Discover The Treasure That Lies Hidden In Your Christmas Story

The day before yesterday time teetered on the brink of the present and suddenly plummeted backwards into the abyss of my past.

My Christmas past to be exact. A Dickens’ kind of  moment.

Madeline L’Engle calls these moments the layers of our lives.

My dear friend Patsy Clairmont calls it shaking our tree.

So let me tell a story and maybe, just maybe, it will help you discover hidden treasure this Christmas season as well.

At the last minute, and after a nine year hiatus, I reluctantly mustered the courage to attend a Christmas musicale at a local evangelical church. It was a moment of providence.

As we left the house, early morning snow flurries danced with the promise of a white Christmas afternoon. My wife Chris and I were bundled up in layers of clothing against the frigid cold accompanied by Gina, a long-time family friend, and the aforementioned dear new friend, Patsy.

The lights dimmed and at the sound of the first note, the vertigo began. It was a song I had meticulously rehearsed and performed with my choir and orchestra twelve years ago. I knew every vocal part, every instrumental riff, and every rhythmic cadence.

But somehow, I was able to forget the mechanics and settle deep into the treasure of the song, its meaning, and of Christmas’ past.

Myriad layers began to rapidly materialize.

The tall beautiful young lady enthusiastically and capably coordinating the service as Pastor of Arts in Franklin, TN suddenly became a little twelve-year-old tow-headed adolescent auditioning for me in the choir room of a South Florida mega-church. A little girl who was always prepared and willing to sing. Anywhere. Anytime. With excellence.

As I plummeted backwards, I saw Melissa as a wife and mom, a solo recording artist, a member of the CCM group Avalon, a member of the musical group Truth, as the featured soloist for a choir recording project we did with Brentwood-Benson music, as a member of an auditioned high school musical group Spirit Song that I directed, and as a confident twelve-year-old, her first solo at our church leaving thousands of people spellbound.

And now a Pastor of Arts (a female pastor—no less—may her tribe increase) passionately directing a team of artists to accomplish extraordinary things.

Treasure.

Bebe Winans walked to the stage and sang A Christmas Prayer and I felt the warmth of tears as his voice brought back a flood of memories of hope and promise I possessed as a young and naive musician at a South Florida church start-up and college student in the late eighties. His rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Waters on the album Heaven comforted me through many difficult times.

Treasure.

A wonderful soloist began to sing Strange Way To Save The World and my mind tumbled even further backwards to college days and wild hair at Lee University in the late 70’s and fellow alum Mark Harris. I’m sure at that time writing a song with the words strange and save in the title and a group called 4Him had yet be dreamed. And how our paths (and fashion) would continue to cross sporadically throughout our lives.

Treasure.

Children began to gather as a young man and woman performed a masterful rendition of Andrew Peterson’s Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come. As I spied children of friends that I first knew as children themselves, I recalled meeting Andrew and his bandmate Gabe for the first time as novice recording artists at the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando eleven years ago.

A few months later inviting them to perform and at dinner afterwards talking about life and love. Little did I know ten years would pass and Gabe would be inspired to a lifetime of running by my marathon stories, would later marry Keely and both of them would become dear friends. I could never have dreamed that Andrew and I would spend hours at McCreary’s Pub in downtown Franklin kicking back a pint while sharing our love for all things C.S. Lewis, poetry, story, and life.

Treasure.

The meek, hopeful voices of the children singing the “vintage” song When They Saw The Star They Rejoiced With Great Joy with the same gusto my first children’s choir sang that very same brand new song over thirty years ago in 1980. Same song, same star, same scripture, same joy—but iPhones capturing memories instead of Kodaks, hair cut in a Bieber instead of a Bee Gee. Children facing the hope and challenges at the cusp of the second decade of the 2000’s instead of children facing the hope and challenges that are now memories of the last decades of the 1900’s.

