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Focus on the Family Broadcast

God’s Extravagant Gift

God’s Extravagant Gift

A Collection of Christmas stories that includes a dramatic reading of “When Mother Was Eleven Foot Four: A Christmas Memory.”
Original Air Date: December 25, 2012

 

Preview:

Woman #1: My favorite part of Christmas is going home to see my family and also getting my dogs the cutest little Christmas sweaters (laughs).

Man #1: My favorite part of Christmas is watching It’s A Wonderful Life with my family.

Man #2: I think my favorite thing about Christmas is just getting everyone together, uh, eating too much, and then just being around family.

Woman #2: My favorite part of Christmas is probably just buying gifts for people and giving it to them.

Man #3: My favorite part of Christmas is, uh, being able to sing the great songs and lead worship for people.

End of Preview

John Fuller: Well, how about you? What captures your imagination and excitement this time of year? Welcome to a special Christmas edition of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and we hope you’re having a terrific day at home with your family and friends. And don’t worry, we’re actually not here. Jim and I are not in the studio. We’ve recorded this program early so we could be with our families today.

Jim Daly: John, I love Christmas. I mean, it’s such a great time of year. It’s just buoyant and happy and joyful. And getting everybody together and laughing together, that’s what I think of. It’s such a festive time, rich with traditions and memories, and meaningful to our faith as Christians. And, uh, the way I think about it, the incredible gift that Jesus Christ gave us-

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … to come to save us all from our sins, making us part of God’s family forever, and, uh, it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s a no-brainer. I just wish more people understood that that don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

John: Yeah. The abundance life-

Jim: Yeah.

John: … with our Christ.

Jim: And he’s here for you. Uh, he’s not against you. Um, of course, there’s the decorations and the regular stuff of giving gifts and the good stuff of reuniting with loved ones, the, the wonderful parties, the great food, and, uh, let me just say thank you, Jean, for that.

John: (laughs)

Jim: I have little to do with that. And of the excitement and wonder and joy that surrounds this time of year.

John: Yeah, there are so many reasons to be thankful, to have gratitude for the things that we’ve, uh, been given, and to kind of reflect back on the, the previous weeks and months of the year. It’s a chance kinda to reset and to remind ourselves that God’s been in all of the circumstances we’ve experienced so far this year, and that we can trust Him, uh, with our daily lives and with our family. Uh, He’s got this.

Jim: Well, that’s a great perspective, John, and a good reminder that for some people this time of year can be very hard. Uh, depression and anxiety tend to be on the rise-

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … during Christmas.

John: Yeah.

Jim: I certainly experienced that as a, uh, boy when my family was in turmoil. One Christmas my poor mom was a single mom with five kids, and we had very little. Very small tree, I remember that. We called it the Charlie Brown tree.

John: Hmm.

Jim: And my mom was working, uh, two, three jobs, uh, just trying to keep enough food on the table, that kind of thing. She was a wonderful waitress, but that didn’t pay great. And I remember her wonderful spirit, her great sense of humor. Somehow she turned that dismal day into something joyful and fun, uh, just engaging with us, playing games, having fun, laughing. She had such a quick wit.

John: Hmm. It’s pretty remarkable that you, uh, had that warm memory from a difficult time so many years ago.

Jim: Yeah.

John: Well, uh, we’re gonna celebrate traditions, uh, on this show, uh, getting together as a family and making special memories is certainly one of the best traditions, and, um, we have a beautiful story that we want to share with you that reflects that truth. It’s called When Mother, uh, this is an interesting title, When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four

Jim: (laughs)

John:A Christmas Memory. It’s written by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, and, uh, it was published in 2007 by Revell of the Baker Publishing Group.

Jim: And I love this story, John, because the author is a master storyteller who is able to transport us back into his childhood of the 1960s.

John: Well, and that’s something you and I both experienced.

Jim: (laughs)

John: We grew up in the sixties. Uh, we’ve kind of dramatized this a bit with, uh, help from our team at Adventures in Odyssey, uh, our colleague Bob Hoose, who works in our plugged-in media discernment area, uh, helped as well. He’s agreed to narrate the story for us. So, let’s go ahead and listen to that now.  Here’s When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four on today’s Christmas episode of Focus on the Family.

