Christmas Eve at our house is anything but a "Silent Night." How about "Family Circus"? Each year brings a lot of high-energy, high-decibel giving and the opening of gifts. One year, somewhere in the flying wrapping paper, was one overwhelmed two-year-old. Quietly dazed amid the happy din. There was one person who noticed. Grandma, of course.
That Christmas is going to be a tough Christmas for my friend Rob - his first Christmas without the love of His life. Yeah, I know about that feeling. She actually had died just a few weeks before - Rob's wife had. Like a lot of people whose Christmas joy is bittersweet. I've lost the love of my life. Well, I know where she is; I didn't lose her. She's in heaven. And you know what? There are other times it was a very close call; three times I almost lost her. And God gave her back to me those times. But Christmas makes us think about the loves that we've lost doesn't it? Which, by the way, could lead us to the greatest love of all.
Our whole family was with us that one Christmas, and I walked into the family room and saw our cute little two-year-old granddaughter with a sword in her hand. Sounds shocking, I know. But before you begin to question the parental competence of our children, I should tell you that it was a kind of sword I'd never seen before. The "blade" was made entirely of feathers. It turns out that back then on her favorite children's TV show there was this happy pirate who carried one of these feather swords. We tried the sword on me - it doesn't hurt. It tickles. I'd hate to be in any kind of a real battle with it. It's a little difficult to be intimidating as you're waving your feather sword!
Like most families, Christmastime for us has always been a season of secrets, mysteries and anticipation. And sometimes even a little frustration. Like the year my wife and I decided to build a dollhouse for our daughter and then another year we built a general store for our son. We closed off the basement and we set up our workshop. That sign on the basement door said, "Closed - Christmas Workshop." But, of course, the kids could hear all the construction sounds downstairs, it was driving them nuts! They begged us to tell them what we were working on. But that, of course, would have ruined everything. Even though it left them wondering, we were building something really nice for them. They just couldn't see it until it was done.
You may have noticed firstborn children are usually known for their independence, which can sometimes get them in trouble. When our daughter was four years old, we were on a family shopping trip to the local grocery store. Her little brother was riding in the cart and our daughter was walking ahead of Mom and me and the cart. At a moment when we were looking at the corn flakes or something, she wandered off and into another aisle. To this day she still remembers the panic of realizing she did not know where she was or where we were. She told me, "The aisle looked so long, the shelves looked so high, and I didn't recognize anybody." Suddenly, our little girl realized she was lost.
If anybody ever tells you that travel is glamorous, would you have them talk to me, or anybody who flies a lot? A while back I had one of those glamorous days, chasing through airports to make connections because of delayed flights. And since you don't see many meals on airplanes these days, you have to grab what you can. In this particular airport, I had a few extra minutes for a meal, but not knowing if there would be any other options between where I was and my gate, so I grabbed the first thing in sight, which happened to be the gourmet treat known as a hot dog. It wasn't even that great of a hot dog honestly. But what was especially aggravating was what I saw after I wolfed down that hot dog. Within two minutes, I walked by two or three places where I could have had a real meal! But no, I couldn't wait.
Every time you sing that Christmas carol, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," you sing those words, "Peace on earth and mercy mild." But if you ever watch the news or read a newspaper, you might well be asking, "Whatever happened to peace on earth?" That's a good question. Some have said that the terrorism danger for Americans has remained high long after September 11, 2001. One national correspondent expressed on television what a lot of people are feeling. He said, "I have never in my lifetime seen such a high degree of threat to our personal security." And financial developments, political developments? They haven't helped much. Then you throw in the dangers that you might be facing personally, it could be medical, or financial, your personal life. Where's that peace that Christmas is supposed to be about?
I was scheduled to speak at a winter retreat in Pennsylvania and I had to drive from New Jersey, and that day winter decided that it was time to do some serious wintering like heavy snow. And it just kept coming! I knew this would be an exciting drive. Well, actually, it turned out to be much easier than I expected. I got out into this mess on Interstate 80 and I had really low visibility, I had blinding snow, and the road was filling up quickly. Of course I was muttering, "Why couldn't they cancel this retreat?" Then I thought of a better idea than complaining. How about trying praying? What an idea! And wouldn't you know, that's when I saw the snowplow in front of me. Well, I got my little car right in behind Mr. Snowplow and I traveled on a clear road most of the way to the retreat! I just drove where the snowplow had already been! That way you're a lot less likely to end up in the ditch!
When Queen Elizabeth was growing up - then Princess Elizabeth - she always knew she would one day be the queen. It wasn't that way with Queen Victoria. When she was young, she actually was shielded from the fact that she would be the next ruling monarch of England. They didn't want her to grow up spoiled. But finally her teacher did let her discover for herself that she would one day be Queen of England - the most powerful monarch in the world at that time. Victoria's response was simple: "Well, then I will be good!" She understood she needed to live her life based on her royal position.
A family on vacation. Nobody feels especially like doing the usual chores, like picking up the mess. Besides, there's that "room fairy" who comes while you're out and magically makes it all better, right? Unfortunately, "room fairies" only work when you're away from home. They don't do your house for you. Have you noticed that? My friend, Mike Silva, was staying with his family at a hotel in Nigeria, he told me, and they heard a knock at the door. Mike opened it and found a smiling Nigerian gentleman standing there ready to clean the room. That was no small order. Actually, they were pretty embarrassed because of all the travel bags and curling irons and crumpled clothing sprawled all across their unmade beds. And the bathroom floor was carpeted with beautiful wet towels. Mike apologized profusely. The young man, though, just put him at ease. He said, "No problem, sir. For this reason I have come, to put your things in order."