It’s Christmas time again, and I want to help you commemorate the birth of the Savior with a special Christmas story.
I think you’ll enjoy it, especially if you have children in the home. But before turning things over to our guest author and letting the tale speak for itself, I’d like to say a few words about how it ties into our ministry and why I think its simple message is so important.
During this season of celebration, we’re reminded that, for many of our friends, this time of year may not be as merry and joyous as it’s supposed to be. Illness, depression, unemployment, marital problems, family breakup, frightening medical diagnoses – for all these reasons and a host of others, people across this nation are hurting and struggling this Christmas.
Among those who struggle most are the more than 100,000 legal orphans in the United States who are waiting for adoptive families in foster care. Many of these kids know all too well what it’s like to watch the hoopla of the holiday season pass them by while they stand looking on from the sidelines – no presents, no tree, no love and affirmation from anyone they can call their forever family.
Here at Focus on the Family we have a deep and sincere desire to help these orphans. That’s what our Adoption and Orphan Care Initiative and Wait No More adoption conferences are all about.
I’m very pleased to report that something of a nearly miraculous nature took place at our most recent Wait No More event, which was held in Seattle, Washington. There’s an enormous need in that city – almost 1,600 children waiting to be adopted!
This is partly due to the significant homeless population there. At the event, our staff learned about a family of five girls – eight years old and under – who are orphaned and needing a home.
As you probably know, it’s very difficult to find adoptive parents who are willing to take in a sibling group of this size. The adoption agency had been trying to prepare the girls for what they regarded as the inevitable, telling them that they would most likely have to be split up. But then – praise the Lord! – the unexpected happened. An older couple showed up at the Saturday event and were immediately drawn to these orphans. Apparently they had just completed the task of raising five biological girls of their own and were ready to get started on a whole new crop of daughters.
They’re now pursuing the adoption! Its stories like this that really get me excited!
The following vignette is entirely fictional, of course, but I think you’ll find that it fits in perfectly with this theme. The story comes from the Christmas story collection of our dear friend, Dr. Joe Wheeler. Joe has a knack for compiling some of the best tales of the season.
This particular one comes from Christmas in My Heart, Vol. 4: A Treasury of Old-Fashioned Christmas Stories. It’s all about how Christmas becomes real and meaningful for a single mom who is saddled with the responsibility of providing for three girls of her own. But I’m getting ahead of myself! So grab yourself a cup of hot cocoa or cider, collect the family, and I’ll step aside while you enjoy the heart-warming tale of “Charlie’s Blanket.”
Mary hurried to get her children fed and dressed. It was a cold December day, and they had a long way to walk. Mary cleaned houses five days a week; it was the only work she could find that would allow her to take care of her three small girls at the same time. She would drop the older two off at the elementary school and take three-year-old Becky to work with her. The girls would join her for lunch, and she would be back home again before school dismissed in the afternoon. It was a good arrangement, and it kept her off welfare. She wanted help from no one.
“Becky,” she called, “hurry! We’re all ready to go!”
Becky ran to the door, a ragged doll with all its hair loved off cradled in her arms. “I’m all ready, Mama, but we forgot to dress Charlie.”
Mary glanced at the clock and back down at her daughter’s smiling face. Quickly she dressed the doll, wrapped it in its blanket, and handed it back to Becky. Then the little family went out into the cold, dark early morning.
“Mama,” — Laura, seven, and the oldest, took Mary’s hand – “I’m sorry I forgot Charlie. Are we awfully late?”
“No, Laura, we’re not awfully late.”
“I don’t know why we have to dress that stupid doll of hers anyway,” complained Cindy. Since she was six and in the first grade, she thought of herself as all grown up — and to her, Charlie was a big waste of time.
Two years ago, Mary might have agreed with her. They had been well off then and wanted for nothing. Mary’s thoughts traveled back to that earlier period and compared then to now as she had done a million times. One day everything was fine, and the next day her husband was gone. All he had left behind was a note to say good-bye. No, he had also left behind a wife, three small girls, and an empty bank account.
As soon as the shock had worn off, Mary tried to start a new life, but it was so hard. She had never had to work outside the home before. Now she was cleaning houses to keep the girls fed. Their clothes were handed down from her employers’ children. Most of all, she regretted having to make them walk so far every day, especially in the cold.
