Remembering Christmas . . .

winter, texas, scene, snow, through the trees, wood shingles, Christmas, remembering, memoriesNope, this is not my childhood home.  It’s a bit better than the one I remember.  Regardless, there still were some Christmas traditions that were just as lovely.  That’s the great thing about memories.  You can pick and choose which ones to bring to life on a cold December night like tonight . . .

She loved Christmas.  Like all moms, all the ornaments we made during our childhood decorated the tree along with those glass ornaments that sometimes peeled from being stored in the heat of the attic over the summer.  There were four that never faded, however.  I don’t really know where they came from yet do recall that they were bright pink, a double-pointed teardrop shape, and sparkly in silver and sequined adornments.  She always placed them near the top of the tree like icing on a chocolate layer cake.  Then there were the ones we made by pinning seed beads and ribbon into satiny foam balls.  The ones my mom made had the beads lined up in straight lines (unlike mine!).  Colored lights lit the inside; silvery tinsel draped over the top of everything twinkled on the outside.  Fabulous indeed!

No matter my means over the years, I still use a white sheet like my family did as a tree skirt.  It looks to me like the snowy drifts that cover the Midwest in winter time and it’s a perfect backdrop for the little ceramic nativity set nestled within the folds.  I think most of us had a set made by my Aunt Shirley.  The little lambs (held by the shepherds), no more than 3/4 inch tall were my favorite part of the first Christmas scene.  We always placed a few angels above where Jesus lain . . . or maybe it was me who insisted they go there!  I can’t remember.

When I was really small and my Dad was still around, we would leave out cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa.  I still recall the delight of seeing the crumbs on that white Corelle salad plate in the morning, picturing the big guy munching on them with ash in his beard from the drop down the chimney.  The best part was when my Dad had used his work boots to make dusty footprints coming from the fireplace hearth leading out onto the gold, scalloped carpeting.  Must have irked my mom to have to clean it all up Christmas morning!  She was like that.  Always cleaning.

Her Christmas party for all of our family was usually on Christmas day.  She had tins and Tupperware containers filled with our favorite Christmas cookies to keep the “bottomless” chrome platters stocked throughout the evening.  It was my unofficial job to see to that.  I liked the powdered-sugar coated rum balls and cocoa refrigerator cookies the best.  It took me decades to appreciate the thumbprint confections rolled in walnuts and filled when warm with Smuckers jelly.  Now they are my favorite.  Or is it the chocolate crinkles from her mom’s recipe?  So many from which to choose!

Cookies, boxes of chocolates, and tons of food filled the kitchen counter all night long.  One year it would be rolled cold cuts with cheese and another year a honey-baked ham that was a gift from her employer where she was an office manager.  Every coffee table or side table had M&M’s or nuts on it until a toddler stuffed his or her face with one too many!  There was always a bar with the aunt and uncle’s favorites, every flavor of pop (don’t say soda!), an ice bucket, and those little clear plastic cups that only got used for parties.  Our bellies were all stuffed by night’s end.

My mom loved to give gifts.  We used to think it was my Dad who spent too much money on toys when we were little but my mom had her own way of giving generously too.  Every year she prepared about 20 gifts of the same kind to give away to our cousins and any other kids who showed up at the house Christmas night.  I think I was envious of what they got; I truly don’t remember a single one except for the fanny packs she gave out one year!  I watched out the window on and off all afternoon until it got dark outside, looking forward to the party Christmas night for a personal reason:  my Godmother always brought a special gift for me.  In the Catholic faith, the parents ask a male and female to be the child’s Godfather and Godmother, respectively, before the baby’s baptism.  I understand that their role from the time of the baptism ceremony is to mentor the little one in matters of faith as he or she grows up . . . and give birthday and Christmas gifts too!

My Aunt Shirley, my mom’s next youngest sister, got it right on both counts.  My Godmother did take a special interest in me as I grew up and continued when my life got complicated by the events occurring around me.  I still have my confirmation prayer book and the green ceramic pitcher she gave me.  It was at her church in Royal Oak, Michigan that I would first encounter the love of Jesus Christ during the baptism service of her youngest son, Tommy.  I became his Godmother that night as a teenager.  It would take me years to realize that being a Godmother was about more than gifting (which I often forgot to do for Tom when I was away at college or out doing life), that mentoring a child unto a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important role of all.  I was glad to learn later in life that Aunt Shirley knew Jesus too.  It just doesn’t matter what church you go to or what rituals you follow when you meet the God of the Bible.

Yes, my mom loved Christmas and so do I.  She liked silly things like a stuffed moose with a green-n-red plaid scarf wrapped around its neck or a musical snowman that she placed at the end of the kitchen counter all December long.  I smile remembering these traditions, these memories.  These are good ones.  I just wish I knew whether or not she personally knew the person of Jesus Christ represented by the little ceramic baby in her ceramic and wooden manger scene.

