Lying in bed, fast asleep, I’m startled awake by a thump on the roof. And then I hear some distant bells. Quickly I leap out of bed and run down the hall to our family room. It’s pitch black. No one is awake. There on the family table, the cookie tray has only crumbs and the milk has been consumed. Santa was clearly here! And then a glance at the tree, a sea of wrapped presents — including a gold Schwinn bike with my name on it. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I want to wake everyone up, but a glance at the clock says it’s only 5 am. “My parents will kill me if I wake them up,” I’m thinking. So I go back to my bed, anxious, ready to wait it out. And I fall fast asleep again, only to be awakened by my brother, who woke up and experienced the same thing at about 7 am. So we make a lot of noise until our parents happen to wake up. And Christmas arrives.

The wonder of Christmases past will live on in my great memories forever. One of my favorite things has been the privilege of providing that same wonder to my kids. Such joy, such energy, such awe. There is simply nothing better.

Family Excitement

As I spoke to my friends and team members this past week, they were excited about seeing their families, their parents, their grandparents, nieces and nephews. The joy of family is such an exciting time, a time to generate memories, and a time to implant special lessons.

When I think back through my childhood, I remember visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s, Christmas with cousins, aunts, and uncles, opening gifts, cuddling on the couch, running up and down the stairs, singing Christmas carols, seeing family friends we don’t see any other time of the year, and meeting people my folks have invited who have nowhere to be. 

Don’t Let This Go to Waste

You’ve all heard the saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” uttered by some politician. I say, “Never let a good Christmas go to waste.” Though I never really stopped to think about it, this is what the elders in my family did. 

Your Role in Society

Throughout history, in most societies, the role of elders was just as important as the role of parents. Grandparents had time and patience and wisdom, while parents were working, busy, and exhausted. So it became the grandparents’ role to impart wisdom to their grandchildren, to teach them the important principles of the family. In my case it was Biblical instruction, the role of Christ in our family, the role of self-reliance, work ethic, the importance of strong ethics and principles, the importance of love and family, the role of justice, and so much more.

Voices in My Head

I spent lots of time with my grandparents growing up. I can hear the words my grandfather would say to me: “Put your back into it” when he was teaching me to paint rooms in his house, “Use a stronger sweeping motion” when I was sweeping leaves. It was my grandmother Roxie Goad who helped me understand that loving Christ was not about religions, it was about a one-on-one personal relationship with Christ, requiring no person or institution between me and my savior. She helped me see the power of His love, and that he was God, and that when we accept him, his spirit lives within us. It was never about going to church, or empowering others to rule over us. It was all about living with love, loving others more than ourselves, helping others, not judging others. 

I’m blessed with a great upbringing, wonderful memories of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, and in most cases, I have boxes of memories and lessons imparted to me in the precious time they spent with me. That included Christmas.

Little Sponges

Impressionable little minds soak up everything. They may be distracted wondering what’s inside that wrapped box someone brought that they can open after dinner, but they hear and take in what the adults are saying and how they are acting. It’s these times they take our cues and learn their lessons from us.

Lessons Imparted

Previously I’ve written about the importance of being deliberate about memories and lessons, and I’m reminded that Christmas, around family, is a great time to impart family history and life lessons. It can be as simple as something spoken briefly in a story.

Knowing Someone I Did Not Know

I don’t know if I ever knew my Grandpa Berry; I don’t remember ever meeting him. I remember his wife, who lived much longer. But the stories over Christmas dinners told me everything I needed to know about the way he treated others, the way he led his family, the character he had, his helping others in need, the big smile he always had on his face, his positive outlook, even though he had to bury his own son at a young age and had family members killed in the Great War. 

My dad used to tell so many stories about Grandpa Berry’s Sinclair gas station, how his customers loved him, about his pranks, his promotions, and his impact on my dad’s life. My dad mentioned that he was the first family member he could not wait to see when he got to Heaven because he missed him so much. I teared up writing this this morning, remembering how my own dad was that way to me and my kids, and how much we miss him. 

But now the role is mine as the elder in my family. No grandkids yet, still just dad, not granddad. But the stories and lessons need to continue. And one day my kids will tell stories to their kids about their grandfather, and hopefully their father.

Story Time

Our role today, when we are gathered with family, is to be storytellers, memory makers, family historians, and to make sure we impart important lessons to those around us. No lectures, no “shoulding,” just helping others see the best attributes they can find within themselves.

I’ll make a point to remember my wonderful father-in-law that the kids barely knew, and my own dad, and my grandparents and great-grandparents, telling their stories, what I learned from them.

I hope you’ll consider doing the same. Because there is no better opportunity than the celebration of Christmas. 

The First Step Before Gifts

Before we open a single gift, I’ll open the books of Luke and Matthew and ask the kids to read the Christmas story, as my parents and grandparents did with us, making sure that we don’t miss the true gift of Christmas.

Each breath we have is a gift. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could get just one more hour with my parents or grandparents. I’m grateful for the gifts they gave me, and I know that while I’m breathing and able, it’s important to do the same for my family.

It’s my wish that you have a joy-filled Christmas.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Though I make my living by using promotion and marketing skills, I’ve never applied them to my Sunday Coffee message. This started out as a letter to my kids, so that my thoughts on life would someday be heard by them and documented once I’m gone. I told a friend about it, who asked if he could share it with a friend of his. The result has been that this weekly letter has been followed and read by a massive audience. I honestly don’t know how many, but I stopped paying attention when I heard it was going to 100,000 people every Sunday. The reason I did not want to promote it is because I wanted it to be as pure as possible, not looked upon as just some promotion, and I felt that if it was meant to be seen by others, others would forward it, and others would subscribe. 

I’ve been told that some of these have been read out loud at family tables and gatherings during holidays, and the result is a few more people subscribing every week. I’m humbled when that happens. All of this happened because someone once told me I should write down my stories.

To every person reading this, please consider writing down your stories, the things you want others to know. It’s special to me, just doing it for myself each week. But if you’re willing, let others get a glimpse of your heart. Maybe share it with a friend or family member from time to time. Not so it grows, or gets lots of followers, but because you’ll be making a difference in their lives.

I can assure you, my kids don’t read this. I’m not sure they even know about it. At 20, they have other things on their minds. I can’t be sure they will ever discover it — I’m not talking about it at home. But my hope is that one day, when I’m long gone, maybe they will Google my name and find a world of thoughts from their dad. It’s not only my gift to them, and to my friends, it’s a gift to myself, because it forces me to think about things and put them in writing. Not every week can be a gem; I’m lucky if I get one gem a year. But there is value in every word, which is why I want to encourage you.

We all need an outlet. For me, it’s writing and painting, occasional woodworking, tinkering in my shop, or learning something new. It keeps life more interesting, makes work less boring, and somehow enriches one’s life. I encourage you to find an outlet for yourself. 

Finally, you have a lot to contribute to the world. If you’re still breathing, you are here for a purpose. God isn’t done with you yet. Even if you’re retired and done with your career. God does not grant breath without purpose. Find it, use it. Explore. Your impact is important.