Best Gift

When I had to go through my parent’s house and sort through 60 years of possessions, the one thing I would have taken if it still existed would have been the original nativity set.

But, it had long been gone after seeing its days spent in the hands of all the kids. I don’t think one of us didn’t take them out of their places and play with them. By the time I got to them, they were chipped and dented.

With three boys, I can only imagine what they did to those, and they were made out of ceramic. Nothing fragile or plastic was ever safe around them. Many of the things that had survived their childhood path of destruction were barely hanging on.

Like the Monopoly money that was taped together, one of them got so mad that he ripped the fake currency in half. When my mom saw what he had done, she made him piece it all back together. Her purpose was twofold. They probably couldn’t afford to buy a brand new game, and for the rest of time, this temper tantrum would be long remembered so as not to repeat itself. It was a message to all of us that consequences might last forever if we did something once.

Because of his brief tirade, I had to hand over bills with yellowing tape every time I wanted to buy Boardwalk. The question was always asked when I played with friends,

“Why does this look like this?”

I had to explain that one of my brothers had gone crazy momentarily long ago. They would look at me like I was related to a notorious criminal.

My mom told me that one year she and my dad had bought toys for Christmas on credit.

“Before we had it paid off, every single thing we gave them had broken. We never did that again.”

So it was no surprise that the pieces from her nativity were beaten up. When she put them out, they would soon be scattered all over the room. It took mileage to get the wise men from point A to B.

First, Mary and Joseph had to get to the stable, which wasn’t a short jaunt. I had to pack up my tiny Barbie suitcase with clothes for the journey. And the camel that got them there ran on green energy with no fuel emissions, so the going was slow.

If my mom had to vacuum the carpet, that just set back the trip, and I would have to start the process all over again.

I would get the two of them all the way to living room Bethlehem and take them from the couch to a chair, the stereo, the end tables, and finally, the stable that was losing its roofing.

“Chris, I need to dust. You need to leave.”

It never failed! She always thwarted the birth of Jesus.

That meant I would have to start all over again later, and I hadn’t even gotten the wise men on their way yet.

I have a hazy memory from about four, where I pretended to be the Virgin Mary. I had a light blue blanket that I would drape over my head because every movie that depicts her puts her in a blue-colored head covering. I grabbed whatever doll I could find, Raggedy Andy would do, and I would put him under the tree.

My mom had told me that God had sent the world a gift in the form of a baby. In my mind, then, he should be where all the other presents were.

“They were expecting a baby to come, and God surprised them. It was a great plan because no one could figure it out,” she always told me.

I was taught young, growing up Catholic, that Mary was to be worshipped. But as I grew up, I never felt she was any different than anyone else. God just handpicked her because He knew she could accomplish a mission that not many would be able to, and we all can do that.

A lot was expected of her that the world was not going to understand. I can relate as more supernatural events keep on showing up.

Because I was the youngest, I got the job of putting Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve. My mom would leave him in the box until then. She always made a cake, sang Happy Birthday, and handed me the tiny figure wrapped in a little cloth. If she had put it up high to keep me from moving the pieces, someone had to lift me so I could reach.

I was the only one of the six who had the longest record of having this assignment. With them all so close in age and as an outlier, I had no one to compete with. I begged for a younger sibling, but she always said,

“You will have to wait for someone else in the family to have a baby someday.”

I thought she was being mean to me, not realizing she was past 40, and all of her patience was long gone.

And so was mine when her house had been left in disarray without a single thought of who would have to deal with it. They lived like death didn’t exist; I don’t recommend doing that to your children.

I had started working on it in June, and by October, it was listed. Just before that, my daughter and I went back over, which we had been doing daily.

All of the Christmas decorations were long gone, but in the middle of one of the rooms was a handmade ornament with my mom’s name on it. There was absolutely no reason for that to be there, with all of that having been removed months before. Just like a little thank you note.

It had become her way of getting my attention during that time so I wouldn’t forget that she was still around. She let me know that just because I couldn’t see her didn’t mean that she wasn’t still alive.

In the first year of her moving on to heaven, I wrote daily passages. I would get a vision of her sitting at a table, and she would put on a pair of glasses.

I wondered why she wore glasses in heaven, and I was made aware that it symbolized wisdom and that I was about to learn something. I knew I was to start writing, and it wasn’t the greatest to see that while I was driving. Her timing wasn’t always the best.

When I go back and read some of the passages from two years ago, I see a subtle warning about an upcoming pandemic, encouraging words on how to stay strong in the face of adversity, and a lot of details of her heavenly home. Basically, she reiterates a truth to me repeatedly. God loves humanity. In this entry from my journal on June 5th, 2019, I was having one of these learning sessions:

“Chris, God is God. People can make Him into whatever they want, but He is the Creator. And there are no shifting shadows in Him. The spin that the world puts on Him is nonsense and makes no difference. God longs to come and be in communion with His creation. The pain you see in the world, the confusion and the self hatred is lack of communion with God. When His love floods the body and the mind, all these things will flee.”

It fits right in with John 3:16, where we are told that God loves the world.

I try to keep that in mind as I am given reasons to hate it more and more. But it must not show because people are drawn to His presence like a magnet.

I continually have people smile at me when I walk through stores; some say hi, some want to know where the soup aisle is, and others want to tell me their life stories. Like the guy who saw me put back something, I was considering buying as an ingredient.

“You really didn’t want that anyway,” he said.

This is how it always starts. I’m minding my own business, and someone appears.

“I love my grandchildren, and I am getting them candy before I go see them.”

He started grabbing boxes and examining others, trying to decide what they would like best. He chatted on about anything he could think of while I kept trying to find something on my list.

He explained to me that his car wasn’t working right; he and his son had to fix it.

“The tires are shot. You know what I wish?”

“No. What.” It could be anything.

“I wish I could ride a horse everywhere I go, and that would be great.” And, he kept right on looking for what he wanted.

I laughed. Where did he come from, and why?

“I love horses. And they are more reliable than driving a car. I got to spend ten days on a ranch, and I wish I could go back, and I want a horse. That’s all I need.”

“I think you are going to need a lot of money for food and vet bills.”

“Ya, that might be more expensive.”

He talked about his kids, his job, and everything that was going right in his life. He was a fountain of positivity. And as fast as he appeared, he said goodbye to me.

As I drove home, I heard: It’s not all bad. See? I just showed you that. That man is happy even when things aren’t going right with his car. He found other things to be grateful for, which will keep him going through all that is ahead of him a lot easier.

God can be straightforward like that and not complicated at all. So keep an eye out for those encounters that offset the negative.

When you need encouragement from heaven, and it arrives in a way that you weren’t looking for, that is the best gift.

Simple

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