Have you ever been part of that moment when you run into someone from your past; you know that you know them or that there is some kind of mutual association, and when you finally figure it out they say those words…
I just returned from an amazing weekend at the LDStorymaker conference where I learned so many incredible writing tips I can hardly digest them all. But that’s not what keeps playing over and over again in my head. Instead it’s that moment when I spoke to another author I completely respect and admire; one who has written over a dozen books which dominate the fiction shelves at any Deseret Book Store on any given day; one who graduated from my rival high school the same year I graduated and attended the same junior high school; and whose first words when we made the connection were, “Oh, you were one of the popular kids.”
It wasn’t even that she said it snidely because she didn’t. It’s simply the connotation that those eight words carry. I know what I mean when I say “the popular kids” and it isn’t positive. I conjure up all of the old feelings of loneliness, jealousy, and sometimes humiliation of those awkward teenage years. There was ever so much angst over wearing the right clothes, having the right hair-do, playing the right sports, listening to the right music, and knowing the right people. “The popular kids” never seem to be the ones who are the kindest, the most compassionate, the most accepting of our breed. No, they’re the ones that we all secretly wanted to be even though they were rude, condescending and down right cruel sometimes.
Was that me? Was I one of those kids? Was I somehow mean or cruel? After hearing her say that I can’t help but wonder what she meant. In junior high school I probably would have loved being called popular. But now, knowing all that popularity seems to bring with it, not so much. In junior high I at least knew a lot of people. But knowing people and having friends isn’t really the same thing. You can know a lot of people and still feel alone and out of place in the crowd. You can know a lot of people and still feel insecure about whether or not they really like you or are just tolerating you because they’re too nice to say otherwise. I would much rather be called “friendly” than “popular.” I don’t know if being a “popular kid” is a compliment. I hope it’s not an insult. I just know that even though I tried to be nice to everyone and I tried to fit in, that most of the time I felt like a goose swimming among swans.
Since those I-would-never-in-a-million-years-go-back days of my youth I still try to be nice to everyone. I still try to make friends wherever I go. I don’t care so much about fitting in anymore. After all, what does “in” really mean anyway? That I’ve stopped listening to 80’s music? Right, like that will ever happen. I’ve also learned that I really don’t like to swim; I’d much rather fly.
Tis the season…the tree is lit with hundreds of lights, the house is warm with firelight while the snow falls outside. The gifts are wrapped in colorful paper and the kids gather anxiously wondering what surprises await them. It’s a wonderful time of year, and yet, sometimes I find myself wondering if I’m really enjoying it. I ask myself, am I keeping the Spirit of Christmas? As wonderful as it is, there is always so much to do– school projects, community service, concerts, church events–and I often wish I could just relax and enjoy Christmas.
One of my favorite poems has helped me evaluate and re-think how I keep the Spirit of Christmas. It’s a little long, but I share it here with you…
Adapted from How The Great Guest Came by Edwin Markham
It happened one day near December’s end,
Two neighbors called on an old time friend,
And they found his shop so meager and poor,
Made bright with boughs from ceiling to floor,
And Conrad was sitting with face ashine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And said, “Old friends, at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away
The Lord appeared in a dream to me–
And said, “I am coming your guest to be!”
So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined–
And now I will wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
His step as he nears my humble place–
Then I’ll open the door and look on his face.”
So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known.
For long since his family had passed away,
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas day.
But he knew with the Lord as his great guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be at the door
Like the dream he had a few hours before.
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound
But all he could see on the snow-covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn–
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn;
But Conrad was touched and went to the door,
And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore–
I have some shoes in my shop for you,
And a coat that will keep you warmer too.”
So with a grateful heart the man went away–
But Conrad noticed the time of day;
He wondered what had made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait–
Then he heard a knock and ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more,
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
And a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest–
But that was reserved for Conrad’s great guest,
Yet her voice seemed to plead,
“Don’t send me away,
Let me rest for a while on this Christmas day.”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left, he was filled with dismay,
For he saw that the hours were slipping away,
And the Lord had not come as he said he would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
“Please help me and tell me where am I?”
So again he opened his friendly door.
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas day.
And Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad
But he knew he could make this little girl glad.
So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears,
Then he led her back to her home once more,
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,
And Conrad asked, “Lord, why did you delay?
What kept you from coming to call on me
For I wanted so much your face to see.”
Then soft in the stillness a voice he heard,
“Lift up your head for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor,
Three times I came to your lowly door;
For I was the beggar with bruised cold feet
I was the woman you gave something to eat
And I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts love is the best;
I was honored to be your Christmas guest.”
When I read this, I am reminded that all of the things I am doing: buying gifts for loved ones, staying up late to help my children with homework and projects, making Christmas treats for others, serving at food drives, delivering packages, choir practice, and so on are all a part of serving. We celebrate Christmas as a reminder of our Lord and Savior. The scriptures remind us that when we serve others we are in the service of God.
So to all those who say they hate the holidays because they are so busy and there’s just not enough time to enjoy Christmas, I say, “Bring it on!” The very fact that we are busy doing things to celebrate, to make Christmas just a little bit better for someone else, is the Spirit of Christmas itself.
May you have a bright and merry Christmas with wonderful things to come in the new year!
I’m ten years old and in the sixth grade. I shove all my papers, homework, and lunchbox into my back pack and hurry out the classroom door. I wave to a few friends, but I don’t stop to chat. I already know what they’re talking about, the school is buzzing with the topic. It’s a short walk to my house, through the play field and down the hill where I can see my back yard. Soon I’ll be home, safe. Soon I can peek at the secret paper in private, or at least among my family, out of the critical eyes of my peers. It’s report card day, and I don’t want them to see, don’t want them to know what it says:
A’s. All A’s.
I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. Inwardly I’m proud, but scared. I’m scared of their heckling and teasing, of being called “teacher’s pet” for the ‘ump’teenth time. I’m scared they’ll call me a “nerd” or a “geek” because I have perfect grades. I’m afraid they won’t like me because they think I am smarter than they are, and worst of all, that they’ll think I think I’m better than they are.
I lived out this scenario every quarter, every semester of my school years. Kids can be cruel, and not just to the “bad” kids. In fact, I felt like I was the brunt of a lot of cruelty just for being good. I worked hard in school. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be obedient. And it wasn’t because I was looking to butter up the teachers, or because I thought myself better than anyone. I wanted to do well to please myself. Never once did my parents say anything about needing to excel or push hard in school. I just knew they wanted me to be happy and successful at whatever I chose to do. Their expectations didn’t need to be voiced. They loved me. And that love was enough to make me want to succeed. That success came with a price, though; I had to keep it to myself or receive the taunting of my peers. In fact, in order to fit in, I started putting myself down. I wanted to show my friends I was just the opposite of successful. Yeah, I might have good grades, but I’m too fat, or I’m not talented. It became a habit, one that was hard to break.
As an adult I’ve learned that it’s OK to be proud of my accomplishments, that there’s a difference between being prideful and acknowledging success. I’ve had to share that lesson with my children as they struggle with the same issues among their peers. And I hope that I’ve taught them to celebrate the success of others as well. It doesn’t take anything away from ourselves to celebrate another’s achievements, instead it adds to our character.