I know, I know...I'm shocked too.
But first, a disclaimer: The characters in this story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance they may bear to relatives in your (or my) family are strictly coincidental!
By the way, I really don't have a good title for this story, so I am open to suggestions.
Jessie had Christmas all planned. Everything would be perfect! On the day of Christmas Eve, Todd only worked a ½ day, so they'd have the cozy supper that evening. None of them were thrilled with "traditional" holiday foods, so Jessie was planning a seafood spread with potato-leek soup and garlic biscuits with pumpkin swirl cheesecake for dessert.
After supper there was the Christmas Eve service at church. Then they'd watch a couple of their favorite Christmas movies and, just before bed, open one gift each. She was looking forward to finding out what was in that small box with the elegant purple wrapping paper. She had a sneaking suspicion it was those stunning dangly earrings she'd admired at a local gift shop.
On Christmas Day she and Todd would arise early for coffee and devotions in the light of the Christmas tree. After they had cleaned up and dressed in festive clothing laid out the night before, they'd rouse the children. Jake and Celia were late sleepers and even on Christmas they needed a nudge to get going.
Everyone would open their stockings while sipping eggnog and listening to Christmas music. While the children dressed, Jessie would make pumpkin muffins for breakfast. After eating they would read the Christmas story, open their gifts and then spend the rest of the day playing together and relaxing and enjoying one another's company. Of course there would be the requisite phone calls to their parents and to Todd's sister. But otherwise it would just be a warm, cozy, happy, relaxing holiday for the Tessler family.
And that was the plan. At least that was the plan until exactly three days before Christmas when Jessie's mom, Nana Tate called with a surprise.
"Honey, can you come and pick me up or should I get a taxi?"
Jessie felt a weird sinking in the pit of her stomach, "Pick you up? Now? Where are You?"
The sinking feeling was rapidly moving into a mildly queasy low grade panic. Nana Tate lived near DC, over 12 hours away. If she was asking to be picked up there were only two possibilities -either she was senile or…
"I decided to surprise you all with a Christmas visit! I'm at the airport!" The color drained from jessie's face as she stared blankly at the cookie dough rolled out on the counter.
At the airport. Jessie felt like the room was spinning. She loved her mother dearly, but the truth was that NanaTate was a rather eccentric and forceful old woman. Having her with them for Christmas would be neither peaceful nor relaxing.
"Honey, are you there?"
"Um, I'm sorry Mom. This is just such a surprise. I'm in the middle of making cookies right now and I'm supposed to fix supper and then take Jake and Celia to choir practice at church. It's a good 45 minutes to the airport..." Jessie's voice trailed off.
"Well, then I'll just take a taxi, Honey. I wouldn't want to spoil your schedule! Can you give me directions, though? I get up here so seldom that I can't remember exactly how to get there."
Jessie cringed at the subtle guilting as gave her mom directions. The truth was that her mom wasn't asked to visit very often because she drove them all nuts! Jessie hung up the phone and closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. Nana coming tonight, perhaps in the next hour. She'd better warn Todd!
And so it was that Nana Tate arrived an hour later, just as Jessie pulled the last pan of cookies from the oven. In that hour she'd had Jake clean the bathroom and Celia put sheets on the sofa sleeper. In between cookie batches she flew about the house clearing clutter. Nana was a real stickler for a clean and organized house. Fortunately, Jessie had started soup in the crockpot that morning!
Todd had arrived just moments earlier and wasn't on hand when she came. He'd gone upstairs to regroup first. After a supper of tense, but polite inquiries and forced smiles, it was decided that Todd would run the children to their music practice and Jessie would stay home to visit with Nana.
Apparently Nana still needed to do some shopping, so she convinced Jessie to take her to the mall the next day.
"It'll be fun!" she cooed, "Girl time for just the two of us. I'll even buy you lunch!"
The mall was crazily crowded on this next to last day before Christmas. Jessie had to circle the parking lot several times to the tune of Nana's cheerful, well-intentioned advice, "Oh look. There's one! No, wait. Let that old man have it. He looks so stressed, he probably needs it more than us." Seconds later she pointed enthusiastically, "There's someone pulling out right there!" but as Jessie approached that spot, "Oh Honey, that one's too narrow for your van." Jessie gritted her teeth and bit her tongue. Nana was actively searching the parking lot which was mercilessly full. Finaly she sank back into her seat with an "Umph" and put her hand on Jessie's arm. "You know what, Jessie. Why don't we just park out way on the edge of the lot. The weather is nice and the walk will do us good."
