Author and blogger Jessica Smartt offers suggestions for capturing special moments with your family that you will cherish remembering for years to come.
Some of Focus on the Family's most popular broadcast guests share their favorite Christmas memories. (Part 1 of 2)
Some of Focus on the Family's most popular broadcast guests share their favorite Christmas memories. (Part 1 of 2)
John Fuller: Well, you might have already seen it’s a Wonderful Life a couple of times by now, on this Christmas Eve. But I do hope you’ll stay with us for “Focus on the Family” today. Our host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we have some wonderful heartwarming Christmas stories to share with you that you probably haven’t heard before.
Jim Daly: Oh, John, those are great movies. I love Jimmy Stewart and the gang, and then of course, Miracle on 34th Street, perhaps even The Christmas Story. Of course, you gotta get the Red Ryder BB Gun.
John: There you go.
Jim: So, that’s one of our favorites, along with Charlie Brown’s Christmas. We love that–
Jim: –Linus part–
John: That’s a laugh.
Jim: –where he recites the Gospel. It’s so … so great. And really, whenever we’re talking about the Son of God, we’re talkin’ about Christmas, ‘cause that’s what Christmas is all about, the hope that we have in Him, and the story of the Good News, that Jesus has come for us and has died for us and has paid that price that we can have a relationship with the Father. That is the message of Christmas.
And you know, so often, John, we have about 100 authors every year coming through Focus on the Family, sharing about marriage, sharing about parenting, sharing about different aspects of life, in the hope that they will bring you hope, and that if your marriage is in a bad place, that what they share with you will put you in a better place, hopefully, closer to God in that regard. Same for parenting.
And we wanted to take a little bit of time, and we have asked these guests over the year, what is their favorite Christmas memory? And we have a variety of stories about Christmas trees and ice skating and heartfelt family memories. And I want to start with Dr. Kathy Koch. Let’s listen to her favorite Christmas story.
Dr. Kathy Koch: I am blessed with many fabulous Christmas memories, but my favorite has to be when my brother and his wife told us that they were adopting a baby. We had 22 hours’ notice that we would have a baby for Christmas. They picked Betsy up at 11 a.m. on December 24th, and I met her at 1 p.m. on Dec. 24th. The joke is that I spent 20 hours at Toys R Us to get ready. That’s almost true.
I will never forget the first time I held her and the years and years of prayers spoken on behalf of my brother and his wife that were answered “Yes” in that moment. She’s a gift to our family and is one of the reasons that I am so pro-life and so hopeful that adoption is something that more and more people will consider. You know, Dave and Deb adopted her, but I really feel like we collectively adopted her.
And Christmas Eve … you know, they had 22 hours’ notice, so they had very little and Christmas Eve at my parent’s home, they put her down for a nap in the big double bed, surrounded by every winter coat that we had worn over there that day. And so, she’s this little bundle. She’s 3-months-old when they adopted her, and she’s just in the middle of this white bedspread, surrounded by all of these winter coats. And she couldn’t roll over; she’s 3-months-old, but we had to protect her, of course, ‘cause she was now ours. It’s amazing.
Melanie Shankle: My name’s Melanie Shankle, and the Christmas memory that I remember is when my husband and I were first married, and we were going to pick out our first Christmas tree. And I was super excited, because first home and it was the first year that, as an adult, I got to go pick out a tree. My family always had artificial trees for the most part and so, I couldn’t wait.
And so, we went to the Christmas tree lot to pick out this tree. And when we walked in, and I was also excited because we had just moved into a house that had 9-foot ceilings. And so, to me 9-foot ceiling translated into “We can get a really big Christmas tree.” And so, we went to the Christmas tree lot and we started to look. And I immediately saw it. It was like it beckoned me from across the room.
