Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Another Christmas is upon me with things that need doing and so little time to do. Each Christmas rings with the familiar sounds and smells of pumpkin spice, gingerbread, and pine needles.
I remember as a child the excitement of the date set for finding the Christmas tree. Each year's hunt had found the tree most deserving to be in our home. One year, however, we brought home the tree most needing a home, which received our kind and loving care. Just like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, once the Christmas scarf was under it, it was miraculously transformed. We would hunt for our tree usually on a cold night after Dad came home from work on Friday. Dad had, most likely, planned it for the weekend, but with the wide expectations of our eager bunch it was bumped up. Long needle, short needle, tall and majestic, or squat and plump were the decisions. We would find the tree with a color tag matching our funds. I always smelled the needles for my choice. The smell of the needles was most important to me. The aroma would lend itself throughout the house and bring with it all the remembrance of Christmas past and the excitement to come. Yes, the tree had a testimony all its own.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The real challenge lay ahead with the tree lights. We always had the same lights year after yearantique, and I don't remember having many if any replacements. If one light was out the whole bunch was gone. There was no 24-hour Wal-Mart back in my childhood. So it was tough luck if lights didn't co-operate with your plans. Things like this birthed spiritual growth in young expectant youth. We became great prayers. As a matter of fact, I don't think I was called to be an intercessor. It was birthed from necessity! You did all the things to remedy the given situation; close your eyes, cross your fingers, and plead you case before the throne of God. I knew my way around the throne room early in life. I got really good at getting to the throne from the practice of praying for anything important to work, like actually seeing a picture on the television in place of the usual wintery mix of snow and lines. The picture on our television was either snow or plaid from the back of Dad's shirt, as he made the millionth adjustment. Those were the days of tubes to change in the back or the horizontal and vertical hold. Then there came the more modern set that had a picture if we took turns holding the rabbit ears. We prayed for tree lights all going on or the car not breaking down so we could get to our relatives for the holidays. These were big things in my world. The prayer was effectual and fervent, something like; "OH GOD, OH JESUS, PLEEEEEEEEEEZZZZ, OH GOD, OH GOD!" I would venture to say I even spoke in tongues and didn't realize what they were "OHGODOHJESUSPLEEEEEEEEEEEZOHGODOHGOD!"
This was done rocking back and forth with hands clutched under my chin and every muscle flexed. Every time the lights worked, we had gotten our miracle for the year and the tongues continued, "THANKYOUOHGODTHANKYOUOHGODOHGOD!" (This was my first taste of the upper room experience.)
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
I don't remember exactly when we started our Advent celebration, but I think it was when we moved from Indiana to Illinois. We were farther from grandparents and cousins etc. and I believe Mom had a desire to make this new home her own with the birth of new traditions as well. Mom was brilliantly creative and Dad would push the pocketbook farther than Mom, because now and then fun had a way of costing a little money. Mom's gift was fluid, flowing continually, while Dad's was always unexpected but exciting. Once Dad's idea was spoken within our earshot, Mom couldn't take it back or back out of the fun on its way.
Advent was one such tradition that began in our new situation. (Advent: the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ into the world.)
Our Christmas began four weeks before Christmas with Advent, leading up to Christmas Day. We knew how to stretch a dollar and the holidays!
There were four children and four gifts to buy that would be exchanged each Sunday evening for those four weeks before Christmas, and the fifth was Christmas Day. (I loved any celebration with food or presents.) Each of us was given a few dollars (probably one dollar for four twenty-five cent presents) to spend in town at Kresge's five and dime store. We sneaked about secretly buying treasures throughout the store. Kresge's was the closest thing to a mall in the 50's. I remember thinking how big it was. They must have had everything or so we thought. They probably had a mere two aisles of toys, maybe, but it was a child's wonderland!
