With Christmas just a couple of days away I want to tell you what Christmas means to me.
I was 16, in fact it was only a few days after my birthday. My father gave me independence as a birthday present, telling me that he wanted nothing more to do with me. So I did what any normal kid would do...I went to my mom. The problem is: my mom didn't want me either. In fact my mother informed me not two weeks after I moved in with her that she was leaving the state and that I wasn't welcome to come with her.
To make a long story short: a family that I had known from church took me in. This family had known me for 6 or 7 years by this time and took the chance that I wasn't some homicidal maniac or Norman Bates in training. The lady who took me in recently told me the story of how tragic I looked as she pulled into my mother's driveway and found me sitting on the steps waiting to be picked up, all my possessions in a paper bag. There was no one there to say goodbye, no one to offer words of comfort, no one even to mark the death of my family. I remember very plainly feeling that I was worthless trash; unwanted by anyone and not worth anything.
Those first few days and weeks with my new family were filled with uncertainty. I was sure that I would soon wear out my welcome and find myself again on my own. I knew that it would all end soon and I lived daily with the certainty that this family would come to their senses and throw me away as well.
But the days came and went and I was still there. And along the way something wonderful began to happen. My "dad" (the one who took me in) and I began to spend time together. He and I would stay up late talking. We mostly talked about Arkansas Razorback football and basketball, but we talked. He never yelled at me or raised his hand at me, he just talked. It's funny, but I cannot remember any serious talks or deep conversations, but I remember those talks with such passion that just writing about them brings tears to my eyes as I write this.
There have been only two times before the birth of my kids that I have cried. The environment that I spent the first 16 years of my life in was not conducive to crying...it got you hit some more. But the day that my adoptive dad told me he loved me (I was a high school senior) I went to the bathroom and cried for at least 20 minutes. The second time was in the car as my dad and I were driving to the store. I hadn't been married very long and we had bought a house. My parents had come to look at it and he went with me to the grocery store. During that ride he told me that he was proud of me.
No one had ever said that to me before.
My biological dad died a long time ago. My dad is still alive. I had the chance to spend a couple of days with my parents around Thanksgiving. My dad and I stayed up late one night and talked; just like we used to. His last words to me that morning were "I miss staying up late talking with you."
I cried myself to sleep that night.
You may be asking by now what this has to do with Christmas. Christmas is about God loving us. We have and can do nothing to warrant His love, but He chooses to love us anyway. His love is without qualification, without requirement. God gives His love freely and extravagantly. His gift of Jesus is the perfect example of that extravagant love.
My dad taught me about that extravagant love in those simple late night talks and in the birthday cakes and the Christmas stockings. He lived it out in the meal blessings and the Bible study and his faithful service to his church. But mostly he showed me that great love in the gentle moments and the laughter we shared during those difficult uncertain early days of our time together.
If Christmas is about giving...then A.J. gave me the second greatest love I've ever known. His love was a powerful picture of the love that God demonstrated at Christmas.
May you know that love on Christmas day...and every day.