There it was, across the lot. It was like angels sang. It was the perfect tree. And I looked at my husband, and I just almost in a gasp, I said “That is the tree.” And he looked at me, and he said “You are out of your mind.” He said, that tree is two times the size of our living room. There’s no way it’s gonna fit. And I was like “Yes it will.” And I said, “Because it’s 8 1/2 feet tall.” I said, “We have 9-foot ceilings.” I said, “It clearly is gonna fit.”
And he said “You’re forgetting about a geometric principle called ‘circumference.’” And he said, “That tree is so wide.” He said, “There’s no way.” And I was like, “No, but it is the one.” I said, “I’ve never had a tree of this magnitude and I feel like our lives will be richer, our Christmas will be better. I have to have this tree.”
And so, he agreed, because we were newlyweds, and he was wantin’ to make his new wife happy. And we got the tree home, and we opened up our front door, and the tree did not even fit inside of our house. We could not even get it in the front door!
So, I would like to tell you that it was way too big for our living room, but we’ll never even know that, because we couldn’t get it through the front door. And so, that was the year that this poor young couple had to go back to the tree farm, make the drive of shame back to the tree lot with this enormous tree in the back of his truck and say that we overestimated the size of our house. And so, we had to beg them to let us trade for a smaller tree, and so, we traded for a small, more reasonable tree and brought it home. And so, that is the story that we tell every Christmas.
Jim: Well, I can remember those days, John. It was fun to get the tree, but I think one time we did over-buy the tree, and it left this mark on the ceiling.
John: Oh, my.
Jim: I mean, I … I couldn’t get up there. It was too high to paint. (Laughter) But it left this like sappy line right on the ceiling.
John: Maybe you should’ve done the “drive of shame,” as she put it.
Jim: I’m not gonna do the drive of shame. I’m just gonna cut some more off the bottom and make it shorter.
John: No you don’t even have a real tree anymore, do you?
Jim: No, we went … yeah, we went to the faux tree, but it looks great every year and there’s no needles lying on the ground. So, I think, in fact, our next family expert, Ron Deal, is gonna share a little bit about a real tree verses a fake tree, as well, so let’s hear from him.
Ron Deal: When I was growing up, we always had the fake Christmas trees. I mean, that’s what we call it, “the fake Christmas tree,” you know, the one you put together all by yourself every year, and then you fold it up and stick it in the garage. And the early years of our marriage, Nan and I also had the artificial tree.
But when the boys were young, we had finally decided, let’s go down and start cuttin’ down a real Christmas tree. And so, we developed this new tradition, taking all three boys out. And at the time we lived in a place where you would drive to Goobertown to get the Christmas tree. And no, I’m not kidding. We went to Goobertown to cut down our Christmas tree.
And it was an amazing experience the first year, and it was fun. And of course, the tree leaned really bad, but we didn’t care, because it smelled so great. And then it became a tradition, instant tradition. We had to do it every single year, and year after year we would go. We’d take pictures and capture the moment and a little video on our phones.
And … and one of the best memories I have is really just doing that year after year. And one of my favorite pictures is of my three boys, you know, hiding behind the tree, kind of sticking their head out through the limbs. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with artificial trees. They do the job and they look pretty. You can rely on ‘em year after year, a lot less mess, a lot less mess.
But, there’s something about real. You know, it takes more work to go out and cut down a tree. It takes more work to bring it home and dress it up and take care of it and water it and clean up the mess. It’s kind of like family life, you know. I mean, to do it well, it takes some energy, takes some time, takes effort.
And Christmas, in particular, is … is a time that we should go all out. But, not just at Christmas, throughout the year we should go all out. We should do what it takes to build memories with our family and … and bring people together, because it’s real. And it goes deeper inside you. And it takes on more meaning. And I think, ultimately, it connects us to the God who created us, who created the real–good, bad, and ugly, the real. He’s the God of all of it. The week after Christmas is over, and the week after that, and the week after that, go the extra mile.
Karen Ehman: I think my favorite Christmas memory was the year that our children, in the bottom of their stockings, got a wadded up ball of rubber bands.
