Top Ten Christmas Gifts Of All Time: #1

How does one encapsulate the best Christmas gift ever in a blog posting?

My wife and I exchanged gifts yesterday morning; my favorite gift from her was a DVD set of the 1960s sci-fi series The Invaders. The Invaders was totally cool to me; the premise of the show was that an architect, David Vincent had stumbled upon aliens, from a doomed planet, who were invading earth to take it over.

The special effects of The Invaders were a-w-e-s-o-m-e! The aliens looked like regular people, but when they were killed, they disintegrated, sort of in the same way that Captain Kirk would be “beamed up” on Star Trek.

When I was around 10 or 11 years old I suffered from Night Terror; I had incredibly horrendous nightmares in which I felt an overwhelming presence that was so terrifying that I tried to get my family out of the house. It was all my mom could do to restrain me as I awoke screaming. I don’t know, but The Invaders could have the source of my nightmares.

The Invaders was mostly psychological suspense; much in the way the Alfred Hitchcock’s movies were psychologically terrifying.

As cool as The Invaders DVDs are, they aren’t my number one all-time favorite Christmas gift.

On March 25, 1973 I turned 16 years old. I had been waiting for the day to arrive like a cop waits for his coffee and donuts when he bellies up to the counter at Dunkin Donuts at 3:00am on the overnight shift.

I had been waiting to turn 16 so that I could get a job; my brother, Howard was working at Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips on Elida Road in Lima, across from the Lima Mall and had all but secured me a job there once I turned 16.

I got to know Elida Road very well, almost as well as one gets to know the path you take in pitch black to go from your bedroom to your bathroom in the middle of the night when your bladder aches like there’s a brick laying on it.

I lived few miles, as the crow flies, from Arthur Treacher’s on Elida Road and would walk or hitchhike to work. It was a day in time when hitchhiking was still somewhat safe, so I accepted rides from strangers, who, for all I know might have been Ted Bundy’s cousin.

That first job was an adventure; I met new people, had substantial money and was introduced to the Whopper for the first time. For a mere 69 cents I could drown the taste of fish and chips that had etched itself into everything in my life—my clothes, my hair, my complexion and my stomach, by buying a Whopper at Burger King next door to Arthur Treacher’s.

A summer of freedom, and, money from a job are great things to a 16-year-old; I could buy clothes for the first time at places like Chess King, Robert Hall and The Varsity Shop. I could eat anytime I wanted to at Spyker’s Drive-in, and, I could spend my Friday nights at dances at St. Charles, followed by watching Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert on TV with my buddies, then roaming the streets of Lima, and hanging out with friends until 3 or 4am some nights. It was freedom like I’d never known.

Those summer days were equally as intoxicating as the nights were; I’d swim with my friends at Schoonover’s Pool during the day, walk through downtown Lima, stop at The Arc of Sweets for a ham salad sandwich and a Coke, and then head into work.

My Manager at Arthur Treacher’s shifted me from working at the Elida Road location to the Bellefontaine Avenue location. Most days I’d have a can of Nestea in hand walking up Main Street where an old man, probably in his seventies stood near Basinger’s Jewelers. I’d usually walk on the other side of the street to avoid the old codger. I noticed however, that he was stopping people and talking to them and handing out pieces of paper.

Curiosity got the best of me one day and I purposefully walked by the man just to see what he was up to. The old dude stopped me, handed me a piece of folded paper, then proceeded to bombard me with facts, and then questions, about Jesus.

I saw this for what it was and chose to move on rather quickly, as if the pavement suddenly got too hot to stand still—you know, that old “you could fry an egg” thing because the sidewalk was so hot.

I wasn’t raised in a religious family, but my mom was much more a woman of faith than an alcoholic husband and six crazy kids would allow her to be. Every spring my mom would drag me and my little brother, Alan to Trinity Wesleyan Church on East Market Street for several Sundays around Easter.

I remember my mom giving me two nickels to put in the Sunday School offering; well, only one of the nickels made it into the offering. I’d pocket the other nickel, and after we got back home from church I’d trot down to Davis’ Drug Store at the corner of Metcalf Street and Brice Avenue and spend twenty minutes looking at comic books, the toys and wrestle with what I was going to buy with that other nickel that was destined for the Sunday School offering, but never made it.

I’d walk away from Davis’ Drug Store with a pack of Outer Limits trading cards and that wide stick of bubble gum in each pack, or a handful of cherry and root beer barrels.

