Tag Archives: gratitude

Church Noise

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I write about church and faith quite often.  If you have followed my blog or read any of these posts, you might recall that church and I have had a challenging relationship over the years. (You can find these posts under the Faith tab on the blog.)   I only returned to traditional church about six or seven years ago. I church shopped for a while before I found a place to stay for a while.  I was part of this church for about five years, however just a few weeks ago, the congregation voted to disband and close the church.  I won’t go into the reasons since this blog isn’t about that.  It did however create the need  opportunity to visit churches over the past couple of months.

As a child, I learned that the church sanctuary was a solemn place to be treated with absolute reverence.  There were many rules including no running, no talking above a whisper, no laughing; you get the idea.  Music was never that toe tapping hand-clapping sort of thing.  It was more along the lines of hymns written in earlier centuries to tortoise paced classical organ accompaniment.  It was only in the fellowship hall that we could have a piano with more lively music; however dancing was still out of the question.

On my summer visits to my brother in West Va., we would attend small charismatic type churches.  Their music was piano, guitar, and a bit more old-time gospel.  The preacher was scary.  He screamed, threw things, and often took off his coat and tie with armpit sweat stains showing the intensity of the sermon.

Over the years, things have changed in worship style and music in many churches, but not in the one I was attending after my return to church. Occasionally the congregation might be moved to clap after the choir anthem, and someone would usually have an “Amen”.  One of thing liked about this church was that the people enjoyed talking to each other.  Before church and during the time in worship when people greeted one another there was a buzzing of voices, and it was sometimes difficult to get everyone seated again.  As time went, on the voices and noise faded.

As I began visiting churches, I became interested in the church noises.  One of the first I visited had a full band with music I love from contemporary Christian artists.  I know many people love this type of “concert” setting, and while I enjoy it, I like a blend of more traditional hymns. From the moment, I entered the building, an excitement and joy could be felt.  The next few churches I visited were much mellower. There wasn’t much noise at all, even during the worship.

I attend service at a small country church in the upstate every few weeks when I go to stay with my friend.  I love this church.  It has a history stretching back one hundred years.  The organist/pianist is a precious 95-year-old woman. A small group of children in choir robes sing with a guitar accompaniment.  The choir is small, but powerful.  The sounds of children and babies create a sense of delight. The noises in that church are truly joyful ones.

I recently visited a church, and as I entered, laughter and chatter filled the foyer.  Before I could find a seat, several smiling faces had welcomed me as if I already belonged.  During the time in worship for greeting one another, the people seemed genuinely happy to be in worship with one another.  Each time I have attended, children and youth have been part of the worship.  Excitement and wonder are the noises that fill this place.  I think I might just stay a while here.  I like the noise.

Of course, I have to add a quote from Anne Lamott:

“I live for Sundays,” she says. “It’s like going to the spiritual gas station to fill up on fuel and clean the dirty windshield and mirrors. 
I usually show up nuts, self-obsessed, vaguely agitated, and I am at once reminded not of who I am, but Whose I am.

“Then everything falls into place, and I smile again at how crazy I (and most of us) are, but how at church, in fellowship, in the arms and eyes of Jesus […] I remember the truth of my spiritual identity. I love to sing in a group – more than anything, and to do the holy dance of swaying, and clapping. Plus, they say that clapping in church scares away the devil.”

 

 

 

 

What Will Be My Legacy?

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I sat on the wooden pews in a small church waiting for the memorial service for a friend to begin. If the wall  of this hundred-year-old sanctuary could talk, they would tell the life stories of so many people, including the story of the man to be memorialized that day. He had been married in that church, as had his parents, as well as his some of his children and grandchildren. In the cemetery next to the church were buried his wife, his parents, grandparents, and other family members.

A granddaughter spoke about him during the service remembering a long life spent in devotion to family, service to community, and dedication to his church and beliefs. No one could describe him without using the words “sweet man.” What an amazing legacy to leave for those who knew and loved him.
I thought about my friend Jan F. who died seven years ago. She left behind a note stating what she hoped would be her legacy. Anyone who knew her would have to say these words are true.

I wish to be remembered for:
– my loyalty as a friend and to family
– my passion – for animals, music
– my commitment to providing caring, sensitive, compassionate therapy to my
patients. I would go the extra mile for them.
– my love of music and singing
– my laughter
– my creative, innovative side
– my integrity – as a person and as a psychologist
and anything else someone can think of.

I couldn’t help but wonder what legacy I would leave for my children, grandchildren, and friends (family of choice). My family tree is broken and missing many branches. I don’t have a long line of ancestors to share. I have made many detours and mistakes in my life journey, yet I hope that the life I have created out of the turmoil and chaos of my childhood will speak for me. I hope those who know me best will remember the person I have become.

I don’t plan on leaving this earthly home anytime soon. I have always said that I plan to live to be at least 100 years old. When that time does come, I hope the legacy I leave behind is one that causes those who knew me to smile and to know that in some small way I changed their lives.

