The Season’s Most Valuable Lesson: A Diamond Necklace

 
Every single parent’s story is probably complicated, because real life can be messy. As Christmas draws near, I’m now blessed to be married and live in a wonderful home of my own. Still, life was not always this easy. That’s why the Christmas when I received the diamond necklace is the one that I will remember forever. Back then, as a single mother I wasn’t expecting to get such a costly gift, especially not from my own son.

Raising a child alone, I found the holidays were the greatest reminder of the absence of family, or at least “family” in the traditional way that one expects will be part of the season. Our modest Yuletide celebration bore little resemblance to the sentimental TV commercials where joyful loved ones gather around a large dining table laden with delicious food, a colorful centerpiece, and flickering candles. On Christmas Eve, it was usually just Zach and me, because my mother and stepfather lived in another state, along with most of our relatives.

Despite this fact, when Zachary was young, I tried desperately to achieve some sense of Christmas cheer, while operating within a very confining budget. I never expected any presents, like many solo parents, I only cared that there would be something special under the tree for my precious youngster. Even the Christmas tree in our apartment was a hand-me-down from another once single mom who had remarried and graduated to greater economic stability.

At Christmastime, I tried to make sure there were lots of packages for Zach to open. Not expensive items, just tiny tokens of how grateful I was to have been granted the special privilege of raising him. My dark-haired sensitive boy never expected much or complained that there should have been more. He understood our “situation.”

Of course, there were generous family members and friends from work or church who realized that our circumstances were difficult. Sometimes little blessings like an unexpected gift certificate, toy for Zachary, or a Christmas sweater for me wrapped in festive paper appeared from unexpected sources.

 “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” is an age-old Bible verse that represents the plight of the single-parent family best. You have to learn to give without expectation, because frequently little comes back. But this reminds you that the true meaning of Christmas was never about gifts or trees, but rather about a tiny baby born in a Bethlehem stable.

So it was for most of those first twenty Christmases that my son and I spent together. Along the way, he became a man, moved out and began a life of his own. When Christmas Eve rolled around, a grown-up Zach arrived at my door to celebrate our tradition of enjoying the evening together. There was the usual church service, holiday snacks, and finally we opened our presents.

When he finished unwrapping his gifts, he looked at me with excitement as he proudly handed me a small box. I began to tear the decorative paper, expecting a pair of costume earrings or a gold plated bracelet as in years past. His eyes, eager with anticipation, focused intently on me.

Lifting the lid of the ivory satin case, I tried to hide my shock. It bore the name of an expensive jewelry store. I was barely able to swallow an audible gasp, when I glanced down and saw a diamond pendant and glittering chain resting in the box’s burgundy velvet lining. By now Zach’s deep blue eyes were dancing with unrestrained delight. Apparently, my son understood the importance of giving.

Unfortunately, I had not discovered how to graciously receive, since I had little practice. How much had this necklace cost him? It looked to be at least a ¼ carat diamond circled by a thick band of white gold. The unmistakable sparkle of the stone left little doubt that it was real, and Zach’s ecstatic look confirmed its authenticity. The delicate pendant was exquisite, but my faithful man-child worked hard for his money and he was in college too. I often felt guilty that I had not been able to financially assist him more in achieving his educational and career goals.

Suddenly, I thought about the Christmas sermon from the year before. The pastor had spoken about accepting gifts with appreciation and graciousness, never offending the giver. Sensing my discomfort, Zach abruptly said he wanted to tell me the truth about the gift’s origin. He then shared the tender tale of a colleague who was a young single mom with a little boy. Needing some extra cash, she decided to sell the diamond pendant, because being a gift from a former boyfriend it didn’t possess any sentimental value. Zach had simply purchased it to help her make ends meet, and to bless me with an amazing Christmas present.