My children’s choir lived in a world where personal computers, the Internet, AIDS, videogames, and Al-Queda did not exist. A world where the children of Columbine were about to be born, and the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Berlin Wall and the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood tall.

What will be the Christmas memories of the children I heard sing today in thirty years? I wondered as I continued my plunge through the past. A plunge that inevitably leads back to the future.

But Sunday, as I watched the children of our children sing, I realized anew why we need the treasures of childhood and why children singing about joy will never grow old.

Treasure.

As the last song, a jubilant and modern gospel rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, thrilled my soul, it seemed hopelessly ironic that this very same musical arrangement sang in 1999 by the choir I directed, caused my mega-church pastor to rebuke me and say “that’s enough of this contemporary music!” A rebuke that led to my decision to leave a church that seemed like home. A rebuke that helped me understand why deep-seated convictions are worth never giving up. A rebuke that continues to sting, but one that led to dreams realized different than any local church (by its very nature and limitations) can accomplish.

Treasure.

Four ladies around me that day who are a vital part of my past, present and future. A Pastor of Arts that unknowingly, perhaps, led me to hidden treasure; a beautiful blonde childhood sweetheart with whom I have celebrated 35 magical Christmas seasons; a treasured and long-time family friend who is discovering hidden treasure deep within herself these days; and a new and dear friend that it seems I have known my entire life, who shakes not only my tree—but tens of thousands.

Treasure.

What treasures lie hidden in your Christmas past?

Even as I have taken the liberty to peel back several layers,

I ask you to take a moment and please tell us at least one story that comes to mind.

39 Responses to “Discover The Treasure That Lies Hidden In Your Christmas Story”

  1. Christmas of 2009. My son in law received a call on Dec 21 from his ex-wife’s mother who has custody of their child. She said he had one chance to gain custody of the child, but had to pick him up on Christmas day. We live in Allentown, PA and the child in Dallas, TX.

    We decided to rent a car and leave on Christmas eve to pick him up. We hit three major snow storms on the way, but arrived in Dallas at 9:00 PM. Stayed the night at my sister’s in Ft Worth and drove straight back to PA.

  2. Shop Rite, West Long Branch, NJ, 1967.

    Every two weeks, on payday, my mother went food shopping. Even at ten years old, I still enjoyed going along with her. Oh not for the company of my mother sad to say, but so I could steal Yodels and Ring-Dings and eat them as I strolled through the store. Amazingly, not one store employee (and I walked past hundreds of them in those days) ever questioned the practice. I suppose they figured no one in their right mind would be brazen enough to eat stolen cupcakes and then eat them in plain view. Naturally, I never did any of this in front of my mother–she would have smacked the snot right out of my nose.

    Something happened on this one particular December afternoon. I tagged along with mom to the store, stole and ate my goodies, and then felt entirely empty inside, but it wasn’t the guilt of being a serial shoplifter. Something was wrong with Christmas. I’m not sure, but I betcha “A Charlie Brown Christmas” had aired the night before (remember how the program was always sponsored by ‘Dolly Madison Cupcakes? I digress).

    Forty three years later, I don’t specifically remember what was wrong, but just recall it being wrong. I was not a Christian at the time (go figure).

    I found mom in one of the aisles, wiped the chocolate off my face and announced I was going to walk the three or so miles home. She didn’t blink, she didn’t ask why, she just said, “Okay.”

    In 1967 it was perfectly okay for a mother to allow her 10 year old child to walk 3 miles. Imagine that.

    I remember thinking about Christmas on the way home and becoming very depressed. I walked by the Old First Methodist Church on Locust Ave. I hated church. Actually, I hated Sunday school; we never really went to church. On very rare occasions my mother would go to church and I would go with her. I recall feeling kinda ‘grown-up’ and singing the hymns boldly. I liked that the old stinky people in front of me would turn around and smile when I sang.

    At the corner of Locust and Cedar Ave stood a great big Christmas tree. They used to put it right in the middle of the intersection, but this year they moved it out of the street and into the vacant lot. I remember that pissed me off.