I Still Want a Donut!

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Last week I embarked on what seemed to be a rather innocuous journey, and I shared a post here about it. The challenge was to post a picture every day for 100 days of something that made you happy. I started well, but floundered around day four. In the eleven days since I accepted the challenge, I have posted only seven pictures, and truth is one of them was an old picture.

I tried to take pictures of things that made me happy, but soon came to the realization that not too many things really make me happy. Well, I meant to say things I could photograph, that is. Don’t misunderstand me; I have many things in life that make me happy, but I just couldn’t find a way to make it work in this challenge.

Of course, things like the beach, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the color of fall leaves or spring flowers, spotting a deer in the woods, and more all bring happiness into my life. However, it is a bit of a drive to the beach or the woods, and I am often not in a place to photograph those other things on a daily basis.

Yet, what really makes me happy is sharing that experience with people in my life. I don’t have to physically share the experience, but I find such joy in sharing the story with a friend or family member. Even better is when the person with whom I choose to share the experience gets as much joy or excitement from it as I did.

I grew up as an only child in a home where talking, touching, and sharing life experiences were non-existent. I had very few friends and often felt alone. As an adult, I have come to cherish the people in my life. I sometimes share my experiences with the exuberance of a young child, bursting with excitement to tell my story. I imagine that I can be a bit overwhelming to those who know me best. However, they usually smile and say something encouraging.

I have decided that I am not going to continue with #100happydays challenge, but I am going to continue to look for things every day that bring happiness into my life. If something captures my attention, and I can take a picture, I will still share it on Instagram. Keep watching! The next picture you see may just be of a donut!

Refocusing or May I Have a Donut?

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I have been watching my friend Abby, from the infamous Abby Gabbs blog, posting pictures with the hashtag #100happydays. I wasn’t sure what it was about, but I loved the pictures. Today, Abby posted that she had completed the challenge, and I finally understood what it meant.

It is a very simply challenge- every day submit a picture of what made you happy! Post the picture to your Instagram or facebook and tag it. At first it seemed to be a rather Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver look at your life. Yet, the more I read, the more I realized that some days I only focus on the fear or the negative. Every day has something that brings happiness. Every day I can chose to be grateful for something.   I know this is pretty simple, and I know it won’t change the circumstances of daily living, but it might just change my attitude a bit.

The challenge says, “#100happyday challenge is for you – not for anyone else. It is not a happiness competition or a showing off contest. If you try to please / make others jealous via your pictures – you lose without even starting.

I decided to take the challenge. I won’t be posting to facebook every day, but my Instagram will be updated daily. I will post again in a couple of weeks, and let you know if my attitude has changed.  I hope I don’t have to buy too many donuts!

Grace Joined With Wrinkles

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“Happy old age” was always an enigma. I didn’t know any “old people” who seemed happy. Bitterness, anger, and loneliness seemed to be the destiny for anyone that lived past fifty. I will admit that perhaps my vision was a bit skewed.

 
From the time I was four, I lived with my grandparents and my great grandmother. Vacations each summer were spent with another set of grandparents. Each of them was miserable in their own way. None of them showed any signs of a happy old age.
When I think about each of them, I remember the frowns and downward pointed eyebrows. None of them had that sparkle of joy or peace in their eyes. Their voices were dull and mean. Yes, that is the word I needed to find-mean. Perhaps all of that anger, bitterness and loneliness had poisoned their spirit to the point that their words and actions spewed meanness.

 
This seemed to be such a contradiction since all of them (except my grandfather) talked about loving God and hoping for the glorious day when they would see Jesus in Heaven. My grandfather was a drunk, so his meanness came straight from a bottle. Grandmother took me to church every Sunday morning and then again on Sunday evening. When I was younger, she would take me with her to her church group “circle” meetings. The old women sat in a circle and talked about a Bible verse of two for a while, and then went directly into bashing anyone not there, as well as other church folks. Time for refreshments meant time to discuss the terrible state of the world, the disappointing youth of today, and to ask the host for the recipe of the treat of the day. Of course, they chatted amongst themselves as they left about “those treats she made” and the recipe was thrown out at home.

 
At church I heard sermons from an amazing pastor about God and his love for us, but at home Grandmother told the story of a different God. Her God was vindictive and just about as mean as she was. God was clearly judgmental, and perfection was required for His love. I never measured to the standard my Grandmother set for God to love me. He was just another grey haired, white bearded, crotchety, mean old man in my mind. When I was in my late 30’s I left the church, and after 25 years I felt drawn to return. I attended a variety of churches and denominations looking for a place to call a church home. One Sunday, I was looking for a church and “accidentally” found a different one. It was the farthest thing from anything I would ever have considered, yet it was where I was supposed to be-for many reasons.

