In Between Times

I wonder . . . what Christmas do you remember?

No, no, no – I’m not talking about when you were a kid and there was that special toy or the year you were ten and skated in New York’s Rockefeller Center and the night was magical or when you surprised “Santa” near the tree as he (er, your father, brother, uncle) munched on the peanut butter cookies you left while putting a pony under the tree.

No childhood memories, please.

Be a card-carrying adult about it, long past the so-called magic time. After cynicism and weariness arrived . . . and enthusiasm and innocence left the building a decade or more ago. And yet, you still felt Christmas’ deepest meanings…

This is one for me . . . as I started working at my last church, I was leaving a job as a hospice chaplain. The congregation had an early and late Christmas Eve service. But I promised one hospice patient I’d visit her that night . . . and so I drove to her home between the two celebrations. Joy to the World echoed for me. Laughter still resonated from a Christmas Eve children’s sermon. And there was the exhaustion of the season. However, for a few moments, with a mother who was dying and a daughter who cared for her, I sat in a quiet dark house. We prayed. We swapped long ago family memories. I became, in the season of wonderment, I silent holder of hands and whisperer of God’s forever good news. Unto us a child is born, but there is still dying and death. And, with dying and death, there is still a silent night, a holy night, a time and place of embracing others.

I’ll always remember that night. And what of you . . .?

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6 Comments

  1. First of all, Larry: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, and may you and your family have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

    Mine came in the form of a diagnosis two years ago… In December of 2009 I was diagnosed with a tumor in my spinal cord. To say there was fear and a feeling of being lost would be an understatement. Being told there’s a chance you’ll lose the use of your legs is a fairly harrowing ordeal – – – especially right before Christmas. But there I was – alone, scared, numb; wondering why the hell this had to happen to ME!

    As Christmas drew closer, I started to become accustomed to the sound of the MRI’s, and even the sting of the IV needles going into my arm so my spinal cord would “light up” for the tests. On Christmas Eve, as we sat down to have dinner before we left for the seven-o’clock service, the phone rang. It was my doctor with the results of my latest MRI – an MRI of my brain to see if there were more tumors there. The bad news, the MRI showed spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the vertebrae), two bulging discs and a herniated disk. But no tumors in the brain! Never was I so happy to hear that my neck was so screwed-up!

    That night, sitting in the pew with my family, the music seemed a little deeper; the hymns rang a little truer, and the message reached my heart a little sooner. Fear was replaced with faith; loneliness was replaced with comfort, and the numbness was replaced with a new sense of “feeling.”

    I’m not saying I’m lucky to have a tumor only in my spinal cord. But I am lucky to be on this journey, and it’s a journey where my eyes were opened on Christmas Eve in 2009.

    Thank you for allowing me to share this with you!

    1. The thanks is mine, Rusty. I don’t doubt you would remember the call from the doctor on any day. But that it came on Christmas Eve makes the memory more vivid. You helped me “see” and sense your honest gratitude as you worshiped. Take care and a joyous Christmas to you and your family.

  2. I suppose this year’s Christmas is a memory in the making. After struggling to dig post holes for the new playground at El Dorado Park, my husband, Rich Calderwood, became unable to continue working. Jim Healy insisted that he be taken to the ER, and from there he was assigned a cardiologist, Dr. Sandu, who admitted him, performed a test to determine the severity of Rich’s condition, and contacted Dr. Birnbaum, a surgeon to perform a double bypass. The surgery was scheduled for Sunday, exactly one week before Christmas.

    Instead of a double bypass, Rich received a triple bypass. Luckily, his heart is in good shape and seemed strong even though his arteries were clogged. The cardiologist said that Rich and I were lucky that he didn’t drop dead of a heart attack when we were hiking in the high country of Yosemite or during our mission work in Nicaragua. Instead, we received a Christmas miracle.

    Rich is home and sitting by the tree, and doing his breathing on the spirometer. As his wife, I have the greatest gifts of all–a husband who will heal, a loving family that supports me, and friends that pray for us all. As I prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I give thanks for the angels who have helped us through this challenge. Each kind word and prayer has become a treasured Christmas memory.

    1. Karen: Whoa! So Richard was the person reference during prayer time at last Sunday’s 8:30 service. How thankful I am that he’s sitting around the tree. Nothing like going from the playground to the hospital, eh? Blessings and joy to you and your wonderful, wonderful family. I suspect this Christmas will feel very merry!!

  3. I think the memory that stands out the most to me as an adult. My sister, My mom and I were shopping for Christmas eve dinner last year. For some reason everyone in Winco were completely sullen and mopey; including our mother. My sister and I were goof balls all though the trip, turning the mundane in to something magically.

    At one point my sis yelled ‘Incoming!’ and I have a bag of frozen corn being thrown my way. We actually got some laughs from some of those grumpy guses! and well…we may have gotten a rather disappointed look from our mother watching two of her adult children acting like 4 year old’s.

    With my sister’s passing this year; the memory becomes extra important to me. To find the joy in the little things, with the people who count. I covered the house in Christmas lights, walked down Christmas tree lane not once, but twice. I made countless movie nights with friends to watch every sappy movie possible. The memory helped me bring the joy in Christmas. It certainly didn’t have the magic of my childhood or even of recent years; but it gave me enough of a spark to enjoy the season and appreciate those who were in my life.

    1. Matt: thanks for your sharing. When I look back at some of my memories, I’m struck by how “insignificant” they once seemed…then the years go by, and the trivial can become precious. So sorry to hear about your sister’s death. Take care, relish the memories, delight in today.

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