Jim: You’re gonna love this story from home organization expert, Karen Ehman.
Karen: Now, that might kind of sound a little strange, but we had a method behind our madness of giving our kids rubber bands in their stocking, and it’s because, at the time, we were sponsoring a child that lived in a foreign country, and we were helping to pay for her food and her clothing and her schooling. And I noticed on the little picture of her that we got recently, that she put down that she enjoyed playing with rubber bands. And so, what we did that year for our children was, we kind of shorted their kids’ stockings a little bit, and instead, we sent money to this girl that we sponsored over in Guatemala.
And we tried to explain to them that so often, in America, we have so much at the holidays, and there are children in other countries that don’t have very much. So, we had two kids that readily accepted this and were excited, and one was kind of a little bit grumpy, until later, we got a picture again from our sponsored child. And in it, she said “Thank you so much for the Christmas money. I bought my very first doll ever.” And after that, even the third child came around and said “Hey, can we do that thing every year, where you don’t give us quite as much in our stockings and instead, we give money to Rina, our little girl in Guatemala.
Joel Manby: Well my most memorable Christmas was 2003.
John: Here’s Joel Manby, a former CEO of family friendly theme parks in the US.
Joel: I grew up in a very … a quiet home where emotions weren’t shared very much. But this happened to be the last Christmas that my father was on this earth, and he had stage 4 cancer. We had just found out that he would not be able to go under any more chemo treatments, so we knew this was the last Christmas he would have.
And in this very unemotive family, we all gathered around and we shared with my dad the things that we loved him for and what were most memorable about our upbringing with him. And it was really the first time that we had all sat around telling him how much we loved him. And my mom would tell stories of how he would only bring home $50 a week for … which is $2500 a year and make our family go for five straight years.
And my aunt was there and told how he worked a farm by himself, when his brother and dad went to World War II, and how he used to plow fields for people for free who couldn’t afford to pay him, and all these accolades came to my dad, and he just cried and cried like I never saw him cry before.
And it … it’s just a good lesson to me to … don’t wait ‘til it’s too late to share why you love somebody, why they’re important to you. And, I’ve tried to do that now on a more frequent basis with my other family members, but that’s my most memorable Christmas.
Erin MacPherson: This is Erin MacPherson and my most memorable Christmas was I’m guessing about 1990. My grandparents had just moved to Salem, Oregon and we were really disappointed to be going to Salem, because we knew we weren’t going to have a White Christmas, because it never snows there.
Anyway, the day of Christmas Eve, my grandparents saw the weather report that it was supposed to freeze and snow, and so, they had snuck out of the house and went and bought ice skates. And that night a huge snowstorm came in and the golf pond across the street from their house had frozen solid, which never happens. And they woke us up in the morning and gave us new ice skates and they took us out there with hot chocolate. And we spent the whole day ice skating on this golf pond in the middle of Salem where it never freezes.
And I just remember thinking how wonderful it was that we had a white Christmas, but also that we got to ice skate on a golf course where nobody else was, because nobody else had ice skates. And it was one of the last Christmases I had with my grandparents, but I will remember it always.
John: We’re listening to some of your favorite Christian authors and speakers share their fondest Christmas memories on today’s Focus on the Family.
Jim: John, these are some great stories, and I hope you’re enjoying Christmas with your loved ones today. Sometimes it’s important to start a new tradition at Christmas to help your children and your grandchildren form those memories that really stick with them and that they will recollect when we are gone. Bob and Cheryl Reccord thought of a new tradition that you might like to do. It’s not too late for you to try this with your family this year, especially if you have a multi-generational family get-together.
Cheryl Reccord: About in 2005, if I remember correctly, we decided to take it one step further, and we looked at each other and I went to Bob, oh, a couple of weeks before Christmas that year. And I said, “You know, I’m just not sure I really love what we’re doing at Christmas right now. It feels like it’s more about stuff.”