Bob Hoose: This is a story of the Christmas of 1963, which is when I learned what it means to be a giver of gifts. But this isn’t just my story. It’s also my mother’s. My mother’s name was Josephine Mary Knowles Hoggatt (laughs), and sometimes she didn’t make any sense to me. She used to say she could be really tall, 11 feet 4 inches, which, which is as tall as a real giraffe, or, or, or an elephant with its truck stuck straight up in the air. “I don’t need to be tall all the time,” Mother said, “But when I’m at my very best I’m 11 foot 4.”

There were eight children in our house, me, my sister, uh, three bothers, and our three cousins. Our cousins lived with us because my uncle was away in the navy and couldn’t take care of them. Now if you lined us all up by height, Mother would stand right in the middle. Even though she was a grownup, she was really short (laughs). Uh, just, just 4 feet 11 inches tall. And I know third graders who are taller than my mother (laughs). How could she be 11 foot 4? “What I meant,” Mother would say, “is that I am tall on the inside.” That didn’t make any sense either (laughs). How could you be tall on the inside and short on the outside? Where did you find room inside for extra tallness? (laughs).

I could understand Mother wishing she was tall on the outside, to reach for things in the high cupboard or wash the tops of windows, and especially to decorate the Christmas tree. You should have seen her Christmas tree. It was the best Christmas tree anyone ever saw. It was 12 feet tall. So when Mother said she had to be 11 foot 4 to make Christmas happen, I thought she meant that she pretended to be tall in order to hang all of the ornaments. Only pretending didn’t help. Sh- she still had to stand on a chair.

Every year, she would wrap the tree in great big lights that glowed softly. Then she would tuck in tiny twinkling lights. Next came long strands of popcorn strings, and then the store-bought ornaments she got from friends, and after that all the handmade ones that we brought home from Sunday School. There were paper-plate angels with faces of our eight children pasted on them. There were plaster of Paris handprints so heavy they pulled the tree branches to the floor (laughs). There were walnuts halves with tiny statues of baby Jesus glued inside. My Sunday School teacher called each one the gospel in a nutshell.

At the very top of Mother’s Christmas tree perched a wonderful porcelain angel she had inherited from my grandmother. The angel was always the last decoration, and family tradition said it was supposed to be put in place by the youngest child in the family. This was a problem because the youngest child, my cousin, Pudge, was too short to reach the treetop, even when he stood on a chair. My older brother, John, solved the problem with a brass ring, a paperclip, and a fishing pole. He sewed the brass ring to the back of the angel’s dress. He tied the paperclip to the fishing line, and hooked it to the ring. He used the fishing pole to lower the angel into place like a crane operator. When everything was ready, Pudge got to turn on the lights. And all at once, like magic, it was Christmas.

Underneath my mother’s Christmas tree were lots of presents. More presents than I could count, and that had to be a lot because by the time I left kindergarten I could count to 100 with my eyes closed (laughs). There had to be lots of presents, because there were so many of us children. Joyce, John, Jim, me, Joel, and our cousins, Nathan, Vicky, and Pudge. Not that counting mattered. W- when I was seven, I found out that Mother didn’t count the presents either. She said, “You shouldn’t keep track of how many presents you give or get, or measure the worth of a gift by how much it costs.” M- Mother, you see was what grownups call a romantic. That meant she loved things grand and good and beautiful. She was extravagant, too, which meant she never kept track of what a gift might cost. She said that Christmas was God’s extravagant gift to us. Then she said, “If God gives extravagant gifts, why shouldn’t we?”

Then one year everything changed. My uncle left the navy, got married, and took our cousins back to live with him. My older sister, Joyce, and brother, John, grew up all at once and moved away, too. Then our father left. We went from being a big family to just Mother and three of her children, Jim, me, and Joely. Then Mother said we couldn’t afford to live in such a large house anymore, so we moved away, too. For the first time there was no money for a Christmas tree, not any tree at all. Mother went out behind the tiny little house where we had moved. Some old boards had been left in a pile. With a hammer, she pulled out a bunch of nails.

Back in the house, we helped her move aside the sofa. Then she took down the picture of Jesus from the wall, and hammered the nails in the shape of a large triangle. She used more nails to tack up two or three strands of lights, some strings of popcorn, a few of the store-bought ornaments and some of the handmade ornaments we made in Sunday School. She added one final nail above the point of the flat triangle Christmas tree, and there she hung her mother’s porcelain angel using the brass ring John had sewn in the back of the angel’s gown. Mother gave the signal to Joely. He turned the switch that made the lights come on, and like magic it was Christmas.

