Crowded Malls, Tantrums & the Christ of Christmas

I rounded the corner at Conestoga Mall, on a mission to get the last few items on my shopping list. And when I’m on a shopping mission, I march. I don’t love shopping and can probably count on two hands, with fingers left over, the number of times I visited the mall this year.

Christmas shopping is even less enjoyable, in some ways. The crowds are bigger, making the malls busier, and the noise doesn’t help.

Speaking of noise… I rounded that corner and, there, several feet in front of me, was the cutest little boy throwing a tantrum. An exasperated mom, who appeared to be quite pregnant–though I couldn’t say for certain, with her winter coat on–leaned over her little one. She looked at me, desperate, “I’m sorry.”

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I smiled, compassionately, as I spoke to her, “I went through it with five. I get it.” On the floor the cute little monkey rolled around, making whatever statement he was trying to make. I smiled at him, “Hi handsome.” He stopped his fit, momentarily. I looked back at mom and saw tears begin as all the stress threatened to spill over.

“That one woman was just rude! She told me I should get him off the dirty floor, that he’s going to get sick! Why are people rude like that?”

“I don’t know. All I can say, is they don’t get it. I’ve been there. Don’t worry about what people say or think. Your son isn’t going to get sick from a little dirt on the floor!” (Good heavens! What is more filthy at a shopping mall than the cart the child will eventually get stuck in! Let the child lick the floor. Won’t harm them a bit!)

She continued, “Why did you stop? Why are you being nice when other people are so rude?”

“I get it…I know what it is like,” I said again. “Can I help you with anything?” I looked at the bags she carried. Plus pregnant, maybe. No wonder she’s at wit’s end, I thought.

“I was just trying to make it to Zehrs to get a cart. If I could just get to a cart!”

“Could I carry your son for you, or your bags?”

“Sure. Would you do that?” She had picked up her son, still squirming and fighting. “He’s really heavy.”

“I can handle him,” I said. How it took me back in time. I looked at her, a beautiful and petite lady. I could see why his weight concerned her. Well, I’m not a petite anything. I am a big, strong, German/Friesian girl with bone and muscle to me. Granted, they’re not quite what they used to be, but I’m still pretty strong. She leaned her son toward me and for a tiniest moment he was calm. Shock is a wonderful thing, at times.

As we walked, I talked to him, told him exactly where we were going, and why. With that we headed for Zehrs, the little guy squirming in my arms again. We walked about ten feet when the woman stopped at a small area with oversized, stuffed, leather animals. She called a child’s name.

I stopped, turned, and watched as three quiet children collected themselves and walked toward her. In that moment I understood exactly what she felt. Four children, with one hyperactive one. And pregnant.

“He’s a twin. I took him to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with him, but the doctor said he’s normal”, she explained.

“Trust me. He’s normal,” I said. “I have several like him. One especially much. They’re a lot of fun but it’s hard sometimes.”

We didn’t get far before we came across an abandoned cart. A big Zehrs cart, perfect for twins and a few extra. The other children complied beautifully. But not the little monkey in my arms. I tried to set him in and his legs went stiff.

“No! Choo choo train!” he declared loudly.

“Where?” I asked. He pointed to the train in the store. We negotiated for a moment, unsuccessfully.

Well, I’m mother enough to know that when all else fails, treats work. They’re not really bribery. They are an advance on reward for upcoming good behaviour. They require faith–believing that the good behaviour will come–and action–giving it to them.

“Is he allowed gum?” I asked. She said that would be okay. So I asked him if he would like some. Of course he would! Then he would have to sit first, I informed him. Otherwise I could not give it to him. That was an epic fail. Not sitting. No way. His legs were as stiff as before.

I pulled out the pack of gum and showed it to him. His eyes lit up. “But you have to sit first, before I can give it to you,” I reminded him.

This time he sat down. He watched quietly as I opened the pack and handed him a piece, as well as the other children.

“Why are people rude?” she asked again. “Why did you stop and help?” She was having a hard time processing why I would help. “The woman… saying it will make my son sick! I wanted to tell her that my daughter here–she pointed to a child about 6 years old–fought cancer for three years. She’s okay. She did it!”

Wow! A mom of four, including one hyperactive twin, pregnant, and having gone through three years of battling cancer with her beautiful little girl.

“Don’t worry about what people think,” I said again, “Your children are very sweet! He’s sweet too,” I said, patting the high-strung son on the head. “And you’re going to be very good for Mommy now, right?” I said, addressing him directly. His innocent eyes stared back at me, as if he had no idea of being naughty,  and then a mischievous grin spread across his face.

We chatted a few more moments, and parted ways. Before I left I promised I would pray for her as I shopped.

Another passionate, “Thank you! Oh thank you!” and she was on her way. And so was I, with an image burned in my memory of a beautiful pregnant mama in tears. I prayed. Repeatedly.

It’s easy to get sucked into the rush of Christmas and forget about the reality of people’s lives. And it’s even easier judge the people around us, when we think they don’t have it together. It’s easy to be annoyed, and write them off. But we never know the bigger story. Well, almost never. Even Saturday, having had a wee glimpse into this woman’s story, I have a feeling there is a lot more that she didn’t tell. I thank God for that moment of vulnerability, when she fell apart, and God allowed me to see her heart. It puts the season in perspective.

Christmas time, when many people are giddy with excitement, when children’s eyes sparkle with anticipation, there are people whose lives are empty, lonely and overwhelming.

