LAUGHTER AND TEARS

We learned early on that “dreaming of a white Christmas” in Arizona was exactly that; a dream. Probably better described in these parts as a “pipe dream”. While we couldn’t count on snow, we could count on other things, things, depending on the year, like toys, Levi’s, some flannel shirts, socks, and piles of turkey, stuffing, fruit salad, ham, baked beans and pumpkin pie. But the most relied upon Christmas Day ingredients, year after year, were laughter and tears.

When you stack onto everyday life’s obligations of Christmas time “to do lists” tempers can get short. Now kids are dumb, and I speak as an expert on the subject on behalf of me and my ‘less dumb now’ siblings, but kids feel the stress of their parents. Even if they can’t explain it.

There were some years, lean ones, that our parents stretched their dollars as far as they could, stretched to the point of snapping. The years after my dad’s back surgeries were tough, beans for dinner was the most common meal in those days. Christmases were lean. While we may not have had massive amounts of gifts, we had more than our fair share of laughter and tears.

There was one year my parents went in hawk to buy us a storybook Christmas. We scored. Well, most of us scored. Bobby, Sheral, and I all got new bicycles. Dean, the oldest, got a typewriter.

Kids can sometimes fool their parents, but they can never fool their siblings. Dean sat there pecking away on his Smith Corona, trying to pretend he liked it so he wouldn’t hurt my mom and dad’s feelings, but we knew better. We waited till we were outside, riding our new bikes, to laugh at our older brother’s predicament. We laughed so hard we cried… That’s what you call killing two birds with one stone.

image courtesy of CynthiaMorton.com

Sometimes when my dad read the Christmas story from Luke, our family tradition, my mom would have tears in her eyes. I knew she wasn’t completely sad, they were a mixture of thanks and knowing that it was a fallen and fleeting world.

My two grandsons got to open a gift yesterday. Their grandma got them some plastic hand extension contraptions. They’re about thirty inches long with a handle and grip trigger that makes the “U” on the end of the thing-a-ma-jig clamp together into an “O” in order to pick up things.

They laughed with delight… Eventually they turned into swords and they set about to inadvertently, in a dishonest way, beat the holy moly out of one another. Even their grandpa got a few whacks…

The cries soon faded and turned to laughing as I chased them through the house, armed with their gifts, one in each of my hands, as I pinched them lightly with their Christmas presents.

Come Christmas Eve there will be laughter. The foundations of memories will begin to build up and another gift of time and Christmas will come and go. I’ll fight back tears into watery eyes as I savor the moment and the gifts of God, namely the last perfect sacrifice of His Son.

I pray for my family and yours. May you be blessed, as we are, with years of laughter and tears this Christmas season. God bless.

BETTER DAYS

The big ole Christmas tree that is around fifteen years old has seen its better days.

I’m not sure if it’s gravity, grandsons, or my physical abuse fighting the sections back into the tattered boxes that have caused the metal arms to fall past level when opened. When you grow up in lean times you learn early and often how to rig things.

I grabbed the sagging metal branches, right fist width, against the trunk, grabbed the middle of the branches with my left and bent the metal arms about six to eight inches up. Viola, the unnatural looking holes vanished like magic.

About eight or ten years ago the lights strands started to go south. Every year since then I’ve had to buy more and more additional strands to fill in the dead spots on the tree.

This year the prongs on the second to the lowest section’s plug fell out like and old beagle chewing on a Christmas hambone. So much for doctoring the ancient tree. This year would entail a complete light overhaul.

After the fifth trip to the local overpriced Ace Hardware, ’cause only a sadistic person would attempt Home Depot, I arrived back at the house with six twenty five foot rolls of new tree light. I broke with tradition and went with the bright white LED’s.

I thought I was going to have extra lights. Turns out there’s really not enough. It’s a budget tree now. Not to mention that no one else in the family likes the bright white contemporary lights. The grandsons love the tree and are awestruck by it… So I added them to “my side” of the bright white light debate.

We talk each year about this one being the last one for the ole Christmas tree, but after all these years with it I hate to turn it out to pasture.

That tree has stood proud over the years for the majority of the kids lives and now their kids lives. I know it’s just a tree, but I love what it stands for.

There are trees all over the world, more real than fake, and while I appreciate their beauty, it’s this tree, our old tree, that stands in tradition yearly as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

That tree is like me in a lot of ways; it’s patched and repaired. It still stands, but not as tall and straight as it once did. We’ve both seen our better days.