    Walking east along Cedar I began to sing a Christmas song. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think it was… never-mind, I don’t remember what it was. But I sang it over and over and each time I sang the one verse I knew, it was louder than the one before. By the time I got to Monmouth College, I was screaming the lyrics. When I saw the college people, I stopped singing and walked the rest of the way home quietly.

    About two blocks from my house and across the street from the park was Laurie Hayden’s house. We were the closest of friends up until about first grade. In kindergarten I was certain I would marry Laurie Hayden.

    I rarely if ever got what I wanted for Christmas. This was the year I believe I got ‘Major Matt Mason.’ I loved that toy. It was essentially a doll. My father hated the fact that his youngest boy played with a doll. I don’t believe the advertising gurus of the day had yet coined the phrase, “Action Figure.”

    About two weeks after Christmas, our family would trek on up to Grandma’s house for a big dinner. Dad always stopped at White Castle before we got there and the whole family would fill up on hamburgers. Looking back, it was pretty rude thing to do.

    After dinner, we would gather around Grandma’s piano and sing her favorite Christmas song, “Silent Night”. She would always sing a verse in German. As a child, people speaking (or singing) other languages freaked me out.
    dave wells´s last blog post ..A Weak Week

  3. I think the snow has me all nostalgic…. and missing my sweet Memaw who passed away six months ago.

    My treasure is the Christmas of 1993. My Papaw had always wished for a White Christmas. I am pretty sure, praying man that he was, he prayed for one every single year. White Christmas and Georgia just don’t go together!
    A freshmen in high school family was not the fondest of things in my life as I was all about friends and where to go. I remember that Christmas eve with my Dad’s family and preparing for the big dinner with my Mom’s family the next day. For once Christmas was quite cold. The next day as we gathered as a family my little brother became excited. We looked out.

    Snow.

    On Christmas day.

    Of course it did not amount to much but the big snowflakes fell and we had a lovely Christmas dinner with my Memaw and my Papaw and we opened gifts and laughed and loved.

    In March of that next year Papaw was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 1994.

    His last Christmas on earth? A white one.

    He gives us such beautiful gifts. Treasures.

    (Oh dear….Randy you have made me cry. With your post and now…with this. It was a sweet reminder though. Thanks for sharing your treasures and allowing us to share ours)

  4. I had been raised on country 8-tracks and some shiny vinyls. How I loved listening to The Gambler and the Bellamy Brothers letting their love flow.
    One Christmas when I was 10, our family was invited to a company party at The Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs. Santa was there and had a gender specific gift for each child. While I’ve always been fluent in the love language of gifts, that wasn’t the treasure. After a chuck wagon dinner, a group of men in western wear took the stage. Real live cowboys plucked the banjo and sawed the fiddle. Song after song, I sat mesmerized. It was the first live group I’d ever seen. My deep love affair with country music was cemented that Christmas; one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
    Audra Krell´s last blog post ..Last Minute – Really

  5. Thanks for the thoughts! Brought back many similar memories. Though this older man can’t move as fast as you have, I am going in the same direction. Don’t wait up but I’ll catch up in time. Looking forward to making up some of the distance in February!

    L. C. Campbell
    Last blog: “The Greatest Answer to Prayer”
    http://www.chaplainlc.com

  6. Interesting story Randy – very heartfelt. Shaking our tree — I like that — love Patsy. And yeah Patsy for taking you guys — what a gift she gave you. My treasures don’t involve people that much at least not right now as I’ve tended to make idols out of so many (that will make sense in a minute) – Mine involve finally being able to celebrate Christmas in church. I didn’t grow up in church if you recall so no christmas programs for me for the first 28 years of my life. I never went to Sunday School, VBS, Egg Hunts, or any of those wonderful childhood things kids pretend to hate — At least not until I met and married my husband 25 years ago. Poor man is an LCMS Lutheran — I love God more than some synod so.. when the Lutheran churches got into their horrible fight again last year – LCMS chose to boycott an All Lutheran Production of Handel’s Messiah – something I have sung in since 2000. I refused to honor the boycott. No one is going to keep me from celebrating Christmas – and singing for HIm. I risked being excommunicated for my stand. As did many of us. For me, my treasure is celebrating God’s work in my life, by following Him regardless of personal risks. — even the rocks will cry out.