In the past few days, since meeting that woman at the mall, a good friend has whispered ‘Good-bye’ to her sister for the last time in this life… a young pregnant-soon-to-be-first-time-mommy has laid her young husband to rest… a young woman messaged me, devastated by rejection from her conservative Christian family–a family who would judge her for many of her choices–and this is how she experiences the ‘Christ of Christmas’ through them…  and the list goes on.

This Christmas, and through the coming year, take time to look beyond the surface, and remember that people carry a lot of pain. Sometimes all they need is for someone to offer a little understanding, and to know they are not alone, they are not a failure, that they are not abandoned.

By caring for their hearts, let’s bring the Jesus of Christmas to life in the world all around us, all year long. Let’s talk less about our religious beliefs, and show the world through our lives–not our perfection, our dress, or other ‘performance’–that Jesus is the reason for everything we do.

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Have a Merry Christmas!

© Trudy Metzger

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A Very Merry, Blessed, Happy Christmas Holiday Season to You!

….and Happy Hanukkah too!

It intrigues me, this whole ‘political correctness’ about the Christian holiday–albeit with some pagan roots–celebrating the birth of a baby, just over 2000 years ago. A baby who would grow up to offend religiosity, love sinners, challenge hypocrisy, and eventually die the death of a criminal… all so that we would have cause to celebrate this day, which we have chosen as the one on which to acknowledge his birth.

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Some atheists are offended by it, others don’t care one way or another, and even wish others a Merry Christmas. In the secular world, all around, the hype about whether you should say ‘Merry Christmas’ or Happy Holidays’, or simply disregard it entirely, seems to have died down. Or at least faded into background noise, unlike a few years ago.

But it isn’t only the secular world that has strong feelings about the holiday, and how we celebrate it. Some Christians, too, have decided that it is offensive to give much focus to the holiday. The feelings and opinions vary dramatically from one opinionated Believer to another.

The most intriguing one for me is the stoic Christian who grimaces when I say, “Merry Christmas”. Clearly I have struck a tender chord, offending him or her ever so slightly–or terribly in a rare case–by using the word ‘Merry’, indicating a ‘party’ spirit. More often than not, I am greeted in return with a strained, “You have a blessed Christmas too”.

I can see it takes effort for them, but with this religious duty accomplished, there is a look of personal satisfaction… almost a ‘victorious’ look, as though Satan has been weakened, just a little. I smile, and graciously accept the blessing. Only a fool wouldn’t. But I know a little secret…. We have just said the same thing in different words, and the devil isn’t happy with either of us. We have both acknowledged the joy of the Christ of Christmas.

Many years ago, in the Mennonite church, I learned that the word ‘blessed’, as used in the Bible, most often actually means, “happy, joyful, blissful…’ The word ‘merry’ also means, ‘cheerful, joyful, happy…’

I can talk about this… could even poke a bit of fun at it, if I was so inclined, because I was one such Christian some years back. I felt only ‘Blessed Christmas’ was religious enough to appropriately separate me from secular society, and give me the nod of approval from God.

Looking back, now, I see that my motivation, however ‘religious’ in intent, was more about me, than actually honouring God. If God really cared about stuff like that, He would have said so. Somewhere. Anywhere. He would have slipped it in. Maybe one of those awkward ‘stand alone’ verses, sandwiched between something about  heathen rituals and abstaining from immorality, or something like that. You know, one of those verses that makes you stop and go, “Huh? … where did that come from? …is this guy ADHD, or what?” (Which, by the way, makes me feel better, since I am ADHD myself.) They’re often awesome verses, but have little or no connection with what comes before or after. That’s how God would probably have addressed it. “And abstain from using popular lingo… be ye separate in language.”

But He doesn’t. It’s not there. Just google ‘everyone… against the wall’, and see what King James verses pop up. And if the key to making language acceptable is adding ‘eth’ at the end… well, then almost anything would go. And then there’s the Apostle Paul who says, “I count all things as ‘dung’ for the sake of Christ…”

God uses every day language, to speak to every day people, and build relationships. He came to the earth so that we would know we are understood. So that we could grasp that He broke down the wall between us and God. He came into the ordinary, dwelt among us as ‘everyday people’, not as an arrogant, religious, ‘holier than thou’, and distant God. He became one of us.

So, while our intent may be ever so holy and righteous, I fear that all it accomplishes is to create an unnecessary distance between us and ‘them’.  Maybe, if we humbly did as Jesus did 2000 years ago, and placed ourselves in the ‘stable’–the most ordinary place in the world–and then created less unnecessary distance, maybe we, like Him, would have a greater impact on society, rather than living a life of self preservation and religious maintenance.

Let’s get over ourselves already, and stop with making everything revolve around us, and our particular beliefs and interpretations, and put the focus back on the One whom we celebrate. It is He, not our ‘righteousness’, that makes us acceptable before God, and holy in His eyes.

If you hang out with me, odds are you will catch me slipping up, here and there… You may find that my language isn’t perfect…. that something I’ve heard too often in my ‘day to day’, makes it’s way into my vocabulary…. even something worse than ‘Merry Christmas’…  not because I want to dishonour God, but because I am human….

But if you hang out with me, you will also discover that I love Jesus more than life itself. I love God, my Heavenly ‘Papa’, who came 2000 years ago to restore my relationship with Him.

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Today I celebrate Jesus. I celebrate His birth. His love. His sacrifice for my sin, so that I would not need to attain, by my good works, my own salvation. I know myself well… I’d fall short, without Him. And I celebrate Him with great joy, a blissful sort of happy feeling of merriment that makes my heart dance with delight.

A very Merry, Blessed, Happy Christmas Holiday Season to you and yours!

© Trudy Metzger

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