I never thought I’d say this, but I was a little sorry to see the Christmas tree come down.  That single act seems to signify that Christmas is officially over.  It’s time to get back to work, move on.  But this Christmas was warm and comfortable, and I hate to see it go.

For the last four years or so, my family has opted out of the exchanging of presents.  That’s harder than you might think, especially when you have grandkids. We have chosen instead to take a trip, to do something that hopefully creates a memory that might last a lifetime.

We’ve been skiing a few times in New Mexico, and, indeed, still talk about the awesome snow storms, the dog that we thought was a wolf, the frozen water pipes that forced us to change rooms in the middle of the night, and every other unique event.  And we’ve loved every memory.

This year we took a trip to Grapevine, a little town which bills itself as “the Christmas Capital of Texas.”  It was a good trip. The town has a great light show around a gazebo right in town, and a great little historic cabin and courtyard all decorated in a way that provides hundreds of photo ops.

Then we spent a day at the Gaylord Texan’s Ice show.  It, too, gave us some great photo spots, and it is quite a spectacular achievement.  Thank goodness they provide you with parkas to wear in the 12 degree rooms.  The final scene,  lifesize ice sculptures of the nativity scene, is unbelievably beautiful!

The third day we packed up and drove to east Texas to another hotel.  We uncrated a PA system and rehearsed a little “show” of Christmas carols and other songs which we were going to perform at the nursing home where my mom resides.  This would be our first “working” Christmas Eve.  No cozy gathering at home. No sitting around the Christmas tree and enjoying family games.  Just singing to a bunch of people who may or may not know you’re there.

My mother has Alzheimers.  Her memory lasts about a minute, and sometimes not that long.  I have to remind her who I am, and in that moment her face brightens and she is excited.  Then, a minute later she will ask me who I am.  So we put on our little show knowing that my mother would not even remember we were there by the time we drove out of the parking lot.

I was a little reluctant to even suggest this kind of Christmas to my family.  I don’t know why.  They jumped on the idea so quickly, I was caught without a real plan.   We mentioned it to a few people, and got some ideas.  Judy Kingan made us a pile of cookies, and the staff who had to work on Christmas Eve had wolfed down half of them before we left.  The grandkids made a card for all 102 residents in the home, and handed one to each resident who came to our little show.

My granddaughter plays guitar and sings in our church youth band, but my grandson doesn’t put himself behind a microphone.  Yet at the nursing home, he grabbed a mike and stepped out front and sang every song!   My mother sat near us, and I was doubtful that she actually remembered who we were.  But during one song she motioned one of my sons-in-law over to her, and he leaned down and heard her say proudly, “That’s my son up there.” Amazing that she remembered.

After our little show, everyone had to be wheeled back to their rooms.  It was 6:50, past bedtime for most of them.  Mom stayed and visited with us for another 30 minutes.   Of course, we had to keep introducing ourselves.  But she was in fine form, and funny as ever.  I was glad my grandkids got to see just a glimpse of the woman she used to be.

“How long have you had that cough?” I asked after a spasm of coughing hit her.   “Well,” she grinned, “at least for two or three minutes.”   Well said from a woman who apparently knows she has a memory problem.

It’s funny how the memory works in someone who has lost it.  She still remembers clearly that she has four children, and can remember all our names.  Yet doesn’t realize that the one sitting beside her is one of those kids.  And yet, when she speaks of them, she says, “I had four children, you know.  And they loved me.  They were always so good to me.”   I am grateful that her memory recalls us that way.

She said to my daughter, “There are days that I just want to quit.  I don’t know why I’m still here.  And then, someone will come by and visit, or just say the right thing to me, and I want to live again. I want to go on.  You know, I just think God puts some people here just for that, just to keep us going.”   Maybe that’s why she’s still here.  She gives me inspiration.

Late Christmas Eve we’re trying to find anything open in a small Texas town, and we find a not-so-clean fried chicken joint.  And a convenience store for those who didn’t want fried chicken.  And we carried our treasure back to our tiny hotel room and feasted and played games and talked and cried.  And expressed our thanks to each other and to God.

I don’t even have words to express my personal thanks and love to my kids and grandkids for being the troupers that they are, and for genuinely giving up Christmas as usual.  We found Christmas extraordinaire!  And I hate to see it go.

I get to my favorite breakfast joint this morning just wanting to relax and enjoy my coffee and solitude. My heart still smiling from last evening’s wonderful Christmas program which my daughter produced, I wanted to write a thank you note, and just reflect on a great day.

But the greeter was nowhere to be seen, and no waiter came to me, so I finally just picked up my own silverware and headed to a table of my choice. I sat reading for ten minutes before someone noticed me, and came apologetically. I brushed away his apology. He serves me often, and he is a great waiter.

