In our second Christmas story for 2018, Matt reads O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
It’s a simple little tale of a young couple struggling to make ends meet, but who are determined to give the other a nice gift for Christmas. Each of their gifts comes at a great sacrifice, which often, the best gifts do.
This story was written in 1905 so the language is a bit “old-timey” but it’s a Christmas classic that all should hear.
“Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up,
never loses faith,
is always hopeful,
and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge
will become useless.
But love will last forever!
Three things will last forever –
faith, hope, and love-
and the greatest of these is love.”
-1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13
I have fallen in love numerous times.
First, there was Chris, in the 2nd grade. He was a real cutie and helped me produce a play that I wrote about Martians visiting McDonald’s. It was a smashing success. Next came Steve. He was a toe-head. We played a lot of dodgeball and four-square during recess together. Then there was Bobby, Jason, Danny, Mike, JJ, Ben, Brad, Dean… you get the point.
I fell in love a lot.
If you’re new to this blog, you may not recognize that none of the above-mentioned names is that of my husband, Matt.
I fell in love with him, too.
It was all so accidental. It just seemed to happen, this constant falling in love. Some said I was boy-crazy. Maybe. Probably. But I never meant to be. I didn’t look for love, it just had a habit of whacking me upside the head and there I’d go, tripping and falling right into it.
It wasn’t until Matt came into my orbit that I began to understand that all those other times, maybe couldn’t be called love. Sure the feelings were intense and sometimes even lasted years, but there was a distinct difference that I could see nearly right away.
For the first time in my young life, I actually cared about another person as much, if not more, than I cared about myself. I wanted to see Matt succeed. I wanted to help him reach his goals and achieve his dreams. I wanted to be an active part of making his life better.
Granted, I was a dumb teenager who didn’t know how to go about any of that, so most of what I tried still had the stink of selfishness on it, but my intentions were (mostly) pure. I wasn’t only worried about how happy he could make me. I wanted to reciprocate and give back to him because I…I loved him.
My love for Matt was and continues to fail on a regular basis. I am often impatient. Sometimes I’m (gulp!) unkind. I am highly irritable. (Please tell me I’m not alone?) My love is 100% imperfect 100% of the time. I never get it right. If I even start to, I am quick to boast of how well I am loving and well….there ya go. It’s blown.
The fact is, in our broken humanity we will never get it right. Books have been written on the subjects of loving our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our neighbors, our church body, our communities, and even our enemies. We continue to seek The Solution as we strive to imperfectly love imperfect people. There isn’t one.
Or rather, there is, but it has nothing to do with what we’re capable of alone.
The Solution – what perfect love looks like – is Jesus Christ. He alone has fulfilled the very definition of love. He alone has the ability to love perfectly because He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and then defeated it.
He can love because He is love.
We can only hint at perfect love when we have Christ in us. Apart from Him, our ability to love is nothing more than a noisy windchime, being tossed about by the storms of life.
We have a God who loves us beyond all measure. How can we know that? Because He loved us so much, He sacrificed everything in order to be in a relationship with us. Look at John 3:16 with fresh eyes. Say it out loud slowly:
“For this is how God loved the world:
He gave his one and only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
will not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16 (NLT)
That is perfect love. From a perfect God. And Jesus came to this earth to manifest that love in every tangible way.
Despite our best human efforts, we will never love anyone perfectly this side of Heaven. But with Christ in us, we can be emboldened to love freely, graciously, and extravagantly, in spite of those around us, not being swayed by our fickle emotions but standing firm in our choice to be obedient and answer the call to love God and love people.
He wasn’t a perfect man. Nor was she a perfect woman.
When they got married in December of 1968, they were just a couple of young college kids. With nary a penny in their pockets and a baby on the way, they set out to make a life together.
In 1973, they added another in their ranks. I came along and made our family an even number. By this point, Dad was teaching social studies and coaching. The easy days of youthful ambition were a thing of the past; the horizon was a sea of adult responsibilities.
In all honesty, my childhood was pretty charmed. For most of it, we lived in one house, across from the local golf course. I had two friends nearby, Mike and Jesse and we spent countless hours riding our bikes, retrieving lost golf balls, building forts and exploring the woods. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad were just that…Mom and Dad.
