A Different Sort of Christmas
My life has always involved changes. I am not really fond of changes; just ask anyone who knows me. 2015 has been full of changes, and I wasn’t happy about most of them. There was a lot of loss this year, too. However, this Christmas will be a very big change for me. Tonight, I will board a train and head west to San Antonio, Texas (after heading North, then West, and then South to get there) to spend the holiday with my brother and his family.
My brother and I were separated when we were very young. I did get to spend a couple of weeks with him every summer, but never Christmas. That might have been in part due to the fact that I lived in South Carolina, and he was in West Va. buried under snow. We haven’t been able to see each other very often as adults and have only been together during the Christmas season a few times. We have never actually shared Christmas Day since he was 2 years old.
This will be an exciting time. I will get to meet his grandchildren for the first time. We will be able to spend some good quality time together and that usually means trouble. His wife might have to send us to our rooms or give us time out. She will have to separate us when football is on because he is a DALLAS fan. OMG! We will get to do a little sightseeing, try to piece together memories and share some old pictures we have been able to gather over the years. All in all, I am so very excited and ready to begin this journey.
This will be a huge change for me. For the past 19 years, I have spent every Christmas day with my two children, their spouses, and my grandchildren. We usually begin the day in our pajamas and head to IHOP for breakfast. We then return home for gift giving and fun. The day usually ends with playing games and just relaxing. This year we got together a couple of weeks early to celebrate Christmas as a family. For the past 4 years, I have shared Christmas eve with my “other family.” The day often included shopping or last minute gift wrapping followed by Christmas Eve service at church and then supper. There would be amazing hot chocolate from a crock pot and just enjoying the time together. The kids would beg to open one gift from under the tree, and then we would exchange our Christmas gifts for each other.
Christmas at my house growing up wasn’t much of a celebration or fun. It was a day I usually wondered if my mother or father would call or come to see me. Usually my mother would call, but never my father. We had an ugly silver tree with a light that revolved around it. I have written some other posts about all of this. As an adult, Christmas was made very special because of my children. I loved watching their excitement over everything that happened during the holidays. There was then a period of time when they were older that things weren’t as good, but those times passed.
Christmas really is about a time of celebrating the birth of Christ and all that it represents. It is a time to share with family and friends no matter how close or far. I will truly miss the Christmas traditions of the past years, but I know this Christmas offers something special as I get to be a “kid” and reclaim some of the Christmas spirit with my little brother.
I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa or anything else that you may celebrate during this holiday season.
The Rest of the Story
This blog post is NOT about Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty, or the controversy surrounding them. However, it was prompted by comments made by Phil from Duck Dynasty that is featured on A&E.
If you follow facebook, any news channel, or read the paper, you might have heard the huge debate going on about an interview Phil gave to GQ. He has been banned from A&E for his comments. I am not here to argue if he was right or wrong, talk about free speech, issues of race, homosexuality, or anything else. I am writing today because of what he didn’t say.
You see, I was raised by a grandmother who lived most of her adult life as a drunk, along with a variety of other sinful ways of living. When I was about 7 or so, she decided to start taking me to church. She found “religion”, and her life did change in some ways, but she was still the same person inside. She was mean-spirited and did hurtful things to those around her. She wore her religion like a street person putting on a new suit without ever showering or cleaning up. It was all for show.
She used the Bible as a weapon and as a crutch for her way of living and thinking. She would quote Scripture to prove her point, to allow her to judge others, and to control my behavior. One that she loved to throw around was, “Vengence is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” I am sure we could take time and have a long theological discussion about this verse, but I am going to bet that most of you would not interpret it the way my grandmother did. Her use of the verse was to say that God was going to get me if I did bad stuff. I was a kid who had been neglected, abandoned, and abused the first few years of my life, so I was going to have a few issues, and I (like all kids) was going to do things considered bad. I was always waiting for the Lord to punish me and I assumed anything bad that happened to me from being sick to not getting all A’s in school was vengeance being imparted to me.
You see, the thing that troubles me is when we don’t get the rest of the story. My grandmother stopped short of telling the whole story when she used scripture the way she did. I remember when Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was released; people asked why I didn’t go see it. I had a number of reasons, but one of them was that it didn’t tell the rest of the story. The film only showed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus. It only showed the horror of the crucifixion, but didn’t show the resurrection or talk about the things Jesus came to teach us. This is what happened with Phil’s interview. He didn’t tell the rest of the story. He only quoted verse 9 and 10 from the Corinthians passage. Verse 11 is so powerful in this passage. Can you see the difference it makes?
