A read-aloud story for the holiday season: Mr. Carter's Christmas
Steven Carter did not believe in God. More accurately, he did not LIKE God. And he absolutely hated people trying to talk to him about Jesus. So he avoided those people, and he avoided churches; but trying to escape the church was actually more difficult than he thought it should be. They were all over!
He didn't need people judging him or his lifestyle. If he wanted to swear like a sailor, smoke like a chimney, or drink like a fish...that was his business. Why did everyone care so much about his life? He figured they were trying to make themselves feel better. They didn't really care about him...they were just hypocrites.
Mr. Carter was 54 years old. He had been married twice, but both had ended in divorce. He had 3 children that never called, let alone visited. He had lived alone for the last 17 years. Life was easier alone.
Before he was Mr. Carter, he had been Stevie. His father had been in the army and he was a military brat. He was the oldest of 5 siblings...2 sisters and 2 brothers. They had been hauled all over the States, but never anywhere interesting. Most of his childhood memories were about packing boxes and then unpacking them. Half of their belonging never made it out of boxes.
His mom had tried taking all of the kids to church a few times. He remembered her burgundy Bible, with her name in gold lettering at the bottom of the cover. He rarely saw her reading it, but she always treated it with reverence.
And then, when he was 16, his mother passed away. She had been in the hospital sick with a bad cough...nothing serious it had seemed. But then he had been awakened by his two younger sisters at one in the morning. They were crying nearly uncontrollably, so he had known immediately that something horrible had happened. But his mother dying had been worse than horrible. She had passed away the week before Christmas, and they had the funeral two days before Christmas. You can imagine how bad that Christmas was.
Things went downhill fast after that. His father had nearly self-destructed after her death. He began drinking more and more, and withdrawing from the kids. Stevie quit school and went to work at the local meat packing plant to help with the money, but mostly to get away from the house. When he was eighteen, he moved out and got his own apartment. He changed jobs frequently until he finally became an assistant manager at local discount store. In time, he became the manager and had been there for the last 10 years. His father had passed away two years ago and that was the last time he had seen any of his brothers and sisters. Usually, when the siblings got together it inevitably became a morose, depressing trip down memory lane. This last time, though, had been worse. He writes:
The youngest, Jonathon, had asked about “Mom's old Bible.” None of the others knew what had become of it, but I knew. I had watched Dad, in a drunken and depressed moment, throw many of Mom's things into a cardboard box and then haul it out to the dumpster. The Bible had been thrown out. I casually informed them of its demise not really prepared for the explosion of emotions and anger that followed. I took the defense for Dad...not really out of any sense of loyalty or love, but rather because I identified with him. I had become my dad and their attacks felt like attacks on me. Pretty soon the entire evening had degraded into accusations, judgments, and hurtful statements. I didn't need that.
Christmas in a discount store has also tarnished my feelings on Christmas. I appreciated Christmas for one reason...it made money. Other than that, Christmas was just stress, stress, stress, and emotional commercials. Until last year.
The store had been a constant onslaught of shoppers looking for the best bargain. They would destroy the store daily, shuffling through clothes and moving items. We had to constantly be on the watch for people trading out sales stickers or shoplifting...again confirming my dour look on the Spirit of Christmas. But there was an older lady that I couldn't help but like. She came in often and I assumed she lived nearby. She was always smiling and chatted with all the employees. We all knew her by name, Mrs. Fullingim. She never got irritated and was a picture of grace and generosity. She was one of the few people in my life that could ever say something about God, Jesus, or church and not annoy me.
