Category Archives: Christmas 2011

The Value of a Shoebox (A Christmas Story)

The naked bulb that dangled in the center of the square closet shuddered with every hot breath Penelope Williams exhaled. Her hands felt along the edge of the highest shelf. Her fingers felt the feather-softness of the thick dust and snagged in a small and hopefully abandoned web.

“Dad, where is it?” She felt frantic, talking to herself as she always did when stress levels rose.

Penelope didn’t expect an answer. He hadn’t been answering for a while now. A bad decision took care of that, and now she stood in his house—the one he occupied in seclusion since her mother’s death three years ago. Like a typical bachelor, her father let the dust collect on the shelves, his movies, electronics, and some dust hung off fan blades like moss.

Her fingers slid further along the shelf and encountered cardboard—a box! A shoebox! Penelope strained her arms above her head and stood on tiptoes until her hands grasped one end of it and pulled it down. She walked into the bedroom and sat down on the unmade bed. In forty-years, he had never made his bed. In the last three years, he rarely left it preferring Bill O’Reilly and the Packer’s to his neighbors. Penelope set the shoebox on her lap and her stomach flipped. He had spoken about the shoe box during his last days, struggling to breathe as the lung cancer took away his energy. Her father had stored his world in a non-brand name shoe box whose lettering had faded now.

Penelope lifted the lid and set it on the bed. The house smelled musty of old memories both pleasant and unpleasant. The box held only papers and photos. Her brothers would be disappointed, she thought. This box contained no safety deposit key to hidden riches or old silver. No money to pay the funeral expenses or to ready dad’s house to put on the market. Worthless paper he deemed too valuable to throw away. Too bad he didn’t prepare financially for his death. Penelope and her brothers contributed from their meager incomes to pay down the debt her father left in the wake of cancer. Her brothers were married. Penelope had a long line of ex-boyfriends and was sadly still single. She was an aunt this year. Her eldest brother, Fred and his wife had their first just two months ago. The historical novels she consumed would have deemed her a spinster at age 30. While deep in regret, her cell phone buzzed.

“No—Nothing like that. I wish.” Penelope answered Fred’s inquiry about the box, clutching the phone to her ear. “No, I’ll be joining Jared and his wife for Christmas in Colorado this year. I’ve always wanted Christmas with snow.”

Penelope tilted her head and stared at the dirty glass face of her mother’s picture. It hung crooked near daddy’s dresser. “Yeah, I’ll miss her ham. I know. That’s the advantage of being single. I can go anywhere on Christmas. Okay…love you, too.” She pressed ‘end’ and put the phone back into her pocket.

Penelope began to go through the yellowed papers and photos, laying them on the bedspread. One by one the memories came back. There were two tickets to her mother’s favorite ballet still attached to the program. Dad surprised her on her birthday one year. Then, there’s the hand drawn Christmas cards Penelope created and the hand prints in plaster her brothers did in class. Dad had kept even the wrinkled napkin from a Thanksgiving dinner where Penelope slipped a note to him beneath the table cloth to make him laugh. That was the year he lost his job. He kept pictures of her mother being silly, stirring the soil with her gardening gloves, and working her first job after all of Penelope’s brothers had moved out of the house. Dad even kept a photo of himself smoking a cigarette. Mom had written on the back, “Please quit. I don’t like kissing an ash tray.” Penelope took out the wrinkled obituary of her mother and saw how grease-stained fingerprints made it almost see-through. The last thing in the box was a white envelope, tattered and creased. It was addressed to Penelope and her brothers.

As if the envelope contained riches beyond her imagination, Penelope carefully opened the flap and slid out a single index card. It began with John 3:16. In her father’s quirky script, it said, “I discovered Jesus. I just wanted you to know that all your prayers and your mother’s prayers were answered. Tonight I pack to be in hospice and that television preacher talked about Jesus and I felt like that preacher spoke to me, like God was speaking to me. I know that if you are reading this I am gone, but I am someplace more splendid than earth. One day we’ll reunite. I am with your mother as you read this. I love you. I love Jesus.”

