I remember when I was but a young lad of 7 or 8, I had to spend Christmas Eve with my grandparents out on the farm. I was nervously sitting on the floor in front of the tree that winter’s night wondering if Santa Claus would be able to find me way out here in the country. But, I also had a much greater problem than Santa Claus, which I didn’t exactly know how it was going to turn out. Little did I know, however, it was going to be one of the best Christmases of my childhood.

My grandfather was sitting under the lamp reading The Examiner, and grandmother was in her rocker reading the Bible. “Is it right to give one’s own Christmas presents away," I asked?

“If you gave away what was given to you, that would be unkind to the giver,” declared my grandfather. And at that remark my grandmother chimed in also, “It would not be a nice thing to do.”

So on Christmas morning, when my grandfather awoke from his long winter nap, he found by his side a little, warm, lovable, puppy dog. I had tied a pretty red bow around its neck with a card attached that said, “To grandfather with love, Teddy.”

And I gave my grandmother a nice present too, a little dog collar, all shiny and new.

As I remember, it was my grandmother who gave me that stern look of disapproval, so I addressed my comments directly to her, “I know that you will love the new puppy and let him stay, for you both said it was rude to give your Christmas presents away.”

After my grandfather quit laughing, he said, “Well, that was pretty clever. I’ll tell you what we’ll do, I cannot give away my present, so I will loan you my new puppy to play with as long as you feed him and you love him – Merry Christmas.”

I don’t remember my grandmother laughing, but that disgusted look did leave her face and was replaced by a big smile.

“The Christmas season is the time to renew your love of everything and everyone,” she said. “Love Jesus, love your friends and family members, and as hard as it sounds, it is also time to love your enemies and those pesky neighborhood kids – but above all, you need to love yourself.”

She went on to explain, whether we consider love to be a commandment or a spiritual gift, it is clear that it is to be given priority over everything else. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he says to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And secondly: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Although Apostle Paul speaks of love as a spiritual gift rather than as a commandment, it is clear that he also gives priority to love.

“There are four little words that should always go together,” grandma said, “faith, hope, charity, and love. But, the greatest of these is love. It is really quite simple. Our overriding duty is to love - to love God and our fellow man. I know that sometimes it's difficult, as people are not always lovable, and we don’t always know quite how to love God, but that is the first and foremost thing to do. All the great men and women of history have been great lovers, people whose capacity to love was seemingly endless. So love always, and banish fear and hatred, fear and hatred get in the way of love, so banish them from your life and enjoy the season and your new puppy – Merry Christmas.”

To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to teddy.stillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.