The Christmas before my sister, Tricia, died, she bounced up and down in her seat at our traditional sibling Christmas dinner. She held a gift bag with my name on it. Each year, we’d exchange prank gifts as part of our dinner, and that year she seemed more excited than usual to give me mine.
After the waiter took our orders, she shoved her gift towards me. “I can’t wait till after dinner.” She giggled. “This is the best I’ve ever given you.”
I peered down into the bag.
“Hurry up!” She bounced up and down. “Open it!”
I reached between the colored tissue and pulled them out.
A pair of wood music sticks.
“Awe Tammy do you feel unloved,” Tricia said.
I shot her my best pout.
Growing up, my parents never allowed us to believe in the red-suited intruder. It didn’t make Christmas any less fun, it only made more room for Jesus. One Christmas morning Momma handed out the packages from around the tree.
“Brandon, this is yours. Tricia here’s yours and Tammy this one. Go ahead open em.”
Being curious and wanting to savor mine, I watched my siblings tear into the wrapping. Brandon opened a Moroccan drum and began pounding it, Tricia received Maracas. Seeing their instruments I became excited for what was in my shirt box.
“Well, hurry up.” Momma nudged.
I tore the wrap off and popped the tape off the sides… plop…they rolled out onto my lap…a pair of mahogany sticks. While opening the rest of my presents, those music sticks grew—like the painful boil that grew out of my heel after stepping on a metal tack—those sticks cast a shadow on all the other gifts I’d received.
Later that morning, when Daddy stumbled into the den, Momma instructed us to play him a song. Brandon and Tricia danced around the room playing their instruments, while Momma clapped along. I sat banging my boring sticks, blinking back tears.
Typical of the baby in the birth order, Tricia required more of Momma’s attention than I. So much so, if Tricia caught me in Momma’s lap, she’d placed her hands on her hips and state, “Put Tammy down Momma, I’m your baby.”
Laughing, Momma placed me on the floor and scooped Tricia up for a snuggle. Not once did this bother me, because I had things to do. Besides, Momma called me her “independent one.” Yet, that Christmas the sticks revealed on whom Momma’s favor rested.
It clearly wasn’t me.
That evening, I folded the napkins under the flatware, preparing our table for Christmas dinner. Granny and Paw Paw were due to arrive any minute, and I couldn’t wait to tell Granny about the sticks. She understood my hurts. The smell of roasted turkey and freshly-struck matches lingered in the air, while Momma lit the candles in the centerpiece. With the slightest touch of the match, the wick danced. She glanced in my direction and I darted my eyes.
“Tammy what’s wrong with you?” She shook out the match. “Your upper lip’s been stuck out all day. Did you not like your presents?”
“Not all of them,” I tucked the last napkin.
Momma pulled out two chairs. “Sit. What didn’t you like?”
I crossed my arms. “Why did I get the sticks?”
“Oh!” She seemed surprised. “Well, the instruments came three in a pack. Since Brandon asked for the bongo drums, that was a given. That left two instruments to split between you and Tricia. So, I had a decision to make.” She brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I had to decide which of my daughters could make music from sticks.”
The Sticks of 2020:
I’ve thought about the sticks often this season. Throughout 2020, we’ve all received our share of sticks: the corona virus, death of a loved one, closed business, job loss, witnessing murders, cities burned and rioted, social distancing, no toilet paper, and missed family get togethers, to name some.
While we desire to put this year behind us and skip on over to 2021, we should take time to remember our sticks will never be as large as Christ’s. I think the prophet Isaiah foretold the life of Jesus best when he wrote this passage around 500 years before Jesus Christ’s birth.
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
“He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgement He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence and there was no deceit in His mouth.” Isaiah 53: 2-9 (ESV)
That sibling dinner, when I pulled the prank sticks out of Tricia’s gift bag, she didn’t know that would be her last Christmas, nor did she know the full story. Yes, my Christmas pout became legendary in our family, but my siblings never knew what Momma said to me that day, nor did I see the value in it as I do now. On the brink of Tricia’s sixth year in heaven (she passed December 19, 2014) I can attest I’ve heard the music her sticks have played in the lives of others.
Are we willing to play ours? Are we willing to see that every tragedy in a believer’s life has the potential to produce a symphony?
The Largest Stick:
While the largest stick Jesus carried was the one He was nailed to, His suffering and resurrection produced an eternal song of salvation for all mankind. A composition we as His followers are to play in the lives of others. In order to do that, we must first listen. Are we listening? Are we taking the time to remember why He was born in a stable and laid in a manger or are we too busy pouting over our measly sticks?
Let’s gather them up this Christmas, raise them in the air, and make some music. May your home be filled with joyful hallelujahs this Christmas, no matter what life’s gifted you this year.
Note: This article is part of a much larger story being written in a book titled Making Music with Sticks. Praying it will be completed in early 2021.
Another childhood Christmas story can be read here:https://thehallelujahhouse.com/2010/12/22/an-imperfect-christmas/