Prepare Your Heart, Not Your Hearth

prepareThe year we lived in the ancient yellow farmhouse near the end of the holler near Clarksburg, West Virginia, my decided that sacrificing a tree for Christmas was wrong. At least, I think that was his reasoning. That’s what mom said, anyway. My older sister may remember a different reason—maybe that Dad thought Christmas trees were heathen symbols or something. To my eight-year-old mind, no tree meant no Christmas. And no Christmas meant no presents.

It was the same year my dad cashed his paycheck in freshly minted two-dollar bills and then proceeded to clamp them together, run Elmer’s glue along the top edge. When the glue dried, he had a perfect ‘pad’ of money. Clerks at the local Heck’s department store gave him the stink-eye when pulled out the pad and peeled off bills to pay for our purchases. In retrospect, we were probably short on cash (four growing kids and a cross-country move had depleted my parent’s bank account, I’m sure).

We kids couldn’t do much about the way Dad paid for things, but we could prepare for Christmas in our little ways. And so we did. We hiked into the woods and hacked off the lower branches of pine trees and dragged them home. It took all four of us (my mom may have helped, too) to prop the branches up in the corner. It looked a little like a tree—enough to assure my selfish little mind that Christmas would happen.

More than anything else, I wanted a sleigh for Christmas. Not a sled, mind you. A sleigh. A one-horse-open-sleigh. I had a pony and a harness, and all I needed to complete my fantasy was a sleigh (never mind that my pony didn’t have schooling in pulling things or wearing a harness).

With our ‘tree’ in the corner of the living room, I knew that Christmas would happen as usual—and I felt confident that my parents would provide my wish. On Christmas morning, I found a note under the tree saying that my gift was in the old barn. I raced out, eager to find my sleigh (did I mention that it hadn’t snowed yet?). I saw a bulky, mysterious bundle in the corner under a tarp with my name written on it.

I ripped off the tarp…and found a bedroom set.

I may have stomped my feet in anger. I may have burst into tears. I’m sure other family members will chime in and report the exact depredations of my selfish little self.

All I know is that I had tried my hardest to prepare for Christmas so that I would magically receive exactly what I wanted. And I discovered that it didn’t work.

Instead, my loving parents had found a second-hand bedroom set—complete with a real bed (I’d been sleeping on a mattress propped up on paint cans), a chest of drawers and the cutest little corner desk. They had repainted it and reupholstered the matching stool in my favorite patchwork fabric from the Sears and Roebuck’s catalog. My mom had fashioned a skirt around the desk and made a comforter cover and curtains.

And I acted like a selfish brat.

I’m still learning. Preparation for Christmas happens in our hearts—not on our hearth. (tweet this)

It’s not about the lights and decorations and expectations of gifts. It’s about tossing our expectations and allowing the Holy Spirit to whisper in our ears, “This is what you need. Jesus. Nothing else. He is your greatest gift.”

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Amen! Jesus is the greatest gift. I think we are all still learning!
    Tara recently posted…Preparing the Way (Five Minute Friday)My Profile

    • I’m glad we have this community to learn together in!

  • Oh Anita, thank you for inviting us to peek into your story and see you as a little girl. You aren’t the only one who used to act like a selfish brat for Christmas. Truth be told, I often still act that way, and not just at Christmas. I’m beginning to learn that Jesus wants us preparing our hearts every day of the year. It’s easier and harder than it sounds, but there’s always joy in Him.
    Asheritah recently posted…How to Really Prepare for Christmas (It’s Not What You Think)My Profile

    • Amen–always joy in the journey with Jesus. People who haven’t tried it might think it’s trite or whacky-sounding. But truth is truth!

  • I can relate to the bed being held up by paint cans…too funny there! I remember getting a microwave for Christmas one year and going, “But college doesn’t start until August.” Yes…we all have those years that we question out motives. This was really good. I need to seriously try to remember some of my childhood Christmases. I’ve lost my memory of many. Cherish them.
    Bethany Boring recently posted…Consider This As My 2 Week NoticeMy Profile

    • :). I mostly remember what a selfish, awful kid I was and how awesome my parents were to put up with me!

  • I can relate to being disappointed in something I got for Christmas. I think that is just the ‘kid’ in us. As an adult I am much more thankful for what I have and I see now the reason for the season….
    Paula recently posted…The Hateful Captcha!!My Profile

    • I love having a reason for the season–it make Christmas so much more meaningful!

  • I know that my unprepared heart is what gets me in hot water so often. When I fail to focus on Jesus, I am ripe for a selfish disaster. Lovely post, Anita. #fmfparty
    Leah Adams recently posted…Five Minute Friday ~ PrepareMy Profile

    • Yes! I love those words–‘ripe for selfish disaster’! Here’s to preparing our hearts this season (and always).

  • Don

    Strange how those of your generation have such vivid memories. I remember refusing to “sacrifice” a living tree, when it was Jesus who was sacrificed. I TOTALLY don’t remember the dresser set. Maybe it was because your mom bought it and did most of the work on it.
    I love the way you can turn bad experiences into a pathway to God. Keep up the good work, many eyes are upon you and your deeds.
    Love, Poppy

  • It’s funny how sometimes what we can make look like preparations are actually us grappling for control instead just letting go and letting Him come. I confess to be a foot stomper and pouter, both to my parents and to Jesus. Thank goodness there is grace for us.
    Colleen Mitchell recently posted…FMF: PrepareMy Profile

  • Donne

    The thing I remember most about that Christmas (besides the awesome tree) is that we re-purposed an old trike and toolbox for Vickie (4 at the time). Dad helped us sand them down, paint them shiny black and then put white dots on them with a pencil eraser. She got such a kick out of them, “mounting” the toolbox on back of the trike and racing around the house, it was like giving ourselves a present to see her enjoyment.

  • I promise you that you were not the only one that was a selfish kid. I look back and wonder how my parent put up with me. I love that you shared your story with us. Thank you

  • The words to that old carol, ‘oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee’ have been wending their way through my mind this morning, Anita. And your words here today have only solidified their meaning, their message.

    Thank you, friend. Comfort and joy to you this advent weekend …
    Linda@Creekside recently posted…In Which Our Souls Rest as Our Hallelujahs RiseMy Profile

  • Amen, my friend! He is what we need… nothing else will ever take His place or have our hearts! Merry Christmas!
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…Prepare – A Five Minute Friday postMy Profile

  • I’ve had a few of those selfish moments too. Question: once you got over the disappointment did you love the bedroom set?
    Susan Shipe recently posted…the 12th day of christmasMy Profile

  • Laura

    I love this story. It made me laugh and it made me ache for your regret, probably because I, like most other children, experienced similar selfish situations. And still do today. But I love the connection you make, the way you assure as that we are still learning how to better our selfish selves, and that Jesus can help.

  • Sandra

    This is want I need, to center Cristmas in the only One, the Savior of the world because He is the gift for all of us in this Cristmas… Thank you for remember me to put away presents an focus my mind and heart in the presious things that matter most

  • Really powerful post. Thank you.

  • Thank you for sharing from your heart. My husband, kids and I have enjoyed a Christmas season of relationship this year and God has truly blessed us.