“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
I love this time of year, Christmas, the birth of Christ, families coming together, the sights and sounds, the food, and the memories from Christmases gone by.
As I think of Christmases of my childhood, I remember my family coming together with friends and just enjoying each other’s company. Memories of driving to South Carolina first thing Christmas morning to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Memories of our pastor visiting us first thing on Christmas morning, having a cup of coffee, seeing the surprises from Santa, and then he would leave to visit all the other families of our church. Memories of waiting nervously for my daddy to get home from driving his truck in time to celebrate Christmas with us. Memories of singing Christmas songs around the piano. But the most cherished memories are of my daddy reading the story of Jesus birth to us on Christmas Eve as a reminder of the real reason we celebrate. I remember when Christmas was simple, and the focus was Jesus and family.
As I think of Christmases from my teenage years, I remember my high school sweetheart and how much he loved Christmas! It truly was his favorite time of year. Memories of his first Christmas as a Christian, and the reverence with which he read the Christmas story for the two of us. Memories of how he would decorate his parent’s attic with a tree, lights, and even one of those cardboard fireplaces, so we could sit upstairs in front of the ‘fire’ and look at ‘our’ tree. The memories are there like they just happened yesterday. That fireplace traveled with us through four of years of dating and our 10 years of marriage, and through 12 moves. It was in front of that fireplace that he proposed after accidently losing the key to the cabinet where he had placed my ring. Memories of our first Christmas together, married, a couple. Memories of making our first Nativity scene. Memories of working together to build a stable for our scene, and the tradition began of it being placed in the center of our Christmas decorations every year. That Nativity scene is still placed in the center of my Christmas every year, for 44 years. Memories of the two of us traveling to his parents’ house and then my parents in South Carolina for Christmas. It was what we did. Memories of family coming together. Memories of some Christmases without everyone, memories of a certain sadness, yet happy, cherished memories also. Those memories were soon even more cherished with the first Christmas after becoming parents. He was more excited than any of us, and we still had the fireplace. He insisted on a real Christmas tree every year, and he insisted on ‘snowing’ the tree. Memories of the aroma of that fresh Christmas tree, mingled with the smell of the ‘snow’ on the tree will forever be there. Memories of Mike reading the Christmas story with our son. Simple, precious memories.
Memories of a first Christmas without Mike were the hardest. Memories of our new home, memories of new friends, memories of a new puppy, memories of my grandparents coming to our house, and memories of being surrounded by family to help with the pain. Memories of sadness, loneliness, and still a twinge of anger clouded that first Christmas without him. Memories of a faith so strong in Jesus Christ, the reason for the season, that brought me through that first Christmas and all the days ahead. Memories of tears, yet memories of laughter, hugs, smiles, and love too!
Then came the new memories of a woman stronger than ever before! Memories of a new family, memories of new Christmas traditions mingled with the traditions of two families before that became one. Memories of families coming together to blend into one. Memories of our children growing up and a living room filled with presents, laughter, and family on Christmas morning. Memories of two of our children not so patiently waiting for their sister to wake up so we could go downstairs as a family to see all that Santa had brought. Memories of Grandma Murrell being a part of our new Christmas traditions each Christmas morning. Memories of the story of Jesus’ birth being read to our children by their father, and sometimes by Grandma Murrell. Memories of later years, after my father was no longer with us, of my mother sharing Christmas traditions with us. Memories of stories being told by my mother and Grandma Murrell to our children about their Christmases growing up. Memories of my children growing up, moving away from home, starting families of their own, and now it is their turn to ‘come home for Christmas.’ My heart hopes those times will never just turn into memories of past days.
Now we are in the stage of our lives where we are retired and we are grandparents, and I am all about creating memories for them. I want them to always have special memories of coming to Grammy and Papa’s house for celebrations, for Christmas, and just because we are family. Each time we are together I try to create memories for my grandchildren, but for my children as well. I want them to know they are loved, and that Jesus is the reason for the season, but He is so much more. I want them to know and always remember that it is because of Jesus Christ and his birth in a manger and his death on a cross, that we are all saved. I want them to remember that it is because of God’s mercy and grace, and His plan for all our lives, that we are together as a family because of His intervention and His plan. There is no other explanation for us coming together and creating this blessed family. I want them to remember the truths they were taught as children, I want them to remember the family get-togethers, the laughter, the music, the food, the sights and sounds the way I remember all those memories from my childhood, teenage years, and even into adulthood. May the memories always be a part of my heart and my mind, and may they always be a part of their hearts and minds.
The season and memories on FB reminded me of a conversation I had with Patrick when he was 5 years old, almost a year after his daddy died. Such an innocent conversation, yet here I am almost 34 years later still remembering it, like it was yesterday, and the impression it left on my heart.
Picture a beautiful day in Burlington, NC and mother and son were driving back to visit his grandparents. The sky was a beautiful blue, with clouds scattered through the sky. When suddenly from the back seat, Patrick asked, “Mommy, what do you think God and my daddy do in Heaven all day?” Truly taken by surprise, it took me a few seconds to respond, but the only response I could think of was, “Well, Patrick, knowing your daddy the way I do, they are either talking about the medical profession, running, or his family.” Patrick was silent for a few seconds and then responded, “But mommy, do you think they are sitting side by side, or walking around Heaven?” My response, “I am not sure. What do you think, Patrick?” Patrick’s response, “Well, mommy, I think God is sitting in his big chair, and daddy is sitting in his not so big chair, and they are watching me!” Me, “Patrick, you are probably right. Sounds exactly like what they would be doing.” Patrick’s response, “Yes, mommy, they are watching over us and smiling. But mommy, how do the chairs stay on the clouds and not fall through?” Me, “What do you mean, Patrick?” His response, “Well, mommy, chairs are heavy. How do they sit on the clouds? And mommy, do you think they get tired of the sun shining all the time? And mommy, do you think daddy misses me?”
And it was about that moment we reached the driveway at the McGinnis’ house, and I prayed a silent prayer of thankfulness. Patrick was so curious as a child, still is. I truly could not respond without bursting into tears, so Memaw and Pepa standing outside with arms wide open were the perfect response to his innocent questions.
I think back about that day, and the days before when we were dealing with Mike’s tragic death, and how much we went through. I praise God for providing us with the family and friend support we would need. I praise Him for giving me the strength and wisdom to make it through those moments, those days, months, and years to get to where we are today.
The Christmas season is such a reminder to hold our family and friends close to us, to celebrate with them and because they are in our lives. We are not promised tomorrow. Christmas was Mike’s favorite holiday, and every year 34 years later, it brings back so many memories of our time together and a reminder to be thankful and praise God for what we have . . . God, love, family, happiness, health, and each other! That is what this season is about. Notice the small moments, really listen, and pay attention, because I guarantee you that God will use those moments later in life to remind you of the blessings He gives, the mercy and grace He bestows upon us, the unconditional love He shows, and the protection He showers over those that follow His will. He does everything with a purpose, and everything He does is full measure. Never doubt His love, His timing, or His purpose for each of us.
Merry Christmas to everyone! Spend time with your family. Show everyone love and care. And know that we are not promised tomorrow. But know that one day you may wonder yourself exactly what God and your loved one do all day in Heaven. I like to think they are sitting in their big chairs, on the clouds, smiling down at the loved ones they left behind, the loved ones they are so proud of here on earth!
The simple cardboard fireplace seems to symbolize so much about my life and my memories. Yet, I hope my friends and family see so much more to the significance of the memories of my life. They are all a part of those memories.