CHRISTMAS MEMORIES AND THOUGHTS
As I write this message to you, the beauty of the fall has crept into the countryside. As usual this time of year, my thoughts have begun to turn toward the holiday season; and, as usual, Christmas catalogs, store displays, and television commercials are already trying to focus attention away from the true significance of the season.
To understand the real meaning of Christmas, we try to envision the first Christmas with the simplicity of a stable, a manger filled with hay, and the birth of a baby in this setting. I like to visualize God looking down at this scene, perhaps with some sadness for the humble surroundings, but smiling proudly as angels sing and shepherds and wise men come to worship this precious little baby boy — His son. As the mother of one son myself, I wonder at God’s great and matchless love in letting Jesus come as a tiny baby, knowing He would be rejected by the world and die a cruel death so that we might witness His love for us.
I cannot fully understand the Trinity in that Jesus existed before the Creation, as John says, "In the beginning was the Word." He has always been there with God, but then He came in flesh as a tiny baby born to a virgin. I accept and believe though not comprehending. I know this is all part of God’s plan: To send His son to earth as a baby, letting Him live here among men, teaching of God’s love, being rejected and crucified, and then returning to heaven where He now is.
Charles Swindoll in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life, says of the Trinity: "There is one God yet three distinct persons. The Godhead is co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Much of that remains a profound mystery. Don’t lose sleep if you cannot unravel the truth of the Trinity." In my perplexity I am glad for this reassurance from Reverend Swindoll.
Truly, as in the title of a Christmas cantata sung in our church several years ago, "Love Came Down at Christmas." And to me, Christmas is synonymous with love. Love makes Christmas — not the carols as beautiful as they are, nor the lights and decorations although their brightness add to the joyful atmosphere, nor the gifts no matter how carefully they are selected. As stated in I Corinthians 13:13, "And now abideth faith, hope and charity (love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity (love)."
Christmas seems to magnify all emotions — sorrow as well as joy — and our Christmases, like some of yours no doubt, have included the sadness of sickness, death, and hopelessness. In 1959 Mother was not able to have the Christmas Eve meal with us in their dining room, but, through tremendous effort, she insisted on coming into the living room for a family picture for which she had planned and arranged. She must have felt, as we all did, that that would be her last Christmas. She died that January 15.
Grandmother Walter died on September 1, and that Christmas and every one since we have missed and remembered her and the specialties she prepared at Christmas. She covered the dining table and buffet with cakes and pies — all from scratch, of course — including everyone’s favorites. Granddaddy Walter spent the last Christmas before his death in the hospital, and we grieved for his weak and sick condition at that time and at his death on January 23, 1981. Daddy, whose personality was ‘Christmas personified" all year, died suddenly on December 2 and that Christmas was veiled with grief.
Other Christmases were saddened by the alcoholism which took hold of my brother Jim’s life. I have been grateful that Mother did not live to witness those last few years — and we question God? Next to my salvation, one of the greatest gifts God has given me was His prompting me to telephone Jim on Sunday night, February 28. 1965, to tell him I was sorry I had been unkind to him the day before since, in what I felt was justified anger, I had said hard, hurting things to him. I wanted to tell him I loved him and I heard, "I love you too, Pat." Very few people have ever called me Pat, and I loved to hear Jim, whom I loved so much, say it. Forty-five minutes after this conversation, Jim took his own life. I will always be consoled by our last words to each other, and I am so grateful to God that Jim and I made our peace and knew of our love for each other.
My heart broke for Jim and his unhappiness with himself and the misery his condition brought his family and others who loved him. I know Jim loved all of us dearly and despised this part of his life. I know too that other homes and families suffer because of alcoholism and other serious physical and emotional problems, and the joy of Christmas cannot be complete. It is so very wonderful that we have the love of God to help us through the sad times we experience.
Joy and sadness have brought us closer as a family. Much of the joy is found in the traditions of our family Christmas, which may be very similar to yours.
