Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and welcome to December! And since we are beginning the Christmas season, I have a story to tell. It’s a simple story about a small white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree and a certain family who has placed it there for the past 10 years. So what’s in the envelope? Well, the thing with the envelope all started more than a decade ago because Judy’s husband, Mike, could not stand all the commercializing of Christmas that goes on during this time of year. You hear it on the radio; you see it on TV; it’s all about buying what’s bigger, brighter, and brassier than what you bought for gifts last year, right? Anyway, Judy could tell that Mike was not excited about the season. And so, she decided to bypass the usual shirt and tie for her husband that year, and wondered what she could do to lift his spirits.
The inspiration came, one December afternoon, when Mike and Judy had attended a non-league wrestling match between her son’s Christian school and an inner-city church. Her son’s team came out on the floor in bright uniforms and headgear; they looked great. However, most of the wrestlers from the inner-city team were not outfitted very well—ragged sneakers, no uniforms, and they wrestled without headgear. They were a great group of kids, but woefully unequipped. Needless to say, their son’s school walloped the kids from downtown—the suburban school wrestlers took every weight class. It was a pretty humiliating defeat for these urban kids, but they didn’t let it show. Mike watched all this from the bleachers. He and Judy were sitting together and for the most part had put a lid on loudly cheering for their son’s team. Seeing those church kids with their old uniforms, well, Mike just shook his head and said, “Man, I just wish one of those kids could have won. They have a lot of potential, but losing bad like this could take the heart right out of them.” As a coach himself, Mike loved any kid who enjoyed any kind of sport.
Well, that’s when, right there on the bleachers, Judy got the idea for the white envelope. That very afternoon Judy went to a local sporting goods store and purchased an assortment of wrestling stuff and gift certificates for athletic shoes and then sent everything anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, she placed the envelope on the tree with a note inside telling her husband Mike what she had done and that the gift was given in his honor. Well, I tell you, her husband’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year, and many years thereafter. Because each Christmas, Judy continued to follow the tradition: She sent a group of intellectually disabled kids to a hockey game on Mike’s behalf one year; on another Christmas, a check was sent in Mike’s honor to an elderly gentleman whose home had burned just as the holiday had begun. Judy always kept it a secret, not only from her husband but from the whole family. Soon, the white envelope became the highlight of the family’s Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and the kids, ignoring their toys, would stand wide-eyed as their dad opened the envelope to reveal its surprise.
The story does not end here. Judy shared that she recently lost Mike to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, she was so immersed in grief that she barely got the Christmas tree up. But Christmas Eve found her placing an envelope on the tree, yet in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of their children had placed an envelope on the tree in their dad’s honor. Oh, friend, that’s the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ—which is the true spirit of giving.
© Joni and Friends