1 Corinthians 6:9 “9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Look at that list of sins! Can you see any there that you might have committed or even held in your heart? I can tell you that in my life, I have committed most of them. You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I hit bottom hard, and I don’t need to tell you the kind of life I lead for a while; you can figure it out. So, according to those first two verses, I cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That is devastating news, almost hopeless.
Yet, just look at verse 11. That is the one that wasn’t quoted by Phil or the GQ article. “And that is what some of you were.” Yes, that is what I was. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” That was all done for me!
Phil also said, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” I disagree. Sin is the most logical thing I understand from the Bible. There are many verses telling us that we are sinners by nature and that no one is without sin. It is from the beginning to the end. What isn’t logical is that this all powerful, omnipotent God would bother with any of us. Why not just get rid of us all and start from scratch? Instead, He did something absolutely illogical. He sent His only son to be born as a human and live this earthly life, and die for our sins.
As we celebrate Christmas next week, we remember the birth of Jesus. But, we need to remember the rest of the story. Jesus showed those he encountered the purest love and gave hope to everyone, even the worst of the sinners. He opened his heart and his arms to tax collectors, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, and more. And, that is what He asks us to do.
“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”
― Anne Lamott
I have several friends on my facebook list and blog followers who may wish to debate or help me with my theological understanding of scripture. Instead, I hope they will simply read this and say a prayer for this justified, sanctified, and forgiven sinner.
Christmas Future-Christmas Trilogy 3
In 12-step recovery programs, we are taught not to think about tomorrow. Slogans like “one day at a time” or “just today” are drummed into our brain. Another one that I hate is, “if you have one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you are pissing all over today.” That one just never made any sense to me. I understand and acknowledge the wisdom in “one day at a time” in dealing with alcohol and drugs. There were many times in my recovery that it was one hour, one minute, or one second at a time.
However, in the real world that slogan doesn’t work. If I truly lived “one day at a time”, I would get my paycheck and buy a new big screen TV or book a mountain cabin for a week, ignoring the reality that in two weeks I have to pay rent and make a car payment. I also believe that dreams of the future are a motivation to do well today.
When I decided to write about Christmas future, I had to think about what I would really like to see. So here is a brief glimpse of some future Christmases…
In a couple of years, I will have friends and family surrounding me as I prepare to graduate from the College of Charleston.
Not long after I finish my MFA, Oprah will choose my newly published best selling book as the gift to give for Christmas.
I will visit my great grandchildren who are the most beautiful and amazing children ever to be born. I will, of course, be visiting my children and grand children as well, but we all know it will be the great grands that take center stage.
The day after Christmas, I will visit the Culpeppers (Either in Charleston or within a 4 hour drive 🙂 ) and the next week I will go to Baltimore and New York to visit my brother and some other friends as I begin my book tour.
I won’t miss my mother, my best friend-JanF, my Mama Pearl, or any of the other friends/family who have passed away nearly as much as I do now. (OK, that one isn’t really going to happen.)
I will notice that as I grow older, I learn more about the gift of Jesus and the joy of celebrating Christmas. I might just become “Jesusy” as Anne Lamott says.
I spent a great deal of life dreading the future and believing that nothing good would ever happen to me. I was always waiting for the next bad thing. I have learned that the next bad thing is going to happen no matter what; it happens to everyone. It’s called life. I have also learned that the next amazing thing is going to happen as well. Sometimes, the next amazing thing comes as a result of that next bad thing that happened.
Anne Lamott said in one of her blog posts, ” We religious nuts say, ‘I no longer know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future’.” Of course, I can’t really predict the future, but I can dream. I no longer see my future thought the eyes of nightmares. So, I will continue to dream about my future Christmases celebrating the birth of the One who holds the future.
Christmas Present- A Christmas Trilogy (part 2)
It is close to midnight on Sunday night and I am sitting in an empty office room. During the day, the room is filled with volunteers and staff talking on phones and with each other. But, at night there is only one person covering the phones, and tonight it is me. I work for local hotline crisis center. I have done this for over 13 years now. We talk to people who are in pain, hurt, scared, angry, lost, and sometimes suicidal.
