Saturday, January 01, 2011

Note to self

Every Christmas brings fresh lessons and I often write notes to myself and stick them in with the Christmas stockings to find the next year. It helps me keep my perspective during a season in which it is easy to lose it. I missed doing this last year and am now wishing I had. I could have used it. This year I'm leaving the note here as well as in a stocking.

Dear self,

That once there was a light that wise men, and shepherds alike, followed  for miles and miles believing they would find a king surrounded by worshipers, dressed in finery, and surrounded by treasures. They probably didn't believe that the gifts they were bringing would be enough. But instead of this, they found a teenage girl and baby laying in the straw--love embodied, born in a barn. And chances are good, the girl wasn't expecting visitors, let alone gifts. God did not bend time and space for the seekers and he did not make the journey easy for anyone, not even that baby. Yet even in those mean surroundings, amazingly, there were still light, gifts, and love.

 I must remember this. Light. Unexpected Gifts. And Love. 

Like many families in our current economy, money was extremely tight this year, so as Christmas approached, Gary and were faced with the fact that there was no money for gifts. As they are all old enough to understand this, we started warning the boys in October.

Their responses were as expected, but it didn't make me feel any better. Don't worry about us, was the general consensus. We're fine. We'll make things for each other, like we did last year.

So while they were okay with it, I wasn't.  I have been battling a minor bout of depression since the loss of Solomon and as the holidays grew closer, the prospect of not being able to get what seems to me to be the greatest batch of boys in the world anything for Christmas only made it worse. 

You know how it can be. When things are like this, even the smallest disappointments symbolize everything that's wrong. I pulled my strings of lights out to put on the tree a few days before Christmas and discovered that many of them had died while in storage so I had partially working strands and a several that didn't work at all. I was quietly heartsick. I love strewing lights around the room during the holidays. It brightens an otherwise dark living room and boosts the atmosphere tenfold. I was working to resign myself to going a year without this small thing when Daniel wandered in and asked what was going on. I showed him and told him I'd already thrown some strands away. 

He went out to the trash and fished the dead ones out, sat down with them and spent an hour tracking down dead bulbs and combining strands. Sam came in, heard me talking to Daniel, and remembered that I'd bought a couple of short strands at the rummage sale last summer and he remembered where they were. When these two were done, I had more than enough lights to put on the tree as well as enough to string around the room. The glow, combined with the tree, and the stockings, and my Nativity scenes, and other decorations went a long way toward lifting my spirits.

And somehow, against all odds, there was a Light.

At the last minute a relative who we don't see often wanted to give us something, but didn't know what we wanted or needed (so the note said) and sent us some money. I'd like to think that God inspired this surprise as we certainly didn't tell anyone what was going on. 

So the day before Christmas eve, Jeremiah and I went to Springfield together (thus my previous blog entry). I discovered that my oldest son is a lot of fun to shop with. He was able to help me zero in on specific small gifts for each of his brothers (His dad shopped for Jeremiah's separately on his way home from work) and one central gift for them all. Gary and I had agreed not to get anything for one another. But I love my new flannel pajamas and, judging from how much time he's spending with it, I know Gary loves his book. The boys made gifts for one another--Sam made sock puppets that getting played with, Joe made sock-dolls, and Daniel fished Joseph's broken MP3 player out of the trash and fixed it and made Sam a box to keep treasures in, which he was totally impressed with. Jeremiah spent the day giving music lessons to both Joe and Sam (who is learning to play Jeremiah's keyboard).   

And so there were unexpected gifts from near and far.

 The day after Christmas a woman who taught my sons' Sunday school class for many years passed away.  Her death was sudden and unexpected and shook us all. Sam and Joe especially.

 Twenty-five years ago, Pat moved to a modest little house on the lake with no real plans to go to church and fully intending to fish every chance she got. However, she could not help but hear the bells ringing out across the lake while she was sitting in her boat on Sunday mornings. And though she  tried to ignore it for a while, she said that it seemed like God was calling to her. One Sunday she gave up and went and credited those bells with reminding her that she had a purpose to fulfill.

Pat raised a big family and has numerous grandchildren as well as great grandchildren. She was often seen in the company of grand children around town and it was plain that they loved her dearly.  They are a close family, but she was unable to talk any of them into attending church regularly. So her choosing to help with VBS, the church's after school program, working in the nursery, and then Sunday School for the last ten years could only be described as an act of love. More than once over the last few years, she told me she didn't think she was up to it anymore, and more than once she decided to continue for "just a little longer". She never forgot the boys' birthdays, came forward to pray for them when they were each, in turn, confirmed, and often stopped to tell me small uplifting stories about them after she had them in class. 

I once told her how much I appreciated her role in the boys' lives and she she just beamed at me and said, "I don't have much money, but love I have in abundance."  

They stopped ringing the bells for several years (different ministers have different perspectives on the necessity of this), but two years ago, Pat took it upon herself to lead her students in ringing it again and this inspired others to do the same. Maybe, she said, someone will hear it and come running like I did.

So the Monday following her death, we--along with those she'd inspired-- accompanied her family in ringing the bell for Pat. As we gathered in a group and took our turns, I watched the faces of her children and grandchildren as they each grabbed the rope and gave it a mighty yank and listened for the ringing coming from the steeple above them. Some were crying, some wore gentle smiles. I thought about Pat's gifts of time and love and considered how she had became the ringing bell for her family and my own sons.  As I wrapped my hands around that knotty, rough rope and pulled, I thanked God for Pat and her abundant love.  

And finally there was love embodied. 



Debby said...

The world might want to refer to your note.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Wow. You do have a wonderful family and church family. God bless you guys.

Scotty said...



Pencil Writer said...

Mary, what a wonderful post! Christmas. What a beautiful Christmas! I believe, honestly and sincerely, your Christmas was so much more of what Christmas should be. You can't buy that at any store I know of! God is so good to us all! I love having Christmas in winder and Easter in Spring with a new year in between. *Smiles and hugs to you and your family!*

Mary O. Paddock said...

Debby--Thanks. I think I need to practice my own preaching.

HEM--Thank you. And, yes, we do.


PW--It was a beautiful Christmas and one I think I'll remember more clearly than a lot of those in which we had more to spend.