Once they'd parked, Jessie found it very difficult to slow her walk to Nana's pace. She was fuming and just wanted to storm along to blow off steam. She'd finished her Christmas shopping over a month ago and always went out of her way to avoid the crowded stores during the holiday rush.
"Lord," she whispered under her breath, "PLEASE help me be patient with Mom and please help her to find what she wants quickly so we can go HOME!"
But Nana stopped even before they got inside. There was a family outside the mall entrance ringing bells for the Salvation Army and Nana wanted to donate. Her tongue ran the whole time -asking questions about the family and dispensing Christmas cheer - while she was pulling off her gloves and digging through her capacious purse. Before they left she hugged each one and prayed aloud over them.
Jessie was so embarassed! She smiled an apology to them all, even though they didn't seem at all offended. Inside the mall, it was no better. Her mother chatted with people in the store aisles, freely dispensed hugs, gave out shopping advice and prayed over two more folks who, in her estimation, seemed lonely or stressed.
By lunch time, Jessie was exhausted. They had expended tons of energy and her mother had only bought 3 items from her list. Even in the line at the Asian eatery where they bought their food, Nana kept on. She told the server how much God had blessed her and her daughter, "Hasn't He, Jessie?" she prodded. Jessie smiled the plastic smile and nodded. Then, just as we was dishing up the pork fried rice she asked, "Do you know Jesus?"
Jessie was mortified. She was all for evangelism, but that was something you do in private, after getting to know someone well - after lots of prayer. You couldn't just dish out Jesus over greasy Chinese food! She was so absorbed in her indignation that almost missed his answer, "No, but I would like to hear about Him." Next thing she knew Jessie found herself writing down directions to her house because Nana had invited him and his wife to spend Christmas day with them!
In fact, by the time they headed home, Nana had invited 5 people to join their warm, cozy, happy, relaxing holiday with them. She had even talked Jessie into helping her buy small gifts for all of them, including an inexpensive Bible for each one.
How was Jessie going to tell Todd and the kids? And where would she seat them all? Her table only had 6 chairs! And now they needed more food! And who was going to pick up the single mom and her son? And...and...and…
To her surprise, after a few moments of dead silence while he pondered the rather sudden invitation of 5 strangers to their home, Todd sighed deeply. Jessie noticed his eyes were moist as he said, "This is such a God thing. God has been really laying it on my heart that Christmas is about Him, not us. That it's His birthday, not ours. That somehow we should be giving gifts to Him. I just wasn't sure what to do or how to do it. I mean, we gave some money to that missions group, but that didn't really give me peace. Honey, God wants more than our money. He wants us to share His love with others. The only way we can do that is to spend time with them."
Jessie felt her own eyes filling with tears. All her Christmas planning had been about herself and her family. Oh, they had thrown a 20 in the Salvation Army bucket and they had written a check to World Vision, but mostly so she could cross "charitable giving" off her list. The truth was she had been completely centered on having a Christmas celebration that was all about the Tesslers. A selfish Christmas.
God was using her own embarassingly eccentric and annoying mother - no, scratch that - her own loving and godly mother to shake things up a bit. To turn Jessie's faith upside down and force her to face her own selfish heart. She was so ashamed! Todd held her as she sobbed and, once the first strong rush of pain was passed, they prayed together.
Then Jessie left his arms for a long heart to heart talk with Nana Tate. She needed to ask her forgiveness!
Jessie and Nana Tate, with input from Todd and the kids, had Christmas all planned. Everything would be perfect! On the day of Christmas Eve, Todd and the kids helped prepare most of the food that would be eaten the next day. There would be seafood and ham with potato-leek soup and garlic biscuits with pumpkin swirl cheesecake as well as a couple of pies for dessert. They set up 2 card tables and decorated them festively.
After simple bowls of cereal, the Tesslers drove 2 cars to the Christmas Eve service at church so they could pick up the single mom and her son as well as their elderly neighbor on the way. They set their movies aside for later and spent the evening playing board games with their new friends. Just before bed, they wrapped the gifts for their company and prayed together for a wonderful Christmas day for their company.
On Christmas Day Jessie and Todd would arose early for coffee and devotions in the light of the Christmas tree. After they had cleaned up and dressed in festive clothing, they roused the children. Jake and Celia went with Todd in the van to pick folks up for the celebration.
Once everyone arrived and introductions were made they read the Christmas story and prayed. Then they opened their gifts and then spend the rest of the day playing together and relaxing and enjoying one another's company. Nana Tate led the young mom to Christ in the den while Todd planned some future dates to answer the Chinese man's questions about God
It was, indeed, a warm, cozy, happy, relaxing holiday for the Tessler family made all the better because God was glorified.