone by since, that the scene doesn’t play in my mind and heart. That Christmas gift has forever shaped my life and work.
“Better to love God and die unknown than to love the world and be a hero; better to be content with poverty than die a slave to wealth; better to have taken some risks and lost some battles than to have retreated from the war; what a tragedy to climb the ladder of success, only to find that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.” Erwin Lutzer