Planes, trains, and automobiles.
The 1987 comedy title could also very accurately describe my life with 3 boys.
The Dusty Crophopper movie and Papa’s fascination with WW2 era aircraft have ushered in a new obsession with aviation. You could find at least one matchbox car in every room of my house…or my coat pockets…or my bags…or our vehicles. And it seems as though Christmas just wouldn’t seem quite as magical without toy trains.
My boys seem enchanted by these miniature train displays. They could just sit and watch engines run in circles for hours – okay, several minutes, but it seems like hours when you’re dealing with active little men.
We are gaining quite a collection of planes. Our car bins are bursting at the seems. And we already had a small toy train for around the Christmas tree. But there was still something more that seemed to constantly occupy my 6 year old’s thoughts for a month leading up to Christmas.
He desperately wanted a Polar Express train.
My boys don’t believe in Santa Clause, but we can appreciate the excitement and magic of a good classic, imagination-inducing Christmas movie. And Polar Express is one that’s always held Isaiah (and his daddy) on the edge of his seat. It seems as though every train display we go see has a mini version of it. And this year, the coveted train topped my firstborn’s list of wants.
But they’re expensive.
We explained to Isaiah that the Polar Express train was not an option this year (or maybe ever). We told him it was a lot of money…even showed him the price tags in the stores. First he “made” a $300 bill out of construction paper. Then he tried to save up his own money. Finally, he gave up and used his creativity and imagination (and a whole lot of paper and glue) to create his own Polar Express train in the basement (paper train tracks included). Still, he wasn’t totally satisfied. Though he had accepted the fact that we wouldn’t get one this year, his little heart was set on getting one…some day.
Plus, we really, really, really don’t need any more toys. Like, really. Add to that the new 6 year old “me-my-mine” attitude, and this mama DEFINITELY did not even think of rewarding the child with the train. I, like many other moms, I’m sure, almost heard myself promise to “cancel Christmas!” and “not buy any presents this year!” out of frustration over the materialism and self-centered my son and his flesh were fighting.
So, we bought the boys a few small, simple gifts that we knew would delight them and filled their stockings with little treats.
Then 2 days before Christmas I went to BJ’s. And what did my wondering eyes should appear…but a Polar Express train set…for significantly less than we had seen anywhere else. With an impatient 2 year old and a tired 6 month old in tow, I stood staring at the display. I thought about it. I walked away. I came back. I called my husband. I stood some more.
I didn’t want to buy it. I really, really didn’t want to buy it. Isaiah didn’t deserve it. He didn’t earn it and he’d never be able to pay us back. I was afraid he wouldn’t completely appreciate it. And what if he didn’t take good care of it? What if it wasn’t financially responsible to get it right now? What if my buying it just led to more of his feeling of entitlement?
But this is when I strongly felt the Holy Spirit interrupting my thoughts…
Buy it. I want this to be a memorable lesson in grace for him…but even more so, also a lesson in grace for YOU.
A lesson I often needed reminded of.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – BUT GOD shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
– Romans 5:6-8
A love that sure out beats Santa. An extravagent love that sacrificed ALL while we were still sinners. Still rotten and dirty. Still God’s enemies and on the ultimate naughty list.
“For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight…
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.”
– Romans 3:20, 23-4
No amount of “goodness” could earn the gift I’ve been given.
For by the works of the law NO HUMAN BEING will be justified in His sight.
In fact, there was nothing even close to good in me!
For ALL have sinned.
On my own, because of my sin, I’ll never be acceptable in His sight. Deserving of a punishment far worse than a lump of coal.
And FALL SHORT of the glory of God.
But because of grace, because of this great gift, I am made right before a holy God based not on my own obedience, but on the obedience of another.
And are justified BY HIS GRACE as a GIFT.
At a great price, I’ve been purchased, through the One who lived a life I could never have lived to die a death I justly deserved.
Through the REDEMPTION that is in Jesus Christ.
So, I bought the train. It stung a little to hand over my debit card. But as I took the receipt I was reminded of the cost of the gift that was given so many Christmases ago. And the many other undeserved gifts I’ve been given since.
Mercy when I deserved wrath. Grace when I deserved punishment. Life when I deserved death. Extravagance when I deserved mounds of coal. Oh, how thankful I am that God didn’t “cancel Christmas” based on my sinful heart!
I knew our extravagance with this gift could be viewed as foolish and unnecessary. I knew my 6 year old wouldn’t understand how much it cost. I knew there was a chance he’d take advantage of the grace he’d been given. I knew there may be days when he wouldn’t appreciate it. When he’d take it for granted. When he’d find other things that he thinks might be more satisfying. But if and when he did, I wanted to remember my own fickle, wandering heart and how I’ve done the same to my Father.
But even those thoughts couldn’t contain our excitement to give him something his little heart had so been longing for.
When we woke up Christmas Eve morning, the boys came down the stairs to their stockings, books, and hooded towels (they would get the rest of their gifts on Christmas morning at Papa and Nona’s house).
But the real gift was hiding in the family room. Isaiah’s reaction was priceless. Daddy forgot to video because he was too busy watching his boy’s face.
And Mommy couldn’t get a picture in focus because he was jumping too much.
He couldn’t stop jumping…or smiling. He just couldn’t believe his eyes and kept yelling, “You got it?! You got it?!”
We talked about grace. We talked about the differences between God and Santa. We talked about why we decided to buy the train after all. I gently reminded him that he didn’t deserve it, but that we also didn’t deserve all that God gave us. I reminded him that he couldn’t earn it, but that we also could never earn God’s love. I reminded him that we bought it because of our great love for him, not because he had been good enough. I reminded him of why we were celebrating Christmas in the first place. Why we needed Jesus so desperately. Why it was so necessary for Him to come.
For Him to live among us. For Him to die in place of us. For Him to rise again and intercede for us. This is the gift I pray he never gets over. This is the glory of Christmas. My heart is overwhelmed by this gift. This grace on which I stand (Romans 5:2).
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…
For from his fullness we have all received, GRACE upon GRACE.”
– John 1:14, 16
“That means that on your very worst day and on your very best day, you are blessed with pleasures that come from the right hand of God. That tells you that you don’t get these pleasures because you’ve earned or deserved them, but because He is a God of GRACE. He graces you with good things because HE is good, not because you are.“
– Paul Tripp
This anchor for my soul,
This everlasting hope,
Your grace on which I stand.
And it’s where my life begins,
My future held within,
Your grace on which I stand.
Oh, this grace on which I stand,
It will hold me till the end,
And Oh, praise the One who rescued me,
Jesus you will ever be,
– Kristian Stanfill (This Grace)