Penelope cried. She buried her face in the dirty bedspread and soaked the blanket that still held her father’s scent—old nicotine. Outside, a Harley-Davidson roared past the house. Mr. Adams yelled at the neighbor’s cat who was in his flower bed again. A breeze tickled the old wind chimes in the backyard. Life went forward. The most valuable items in her father’s life was in this shoebox. In a life fraught with hardships, job losses, sorrow and disappointment, her father maintained a joy that was nearly divine only losing some of it after her mother’s passing.

Penelope packed everything back into the shoe box and walked into the living room. A pile of bills sat on the counter—all past due. An old Bible was underneath her father’s favorite magazines. She slipped his Bible on top of the shoebox. The binder had softened and creased as if he had opened the Bible often. Penelope left the bills and stepped outside. The clouds hovered dark gray in the sky and dusk muted the sunlight. All ready Christmas lights shined on the houses. Penelope held her shoebox and dad’s Bible tighter against her waist. She thought of her favorite verse in the Bible as she got into the car and headed home:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. – Luke 2:36-38 (NIV)

“Merry Christmas, Dad.” Penelope whispered as she left the neighborhood. “Thank you, Jesus.” If one day she would ever marry and have children, Penelope decided to teach her children the value of a shoebox.

Hope you enjoyed the story! Merry Christmas!

(copyright 2011 Nikole Hahn)

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The Annual Hahn Challenge

Salvation Army Band
Salvation Army Band (Photo credit: danperry.com)

Will you join us as we, once again, surprise the Salvation Army Bell Ringers with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate? Try to do it anonymously. Most restaurants are more than happy to deliver the cup to their bell ringer. It helps them feel a part of encouraging someone they don’t know.

 

Christmas Day: Remember.

It’s hard to believe it’s here. Did we succeed in unwrapping Jesus, or are those only words in Christmas cards or carols sung thoughtlessly? Does it really mean something to you? Or did we get lost in the traditions or commercialism and forget to unwrap His gift?

It’s not too late.

Have some coffee. Talk to Him.

Yes, sit in that armchair over there. Wrap the blanket your aunt made for you last Christmas around your shoulders and rest your feet in the mess of torn Christmas paper as the lights twinkle from the boughs of the tree.

God’s waiting.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Love, Tony and Nikki

P.S. If there’s anything I can pray over for you, please let me know.

The Value of a Shoebox (A Christmas Story)

The naked bulb that dangled in the center of the square closet shuddered with every hot breath Penelope Williams exhaled. Her hands felt along the edge of the highest shelf. Her fingers felt the feather-softness of the thick dust and snagged in a small and hopefully abandoned web.

“Dad, where is it?” She felt frantic, talking to herself as she always did when stress levels rose.

Penelope didn’t expect an answer. He hadn’t been answering for a while now. A bad decision took care of that, and now she stood in his house—the one he occupied in seclusion since her mother’s death three years ago. Like a typical bachelor, her father let the dust collect on the shelves, his movies, electronics, and some dust hung off fan blades like moss.

Her fingers slid further along the shelf and encountered cardboard—a box! A shoebox! Penelope strained her arms above her head and stood on tiptoes until her hands grasped one end of it and pulled it down. She walked into the bedroom and sat down on the unmade bed. In forty-years, he had never made his bed. In the last three years, he rarely left it preferring Bill O’Reilly and the Packer’s to his neighbors. Penelope set the shoebox on her lap and her stomach flipped. He had spoken about the shoe box during his last days, struggling to breathe as the lung cancer took away his energy. Her father had stored his world in a non-brand name shoe box whose lettering had faded now.

Penelope lifted the lid and set it on the bed. The house smelled musty of old memories both pleasant and unpleasant. The box held only papers and photos. Her brothers would be disappointed, she thought. This box contained no safety deposit key to hidden riches or old silver. No money to pay the funeral expenses or to ready dad’s house to put on the market. Worthless paper he deemed too valuable to throw away. Too bad he didn’t prepare financially for his death. Penelope and her brothers contributed from their meager incomes to pay down the debt her father left in the wake of cancer. Her brothers were married. Penelope had a long line of ex-boyfriends and was sadly still single. She was an aunt this year. Her eldest brother, Fred and his wife had their first just two months ago. The historical novels she consumed would have deemed her a spinster at age 30. While deep in regret, her cell phone buzzed.

