Bahahahaha!!! Sorry folks. I just had to start that way! I went almost another entire month without blogging. Why? Life. To quote one of my favorite movies, "Two words: Therapy." It feels like if it hasn't been one thing, it has definitely been another. But thankfully life has been more full of blessings rather than curses.
Anyhow, I am reflecting on loads of different things tonight. As I sit and type this, my children are anxiously awaiting our own little family Christmas tonight. We will open gifts and celebrate the wonder of our Savior's birth as a family. And I can't wait. I'm sure the kids are most excited about the presents, but if I think about it, that's what I am most thankful for... the greatest gift of all! Jesus!
Christmas to me means a lot more than just celebrating Jesus' birth. I'm going to tell a story here that I haven't told or even thought of in years...
The fall that I was 15, and about to turn 16 the following February, I had quite the wake-up call. My [insert name and relationship here], we will call her Penelope, introduced me to the world of shoplifting. We started small, swiping candy and cigarettes, and gradually moved up to bigger things like CDs (when they came packaged in those long rectangular white plastic anti-theft cases) and clothing.
It was November, and Penelope’s brother’s birthday was rapidly approaching. Now, we had the money, but it was always such a rush to “lift” things from stores. I still can’t believe I lived like this... Anyway, we used our own little patterns and lingo in each store, talking about buying the things we would actually purchase, and “getting” the things we would steal. So on we went, through this store, lifting things, including her brother’s gifts: fishing lures. Seriously. Fishing lures. We were about to leave the store, having purchased the legitimate things we decided were too big to smuggle and, checking that our newfound booty was securely in place under our jackets and in our pockets, stepped lightly out the door. “Excuse me girls! You don’t happen to have any un-purchased merchandise, do you?” came the hail. We immediately stopped, cheeks flush with the hues of guilt, and turned to face something we had never known to exist: the plainclothes security officer. Our breath became shallow, as our throats swelled to an almost unbearable tiny passage.
The plainclothes officer hauled us into the manager’s office and--yes, folks--called the police. We were arrested and taken to the big house. Well, okay, maybe not THE big house, but it was big enough, for sure, to scare every unholy place right out of me. Our parents were called, of course. And I distinctly remember my dad’s reaction. He was so incredibly angry at my actions. After all, this type of thing goes into the newspaper! And, being from a more prolific business-owning family in our area, well, he was pissed, to say the least. “What will people say when they read that a Hentschel was arrested for shoplifting?” etc. etc. etc. He was so angry that he didn’t want to pick me up. And after this, of course, would come the court date. Another slap in the face of our family’s reputation.
Because Penelope was 17, she was tried as an adult and had to pay back the store and spend a weekend in jail. I remember when she got out how she complained because they didn’t get HBO. As for me, I was tried as a minor and not only had to pay the store back, but also received 20 hours of community service AND probation. I remember thinking how absolutely ticked off I was that the one who got me into this mess received a weekend away from said brother, AND got to watch cable TV; which was something that hadn’t yet made its way into the households of either of us two delinquents.
Christmas that year, I was told, would be nothing more than maybe a token gift, and certainly nothing of value, because they used up so much money paying back the store, and in court fees. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had become one of the Detroit Red Wings’ dearest fans, watching every hockey game I could, rooting from my northern Michigan hometown with as much fervor as someone sitting right in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
In my family, we take turns opening gifts, one by one, until everyone has had a turn, then go around again. I don’t remember how many gifts I actually had that year, but I do remember it was my turn, and I opened up this gift, in a typical shirt box from any Joe Schmo department store, and there, in my hands, was this lovely and perfect Red Wings jersey. I remember looking up to the sounds of my mother sobbing which I then, of course, found myself adding a harmony to her melody. It was one of total repentance mixed with total forgiveness. It was grace.
Today, as I sit here and type this story from the recesses of my mind, I am reminded that we all--in some form or another--are like me. Not only have we fallen into sin and selfish living, but we have also tarnished the Family name. And no matter what place we are in life, whether we’ve never known our Father, or maybe we have actually walked with Him and have since turned a blind eye or a deaf ear in His direction... We all have that precious package neatly wrapped with a bow sitting under our heart’s tree. It’s something we don’t deserve, but in the same space, something that our Father is so lovingly desiring to lavish upon us: His GRACE. It goes a long, long way, my friends. It’s always the right size; able to cover a multitude of sins. It’s always the right color; complementing the natural beauty He has given to us. It’s always the right accessory for any event, any season, anything at all. God’s grace came down to this earth in a tiny baby named Jesus. He lived a guiltless life, blessing those who everyone else had cursed, calling the wise men of the world fools (and proving it), and reaching his hand out to the unlovely. And after all that, he went to a place no one else would ever go for me: a torturous death of beating, whipping, bruising, and finally, crucifixion... all to give me the chance to be welcomed into the Family which I rightly belonged before I stained myself with sin.
Yes, this Christmas I will remember that Red Wings jersey as the symbol it really is: grace undeserved. And I do believe I have consequently picked out my Christmas day attire.