I read the little paper the old man gave me over the next few blocks then pitched it along with my empty Nestea can; never giving it another thought.

I met some interesting people at Arthur Treacher’s that summer of 1973, in particular the night cashier named Cheryl. I didn’t much like Cheryl, she was homely to average looking, had a sort of greasy brown hair, but of course if you worked at Arthur Treacher’s everything you possessed ended up greasy; but what I disliked most about her was that she was a Jesus Freak.

Day after day I would come to work in the late afternoon only to be bombarded with Jesus talk from this girl who was only 16 years old. There were nights when I made fun of the things she was saying; I would ridicule her, and on one especially slow evening I lit up a joint in front of her and blew the smoke in her face as she talked about Jesus to me.

Cheryl was never deterred by my antics and continued to take any opportunity she could to talk to me about her faith. Thankfully, she and her family decided to go on vacation sometime around the last week of July. Man, was I glad to have a week away from that crazy chick.

Unfortunately, a week later Cheryl returned to work; I was hoping that she wouldn’t come back. But, when she walked into the store I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; she’d colored her greasy brown hair, it now had steaks of blonde in it, she’d gotten rid of her oversized glasses and was wearing contacts, and she didn’t even look like the same person. Suddenly I found myself interested in her because of the physical change. I was a bit shallow at the time.

Over the next couple of months Cheryl continued to pepper me with Jesus stuff; now I would listen because I was attracted to the girl. We had many late night discussions in which I finally stopped verbally abusing her. By the end of summer we began to date.

My parents moved that same summer; it was a traumatic event for me. I had only known public schools in Lima, where all my friends were, but my parents moved into a home in Bath Township.

The neighborhood in which we lived was a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies and The Island of Misfit Toys from the Christmas TV show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I was sick; I lost touch with all the people I knew and with the start of a new school year I was thrust into a school where I only knew one person—Cheryl.

I got to know a few guys at school by playing intermural basketball; Mike Hefner and Alan Chafin were teammates of mine on The Green Machine. Both Mike and Alan happened to know Cheryl, and both were Christians too.

Within a few months my life was such that I was being bombard by Jesus Freaks of all stripes and colors; the old man in front of Basinger’s Jewelers, the cashier I worked with at Arthur Treacher’s, the guys I played basketball with, and all of them were saying the same things to me.

Cheryl and I continued to date through Christmas and into the new year of 1974, even though I quit working at Arthur Treacher’s in October.

I remember Cheryl’s dad, Ralph giving me a pen and pencil set for Christmas that year; I think it was something he picked up where he worked. I really can’t remember anything else about Christmas that year, which is unusual for me.

I continued to play basketball with Mike and Alan; Alan would get pumped up for a game by rockin’ out to Steppenwolf; I’d rock out to Deep Purple.

I loved music; one of my first purchases from having a real job was a stereo I bought from Grants at Northland Plaza. Grants was also where I’d buy albums and 45s. That love of music would translate into me becoming a deejay in the early 1990s. My record collection began growing in 1973 with the additional of albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Black Sabbath’s Vol 4.

But, for the first time I began to hear the things Mike and Alan and Cheryl were saying to me about Jesus. I remember lying in bed at night thinking about, and trying to get my mind around eternity. Eternity’s a long time. I first began to pray on those nights, talking to God in the quietness. I wasn’t so sure of this cat named Jesus, but I believed in God.

On January 4, 1974 I was riding in the family car with Cheryl and her mother, they were giving me a ride home, it was a Friday night; when an All-Points-Bulletin came over the radio station we were listening to. The Certified Gas Station on Robb Avenue in Lima had been robbed and a police officer had been shot. The breaking news was asking for the public’s help in finding the culprit.

A few days later I discovered that one of my best friends growing up; Ross Caudill had been charged with killing the police officer that night. In the 8th Grade Ross and I had appeared in Juvenile Court on charges of Assault & Battery for beating up his neighbor. Yes, I was a miscreant.

With the aroma of sugar cookies and eggnog still clinging to our clothes from Christmas, two weeks later Cheryl and I were at the Lima Mall; it was a Wednesday night and the place was relatively quiet. It was quiet because Christmas was in the rearview mirror and folks had settled in for the frozen dog days of winter in northwest Ohio.

We were sitting at the fountain the Lima Mall when out of the blue Mike and Alan, my basketball buddies appeared. A few back slaps and laughs and the four of us began to walk through the Mall heading toward Penney’s. “How odd was that,” I thought to myself, to run into Mike and Alan on a Wednesday night at the Mall.

