My Mama and Daddy always found a way for our Christmas tree to look exceedingly full when we woke up. There may not be much inside the boxes wrapped in old newspapers and brown paper sacks except socks, underwear, blue jeans and a shirt or two, (depending on what hand-me-downs did not provide), but it sure looked like a lot. Some of the packages would have the oranges, apples, and nuts that we always got at Christmas. We also knew that somewhere under there we all had a huge 25 cent peppermint stick that was ALWAYS under our tree. You could lick on that thing until your tongue bled.
It was my Daddy's intent to drag Christmas morning out just as long as he could. I know now that he did that partly to make us suffer, just like I did my children and like I now do my grandchildren. The primary reason that he dragged it out however, was because he knew that he could not and would not be buying us anything new for the rest of the year, so he wanted to make the best of Christmas morning.
He and Mama would have to make and drink coffee, slowly blowing and sipping it out of saucers before we could touch anything. Then, before we could open presents, we had to go outside and see if the reindeer left any hoof prints in the dirt. Ole Rudolph rarely let us down. The Christmases that he did, Daddy would send either Steve or me outside to make some before the girls found out. I can still see the faces of my sisters looking out the window laughing at me when I was out there drawing in the dirt, wondering all the while if anyone that I went to school with might be driving by and catch me in the act.
Another rule in our house was that only one person could be opening one present at any given time, and even then, we had to rotate around the room so that everyone had the same number of presents to open. Not only could only one gift be opened one a time, you had to show it off to everyone else before the next child could open theirs. Ha! This is another tortuous technique that I have implemented through the years in my home with my children and grandchildren. It drives everybody crazy, but it sure is fun!
The Christmas morning that I most remember was in either 1966 or 1967. All six of us young'uns had one 'big' item that we had asked for, beyond the things that Mama and Daddy knew that we had to have. We could not ask for the moon, nor would we, but we did ask for one item that we really wanted and that Mama and Daddy has given us some assurance that it 'might' happen.
On this particular Christmas, Steve wanted a rifle and I wanted a BB gun. After all of Daddy's delay techniques to drag the morning out, and after all the presents under the tree had been distributed and opened, Daddy told us to start cleaning up the mess. What? Everybody had gotten their clothes, everyone had opened their fruit and peppermint, and everyone had gotten their one big present they had asked for, (which always had to be opened last), except me. I did not get the one present that I had been asking for, and all the presents were gone. The BB gun was nowhere to be found. I did not even get the BBs!
I looked over at Steve, as he proudly held his new Remington 22LR automatic rifle up to his shoulder, looking through his new scope, anticipating how good it was going to shoot. I sure did not blame him for doing that. I would sure do the same thing if I had only gotten my BB gun, but I did not.
For the most part, I think we were all grateful for whatever we got, whenever we got it. I do not think that any of us would do anything that would make Mama and Daddy think that we were disappointed, because we knew it was hard for them to provide for a family of eight. But, on this particular Christmas morning, I just could not help myself, so I hid my face as I silently began to cry as we picked up the trash. My heart was broken. Those tears just had to flow. All the birds I had planned to shoot out of the cedar trees that morning were safe for sure.
Finally, Daddy called me to him and asked me why I was crying, but I did not want to tell him. I think I saw him fighting tears himself as he stood up and walked away, firmly patting me on the back of the head as he left, with the same rhythm that he always used (4 short fast pats, a short pause, then 1 last pat that rung your ears). This was always his way of showing affection.
In just a few seconds, Daddy spoke up and got everybody's attention. It appeared that Santa had somehow dropped one present that had fallen behind the couch. "Could it Be?" I thought. Daddy looked the long, slender package over several times looking for a name. About that time, as I was wiping my eyes so that I could see, and I saw him look over at glasses and smile as he looked at me and called my name.
Hallelujah! It was my very own, brand new, shiny Daisy Red Rider BB gun, complete with a whole cardboard tube of BB's.! Nobody could have been more proud or more anxious to start sending lethal BB's flying through the air.
As soon as the commotion was over and Daddy talked to us about being careful, Steve and I headed out the front door, hearing the screen door slam shut long after we had flown off the side of our large front porch. This scene was sure memorable, but the rest of this story is what I most remember about this special Christmas morning.
Just as Steve and I headed around the side of our old black, unpainted, rental house toward the hedgerow that separated our yard from the neighbor's corn field, it appeared. Right there, on a naked limb that protruded out of the hedgerow, landed a solid white dove that was without blemish. The beautiful dove just looked at us. Neither of us had ever seen a white dove before. At first, we just looked at one another, I suppose initially of shock because we had never seen a dove like that, but then I imagine, we were feeling each other out to decide which one of us was going to shoot him.
To this day, neither of us have ever forgotten this moment, though we rarely talk about it, we both think about it. Occasionally, it will come up, but we both find ourselves unable to talk too much about it.
The best I remember, I was 9 at the time and Steve was 15. We lived out in the country in Geneva, AL. Neither of us really remember which one of us pulled the trigger on that beautiful dove that had such gentle eyes, and we both remember the blood spot on his breast as he woundedly fluttered away back into the hedge. We looked for him knowing that a white dove would be easy to spot, but he was not to be found.
Once we saw the blood, though we had little church background or Bible stories that would have shaped our thinking, we both somehow knew that we had done something dreadfully wrong. I will not speak for Steve, but I specifically remember the gentleness of the dove's eyes and how intentively he looked at us. He did not have a look of fear, but a look of gentleness, compassion and peace. It was a serene moment that ended just as soon as the trigger was pulled. One thing that I do know is that we both would love to be able to take that moment back if we just had the chance.
Steve and I disagree on our memories of which one us pulled the trigger that Christmas morning, wounding and spilling the blood of that beautiful, gentle dove who looked at us as if he wanted to give us something. Steve would never put the blame on me, but I am pretty sure, though he says I am wrong, that it was me. I am the one who wounded him. It was I who inflicted his fatal wound.
Now, 51 years later, Steve and I are both in our final years of serving Christ in fulltime Christian ministry. Neither of us are quitting, but we both know our days on this earth are almost over. We were both together the morning of the dove. We were together the night we both got saved. We were together when we both got baptized. I was 11 and Steve was 17.
I know that I failed God before I was saved, though I may not be able to remember the details--except for this Christmas memory. But, it is when I look back on all the times that I have failed Him after He reached out to me, that makes me know that it was my sin that drove the nails in His hands.
He was innocent. He was gentle. He was full of love and compassion, much like we experienced in the presence of the dove, who's chest I pierced that Christmas morning.
I often wonder just what might have happened had I not pulled the trigger. I have no way of knowing, but I honestly believe that the Lord may have actually audibly spoken to us had we just drawn close to him.
Perhaps He wanted us to remember that no matter who we are and how many years we have served Him, our sin alone was enough to nail him to the tree. His love for us alone was great enough to keep Him there.
You know what? He loves you enough that no matter what you have done, no matter how far you have fallen, His shed blood was sufficient for you! He wants to speak to you and give you His peace, and He will, if you will just draw close to Him.