I don't know if it was always snowy and icy when we would walk from one store to the next, but that's the memory standing out most to me. My nose and fingers were always cold, but there would be hot chocolate later at Kresge's food bar. (I am most embarrassed to admit that I'd have rather had a platter of their fries with lots of salt and ketchup, but fries were a quarter and hot chocolate just a nickel.) Those of us who were finished would sip cocoa and think of the great purchases and the hope of them delighting the receivers. Going home with gifts to wrap was all part of the joy to relish. Then we'd give vague hints all week to add to the suspense, excitement, and expectation until Sunday came.
One thing about growing up in our home was that we were thankful. Little things would cause us joy. We were unspoiled by excess, so any gift however small was appreciated and treasured. For me, just looking at a wrapped something was enough, even if it was never to be opened!
In the house of the righteous is much treasure:
The Advent presents would be opened each Sunday evening with all of us taking a part. One would light one of five candles and take turns reading a Scripture of the advent of Jesus' birth, one led prayer, one picked a Christmas carol, open one present and finish with Christmas cookies and hot cocoa. Oh yes, my family was a family to sit at meat together, whether the meat of the Word or victuals, we were together. Dad was the one to lead prayer before each meal, but it was Mom whose quiet morning read in the Bible brought security to my eyes every morning.
When in high school I remember a chair by the dining room window where one could find Mom every morning, like clockwork, reading the Bible before she would see that we were off to school on time. Mom was always finding Words not spoken from the pulpit. I remember the time my grandmother was diagnosed with emphysema. Normally we would pray, but this time Mom had us all encircle and hold hands and pray in agreement, which I had never heard in Sunday school, but Mom read it in the Bible, so we did it. Each of us had the opportunity to pray aloud and upon finishing squeeze the hand next and so on.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
I can tell you this was not learned from sitting at our church, but instead from Mom's early morning time reading with the Lord. It is worthy of noting my thanks to Dad for working hard to afford Mom this luxury. A luxury that has paid more than Dad or any man could make in a lifetime. Thank you, Sweet Lord for Mom and Dad, who are a team serving You and passing the mantel down to their children and theirs. And thank You for Mamaw's healing!
We made a holiday out of the holidays and Advent was welcome to become our family tradition.
Christmas is the time of giving. First, last and always to be remembered is the gift God gave us of His Dear Son.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
I was fortunateno, rather blessed to have parents who have the heart of giving. While Mom is mercy and can refuse none to give, Dad has the sheer joy of giving. Don't get me wrong, both are blessed with this gift, but as the years pass on I can see the joy of giving most in Dad. He even loves to talk about it. Giving is Dad's gifting. He's like John Elliot, the early American Missionary who was notorious for giving money to this one or that need until his money was gone. Once the church secretary wanted him to get home with some of his money so she put his salary in a handkerchief and tied it in knots so tightly that he wouldn't be able to give money away on his way home. He met a poor soul on the road home, and in trying to unknot the handkerchief to give a bit of money, found that it was impossible and just handed the whole handkerchief of money over, believing that God must have intended the man to have it all. This is my Dad whose name is also John. There must be something in the name.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
My most memorable Christmas as a child was all about giving. Truthfully, I couldn't even tell you what I got that year, but do remember what we gave. Dad was a social worker and as such would come into contact with the needy everyday. Names were never given us, but we prayed over many situations. One particular Christmas Dad told us of a man who had recently been released from prison. This man had worked in prison and trained to be a barber. His barber chair was all he was able to afford that Christmas. Even though the chair would bring income, the man felt badly about not being able to give his children anything except his presence in place of presents. We did more than pray that year. We began collecting things and buying clothes for his children. I remember finally putting everything in piles on Mom's bed to make sure they received equally. All were wrapped with care and love. Each of us, Tudy, Matt, Gina and myself, rehearsed how excited the family would be to have the wisemen deliver gold, frankincense, and myrrh right to their very door. Mom rehearsed with us and the gift grew to wondering whether they had a tree? If they hadn't a tree, would they need lights? Ornaments?
Christmas Eve had come, our gifts had been wrapped, and tree, lights, and ornaments were all packed in Dad's car. How he got it all packed I don't know. Then off Dad and my brother Matt drove to East St. Louis late enough for the man's children to be sleeping. The rest of us were at home picturing the outcome of the man's surprise and gratitude, along with happy children in the morning. The scene kept repeating itself over and over not diminishing with repetition. Usually we went to bed early on Christmas Eve, but Mom let us stay up anticipating Dad's trip and the adventure of it all. We wanted a full report on their return.
