Editor’s note: This collection of reflections is an online addition to our December 2018 cover story, “Uplifting Christmas gifts.”

Ingredients for love

Our daughter, Kristen, and her friends spent several growing-up years together. We loved witnessing their change from giggly Girl Scouts to lovely coeds.

In 1982 our family was together again for Easter: our son Doug was home from grad school, our son Roger from seminary and Kristen from the Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn., nursing program. That weekend we discovered Kris was sick. Tests in the following weeks indicated she was dying from a rare genetic disease. After a whirlwind two and a half months of four hospitals, many doctors, ups and downs, Kris passed away on June 24 at age 21. We grieved her death.

Each December, my husband, Glen, busied himself with his pastoral duties while I dreaded the coming of Christmas—that had been Kris’ and my fun time in the kitchen.

One Thanksgiving week, the phone rang. Calling were Jane DeVahl and Dawn Rhode from Kris’ old gang, now seniors at Gustavus. They asked to visit on Saturday to bake cookies with me the way Kris always had. When they arrived, they brought the ingredients for molasses, sugar and snickerdoodle cookies.

What a blessed gift this was for a grieving mother! The tears and love mixed into that batter made them extra tasty.

Janet Hanggi, Elim Lutheran Church, Scandia, Minn.  (Note: In October Janet joined her daughter, Kris, in heaven; Janet is survived by her husband, Glen Hanggi, and their two sons.)


Hand-crafted memories

The most meaningful Christmas gift I’ve ever received was actually given to both my husband and me the Christmas after we married. The gift was from my husband’s grandfather.

He’d passed eight years earlier, but he’d exercised the foresight to know he wanted each of his grandchildren to have something handmade by him. That year we received a lighted Christmas Tree he’d made from glass baby food jars.

My husband’s grandfather had tenderly gathered baby food jars to make enough lighted trees so that every grandchild needed to be gifted with one. He crafted them by hand into a beautiful gift not only symbolizing and emphasizing the beauty of Christmas, but also exemplifying his immeasurably deep love for his family.

Even though he was unable to gift them himself, each of his grandchildren continues to be reminded of his love for them every Christmas as the lighted trees are brought out.

Angie Kutzer, ELCA member

A child of God

On Dec. 25, 1989, our first grandchild, Lauren Noelle, was born. My husband and I turned off the oven, ignored the gifts under the tree and drove an hour through heavily falling snow to meet her at the hospital.

We’ve watched our beautiful grandbaby grow into a dedicated Christian, a volunteer in Bangladesh and Guatemala and a medical doctor specializing in family practice. She brings joy into our lives and the lives of many others.

Although baptized and confirmed a Lutheran, she recently married a Roman Catholic man, also dedicated to his faith. Lauren took instruction and became a Roman Catholic prior to their marriage because, she said, “I want my family to all worship together.”

Lauren and Paul, also a physician, exemplify daily God’s love for all his creation. At her graduation from medical school she was presented a humanitarian award, given to a student recognized by peers for outstanding scholarship, and for competence, compassion and dedication.

For us there could be no greater gift illuminating God’s love—the essence of Christmas—than the birth of this child of God, our most meaningful Christmas gift.

Jo Ann Hobbs, member of Williams Bay Lutheran Church, Williams Bay, Wis. 

A gift that gives back

I’ve received many wonderful Christmas gifts over the years, but perhaps none as touching as the one I received from my daughter and her family last year. She gave me a lovely beaded heart ornament from Feed My Starving Children. It was crafted by artists who live in the areas where the organization distributes food. But what makes it even more special is that the cost of the ornament, $80, paid to provide a child their meals for a year. So while it hangs beautifully on my tree, I know that there’s a child who was nourished because of it. It was a great reflection of Christ’s love and the meaning of Christmas.

—Sharon Walters, member at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Sun City West, Ariz.

Home for Christmas

My 18-month-old son, Brian, spent the night of Dec. 23 with his grandparents while we hosted a party at our home. Overnight a blizzard blanketed Denver with feet of snow. I was distraught that my son would not be home for Christmas morning, the first year he would enjoy the gifts, the tree and going to church with us. My husband and our next door neighbor shoveled all day to make a path to the road. With the help of our neighbor’s 4×4 truck and my dad walking through the snow for blocks carrying my son to a main road, Brian made it home for Christmas. Best gift ever!

—Patsy Koeneke, ELCA member

Presence, not presents

I was blessed in my 39th year of life with a child. Like many older parents, my husband and I were financially comfortable and could provide our daughter, Hope, with much.

As Hope’s second Christmas approached, I had visions of sugar plums, fancy decorations and presents under the tree. I also had a full-time job as a nurse, which required more than 40 hours a week. My husband worked from home and cared for our daughter.

The big day neared and though we knew we would be celebrating Christmas Eve in our church, I became anxious about all that needed to be done.

As I left work on Dec. 23, I was obsessing about my to-do list. In that moment I heard a voice speak to my heart, asking, “What is the most important thing?” I teared up and whispered, “My family.” God told me, “Go home.” And I did.

Now, 25 years later, we never concern ourselves with the trappings of Christmas. It is the gift of time with my loved ones that I treasure most.

Rita Sewel, member of Lutheran Church of the Cross, Petersburg, Fla.

Erin Strybis
Erin Strybis is a content editor of Living Lutheran and member of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago. Find more of her stories on Instagram (@erinstry) and at erinstry.com.

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