When I entered my mom’s home after she had passed away, I noticed a greeting card on her kitchen table that I had sent to her a month earlier.  On it was a cute picture of a little boy wearing a Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap.  I knew she would get a kick out of it!  Inside was a Gospel message from me and invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  Of all the things that could have been on that kitchen table at that time in her life, one was that card with the cute kid on it and important message inside that remained.  Amazingly, I found that card in a store where I lived at the time in the land of Chicago Cubs and White Sox fans!  I wonder:  surely she understood the meaning of Christmas and entered in the presence of the Lord as His own before she died?  I just don’t know.

One day I will know.  And so will you, Gentle Reader.  I hope we will both remember Christmas as a time when we celebrate with more than cookies and gifts, ceramic nativity sets and church services.  The greatest sacrifice was made 2,000 years ago to give us life eternal if we but believe in what Jesus did for us on His cross.  Join me in celebrating with Jesus in your heart this December night and always.  There’s a great and eternal party that awaits in heaven one day for us if we do!

JJ

Isaiah 9: 6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

 

The Gentle Giant

Standing over 6 feet tall, the man could have been mistaken for the childhood Green Giant hero of the Television Age.  He let his hair grow long, beard get kind of scruffy, and middle section pudge just enough to make his bear hug just right.  The children squealed when he growled and chased them back up the basement stairs when he had enough of their antics and needed to get back to work in that mysterious and yet wonderful business within those concrete walls.  More on that story another time.

The man was as conflicted as any could be in this life.  I’ll call him the Gentle Giant or GG for short.  My knowledge of him is pieced together from some vague memories, his hand-written journal, a few newspaper clippings, internet searches, and the stories from family members. Call it a great tragedy or perhaps work of satire as he never reached his full potential in this world.  Lord knows, he tried.

GG grew up in the blue collar suburbs of Detroit, Michigan as the son of an auto mechanic and never-quite-satisfied mother.  His dad let his mother rule the household including harsh discipline for the boys of the family.  Beatings, torture, destruction of their few prized possessions, restriction of food, verbal abuse, and lying about it all to suspicious outsiders comprised his private hell.  She destroyed his model airplanes, locked him in the closet, and made him sit at the meal table all day and all night as abusive punishment for just being alive.  The next generation (grandchildren) would be treated differently as would the girly middle child; the oldest brother would turn gay and befriend his mother and father in a strange twist of survival-perhaps-denial until he died of AIDS in his forties.   The baby of the family barely made it out alive when the older siblings were no longer around to protect him.  GG, the second oldest of the four children, had finally found his way to break free.

GG made a plan to marry the first woman who would accept his hand in marriage.  It took a few years after high school to find a suitable mate who was willing to marry him, perhaps in an attempt to escape her own abusive and alcoholic father.  They quickly had 3 children and a relationship burdened by his physical abuse of the mother.  The oldest took an overdose of her mother’s thyroid medication requiring having her stomach pumped at only 3 years old; the middle child developed a life-long inferiority complex from being told by his dad that he resembled his mother’s family more than his.  And this was only the beginning of things that went wrong in that household.  By the time the five of them had moved from the trailer park to their new home, GG was having periodic psychiatric breakdowns.  Experts have determined later that these were likely the psychotic breaks of paranoid schizophrenia.

GG struggled with the adult responsibilities of work, raising a family, relating to his wife, and managing the internal chaos of his mental illness.  He came into the realities of adulthood with too much brokenness to overcome; he was a brilliant inventor and draftsman yet could not control his own mind to ever find true happiness or success.  GG defied the counselling offered and declined the psychiatric medication newly developed that could help control his thought disorder.  He took an extended leave of absence from work and, instead of getting well, used the time to build a business in the unfinished basement of their home.  It became wildly successful in the hobby world of the 1960’s. How his employer never found out is another mystery.

Unfortunately the same ingenuity that brought him initial success 1) as a non-degreed draftsman for a major automaker and 2) in the home business, did not work when he applied it to his mental illness.  He experimented in psycho-cybernetics, hand writing analysis, the occult, various activities of the hippie crowd, drinking alcohol, and more.   Eventually he left town on his motorcycle with some blonde chick for California with all the profits from the business . . .  The children saw his father come and go in a myriad of painful and confusing scenes over the next few years until finally their parents divorced. Their dad lived in another suburb across town thereafter but the holiday visits and false hopes for things to be right never fully materialized.  Eventually GG left town for good and had no direct contact with his family for the next 27 years.

GG sent threatening letters to his mother for several decades, perhaps wrestling with her years of abusing him and what to do with it.  Sadly he hurt his own children as well in other ways. Over the years, the oldest daughter had witnessed satanic rituals, was abused by some women in the course of some psychedelic mayhem at his house across town during a visitation weekend, and was then tortured herself by GG in an attempt to help her “forget” what had happened to her.  The middle child witnessed his father’s domestic abuse of his mother and personal self-degradation as his father used mind control techniques on him in a misguided attempt to try and help his son.  The taped messages he recorded ended up having an opposite effect!  And the spirited youngest boy got as far as he could in life then, as a young adult, tried to find his dad who had left the family when he was barely past kindergarten. His dad’s letter of rejection was found by loved ones in his wallet after the young man died of alcoholism.  The surviving family grieved deeply.