We never tired of rehearsing in our household. When we had a good memory it lived forever to be told and retold. There was never the need to exaggerate the memories for they were always elaborate to begin with and deep with love and meaning. Whenever we talked about "So and So" it had to do with something good or funny. Faults were not something Mom allowed in our discussions. As a matter of fact, when I was little I never knew Mom and Dad had any disagreements. I know now, to be sure, that they must have, but never did this reach my ears. I heard my grandparents argue and it made me cry. Mamaw asked if I hadn't ever heard my parents talk like that and in honesty I had to say, "Never." Of course the siblings argued and often, but Mom stopped it shortly. I'm trying to think if we argued around Dad. Somehow I cannot remember that we would be brave enough for that, but Dad may remember it otherwise.
Today it is still the same. We do not argue. We certainly disagree with choices, but generally do not speak of it and even in the face of disappointment with one another our foundation has and will always be love. Love is the tie that binds us all in our different life decisions.
1 Cor 13:8
Charity (love) never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
1 Cor 13:13-14:1
And now abideth faith, hope, charity (love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity (love).
There is no occasion for hate in our family. We have felt the bruise of disappointment and disappointing, but the bruises heal. As for love, it changes not one miniscule off target. Love covers disappointment much like paper covers rock and rock to scissors. The Rock of Salvation covers us all!
Excluding that one particular Christmas Eve we got to stay up late, we always went to bed early on that night. I realize it was due to Dad's possibly having to put something together, but it was greatest of torture to us. How does an excited child shut off exuberance to sleep? Tudy and I would lie in bed and try to sleepactually I am speaking for the both of us, when it was probably I who kept her awake. I just remember trying so hard to shut off my mind and sleep and finally accomplishing the feat only to be awakened by Matt who declared it time to get up at 2:30 AM! What was he thinking? That was the worst Christmas Eve ever, for now I had to try twice to get to sleep. I said there was no hatred in my family, but that came as close to it as I can recall! However, we rehearsed this with laughter year after year with an underlined understanding that it would never happen again!
Christmas was never a brief time but went on for as long as we could make it last. The one thing we never did was re-wrap our gifts and start overonly because nobody thought of it! We had Advent starting four weeks up to Christmas Eve, when we gave our best gifts to Mom and Dad (one year a candy dish for Mom and a jar of pickled pig's feet for Dad), then Christmas morning, and finally the trip to Indiana to start all over again. I loved this trip! We had over a three-hour car trip during which to anticipate all that awaited us. First of all and most important was seeing all those missed people who were held dear in places of the heart and the hugs and kisses saying we were their heart too. After all the beauty of seeing everyone was noticing how we had grown, we had the most sumptuous of meals. I know they were sumptuous now, but there were no seconds on anything that would delay "present-opening". All while we were eating, we were viewing the packages under the tree and being entertained by our cousin Bobby, who could do more fascinating tricks with food than imaginable. We children sat at the little table having way more fun than the grown-ups. They were missing the talent of Bobby and his many tricks of "what could be done with a piece of ham."
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:
The talent at our little table would have been wasted on the grown-ups, but it was our special time and I remember it fondly. Every family needs a cousin Bobby or they are in tremendous lack. Bobby has never ceased to be a blessing to all who are fortunate enough to know him. I wonder if he has realized his worth as the people around him have. Now he sits at the grown-up table retiring his food tricks or does he?
Leaving Indiana would mark the closing of the holiday, but it was not without enjoyment. My sisters and brother would fall asleep and I would sit glued to all the talk of what had been discussed at the grown-up table. It would be the closest thing to the National Enquirer that I would ever get. I didn't quite get the gist of it all but enough to know some of the grown-up hush-hush talk, which probably amounted only to someone's job or surgery etc. All I knew is that I was privy to what adults talk about instead of just sleeping the rest of my Christmas away like my siblings. I got to see all the Christmas lights along the road missed in daylight travel, wondering if people were still opening their presents as we drove back to Illinois.