Cheryl: And obviously, we wanted Jesus at the center. But our mothers were both elderly and you know, as I looked at Bob, I said, “We’ve always made it about the kids. I think it’s time we make it about our mothers.” So, on Christmas Eve that year, without telling the kids what to expect, we had determined we would have a night of blessing for our mothers. And as Christmas Eve started, before the gifts got out and before we did church, we just simply started. I started with his mother and I just began to share with her what I most appreciated about her.
Bob Reccord: And everybody was in a circle—
Bob: –so that we were all sharing the event.
Cheryl: And what I loved about her, and then Bob joined in and talked to her. And then, we turned to my mother and Bob took the lead first. And then I shared. Well, our kids kind of sat there in stunned silence, ‘cause this is nothing we had done before. But, it was amazing to watch them one by one jump in and do the same thing.
That has become part of our Christmas Eve tradition when we have everybody for Christmas Eve, where we talk and we go around the room and share what we most appreciate.
Kara Durbin: When I think of Christmas, I think of our family traditions. Those things we look forward to every year and seem to be the rhythm of the seasons passing and things that I hope my kids will take with them when they go off on their own, all those memories and those special traditions and keep some of ours and create some of their own as they start their new family.
Jim: Mommy blogger, Kara Durbin.
Kara: My favorite tradition is one my mom started with all the grand kids when our kids were little. And that is, that she started buying as a Christmas gift for them, a nativity set. And these weren’t just any nativity sets. These were from worldcrafts.org and it’s a missions organization that helps provide sustainable income for impoverished families.
So, every year our kids would open up these beautiful hand-crafted nativity sets from across the world and add to their collection each year. And so, we pull those our each year and decorate with them. And what is so special to me about that is it is in direct correlation with the meaning of the season.
So, when they go off to their apartment or first home, whatever it is, they are gonna have this wonderful collection to connect them with the true meaning of Christmas and also that rich heritage from their grandparents. And I love that, as they’re opening their Christmas presents, we know that the toy of the year, or those LEGO sets are gonna be long forgotten, but they’ll have those nativity sets to treasure forever.
Mary Hunt: As I think about Christmas, the good memories have nothing to do with the gifts. And that is what is always surprising to me. It’s not the gifts I received, but it was the experiences and the times that I had with people that I loved.
Jim: Financial expert, Mary Hunt reminds of the generational aspects of Christmas time.
Mary: I had to be younger than 10-years-old. So, you know, maybe 8- or 9-years-old. My grandparents, who lived in North Dakota at the time, took the train out to Boise, Idaho. And so, woke up the day that they were to arrive and the first snow. And you know, that is always for a child and to know that my grandparents were coming, ‘cause I loved them so much, and I didn’t get to see them often.
And to go to the train station and it’s like an old movie, you know, to see them stepping off the train and with their bags and all their boxes. And … and my grandmother would always bring cookies and things that she had made. It was just so wonderful to have them there and to wake up every morning.
It seems like they were there for weeks, but I don’t know how long it was, to … to go jump into bed with them and for my grandfather to tell me his silly jokes and me just to laugh my head off. That’s what made Christmas. It was being together and having them tell me stories about when my mom was little. And all of those things that, it was the experience of being together. And that just made Christmas, just so magical.
You know, I would characterize myself as having grown up in a very, very poor home, having very little. I don’t know that, that was true. That was my childhood perception. My parents were frugal and they were thrifty and I saw that as a negative, like poor. But we didn’t have a lot, no, but it didn’t seem to matter.
When my grandparents were there, I was the richest kid in the world, because I had everything I wanted. I … I didn’t have materials things that I wanted so much. I always wanted more and more and more. In my heart, I had a wish list as big as the sky.