“No—Nothing like that. I wish.” Penelope answered Fred’s inquiry about the box, clutching the phone to her ear. “No, I’ll be joining Jared and his wife for Christmas in Colorado this year. I’ve always wanted Christmas with snow.”

Penelope tilted her head and stared at the dirty glass face of her mother’s picture. It hung crooked near daddy’s dresser. “Yeah, I’ll miss her ham. I know. That’s the advantage of being single. I can go anywhere on Christmas. Okay…love you, too.” She pressed ‘end’ and put the phone back into her pocket.

Penelope began to go through the yellowed papers and photos, laying them on the bedspread. One by one the memories came back. There were two tickets to her mother’s favorite ballet still attached to the program. Dad surprised her on her birthday one year. Then, there’s the hand drawn Christmas cards Penelope created and the hand prints in plaster her brothers did in class. Dad had kept even the wrinkled napkin from a Thanksgiving dinner where Penelope slipped a note to him beneath the table cloth to make him laugh. That was the year he lost his job. He kept pictures of her mother being silly, stirring the soil with her gardening gloves, and working her first job after all of Penelope’s brothers had moved out of the house. Dad even kept a photo of himself smoking a cigarette. Mom had written on the back, “Please quit. I don’t like kissing an ash tray.” Penelope took out the wrinkled obituary of her mother and saw how grease-stained fingerprints made it almost see-through. The last thing in the box was a white envelope, tattered and creased. It was addressed to Penelope and her brothers.

As if the envelope contained riches beyond her imagination, Penelope carefully opened the flap and slid out a single index card. It began with John 3:16. In her father’s quirky script, it said, “I discovered Jesus. I just wanted you to know that all your prayers and your mother’s prayers were answered. Tonight I pack to be in hospice and that television preacher talked about Jesus and I felt like that preacher spoke to me, like God was speaking to me. I know that if you are reading this I am gone, but I am someplace more splendid than earth. One day we’ll reunite. I am with your mother as you read this. I love you. I love Jesus.”

Penelope cried. She buried her face in the dirty bedspread and soaked the blanket that still held her father’s scent—old nicotine. Outside, a Harley-Davidson roared past the house. Mr. Adams yelled at the neighbor’s cat who was in his flower bed again. A breeze tickled the old wind chimes in the backyard. Life went forward. The most valuable items in her father’s life was in this shoebox. In a life fraught with hardships, job losses, sorrow and disappointment, her father maintained a joy that was nearly divine only losing some of it after her mother’s passing.

Penelope packed everything back into the shoe box and walked into the living room. A pile of bills sat on the counter—all past due. An old Bible was underneath her father’s favorite magazines. She slipped his Bible on top of the shoebox. The binder had softened and creased as if he had opened the Bible often. Penelope left the bills and stepped outside. The clouds hovered dark gray in the sky and dusk muted the sunlight. All ready Christmas lights shined on the houses. Penelope held her shoebox and dad’s Bible tighter against her waist. She thought of her favorite verse in the Bible as she got into the car and headed home:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. – Luke 2:36-38 (NIV)

“Merry Christmas, Dad.” Penelope whispered as she left the neighborhood. “Thank you, Jesus.” If one day she would ever marry and have children, Penelope decided to teach her children the value of a shoebox.

Hope you enjoyed the story! Merry Christmas!

(copyright 2011 Nikole Hahn)

Unwrapping Mary

Too many people have wrong ideas about Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was just a teenage girl betrothed to Joseph. Not a deity. Not someone to be worshipped. A quiet girl. Her deep-down reverence for God has always left me pondering my own spiritual state.

Her attitude when discovering that the Holy Spirit would conceive a child in her belly was recorded in Luke 1:29-38:

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

I think there are many lessons we can take from Mary’s story. Imagine the long journey she took to Bethlehem, then to Egypt to escape Herod after Jesus’ birth. I have to wonder if we would still retain a quiet and accepting nature after suffering so much.  She honored God with her words and actions. Mary’s personality is quite the contrast to today’s culture. What happens when we get busy?