GG’s experimentation with mind control techniques inadvertently opened himself up to the demonic realm.  The darkness in his eyes reflected this in particularly frightening scenes recounted by his children.  Knowing this, understanding his abusive upbringing and resulting mental illness then their own coming to faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, has helped the two surviving siblings forgive their father.  They have found peace with their past and with their dad. The man was simply lost.  He had no idea the dark world he had incited nor the abuse he ended up carrying from one generation to the next.  It took the daughter in particular, many decades to understand this and break free from the trauma and demonic influences.  How that happened is yet another story.  The miracle of overcoming such hell gives testimony to the incredible power of the gospel through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thirty years after the oldest sibling last saw her father and two months before he died, she got to meet with him at his retirement/trailer park in Florida.  They had slowly developed a new relationship by phone before he eventually agreed to a visit in person. The Gentle Giant was frail yet charmingly engaging.  He told her tender stories of her days as a little girl and of how proud he was of her.  He told her that he loved her and by the time of their visit had shared how he had to leave their family to protect them from further harm.  More psychological breakdowns had occurred over the years.  His isolation from family and most of society became part of how he managed his illness in addition to long sabbaticals from work. He jointly held over 27 patents with a major manufacturer of automotive parts and would say that was why they “put up with him” and his leaves of absence.  The woman would see how creative her father was in crafting his life with the fragments he had been given . . . how incredibly her Heavenly Father would sustain her own life until those sweet moments of reconcilliation with her dad could bring closure, bring healing, bring some sweetness too.

Our earthly fathers have incredible importance in how we turn out in our lives.  They are the first authority figures in our lives who initially influence how we relate to our heavenly Father who is exceedingly greater and perfect;  ways that our earthly father can never be.  A loving relationship with both are critical for grounding us in this life on earth.  Even in the absence of a good dad the yearning of our hearts can lead us to the One Who will never leave us, never forsake us.  I do pray that in this story you will see how the “seeking” of one young girl as she became one older woman led her to overcome the failings of her father by filling those empty and hurting places with the unfailing love of Jesus Christ.  Graciously she did get to feel at last, the love of her real father before he died.  Not everyone will have this kind of opportunity; others will experience it their entire lives.  Regardless, we all can be whole no matter what darkness has fallen on our journey through this life.

I understand these experiences very well nurtured with truth from the Words of our Lord in His scripture and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Further, the Gentle Giant in each of us can be transformed from sorrow to joy if we but believe in His holy name, Jesus Christ. Healing and fullness of life will follow us all of our days into eternity.  I love that.  Oh Heavenly Father, I thank you for this story and for Your story of redemption too.  May you speak to the heart of the Gentle Reader who finds these words this day, filling him or her with your goodness. Bring them into the best of relationships found only with You.  Bring hope beyond what we all can see.  For your glory I pray in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.  JJ

 

What would suit her best?

That funny bush with the orange berries

That I found tucked in a nursery corner

Was her birthday gift many decades ago

And became another treasure of uniqueness, much like that of her own.

Or the specimen discovered from the zoo

When she found the groundskeeper

And pleaded to give her a cutting

To grow with her collection of rare finds and vagabond species too.

Perhaps the devil’s tongue would be it

That bloomed in the closet each Winter

With a stink much worse than her smokes

And a tropical canopy outside in summer:  uniquely placed in the Midwest.

Surely she would be planted on the hill

Where the orange pavers from Woodstock days

Used to mark the side door to the home

Laden with so many memories and metal trash cans covering some of them too.

Oh I’ll bet she’s still out there somewhere

For her ashes got sprinkled into the earth

Forever mixed with the fruit of her hands

And beautiful gardens, a spa, some whimsy, all in squared borders of suburban fare.

Oh mom, how I miss you this day

As I tend to my own soil and dig

Preparing for Spring flowers and food

Adding amendments, turning it over again until everything crumbles just right.

One plant in particular we share

From your garden and mine:

Those “bee bush” perennial sedum

That you made me edge around in the hot summer sun by back-breaking hand!

Oh how you would love

To see me hail a sharpened spade

Defining my borders so clean with

Just one more bed added most years ’cause it’s also a passion for me borne from you.

Maybe the climbing Baffin rose

I will dedicate to you, Rose Anne:

A rambler, a bit wild yet beautiful

Yes this you shall be in my garden scrapbook come alive where you and me will always meet.

JJ

William Baffin, roses, fuscia, pink, red, climbing, vines, fence, garden

Fuscia William Baffin Climbing Roses