 All of a sudden, the diamond sparkled brighter and I looked at the glistening gold necklace with new appreciation. Instantly, I realized that Zach had seen our lives and struggles replicated in the life of his co-worker who was also a college student like I had been when he was just a toddler. My gift was a visible witness to the fact that my son had learned the most valuable lesson the season can teach, “It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. She earned a M. A. in Practical Applied Theology from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a B.A. from Bluffton University. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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The Memory of a Christmas Eve Miracle

Christmas Dining TableIt’s Christmastime again! Everywhere you look there are festively decorated store windows, Christmas commercials about joyful family gatherings, and music that floods us with memories of long ago holidays. Yet for many folks, there is also the longing for yesterday that this season can create. Vacant places at the table where deceased loved ones once sat, or maybe an empty table resulting from a family that’s been broken, or just grown and moved away.

There is also the financial burden for economically struggling individuals not knowing how they will make ends meet, let alone having anything left over for their children’s Christmas list. After all, children don’t understand that their circumstances are not conducive for a visit from Santa.

My late friend Liesl Sondheimer asked me for my help in sharing her own miracle of holiday provision, but for her it was a Hanukkah miracle. To explain, sometimes the two religious celebrations intersect, as they must have that December almost 75 years ago. Liesl was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who lived in Lima, Ohio for six decades. After fleeing from Germany in 1938, the Jewish immigrant began life anew, but most of her extended family perished.

It was a decade ago, when Liesl’s 97-year-old arthritic hands prevented her from writingphoto (13) the inspiring story herself, so I typed it down while she dictated. The small of stature, silver-haired survivor began, “…Although my husband was a physician in Germany, we were forced to flee from our home to seek refuge in the United States because of the rise of the Hitler regime. We recently had arrived in this country from Nazi Germany. At the entrance of the dilapidated apartment building that was to become our home, my two little girls asked, ‘Will we get any Hanukkah gifts this year?’ I had to tell them there was no money for gifts when we were not able to even provide for the most necessary things.

“On Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door,” Liesl continued. “The janitor handed me packages with clothing and toys for the children, food, and a little Christmas tree. Asking who the kind donors were, the janitor would only tell me some people had overheard our conversation and did not want the children to go without gifts this holiday season. They did not even want us to know their names.

“How blessed it is to give, so much easier than to receive,” concluded the elderly Jewish lady. “My financial circumstances improved and I was able to be able to be on the giving side the rest of my life. However, I will never forget how wonderful it was to receive goods, warmth, love and encouragement while struggling in poverty. It keeps up one’s faith in the goodness of man.”

As I typed the account of the long-ago random act of kindness, it was Liesl’s assertion of her steadfast faith in the “goodness of man,” that has always intrigued me. Especially, since Mrs. Sondheimer’s words echoed that of the 18th century German poet Goethe whom she deeply admired, “Noble be man, merciful and good.”

The compassion of other human beings is something that most of us desperately need to be reminded of right now. With nightly news broadcasting horrific features about the cruelty of individuals involved in terrorist attacks, school shootings, and ongoing racial tension in metropolitan areas, we can forget about all the giving folks trying to make the world a better place.

Christmas Tree 2015Besides, at Christmastime, we frequently witness the very best in people. The countless law enforcement officers making sure local kids have gifts to open; the churchgoers everywhere who collect thousands of shoeboxes filled with little blessings for impoverished children overseas; the service clubs, ministries, and organizations working diligently to fill the gap for parents through local programs or through Angel Tree and Toys for Tots; the Salvation Army volunteer bell ringers grateful for each dollar donated; the school personnel and families secretly giving to those in need among them; and the list goes on and on.

Mrs. Sondheimer refused to allow her once painful circumstances to make her bitter. Rather, she chose to celebrate the memory of a holiday miracle when her family was cared for by strangers. It might help to remember that the reason for the season was never about festively wrapped gifts anyway, but about a baby born in a humble Bethlehem stable offering mankind the gift of God’s love. In closing, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all!

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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What will be under your tree this Christmas?

It was a long ago Christmas, when the budget was tight, and hope seemed far away. That year, presents were notably absent under the artificial two foot pine tree in our cramped apartment. Probably, some of you reading this are experiencing economic difficulties like I was back then.

