Sitting up at the top of a quiet rocky hill, stood our home. We had a perfect view of lit up house tops that peaked over the beautiful snowy town of Prescott, Arizona. Unlike what people usually imagine Arizona to be, gorgeous mountains painted a beautiful green landscape around us against a crisp blue sky. We'd only been there a few weeks, but to us, it was home.
A used plastic Christmas tree someone had graciously given us, stood glistening in the corner next to a real wood fireplace, our only heating downstairs. A couple from church started bringing us wood each week. I have no idea what we would have done without them. It was cold!
We were at a moment in our lives where we were without a job and wondering what God had for us next. Emptying our savings account, we had warned our kids they wouldn't be receiving any gifts that year. Instead, we could make cards for each other. All four were quick to say that they didn't care and that being together was all that mattered (they knew of people in much harder situations than what we were in and we were very thankful).
I admit, I was excited for the opportunity to teach our kids the lesson of appreciating Christmas for what it is and not for the gifts.
How could God have a different plan than that one!?
Christmas Eve I received a call from someone I didn't know, informing me there were toys left over from a toy drive. They asked if we wanted them. Confused, I said sure and drove over. A lady I had never met gave me three huge black garbage bags full of something. I drove home.
What I found in them that evening were all the things that the kids had been wanting, and all new: scooters, trains, teddy bears, diaries, and so much more. I wasn't sure whether to cry with thankfulness or get angry at God for ruining my plan.
Christmas morning, our kids were confused. "You said we weren't going to have any presents!" they exclaimed. We shared with them what had happened the night before and then all sat in a circle on the floor before opening our presents to thank God for them. It really did feel that Jesus himself had brought them to us instead of Santa. We did not deserve them, didn't need them, ... and I didn't even want them! We actually had so many toys that we took a bunch of them to another family that we knew that same day.
That Christmas turned into one of the many memories our kids are collecting of how much God loves to give occasional surprises, just for fun. Even when it's not necessary.
I can't explain why, but amidst the harshest of storms we've been through, God has always provided gifts. A friend, an encouraging word, peace in turmoil, joy in pain, or just plain presents we don't deserve.
We had the choice of being upset about not having heat, or being thankful for the wood. We had the option of feeling depressed over no presents, or thankful for all that God had given us already. I wonder if sometimes we are too busy being angry at the storm, that we miss the special things he gives us.
A few years before that, we had just moved into a little missionary house that a church owned on it's property. Our girls were both under the age of 3. We had just moved to the States from Sweden, barely had enough to survive, and certainly didn't have any toys. I gathered the girls around me and asked them to pray with me. This time I did want a toy for two to keep them busy (and out of my hair).
"Let's ask God to give us some presents!" I told them. I We held hands and asked God that he would give us something to play with while we lived there. I was actually excited to see what God would do when I buckled them into their car seats and started driving around the neighborhood checking out garbage cans and hoping someone would have thrown out some toys.
Two streets down from us, we drove by a closing garage sale. The family was filling their trash cans with all the toys that I assumed hadn't been sold that day. I shamelessly peaked my head out the window and asked them if they were throwing them away. The dad looked up with a smile and said: "Yes! Please take anything you want!"
The girls watched from the van as I got out, and picked out toy after toy from the trash cans and pilled them into the back of the van. My heart was beating fast. Still in a bit of shock, I yelled out a thank you and we drove home.
Looking through our treasures, we found several amazing toys perfect for the age of our girls, including a large toy train still in it's box with batteries in it. We didn't even need to buy batteries!
Again, like so many times throughout our life, we sat on the floor in a circle, held hands, and each thanked God.
Another time, when we were homeless for a few months, a couple we had never met invited us to stay for a couple of weeks in their large beautiful home. We didn't need a large home! In the heat of Arizona, I would have been fine with a small air conditioned shack.
The stories I could tell you are endless. I wish I could share them all.
Why did God give us gifts?! And nice ones! I don't know. I don't have the answer. We sure don't deserve them! The only thing I can think of is that he delights in giving gifts to his children, just like I do. We have a God that loves giving gifts.
I admit, I've often missed gifts He's given me because I'm too busy complaining about something I didn't get. I've often missed to realize how much he loves and delights in me. Do you ever do that? I wonder. If we fully realized how much he really delights in us, like a good daddy over his child (and even more), maybe we'd view him differently. Maybe we'd even live differently.
Have you ever focused on all the gifts you weren't given and forgotten to notice something God chose to give you instead?
What could you be focusing on this Christmas that's making you miss the gifts God is giving you?