As for the radical change in lifestyle, the girls had just accepted it as part of life. Laura and Cindy helped as much as they could and tried not to complain. Becky found happiness in her doll. Charlie was her whole world. She never quit smiling as long as she had Charlie. He was always to be dressed for the weather and then wrapped in the precious blanket. It was just an old scrap of a blanket that somebody must have dropped in the parking lot; Becky found it then, Mary washed it, and now it was Charlie’s. Was Charlie a waste of time? No, Mary decided; he was Becky’s happiness, and that most certainly was not a waste of time.
As they neared the school, the girls hugged Mary as they always did day after day, then ran in. Farther down the street, Mary turned in at the Littles’ – Monday’s house. The Littles had been getting ready for Christmas, it seemed, because there was a wreath on the door with a big red bow. Mary was prepared to see all the fancy trimmings inside. Becky wasn’t.
“Ooh, Charlie,” she whispered as if afraid that her voice might disturb the splendor, “look at what Mrs. Little got.” The room was gaily decorated for Christmas, and in the corner stood a huge Christmas tree. The silver star shining on the top almost touched the ceiling. Glass ornaments, garlands, and tinsel were tastefully arranged on the branches, and underneath was a mountain of parcels wrapped with ribbons and bows.
Mary took Becky’s coat and hung it up. The little girl just stood looking at the tree. “Becky, I have to get to work now. Promise you won’t touch anything.”
“I promise, Mama.” And she crawled into a big easy chair and stayed there for the entire morning, pointing out the pretty ornaments to Charlie and guessing what might be in each of the packages.
Laura and Cindy came in at lunch, but they hardly looked at the tree. It hurt to look at it. They knew that there would be no tree for them — just like last year. Money was not to be spent on anything they could do without. They knew it — but it still hurt.
The day replayed itself on Tuesday at the Johnsons’, on Wednesday at the Harrises’, Thursday at the Krebbs’, and Friday at the Fishers’. But on Saturday they were home.
After spending a week in the various houses all decked in glorious holiday fashion, Becky suddenly seemed to realize that she was missing out on something. “Why does everyone have a tree in the house, Mama? Why are there so many presents? Is it somebody’s birthday? Why don’t we have a tree?”
Mary had known the question would be asked. Laura and Cindy looked up from the floor where they were playing, waiting for her answer. Mary put away her mending and pulled Becky up onto her lap. “You’re a very smart girl. It is somebody’s birthday, and I’ll tell you all about him. His name is Jesus, and he was born on Christmas Day.” And Mary told the girls how it came to happen and why there is a Christmas.
Becky hugged Charlie close. “Ooh, the poor baby. Was it very cold in the stable? I wouldn’t want to sleep in a stable, would you? I wish I could go there and see it, though.”
“We can see it,” Mary said, and she put her daughter off her knee. “Girls, get your coats on. We’re going for a walk.”
Down the street was a church. Every Christmas a large creche was set up. There was a wooden stable full of straw and large ceramic figures. High above hung a star. The girls were awed by the simple but beautiful scene. It was just as Mary had said it was from the story in the Bible. Becky didn’t want to leave even when the cold seeped through her clothing and made her shiver.
The next week was just as hard for them. Everywhere they went, it seemed that the world was taunting them with a Christmas that wasn’t to be theirs. In the malls, carols played, and parents loaded up with the latest toys and games. As Mary picked out economy packs of socks and underwear for the girls’ gifts, she tried not to look in the other carts. At Safeway, she whipped through the express line with one lone pack of spaghetti for their Christmas dinner. She laughed at the long line-ups of people with their carts full of turkey and fixings. But the laugh was hollow, because she would have loved to be one of those standing in line. Outside, families shouted and laughed as they picked out what each considered the perfect tree and then strapped it to the roof of their car. Mary tried not to notice. It was Laura and Cindy that finally made her heart well over with bitterness.
Somehow, when you are an adult, you can take whatever is dished out. You take things in stride and make the best of a situation. But, oh how different it is when your child is hurting! Nothing hurts a mother more than the sorrow of her child. And that’s how it was with Mary. The school was focused on Christmas, which was only to be expected in December. The teachers had the children making ornaments and stringing popcorn for their trees at home. They wrote letters to Santa. At recess, the children told of the gifts they were expecting. Laura and Cindy said nothing. They did as they were expected in class and tried to avoid the other children at recess. It was at home that they expressed their hurt and anger at the world for leaving them out of Christmas. So the bitterness grew in Mary from the heartache of her girls.
