Author Jackie Madden Haugh talks about peeking into presentsAn earthquake-like tremor shook the floor as the sound of my pounding bare feet pummeled the hallway. Fearing the turbulent explosion I knew was about to detonate, I ducked behind the three-foot tall dollhouse and shielded my ears from the shrapnel of angry words that were about to spew.

“Jackie! How could you?” My mother screamed.

Peeking through the window of my new Barbie Dream House, I wasn’t sure what frightened me more— the punishment I was about to receive on that 1968 Christmas morning, or the scary creature standing before me.

Looking like a disfigured monster from a B-rated horror film, my mother stood in the doorway spewing fire. With tight little pin curls coiled all over her flaming red head and black mascara smudged under her eyes, this frightening creature was not the typical well-kept, loving woman I knew to be my mom.

“I’m sorry, mommy,” I struggled to say in that 4:00 am situation. “I couldn’t sleep, and I heard Santa out here. I wanted to see if he needed anything to eat.”

“Go back to your room,” her frustrated hiss demanded. “And don’t even go there. I know you found out who the real Santa was last month when I caught you sneaking in my closet.”

With her hand forcefully nudging my six-year-old back out of the room, her ice cold irritation swiftly thawed into misty tears. Blubbering would wait until she got her mischievous child back into bed.

Being the eternal good girl in every other way, one might think this devastating episode would have been a major turning point to my errant peeking ways. I knew she was crestfallen not to witness the excitement on my face when I saw all the new toys under the tree. After all, it took her eleven and a half months to prepare for that one moment. Unfortunately for her, it was not the last time my eagerness would overtake me. I became a highly sophisticated double agent when it came to any future seek-and-destroy missions labeled “Wait until Christmas.”

Beginning in June, donning camouflage attire, I crawled on all fours on a stealth mission to uncover the secrets she had stored away. Concealing holiday gifts in every closet, under beds, and in the attic above the garage, I felt compelled as the Madden family spy to uncover the goods and spill the beans to my brothers.

And as the years have passed, I’m ashamed to say some things haven’t changed. The minute a gift enters my foxhole, this soldier takes out her sword and prepares for the unveiling.

First, the package is jiggled as if it were a box of Shake and Bake. Listening to the Styrofoam popcorn coat the edges of the mystery inside, I easily decipher if it is an animal, vegetable or mineral. Then, with a little steam from the teapot, I pry loose the carefully placed scotch tape. In planning covert operations, one learns to leave no “tell-tale sign” of intrusion.

Of course, as sneaky as my operations are, I’ve also been busted a few times. So I know this is a tremendous source of frustration for everyone who generously thinks of me at the holidays. Despite being told to wait, and knowing I shouldn’t, I constantly defy orders.

This Christmas, however, things are going to be different. I promise!

I will NOT open any box or bag early (even if it kills me). Instead, during the month of December, I’ll unwrap a far more precious gift– the loving heart of the person before me.

I’ve been told that the eyes are the window to the soul. I know this to be a fact because I witnessed it every time my dad looked at me. It became even more apparent when he spoke. Behind those clear Irish blue eyes resided a gentle, loving spirit who was truly touched by the hand of God.

I want to behold this grace I know to be present in everyone.

As I look at another’s face, I’ll survey the visual; eye color, lash length, and designer frame on glasses. But then the search will go much deeper. Peering through the pupil, I’ll hunt for that soul within as I open up my ears and prepare to listen to their story.

With my father as my teacher, I learned that it’s not the vibration of words that make a personal tale fascinating, but the melody the spirit that sings deep within where the higher source rests.

Be prepared to be conquered! If I see you this holiday season (and in all the years to come), my personal assignment is to tear through the outer layers of your visage, the same way I would once tear through a present. Like an orange, it will be the challenging, thick rind first. Then, one-by-one, I’ll carefully separate the succulent slices and relish in devouring every wedge. For YOU, I know, are a gift worth savoring!

I bet you’ve peeked once or twice into a present before its time. What’s your story?