Christmas Tamales


I hadn’t been on time to an appointment all day plus my “to-do” list was getting longer – not shorter. Some days are just like that.

Then I volunteered to deliver Christmas gifts to a McCarter family. Sounded simple enough then I looked at how generous how church family was. It would take me three trips to load all the gifts up – mostly clothes and winter coats for a family of 7.

I called the number to make sure they were home. No answer. Left a message. The note tells me that the grandparents do not speak a lot of English but the grandchildren would translate for us.

I called Amy and the kids. Cooper, Camber and Amy speak passable Spanish. Cooper is the best but he was working. I think Camber can say ‘The book is on the table’ and ‘No, I would not like to pet the donkey.’ I can’t really see how that is going to help us but I figure it was better than I knew.

I call again. No answer.

We decide to risk it and go over. The house is located in what many of us would call ‘not the nicest part of town.’ That distinction would change drastically in a few minutes.

As “luck” would have it, 2 minutes after we drive up, the grandmother with a couple of the kids pull up. She has kind eyes but is noticeably nervous there is a large, white man and his family on her front porch.

The granddaughter runs up to me. “Hey, I know you! You help at the Upward Church.”

The Upward Church. How cool is that?

Grandmother seems to relax quite a bit when she hears “the Upward Church.” We enter the house with arms full of gifts. It’s a very small, one bedroom house. The dining room where we entered has been transformed into a bedroom. The living room has one couch and one chair. There is one other bedroom with a couple of bunk beds with barely enough room to walk into it. The kitchen may hold three adults at one time but the smells are wonderful.

I begin to wonder – where do they all hang out? Bedtime must be crazy. There doesn’t seem to be a single room big enough to hold the whole family at one time.

It takes us three trips to bring in all the gifts. The kids are jumping up and down. The grandmother just stands with one hand across her chest with the other covering her mouth.

It’s an awkward but warm moment – if that makes any sense. It’s overkill. The amount of gifts we bring in is so much more than what they need or expect. What they thought was going to be an extra gift or two under the tree ends up being a haul that blocks the entrance to the kitchen.

It’s too much. The grandmother is debating this in her head. I’m thinking the same thing. A couple of gifts is nice, three or four is generous. 14 to 15? It’s obscene. It is borderline offensive, isn’t it?

Then it hits me. This is Christmas. This is exactly the dilemma we all face with the baby born in a manger. It’s too much. It’s overkill. It’s much more than what we expected. It’s obscene. God gifting his Son? We don’t deserve it but we need it. And if we are honest in that moment – we want it. Something in our hearts desire this scandalous show of grace and love. We have to decide – will we accept it? Admitting our need is a vulnerable position. It’s humbling.

I see this in the eyes of the grandmother. The dilemma. She looks at me. Her hand still covering her mouth.

She runs into the kitchen screaming back at me – “Do you like tamales?”

“Do I like tamales????” I try to think of something funny to say and decide against it.


She pulls open the oven and grabs a huge wad of aluminum foil. She puts it in a shopping bag, ties a knot in the top and brings it to me.

“Merry Christmas.”

Now I’m in the same boat as she. This is their dinner for all I know. She didn’t know we were coming so she didn’t prepare these for us. It’s enough tamales to feed a small army. I smell the corn tortillas and pork, the aroma of awesomeness seeping out of the foil.

It is equally clear that I’m not getting out of the house without them.

To accept the gift of another. It’s the greatest show of respect and love. She’s going to accept ours. Will I accept her’s?

I hug her neck.


A 6’2? white guy hugging the neck of a 5’1? Hispanic grandmother he just met speaking all the Spanish he knows. Her grandkids are still jumping around and trying to touch Camber and Cayden’s blond hair.

“You are welcome. And thank you.”

As we drive away, I try to process what just happened but the words…they aren’t coming. I’m just thankful.

Thankful for Christmas tamales and how what they are teaching me about Christmas.


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