The Outsider

Christmas at Grandma and Granddaddy Tippett's house was always a special time in our family. After eating a huge meal prepared by my Grandma, we would gather around my Granddaddy's leather recliner while he read the Christmas story from Luke 2.

Then we would begin opening the huge pile of presents under the small Christmas tree by the front window. It was one of those rare times my sister was glad to be the youngest grandchild, because she always opened the first gift. The rest of us grandchildren followed, from youngest to oldest, we girls squealing with excitement over the baby dolls Grandma had chosen for us.

Then we would scurry off to the next room to play with our toys, while the adults opened their presents. The older grandchildren were given the task of counting out all the coins Granddaddy had saved all year, and dividing them into seven piles, a gift to each grandchild.

As I think back to these long-ago Christmases in Raleigh, a face comes to mind. Mr. Robert Strickland, an older gentleman who was a friend of my grandparents, joined us for several of these celebrations. I never questioned his presence at the time, but years later asked my mother, "Was Mr. Strickland related to Grandma? Why was he always there at Christmas?" My grandmother's maiden name was Strickland; I figured he was somehow kin.

"I think maybe he was somehow distantly related," she replied. "Grandma and Granddaddy met him when he started coming to our church; when they realized he had nowhere to go at Christmas, they invited him to join us."

Mr. Strickland was a gruff old man with an abrasive personality that some found hard to tolerate. But he was always welcome at my grandparents' house and we just considered him "one of the family." There were even a few presents for him under the tree.

My grandparents, Elbert and Kathryn Tippett, had set a beautiful example for me of what Christmas is really about. So many times we think Christmas is simply about being with family.

But what about those who have no family to be with during the holidays?

In 2005, Robbie and I spent our first Christmas away from family; we had arrived in Honduras as missionaries early that year. Eager to celebrate, I bought decorations, played Christmas music, and decorated cookies; but with temperatures in the 90s, no parties to go to, and the house empty, it just didn't feel like Christmas. After a simple program at church on Christmas Eve, the Alvarado family invited us and our missionary partners the Goinses to their home. "Are you sure?" we asked them. We didn't want to impose.

The Alvarado Family

"Oh, please come!" they insisted.

As we awkardly sat down in the tiny living room with its concrete floor, we listened to the kids laughing outside the door lighting sparklers and firecrackers, a Honduran Christmas Eve tradition. We were given shredded chicken sandwiches, with apologies that it was a simple fare. "No, this is great!" we insisted. The family squeezed in among us, some perching on the arms of tattered furniture, others choosing to sit on the cold floor. We laughed and chatted easily, with small brown children and the lucky chickens that had escaped the hatchet wandering under our feet.

As I looked around the room, I finally felt that familiar warmth I had been craving. Now it feels like Christmas! This time I was Robert Strickland, an outsider who had been taken in. But Christmas is just not about being with your family. It's about celebrating our Savior's birth. As I gazed on the smiling faces of my Honduran brothers and sisters, I knew the reason we had gathered together. That tiny baby in the manger had come to save us all from our sins. Most of them were celebrating their first Christmas as believers; the joy in our hearts was the same.

And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. -I John 4:14
3 Responses
  1. Kathy Says:

    You made me cry again! What memories. Robert was a cousin who had disappeared for many years, living a very rough life. When he returned, some of his immediate family rejected him. He found the Lord and our family and of course the folks welcomed him. He was now our family in BOTH ways, physically and spiritually. Yes, your legacy prepared you for your calling!

    Aunt Kathy

  2. Ricky Says:

    Robert was actually homeless for many years. I remember Dad saying that his family had rejected him after bring so much shame on them by the way he lived. He spent many nights in the woods. Kathy is right; his choices in life had severe consequences.

    But God did change Robert; I think Dad led him to the Lord. Robert used to vacuum the church hallways late at nights and told Pastor Cox it was his favorite time of the day. Said he liked being alone with God and like having Him all to himself it seemed like.

    Mom and Dad always had a heart for people like Robert. May we all gain a little bit of that heart as we work with others. "People are the work of the ministry."

  3. Kimberly Grainger Says:

    Aww, girl! Such great memories! Elizabeth laughed at pics of Mom, Aunt Katy, Uncle Kent, and a VERY young Nana and Papa. I'm all nostalgic for Grandma's chocolate candy (in dishes), blueberry cake, Toll House cookies (which your mom mastered, as well!!), and Granddaddy's strong, rich voice reading Luke 2. It just feels like home and comfort.
    We're just finishing up the Grainger fam gatherings, and they, too, welcomed another soul into the celebrations. How sweet to still be in a circle of family who are compassionate and kind to others.
    Miss you, cousin! Much love to you, Robbie, and Claire!!

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