The tree always stood in front of the window in the living room. It is funny; I cannot remember a single ornament or topping on the tree. I remember every year when I was old enough to figure it out; I would go into the living room and carefully unwrap each item in my stocking. I would then rewrap them and place them carefully back into the stocking and wait. I had to wait until a certain time to wake up my mother on Christmas morning. The one year she had to wake me up, she was disappointed.
The entire family would go to grandma’s house on Christmas morning. No less than twenty people piled into her small house for Christmas. I remember every inch of that house. I remember the look of every room, the pictures that hung on the walls, the furniture, the positions of the furniture in every room. The haze of smoke that hung in the air. We always had green bean casserole. I’m not sure who made it. And one of my aunts made the best yeast rolls. I remember that we thought she worked so hard on them, and they ended up being from a package. The food for our feast would cover the counters and the table, and desserts would be on top of the chest freezer just outside the kitchen. If I close my eyes, I can see each family member in their designated room.
The house is no longer standing. It was torn down several years ago and now it is an empty lot. There was a time when I didn’t have a Sunday or a holiday without all of them; now I just see the few remaining relatives at funerals. I still see two family members from my mother’s side at Christmas time. It’s my cousin and her daughter. It is the highlight of the season for me. For those few hours, I am taken back to a time that helped to form and shape who I would become. I am the oldest cousin again. We tell lots of stories and catch up on what we have missed. We tell our kids about the pink flamingo and blue ribbon clubs of our youth. We made up these clubs of course. For the blue ribbon club we used my grandmother’s dryer sheets to make the ribbons. For the pink flamingo you would have to ask my cousin what we did. I no longer remember anything but the name of it. We tell them how my cousin would read the Reader’s Digest, and I, being the only child, would beg her to hurry up and finish reading so we could play.
When your matriarch is gone, and her daughters are gone, who holds a family together? If you know a family that has succeeded in holding itself together, I would be interested in knowing how it’s done. It makes me incredibly sad and I miss my mother so much it takes my breath away.
With Christmas approaching, I think of those times with bittersweet memories, and yet I look around at all I have been given and my tears turn to joy. You see, my family didn’t go to church. The only churches I entered as a child were those of my friends. I only remember my mother going to church for four events before she was diagnosed with cancer: my wedding and the baptism of my three children. While I miss my mother every single day, I wonder if she had lived longer, if she would have come to know Christ as her savior. I don’t know if she would have been baptized, I don’t know if she could have walked the streets of gold. If there is anything I can say that could be good about cancer it is this: My mother came to know Christ before she passed. I will see her again, because I know without a doubt she is in Heaven. If she had never gotten sick, but had been hit by a bus or some other tragedy had struck her down early instead, I don’t know that she would be there.
My mother will be spending her ninth Christmas with Jesus this year. I have to say, I am a bit jealous. Don’t get me wrong -- I love every inch of my life. I love my husband, my children, my home, my family, my friends, my friends who are like family, and even my three crazy cats. But how glorious would it be to spend Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, with the man himself? No, I have no plans of going anywhere soon. I just no longer have a fear of what comes next after this life, and while this life is pretty good, it’s not near as good as what is waiting for me in Heaven with my Heavenly Father.
This year, as you light your tree, and take the pictures of the kids opening their gifts from Santa, I would like to challenge you to not only remember those times when you were a child, but also to remember the reason we celebrate in the first place. And if you are missing someone like I am, may I assure you that it's...OK. Don't be afraid as you thank God for sending His son that He will get mad if you ask Him to tell them you miss them. He understands our humanness and still loves us. Share the memories, share the reason, and take the time this year to reflect!