I chose this work because without a line just like this one, I might not be here today. In March of 1987, I made a call to a local crisis line because I wanted to die. I thought I could no longer handle the pain and guilt that ruled my life. I felt that God had long since given up on me, as had everyone else. A wonderful woman spent a long time on the phone with me that night and kept me safe until morning. In my post on Christmas past, I shared some of the things that lead me to that night.
Just the other day I was talking with my friend Jan, and I was shocked to hear that she had never seen “A Wonderful Life.” This is the movie when life takes a devastating turn for Jimmy Stuart, so he stands on a bridge thinking that his wife, their young children, and others he loves will be better off with him dead. He is contemplating suicide when a guardian angel named Clarence comes to his rescue. Clarence shows him what life would be like if he was never born. Stuart’s character comes to realize the impact his life has had on all those in his life, and realizes that he does indeed, have a “wonderful life.”
As I prepare to share this Christmas with my family and friends, I wonder what might have happened if I had succeed that night. I would have missed an amazing life, and the opportunity to share my hope and faith with others. I wouldn’t be here for this Christmas. This year, I will spend time with my church family as we host several services leading up to the Christmas Eve candle light service. I will spend time with my friends Anna, Jan and her kids. Christmas day, I will be blessed to share the day with both of my children, their spouses, and my three amazing grandchildren. If I had succeeded that night, I would never have known the joy of sharing my life with all of them.
I won’t be able to buy gifts as I did last year. I had the most fun shopping last year, but some financial setbacks including a bout with pneumonia in spring and having my car breakdown beyond repair, make it impossible to give the way I did last year. I have been fortunate to find a car I can afford with some serious budget cuts. I have made peace with the situation and believe that Christmas will still be special this year.
Christmas this year will be about sharing special times with those I love and care about the most.It will be remembering the true gift of Christmas was the gift of Jesus It will be enjoying the sounds of Christmas music and singing along to carols as I drive down the road. It will be finding those special small gifts to give to others. I love seeing the Christmas cards and greeting on facebook from all those in my life. Phone calls with people I should talk to more often will add to the holiday excitement. I will of course eat too much chocolate and other baked goods, in spite of Anna telling me how much sugar, gluten, and other harmful things fill my plate. I promise to listen more after the first of the year.
When Christmas day is over and everyone heads to bed, I will log into a computer, pull out my headset, and cover the crisis hotline. Maybe, I will talk to someone who feels lost and alone this Christmas. Whenever I talk to someone like that, I remember the night I made that call and the person on the line that gave me hope. I think of the life I have today, and like Stuart’s character I can say, “It is a wonderful life. “
Ghosts of Christmas Past- A Christmas Trilogy
My childhood memories are scattered in pieces across my mind. While I have some of my own memories, others come from the stories told by family members or friends. For a long time, many of the pieces didn’t make sense, but letters, pictures, and stories helped put the snippets into a more complete picture
From what I learned, my first Christmas was spent with my parents at my father’s parents farm in West Va. We lived with them for the first few months. My mother had just turned 17 and my father was barely 20. After the holidays, they moved back home to Charleston to live in the projects in downtown Charleston. My father was in the Navy and gone for weeks at a time. When he came home, he would drink and there would be fights…verbal and physical. As I got older, I would be in the mix. My mother taught me to hide under a table. The next few Christmases included bringing two more abusive alcoholics (Mother’s parents) into the mix. The Christmas before my 4th birthday, my mother played out a plan that included leaving and separating my brother and me between grandparents.
My parents were in and out of my life. Holidays, particularly Christmas brought dreams and wishes that my mother or my father would somehow miss me enough to come and see me. I do remember many times looking out the window and hoping. Any time I heard a car, I would look to see if it might be one of them; it never was.
My grandmother found “religion” when I was about 7. Christmas meant going to church service at midnight Christmas Eve and coming home to my drunken grandfather. When we got home, I could open one gift under the ugly silver tree with revolving color wheel with a manager scene carefully placed underneath. Gifts were practical for the most part, with one “frivolous” gift like a doll or bike. The only present I cared about was the one my mother would send me. Later, I discovered many phone calls and gifts were never received because of my Grandmother’s intervention.