I don't remember which Christmas it was that on the way home for no reason the car stopped. It just quit. Dad coasted to the side of the road and sat there trying to fire up the engine but to no avail. (Dad wasn't a mechanic, which would have been a real blessing considering the different used cars to make it as the family vehicle! We have actually had a car burst into flames on the way to church. Talk about being on fire for the Lord! We love Dad but he doesn't know that much about cars.) So, here we sit at the side of the road late one Christmas nightstranded. Dad looked under the hood, for whathe did not know, then closed it and sat back inside. He waited a few minutes and tried the engine again. It started! As we continued up the road we came to an accident that had just happened. We pulled over and Dad got out to help where he could. He came back to get a blanket from the back to cover one of the people in the road who was in shock, before the ambulance arrived and we all prayed. As Dad continued driving us homeward, he and Mom began to realize that we would have most likely been involved in the accident had our car not quit. One thing we always did was pray over our trip. Mostly, we prayed the car would start and we'd have no breakdowns. There was a Christmas we couldn't go anywhere because the car wasn't co-operating with our desire to see family. It's a good thing we were praying people and it was honored.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Giving, regardless of how small, is priceless to the receiver of the gift. No matter if we're talking about gifts, tree and ornaments to a barber and his family at Christmas or a blanket to someone on a cold road. Maybe it's the purchase of a cow for a small village, which was the case one season. (Mom sent $200 to a missionary's efforts to bless a town with a cow.) Giving and Christmas go hand in hand.
There are other years that Christmas stood out, like the time the adults decided to make presents for each other. Our children got their typical gifts, but finances were stretched that year. Handmade "witty inventions" sounded like about all we could afford. I have no recollection of what I made or received except for one gift. My brother actually made Santas from salt dough and painted them. I cried at the thought of Matt sitting at the table making these for us. It was my favorite gift and I have never forgotten it.
Then we had the year of the ice storm. This is the favorite of all our children. Mom and Dad had moved to the country, which holds the fond memories for our children. Everyone was checking the weather all day hoping for passable roads. (That probably made our children spiritually grow at the throne of God with their pleadings.) But we were all present, as if there was really any doubt, and Christmas Eve began. Just as I remembered as a child, the scrumptious food was first, but as an adult second helpings were now quite kosher. I'm not sure who the entertainer at the little table was, but there were no second helpings there, just bundles of jittery kids impatiently waiting for the adults to get their fill. They prodded us along to finish our feast so we could get to the PRESENTS. Mom put on her Christmas music, we all sat in a circle while the fire in the wood-burning stove, and candles gave a warm glow. Presents were passing to all when the electricity failed and the lights went out. There we sat having opened the first few presents with more to come and no lights. Mom, not to let anything get the better of her, lit some kerosene lamps, placing them around the room. Present opening resumed in full swing as each snuggled closer to the lamp nearest them. Just as we were finishing up, the lights and music came back on to the groans of all the kidswe turned the lights back off and continued! Yes, the pioneers had nothing on us. We could rough it! That Christmas was an adventure like we had never seen or have since experienced, but it's in that golden place where all treasured memories go. Each family has its own treasures, but I'm glad that this one is mine.
A family is a gift with many parts all fitting together to make the whole. Whoever receives you, receives the gift that you are and benefits from it. We are the ingredients in a delicious dessert. Alone we may not seem like much, but together we blend differently to make life just a little sweetereven if the blend is a fruitcake.
I am thankful for my sisters, brother, and parents. I am equally grateful for the people they have added to the family and the children we have brought into life. If I could take all the family members and roll them into a ball, the one theme that would be most accurate would be "blessed". I am blessed for what they have given me through the years and the memories we share.
My name is Rebecca O'Connor. I have been a teacher in elementary education for years, written a few books, and hug my grandkids every chance I get! God has blessed me so much that I love sharing pieces from those blessings in my writing.