“Christmas is going to be slim this year…”
If I heard that once throughout my childhood, I heard it, well…each and every year of my childhood. My family has never been independently wealthy, by any stretch of the imagination, and finances were often pretty tight. I didn’t really understand that at the time, of course. Life was pretty doggone good overall. Sure, my sister and I—like most kids—sometimes wanted things that we didn’t get, and sometimes we knew it came down to money, but we were loved, there was good food on the table, and I owned enough property in Eternia to be named queen. (In case you’re not a child of the 80’s, Eternia is the universe He-Man lives in, and I had pretty much all of the He-Man and She-Ra toys. Trust me…that was a big deal.)
So maybe we wouldn’t get a lot of things purchased for us throughout most of the year, but for our birthdays and Christmas, my parents always adopted a “go big or go home” mentality. We went all out for Christmas, every year. And it was never just about the gifts, no matter how abundant the gifts were. There were also candlelight services and live nativity scenes, church choir cantatas and trips to visit my grandparents. It was faith, family, and fun. Every year.
And yet every year, my dad would say, “Christmas is going to be slim this year…”
I know that he meant it. I’m sure that every year, my parents knew how tight money was, and they really were trying to prepare us for fewer gifts. But the thing is, I don’t remember there ever being fewer gifts. In fact, I don’t really remember how many gifts there were at all—except that it always seemed like a lot. When I think about the gifts I received, all I can think about is how great they were. And not because they were the latest and greatest. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t. But my parents have always been fabulous gift givers—both in what they gave, and how they gave it.
I remember the year I got my first CD player. It was brilliant, because they had me open the CDs first. (I can be pretty much certain the year was 1996, because I remember that the CDs were the Motion Picture Soundtrack of Evita and the Original Score of Independence Day. If you don’t know me well, you’ll just have to take my word for it that those were absolutely perfect choices.) I’ll never forget opening those CDs and, as much as I wanted those albums, feeling bad. CD players were just really overtaking the mainstream. We had records and cassettes that we listened to all the time, but my parents didn’t know anything about the new technology, I thought. They had picked up CDs by mistake, I thought. And then I opened the CD player.
And then there was the time they bought my sister and me tickets to see Mandy Patinkin in concert. (You know…Mandy Patinkin. What teenager doesn’t want Mandy Patinkin concert tickets for Christmas? Okay, feel free to judge me but my love for Mandy Patinkin is true and eternal and burns with the light of a thousand suns.) Rather than just give us the tickets, they gave us a poem first. My mother had written it and, again…brilliant. I don’t remember the whole thing, but it all rhymed and dropped clues about the gift, and was absolutely flawless. This is how it ended:
We know what you’re thinkin’.
You’re going to see…
It didn’t go exactly according to plan. Rather than shout out “Mandy Patinkin!” as the poem had perfectly set us up to do, my sister and I looked at each other and questioningly said, “Abraham Lincoln?”
Of course, that made the memory even more substantial. Still, twenty years later, I can’t hear the phrase “I know what you’re thinking” without mentally reciting, “You’re going to see Abraham Lincoln.” I can’t imagine that I ever will. And that’s the thing. Somehow, year after year, Christmas after Christmas, my parents found a way to give us memories to last a lifetime. And now I have such a desire to do the same for my children.
And every year, I find myself warning them that “Christmas is going to be slim this year,” while smiling to myself because I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re not going to remember it that way at all.
More about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck
Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.
With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.
Bethany Turner is the director of administration for Rock Springs Church in Southwest Colorado. A former VP/operations manager of a commercial bank and a three-time cancer survivor (all before she turned 35), Bethany knows that when God has plans for your life, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say. She lives with her husband and their two sons in Colorado.