The Gift of Present

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Kyle, Kolby and Faith

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I’ve never been one to understand the folks who bemoan a holiday or associate it with pain. My lack of empathy, while unintentional, comes strictly from a bundle of delicious memories tucked away in my heart .

While I know there is rampant family dysfunction and a thousand other awfuls abounding in the world –it’s never touched me during the season. Thanksgiving and Christmas were my respite from the chaos of life. I still catch myself searching for Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve after so many years of wanting to believe.

I relish the thought of pumpkin pie and chats with grandma, cheesy small talk with cousins and hours of football. I dress my kids in party frocks and it’s a no-brainer that I will gain at least gain two pounds from my mom’s pecan pie alone.

Unfortunately, due to some rough patches, I’ve now crossed over to the dark side.

Just the smell of turkey bums me out.

Two years ago I lost a favorite uncle while the turkey was in the oven, a year ago my aunt (his wife) joined him and I watched in disbelief as my cousins buried both their parents back to back. But now I am hit with the hardest pill of all to swallow –the diagnosis of my father with Dementia.

I look around the table and there are empty seats where smiles used to be. My heart lurches and pangs. The cranberries taste more bitter than sweet.

As we shared our blessings at dinner this year I wasn’t honest. I muttered out the typical Jesus-y pat answer. Certainly, I am fortunate to have a loving husband and beautiful children. We have health and provision and faith. I get it. I am thankful beyond words.

But I didn’t share what I was most grateful and most greedy for –these precious and now fleeting moments with my dad.

I don’t know how many Thanksgiving’s I’ve got left with him and quite frankly, it ticks me off. I couldn’t be truthful. I didn’t dare. I would have broken down and bawled like a baby all over the green bean casserole.

It took a long time (too long perhaps) to finally have the relationship I’ve always dreamed about with my dad. But this dream is is as delicate and fragile as the ones in my slumber. I’m afraid to wake up and watch it dissapear while I rub the sleep out of my eyes.

Will my father carry the tinkle of my daughter Faith’s laugh in his heart? Will he be able to recall the golden curls of little Kolby? Will he recognize his grandson’s smile and gentle spirit?

What if he forgets me? What happens when I call and my daddy doesn’t know my voice?

How do I enjoy this moment and swallow turkey when I am mourning over the tears which I know will inevitably follow?

I am envious of the peace my dad has discovered through suffering. He has surrendered to the inevitable and placed his hope in God. I, on the other hand am stubborn. I play a tug of war.

I know God is able to heal but his will is a mystery. I don’t understand, but I trust -sometimes begrudgingly. I worship through tears coming out my nose.

Stupid turkey. Stupid holiday.

Stupid me… for not appreciating every precious second.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving? Sitting next to my dad, breathing in his familiar coffee breath and taking mental snapshots of his every single move.

Reason #28 to be thankful –finally understanding the gift of being present.

What are you thankful for?

The “Manceremony”

My son entered the holiday season yet a boy, but will return to school this New Year a man.  And so last night, we celebrated his coming of age with a “Manceremony.”

It was only a few days ago that my twelve-year-old son with the warbled voice, the distinct Jr. High aloofness, and all the awkwardness of a “boy of a certain age,” roamed the halls of our home.  Now, a man with a deep voice, facial hair and a buff physique has stolen my chubby cheeked angel. 

He turned and smiled at me last night, and in the dim light of the fire, I caught the distinct outline of a mustache on my baby, I mean man-child. 

He is almost a teen-ager now, though we have avoided that word in our home.  I have chosen to reject all the rebelliousness and disrespect that comes along with that verbiage.  My husband and I have decided to give the first-born instead, a “man” blessing, and skip the teen stage altogether.  Clearly this is an experiment, one that may or may not work, but we are hopeful, though possibly naïve, for the years to come.

So in honor of his impending need to shave, I pulled out the champagne glasses for the whole family, excluding the baby, filled them with apple juice, and we toasted to the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  With a nervous laugh, my son lifted his glass.  I could see his emotions ranging from uncomfortable to proud, but he was obviously appreciative that we recognized his maturation and took it seriously.

And so, I will store up the memories of his childhood deep within my heart; his incessant curiosity, the cherubic blond curls, and his chubby little arms reaching out for a hug.  It’s hard to let go of my tiny football player and embrace this new creature who wears cologne and attracts stares from women of all ages.

