In Search of Simple

Heather was only seven or eight years old when it happened.  While having lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom in Disney World, Heather asked for some ketchup for her fries.  As she turned the ketchup bottle up to pour, she suddenly realized that it was pouring so fast – her fries were about to drown and sort of froze not knowing what to do.  The only thing she could say was, “Too much! Too much! Too much!”  I grabbed the bottle and stopped the deluge of ketchup from covering everything on our table and Heather and all the rest in our party were saved.  Immediately after that we all laughed at her reaction.  “Too much! Too much! Too much!” would become a phrase we would use (and still use) often when the need for such a comment seemed appropriate.  In that moment all Heather could say or do was utter those two words, “Too much!”

I have thought of that phrase this Christmas.  As Lisa and I have walked through various stores here in Ohio and across the state line into West Virginia searching for gifts for people who don’t need anything (sound familiar?), while navigating in and through the crowds of people also searching for things nobody really needs – Heather’s words, “Too much!”,  come to mind.  Christmas has become too much.  We spend too much, we want too much, we work too much, we worry too much, we do too much.  Every year we tell ourselves to keep things simple at Christmas and convince ourselves that this year will be different.  We won’t go broke or go crazy.  This year we will slow down – take it easy, R-E-L-A-X.  Those good intentions last about as long as it took that ketchup to overtake Heather’s fries.  Before we know what happened – we have spent too much money and worried too much about spending too much money.  Christmas can be a real bummer if we let it.

The truth for Lisa and I is that our Christmas is being made by simply going home.  That’s it!  We want nothing else.  Two years ago we spent our Christmas in southern California, unable to get home.  We shipped our gifts home and watched our family via our computer open their gifts.  The only Christmas decoration in our apartment was a card sent to us by a family member.  It was the saddest Christmas of our lives.  But a great lesson was learned in the process.  That Christmas was sad not because we did not open a lot of gifts Christmas morning or have a tree to decorate or a home cooked meal to enjoy.  It was that we were not home – not with our family – not where we belonged.  Being home for Christmas means everything to us and home, for us, is our family and friends.

The simplest Christmas of all time was the first Christmas.  I can’t imagine a less hectic, less chaotic moment in history than what we find in the nativity scene.  Could anything be more simple than the humble birth of a baby in a bed of hay?  Why God chose that time and place to bring his Son into the world is beyond me.  It was so primitive and exposed and unsanitary.  Had he chose to come in 2014 we could have really put on a show.  But, thank goodness that decision was not left up to us.  In Bethlehem there were no Wal-Marts, Hampton Inns or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”.  That first Christmas happened without car horns or ATM machines.  The first Christmas happened in near silence.  Think of that – Christmas in silence.  I am reminded of the title of an old album by Christian singer John Michael Talbott – “Come to the Quiet”.  That is good Christmas advice, Mr. Talbott.  Let’s all ‘come to the quiet’ this Christmas.

I know that is not easy.  In fact, I really don’t know how to keep Christmas simple.  It inevitably becomes a frenzy of activity and chaos.  No matter how we try, the Christmas holiday always seems to get out of hand as if it automatically kicks us into a higher gear as a, sort of, default setting if there is an indication we might slow down.  I suppose I should just give in to it. Okay, crazy, hectic Christmas – you win!  But at least we will be going crazy at home where the search for a simple, quiet Christmas will go on.

And don’t be surprised if in your quiet Christmas moment you hear a crazy man yelling, “Too much! Too much! Too much!” It will probably be me.

Coming home for Christmas, Love Steve and Lisa

 

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A Christmas Moment to Remember

As I get older I find that my memory is just not what it once was.  I have friends that remember events with such detail that they can recite dialogue and date.  Not me.  I do well to remember much of anything in very good detail and often my memory of events does not jive with others who shared the same experience.  It is frustrating not remembering things – which is why Christmas and special events like Christmas are so important.  Holidays serve as memory landmarks that help us identify where we were and who we were with at those various special occasions throughout life.  Just like I may need that exit sign to remind me where to go – I need Christmas and the holidays to remind me where I have been.

For me, memories of an event or times past come to mind as brief moments – as if captured with a camera.  I may think of a moment with my parents or grandparents and it flashes in my memory as an image or multiple images.  They are snapshots of my past that I have managed to retain in great detail. God willing – I will never lose those images for if I do – all ability to remember will be gone for good.