Every carol and decoration seemed to make her colder. Every Christmas card or call of “Merry Christmas” made her hate the season more. Laura and Cindy, taking the cue from their mother as children often do, developed the same attitude.
Only little Becky was immune. She rocked Charlie in her arms and told him again and again about Baby Jesus, who was born in a stable. She begged the girls daily to take her to the church so she could see the story “for true.” They would take her grudgingly and drag her back home long before she was finished looking.
Christmas morning came in a flurry of snow. Laura and Cindy woke up cold. They ran into Mary’s room and burrowed under the covers with her to warm up. Mary cuddled them close and kissed their foreheads.
“Merry Christmas,” she said.
“Merry Christmas, Mama,” they echoed.
“I’m afraid there aren’t a lot of gifts for you girls, but you go wake up Becky, and you can open what there is,” she said resignedly.
The girls jumped out of the bed and ran to get their sister while Mary got up and dressed. Too soon, they were back.
“Where is she, Mama? We can’t find her!” The words hit Mary like a truck. The three raced through the house calling her name, checking every closet and corner. They checked the yard and the neighbor’s yard. No Becky! They must have missed her when they checked the house, Mary thought. She never goes off alone. They searched the house again.
“Dear Lord, please help me find her,” she prayed as she rechecked every spot a child could possibly be in. “I’m sorry for my selfishness. The gifts and the dinner that I prayed for are not important. Forget them and just give me back my Becky!” She was frantic now.
Then she noticed Charlie. He was carefully positioned in a chair facing a window. Mary’s heart raced with her thoughts. Charlie was never out of Becky’s sight. And where was his blanket? Becky always insisted that his blanket be wrapped tightly around him at all times. Suddenly she knew!
“Stay here!” she admonished the girls as she flew out the door into the dark and snowy morning. Down the street she ran, until she could see the church. Then she slowed, and tears of release ran down her face as she caught sight of her daughter. The star from the creche was shining down on the manger where Becky had climbed in and was busily covering the Baby Jesus with the ratty scrap of a blanket. As she neared, Mary could hear Becky talking:
“You must be cold. I knew the snow would be falling on you. This is Charlie’s blanket, but we will give it to you. He has me to keep him warm.” She looked up when she heard the footsteps. “Oh! Hi, Mama.” Becky smiled her beautiful innocent smile. “I was afraid he might have thought we forgot about him on his birthday.”
Mary plucked her out of the straw and held her tight, the tears now raining unchecked. “I did forget, Honey … Dear Lord, I’m sorry I forgot.” Then she tenderly carried her daughter home, filled at last with Christmas joy.
With Christmas carols to cheer them on, they hung the popcorn strings and ornaments on Mary’s tallest house plant. A star made of tin foil perched on the top.
They put the presents underneath, and there was just enough to fit nicely under the little tree. And best of all, Mary made a birthday cake. With their hands joined around the table, they all sang, “Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus, happy birthday to you …”
As for Charlie, cradled tightly in Becky’s arms — even without his blanket, he was warm.
As Mary’s story illustrates, it doesn’t take a lot of money, material wealth, or glittery glitz to make a memorable Christmas. All that’s really needed is the love and the deep sense of belonging that can only be found at the heart of the family circle.
It doesn’t matter how big that circle is.
It doesn’t even matter if it’s been touched by pain, sorrow, heartache, brokenness, and want.
The important thing is that it’s made up of people who belong to each other and who will always be there for one another. That kind of togetherness is one of the deepest longings of the human heart, and it has a key place at the core of the Good News God brought to earth when He sent his Son to be our Savior.
This year as you move through the hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, decorating, and piling up the presents under the tree, I hope you’ll give some thought to the thousands of kids who are still waiting to find a place where they can experience that kind of togetherness. Given the number of churches in this country, every orphan could quickly be placed in a permanent home if less than one family per church opened their hearts to receive them. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him,” said the apostle John concerning the Child who was born on Christmas morning. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His name” (John 1:11, 12). Let’s keep working together to see that all of America’s orphans have a chance to experience that kind of reception and homecoming. For more information visit our Adoption and Orphan Care Initiative website at icareaboutorphans.org.
I hope this holiday season provides you and your loved ones with many opportunities to spend quality time together. This is the time of year when we celebrate the giving of God’s greatest gift to humanity – the gift of life through Jesus Christ His Son. May these days be Merry and bright for your entire household, and may the New Year be filled with His blessings for everyone you hold dear.