Christmas Morning Heart Attack Lesson

Christmas was magical at my house.

With seven children in the family, living in a rented veterans duplex, the usual answer we would receive when we asked for things all year long was, “No.”

With things so tight, the black and white commercials on our fuzzy TV for Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Battling Tops, Etch’ o Sketch, or Marvel the Mustang seemed as “real” as the Wizard of Oz.

Low Expectations

We were the kids with plastic hockey stick blades that were softened into a curve over a burner on the stove. We weren’t the kids with brand new fiber glass Koho sticks. Our “new stuff” was normally the stuff our older brothers outgrew, and I still don’t know who had them before them!

So, considering the lack of new things and the abundance of hand-me-down skates, boots, and dog eared Archie comics… the hopes for anything shiny, store bought, in an unopened packaged required all the faith that a Sunday School kid could muster.

 Still Hoping

But still I hoped. After the Christmas eve candlelight service, where thoughts of Jesus and Santa competed for attention in my very young mind, thoughts of “sugar plumbs” had no room to dance in my head. Instead, a parade of highly coveted toys and games made by Marks, Mattel, Hasbro, or Wham’ O would tempt then fade, with the thought, “Nah, it will never happen.”

Periodically I would hear the clink clink of chains on truck tires ringing down the street and think it was Santa’s sleigh.  The sounds were somehow muffled by the snow, my pillow and the breathing of my four brothers in the bedroom. Sleep seemed like it would never come.

chrixtmas morning

 Unbearable Anticipation

But suddenly it was morning! A heavy stocking filled with bell shaped chocolates, navel oranges, assorted nuts, even a Slinky, was at my feet! “Yea!” I would shout, now hearing the unmistakable munching of my older brothers.

I dashed down the hall to the living room where I had seen a few gifts the night before. The doorway was now blocked with a huge army poncho that my dad had set up sometime after I had gone to bed. Desperately I wanted to look behind the barrier to see this year’s gifts. The anticipation was unbearable. What was in that room!?

The moment finally arrived. My dad was set up with the Kodak camera and my mom was positioned just behind the makeshift curtain. She dropped the curtain. Then we observed the miracle. All seven of us gasped in wonder! A mountain of gifts spilled out from the tree covered most of our small living room.

 Just What I Never Wanted

So many of the things that I never dared dream  would be ours emerged from the quickly torn wrapping paper. There were shouts in the room, “Just what I always wanted!” Although, I do remember unwrapping a package of new underwear once and sighing, “Just what I never wanted.”

How my parents were able to get each of us multiple gifts seemed like a miracle to me. How we could only afford powdered skim milk during the year and still have hot wheels, boomerangs, and colored pencils at Christmas was a wonder.

Recently, I scanned those early Kodak Christmas slides my dad had taken and I had an epiphany of my own. I remembered the winter where I began to understand Christmas and my Mom. It was a time when our Christmas should have been interrupted but wasn’t.

 Take Me To Emergency

The gifts were all opened and a mountain of paper replaced the stacks of presents in the room. “Now take me to emergency, Bill” my mom whispered to my dad. She sat through all of the Christmas morning tradition fully convinced that she was having a heart attack, but she didn’t want to “ruin our Christmas.”

It turned out that she was suffering the excruciating pain of a kidney stone but told no one until the last present was unwrapped. She actually thought she was dying!

 Joy Like Jesus

Now that I am dad, I think of that moment. Her greatest joy was to see her children happy. She did things all year long leading up to that moment of incredible joy for her kids. When it came to the point of agony she continued to suffer for our sake.

For me, the comparison’s to Christ are striking. I don’t always feel the full meaning of why Jesus would leave heaven and suffer the indignity of becoming a baby, completely dependent on an earthly mother. But around Christmas, I think of what my mother and father did to give us the greatest moments of our lives –at great personal expense.

I begin to wonder if it was that joy of giving, that love for his own, that propelled Jesus to earth, and helped him endure the cross. Certainly the writer of Hebrews had it right when he wrote, that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Thank you Mom and Dad for helping me understand the heart of Jesus… the heart of Christmas.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email


  1. Ron, knowing you grew up with six siblings explains your resiliency and survival skills. Thanks for peeling one more layer off of the onion to help leaders and youth see parenting at its finest and Christmas joy for what it truly is.

    • Thanks so much Pastor Bob for your kind comments. Guaranteed, my home: high on discipline and love and low on material things, has made me who I am. Hope the lessons that I learned from my parents can help others. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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