While home at Thanksgiving I had a unique experience capturing a real image that may very will serve as a way to remember this particular stage of our lives.  Our grandson, Conner Jack, was at our house one evening when this very unexpected and, I promise, unstaged moment took place.  I had gone out for a few minutes and upon returning noticed Conner looking out our front window.  He had pulled the curtain back slightly and his little face was illuminated by a Christmas candle that had been placed in the window.  In the background one could see the lights of our Christmas tree – the most remarkable image of a child at Christmas that I could imagine.  I fumbled with my phone to pull up the camera feature and managed to get a couple of shots before Conner turned and knocked the candle from the window and, essentially, end the moment.  Frustrated and certain I had missed my chance at capturing the moment, I walked into the house and let it be known to all listening how mad I was at my stupid phone camera.  Thinking the pictures captured would be no good – I finally looked at the results and could not believe what I saw.  Conner gazing out the window and the candle illuminating his face in a moment of what looked like complete Christmas wonder and joy that only a child could convey.  I was ecstatic.

Moments come and they go.  Most are unremarkable passing seconds that hold no significance.  Christmas is one time of year when we tend to remember things a little better – probably because we want them to last forever.  I would love for Conner Jack to stay a little boy always – but that won’t happen.  He will grow up as they all do and will eventually be going to school and getting older and, well – living the life that God has planned for him.  I can accept that.  But, at least, there is a Christmas picture of him that will forever capture one moment at Christmas – one we will never forget.

Love, Steve and Lisa

When God Winked at Christmas

My mom passed away on Valentines Day 2006.  I was driving down Frederica Street in my hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky when the call came to me that she was found that morning in her apartment – having passed away sometime during the night.  Nothing can prepare you for losing a parent and I agree with those who say there is nothing like losing your mom.  She had battled with cancer for the previous couple of years and, in many ways, her sudden death was a blessing as she avoided the long-term pain associated with that disease.  But, I miss her still – now almost nine years later.  And I especially miss her at Christmas.

My mom loved Christmas more than any other time of year.  Growing up – our house at Christmas became a winter wonderland of everything from dancing Santa’s to decorations that looked more appropriate for Mardi-Gras.  The gaudier the better seemed to be her motto for decorating  and when all the decorations were in place – her cooking began.  My mom came from a long tradition of really good cooks and Christmas was the time to really showcase those skills.  Fudge, cookies, chocolate covered marshmallows, cakes, brownies and every year some newly found recipe would be on display for practically the whole month of December. No wonder my dad battled with weight and diabetes in his life – you could take one trip through the kitchen and gain ten pounds.  Most years my mom would take part of her vacation during Christmas – just to have more time to cook, clean, and prepare for this annual production.  What memories!

One of the hardest jobs I had after she passed away was going through her apartment and all the things she had accumulated through the years.  As she got older, she became insistent on holding onto everything – bordering on being a hoarder.  I came to understand that she, living alone, had lost so much in her life (including my brother and dad) those things became a way to off-set the losses.  It took weeks for Lisa and I to finally discard, sell or store away all the things she left behind.  But there was one box of items that I remember most.  It was part of the Christmas presents she bought for us that we never received.  Unfortunately – her poor health kept us from exchanging gifts that previous Christmas and we had decided to wait until she felt better – even if it meant after the first of the year.  That never happened.  So with great remorse I gathered up the items she had purchased for us and took them home.  It would be weeks before I had the nerve to go through what were the last Christmas gifts my mom gave.

One day, about a month later, I managed to go through that box.  It was not easy seeing these final gifts and knowing they were bought with her meager fixed income.  Most of the items I hardly remember.  But there was one that I will never forget.  It was a little snowman candle that would turn out to be one of the greatest gifts of my life.

There is a book that a friend let me borrow called “When God Winks at You” and it has to do with those unexpected moments in our lives when something so bizarre and wonderful happens that you have to conclude God had something to do with it.  The unexpected reunion of an old friend right after you had been thinking of them; the ten dollars found in your coat pocket when you are down to your last dime; the unexpected snowfall walking home from your church’s Christmas Eve service.  These are moments that God winked at you as if to say – I’m here and everything is going to be alright.  I did not know it at the time, but that little snowman candle would be used in one of those God-winked moments.

My mom always liked unique things.  She would be one that could never pass up buying the singing mounted fish or a dancing elf.  She loved that stuff.  The candle snowman seemed almost out-of-place with the other gifts she had for us – it seemed boring and without much thought behind it.  But, for some reason, rather than storing it in our Christmas boxes or throwing it out altogether, I placed it on our dining room table and spun around to turn off the light.  As I did, I noticed a glow coming from the table.  I quickly turned back around and saw that it was that snowman – glowing in the dark.  But not only was it glowing – it was changing colors and turned from blue to red to green and orange and every hue of color in between.  It was activated by touching it and I had no idea that it had that capability.  I sat down for a moment and watched the colors change and thought of my mom and cried.  It was as if she was saying – everything is okay.

God does wink at us from time to time in a way that communicates His love for us but also to say everything will be okay.  I miss my mom and think of her often – especially this time of year.  There is a snowman glowing somewhere at our home in Owensboro and God and my mom are winking.

Love, Steve