Enjoy these Christmas memories from Phil Vischer, Jim Daly, Elisa Morgan and others.
A Pre-Veggie Tale
Everyone who has watched a VeggieTales DVD knows I am a fairly silly guy. What they probably don’t know, though, is that I am incredibly shy. So shy, in fact, that when I was a child, few people knew how silly I was. I kept it inside. This particular trait may have remained a mystery if it weren’t for the Christmas presents I received from my dad when I was 8 years old.
My dad was always a provider of creative playthings — model planes and trains and lots of LEGOs. But the Christmas of my eighth year, he outdid himself. First, we each opened a portable cassette recorder, one for each member of the family — himself, my mom, me, my older sister, Cristy, and my younger brother, Rob.
My mother, sister and brother all uttered a collective, “Huh?”
I grabbed the microphone and immediately started recording my own voice — and any other goofy voice I could mimic. But my dad wasn’t finished. He walked into the other room and returned with an industrial-looking suitcase locked with heavy metal clasps. Inside was the most amazing thing I had ever seen — an early video camera and recorder. And by “early,” I mean pre-VHS. Pre-Betamax. This was a state-of-the-art early 1970s black-and-white industrial camera tethered to a reel-to-reel video recorder. The rest of my family was dumbstruck. I was in heaven.
I shot footage all over the house and tried to bribe my little brother to act out dramatic rescue scenes in the backyard. (“Mom! Tell Rob he has to be in my movie!”) And though a video camera technically can’t record single frames, if you turned it on and off really fast … maybe … just maybe …
I put my Batmobile on the basement floor and clicked the camera on and off as quickly as I could. I nudged the Batmobile an inch and clicked the camera again. After a few minutes of this, I replayed the tape, and the Batmobile was driving. Eureka! I was animating.
Over the next few years I made countless little films with that video camera, using toys and LEGOs. (G.I. Joes were more cooperative than my little brother, and I could cast them in challenging roles.) The video camera soon gave way to a Super 8 film camera, which was then overtaken by professional video gear and, ultimately, computers capable of creating animation. And a tomato named Bob and a cucumber named Larry replaced my little brother and my G.I. Joes.
My life’s work started on Christmas morning, 1974, thanks to a father who knew what his son needed to develop what God had put inside him.
— Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales
The Beauty of the Season
Christmas in the Daly household is what many would consider a traditional affair. We place angel decorations on the tree with words like “Hope” and “Peace” written on them. We read Bible stories and discuss the true meaning of Christmas while drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate. These activities might sound average or unremarkable, but they hold great meaning for me. Growing up, I would have given almost anything to experience an “average” Christmas celebration.
One of my family’s most memorable Christmases occurred in 2001, when our first son was just over a year old. My wife, Jean, had learned she was pregnant again but wanted to wait until Christmas morning to tell me. When the day finally arrived, I opened a present that contained the blue-and-white hospital cap that Trent had worn when he was born. I stared at it for a moment, then looked over at Jean, who had an enormous grin on her face.
“Are we having another baby?” I asked, but the tears of joy in her eyes already told me the answer. We jumped up and hugged and screamed with delight. It was fun telling Trent that he was going to be a big brother — that’s certainly a Christmas present he wasn’t expecting!
This event symbolized the beauty of the season for me in a personal way. As we celebrated the new addition to our family, I was reminded that God’s ultimate Gift to mankind — and indeed, the reason we celebrate Christmas at all — came in the form of a baby. Christ “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). Christmas is more than a celebration of Christ’s birth; it’s a reminder of His life, death and resurrection on our behalf.
— Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family
My Unexpected Gift
One year not too long ago, I was completely alone on Christmas Day. I lived in Nashville, Tenn., thousands of miles from my family in California, and I didn’t have the money to go home. It was tough.
I grew up in a single-parent home, and my mother and I were close. I so admire her. She worked and raised my brother and me all on her own. Money was scarce and times were hard, but she never wavered. My mother is truly the strongest woman I’ve ever met, and the way she lived her life caused me to become a strong woman as well.
Maybe that’s why, even though I was tempted to feel sorry for myself that lonely Christmas Day, I determined instead to spend that time with Jesus.
The day changed me. I spent hours thinking about the meaning of Christmas, worshiping Jesus and reading the Gospels. People felt sorry for me, but they didn’t need to — it was one of my sweetest Christmases.
That day ended, but God had more presents in store for me. Every year since then — in a way that can only be described as God’s hand — my touring has brought me to California during the Christmas season. I spend a lot of time on the road singing and ministering to others, and I have little control over my travel schedule. So I know it was a gift from God that I’ve been able to spend Christmas with my family three years in a row.
