A Different Kind of Christmas

In 1966, at the age of eleven, I spent Christmas in Berlin.  My mother purposely planned this as a powerful lesson about freedom and democracy.  Germany was still divided and occupied by Allied Forces following WWII.  Access to the former capital, Berlin, was controlled by the Soviet government.  My mother said, “Kristi, this will be a different kind of Christmas, and it will change your life forever.”  That year we left the Santa Claus Christmas behind with all the decorations, the carols, and the warmly lighted tree in our living room.

Our Christmas journey began with an evening train departure from a West German station.  We traveled through the night, crossing into East Germany under cover of darkness, a stipulation of the communist government. We woke to a leaden mist swirling outside the window. Not three feet away was a double row of twelve-foot chain link fences topped with razor wire.  The space between the fences allowed uniformed guards to patrol, armed with rifles and accompanied by guard dogs. On the opposite side of the train another set of fences and guards completed the security system.  We had traveled through the night, a method that kept surrounding Communist-controlled land from perusal by those wishing to enter Berlin during the Cold War years.

Our visit to West Berlin included a trip to a museum dedicated to those whose ingenuity and courage had allowed them to escape the Communist-controlled country.  It was heart wrenching to see the deprivation.

We heard stories of many who had tried to escape but had been gunned down or imprisoned.  We saw the series of fences, the guard towers, the check points.  On a tour into East Berlin we felt the intimidation of the guards who walked the aisles of our bus to check under and between seats for any who might be hiding.  We watched as they checked under the buses with mirrors looking for those who may have strapped themselves to the undercarriage, hoping to gain their freedom.

The damp cold of a northern European December could not compare to the chill that permeated our hearts.  You see, the citizens of this country were not allowed to celebrate Christmas.  The citizens of West Berlin, occupied by French, British and American forces after WWII, would do what they could for those on the Soviet side of the Berlin Wall.

Our Christmas tree that year was perched atop the Berlin wall, stabilized amidst the broken glass cemented along the top edge, one more diabolical means to keep souls from scaling its barrier in an attempt for freedom.  The tree, one of many situated at intervals along the wall, was placed so those on the Soviet side would have a reminder of Christ’s birth, a truth they were not allowed to celebrate or acknowledge. Christmas carols played from loudspeakers in hope the citizens in the Soviet part of the city could hear them.  News flashed from the top of the highest building, telling of happenings in the free world.  It was a cold, gray existence, and we saw no one smile.

I had understood that Christmas was more than Santa Claus, presents under the tree, and special holiday delicacies.  I had known it was more than the warmth of family and friends sharing time together.  But I had never experienced a Christmas surrounded by those with no joy, by those whose job it was to constantly monitor your actions and conversation.

My mother was right, that Christmas changed my life forever.  I would never again take freedom for granted.  But there was more.

That year I realized there had to be something extremely significant about the birth of Christ, about who He was and why He came, that the government of an entire nation would go to such lengths to stifle the truth of His existence.  They had tried to keep Him out, but they could not.

Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall stood until 1989, the year President Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” It had stood as a physical roadblock to freedom for many people, but Christ’s message had not been kept out—it was hidden in the hearts of many, including President Gorbachev himself.  In March, 2008, he admitted his closeted faith, the faith that God used to bring Soviet communism to an end.

Christmas, and the Christ Child Himself, had made a long-awaited appearance.

And so, this Christmas season gives much to rejoice over.

Freedom, and those who protect it

The joy of corporate worship

Family rejoicing together

The celebration of the One born to set us truly free

The freshening that comes with the promise of a New Year: clean, perfect, and anticipated


Multitude Monday

God’s grace is rich this morning, joy meeting the glory of sun blushed clouds and cricket song on the porch.

~ripening tomatoes, red on the vine

~just enough clouds to reflect the rising sun

~our very own cricket in the flowers on the patio

~anticipation of good things, just over the horizon

~lingering summer

~sunlight in patches on the prairie

~God’s hand directing our work

~freedom, and the men and women who protect it

~ a son on his way to do the work God called him to

~a Father’s gift–grocery store flowers, warm reds, reduced and in my basket

~a patio to sit on

~God’s promise of protection and long life–Psalm 91

~ice cream, outdoors

~morning, fresh–a new day, a new week, a new season

~strength to accomplish His purpose

~a faithful washing machine, turning out clean laundry

~a turning of the tap–and clean, fresh water in my sink, in my shower!

~a new set of pens in five different colors with ink to match!

~God’s resilient strength placed in our hearts, ready in all seasons of life

~His Word, meat to chew, sustenance that carries us into the new day

Praise be to the LORD,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.

The LORD is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28: 6-9 NIV

May God’s rich heritage be known by you today, with ever-deepening understanding, in ever-widening circles of joy.

Love,

~Kris

Multitude Monday: Filling the Missing Chunk

It would never have crossed my mind to buy an inflatable palm tree.

Yet there it stood, 6 feet tall with a pool at its base holding ice and drinks. It added fun to our annual barbecue and did its job with flare and function.

My sister-friends had pulled a theme together, decorated tables and planned the menu. I was able to chip in with the general work and clean up, but the ability to turn a meal into a celebration came from their creative ability.

Now, I can cook and sew and do the job of feeding folks in large numbers. I can even throw a piñata and a sheet cake into the mix if called upon. But the joy of creating a festive atmosphere is a chunk that is missing in my makeup, and I know it.

My sisters fill in that missing chunk, and I’m so thankful to have them in my life. In their honor, this weeks list of Endless Gifts starts with them:

Pat and Sherrie and Kathy, my anti-stodgy chunk filler-in-ers

Creativity in all its forms

Inflatable palm trees :)

Hospitality at its warmest

Opportunity to share talents

Being loved in your lack

Smiles all around

Happy hearts

Full tummies

Ice cream cake, donated by Maggie Moo’s

Mike and Steve, the guys flipping burgers

Gip, the famous praying therapy dog

The gentle music of Nancy’s harp

Our faithful military chaplains

The unsung heroes, our Nurse Case Managers

who work tirelessly for our Wounded Warriors

“The Lord  bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26, NIV