 I feel unprepared and truly inadequate for this next stage of motherhood.  We, both my son and I, stand at the edge of an uncertain future.  Like the cusp of a roller-coaster, just about to crest over the highest peak, either I choose to lift my arms up high and enjoy the ride or close my eyes and scream for dear life.

Today we worked out at the gym, lifting weights side by side.  And though I am teaching him proper form, he is pushing me on to new limits. Our relationship is changing, as I both embrace and simultaneously release my son into this dance of growing up.

Christmas Lights and Humility

Ned Flanders

Image via Wikipedia

Someone stole my neighborhood and turned it into Whoville.  Large elves, masquerading as competitive men have ambushed our energy resources and hung up enough LED lights to have the streets aglow with a garish gleam as bright as the sun.

My first indication that our new neighborhood might go a little “over the top” at Christmas was during a conversation at my son’s baseball game. My neighbor asked me if I wanted to join in on the lift rental. 

A “lift” rental?  Seriously? 

She assured me that it was a normal occurrence in our neck of the suburban woods at Christmastime, and that all the neighbors cooperatively shared the expense and used it for the soaring high icy peaks of our two-story homes.  I could see desperation in her eyes that I grab onto her vision, but I wasn’t taking the bait.

I said “maybe” to the lift. Silly me…I’m so old-school thinking a ladder might be sufficient.

So, a few weeks later, the foretold lift arrived and our neighbors got busy stringing lights on the trees and peaks of our little borough.  My family was out-of-town that weekend, so you can imagine our surprise when we returned.

Remember that song, “I wear my sunglasses at night”? Think bright, stadium bright and you just might get the picture. Every nook, corner and cranny burst forth with Christmas paraphernalia. And that’s just the lights!

The inflatable army has also come out in full force-Frosty, Spongebob, Mickey, and Santa bluster and blow about depending on their robustness or their lack of. Sparkly reindeer, candy-canes and the angelic host have all joined the cast of characters on our street. 

So, not wanting to feel left out, the next weekend my husband risked life and limb on an extension ladder to string a Charlie Brown strand from our roof to our neighbors.  We highlighted one simple peak on the second story, strung lights around the porch, added a few multi-coloreds to the bushes and called it a day. 

We were so proud of our simple accomplishment.  We had fun, experienced a little danger on the extension ladder and laughed a great deal at our slightly cheesy and ghetto attempt at illuminating design.

That is…until we walked to the tract across the street.  Some of our neighbors, concerned that we didn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the “decorating spirit” encouraged our family to travel over to Sarasota, where apparently the big Christmas dogs come out to play.

So, we bundled up the baby, grabbed some coats and mittens, and the family ambled out of our tract into the neighborhood just across the street. 

And this is how we got schooled in the Ned Flanders way of Christmas.

We could hear the roar before we even crossed the street.  Three lifts were at work.  About fifty people were out, from kids to grandmas, and all were busy decorating.  This was definitely the bigger the better, and anti-less is more school of thought. 

Every tree was being wrapped in lights.  Some of the homes had music synchronized with the lights to create shows.  I’m pretty sure I saw a real sleigh and a chorus of angels.  Music blared from loud speakers.  There were Christmas banners, themed homes and lights strung across the street from roof to roof creating a tunnel of extreme awesomeness.  It was the North Pole, a fairy tale, and a child’s Disney dream! 

As my son and I reveled in the majesty of our Costco culture, laughed at the over-commercialized decorations, and took in materialism at its finest, my husband on the other hand, turned sour.  The Grinch face was starting to appear.

“It’s too much,” he said, “too competitive, too garish. They’ve lost the Christmas spirit.”

I nodded my head in agreement while secretly plotting ways to spruce up our own lawn.

“So how about an inflatable Jesus on roller-skates?” I suggested. 

At least I got a smile out of him.

Deep down, I know it’s the posture of our heart that matters at Christmas.  If we are decorating our neighborhood as a gift to the community, than the gift–whatever it’s brilliance or lack thereof is enough.  If we are decorating for approval, applause and to win the association’s contest, then shame on us. 

If I am to be honest, I desire both.  I want to be content with a little.  I also want to compete and win. 

I struggle with my inner naughty; this duality of the Christian walk and the daily battle between choosing humility or competitiveness.  I think I might have caught my neighbor’s desperation.  I’m pretty sure it’s viral.

Praise the Lord that Jesus doesn’t keep a naughty list like Santa or I might get some coal in my stocking.  Because, when my husband goes out of town, some elves just might drop by our house too!

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