As I look back, the ole Christmas tree reminds me that although a lot of us have seen our better days, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that we have better days ahead… we have perfect days ahead.

A FALLEN WORLD

It’s that time of year when my mind can’t help but roll back in time to the long gone days of childhood. Maybe it’s because we put the tree up yesterday. Or maybe it’s because I ponder the memories of my children and now my grandchildren here. And that fake tree is a little more broken every year… like all of us with time, I suppose. It is a fallen world after all.

The pale yellow church with the white steeple located on Ramsey had a simple white sign with black letters that read, “First Southern Baptist Church”. That’s where I was baptized and learned John 3:16. Being that it was the late sixties, and violence was alive and well in Southern California, it didn’t take long to learn that they were spot on about it being a “Fallen world”.

image courtesy of churchproducts.com

When you grow up in a setting like that, old hymnals become part of your roots. They get memorized as easy as John 11:35; “Jesus wept”. We learned the words to Amazing Grace and Silent Night with ease. It would be decades before we actually listened and grasped them though. Music was part of church, along with the solos.

My brothers, who were about seven and four years older than me, respectively, my sister only had a year and a half on me, had a theory, or what might be better described as a suspicion or notion. They believed that Mrs. Buchanan was on a sorta pay to sing basis.

Mrs. Buchanan was responsible for more than a couple death stares, thumps on the head, and even some whippings from our dad when we’d laugh at how poorly Mrs. Buchanan sang. My brother Bobby still swears that trying not to laugh during her solos is how he learned to speed read.

That’s when my sister and I learned that if there was any hope of not laughing during a Mrs. Buchanan solo we couldn’t even glimpse at each other. My sister squeezing her mouth so that the sides of her lips touched, trying not to laugh, made me laugh out loud, then and just now. Memories are peculiar like that.

The Buchanan’s lived on top of a mountain north of town that overlooked the entire town. They drove a blue Lincoln Continental that had electric windows. From our perspective they were rich and could very well have paid enough in tithes to get her to sing whenever she wanted. It was, after all, a fallen world.

The Buchanan’s adopted three kids, all siblings, Donald was the oldest and according to him, Mrs. Buchanan was beyond a task master. She treated them like slaves. They were responsible for the maintenance and cleaning of their mini mansion on top of the hill that overlooked the rest of us.

Mrs. Buchanan’s solos came to and end… at the hands of her adopted oldest, Donald. He shot her in the head with a shotgun…

You can’t hide that kind of stuff from kids. Even when they’re in single digit years of age. We learn early in life that this is indeed a fallen world.

This time of year isn’t special for some folks. In this fallen world children will go hungry and be abused. There will be tears for some as they endure the season we cherish. This is the season for us to try and make a difference in this fallen world. And none of us have to look too far to find those in need.

Although my kids have had a life less exposed to the harsh realities of it at a young age, they too have learned that it’s a fallen world. But they, like we did, learned that despite the fallenness of this world, we have hope.

We have hope, or what is translated as “confidence”, in the Creator of life to keep His perfect Word this Christmas season. It’s in that knowledge we celebrate His perfect Gift and look ahead to perfection… from this fallen world.

THE DICK AND JANE DAYS

Like most of the souls behind the eyes reading this, I appreciate words. In fact, it’s not at all a stretch to say I love words. Always have, going all the way back to the Dick and Jane days.

I got a slight advantage when it came to words back in the early days of school. The tool, or one of the main tools, for dealing with a kid with a speech impediment was reading. I was forced to use that tool a lot. And while my mathematics surely suffered, my reading didn’t, least wise until I finally figured out how to say my dead gum “R’s”.

By the time I hit fourth grade I was a regular at the school library on Friday afternoons. I don’t remember the librarian’s name, but I remember her and her New York accent. She was the person that introduced me to Beverly Cleary. I read everyone of her books that they had in our humble grade school library.

The librarian loved that I loved books like she did. Her face would light up with passion as she’d recommend books for me. Eventually she had me reading books that were aimed at teaching life lessons to teenagers, even though I was a long way from being one.