Christmas finally took on new meaning when I had children of my own. The greatest joy I had was finding gifts for them, yet because of our own financial problems, I often wasn’t able to give them all they wanted. They didn’t seem to care. They loved the tree and decorations. They always took part in the Christmas music and scenes at church. My husband’s parents were so very generous with gifts for the kids and they always had what they wanted, even if I couldn’t give it.
All of that changed, when I started drinking and in time, became a full-blown alcoholic. In the fall of 1986, my husband took custody of my kids, and I was left with visitation only. The pain and heartbreak was overwhelming. December of 1986, I made the decision to move to Baltimore to try to find a better job and get my life together in order to provide a home for children and get them back. But alcoholics can’t move away from themselves. That Christmas, I was able to get gifts and send them back home to the kids, but I drank everyday to numb the pain of their loss. During the next 3 and 1/2 months, I drank and drugged daily, put myself in dangerous places with dangerous people, and lost all hope. I wondered if my children watched out the window to see if I was coming that Christmas, even though they knew, just as I did, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I got sober in April of 1987. My husband told the kids they could come and stay with me for Christmas if I could get them to Baltimore. I didn’t have a car and he knew I didn’t have the money to fly them there. Jan F. told me to pray and talk to my support group and just “let go and let God.” I hated her telling me those thing, but I learned to trust her. I did what she said.
Two weeks before Christmas, a friend invited me to lunch. She pulled out two round trip airline tickets for my kids. She told me that she drank away her chance to ever have children and wanted to help me get mine back. That weekend, we had our Christmas party at work. My coworkers, who had watched me drink myself almost to death and now watched me in recovery, gave me an envelope with $100.00 cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store and another to Penny’s. That Christmas gave me hope and helped me believe that perhaps God hadn’t given up on me.
It took over 20 years before I would be in a church at Christmas. I wonder if God watched out of the window sometimes to see I was going to come back . Even though I found a new relationship with God and Jesus, I struggled with the idea of church. I started visiting a few churches and a couple of years ago found a church home. Last Christmas, I attended all of the Christmas services and found a new appreciation for Christmas. There was one service that touched my heart. It was the Blue Christmas service. You can read about it here in an article that my friend Jan wrote about that night. It has been a long journey.
In a day or so, I will share more about my Christmas “Present” and then shortly after that Christmas “Future.”
One Last Christmas Gift
Christmas music began the day after Thanksgiving. Friends and family did not seem to share my childlike exuberance for the carols and other Christmas music being played round the clock. It was hard to contain my delight at seeing Christmas lights go up on street corners and houses in my neighborhood. I stared at store displays and ads ready to begin shopping. I was excited and ready for this holiday season to arrive. I knew it was going to be a great Christmas this year.
Time seemed to fly as the days went by with Christmas programs, visiting the lights at the park, church services, and spending time with friends and family. We laughed as we whispered the news of finding special gifts for others. We were excited over finding treasures with marked down sticker prices. We drove to stores or church with everyone in the car singing along to the music.
Christmas Eve was spent being part of two church services and then to the home of my friends. We drank the most amazing hot chocolate made in a crock pot while we ate fresh baked sugar cookies with sprinkles. We exchanged gifts, took pictures, and enjoyed being together. Christmas morning with my family included our yearly trip to IHOP for breakfast followed by opening gifts at home.
I received some very special gifts this year. My daughter surprised me with a new camera. It is waterproof and has a dual screen rather like a smart phone; one screen is on the back and one is on the front to take self portraits. A new Mickey Mouse dressed in a Redskins shirt complete with a new blanket was very cute. I added a Tinkerbell fluffy stuffed pillow to my collection. A new Dvd/Blue Ray player from my son means I can now play my blue ray discs. My friend Anna gave me a wonderful mug that said, “Believe in Yourself.” I was very surprised to find a beautiful hand crocheted scarf that I had actually watched Jan working on, never guessing it was for me. These two, along with some other goodies came in a new bag for carrying books when I return to college in a couple of weeks. But I had one more gift to come. It was one I did not want and I could not return it.
My son and family were coming over around 4:00pm. About 3:00pm I started to feel tired. It had been a very busy week and I didn’t home until almost 1:00 am the night before so I wasn’t too concerned. I started to feel a little tightness in my chest and a tickle in my throat. My son and family arrived and we enjoyed time together but I wasn’t my excited holiday self. By the time they left at 7:00pm I started to sense something was going on. My daughter thought I had fever so I went to my room, found the thermometer and it confirmed her suspicion. By bedtime, I hurt all over, had a temperature of 100, and had a horrible headache.