    I’m glad you guys went and that God pealed back some layers for you and showed you the many treasures he has given you in your life. What a gift. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Deana O’Hara´s last blog post ..REPOST- The Great Rabbit Rescue

    • @Deana O’Hara, correction I married him 20 years ago. oopsies. LOL
      Deana O’Hara´s last blog post ..REPOST- The Great Rabbit Rescue

      • @Deana O’Hara, Boycotting Handel?? Only religion! Agh!! Good for you to stand against that. Thanks, Deana!!!
        Randy´s last blog post ..Discover The Treasure That Lies Hidden In Your Christmas Story

        • @Randy, yep, only religion. Agh is right. They were boycotting joint worship with ELCA. Still it was Handel for heavens sake oh my gosh. Like I said, I can’t focus on people because my call takes me outside of traditional norms and I have to let go of my people pleasing to serve him.– at least Jeff and I see that and understand that. The blessing in my stand if you will was knowing my husband stood with me. That meant the world to me. You know my testimony and how I came to know Christ – it was not without sacrifice, rejection, and pain. And now, I’ve been blessed to perform in front of several of heros of the faith since you and I first met – and while I have a long way to go, I’ve come too far to turn back. God is awesome! And I didn’t get excommunicated for singing either. There were too many of us. ha ha.

          Here is another Christmas blessing — I worked in telecommunications back in the 90’s and had an anti-smoking supervisor. If she caught us putting on a winter coat to go smoke she would dock us our lunch hour — so we smokers pacted to simply go outside without it. Not very Christian or mature, I know. One day I was outside and a homeless man looked at me and offered me HIS coat. The only thing he owned. It was in the 20’s and snowy. Randy, my wool dress cost $175. My shoes cost $125, and forget my jewelry. The cost of my outfit alone would have fed him for a month — I just looked at him and burst into tears. I couldn’t believe his offer. He couldn’t believe I didn’t have a coat. That’s God. You know? That man’s humble offer totally changed me. Like I said, great piece. I’m glad that God showed you he saw you and opened a window to see what he’s doing in people’s lives today. That means he has something in store for tomorrow. I love it when he does that, you know?
          Deana O’Hara´s last blog post ..REPOST- The Great Rabbit Rescue

  7. wow, what a story? like peeling back the bandages for me. i guess i resonated with the “wounded” part. i really just see Christmas as busy sometimes. even when i taught school, it meant that we had to do a Christmas Concert. the fact that Christmas decorations come out on Nov 1st or earlier and radio stations play Christmas music ad nauseum has taken some of the special away for me. i miss that magic of Christmas. don’t get me wrong, i love to see the looks on my children’s faces Christmas morning, and i love to spend the holidays with family, it just seems that i’m so busy and it becomes a beatdown. BUT…
    i want to thank you for that beautiful moment when you realized the things that you had touched and created some magic for people. that’s what i want to remember. i want to remember those kids in Dublin experiencing the music of Leroy Anderson the first time. I want to be reminded that the kids in Hico had never heard of Russian Christmas Music before we played it. i want to remember the looks of the kids faces in Gail when we did our program “Remote Control” and they sang with all of the gusto they could muster to “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”. i want to cherish the annual Turkey Dinner and concert that we had in East Bernard. i want to feel like my kids at Matzke felt when they would go sing “Holiday Songs” for our friends at the Alzheimer Outpatient Home. i want to remember what it felt like to sing with the Riverpointe band and choir in the Live Christmas Extravaganza. But then i remember the work that i did to bring great Christmas moments to a church in Dallas that never appreciated it. the constant grumbling and complaining. it’s sad. that’s what i remember. this season, i’m praying that God would help me to forget that and remember what is good and why we celebrate in the first place.