But it was different from all our other Christmases. It was the first time I ever saw my mother cry. Was it because she missed the 12 foot Christmas tree or because she knew that the only presents we would get that year were things we’d, we would have gotten anyway, underwear, socks, t-shirts? I didn’t know for sure. I sat down beside her, and my tiny little mother put her head on my shoulder. In all her life, she said, she had never felt so small.

My brothers and I made up our minds that this would never happen to our mother again. We began to save our money. We washed the neighbor’s car for $.50 one time. We put the $.50 in a Mason jar that we hid behind the books on the shelf above Jim’s bed. We walked old ladies to their cars at the grocery store up the road, and sometimes they gave us a dime and sometimes they pretended we weren’t there. Then Mr. Cavender, the owner, chased us away with a meat cleaver. He had been cutting up meat to sell. We never went back after that. We helped Mr. Florey put up the lights for the Christmas tree lot next to his peanut stand. He gave us each a quarter for that. A- and we collected soda pop bottles and turned them in for their California redemption value. In 1963 that was $.03 each.

On the first Monday of December, my brother, Jim, counted up the money. $4.57. As soon as mother left for the grocery store, we sneaked off to Mr. Florey’s Christmas tree lot. He had saved a tree just for us. It was the only tree that could be had for $4.57. We didn’t care that this tree was shorter and more lopsided than the trees Mother used to find, or that it had branches only on one side (laughs). We carried it home.

Then we moved the sofa, we took down the picture of Jesus, Jim tied a string to the top of the tree and we hung it on the wall like a picture. I began to hang a strand of those big Christmas tree lights that give off a soft glow, and then another strand of smaller twinkling lights. Joely went in the kitchen and made popcorn strings to weave through the branches. Jim got out Mother’s ornaments, and we hung some of the store-bought ones and some of the handmade ones. Jim put a nail in the wall above the top of the tree and hung our grandmother’s porcelain angel by the brass ring on the back of her gown. Then we went into the kitchen to wait.

It was dark when Mother came through the backdoor. She stepped into the house and hesitated a moment. She knew something was different in the house, but I don’t know what gave it away. It maybe was the tiny bits of popcorn on the floor we had forgotten to sweep up. Maybe it was that we were sitting in the dark. We were so excited we had forgotten to turn on the lights. I think it was the smell of pine needles. As Mother followed her nose down the hallway, we squirmed (laughs), and just as she turned the corner into the living room, Joely turned on the lights, and all at once like magic (laughs) it was Christmas. Then it was the second time I saw my mother cry.

I thought at first that she cried because our little tree was nothing like the 12 foot trees we had all those years. Then I thought she must be crying because she was happy, or maybe because she knew, all at once, that we were gonna be all right. I’m still not sure, but I can tell you why I cried that day. The three of us boys had looked across the room at Mother, and she stood up straighter. Each of us straightened. We stood tall, taller than we’d ever been, tall as we could. For the first time in our lives we knew what it felt like to be taller than a real giraffe or an elephant with its trunk stuck straight up. We were our very best. We were romantic. We were extravagant. We were, each of us, 11 foot 4. We were tall and wise, for that Christmas we received what Mother wanted more than any present she put under any tree. We learned what it means to be a giver of gifts.

John: Well, this is a special Christmas edition of Focus on the Family, and that was our colleague Bob Hoose reading from the book When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four: A Christmas Memory. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus President Jim Daly. And, Jim, that was such a precious reminder that no matter what our circumstances are, God is still at work in our lives.

Jim: I completely agree. And it’s my prayer that everyone listening, whether you’re in a family or with your friends or maybe even alone right now, I hope you know that God sees you and He loves you more than you could ever imagine. I know it can be hard to feel that sometimes. Boy, do I know. Especially when you’re sad or discouraged or feel like nobody cares. Kind of like that mother must have felt in the story we just heard. But God’s word is full of wonderful promises like Psalm 34:8, which says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 1:18 says, “Out of my distress, I called on the Lord. The Lord answered me and set me free.”

John: Hmm.