Being all boy, the librarian knew that I’d love and devour the books by Henry Gregor Felsen. And that I did. I loved the mental pictures of those chopped coupes. That’s probably why I still appreciate early ’30’s coupes, especially a ’33 Plymouth… say… bright purple?

image courtesy of Goodreads.com

My book loving librarian gave me another “must read” titled “It’s Like This, Cat”, by Emily Neville. It’s on my top twenty books of all time. I liked it so much that I ended up with a paperback copy of it. And four years later I was that kid who ended up being moved to the big city… with a couple of cats to keep me company.

As time went on, even with the distractions of sports, girls, and cars, I devoured all the classics, Steinbeck probably being my favorite. Bill Shakespeare probably my least, although I recognize his genius. So it’s probably not a big surprise that the kid born in Arkansas and raised in the Arizona desert has read more Louis L’Amour books than you can shake a stick at.

The world of words are a lot like many things, in regard to the gift of using them. I marvel when I see what a professional basketball player can do with a ball and a hoop. A mason brandishing his trowel with mastery, a carpenter sinking a nail with amazing speed and precision, a chef, with the same ingredients we all have access to, making something taste like it’s out of this world.

When I read words, basic words, words we all know and have access to, put together in a way that makes me think or just enjoy the gift of telling a story, I’m gratified in my soul.

When I ponder words, and my utter respect and love for them, I can’t help but hear the words from John 1 in my head; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word was Jesus Christ and the interpretation of that word “Word”, in part, in Greek is “Divine Expression”. God’s perfect Word. Nothing we can say or create will compare to the most powerful and perfect Word.

But we appreciate The Word and the words from Him. It’s part of being made in God’s image, I believe.

So in the season of Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be thankful for the words we share… and ultimately The Word. ‘Cause if you’re like me, you love Words, going all the way back to the Dick and Jane days.

THANKSGIVING DAY OR OTHERWISE

Long before Tom Petty sang the now famous words, “The waiting is the hardest part,” I, well, me and my siblings, sometimes some cousins, were living, and groaning, through the reality of those words on Thanksgiving Day.

The work for the massive feast started early and the air was filled with the aroma of what was to come… eventually. The better part of a day is a long time for a little kid.

I remember my mom splitting the beaters from the electric mixer, that had all been but shaken clean off, with my sister and me. Pie filling and real whipped cream just whet our appetite and made the longing even worse.

The smell of the turkey, gravy, beans, stuffing, and bacon that went into my mom’s famous baked beans, had everyone’s mouth watering. The pumpkin, apple, cherry, pies and my dad’s fruit salad, that was more whipped cream than fruit, tortured us through the longest day of the year.

image courtesy of atgrovecenterton.com

After surviving the molasses of a day, one of the secret baked beans ingredients, we’d finally hear those two beautiful words, “Let’s eat!” They didn’t have to be said loud, we were within earshot. We’d be hovering close by like a pack of wolfs waiting till it was safe to move in for the kill.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the “Let’s eat!”, didn’t mean we were actually going to eat. It meant that we were one step closer to the magic moment that our bellies were grumbling for.

There was one more step. And that step could be a time consuming one. Because the next words were automatic, “Let’s say blessings”, my dad would say. It didn’t matter where we were, our house or someone else’s, my dad was the official family thanks giver.

“Heavenly Father,” is how he always started his prayer, Thanksgiving or otherwise. When it came to praying, my blue collar dad was always genuinely grateful for God’s provision and protection… and his prayers reflected that fact. He wasn’t an economical prayer.

No sir, when it came to praying our dad was an opulent prayer. Not fancy words, but real ones, straight from his heart. And he wasn’t in a hurry.

That’s where he was different than us as kids. We endured the prayers, like barbarians, ready to tear into the feast like Tasmanian devils. I wasn’t the only heathen that opened one eye to make sure the food hadn’t gotten away. I’d spot one or both of my brothers, on occasion, my sister too sneaking the, if not illegal, immoral peek.

I haven’t heard my dad pray in going on ten years now. And all I can think of from those early days of life and Thanksgiving are the words my dad prayed. I realize now that those words were infinitely sweeter than any dessert, including his fruit salad, I’ve had since then and will have on this side of heaven’s curtain.

I guess I’ll never measure up and be the prayer my dad was, but I’m proud of that fact. But if you ever hear me pray, which I do on many occasions, because I’m usually the appointed thanks giver, you’ll hear remnants of my dad.

“Heavenly, Father…” is how I start every prayer… Thanksgiving Day or otherwise.