    Merry Christmas Randy. i can’t wait to see you and Chris in February.
    Chuck Harris´s last blog post ..speaking of Ben Folds…

  8. Last December my husband decided to attend a traditional church service at the Lutheran church which is within walking distance to our home. I was winding down to freedom from my “church job” and had a few Sundays off in December. I planned to sleep in and bake sugar cookies on those Sundays. Attending a church service, a Lutheran church service, was not in my December plans. However, my husband really wanted me to attend just one service with him, especially one where I wasn’t involved in any part of it. So I agreed to accompany him to church. We walked to the 8:00 service. Were greeted warmly by pastors dressed in long white robes, with big silver crosses hanging from their necks. I took this as a good sign (having had my first liturgical experience at Recreate – Ian Morgan Cron – a couple of years ago). I settled in to the hard wooden pew. Dan recognized a few people from the neighborhood. I was kind of lost in thought, somewhat exhausted & spent, hoping the service wouldn’t be in German. Suddenly, I heard the bells. The church bells were ringing. I have never in my life heard real church bells ringing. For unknown reasons, my eyes filled with tears which started streaming (not politely moistening my eyes) from my eyes. This moment in time had been a long time coming, but was so necessary, so cleansing, so real and raw. This moment was transcendent, marrying past and present and future with the simple ringing of church bells, over and over, calling us to worship, to hope to expect, to wait. I couldn’t participate fully in the service because each element of the liturgy brought new tears. This was a totally different kind of worship. Meaningful. Deep. Rich with tradition. Overwhelming in its cadence, its simplicity, the truth of the Word spoken out loud by pastors and participants. Unforgettable. A treasure.
    marina´s last blog post ..From Zanzibar to Burundi

  9. Carol Nelson once said that Christmas is a time when you get homesick, even when your home.

    I remember in Madeline L’Engle’s “Walking on Water” she mentions a time as a girl where she would float down a spiral staircase and her feet would literally never touch a step.

    When did we lose the magic and wonder that surrounds this time of year? Was it squelched the day I learned the truth of Santa or does it just slowly die out?

    I too find this treasure Randy sitting in a church service on a cold December day, listening to a beautifully chaotic version of “Carol of the Bells”, and watching snow fall on the ground while peering through glass doors. I also find it in the wonder of my children on early Christmas mornings. I found it last night as my family was sitting around our dinner table and we were watching my 4 year old son make his 18 month old sister “belly laugh.”

    Thank you for reminding of us of these moments. And when we identify them, may we hold onto them with all of our might as we squeeze every bit of life from them. And maybe we could all float down spiral staircases without even touching a step!

  10. I remember 2 Christmas years.

    Somewhere in my early adolescence we went to the 5 and 10 Store to buy Christmas presents. Nothing could be purchased for a nickle nor a dime, but was the name of the store. The four of us kids each had a small sum of money with which to buy gifts for each other and Mom and Dad. Some how we did it. Maybe it was the magic of the 5 and 10, who knows.

    This particular Christmas we entered the store two at a time. My two middle siblings went in first while I waited in the car with my youngest brother. Finishing they came out and we took our turn to purchase while they waited. My youngest brother finished first and then I joined the crew in the car to the car to sit while Mom and Dad made their purchases. It wasn’t long until one asked what I had bought… I resisted, but once stated that they had already revealed to each other their purchases, no secrets, I too opened my bag of treasures to show each sibling what I had bought them and the others… Mom and Dad soon returned with their secrets, but we had finished our little exposition and all had been quietly returned to our bags that we kept tightly closed and secret.

    That year as brothers and sister, we all sat around the decorated tree pretending to guess each gift. We would shake them and listen to the noise they made. We would “weigh” them and squeeze them. But, the forbidden knowledge eclipsed the joy and surprise the brightly wrapped boxes of treasure were supposed to bring. What a sad and depressing Christmas that was.

