Of course, the best Christmas gift of all time is Christ himself.
On Christmas morning, I received my second best Christmas gift of all time.
We’d been to church on Christmas Eve and seen and heard all the kids dressed up as Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds and a bunch of shaggy, smelly sheep. We’d come home and brought all the gifts we’d bought or made for one another and arranged them beautifully under the tree.
All was calm. All was bright with the lights of Christmas sparkling on mantles, banister, bay windows and tree. Candles glimmered on the kitchen island, breaking open the dark, helping me see beauty all around.
Then, our youngest, nearly nineteen, walked up from the basement with wrapping paper, scissors and tape in his hands. He kissed me goodnight on my cheek as he always does—a precious, priceless gift. And he had another precious, priceless gift in mind to give. One for his brother, five years older.
So Nick took that small gift he bought for Zach and went back to his room. He decided to wrap that five-dollar mouse pad with love and make it fun for his brother to find. He decided to wrap it the “traditional” way, the way he told me I should wrap instead of taking the “easy” way of dropping presents into bags stuffed to the top and beyond with tissue paper (but hey—at least I use colored, glittered tissue paper!). He decided to wrap that mouse pad not once, not twice, but THREE times, in ever-increasing-sized boxes.
No a big deal, right?
Most of us have done this box-within-a-box-within-a-box thing at least once. (This year I did a bag-within-a-bag-within-a-bag thing—-all with colored, glittered tissue paper!)
Making a small gift seem bigger by wrapping it repeatedly in ever-increasing-sized packages is pretty cool, right?
But here’s the kicker . . .
First thing Christmas morning, Nick comes to me and shows me the package he wrapped. I look at the seams, the bows, the hand-written note. And then I look at him and ask . . .
“How long did it take you to wrap that box and the other two inside?”
At first, my heart sank. Two hours to wrap three boxes? He said it as a matter-of-fact. No drama. Didn’t seem unreasonable to him that it took TWO HOURS to wrap THREE BOXES. Maybe it’s because he’s never known anything any different. Maybe it’s because he’s never had hands that have worked very well.
Most don’t realize that for people exposed to alcohol in the womb, many things can go wrong. And Nick has a long, long list of things that don’t work quite right physically, cognitively and emotionally—things alcohol disables permanently and invisibly for him and for his other two siblings we also adopted from Russia.
So, he spent two hours wrapping one present three times for the brother he loves and wants to delight. He wrapped with those hands that still have a hard time tying his own shoes—or holding a pencil—or cutting with scissors—even after all these years of therapy. Those ten fingers just don’t work very well.
But you know what DOES work well with Nick?
He knows how to love well because he’s been loved well by the God who sees well what most can’t see. And Nick knows Him—his Jesus—the One who is with him and all of us—our EMMANUEL—the One who loves the broken, those living in the margins. The One who loves the flawed, the bruised. The One who loves the one who considers themselves lost, unlovable, unredeemable, beyond hope. The One who became flesh—who came down into this hell-hole we created out of what He created. The One who dared to give all his divinity to experience humanity so He could empathize totally with all our agony. The One who went beyond what any of us could ever comprehend to save us from ourselves, the wicked humans we can be—fantastic rationalizers of the most evil, treating others in every way other than how we would want to be treated but forgetting, forgetting, forgetting that our hearts are but boomerangs and whatever we throw out comes back to bite us—someday—some way.
But Nick, the imperfect, he knows the One who knows him better than any other. Nick knows the One who gave his ALL that we might KNOW in every fiber of our broken being that we—are—loved. Forever. No matter what.
Christmas morning, I come down stairs and see the biggest of all gifts under that disabled tree—the tree I picked out purposefully from his Boy Scout Christmas Tree Sale—the one I chose intentionally because of its asymmetry—because of its shorter arms on one side—because of its bare spots—because of its weak limbs. (Because EVERY tree needs a warm home on Christmas, doesn’t it? Because every tree wants to be adorned, doesn’t it? Because every tree would want to see gifts given, in love, underneath its shedding, bent, missing limbs, wouldn’t it?)
So he shows me his gift—the one he’s giving to another in this family of “special needs”—all of us less-than-perfect, love-needing folks in this house. Nick brings me close to the gift he placed under that flawed tree and he shows me his hand-scratched message of love and hope. He hopes the one he loves will find pleasure. He hopes the one he loves will feel his love in his gift of wrapping that took two long hours on the night we celebrate that ONE HOLY NIGHT when one wrapped in rags was laid in a hay-bed where animals come and go, live and die.
I see the paper cut rough. I see the seams cockeyed. I see the tape missing in places. I see the five bows that could’ve been matched a bit better to the paper. More important than all this I see something else . . .
I see the invisible heart that makes my heart swell with thanksgiving to the One who made him just—as—he—is and brought him into this world, our Nick. I see that no matter what has been done to any of us on this swirling globe, there is no power of Hell that can squelch the flow of God’s love in a willing heart, even when hands don’t work quite right.
This Christmas, Nick’s present maybe wasn’t the most p. But to me—and I suspect to his Lord and Savior—the package he gave his brother was the best present ever. He carried it over and laid it in his brother’s lap, a huge smile on his face . . .
“You’re gonna LOVE this!”
And he went back over to the crimson chair and began video taping the unwrapping, wanting to catch every bit of expression as hands ripped through papered boxes three times.
First, Zach read the note all scribbled by hand.
I saw his eyes, our Zach. I saw how he saw his brother’s heart, right there in the scribble, right there in the imperfectly wrapped gift leading to another imperfectly wrapped gift leading to the third imperfectly wrapped gift. That three-in-one perfect gift. Always getting closer to the prize. Always unwrapping, unveiling the best yet to come.
And I could not help myself, the mother in me, the one who longs to grasp glorious.
I walked over to the soon-to-be nineteen-year-old son of mine—the one I picked up in my arms for the first time at nineteen months of age . . .
And I cupped his no longer chubby child cheeks in my hands. I looked in his down-turned blue eyes and choked on the lump in my throat. I couldn’t hold back the tears, the joy, the gratitude.
“I know how long it took you to wrap your three-in-one gift. I know what it took for you—how hard it was for you. You gave us all a great gift, Nick. You gave us a glimpse of a God-shaped heart—YOUR God-shaped heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Three times I said it to him.
Nick smiled, letting me cup his cheeks a bit longer than most nearly nineteen year olds might find comfortable. But it was one of those holy moments for us, for him and me. Because when I see that God-shaped heart coming through our now grown, once-orphaned kids—from their own free will, there’s nothing that warms this mother’s heart more.
As for me in this house this Christmas, I’m grateful God gave me this orphan with disabled hands. I’m glad God gave me three orphans with all their multiple broken. Because even when broken isn’t mended this side of Heaven, Love gives us Heaven right here. Right now.