“I had carried out some items to her car and was in the process of laying the sacks in the back seat when I saw a burgundy Bible in the rear window shelf. It was exactly like Mom's. I turned my head and said, “My mom had a Bible just like that!” Mrs. Fullingim smiled and said, “It's been with me a long time.” I inquired where she got the Bible, hoping maybe I could get one...not really sure why. She frowned as she thought and replied that she couldn't remember seeing any like that for sale anymore. She supposed they had quit making that style. Then she asked if my mom still had hers. I'm not sure why that question hit me so hard, but I trembled when I told her that she had died when I was young and the Bible had been thrown out by my father. She quietly put her hand on my arm and said how sorry she was. I knew she meant it too. The next week, when I came in for work, one of the cashiers handed me a Christmas gift sack. It was from Mrs. Fullingim, and in it was her Bible with a note that read “If I could have given my son my Bible, I would have...as I am unable to, I want you to have it in his place.” I remembered with some tears that her son had died as a teenager in a car accident.
I took that Bible home that night and opened it up. It was obviously well used with highlighted verses, various book marks, and dog-eared pages. Not knowing where to start, I simply began reading the verses she had marked. I immersed myself in that Bible. It was like seeing all the pieces of a puzzle that ultimately would create a beautiful picture...and that picture was Mrs. Fullingim. But after some time, I began to feel out of place reading that Bible. There was something sacred and reverent about it. It had produced within her everything that was sincere, precious, and kind. And I didn't feel worthy to read it.
And then in the back cover there was a bulletin from her church. It was the Grace Community Church not five blocks from my house! I wrestled with an idea all that night and through the next day, but finally decided to go to her church that Sunday for their Christmas Service. My thought was to surprise her, maybe even make her smile by my presence, and then return the Bible with my heartfelt thanks. I just didn't feel like I could keep that Bible.
I was nervous! Sunday morning came. I cleaned up, I dressed up, and I checked the mirror numerous times having no idea if I looked appropriate for a church service. Then I headed out. I didn't want to be early and suffer the awkward stares and forced conversation, but I didn't want to be late and cause a scene either. So I decided five minutes before the service should be good! I arrived and was greeted by some people that must have read that same Bible, because they were all genuinely nice and warm. I sat down towards the back and looked for Mrs. Fullingim. But she wasn't in the sanctuary.
Soon the service began, but no Mrs. Fullingim. Opening the bulletin, I began to read through all the announcements, thank you's, and the service agenda until I finally got to the prayer list. Listed at the top was a special prayer request for the family and friends of Mrs. Barb Fullingim. I was trying to sort out what that meant when the pastor began sharing about Mrs. Fullingim. She had suffered a massive heart attack two days prior and had passed away. A dark cloud came over me as I sat there thinking that the only good person in my life had just been taken away, but the pastor asked a question to the congregation at that moment. He asked, “If any of you have been encouraged, supported, befriended, or loved by Barb Fullingim, would you please stand up?” People began to stir and then to stand. I looked around the room and nearly everyone was standing with more and more rising.
Something within my heart stirred and it seemed as if the curtains had been pulled back...and I stood. The pastor, with tears in his eyes, said, “Barb loved because she was loved by God. Barb gave Christ to others-through her smile, her kindness, and her devotion- because God had given Christ to her. She was one of the shepherds that night who saw the great light, heard the proclamation by the angels, saw for herself that it was true...and then told others about! And that is the impact of Christmas in someone's heart!”
That was a year ago! I began attending that church and slowly the old distrust and depression began to lift. I find myself smiling all the time, helping others whenever I can, and genuinely looking forward to Christmas this year! After a year of studying that burgundy Bible, it now sits in a gift bag with my brother's name on it. It may not be Mom's, but it very well could have been. Merry Christmas, Jonathon!”
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:5-14)
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
I know the world has done a real number on Christmas...but it's no different than when Jesus came into the world. In general, Christmas has become a season of “MORE”. Whatever is most important in your life, it's a season of “MORE”. If friends are your life, then it's a great season for spending MORE time with them. If money is your life, then it's a great season to make some MORE money. If possessions are your life, then it's a great season to acquire MORE toys! But it works the other way too - If your family is most important to you, then it's a great season to spend MORE time with them! If cookies are important to you, then it's a great season to eat MORE cookies! But if Christ is most important to you, then this season is filled with opportunities for MORE of Him.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.