    Years later, now married for 5 or 6 years I remember money was tight. I don’t recall what my wife Bev and I bought each other, but I can see Mom and Dad’s gift. In our family it’s not unknown for gift boxes to not be the true size nor weight of the gift, therefore when they arrived with two large wrapped toilet paper boxes of great weight there was no perception of the unusual.

    The time came and Dad suggested we open the gifts in the kitchen so, with a bit of wondering we gathered round and the surprise began. As the first gift was opened, the first item revealed was a two pound bag of dried pinto beans and then another of a different sort and then another one and another and so on. In the end we had at least one bag of every type of dried bean imaginable plus several bags of rice, flour and corn meal. Wow! Now what could possibly be in the other box. Out came cans of every type of vegetable that existed at the moment. Can after can after can came out until several towers veggies were stacked on the island in the middle of our kitchen. Unbelievable.

    At that time our income was only $350 a month. There sat 9 months of food. We cried and rejoiced and celebrated God’s provision.
    Earl´s last blog post ..King of Peace

  11. I’ve told you this story before:
    Christmas 2004 my mom is in hospital dying. I am left alone with her on Christmas eve. She is unresponsive. I hear the call to the chapel for Christmas eve service ( I was to be leading a service at our church that night but was called home). I didnt want to go to the chapel but i did. I slipped into the back and heard a little Irish priest begin with these words ” father almighty it is right to give you thanks and praise”-the liturgy of the great thanksgiving became a means of grace to me at that moment That little priest will never know how he represented christ to me that night when I needed to hear god say “do not be afraid”. Mom died two days later on my birthday

    Also this year I’ve been humming “Ten Thousand Joys”- remember that song?
    Jim drake´s last blog post ..Worship Confessional- November 21- 2010

  12. Randy, I am happy for you. I look forward to the day that I can again attend Christmas services with joy. I don’t have a story to tell right now because Christmas is a painful time of year for me since my resignation. I don’t know where I belong. I suppose I’m still in a time of searching…..

  13. Your post took me back my friend and caused me to take a pause and think about my many treasures…

    The first treasure that came to mind was a beautiful blonde Floridian that I met at that same “megachurch” 8 years ago while visiting my brother for the Holidays. And an incredible treasure that took place just one year later when we began this crazy journey called marriage.

    But a cool little 1-year-old treasure just walked into our living area and climbed up on my lap…now cuddling with me as a I complete this long-winded comment. So many treasures to look back on and so many we are still creating!

    Thank you for encouraging me to pause and reflect on a few of my treasures!

  14. Randy, this is so beautifully written! I’m still just sitting here basking in it’s beauty and poignancy. I’m grateful.
    Gail Hyatt´s last blog post ..Why I’m Hiking a 10K on Lookout Mountain

  15. Randy,

    This is one of those posts that fire so many thoughts at once, it’s hard to lasso them with words. Know what I mean?

    It may sound odd, but I find being alone on Christmas night filled with layers of treasures. After the adrenaline rush of Christmas Eve (and my kids bouncing off the walls), the buzz and excitement of Christmas morning (and my kids bouncing off the walls), the stress of attending all the can’t-miss family meals and gift exchanges (did I mention my kids bouncing off the walls?), I always find myself the last one standing at the end of Christmas day.

    It’s in that quiet moment alone, as the kids are sprawled and contorted across dream land, and my wife sleeps on her back still holding the Kindle in reading position, that I see the treasures of the day (dirty dishes, empty cups, toys on the floor, wrapping paper, etc.). These are the artifacts and metaphors of the things that give my life meaning and purpose. A meaning and purpose I lived without for a long time. And I don’t take it for granted.
    Keith Jennings´s last blog post ..Little last times

  16. I remember cantatas. The one I remember most was performed by our high school choir: Born to Die. I still remember most of the songs even though I did not sing in it.

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