My Favorite Christmas Prayer

One of my fondest holiday memories was probably 20 years ago watching my boys play tag football with two marines from nearby Camp Pendleton on the street where we lived while I cooked our holiday meal and decorated our table. The young new recruits were there because the school that my boys attended had arranged volunteer families to host young marines attending boot camp over the holidays for a day of holiday spirit in whatever way that tradition was practiced by the host family.

When we first picked up our marines at the designated spot, there were introductions and instructions from the organizers, and within a half an hour we were on our way home to share our day with them. There was a bit of expected awkwardness in the beginning, mostly emanating from the gawking, awestruck looks my boys gave as they fixated on these two young men, respectfully holding their caps in their hands and looking sharp in their crisp, fitted military uniforms. My oldest just studied them with sidelong glances, but my youngest pounded them with ridiculous questions like, “Have you had to shoot anybody yet?” and “What is the biggest plane you’ve flown?” Of course, since they were brand new boot camp recruits, they laughed heartly at his questions which broke the ice quickly and created a “big brother, little brother” teasing camaraderie between them before we were even out of the car.

They were allowed to bring a change of clothes if they wanted to relax into casual civilian gear until dinner was served, at which time, they had been instructed to change back into their uniforms for the remainder of the time with us. As soon as the uniforms were off and the sweatpants and t-shirts were on, the boys headed out for some touch football, skateboarding, and even a game of laser tag with some of the neighborhood kids who couldn’t help but come to see the “celebrities” for themselves—I’m sure with the hope of picking up a few new military-style moves for future neighborhood games.

As I continued in the kitchen preparing our turkey with all the trimmings, I couldn’t help but marvel at the speed at which children and young people can connect, play, and create friendships. I wondered briefly why that became harder as we grew older?

As they wandered in occasionally for a drink of water or a peak at the football game on television, it was humorous and heartwarming to see the expressions of sheer delight on their faces at the smells wafting from my kitchen and watch their eyes becoming slaves to the covered plates of cookies, cheeses, dips, and other holiday goodies that rested on the counters.  Of course, that paled in comparison to the looks of ecstasy they exchanged when I encouraged them to dig in before they returned outside to continue their games and fun. Even as a mother of two boys, it’s still quite shocking to me how much young males can eat in one sitting and over a sustained period of time as if there is truly no bottom to their stomachs—especially, if they have been living on industrialized, cafeteria style food and have just come inside from a bunch of rowdiness in the street. They seriously eat like they may never eat again. And the mom in me loved every minute of it. I secretly patted myself on the back for the foresight to make a whole bunch of it!

As our meal was finally laid on the table, I asked the boys how they opened their holiday meals back at home and inquired about their family traditions.  They looked at each other briefly, and then one said, “We start with a prayer, Ma’am.” When I told him that would work wonderfully for us and that our tradition was to invite our guests to offer the prayer, he blushed a little but bowed his head to comply. Because he was young, and a boy, and was seated at a stranger’s holiday table, I fully expected the prayer to be short and sweet, if not a bit perfunctory. Little did I know I was about to experience a prayer that would become forever etched in my memory and one of my favorites of all time.

He began by expressing gratitude for the food and bounty at our table and for the family who had cooked and provided it. He extended his thankfulness for the feeling of belonging that had filled some of the loneliness and homesickness he had felt at not being able to go back to his own home for Christmas. He asked that his parents, siblings, and extended family back home be blessed and given peace and faith in his safe return as well as a blessing on the future well-being of his fellow soldiers and those already deployed around the world. He asked that his own heart always be guarded and guided toward standing for what was right and good and being the example of freedom and respect wherever he was called to serve. And then, he hesitated briefly and reached for my hand, which created a wave of handholding around the table. With a gentle squeeze, he said, “And praise God for all the good and faithful mothers in this world.  May they always feel the joy of grateful sons everywhere,” to which all of the men at my table shouted, “Amen! Let’s eat!” and to which I began to cry like a baby.

As everyone began to boisterously pass the heaping platters of food around the table, the soldier held my gaze for a moment and with another quick squeeze, smiled and picked up his fork with gusto. As tears overflowed my eyes, I realized that I wouldn’t need to actually eat the food that night to feel a satisfying fullness. To say this young man’s prayer melted my heart would be an understatement. Somehow, his prayer before our dinner made the food better, the desserts sweeter, the stories more poignant, the teasing more playful, and the laughter more robust.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Christmas and the holidays are not just about gifts of material things that we give and receive but more importantly about the gifts of time, true love, gratitude, and hospitality. I don’t remember what I received as a gift that year from anyone, but I will never forget the gift of that young soldier’s prayer and the sincere look of gratitude as he saw his own mother’s face in mine at that holiday table.

We never saw those two young men again, but my memory of them and that holiday prayer will stay with me for a lifetime. I’m positive both of those marines are paying it forward somewhere out there in the world today in their own way, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction to think we might have played a small part in that.

I hope this holiday season creates an opening for a life-giving, life-altering experience for you and your family. I hope you will feel a sense of joy that can only come from knowing that someone else’s life is better because you were in it and they were in yours.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and blessed holidays to all of you from all of us at LionSpeak.

“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

~ The Grinch


  1. Happy Christmas to you all at LionSpeak. Thank you for all the inspiration given this year. Here’s to a great 2023.

    1. You too, Pip! Thanks for being part of what we love the most at LionSpeak. Happy holidays!

  2. Beautiful share! Thanks for bringing tears to my eyes as well. Blessings to you and your family!

    1. Thanks, Rachel. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it! Thanks for taking a minute in this busy season to write your kind thoughts to us. Happy holidays!

  3. Oh, Katherine. You manage to get to my “feels” every so often. As a mother of sons and a grown Grandson who openly show their affection and love, I understand how this would stay in your memory. We are blessed to know how this feels.

    1. Most certainly, we are, Jan. I’m so glad you liked it. Merry Christmas to you and your family and best wishes for a prosperous and healthy 2023!

  4. That was so beautiful and a perfect start to the week before Christmas. I appreciate you sharing such a powerful story of the real meaning of Christmas which is LOVE.

    1. Thank you, Kristin. I’m so happy it resonated with you so deeply especially during this special time of year. Happy holidays to you and yours.

    1. Thanks, Penny! I get emotional every time I read it or think of it. Thanks for taking moment to write to us. We so appreciate you as a subscriber. Happy holidays from all of us!

  5. Thanks for sharing this experience, Katherine……what a superb gift those young soldiers received, and what a wonderful blessing you received. It really is a blessing to give……Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, sweet Adrienne. I’m so happy you liked the story. It’s a wonderful memory for me and it was fun to share it in the Stretch. We are wishing you, Tim, Alan, and the whole BE family a lovely Christmas and your best year yet in 2023!

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