On Christmas Eve Don and I make visits in our community, some to homes we have visited on Christmas Eve since our children were small and enjoyed these visits as a very special part of their Christmas time. Later in the evening we attend worship service as a family before gathering at the home of Ava and Ed (my sister and her husband). Their children, our children and grand-children, and Miss Emma, now that Granddaddy Waller is gone, are included. After a traditional meal, we gather before the fire, some on the floor and all gathered closely together for a time that Ava plans. Taking turns to include everyone through the years, we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the Christmas story from Luke, and then we have a prayer of thanksgiving for the season.
After Mother’s death, Daddy always wanted us to go as a family to the cemetery late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. We all went, sometimes through rain or cold, because this was important to him. We have not continued to go. I don’t know why.
Our Christmas Day begins with the children, grandchildren, and dear Miss Emma coming for the breakfast and the exchange of family gifts. This is, I believe, the family’s favorite meal — one that the children remember from childhood with Don preparing the breakfast of ham, stuffed sausage, grits, eggs, hoop cheese, and Mama’s biscuits. After breakfast the little ones are eager to get back to their homes to play with Santa Claus’ gifts. Their parents, having helped Santa late the night before, are ready for a little rest. In the late afternoon they all return along with Ed, Ava, Jessica, Halon, Bubba, Miss Emma, and Aunt Annie B. Waller, who comes now that Uncle Young is gone. We enjoy a wonderful Christmas visit. Having previously enjoyed spreads of turkey, ham, and all the trimmings, everyone seems to enjoy on this evening the food which I have prepared well in advance to be eaten casually and whenever we choose, and I enjoy a relaxed time of listening to the grandchildren tell about their gifts and sharing with everyone the joy of the season.
As you may have noticed as I described our activities, we have added to the gatherings of our immediate family other family members who have been left to a lonelier time by the deaths of loved ones. Perhaps you too could include in your family activities someone who might be especially lonely at this time of the year.
Christmas is a wonderful time to right a wrong which has brought unhappiness into a family or other relationship. Life is too short to miss one day of joy, to harbor ill will and to let it eat the heart away. To be right with God, we must be right with each other.
I remember so clearly an occasion when Andy, our son, was quite young and I had punished him for his misbehavior. He came to me very soon and said, "I’m sorry. Let me love your neck." As a young mother with much to learn about rearing children, I did not feel he had suffered adequately for his wrongdoing and I pushed him aside and said, "You have been bad. Go somewhere else for now." My mother, who was looking on, said to me that the day would come when I would long for those little arms in their sweet innocence to be around my neck. I went to Andy right away and we "loved necks" and all was well between a little boy and his mother.
Daddy told me of an experience when Andy, about four at the time, disobeyed. The driveway at Daddy and Mother’s had a slight incline to the sidewalk and street. Andy like to have his tricycle there because riding was good on the concrete sidewalk. Daddy had cautioned Andy not to ride down the driveway because he might not be able to turn quickly enough onto the sidewalk and accidentally go out into the street. Of course Andy felt he would always make the turn, and he continued riding down the driveway. Daddy told him that if he did it one more time he would spank him. That one more time came, and in telling me Daddy said, "I just tore him up." Then, with tears in his eyes, Daddy said, "But Sweetheart, you know in just a few minutes Andy was back and said, "Pee Paw, lean down and let me love you." Daddy compared this to God’s love for us in that sometimes we must suffer for our disobedience but we can always say, "We are sorry, Lord, and I love you. Please forgive me." He does forgive and loves us with his everlasting love.
In a devotional book I recently read the scripture from Mark in which the rich young man came to Jesus seeking eternal life. The scripture said, "and Jesus beholding him, loved him through the years I have heard many sermons from this text, but I did not recall the two words, loved him." It seems the emphasis has always been on the fact that the young man turned away sorrowful. How wonderful that Jesus loves us as he beholds our turning away to other pursuits.
This year Christmas Day comes on a Sunday so we will celebrate during our regular worship service. It will be a meaningful service. We shall await joyously the lighting of the last candle of the advent wreath signifying that Jesus has come.
