The last time I paused to write here, Thanksgiving had just passed. I spent blessed time with family and pondered how much greater treasure my loved ones are than any diamond here on earth. The hugs, love, laughter, and even tears shared with those I love are truly priceless.
It is now nearly Christmas. I think I smile more at the Christmas lights and decorations than my children do. Each ornament that hangs on our Christmas tree holds a story and memory. I find that I linger a bit as I hang each one on the tree every year, relishing the reminders they bring of love and wonder.
Last week my family and I taught the four and five year old children’s Sunday school class. We teach the second Sunday of each month. Over the past two years we have served, we have come to know the children by name. Last week we had a smaller, yet rowdier crew of nine boys and only two girls. My daughter was sick, so it was only my husband and son teaching with me. Yes, we women were outnumbered eleven to three. I was glad that our lesson about the birth of Jesus in a stable had lots of active participation components. We were able to move and pretend to be the animals that first met Jesus. Our lesson plan even included chickens with the traditional sheep and camels. And we had cows. Moo! The center attraction was the birth of Jesus, of course. And the children smiled as we spoke of His birth.
After snack time (yes, we have snacks in pre-school, animal crackers this week!) we worked on a take home craft. The children were given a picture of a Christmas tree that had been printed on green card stock. We had pipe cleaners for tinsel, small pom-poms for ornaments, and stickers to use to decorate the tree. Our sample, the standard for the trees, showed the tree decorated. The pipe cleaner formed the traditional zig-zag pattern across the tree. One of the children in my group worked long and hard on shaping her pipe cleaner. I almost offered to help her as I could see that it was not taking a zig-zag shape. When she finally looked up, she smiled and showed me a heart that was made out of her pipe cleaner. She said she wanted to put a heart on her tree because she loved Jesus and Jesus loved her. Wow! Out of the mouth of this baby girl came such truth. Soon all of the children in my group asked for help making hearts for their Christmas trees.
It has been a week since we taught that class. I still think of the lesson my precious little friend taught me with her heart. This child is quiet and has difficulties with her speech. I suspect she may learn a little differently as well. She reminds me of many of the children I have worked with as a Pediatric Physical Therapist over the years. God showed how much wiser she was than her teacher in the moment we set out to make our trees last week. I tend to like to follow the rules. Especially when it comes to crafts. I am not known for my artistic abilities! I am grateful I stopped before “teaching” this precious girl how to make a zig-zag. God used her childlike faith to teach us to make love the focus of our “heart trees.”
I have pondered the “heart tree” this week. As I look at my life and the traditions I keep around Christmas time, am I simply going through the motions of baking and decorating to make sure my zigs and zags are all in order? Or am I taking the time to shape my actions and motives into a reflection of Jesus’ love? When my family and friends see what I do, is my love for Jesus center stage? Or do I get lost in the tradition and lose the worship?
Years ago we had a “yankee swap” at my brother’s house. We made sure to include some toys in the wrapped gifts so that our children would be able to each have a gift that they would love. I believe my children were around 5 and 7 years old that year. My daughter opened a gift that held a golden heart ornament. I expected her to “swap” it for one of the toys held by an adult. I think there was even a stuffed bear that she would love that had been opened and was fair game. But my baby girl’s face lit up when she saw her “beautiful heart”. She clutched it to her chest. And you better believe that no adult in our game even considered taking such a treasure from a child. That ornament is on our tree this year. I had hung it up before we taught Sunday school last week. It now holds memories of two little girls who saw the heart of the Christmas story in the love of God sent to earth.
“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we may live through Him.” (1 John 4:9, NASB)
Today at sunrise and beyond, I pray that my life will reflect the heart of Jesus here on earth. Will you join me in that prayer? Selah.
These are a few of my favorite Christmas decorations. Buddy and Molly appear to understand the love of our Christmas “heart” tree this year.