By morning, I had developed a nasty cough and my temperature was now well over 101. I was soon sitting in the doctor’s office. She did a flu test but said it was too early for a positive result because I hadn’t had the fever for over 24 hours. However, she was going to send me home with Tamiflu because Tamiflu works best within the first 24 to 48 hours. Oh, and yes, I did get a flu shot this year.
I am now on day three of Tamiflu and my fever has been gone for 48 hours. I am not feeling nearly as fatigued and the headache is gone. The cough is the last lingering effect. The last time I had the flu was about 12 years ago and I was sick for two weeks. Since then I get the flu shot every year. I am told that getting the flu shot will not always keep you from getting the flu but will make it a milder case if you come down with it. I am grateful for the flu shot and Tamiflu this year. So far none of my family or friends have symptoms of the flu.
I was right about one thing. This was one of the best Christmas holiday seasons I’ve had in a long time. I will cherish the memories of each event and time spent with those special people in my life. Even this nasty flu can’t take away my joy from this Christmas.
Below is a chart to help you decide if you have a cold or the flu. Hope you don’t get either one! I am wishing everyone a healthy start for the coming new year!
Rambling Post To Get Unstuck
I am stuck! I mentioned that in a recent facebook status update. I mentioned that I was not posting to the blog that day because I was stuck. A friend suggested I write about being stuck and my plan to get unstuck. Great idea except I don’t know what it will take to get unstuck. Writing professionals and teachers tell you to just keep writing and eventually you will find you way back. So, I am going to give it a shot.
I seem to be stuck in my life as well. I have made huge changes over the past couple of months. A divorce and leaving the place I had worked for many years has offered new experiences and new opportunities. I get excited and then confused about all the choices. When I don’t know what to do, I often do nothing.
In recovery we talk about doing the next right thing and doing the foot work and see where God leads. There are also a lot of slogans we throw at these problems. “Let Go and Let God”, “Willingness is the Key”, “More will be Revealed.” I learned that each slogan offers a solution. They take on different meanings at different times. I am not sure what they mean in my life today.
I am happy and excited about my life. I am looking forward to Christmas more this year than I have for the past few years. I am also feeling lost. I have incredible support with family and friends, but I feel very alone. That is the part I am not talking about. So I am sharing it with you today. Please don’t tell anyone else.
I can see I have confused you. “How can you have wonderful family and friends and great support, yet say you feel alone?” you ask. You see, I thought at 60 something years old I would be settled down. I thought I would have my own home and a husband I loved and cherished to share my life. I thought I would be financially secure and able to enjoy retirement. I thought I might be a published author. I imagined Thanksgivings and Christmas in my home with all the kids and grands. I guess I bought the whole fairy tale ending thing.
Instead I have a bedroom in my daughter’s home. I am what is considered a “single.” My kids are grown with their own core family. I have only one friend who is also a “single.” She became a widow a couple of years ago. We talk about being the proverbial “third wheel.” I am not published because I haven’t finished writing even one book. I am far from being financially secure. My fairy tale ending is “stayed tuned for the next adventure.”
Our family don’t do the traditional Thanksgiving. Everyone does their own thing that day for a variety of reasons. Like many families, the holidays are spent dividing time with different families and kids going between their divorced parents. Christmas gets a bit confusing. My grandson is with his father on Christmas eve. My daughter’s home is host to her father’s side of the family on Christmas eve. Since I live with her this year, I will be finding other activities for the day. Christmas morning I share with my daughter’s family and Christmas afternoon my son’s family comes to join us.
Let me clarify that I love my kids, grandkids, and friends. None of them have ever made me feel unwelcome or like an outsider. They open their hearts and homes to me. Yet, I still feel that small twinge of loneliness at times. The holidays seem to put a magnifying glass on that twinge. And that twinge seems to scream and tell me I am less than, I am not worthy, I am a failure.
This is not the blog post I wanted to write. I don’t want to admit any of this to you. But it is what is in my heart and head. It is what is keeping me stuck. I am following my friend’s suggestion and writing about my stuckness. (Yes, I realize that is not an actual word.) It isn’t a great plan to get unstuck, but it is all I have for right now.
Have you been stuck in life or your writing? What have you done to get past it?