Joel Osteen is one of the most influential people in the country.
As pastor of the Lakewood Church -- a megachurch located in Houston -- his weekly televised semon is viewed by an estimated 7 million people across the nation, and by millions more in more than 100 countries across the globe.
In his latest book, "The Christmas Spirit: Memories of Family, Friends, and Faith," Osteen presents stories of people who have re-connected with the true meaning of Christmas.
Read an excerpt from Osteen's book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
The Christmas Spirit: Memories of Family, Friends, and Faith
By Joel Osteen
When we first talked about doing this book of Christmas memories, one of my family members said that I'd always liked stocking stuffers and this book is my chance to become one! I hope you'll find that it is stuffed with stories that inspire you, deepen your faith, make you laugh, and hopefully call to mind your own favorite memories of Christmases past.
Every family seems to have unique ways of celebrating Christmas. But what really hit home as we put this together was just how much Christmas is a celebration of family -- God's family and our own. God the Father sent His Son to us as the most precious gift of all. Jesus paid a high price to bring the promise of unconditional love, unending hope, and eternal life to every person who believes in Him. Once we'd gathered our favorite Christmas stories for this book and looked them over, we realized that without our planning it, each chapter contains those same themes of unconditional love, unending hope, and eternal life.
Faith in God provides us with those three gifts, and being part of a family helps us nourish them and pass them on from one generation to the next. Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family and to create memories that will last forever. Jesus is God's perfect, indescribable gift. The amazing thing is that not only are we able to receive this gift, but we are able to share it with others on Christmas and every other day of the year.
Our Father's Gift
We enjoyed the usual Christmas traditions growing up, but like most families, we had our own unique holiday rituals. The Osteen kids, all five of us, slept under and around the Christmas tree on the night before Christmas, telling stories and laughing and trying to guess what gifts we might be getting until we'd finally fall asleep. Still, we celebrated Christmas Day a bit differently from many families. For us it was really a big birthday party because my father and mother emphasized the holiday's Christian origins as the birthday of baby Jesus, God's perfect present to us. If ever there were a gift that keeps on giving, it was this one.
We did exchange Christmas gifts like most families. We laughed and carried on through huge dinners of turkey and all the fixings. One thing we didn't do, though, was eggnog. Instead, real early Christmas morning while our parents were still nestled all snug in their bed, the Osteen boys and girls climbed out of our sleeping bags and made home brew -- coffee, that is. I probably should explain to you first off that caffeine runs in our family's blood. We were a coffee-drinking bunch before Starbucks ever ground its first bean. Every one of us started drinking it at a young age because of our dad, a pastor who started each day with a Bible in one hand and a mug of strong coffee in the other.
Dad's morning coffee was his little taste of heaven on earth. Each day, he shuffled out of bed and headed to the coffee pot first thing. Before he shaved, showered, or dressed, he had to down at least one mug of good old Folgers "mountain grown, the richest kind of coffee," as the commercials said back then.
Our father, John Osteen, didn't just drink his morning mug of coffee; he savored it the way my wife, Victoria, relishes Godiva chocolates. For him the best part of waking up was definitely Folgers in a cup. He really made a big production of his morning coffee. I'm still not sure whether it was for his own enjoyment or for our entertainment; probably it was both.
I would sit with my older brother, Paul, and our sisters, Lisa, Tamara, and April, around the kitchen table each morning and wait for our dad to join us with his steaming mug. Watching our dad love up that very first sip of the day was a highlight of our morning, especially his first slurp. He'd put his lips to the cup, take a long, slow sip, and then hold the mug in the air with his eyes closed and a smile of contentment stretched across his face.
Finally, as we sat on the edge of our chairs waiting, Dad would take a deep breath, hold it, and let go a sound normally heard only from Saturday-morning cartoon characters.
We'd all giggle like crazy, and then each of us would take a sip of our own cups and chime in like the children's choir: Ahhhaaahaaaaaaaa!
Without fail, Dad made the same deeply satisfied sound after his first sip every morning. We laughed each and every time as if it were our first viewing ofour father's morning ritual. Do you know, to this day every one of John Osteen's grown-up kids makes the same sound after our first sips of coffee each day? Some of our own kids, members of the next generation, also have adopted the Ahhhhhaaahaaaa! Coffee habit handed down from their parents and grandfather.
This is of course just a small part of the legacy left by my father, who passed in 1999. You are likely aware that he founded Lakewood Church, which he and my mother, Dodie, built up from a small congregation packed into an old feed store. As we've grown older and become parents ourselves, my brother and sisters and I notice more and more how deeply our parents' influence comes through in our daily lives in other ways big and small, on holidays and every day too.
Paul was talking recently about our dad and his coffee habit and how he would come to breakfast each morning in his thick terry-cloth bathrobe, shuffling along in his house slippers, hair a mess, sleepy look in his eyes. Dad would cinch that robe's belt sash tight and way up high on his solar plexus, making him look like he weighed three hundred pounds even though he was not overweight at all.
We often teased my father about how rumpled he looked in the mornings. Paul especially enjoyed doing this, but my brother admitted awhile back that as he was walking to breakfast one recent morning, he caught sight of himself in a mirror. "There I was, in a big old robe knotted way up high on my belly, shuffling in my house slippers and my hair a mess," he said. "I realized I'd become our father!"
Another Osteen family tradition handed down from our dad is at the heart of this Christmas tale. First, though, I should tell you some of my father's history so you'll get the full picture. Dad grew up on a farm outside Paris, Texas, back in the horse-and-buggy days. They didn't have television with shows like American Idol back then, but they did have singing contests on the town square on Saturdays, when the farmers and their families rode into town for supplies.
My father's sisters thought he should enter the contest when he was all of five years old. Before they took the buggy into town, they tried to fancy him up to look more like an entertainer. His thick hair wouldn't stay combed the way they wanted, so his sister mixed in some egg whites as a down-home hair gel to do the trick.
Unfortunately, the hot Texas sun beat down on Dad's egged head during the long ride into town. By the time he made it up on stage, the rotten-egg smell in his hair was so bad that instead of singing for the crowd, he threw up on them! Our father told us that put an end to his dreams of being a singer, and I'm pretty sure he stayed away from egg-white hair gel after that too.
In his younger days, Dad worked picking cotton on the farm owned by his father, my granddad Willis Jackson Osteen. Granddad was a successful cotton grower until the Great Depression. Like most, his family lost everything. They called themselves "dirt poor," but they lost even their land when the banks crashed and Granddad had to give up farming. He didn't give up on life, though.
Through his friendships with other farmers, he was able to gather fresh produce, load it into his old opensided truck, and drive into Fort Worth and Dallas, where he sold homegrown vegetables on the streets in wealthy neighborhoods. Still, times were hard, and Dad and his two brothers and two sisters didn't have much, growing up. My father often talked about going to bed hungry, having to put water on his breakfast cereal because there was no money for milk, putting cardboard in his shoes to cover the holes in the soles, and wearing hand-me-down clothes and pants that were too short.
Excerpted from THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: Memories of Family, Friends, and Faith by Joel Osteen (Free Press)