In our family we plan our holidays as though we will be free to follow through. We all recognize, however, that death does not come by schedules and we are ready to serve. If we cannot follow plans, they are put aside for later. We choose to be in funeral service and with God’s help we have been successful. We try to put ourselves in the place of the family experiencing grief at Christmas during what is usually a most joyous time. Our hearts reach our to those experiencing grief at Christmas and also to those who are having their first Christmas without a special loved one. We can only point you to the One who knows how terribly you hurt and trust you will let Him carry you through.
We have a pamphlet, "After the Loss. . . Coping with the Holidays," and an article relating to the first Christmas since the death of a loved one. We are sending copies of each of these to members of families we have served since last Christmas. If you know of someone else who you think would benefit from these, please call. We shall gladly share with you to help another. Christmas gives each of us opportunities to share. The gift of caring is a priceless gift. This caring and sharing is the spirit of Christmas. During the next few weeks we shall come in contact with some who by their facial expressions and! or actions reveal heavy hearts. Perhaps a word of encouragement and understanding could reach them.
My sharing of these very personal thoughts with you is because of my caring. I hope that this message will be helpful to you in some way as you begin your observance of the Christmas season Our very sincere wish for you is for a Christmas filled with love for God, His son Jesus, and friends and family.
When Love Was Born
When love was born so long ago,
God sent a Child to earth below;
To men He came, humble and poor,
So innocent, sinless and pure.
And in that birth of God’s own Son
A work of love was there begun;
He came to us that we might find
Peace on earth for all mankind.
The years have passed and still today
each looks for love in his own wail;
Some seek in vain, sad and forlorn
Remembering not how love was born.
Yes, love was born so long ago;
Yet, here today it can bestow
A joy complete not just a part
When Christ is born within each heart,
When Christ is born within each heart.
John M. Rasley
We dedicate this issue of SEASONS to those who have died and whose families we have served from August 21. 1988 to November 27, 1988.
Mrs. Nina R. McLarty / August 24, 1988
Mrs. Julia McCain Lampkin / August 29, 1988
Mrs. Mary Velma Boatright / August 31, 1988
Mrs. Bessie Bell Sanders / September 1, 1988
Mrs. Louise Posey Ward / September 8, 1988
Mrs. lola Ruth White / September 9, 1988
Mr. Carroll Everette Yarbrough / September 17, 1988
Mrs. Donna Jean Griffin Tarver / September 17, 1988
Mr. James Leslie Taylor / September 19, 1988
Mrs. Thelma Doris Mills / September 28, 1988
Mr. William Patton Collins / October 2, 1988
Mrs. Helen Wigfield Collins / October 4, 1988
Mr. John Carles Upchurch / October 4, 1988
Mr. Haskell McCarley / October 5, 1988
Mr. Willie Walker Houston / October 6, 1988
Mr. John David Rackley / October 20, 1988
Mrs. Myrtle Littlejohn Oaks / October 20, 1988
Mrs. Honor Kisner Fudge / October 23, 1988
Mrs. Elizabeth Mae Coaten / October 27, 1988
Mr. Hubert Albert Sandefer / October 27. 1988
Mr. Wallace Glen Gardner / October 28, 1988
Mrs. Mary Cleora Butts / October 30, 1988
Mrs. Lois R8dding Spencer / November 2, 1988
Mr. Baxter Clay Inmon / November 2, 1988
Mr. Henry Ellis Simpson / November 3, 1988
Mr. James Raymond Henderson / November 5, 1988
Dr. C. G. "Doc" Nolte / November 5, 1988
Mr. Leonard Irving Malone / November 7, 1988
Mr. William Van Smith / November 10, 1988
Mr. William N. Arbuckle / November 10, 1988
Mr. Frank Iven Carwile, Jr. / November 11, 1988
Mr. Collie Quay Crockett / November 20, 1988
Mrs. Dorothy Franklin Daniels / November 20, 1988
Mr. Charlie Perry Leake / November 25, 1988