I focused solely on delighting in God that one Christmas, and He brought the desires of my heart to pass. Just like He promises.
— Mandisa, Contemporary Christian Music artist and former “American Idol” finalist
The Baby Hope Tree
It was Dec. 21. The phone rang. The only other couple in our adoption group who hadn’t yet been placed with a baby — besides us — was calling to say they finally had a child. I hung up, feeling like I’d been shot in the chest. No baby for us. We’d been waiting for almost five years, and I longed to be a mother.
I rolled up my spiritual sleeves and began to beg God for a baby by Christmas. I set up a Christmas tree and decorated the branches with pink and blue ribbons and christened it the “Baby Hope Tree.” Every day I knelt there, pouring out my prayers.
Then the phone rang, and I heard the hard truth that there was not going to be a baby by Christmas.
Our first child didn’t come until Easter. At last. Our second child came two years later in a blistering July summer.
When I look back at that 21st day of December, I realize now that my daughter was safely growing in her birth-mother’s womb on Christmas Day. God was indeed answering my prayer. He was working while I was waiting.
Every Christmas since then, we’ve continued to set up a Baby Hope Tree, tied with pink and blue ribbons. In the early years, my husband and I did the work while telling our children the tale of our waiting and wanting them so much. As they grew, they began to set up the tree themselves, Eva tying on the pink ribbons and Ethan the blue ones. Well into their 20s today, they still come by and admire the tree, the tender reminder that God works while we wait.
— Elisa Morgan, former president and CEO of MOPS
Half a Christmas Tree
As we opened boxes of Christmas decorations, the excitement was building. This year would be different. Instead of pain, sickness and uncertainty, we would enjoy assurance, peace and joy. I expected a Christmas that resembled blissful holiday commercials. Due to several years of high-risk pregnancies and babies in the hospital, finances were strained. So we had been overjoyed the previous year to receive a large, artificial tree from my husband’s parents, which replaced our “Charlie Brown” tree. I had been counting the days until we could decorate the new tree; this season symbolized a new beginning.
As my husband, Kevin, sat on the floor and unpacked the Christmas boxes, a look of worry came over his face. I peeked into the living room after placing a sheet of cookies in the oven and asked, “Is everything OK, Hon?”
He rubbed his nose and replied, “Oh yes, everything is great, Pumpkin Duck.”
My husband does two things when he’s in trouble: He rubs his nose and starts calling me sappy names.
I walked over to where he was sitting and asked again, “Is everything OK here?”
He looked up and said, “Well, it seems we have half of two different trees.” Somehow during spring-cleaning, he must have thrown away half of the new tree and half of the Charlie Brown tree, which was even more pitiful without its other part.
I looked around the living room as our three little boys tied themselves up in Christmas lights. I noticed a few broken bulbs at the bottom of the box. Then I smelled the cookies burning in the oven.How did other families manage to pull off the picture-perfect holiday? It seemed to be an elusive dream.
My husband was determined to make things right, and since he is a gifted craftsman, he turned to his tools. In fact, he had visions of making a tree better than anything we could buy at the store — it would even rotate on a custom tree stand! In a matter of minutes, tools covered the living room floor. Kevin turned up the music and got to work.
Nighttime came, and our floor was still covered with branches, tools and sawdust. I kissed my husband and said, “Let’s go to bed, Honey. You’ve worked so hard, but we can let it go. We don’t need a tree this year.”
I went to bed thinking he would soon follow. But when I rolled over in the middle of the night, he was not there. I walked into the living room to see him on the floor holding the control to the lights like a boy with a remote control car. He stared up at his creation with wonder. I crawled into his lap and shared his amazement. Standing proudly in front of us was a mediumsized, full, beautiful Christmas tree.
My husband wrapped his arms around me, and we chuckled as we recalled the day’s events. Then we recounted all that was going right in our life. We had three precious babes sleeping down the hall. We had a roof over our heads. Most of all, we had access to joy whenever we had the faith to lay hold of it.
Isn’t it amazing how much stock we put into “the season”? In other words, if we have a year when work is too busy, finances too tight or health too frail, we say things like, “I don’t have much Christmas spirit this year.” Our focus shifts too easily to what is going on with us. How fragile we’ve become!
As a result, our emphasis on Jesus and the indescribable gift He provides for every season fades. Even if all our presents don’t line up in a row, we have a reason for joy. Christ came to give us a glimpse of glory, to bring peace and to save our souls.
Next year will bring new circumstances that threaten to interrupt our hope and steal our joy. Whether we are in a season of comfort or one of struggle, we must remember: Peace came to earth and, as a result, joy came to reside in our hearts forever. That’s much better than putting our hopes in half a Christmas tree.
— Susie Larson, radio host, author and national speaker