They both worked full time. They both made every effort to come to our games or plays. They cheered hard at our every success. They put food on the table and clothes on our backs. It was, for the most part, a very stable home full of love. We knew what to expect as kids and our parents were consistent.
But every now and then, one of them would come home after a hard day at work. They both worked at local schools and saw the best and worst of the families they crossed paths with. And of course, school was and continues to be, fraught with politics and pressure.
I remember Dad coming home one day. It was in the fall, a chilly afternoon. Mom had come home exhausted and I, like any self-respecting young teenager conveniently only cared about my own existence, so didn’t seek to lighten her load any. When Dad walked through the door, it was clear that his day had been markedly better than hers.
He barely even kissed her on the cheek before she said, “You’re taking me to dinner tonight. I don’t care where. I’m not cooking.”
Mind you, we lived on a budget. Dinners out were a rare treat. I stood there, slack-jawed, waiting for Dad to respond with a loud voice, listing all the reasons we couldn’t afford to go out. In retrospect, I don’t think he’d ever done that before, but I’d also never seen my mom so adamantly put her foot down over a meal. Anything seemed possible.
Dad looked at her and said, “Okay. Where do you want to go? Brandy, get your coat.”
That was the moment I think when I really knew how deeply my parents loved each other.
It was such an easy exchange. No drama. No tears. No need for explanation. Just a simple need expressed and a gentle response of understanding. We grabbed our coats and headed out the door.
I asked Dad about it later. For some reason, the whole thing had taken me by such surprise. I asked why he was so quick to say yes. He turned to me and said, “If a dinner out every now and then is going to make your mom happy, I’m happy to do that. She doesn’t ask for much.” And then he went back to puttering.
It didn’t take much at all to make Mom happy that night. It took her husband, making the small effort to hear her words and know her heart and respond with a loving ‘yes’. That’s all.
And not only did we leave the restaurant that night, full of good food and laughter on our lips, not only did Mom feel valued and loved, but I walked away with an amazing picture of what love looks like.
As a child, it was an important moment that showed me how tenderly my dad honored his wife. That one simple act spoke volumes.
He wasn’t perfect. Nor was she. But they loved each other and they loved us. That love was displayed in a million different little ways and I’m forever grateful that my childhood was built on a foundation that they built together.
[Pictured: Jim and Teresa Page; circa 1995. Ogden, Utah.]
Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘sacrifice’ as, “an act of offering to a deity something precious or [the] destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.”
When Mabel met George she was just a young girl. He was nine years her senior. They met at the farm of George’s uncle in Tygh Valley, Oregon. The year was 1913.
Over the course of the next ten years, the friendship between their families grew. They worked together several times during threshing season. Mabel’s skills advanced as she labored beside her mother in the kitchen as they prepared meals for the men working the fields.
During her school years, Mabel was taught at whatever one-room schoolhouse was nearby or she’d learn under the direction of her mother. She grew to love reading and writing most. Her days of tending to pigs and cows in the field were spent reading David Copperfield and the poems of Longfellow.
(Above: Mabel, high school graduation; Maupin, Oregon; June 1924. She was the only graduating senior in her class)
And as she grew, she dreamed of what she might do one day. She was awarded a scholarship to the University of Oregon in Eugene. It would mean traveling hundreds of miles away from her family and friends. But Mabel had dreams of becoming a school teacher and looked forward to going to university. She’d already tasted a bit of what that would be like; she and a small selection of other high school seniors had been granted a trip to visit the University. She had made new friends and was looking forward to what her future held.
Isn’t that the way it always goes? Our young protagonist is bright-eyed and hopeful, the world in the palm of his or her hands, but then…. Something happens. Because something almost always does.
For Mabel, it was the realization that despite her scholarship and her parent’s hard work, sending her to college was simply not a financial burden her family could afford. But there was something else, too….
During high school, Mabel and George had reconnected. He was home from the war and working wherever he could find work. Meanwhile, she was helping at her father’s confectionary shop in the afternoons and on weekends. Smitten by Mabel’s charm and sweet smile, George spent a good many of his afternoons at the Confectionary just to spend time with her.
