Does anyone remember the JCPenney Catalog? In The Days Before The Internet?
When I was a kid, I invested hours circling items that I wanted.
The catalog was as big as a phone book and showed a picture of every thing that had ever been made. If it existed, it was available in that catalog. And I circled it.
My family went to church, and I knew Christmas was about Jesus’ birthday. But it was also about the stuff. Sneaking down to get my stocking before anyone else was up. Finding millions of gifts piled under the tree. Peeking at the one gift that couldn’t be wrapped…the one Dad stayed up all night to assemble.
I didn’t say a lot of thank-you’s to my parents for all the stuff.
As a teen, Christmas became a lot of work.
Singing in the Youth Choir, robing up for acolyte duty, helping the old people. Advent services. Sunday Services. Four Christmas Eve services. Christmas Morning service. With the church in our backyard, we worked all of them.
I didn’t hear a lot of thank-you’s from God for all the chipping in.
After I moved out on my own, Christmas changed again.
I broke up with God, and His birthday struck me as an annoyance. A time to juggle travel and visits to family for the purpose of fighting with them. They hated whatever boyfriend I brought home (in hindsight, they weren’t exactly wrong). I hated having to go to every church service offered when I figured it was all a lie.
I didn’t see a lot of reason to thank God for the mess my life was in.
When I grew up a little more, it occurred to me that I might have been, well, not right about a few things.
Life was a little less simple than I wanted it to be. And I was a little less able to have it all figured out on my own all the time. An amazing man introduced me to a God that was a lot different from any version of him I had known about. A God that was patient. Unconditional. Forgiving. Merciful. One whose birthday party might be worth attending.
I started to thank Him for the good things in my life.
As I gingerly removed each brick from the wall around my heart, God peeked over the edge at me. He passed me bits of grace through the gaps.
I could only take so much, then. But as I learned to receive it, to absorb it, to float in it, I was able to let it flow faster. I began to lean on Him in the difficult times, and not just expect to get stuff wrapped in pretty paper with sparkling bows. He taught me how to forgive others. And myself.
I started to thank Him for the hard things through which we can grow.
And then He gave us two amazing, beautiful, scared teenaged girls.
Two girls who experienced so much more pain and loss in their childhood than I could have handled at twice their age.
There was no JCPenney catalog for them. If they were lucky, there might be a shoebox from the other side of the world filled with dollar-store trinkets and maybe some socks. Christmas meant something entirely different to them.
I started to thank Him for the lives that I could change for Him.
Starting with mine.
Continuing with theirs.
This Christmas, our funny little family that God created in a way that I never could have planned…we are shopping and decorating and singing carols and watching The Grinch.
And we’re saying prayers and thanking God for entrusting us with two beautiful young women, and leaning on His wisdom to teach them how to love His way rather than ours.
They are adopted by us.
James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
We are adopted by God.
Romans 8:15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.”
John 3:16 For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
Photo credit: Wishbook (Creative Commons)