Crablegs and Christmas

Family and Christmas go together. The anticipation of heading back home brings back pleasant memories of family arriving to hugs and catching up with the latest news. Watching “Holiday Inn”, eating divinity fudge made by our neighbor Hazel, Euchre marathons and all of the children camping in the living room waiting for Santa Claus. Time spent dressed warmly against the Indiana winter making snow forts, sledding down by the creek and helping with the farm chores. Christmas mornings brought breakfast in pajamas and unwrapping gifts followed by whiling away a day with no agenda but visiting, eating and enjoying one another’s company. Christmas and family were inseparable.

When working as house parents for twenty court-placed teenage boys Christmastime assumed a whole different scenario for my wife and me. The regular routine of school, daily chores, group meals and study times began to give way as Christmas break neared. The same anticipation I held to see family was heightened in the boys as the chance to escape supposedly repressive rules, lame and chafing structure administered by excessively boring house parents loomed in the form of a few days heading back home to freedom. Sadly, though, not all of the guys had a place to go, so it was our plan to stay with the four guys on campus to help them create good Christmas memories of their own.

What to do though? It was a tough time for them. Feelings of loneliness and abandonment increased with each friend’s departure. Can you sense their pain as they saw others greeted warmly with hugs and gifts, excited parents and siblings joined again after a forced separation? The loneliness seemed to amplify as the noise and business of the cottage diminished with every one that walked out the door. No music from each room, silence where there was laughter or arguing as teens inevitably do. The TV was quite, no pool balls clanking and the lights dim in the living room as the remaining boys retreated to their own rooms to draw away from others and into themselves. It was a tough time for them.

How could we make this special? How could we show these boys the love of Jesus; the real reason for Christmas? Enthusiasm was absent as the boys tried to put on good faces opening a few presents on Christmas morning. This group of outcast misfit boys was seemingly forgotten and marginalized to the outer edges of society and they knew it. As we discussed how to inject a bit of joy for the sake of the boys my wife and I decided to try and cheer things up a bit with a road trip the next day. Maybe a change of venue and routine would at least take their minds of off the tag team pity party rambling through the halls.

After sleeping in and an early brunch we headed off to the mall in the nearby city turning the boys loose in the video arcade with fistfuls of tokens. Surviving intense motorcycle races, kung fu fights, saving the world from aliens and guiding frogs across traffic exhausted our before heading off to a matinee movie. After leaving the theatre we searched for a restaurant that could be somewhat special and a memorable experience; Red Lobster fit the bill since none of them had been there before.

I think this was the first time any of the boys had eaten out at a place that served food on actual plates with silverware and menus that were not brightly lit and hanging behind the person asking “do you want fries with that?”  Not knowing what to order everybody defaulted to what I was craving – crab legs. To make a long story short we were not the ideal customers considering they probably had to hose down the area after we were finished. Crab legs are slippery little dudes especially when covered in melted butter. We had those little crab leg shell crackers noisily attacking legs and slipping out of hands with them and crabmeat flying across the table, under the table and unfortunately to the next table. Being Christmas the people at the tables around us seemed to pretty unsmiling and to pardon the pun really crabby. For an eclectic bunch thrown together because of circumstances it was a good Christmas.

God loves both the family and the marginalized. Think about the first Christmas. It was the very marginalized and outcast of society that God invited through His angelic messengers to join the first family in celebration of the birth of the Son of God. The shepherds were invited in with eager hospitality into the humble manger to marvel at the new King. And the Bible says “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God…(Luke 2:19-20) For an eclectic bunch thrown together because of circumstances it was a good Christmas!

In Romans 12:13 it says”share with God’s people in need and practice hospitality.” What would happen if we put God’s principles into place with ruthless abandon? What an opportunity at Christmas to work healing family riffs, forgiving and repairing relationships. What would happen if every family reached out and included someone marginalized and left on the outer edges of society in their family activities? In 2 Corinthians it says that God is the comforter of the downcast. He uses His people who love Him as His hands and feet for this work. Memories can be made and family-like joy found if you reach out with open hearts and hospitality to those lonely and marginalized. For a group of four displaced boys crab legs and Christmas forever go together. For an eclectic bunch thrown together it was a good Christmas. I highly recommend it!

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This daily devotion is written by John Key

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