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Foster Park, 2008

Foster Park, 2008

It’s snowing tonight, the first of December. A lovely way to begin the Advent season.  So many Christmas memories seem to be tied to snow…snow we got, snow we wish we’d gotten…in this hemisphere, at least.

In one of my earliest memories, I am looking up, up, up at mountains of snow which stretch skyward on either side of me.  Snow falls in the haloed light of streetlamps as I glide along.

It is the still-famous blizzard of 1966 in upstate New York. Sixty inches of lake-effect snow fell in the Syracuse area in a day. Our little ranch house sat at the top of a steep hill, and the garage was on the basement level, the driveway slanting down into it from the road. When the garage door was lifted that morning, a wall of snow nearly to the top greeted my dad.

He took an appliance box (washer?dryer?) and nailed it to a sled. Then he and Mom pulled me down the hill and into our little town of Phoenix (population 6,000–tops).  I stayed there with my grandmother while Mom and Dad walked home and spent the next several days shovelling.

I’m sure my dad’s memories of that week involve bone-deep aches and pains, numbing cold.  Mom was worried about me, I’m sure–it was her number one job.  I don’t remember anything about my stay with Dad’s mother.  I only remember that endless white towering over me as I huddled in the bottom of a moving box.  I felt safe inside an enchanted castle, and I only remember the magic.

Isn’t that one of the great gifts of childhood?  Too young to bear the weight of events, we enjoy life without shadows and without guilt.  Learning to trust is learning to recover this old art: To sit in the magic circle of my Father’s protection and watch the snow with no worries…to become as a little child.

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holly1 One of my favorite pastimes as a preschooler was to listen to records (LPs…those huge round things you have to put on a turntable, and listen to one side at a time). My mom bought many “spoken word” albums and I would act them out. But at Christmas, she would put stacks of records on the spindle and let them drop one by one…Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Robert Goulet.  Compilation albums with Diahann Carroll, Perry Como,  Eugene Ormandy’s orchestra, Julie Andrews singing “The Bells of Christmas”…

And what did I do while all this glorious music floated over my head?  What I remember doing is kneeling…a blanket draped on my head, my hands folded over my heart, I gazed down on a baby doll wrapped in flannel and lying on the red leather camel saddle/hassock my dad brought back from his Navy tour of duty in the Mediterranean.

When I was five, when I could convince Mom to cooperate, I’d kneel by the little seat cradling my conveniently-small baby brother, David. He was four months old, and far too fat to be the newborn King, but he was a live baby and too good a prop to pass up.

I’m sure there must have been more to my role playing than just the endless kneeling…but that’s all I remember.  Did I pretend to travel on camel back? Did I “cry” when the inn was full?   I’m positive I knew nothing about giving birth, so there was no delivery in my story.  I imagine the kings visited from time to time, and we received their gifts with dignity.  But what I recall is being on my knees, gazing downward, reverent.   A good way to spend some time today.

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holly My earliest Christmas memory: I am  perhaps three or four, stereotypically awake before dawn and tiptoe  into Mom and Dad’s room.  Mom is under the covers and I whisper to her,

“Is it time yet?”

“Not yet, Lor.  Climb in here with me…you wouldn’t want to let Santa know you’re up. He might not leave anything if he knows you’re awake.”

Breathless, I burrow down and cuddle up.  My little ears strain for the sound of harness bells or booted feet, and as I listen the white noise of sleep takes over.  When I wake again it’s full light, and the living room proves that Santa has indeed been here.

(What I don’t know for years and years is that Daddy went out looking for stuffed animals for me, and even then was wrapping, wrapping, wrapping…)

This memory always reminds me of the story Mom loved to tell, about her first Christmas memory.  Her Daddy took her to the tiny second-floor balcony and pointed to the hoof-prints of eight reindeer…how they could have landed on that postage-stamp space is a question Mom never thinks to ask.  She is enchanted, and so am I by the telling.

—————-

These memories leave me feeling ambivalent now.  My husband and I are not big fans of Santa Claus and find the magic of the season in a stable instead.  Our kids didn’t lie awake listening for sleigh bells or worry that the chimney was too small.  Did we cheat them?  We wanted to spare them the disillusionment of unmasking the untruth, and the skewed image of God with which we struggled for years before meeting Jesus personally.  We always made much of Advent, lighting candles, decorating and baking, counting down the days with a paper chain or a special calendar.  We always read them “The Night Before Christmas” before bed on the 24th, but it was just a beloved story (and the pop-up version my mom gave us still delights today).

Is there a Christmas memory for you which is bittersweet now?  What did you do differently than your parents did, and are you glad as you look back on that decision?  I wouldn’t change the way we celebrated Christmas when the boys were little.  I wonder how they feel about it now, both nearly grown, or if they care. I wonder what they remember as special, and I hope we’ll get a chance to talk about that…maybe this Christmas eve.

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Sharing Stories

This morning Pastor Joe Snider preached on John 6, the passage I was meditating on in my last post. As he was talking about the difficult statement of Jesus (and he pointed out that Jesus makes lots of hard, sweeping statements) that we must eat His body and drink His blood, Pastor Joe shared this story from his own life. I hope he won’t mind my repeating it here.

As new parents of an infant daughter, living far from their extended family, Joe and Sally were alarmed to find that their five-month-old had turned orange. Not the sickly yellow cast of jaundice, but pumpkin orange. They rushed her to a “crusty old pediatrician” who seemed to enjoy diagnosis by Socratic method. “What do you think is wrong with her?” the doctor asked. “What do you think we should do about it?” “Well, we were favoring the ‘total freak-out’ approach, Doc,” Joe quipped, to much congregational laughter.

Finally the doctor asked the obvious question: “What has she been eating lately?” Sally explained that she’d recently begun to eat solid food, but that she didn’t seem to like anything except strained carrots. Bingo. The old man sighed and rolled his eyes. “You are what you eat, you know!”

And without a missing a beat, Pastor Joe looked at us. “And we’re supposed to eat His body and drink His blood.” Silence–the good kind–descended on the sanctuary as truth took hold. Ah, yes. Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Come to Him, believe in Him. Digest His words. Become more like Him. And live forever.

This is not only good preaching, it is an example of the value of parables from our own lives. What parables from your life could you share in such a way that a God-truth becomes clearer to those you tell? Which of your stories might be “borrowed” and told to others because they contain such power? Go and tell someone a story… maybe even this one.

And say “thanks for sharing” to Pastor Joe.

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