But, when my grandparents were there, there was something about their unconditional love, the way that they valued me so much, in their presence and at that Christmas that I recall. I had everything that I wanted. There was not one thing I wanted, because I felt so loved and so accepted and so warm in their … in their embrace and in their presence. It was just fantastic. All of a sudden, the things, the material things that I longed for just melted away, which tells me something about, are we trying to always fill an emotional hole in our lives with money and things? When maybe it’s more relationships that would do the trick.
Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah, I have a very intense memory, actually, of Christmas in 2013.
Jim: Marriage researcher, Shaunti Feldhahn, recalls a life-changing moment for her family on Christmas Eve.
Shaunti: Something happened that had … that changed our life in a lot of ways. I should explain that I have two children, who at the time were 13 and 10. My daughter was 13; and my son’s 10. And we’d been having a lot of issues with my daughter, frankly, just not being very nice to her little brother, getting irritated easily, getting frustrated and just, you know, a lot of that sibling angst, but really she just was not having grace with him.
So, Christmas, we go to spend Christmas with my parents at the little cabin area they had retired to in the mountains and we’re out in the middle of nowhere in rural Virginia and at their little country church on Christmas Eve for Christmas Eve service. And you know, traditional liturgy, so we stood up and sang several hymns and we stood up for last hymn, and I feel this movement next to me, and I look over and my 10-year-old son is having this massive grand mal seizure. And it just freaked me out, and I kind of cried out “He’s having a seizure.” And the church just came undone.
And we … you know, we laid him across my husband’s lap to keep him from hurting himself on these hard wooden pews and he … he wasn’t breathing and it was terrifying. And he had this massive seizure for about two minutes, and then wasn’t himself and was in this phase where he was just white and staring and he couldn’t talk, and he didn’t know us, and he didn’t know where he was and that was just as scary as the seizure.
And we run him very quickly to the little local rural ambulance company, the little volunteer ambulance company. And my mom is actually a medic for one of these ambulance companies. And they put him in the back and my husband jumps in with my mom and they took off. The nearest hospital is 40 minutes away.
And there’s no cell phone coverage in the area, so I’m literally in the dark. It’s very dark. I’m following the ambulance and I have no way of knowing how my son is, if he’s … if he’s even still alive. Like I have no way of knowing what’s going on and my 13 year old daughter is sitting beside me in the van, just broken and crying and terrified for her little brother.
And in that moment, I saw how much she really did love him and how much she recognized … it came to her that she could lose her little brother. And she prayed out loud for a big chunk of that journey. And we didn’t know what was going on.
All we could see through the back window of the ambulance was my mom and the other medic feverishly working around this little form that’s strapped to the gurney. We had no idea what was going on. And thankfully, you know, eventually got there and found out he had kinda woken up more in the … in the ambulance and his brain was okay and he wasn’t oxygen deprived for too long.
And he’s doing well, but that moment changed our family forever. Not just because, you know, we saw this thing that we could…would never have chosen happen to our son, but we also saw it change our daughter.
And it answered those prayers in a way we never would have chosen, but her heart changed from that moment and she has been kind and tender. She recognized, truly, she could have lost him, and how much she loved him and resolved to never treat him in that same way again. We never would have chosen that answer to prayer, but truly it has ended up being a huge blessing in that way.
Cynthia Tobias: I grew up the daughter of a Nazarene preacher. And I also grew up … my most formative years were in Reno and Las Vegas.
Jim: Strong-willed child expert, Cynthia Tobias.
Cynthia: We celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and it’s always the same. And that is, on Christmas Eve we have the Christmas Eve service, which my dad no longer officiates now, but he always did. And then we have chili, and then my dad reads the Christmas story to all the kids and grandkids and every one of us. And that’s never changed.
But one particular Christmas I remember when he was pastoring in Las Vegas, tough town. You know, we … growing up in Las Vegas as a pastor’s kid, we saw a very different, very different piece of Vegas. We saw the seamy underbelly and the danger and the ugly stuff.