(Above: George Morris; circa 1917; Private 1st Class U.S. Marine Corps)
By her senior year, he was courting her. He played for the local baseball team in Maupin, Oregon and Mabel would go to his games. He took her to the dances at the Grange Hall. And when the decision finally needed to be made – college or no? When it came right down to it, Mabel didn’t want to leave George. She wanted, instead, to be his wife.
And so, in June of 1923, Mabel sacrificed one dream to fulfill another.
Sacrifice is often seen as a negative. People seem to only think of it as giving up something and they fail to recognize the other side of the coin. Yes, sacrifice does require that something is given up, but in return, you gain something more.
Sacrifice in marriage is a constant practice of giving up yourself (your desires and expectations) in order to better love your spouse. It comes in a thousand different ways. Mostly, it’s the little every day choices you make – should I make my husband’s lunch for him, while I pack my own? Or, should I clean the kitchen because I know that my wife has had a hard day and could use a few minutes alone? These are small sacrifices and yet, they do honestly require that we give something else up.
Maybe cleaning the kitchen means that you don’t get to sit down and turn on Netflix right away. Maybe packing that extra lunch means you won’t have time to stop for coffee on your way to work. Those are sacrifices.
But what are the rewards? A spouse who feels appreciated, valued, seen, considered. Is it worth it? You bet. Do you get a benefit from it? Yeah, you do. Maybe not right away and maybe not even from your spouse. But God will bless your sacrifice because if anyone understands the meaning of that words, it’s our Lord.
Luke 22:42 finds Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying shortly before He was arrested and crucified. As He’s praying He says, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus knew what was coming. He understood that His time was very limited and He was about to enter into the greatest suffering anyone could possibly experience.
But He also knew He had a purpose that needed to be fulfilled, without which, none of us would know the grace of God and experience Him face to face. What God wanted was a perfect relationship with us, a fallen and sinful bunch of people. But who can approach a holy and blameless God? A sacrifice needed to be made. And Jesus knew that was His calling.
Listen, I cannot even fathom the sheer physical pain of what Jesus endured as he was beaten mercilessly, made to carry the cross and then nailed to it. I can’t begin to imagine the excrutiation He felt every time He tried to even take a breath, much less talk to those who needed to hear his voice one more time. But, I guarantee, the physical suffering He endured was marginal compared to the separation between He and God the Father when He took on the weight of all our sin and shame.
Jesus gave it all. He sacrificed His very life so that you and I could have a relationship with a holy God.
That sacrifice cost everything. It cost Jesus’ life. And yes, of course, He conquered death and rose three days later, but imagine the agony that He suffered as He felt His heavenly Father turn His face away from Him.
And yet, He did it. Why? What would propel Jesus to lay it all down?
You did. I did. He loved us. He wanted us to know Him the way that He knows us. And without that sacrifice, we would remain far removed.
Sacrifice is a big word. It’s a heavy word. It packs a punch. But it isn’t a bad word.
This topic stemmed from a question on Yahoo! answers: “Does life change after marriage…. Were you better off before gettin’ married or after? Does it change a lot? Do we need to make lots of sacrifices or compromises? Is it worth it?”
Yahoo Answers (We don’t recommend this as a forum for sound, Biblical answers to your most pressing questions. It is, however, an interesting source of entertainment, but can be something of a time sucker, too. Proceed with caution.)
Matt and Brandy explore the pros and cons of marriage today. Topics like making sacrifices (soooo many sacrifices, folks!), having similar life paths, blessing your spouse, learning to compromise, staying committed, monogamy and how to fold shirts the right way are all coming at you. We also discover lots of other topics that we want to discuss in future episodes, such as passion versus love as well as domestic abuse.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship please seek help:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline Contact the Abuse Hotline here 1-800-799-(SAFE)7233
1-855-812-1011 for deaf or hard of hearing
If you reach out and are ignored or dismissed, please continue to reach. Your safety and well-being are of utmost importance.
Scriptures we read: 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, verses 33-45 Intro and Outro Music: “The Long Road Home” Written by Brandy J. Goebel, Arrangement by James Swanson, Performed by James Page; copyright 2018