Even the yellowing angel that sat atop the tiny tree had seen better days. That holiday season more than two decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The worst of times, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S.poverty statistic. Yet, it was the best of times, because I was a new Christian with a committed faith in the God who could do anything, but fail His children.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” according to Hebrews 11:1. If you have walked with God for awhile, you probably know firsthand that there can be profound joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. It really is true what Philippians 4:11 says, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.”

At Christmas, mature believers are often grateful simply for good health, the gift of a loving family, and the celebration of the birth of their dear Savior. They understand that there is little more they can want. But children can’t help but dream of brightly-colored presents filled with treasures they’ve longed to call their own.

How many of you remember anticipating childhood holidays by studying the thick department store catalogs that used to come in the mail? Or making Christmas wish lists printed in pencil, numbering the most desirable gifts first? Even as adults, it’s not wrong to want things. Psalm 37:4 records, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Although Matthew Henry’s commentary cautions that God “has not promised to gratify all the appetites of the body…but to grant…all the cravings of the renewed sanctified soul.”

Yet our Heavenly Father also promises to give His children good things, if we ask Him. (Paraphrase Matt. 7:11) Our faith is often the catalyst that causes us to reach for the otherwise unobtainable. Therefore, it is always the balance of being content, yet pro-active about seeking what God wants us to have in our lives.

All of this theological jargon is lost on a young child wanting a few gifts to celebrate the season. That’s why it is important during the holidays that we as Christians find the time and use our resources wisely to support: church outreaches, Toys for Tots, Angel Tree, the Salvation Army, or to assist a neighboring family facing financial struggles.

Maybe this year, finances won’t allow you to bless others. You find yourself in need of assistance, and wondering how to celebrate the birth of our Savior. After all, Scripture says, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b) That’s the lesson I learned twenty years ago when there was no money for gifts. In the newness of my faith back then, I realized that Christmas was simply the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. He was the one having the party, the one who should receive presents. It became glaringly apparent that there was nothing under my tree for Him. 

Pastor Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, also had this same revelation. Slaughter, whose rural United Methodist Church has grown from double digits when he took over in 1979 to approximately 5,000 weekly attendees, first challenged his congregation in the fall of 2004, “I want you to have a slim Christmas this year . . . and whatever you spend on your family, bring an equal amount for hunger relief in the Sudan. Because Christmas is not your birthday; it’s Jesus’ birthday.”

That year, Ginghamsburg’s “Christmas Miracle Offering” brought in more than $300,000. Now an annual tradition, the church has raised over $5 million for The Sudan Project, a humanitarian program in Darfur, Sudan. In 2011, Pastor Slaughter authored the book, “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday,” which is rapidly becoming a Christian classic. The book’s back cover reads, “Every year, we say we’re going to cut back, simplify, and have a family Christmas that focuses on the real reason for the season—Jesus. But every year, advertisements beckon, the children plead, and it seems easier just to indulge our wants and whims…This Christmas, cut through the hype that leaves you exhausted and broke at the end of the year. Instead, experience the peace of knowing that God is truly with us, the joy of giving sacrificially, and the love of a Savior who gave everything he had for us.” Slaughter’s devotional, “A Different Kind of Christmas,” was also released in the fall of 2012.

Like the Ginghamsburg congregation, I have found joy in focusing on helping others. As far as presents, admittedly you can’t purchase a tangible gift for a God who created and owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10) But if you pray and listen very closely, you can trust that His Holy Spirit will tell you in a still small voice what the Savior of Mankind wants you do for Him this Christmas.

There are gifts like blessing others with time, money, or services; or using God-given talents to promote His kingdom. It could be the sacrificial act of forgiving a seemingly unforgivable offense. Or it might be a repentant present of confronting a habitual sin or addiction by giving up drugs or alcohol, finding a recovery group, and getting some help. But if finances allow, use your resources to assist those struggling to meet their daily needs. These are all ways to put something under the tree for dear Jesus. After all, it is His birthday!

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and evangelistic speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer Ministries  TV program. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1 or contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

 

 

 

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