Jim: And Jesus Himself said this, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. And in the world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  That’s the true meaning of Christmas and the message of the cross. Jesus came to overcome the world and bring new life to all who believe in Him. And I’d like to take a few moments right now to read about what happened on that very first Christmas when Jesus came into this world. It’s recorded in Luke Chapter 2, and I’m gonna read from the message version, which is a paraphrase and a little bit easier to understand.

About that time, Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody worldwide. A savior has just been born in David’s town, a savior who is messiah and master. This is what you’re to look for, a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger.” At once, the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises. “Glory to God in the heavenly heights. Peace to all men and women on earth who please Him.”

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left running, and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these thins to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told.

John: Jim, it’s so good to hear that Bible story again, and I really appreciated your reading and that particular, uh, rendition of the account. And Luke was a faithful follower of Jesus. He carefully researched and collected all the facts of what really happened, and, uh, we know they’re true. And it’s remarkable how God uses seemingly ordinary people and circumstances to bring glory to his name. Uh, Jesus entered the world in, uh, such a dramatic and miraculous way, but, um, very few people saw it, and those who did were simple, everyday people. And God didn’t go to the kings or the religious leaders or the VIPs of the day. He found common folks, uh, like you and me, and, uh, like our listeners, so that everyone and anyone can kinda grab hold of the good news message.

Jim: Absolutely, John.

John: And, uh, we really hope that this special Christmas Day edition of Focus on the Family has been encouraging for you and your family. And, uh, if you’d like to get a copy of the program or share it with a friend, uh, we can help. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: I’d like to conclude the program today with one more story. It’s about one of, uh, the most familiar and beloved Christmas carols of all time, and the narrator is our dear friend, Joni Eareckson Tada.

Joni Eareckson Tada: The story begins long ago and far away in a small little village in the mountains of ice cold Austria. There lived there a, a very poor family, a young mother and her son, Joseph. Now sadly, Joseph’s daddy had left his family and nobody knew where he was except that maybe he joined the army somewhere far away. And little Joseph, he was just a little boy. He was so lonely. He was so sad for his daddy. He missed him so much. And sometimes when he was up in his bedroom, he’d fill the silence with music. He would sing to himself, and often sing himself to sleep. In fact, there was a man at his church, that little church in the village, this man noticed young Joseph’s talent, and the man offered to pay for him to go to school and take music lessons.

Joseph became a wonderful musician. And all the time, as he would play his songs, he would wonder where his soldier daddy was. Well, it was just a few days before Christmas, and everybody at the little village church was so excited that the Christmas Festival Concert was just days away. But suddenly, out of nowhere, there came this huge, big blizzard. And on top of that, oh, no, the organist discovered that the organ was broken. So, sadly, it was determined that the choir would have to cancel the concert.

“Cancel the concert? No, you can’t do that,” the kids in the choir cried. “This can’t be. Everybody’s so disappointed.” Well, the organist told his friend Joseph about this problem. So he went right to his Bible and he reread the story of Jesus’ birth. He was so inspired by the story, the, the quietness, the silence, the simplicity of that silent night scene and the manger. “That’s it,” he thought to himself, and he quickly picked up his pen right there, and Joseph wrote the words for that simple song which the children in the choir would be able to sing. Walking quickly through the snowdrifts to the church the next morning, Joseph set the words of this brand new song, Silent Night, before his organist friend. And in less than one hour, the organist came up with a lovely melody which could easily be played on a guitar. And that day, the delighted children, oh, they, they learned the song very quickly, because it’s so simple, and they sang like angels.

Child: (singing)

Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and Child.

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Joni: The adults were amazed. And by the people left the church, everybody was humming the melody, la-da-da-dum, and singing the words. Silent Night spread all over the country and around the world like a sweet fragrance of heavenly peace. Joseph never knew if his soldier daddy ever heard the Christmas song, but it’s easy to guess that he did. And Joseph liked to think that somewhere out there a lonely soldier heard the music and felt the love of Jesus.

Children: (singing)

Silent night, holy night

Wondrous star, lend thy light;

With the angels let us sing,

Alleluia to our King;

Christ the Savior is born,

Christ the Savior is born!

Jim: Christ the Savior was born, and that’s the hope of glory, not just for us grownups, but for every boy and girl, every human being. And I’m so grateful for the season, for our Heavenly Father, who sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him might have His Christmas gift of everlasting life. Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Focus on the Family.

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