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Keeping 'the Child of Christmas in our hearts'

By Cory Trenda
Dec 23, 2013
Courtesy Marilee Pierce Dunker
Marilee Pierce Dunker (right) with her mother, Lorraine Pierce (middle), and sister Robin Ruesga (left).
Courtesy Cory Trenda
Cory Trenda, left. "We can — and if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we must — work toward a more just and peaceable world, as He did," Cory says.

A note from Marilee: We created God Space to be exactly that — a place where God is honored and His love celebrated. Occasionally I will share things that others have written that are worth passing on. I recently received this moving reflection from a friend and co-worker, Cory Trenda. It touched my heart, bringing back memories of our last Christmas with my mother, who passed away in 2011. Fortunately, Mama had a clear mind and always remembered who my sister, Robin, and I were. But she, like Alice in the story, loved pictures — particularly of her eight great-grandchildren. May your New Year be blessed with childlike wonder and gratitude for all God's blessings, great and small!

My wife, Janet, and I took Christmas Eve dinner to Janet's stepmother's home this evening. Alice lives alone with a caregiver, and at age 93, dementia is coming on quickly. After dinner, she opened her gift basket, and the highlight was a small set of photos Janet had assembled in an accordion-folded photo book. She created it as a memory book of different stages of the life of our family, especially when Alice and Janet's now-deceased father were part of the scene.

Alice had lots of trouble determining who the people were in the pictures, but she was mesmerized with it. When Janet then showed her there were just as many photos on the back side of the accordion folds, she was fascinated.

As she finished the back panels, she started back the other way as though she'd never seen these photos. Back and forth she went, perhaps four or five times. And each time she did, the people in the pictures were slightly more familiar and she was even more touched. She kept asking if she could have a copy of some of the photos, and each time that we assured her the entire memory book was hers to keep, she would be overwhelmed with gratitude.

On Christmas Eve when our son, Ben, was 2 years old — 38 years ago now — he received a jack-in-the-box. As we twirled the grinder, he began to dance to “Pop Goes the Weasel.” And when the jack actually popped up, Ben was so stunned that he gasped and fell backward, straight as a board, to the floor. It was so hilarious, we played it again. And Ben was just as stunned and fell backward all over again. Finally, after a few times, he'd figured out what would happen, and he dropped backward, but only to please us. The gig was up.

But not so with Alice this evening. In fact, each time she saw the photos of her late beloved husband, the more moved she was. Tears then came freely for her, and I comforted her, saying that on Christmas it's good to remember, even the memories that touch us in tender places.

Alice, who had been quite agitated earlier in the evening, certain that she'd bought and wrapped untold gifts for us which were nowhere to be found (because they didn't exist), ended the evening in childlike wonder and contentment, memory book and chocolates still clutched in her hands. She will have many days of re-discovering her memory book and its photos, even as she tries to recapture some of her quickly fading memory.

As we drove away, Janet broke down in tears. Seeing the photos of her father and her only sibling, both now deceased, and remembering once again the passing of her mother just one year ago, opened her eyes. “The past few weeks preparing Christmas gifts, I kept feeling I was forgetting something or someone. Now I realize it was my family members who are no longer around to give gifts to.”

And I had a bit of a revelation that sadness at Christmas is not necessarily morbid, that it can be honoring and cleansing. As we got home I told Janet that I thought her dad would be very proud and grateful for her thoughtful gift to her stepmom.

Earlier that afternoon, Janet and I had sung Christmas carols with residents of a retirement home in our little town. This was the second year we've done this, and though the crowd is only a few handfuls, we know these are the people who don't have family and friends calling, and we're blessed to be there.

Between the carols, I sang a few songs at the piano, including a lovely one made famous by Amy Grant, “Grown-Up Christmas List:”

    No more lives torn apart
    That wars would never start
    And time would heal all hearts
    Everyone would have a friend
    And right would always win
    And love would never end
    This is my grown-up Christmas list

This Advent season, I've been noticing more and reading more about the peaceable kingdom of God. Passages from Isaiah about lions lying down with lambs, and children playing at adders' dens, as lovely as they are, are fanciful, like the song’s lyrics. Lions as we know them need meat, and snakes are indiscriminate killers.

What happened to Isaiah? Was he simply senile, in his so-called “second childhood,” like Alice?

Maybe another possible answer can be found in the bridge of the same song:

    What is this illusion called the innocence of youth
    Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth

When I read Isaiah's prophetic passages, it's clear that you and I can never usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God. We can — and if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we must — work toward a more just and peaceable world, as He did. But we can't turn lions into vegetarians or make infants safe with snakes.

Yet, we can embrace a childlike faith that God can bring about something of which we can only dream as in childlike fantasy, that somehow, somewhere in time, God will do the part that only God can do. And just maybe God also helps us to do our part in the meantime.

Keeping the child alive in ourselves probably shouldn't be confined to the beginning and ending days of our lives, especially in this special season as we keep the Child of Christmas in our hearts.

Cory Trenda is a major-gifts officer for World Vision and the author of Reflections from Afar, available from World Vision Resources.

Marilee serves World Vision, the organization her father, Bob Pierce, founded in 1950. Like him, she travels the world, witnessing and fulfilling God’s mandate to care for the poor. Request Marilee to speak.
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