The Gift We Need

The Gift We Need is a short story by Pastor Paul Goedert

It was a time like no other. Christmas. I was nine years old and the magic was still very real to me.  Santa, reindeer, chimneys and everything that goes with it. December was a month filled with family, love, joy, and presents.

OH THE PRESENTS! It seemed like Santa knew not just the things I had asked him for, but all of my secret desires for toys, games and candies! I believed, I wanted, and I got. Christmas was a time of receiving for me. But all of that changed the summer after I turned nine.

My Father was a very important man in our city. He served on the city council, was General Manager of our local bank, and he also taught Bible study at our church. But none of that mattered that summer.

Just like every other July my family went camping over the 4th of July. This year we camped at a state park that we had never been to before. We had a great time, spent nights around the campfire, except for the night that my Dad took us out on Lake Michigan in a boat to watch the fireworks from offshore. It was the best!

A few days after our return my Dad stayed home from work, he told us he had a nasty summer cold, he just needed rest. By the end of the week he was in the hospital, by the end of the month he was gone. The doctor’s told my Mother and older siblings what happened, I couldn’t make any sense of it. All I knew was that he was gone.

School started and things were tough. I missed him terribly, and it showed in my behavior and academics. If I could fight over it, I did. Many days I returned home from school with cuts, scrapes or a fresh black eye. I made sure the other kids did too.

Halloween came, I was uninterested. Thanksgiving came, I didn’t care. But December was approaching, and although I missed my Dad, the thought of all the lights, snow, and Christmas magic gave me a little hope.

Things weren’t just tough for me, my Mother had gone back to work to try and keep us afloat. My Dad’s life insurance had paid off the house, the car and had kept us able to survive for few months. Even I began to notice that things were changing, and not in a good way. Mom’s great meals were being replaced by frozen dinners and fast food. Trips to the movies or the mall got fewer and far between. I could feel the pinch, even as a nine year old boy.

After Thanksgiving my Mom sat me down, told me she needed to tell me something. She began to tell me about how tight our finances were, that we were spending most of what she was making on electricity, heat and groceries. She told me that Christmas would be different this year. She broke it to me that Santa wasn’t real, and that all those gifts had come from my parents. I was devastated, she cried with me. No Christmas this year.

My new reality hurt, and my Mom was trying to make things better. That Sunday we went to church for the first time since my Dad’s funeral. Except it wasn’t our church, we went to the little church down the street from our home, not the church I had always been in, my Mom called it a fresh start, whatever that means.

In our kids lesson that day we learned about Jesus being God’s gift to us. All I could think of was the gifts I wasn’t going to get that year. I knew my Mom would try, but I knew it would fall short of what I had in the past.

Than the hammer fell. Our furnace died two weeks before Christmas, during a record setting cold snap. The last of my Dad’s insurance money and part of what my Mom had saved went to pay for a new furnace. There went Christmas, although my Mom jokingly added that Christmas can’t be fun if you freeze.

Christmas Eve came, the meal was small and unsatisfying. My Mom explained there simply wasn’t enough to splurge on a big meal. The answer left me as empty as the meal. I yelled that I wish Dad was still here,  that he could fix anything, that we would’t be in this mess and Christmas wouldn’t have been ruined if he was alive. As I stomped off to my room for the night, I was the first of what I now know to be many tears that fell from her eyes that night.

My body woke me up at 6am, just like every other Christmas morning. I almost jumped out of bed to run downstairs. But reality flooded back to me and I rolled over. A good three hours later, I finally got out of bed and went down to have whatever breakfast I could find.

To my delight, there was a breakfast of thick french toast, bacon, eggs and strawberries put out for us. My brother who had arrived late had stopped and brought some groceries for us to celebrate. I ate the food hungrily and thought that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Than I walked into the living room. Disappointment swept over me.

Under the tree, instead of wrapped presents, there were cans of vegetables, fruit, boxes of baking mix, and even some spaghetti noodles. I didn’t understand. My Mom was sitting in my Dad’s chair and she smiled at me, wished me a Merry Christmas, and asked me to sit with her. I sullenly complied.

My Mom opened her Bible and began to read the Christmas story from Luke to me. As I listened, it felt like every Christmas before. This was a tradition and I felt normal for the first time in months. When she finished, she handed me a small wrapped box. It was the only wrapped gift I received that year from her. She looked at me and said “I hope you like it, I know its your favorite.”

I tore into the box, and quickly confusion set in. It wasn’t a toy, a video game, or candy. It was a box of corn muffin mix. Jiffy corn muffin mix to be exact. She was right, it was my favorite, we always had it with chili, fried chicken, and with whatever I could convince my Mom to make it with. I loved corn muffins. But it wasn’t what I wanted.

My Mom looked down and saw my confusion, but she didn’t shed a tear, she simply said “Sometimes the gifts we want, aren’t the gifts we need. I know you want toys, and sports equipment and candy. But right now those are only wants. This box of corn muffin mix is something you need. Not just the food, but the memories, the goodness, the positive feelings that go along with it. I wanted to give you something you needed this Christmas.”

“All of these cans and boxes under the tree, these are my gifts to you this year. Just like God gave us Jesus, to show us love and light, to bring us hope. That is why all this is under the tree. What we need is always greater than what we want.”

I looked around, what I had discounted before became clear to me now. These just weren’t cans of vegetables and fruit. There were cans of sweet corn and green beans, my favorite vegetables. I saw peaches and pears! My favorite cereal was there too, as well as my favorite meal, spaghetti! My Mom had gotten me all of my favorite foods for Christmas. I looked at her with a new understanding.

That Christmas I learned something, it’s not the gift we want that brings us joy or peace or even love. It’s the gift we need. With this new understanding of Christmas and God, I soon gave my life to Jesus. All because of that box of corn muffin mix.

Every Christmas after that, even now as I have children of my own, there is one small box for each. There are still toys, game, and candy. But one box for each gets opened before all the rest, that box is always corn muffin mix. To remind us of the gift we need, family, love, hope, the gift of Jesus.

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