 
The congregation is an older one with some of the most beautiful grey haired, faces with wrinkles, older women you will ever meet. I come complete with tattoos and ever-changing hair styles and colors, and they have accepted me without question. Many of them have been friends for years, and they truly love and cherish each other. The ages range from 70 to well over 90.  Every Sunday and often at Wednesday prayer lunch, I look forward to seeing these special women. Their faces show wrinkles and eyes are often clouded by cataracts. They may have to use a cane or walker. Yet, all I see are  sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles. I listen as they willingly share stories of the church, their childhood, marriages, families, and more. Laughter often accompanies their stories. When one is sick or has to be away, you can feel the sadness from the others. These women all love God and Jesus, but they don’t have to tell you that. You can see it in the love they have for each other, their church, their lives, and the way they welcome anyone who enters the doors of the church. I can clearly see the God of love that the pastor of my youth shared with us.

 
I used to be afraid of growing old. I worried that I would become a bitter, angry, lonely old woman just like my mother and grandmothers. I’m not afraid any more, in fact, I look forward to watching my children, my grandchildren, and yes, even my great-grandchildren as they grow and change. I have some very special friendships that I cherish and plan to take them with me as I journey towards old age. My prayer is that I may be just as precious and joyful as the women at my church.

Another Chapter

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Although I may be inconsistent in posting on my blog at times, I traditionally post on New Years, March 7th, my birthday (both belly button and recovery), Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Remembering the past year, I am reminded to “be careful what I ask for”, because 2013 brought many lessons about trust.  As I began this post, I read the post for New Year’s 2013. This is what I wrote:

A blog challenge for 2013 is to find one word to focus on through the coming year and incorporate that into your writing.  I have several words that seem appropriate, but the one word that keeps coming through is trust. It isn’t something that comes naturally for me.  I learned a tremendous amount about trust in 2012; some of it bad, yet much of it good.  I am going to embrace the challenge and put trust into my daily life- trust in God, my friends, my family and in myself.   I survived the end of the world in 2012, so welcome 2013. Let’s see what you have in store!

I began the year trying to recover from the flu, and in spite of getting the flu shot, it was my Christmas day gift.  For the next few months, I would battle one round of bronchitis after the other.  Breathing treatments, antibiotics, injected and oral steroids became constant companions.  I would battle each round coming ever so close to victory, only to find myself pushed back into a corner once again.  In May, only two days before I was to take my grandson to the live auditions for X-Factor  complete with  Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato, I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

All of these battles with bronchitis occurred as I prepared to begin my lifelong dream of going to college.  I stepped onto the College of Charleston campus in early January not sure if I would be able to survive as a college student.  I can now tell you that I not only have survived, but I have done well.  I have enough credits to apply as a degree student instead of a “non-traditional” student and I am only a few credits away from being a sophomore.  Did I mention that I have a 3.82 GPA?

Being sick for so long took a financial toll since I wasn’t able to work during that time.  The cost of COBRA for me to keep my insurance was over $500 a month, and I still had deductibles and copays. In October, the biggest financial hit came when my car blew the transmission.   Being without a car for close to two months was devastating, but I managed to finish school for the semester and keep my part time job.

As summer approached,  I was healthy again and was able to start a new fitness program.  It was another step in learning some great ways to exercise without a gym, and it was a thought-provoking experience in learning balance.  I was reminded that fitness goals and healthy living are a work in progress, not something to achieve overnight.

I managed a couple of very short trips this year.  Jan, Anna, and I took a day trip to Savannah.  We laughed, talked, shopped, discovered “Your Pie Pizza”, and walked all around Savannah even though it was still a bit cool that day, and had a great day.   I had to take a trip, have an adventure, and see a play for my three of my classes, so a short weekend trip with Ginger, Sassy, and Jerome made getting an A on all three papers easy.  Jan and I continued to have Friday adventures including doing some genealogical research, climbing an old haunted staircase in a house that was built in early 1800, and visiting a couple of library archives.  We did manage to find some great food along the way, as well.

So, what does all this have to do with trust? If you look at most of last year, you may begin to see that I wasn’t able to do things for other people the way I usually do.  Money, health, and time took away my ability to take care of others and do things for the people in my life.  All that was left for me to give was myself.  I have always been sure that “I” was not enough.  Last year, I had to trust my friends and my family with my vulnerability.  Every time they stayed by my side, supported me, bought me lunch, visited me, called me to  make sure I was OK, took me where I needed to go, went beyond everything I expected, I thanked God for showing me what trust and love are really about.

I didn’t learn to trust anyone as a child.  I didn’t understand love until I had children of my own.  I did not trust God, and I was not convinced that God would or could love me.  I do not believe God sends catastrophes, broken cars, financial problems, etc. into my life, but  I do believe God has used all of these things to help me learn about love and trust.  God continues to be  patient and understanding with me.

I do not think I am going to choose a theme for 2014, but I will be writing to tell you about my year. I will give you one sneak peak at the upcoming year.  The “three stooges” (we must think of a better name) are going to see JILLIAN!

I hope you all have a blessed and wonderful New Year!

The Rest of the Story

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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

imagesIn 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)

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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

021-little-girl-looking-out-windowMy 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.”

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