I was talking with Mike about basketball; that was pretty much all I lived for at the time. Alan and Cheryl were following behind us talking about something.

We passed through Penney’s when I noticed Mike was carrying his black Bible. “How odd was that,” I thought to myself again. What 16-year-old kid brings a Bible to the Mall? I knew Mike and Alan and Cheryl were Jesus Freaks, but this was way over the top. I didn’t think that even Billy Graham would’ve taken his Bible to the Mall!

As we exited Penney’s, heading toward Lazarus, I turned to say something to Cheryl, and she and Alan were gone! What the heck! I had been set up. Over the next half hour Mike opened his Bible and began to share the story of Jesus with me as we walked through the Mall.

I remember him taking us into the Book of Romans and reading several parts to me; parts about the fact that everybody is a sinner, parts about the wages of sin is death and that death is eternal separation from God.

I squirmed in my shoes; what if somebody I knew saw me talking to a guy with an open Bible; that’d be like social suicide to a 16-year-old.

Mike persevered; he shared more parts of the Bible with me—some of the same things that Cheryl had been saying for six months. I didn’t know it at the time, but Mike was sharing The Gospel of Jesus Christ with me.

Mike and I reached the end of the Mall where Lazarus sat; I asked him if he wanted to go find Alan and Cheryl, but he said “let’s just walk through Lazarus,” so we did. There we were, weaving past women’s clothes racks, snaking our way past the jewelry counter, Mike still pointing out things the Bible said. I would simply nod in an effort to placate Mike.

I’m not sure what Alan and Cheryl were doing that night, maybe they were having a Hot Sam’s Pretzel and Coke and praying for me.

Within a couple of minutes Mike and I were at the west entrance of Lazarus, we’d run out of places to go; so I thought. This guy was relentless and suggested we hop on the elevator and take it up to the third floor, which we did.

There stood mike, all sixteen years of him, with Bible opened, explaining more of Jesus to me as strangers looked on with furrowed eyebrows. I think my butt began to sweat on that elevator. I don’t know why, but when the elevator stopped on the third floor, people were in a hurry to get off!

I stepped off the elevator with Mike by my side; I was dumbfounded as to what we were going to do next—furniture shop? We stood at the edge of the Furniture Department just across from the restaurant. Surprisingly, I had finally heard what Mike was saying as he read from the Bible. All those summer nights of being pelted by Cheryl as I stood over a vat of molten lard came flooding into my mind. All the conversations with Alan and Mike before and after basketball games had anchored themselves in my mind like a spiritual tapeworm.

In that moment I knew that Jesus had been born into our world to save people from their sins. It was a proclamation that angels had made to Joseph; it was the essence of the Christmas story—God loving a world so much that he’d sacrifice his son for it.

In that same moment I knew that Jesus was God who had become a man, who lived a perfect life, was tortured and killed as a sacrifice for my sins, so that I could be at peace with God; that Jesus died a real death and came to life to prove he had power over death.

Mike, as Jesus’ messenger was offering me words of life; I’d been spiritually dead all my life.

I have a certain fondness for Macy’s at Christmas time; some years ago Lazarus was purchased by Macy’s, the name changed, but the echoes of our conversation that day still lingered in the store.

Sensing that I had grasped the message of the gospel, Mike asked me if I would like to say a simple prayer, ask God’s forgiveness and commit my life to Jesus. WE WERE STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF LAZARUS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

I said, “here?

Mike said, “yep!

I said, “no.

In what I can only describe has inspiration from God, Mike recognized my fear of praying in such a public place and said, “we could step into the restroom if you like.” Without hesitation, and from somewhere deep inside of me, some place that wasn’t of this world, I said, “okay.”

Mike and I walked the few feet to the men’s restroom; him with his open Bible, me, with a determination that came from I don’t know where.

The restroom was empty except one guy in a stall; Mike explained that he was going to pray, and then illustrated for me what I could pray. Just as we started to pray a toilet flushed, a stall door swung open, and the guy bolted for the door, not stopping to wash his hands.

I prayed a prayer that cold January day in Lazarus in 1974 and became a Christian.

I’ve been on a journey ever since; a journey to know The Christ of Christmas. When I think of all the Christmas gifts I’ve ever been given, the greatest came from God.

God gave his son, born to a virgin mother, to a world that needed him, but hated him.

Gifts are free…and I like free.

I accepted God’s gift that day. Jesus, is THE Invader of our world, bringing eternal life to those who will accept the free Gift.


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