A Pre-Veggie Tale
Everyone who has watched a VeggieTales DVD knows I am a fairly silly guy. What they probably don't know, though, is that I am incredibly shy. So shy, in fact, that when I was a child, few people knew how silly I was. I kept it inside. This particular trait may have remained a mystery if it weren't for the Christmas presents I received from my dad when I was 8 years old.
My dad was always a provider of creative playthings — model planes and trains and lots of LEGOs. But the Christmas of my eighth year, he outdid himself. First, we each opened a portable cassette recorder, one for each member of the family — himself, my mom, me, my older sister, Cristy, and my younger brother, Rob.
My mother, sister and brother all uttered a collective, "Huh?"
I grabbed the microphone and immediately started recording my own voice — and any other goofy voice I could mimic. But my dad wasn't finished. He walked into the other room and returned with an industrial-looking suitcase locked with heavy metal clasps. Inside was the most amazing thing I had ever seen — an early video camera and recorder. And by "early," I mean pre-VHS. Pre-Betamax. This was a state-of-the-art early 1970s black-and-white industrial camera tethered to a reel-to-reel video recorder. The rest of my family was dumbstruck. I was in heaven.
I shot footage all over the house and tried to bribe my little brother to act out dramatic rescue scenes in the backyard. ("Mom! Tell Rob he has to be in my movie!") And though a video camera technically can't record single frames, if you turned it on and off really fast ... maybe ... just maybe ...
I put my Batmobile on the basement floor and clicked the camera on and off as quickly as I could. I nudged the Batmobile an inch and clicked the camera again. After a few minutes of this, I replayed the tape, and the Batmobile was driving. Eureka! I was animating.
Over the next few years I made countless little films with that video camera, using toys and LEGOs. (G.I. Joes were more cooperative than my little brother, and I could cast them in challenging roles.) The video camera soon gave way to a Super 8 film camera, which was then overtaken by professional video gear and, ultimately, computers capable of creating animation. And a tomato named Bob and a cucumber named Larry replaced my little brother and my G.I. Joes.
My life's work started on Christmas morning, 1974, thanks to a father who knew what his son needed to develop what God had put inside him.
— Phil Vischer, founder and president of Jellyfish Labs (JellyTelly.com) and creator of VeggieTales
The Beauty of the Season
Christmas in the Daly household is what many would consider a traditional affair. We place angel decorations on the tree with words like "Hope" and "Peace" written on them. We read Bible stories and discuss the true meaning of Christmas while drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate. These activities might sound average or unremarkable, but they hold great meaning for me. Growing up, I would have given almost anything to experience an "average" Christmas celebration.
One of my family's most memorable Christmases occurred in 2001, when our first son was just over a year old. My wife, Jean, had learned she was pregnant again but wanted to wait until Christmas morning to tell me. When the day finally arrived, I opened a present that contained the blue-and-white hospital cap that Trent had worn when he was born. I stared at it for a moment, then looked over at Jean, who had an enormous grin on her face.
"Are we having another baby?" I asked, but the tears of joy in her eyes already told me the answer. We jumped up and hugged and screamed with delight. It was fun telling Trent that he was going to be a big brother — that's certainly a Christmas present he wasn't expecting!
This event symbolized the beauty of the season for me in a personal way. As we celebrated the new addition to our family, I was reminded that God's ultimate Gift to mankind — and indeed, the reason we celebrate Christmas at all — came in the form of a baby. Christ "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8). Christmas is more than a celebration of Christ's birth; it's a reminder of His life, death and resurrection on our behalf.
— Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family
My Unexpected Gift
One year not too long ago, I was completely alone on Christmas Day. I lived in Nashville, Tenn., thousands of miles from my family in California, and I didn't have the money to go home. It was tough.
I grew up in a single-parent home, and my mother and I were close. I so admire her. She worked and raised my brother and me all on her own. Money was scarce and times were hard, but she never wavered. My mother is truly the strongest woman I've ever met, and the way she lived her life caused me to become a strong woman as well.
Maybe that's why, even though I was tempted to feel sorry for myself that lonely Christmas Day, I determined instead to spend that time with Jesus.
The day changed me. I spent hours thinking about the meaning of Christmas, worshiping Jesus and reading the Gospels. People felt sorry for me, but they didn't need to — it was one of my sweetest Christmases.
That day ended, but God had more presents in store for me. Every year since then — in a way that can only be described as God's hand — my touring has brought me to California during the Christmas season. I spend a lot of time on the road singing and ministering to others, and I have little control over my travel schedule. So I know it was a gift from God that I've been able to spend Christmas with my family three years in a row.
I focused solely on delighting in God that one Christmas, and He brought the desires of my heart to pass. Just like He promises.
— Mandisa, Contemporary Christian Music artist and former "American Idol" finalist
Marshmallow Guns and Palm-Tree Praise
Every year, from the time my two girls and boy were little, we went to the Salvation Army on Christmas Day before we opened our presents. We served food and simply enjoyed hanging out with people. Later in the day my girls would perform a Christmas cantata, their gift to us. Of course, my wife and I always looked for ways to put a little crazy fun into the day as well.
One year, after we were done opening gifts, I said, "Oh, one more present. I forgot about this, you guys."
The kids unwrapped marshmallow guns, and we ended up having a two-hour marshmallow fight in the living room. It was a messy gift, but it was a blast.
Last Christmas Eve, my children — Hannah (19), Charity (18) and Cameron (13) — and my wife and I celebrated in a way that especially touched my heart.
We had saved all our travel miles and went to Hawaii for a family vacation. On Christmas Eve, we talked about what we were going to do to make Jesus the center of Christmas, since we would not be able to serve others by going to the Salvation Army.
One of the kids said, "Let's go to the beach, light a campfire, read the Christmas story and worship the Lord tonight."
So, we went out and started a fire. To read the Christmas story, we passed the Bible around and let different people read parts of the story. After that, one of the girls grabbed a guitar, and we started singing. We passed the guitar to Cameron, and he led a couple of songs, too. Then we spontaneously prayed, thanking God for what had happened during the year.
Those few hours were so meaningful and memorable that we didn't want to leave. We remained before God and with each other until almost midnight.
— Ron Luce, co-founder and president of Teen Mania
The Baby Hope Tree
It was Dec. 21. The phone rang. The only other couple in our adoption group who hadn't yet been placed with a baby — besides us — was calling to say they finally had a child. I hung up, feeling like I'd been shot in the chest. No baby for us. We'd been waiting for almost five years, and I longed to be a mother.
I rolled up my spiritual sleeves and began to beg God for a baby by Christmas. I set up a Christmas tree and decorated the branches with pink and blue ribbons and christened it the "Baby Hope Tree." Every day I knelt there, pouring out my prayers.
Then the phone rang, and I heard the hard truth that there was not going to be a baby by Christmas.
Our first child didn't come until Easter. At last. Our second child came two years later in a blistering July summer.
When I look back at that 21st day of December, I realize now that my daughter was safely growing in her birth-mother's womb on Christmas Day. God was indeed answering my prayer. He was working while I was waiting.
Every Christmas since then, we've continued to set up a Baby Hope Tree, tied with pink and blue ribbons. In the early years, my husband and I did the work while telling our children the tale of our waiting and wanting them so much. As they grew, they began to set up the tree themselves, Eva tying on the pink ribbons and Ethan the blue ones. Well into their 20s today, they still come by and admire the tree, the tender reminder that God works while we wait.
— Elisa Morgan, former president and CEO of MOPS
This article first appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2009 by Phil Vischer, Jim Daly, Mandisa, Ron Luce and Elisa Morgan. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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