Christmas In My Brown Paper Castle

“How blind are men to Heaven’s gifts!” -Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, (39-65 AD) De Bello Civili Bk. V, 1. 528

Ripping through paper and tugging on ribbon, my kids were each about three years old when they discovered this basic truth about presents: sometimes the box seems better than the gift inside. For all my thoughtful choices of educational toys and books, their imaginations went wild when faced with cardboard possibilities. They could sail on the sea or fly to the stars! These humble remnants of sacred trees became space capsules and sailing ships, playhouses and forts, fire engines and jets. After a couple weeks of loving abuse the kids lost interest, the boxes collapsed, and I quietly folded them into the trash. The books and toys from Christmas morning looked a lot better in the light of the new year. Cardboard castles kept them happy for a while, but my kids needed more to grow into their lives.

Just before I had kids, soon after Kevin and I were married, I found out that God loved me. The gift changed my life, and certainly the way I viewed Christmas. Ribbons and wrappings of sentimentality tugged at my heartstrings every year as the holidays approached. Carols and bell-ringers and all manner of cheer brought me to tears, and I treasured the package of Christ’s love for me. So beautiful was the gift I took great care not to even tear the outer paper, just peeking inside to find His story. But like toddlers exploring their brown paper castles, I could only grow up as fast as I was able. Soon enough, the Lord would invite me to learn what was inside the box.

Decembers came and went, and my kids grew up and into their lives, until a January day when Catherine died. She was my firstborn, my only daughter, now alive only in memories of boxes and castles in our make-believe world. In a murderous rage I ripped the sentimental trappings of my love for Jesus from the plain brown cardboard, tearing open the box to see if there was anything worth keeping from this seemingly useless faith.

Without its brightly-colored paper, the box just seemed old and worn; humble remnants of a sacred tree holding only a story stained with blood. While the Biblical account of Christmas reads familiar and sweet, the life story of Christ is savage and sad. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3), giving all that He had for the children He loved. In the months, then the years following Catherine’s death, I read and raged and searched for comfort, for reason, for an explanation. Like toddlers exploring their brown paper castles, I could only grow up as fast as I was able. But in time, I found the box and the story it held to be my most treasured possession. The story held the answers, and Jesus held me.

Under the tree this year are brightly-colored gifts from Kevin and Jesse, and the Santa hat Catherine wore every year. God has graciously lent us an amazing son, and we are grateful beyond words for the privilege of having raised him. With all my heart I believe the promise of Heaven (John 14:1-4) and that Jesus is holding Catherine close to His heart, and I have finally grown out of my cardboard castle. It kept me happy for a while, but I needed to grow into my life with Him. And the ribbons and wrappings of sentimentality to celebrate the birth of our Savior? I’m always a sucker for a good Christmas story.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV)

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Merry Christmas to All!

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