In this hectic holiday season, let us sit quietly in the manger and ponder as Mary did the holiness of God.

Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said:

   “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

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Let It Snow!

He stands in the semi-darkness of dusk’s light filtering in from the front window. His hands are in his pockets. I had just arrived home—impatient, tired. Someone had caused a four-car wreck on the highway. His face looks expectant. I get the sense that I am missing something. I turn and my eyes are drawn to the packages beneath the tree.

That’s what I love about him. We had talked about using his bonus for bills. Christmas was going to be pitiful this year, though not pitiful really because, as he pointed out, we have each other. More importantly, we have Christ in our lives. What’s a few missing gifts to the amazing gift of Salvation—God in human form—come down to earth for us. Oh, what rebellious children we are and yet God doesn’t stop from giving us good gifts.

Then, my husband goes and does something like this. He goes Christmas shopping so we have something to open on Christmas Day. I get to shop for him, too. I think I get more pleasure from that then in receiving. My cat will romp in the torn wrapping paper and my dog will beg for the candy she cannot have, and hot coffee will brew filling our house with the scent of warmth, of love, and maybe I’ll have fresh baked bread sitting in slices on the breakfast bar.

Christmas is tough everywhere. But Christmas was never about the gifts. How can we forget in our day-to-day as we yearn for things we cannot afford or shouldn’t have that Christmas is more about one gift—the gift of the Christ-child. God becoming man. If we forget that, we get in trouble, into debt to meet the world’s expectations of Christmas, and replace God for an idol.

I embrace my husband and he smiles. The lights twinkle on our Christmas tree against the backdrop of a winter night. It’s going to snow, he says.

I say, ‘Let it snow!’

Are you having a rough Christmas? Describe the most memorable moment in your simple Christmas.

Do Not Weep Over The Broken Pieces

What do you do when people fail to meet your expectations?

I can’t control what others do. I can’t control their reactions.

All I can do is weep for the broken pieces of dreams that lay on the floor waiting to be accepted and swept into a dust pan, then the trash can. God understands. He’s heard me complain often enough.  It just didn’t happen. It will never happen. But why should I cry when I am so blessed in many other ways?

Blessings are not to be overlooked just because some of our dreams fizzle. Maybe I wasn’t meant to experience those dreams and maybe it’s not really what I want? How many times have I wished for something that wasn’t good for me or something I didn’t really want, and God in His infinite mercy said no? Too many times to count. Our emotions sweep us away to places God doesn’t really want us to go, and He knows better than us. He can see what the future holds for that decision. For now, it looks like the perfect Currier and Ives picture. It seems like something we want, but the reality may not be like that.

So we must accept what we cannot change. We must move on or forever lament what will not change and fall into anger. Sorrow doesn’t stay long. Anger almost always follows. It’s warm and reassuring and deceiving. Anger can lead us in the wrong direction, whereas acceptance almost always brings us peace, joy and love.

So the gift I want this year is peace, joy and love. And I’ll get it. I get that gift every year because every year God reminds me of all He is in His Word and actions.

Describe your broken dreams and how God saved you from what would have been a mistake.

They Were With The Decorations

Christmas card by Louis Prang
Image via Wikipedia

One year I unpacked my Christmas decorations and found an entire box of sealed and addressed Christmas cards that were never mailed. It was tempting to send them out that year, but I had forgotten what I said on the inside. Last year, I sent an electronic Christmas card as I had run out of time to send actual ones. This year I carefully planned my cards and yes, they have been dutifully sent out.

There’s still something special about opening the mail box at the post office and seeing all the brightly colored envelopes spill out into my hands. It’s the only time of year where no one emails or sends Facebook cards, but real cards, addressed by hand, and stamped. Just holding them in your hands makes you feel loved even if on the inside people have just signed them. This year I sat in my car and opened every one.

My cousin, Jackie gets creative with her cards. This year she created a movie jacket with her family as super heroes. My other cousins sent me updated pictures. I always need updated pictures for my family wall. I’m the kind of person who rarely updates the family wall and so my nieces and nephews are still very young. My aunts and uncles send Christmas letters.