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
We splurged on a luscious real tree for Christmas this year. My daughters helped their dad pile it on top of our van and we carefully drove home. He cut the trunk so that water would soak in over the next few weeks, stood it up the corner of our living room, and cut the green cord wrapped around it so the branches could open up.
To our surprise, there was a nest near the top. My daughter quickly got the ladder and carefully brought it out, wondering if there would be eggs in it. To our horror, a dead bird was squished up in the nest! I will spare you the details, but we were all so affected that we couldn't finish decorating that night.
Trying to forget the events of the previous day, we eventually finished decorating the tree. It took team work, time, redoing a few light issues, and lots of work, but finally we stood back and proudly contemplated our handiwork. The towering beauty of twinkling lights held precious ornaments our children had made through the years. Satisfied and feeling “Christmassy,” we cozied up together to watch a movie as a family.
Suddenly, half way through the movie, we all froze as this glistening tower started falling over us in slow motion! I wanted to move, but couldn’t. Instead, I numbly watched it crash down over the coffee table and a couple of the kids sitting in front of me on the rug.
All our hard work ended up in a pile of broken ornaments, twisted branches and a blanket of needles.
The horrifying silence broke out into a commotion of commands to soak up water ruining our new hardwood floor, while my husband and I moved the tree to not get sap on the rug.
“How could this happen!” We all wondered. It could only be one thing: the stand. We did purchase the right size for our tree, but my husband had noticed the design lent itself to some possible weakness. We had just decided to ignore it, hoping for the best. Too tired to go searching for a more expensive, well-built one, we figured it didn’t matter that much. How wrong we were.
We had put all the importance and time on the tree, forgetting what mattered the most: the foundation on which it stood.
There was a story on the news recently of a couple from South Dakota who put their entire life savings into building what would be their dream retirement home. After three years, they found that their home was worth only half of its value due to damage caused from being built on what is called "expansive soil", which shrinks and swells during dry and wet spells, damaging foundations and weakening or destroying the house.
Something similar happened this year when a housing developer in Wyoming built a whole neighborhood on bad soil. The news showed large beautiful homes now uninhabitable due to cracked foundations, tilting floors, and doors that won’t open.
How important it is to make sure we are building on the right foundation. The same with making a home, which has nothing to do with your house. You can build a mansion, small shack, tree house, or live in a tent under a bridge. It doesn't matter.
Don't do what we did and miss that important link to the puzzle. We can work hard at creating a home, getting our kids involved in the best activities, decorating the place perfectly, and doing good deeds, but if we are building on the wrong soil, we might be in for a big surprise when the storms come.
Known as the greatest message in history, the Bible tells of a sermon Jesus told once what's called "The Sermon on The Mount". Well there's is an important little story at the end of it. Like the arrowhead at the end of a shaft, it's like the grand finale of that sermon. It's one of his most famous parables (stories he told to convey something important) about “a Foolish Man and a Wise Man”.
The story is about two builders who each decided to build a house. One built his house on sand and the other built his on rock. While the story doesn't go into the details of the building, I can imagine that it took longer to build on the rock. Digging into rock can't be an easy task. Not only does it take a lot of toil and sweat, but it takes more time than building on sand. It's also a lot of work for something that no one is going to see. I can imagine the sand guy might have been making fun of him. Drinking his cocktail by the pool, he looked over at the guy working away and maybe said: "Why are you working so hard?! That's really not needed. You're just wasting your time!” I'm also assuming both houses looked great when they were done, maybe even similar in appearance.
All was fine, until the storm came and beat against the houses. Jesus said that “the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against them” (Matthew 7:27). At the end of his story, he told that one house safely stood the storm, but the other did not. In fact, he said that the house built on sand didn’t just fall, it fell “with a great crash”.
Here's the thing about storms: The storms reveal the house.
What house will the storm reveal when it comes your way?
So what is this foundation that is so important? What is this rock that Jesus is talking about? Jesus finishes his story by explaining it: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 24:7
I have a friend who has a daughter that will never listen to her and certainly won’t do what she says. After years of constant fights, her daughter finally stole from her, left home, and is now trapped in drugs and living on the street. Their relationship is tragically broken.
I love my children. I love them so much. I listen to them, hug them, cuddle with them, tuck them in bed goodnight, and would give my life for them. I love them whether they listen to me or not. But, do you know what I want more than anything? It’s to have a relationship with them. I love those moments when my girls share their struggles with me. I listen, give counsel, they listen to me and then actually take my advice. Something happens. There is a relationship going on. There is a listening and responding going on.
Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount offering this relationship to anyone as a gift, free of charge, no matter what they’ve done. You see, the people he was talking to were used to the teachings from the Pharisees. These so called "spiritual leaders" were teaching that very few people could have access to the blessing of having communion with God, this relationship. One of the things they taught was that only men could be good enough, not women. To be blessed, you also have to be materially rich (that seemed to somehow showed God’s favor in that culture). Oh, and you certainly couldn't have any diseases, for that was a sign that you were sinning. You had to be “spiritually rich” (which is why the synagogue leaders would pray in public, so everyone could see how spiritual).
So when Jesus opens up his sermon with words like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, ...Blessed are those who mourn,.....Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", he was welcoming everyone into the blessing of a communion with God! What a message of hope for those people that thought they had no change, who thought they weren't worthy. Yet here Jesus came with a new message, that nothing mattered… all were welcome. They had been taught there were all kinds of things they needed to do to gain their way to the “Kingdom”. Nevertheless, Jesus said it was a gift. In fact, he went beyond the rules (the law), but straight to the heart. He didn't cancel the rules, he went beyond them. He wanted their hearts.
I don't want my kids to just obey me because they have to. I want it to be from the heart, with the foundation of a relationship that we have, because they trust I have their best intention in mind. In the same way, Jesus is not satisfied with our words, he wants our heart. He wants a relationship.
Probably the harshest words in the whole Bible are right before this story of two houses. He tells his hearers that: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" What’s the difference? There was no relationship. They were doing the right stuff, but didn’t have a relationship with Him. They didn’t listen and follow.
Jesus used to say was: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” John 10:27-30. A relationship is about listening to his voice, and then following. That right there is the rock of our lives, the rock of our home. There's no way around it. The foundation is found in a relationship with Jesus, where you trust him enough to start building a relationship with him.
I remember my first huge fight with my husband. I was furious. Neither of us were budging on this one. We were on our way to the bus stop. It was a dark, freezing Swedish winter night. The snow crunched loudly beneath our feet as we walked in silence. I did not want to forgive him. I was shocked at how scary powerful my pride was! We arrived, but I walked off. I didn’t want to be under the same roof as him. Standing in the falling snow, I considered whether to keep walking and never walk back. Have you ever felt that mad?
Thoughts kept coming to mind that I didn’t like; thoughts that were telling me to forgive, challenging me on what love was all about. I started having a conversation with God. I was angry. I had a lot of good answers: “He doesn’t deserve it!” or "I don't deserve this!" I felt God bombard me with examples of the Bible of what unconditional love was about, even when it hurts, when it’s undeserved, no matter the circumstance, and no matter whether one “feels” that fuzzy feeling.
I thought about how strong real love must be; so strong that it breaks through that barrier of selfish pride that I was cuddling, protecting and holding close. I asked God for help and I finally decided to just do it. I really did not want to and I absolutely did not feel like it, but I did it because God wanted me to. I walked back to Pontus and I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. The strangest thing happened. The pride and anger left me immediately and Pontus hugged me back as we said we were sorry.
The foundation of what happened in that moment was not necessarily out of love for my husband, but from a relationship I had with God. Twisted? Maybe, but out of my moments of obedience has always come a constant new-found love for my husband. First obedience. Then the feeling. It’s happened over and over again. Silly example maybe, but that’s the one that comes to mind when I try to explain how God is and has always been the glue between us and the foundation of our home.
The choices we have always made as a family are all based on what God wants us to do and where he is leading us. We’ve made some crazy decisions that sometimes didn’t even make complete sense at the time, but we knew God wanted us to take.
While sometimes scary at the time, God has always proved to be faithful and true. Best of all, our kids have constantly seen through it all, that this relationship their dad and I have with Jesus is what we base our lives and home on. And now we see them doing it to in their lives.
All other good things are great and important, but, if not based on good soil, everything will eventually come crashing down in the storm like a glimmering Christmas tree on a broken stand.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
Born and raised in Spain to American parents, Becky left home when she was fourteen to attend a Canadian boarding school in Germany. Since then, she has traveled over thirty countries and lived in four of them. Becky met her Swedish husband while working on a ship in Mexico, got engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, married in Spain, moved to Sweden, and now lives in North Carolina with her husband and their four children. She invites you to travel with her through the journeys life has taken her.
We caught our 2 year old singing away and being thankful!
The First Christmas
A video I made once, performed and narrated by the kids from a church we were part of in Arizona.