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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