Like I said in an article here, I get bored with the usual box of cards and try to re-think how to send a creative Christmas card. This year I have tailored the Christmas card to match the story within.

What do you do at Christmas? Do you send out cards or do you get creative with the cards or without the cards?

“I Hate Christmas”

That store hasn’t been a great shopping experience for me. Nevertheless, I went because I do like what they sell. It isn’t even the clerks that are the problem, but the customers. On my last visit, a woman cut me off to be first even though I was next and trying to get the woman in front of me to take my place because she should be first. When a new line opened another clerk didn’t even call me over. It was one of those situations where a rope and a sign read, “Line starts here” and I was the only one following that rule.

This trip should have been simple. I came for two picture frames. I walked into the store and went to the picture frame aisle. There were two carts in that narrow aisle. One woman peered over the couple blocking the artery and looked as if she wanted to browse further down the aisle. I looked pointedly at the shelves where the couple stood arguing about pictures and seemed unaware that neither of us could get around them. Finally, I left the aisle and circled to the otherside to look at the other end of the same aisle. That couple continued to block the aisle and argue about Christmas.

“I hate Christmas.” The woman holds two picture frames side-by-side.

The man sighs. It’s one of those long sighs as if his wife or girlfriend has been dragging him all over town Christmas shopping—a man’s least favorite activity. “Me, too.”

“Well, R and L aren’t getting any more than one gift. We’re all ready getting their kids something.” She put down one frame and picked up another.

“One?” The man protests.

“It’s their own fault that they have kids. We can’t afford to buy every single person a gift. Okay, that’s enough, I think.”

“Make a list of what you want and I’ll alphabetize it and pick them up later.” The man sounded tired.

“We’re not done yet.”

“We’ve got everyone.”

“Not everyone. We have to get something for S and M.”

“WHY?”

“We get something for E; we have to get something for S and M.”

Their voices rose an octave higher, and they were still in my way. All I wanted was to look at the 8×10 frames; not the 5×7 or the 4×6 frames that were easily accessible. I kept looking at the frames I needed and the two didn’t notice. Finally, they left.

I had gotten stressed just by being around people who were already on the brink of losing their cool. All I wanted were two 8×10 frames. I barely left that store with my Christmas spirit intact. And yet, I know that is not Christmas. What’s worse than hating Christmas is giving gifts you don’t want to give. You’re fulfilling an obligation. People who hate Christmas give awful gifts. On the other hand, we can all keep our Christmas spirit intact if we simplify Christmas. There’s joy in giving to others, moreso than receiving.

Just give one gift well. No one needs a whole slew of useless gifts given because it’s expected. That’s what makes the day after Christmas return line so long. Plus, if we kept our eyes on the reason for the season perhaps our joy could well up even in that awful store. Maybe we could shine a light for Him surrounded by people more interested in cut-throat deals  than in the babe in the manger.

I think people forget what Christmas should be, and I think God is allowing our country to suffer so we can remember how it used to be and come back to Him.

 

What are your shopping horror stories? And how did you shine for Him in it?

What’s Their Name?

These nice people used to live next door. They lived there for two years. Tony remembered the husband’s name. He spoke to them more often than I did through the screen of butterfly bush blossoms and in the winter when snow blanketed the ground. One day I wanted to invite the wife and daughter to my tea party.

I forgot her name. She knew mine and called me by it often, but I had forgotten her name. How do you address an invitation when you don’t remember her name? “Hey you,” seems crass. Or perhaps, “Dear (sorry, forgot your name),” also seems cold. She remembered my name. We remembered each other on some Christmases by exchanging plates of cookies.

That neighbor moved out over a year ago now and I wish I had taken the time to remember her name. A name is important. The fact we take the time to remember their name says more than a card or an invitation to a tea. It says, “I care.”

So this Christmas I challenge you to learn your neighbor’s name. You won’t be alone in the struggle. If America went back to it’s values, no neighbor would be a stranger. To change a culture, we need to teach our children in actions and words what it means to love someone.

What’s your neighbor’s name (first names only) and how did you come to know them?