And that particular Christmas, I had come home from college. I’d brought a friend with me. We were looking forward to spending a really fun Christmas. And on Christmas Eve, when we thought we were gonna do all the typical stuff, instead Dad, who … this is so typical of him, he said, “I’m volunteering now with the chaplaincy in Las Vegas, and we’re gonna go down and we’re gonna have our Christmas Eve service with the alcoholics and gamblers anonymous.
I’m … I’m thinkin’ that’s the last place I want to be. And … and here on this beautiful Christmas Eve in this hot, sunny place, we spent our Christmas Eve service with prostitutes, and gamblers, and drunks, next to a casino in a very untraditional way, but it was so characteristic of my dad and his heart.
And um, it just didn’t feel right at first. And then, it became so obvious with his reading of the Christmas story and the time that we spent there, that these were the people that Christ came to save. These were the people that were there that night in Bethlehem, too. They were … they were there, just like that and that He didn’t come to be in a nice, clean, pristine place where I wanted to be. He came really to redeem the souls who were lost. That was very significant.
John: Well, what a fitting way to close our Christmas Eve edition of Focus on the Family with that reflection from Cynthia Tobias. And she was just one of the many frequent guests that we’ve had here on the broadcast and featured today.
Jim: This has been so heartwarming today, and I know tomorrow will be, as well, and I hope you can take the time to form memories like these. You’ve likely heard about our Make Every Day Count program here at Focus on the Family. And I hope you’ll take advantage of every day, but especially the holidays. And it doesn’t matter if you can’t afford much for your kids. I lived that, the kind of more austere childhood. But my mom did everything she could as a single mom to make Christmas come alive for us, even if it’s as simple as a pair of football pajamas, which is what she was able to give me one year. I was thrilled with it, and I went out and played football in ‘em.’
John: Oh, my goodness.(Laughter)
Jim: And so (Laughter), you know what? Kids can improvise, and they do that well.
Jim: And I hope you enjoyed today’s show, and I can’t wait. I’m a little like an anxious child, John. I can’t wait for us to, together, unwrap tomorrow’s radio gift, that we’re gonna be featuring Kevin Leman and Tony Evans, Shaunti Feldhahn and Kathi Lipp. We’ll share more of their stories. Kathy’s is hilarious. She got stuck in a cabin one Christmas, so we’re gonna want to hear that story. But, these are great memories with lots of heart and you’ll hear ‘em on the next Focus on the Family.
John: Yeah, and I hope you enjoy this Christmas Eve with family and friends, and by the way, at our website, we have a collection of free audio downloads, The Making Family Memories Collection. It has Ted Cunningham, Kathi Lipp, and others sharing fun ideas for making new memories with your family throughout the coming year. The free download is at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller thanks for listening to Focus on the Family, and of course, have a very merry Christmas.
Author and blogger Jessica Smartt offers suggestions for capturing special moments with your family that you will cherish remembering for years to come.
Dr. Mike Bechtle explains how we can stop allowing difficult people to control our emotions, and how we can set healthy boundaries and extend the love of God to them.
Cheryl Martin encourages singles to view their singleness not as a mistake or a holding pattern until marriage, but as an opportunity to become the person God wants them to be. She also shares how to honor God in the dating process through the use of firm boundaries and an accountability partner.
Popular Christian vocalist Larnelle Harris reflects on his five-decade music career, sharing the valuable life lessons he’s learned about putting his family first, allowing God to redeem a troubled past, recognizing those who’ve sacrificed for his benefit, and faithfully adhering to biblical principles amidst all the opportunities that have come his way.
Amy Carroll explains how listeners can find freedom from self-imposed and unrealistic standards of perfection in a discussion based on her book, Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Goodbye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You.
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, gives an update on the coronavirus pandemic.
Then, offering encouragement found in her book Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed, Sara Hagerty describes how we can experience God in ordinary, everday moments, and how we can find our identity in Him apart from what we do.