It’s a slow morning in the restaurant, so you’d think the few customers would get sterling service. But I heard a lady complaining to the manager that her bill was “forever” in coming. When she left, the manager huddled his waitstaff over in a corner and chewed them out. They were not there to talk to each other, he sternly rebuked. They were there to pay attention to the customers’ needs. They scurried away when he finished.

The three men hurried to a station by my table, and two of the women darted into the kitchen to grab waiting trays. But the third woman rushed to the bathroom with suddenly-flowing tears.

One of the men near my table whispered ugently to the others, like a soldier calling a helicopter rescue for the wounded, “Server down! Server down!” There was compassion in his voice.

I mused at his use of the word “server.” He had not said it derogatorily. He just said it as fact. Server. He knew what he was. He knew his role. He was there to serve.
I watched the bathroom door for her exit, and when she emerged a few minutes later, the tears had been wiped away. There was no hint of “server down” as she tossed smiles to customers on her way to the kitchen.

None of the other waiters spoke to her, but one by one, as they passed her in the doorway to the kitchen, or by the coffee stand, they would slightly pat her arm, or gently squeeze her shoulder. I watched these people give silent messages. With a touch, they were saying things like, “Hang on.” “It will get better.” “Don’t quit.” “Make it through the day.” They said it all with quiet touches and gentle pats.

In a small way, I related to them. And I admired them. They were servers. Still serving on a thankless day.

No holiday affects marriage quite like Christmas, because, in part, it “requires” much more financial expense than other holidays. These days the majority of couples have to squeeze the dollar, and live month to month paying bills and having nothing left over. Then Christmas comes, and the demands to buy, buy, buy, can be disastrous. When the bills for Christmas-related expenses come due, and there is not enough to go around, tempers flare, embarrassment prevails, and the results can be devastating on a marriage.

It’s a shame. What could be one of the most meaningful and enjoyable times of the year becomes one of the most dreaded. Parents fear they won’t be able to buy the presents their children expect. Couples overspend trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Spontaneous visits to the mall result in silent drives back home as the mind is trying to calculate how we’re going to pay for what we just put on a credit card, and the sinking feeling of despair cannot be brushed away by the giggling of excited children in the back seat of the car.

It is not our duty to buy our children a lot of nonsense. A generation ago the purchase of presents at Christmas had special significance to children because they didn’t get much during the year. Toys weren’t purchased every time a new one came out. Or every week during a mandatory trip to the mall. So opening presents at Christmastime was special. But kids get toys and gadgets all year long now. And they get clothes when they need them. It seems that the idea of opening a bunch of presents at an annual moment should have outlived its purpose or value.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to make Christmas about memories, and family, and, oh, I don’t know, Christ? Perhaps that’s why so many stores have begun dropping the “Christmas” and calling it “Holiday.” Maybe the marketers are afraid we’ll remember that the “holiday” was really supposed to be about “Christ.”

I don’t suppose for a moment that a short article from me will cause anyone to save a few dollars this Christmas. But just in case it could, here are a couple of tips that might save you some pain in a couple of months.

  1. Don’t go shopping with your friends. They’ll spend more than they should to impress you, and then you’ll spend more than you should so they won’t think you’re broke.
  2. Have a talk with your spouse and be brutally honest about whether you have any excess money lying around that you can just blow on the kids or each other. And then stick to your personal financial ability. No cheating. No lying.
  3. Plan some kind of activity that your family can do that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and which gives you a chance to talk about love and life and… the meaning of Christmas.
  4. Go to a church’s Christmas program, and sit back and enjoy the fact that your family is sitting there beside you. And since most churches’ programs are free, it won’t cost you a dime. You can even ignore the offering plate if they pass one.

Above all, be sensible at Christmas time. Share the story of Jesus, a Savior born like men, given by a loving God. You won’t fall out of favor with your family if you don’t spend a lot of money. And you’ll be miles ahead if you perpetuate the beautiful story of the baby in a manger who became the Savior who died, and now lives. In you. In your family.

Have a MERRY Christmas this year!

The people of Oklahoma tried to get an amendment to their constitution that would guarantee that Sharia law could never be used to overrule their own laws. In some circles, they have been ridiculed for wanting such a law. A judge has done what seems to be an increasingly popular thing in American politics: he has overruled the vote of the people and declared such a law unconstitutional.
But Oklahoma is not alone in its fear about the growing demand by many Muslims in America who for some reason seem to think that they should be allowed to rule their communities by their own laws. The Muslim communities in America are becoming more adept at using the media to spread their cause. And some are even appealing to the neighborhoods where new mosques are being built with marketing that would look just like that of a new church in the neighborhood, and even claiming to have a “faith in Christ.”
I was shown an ad for such a mosque in Spring, TX, and the advertising appeal included the line: “Get all your questions answered: Status of women in Islam, Jihaad, what do we believe in, and our faith in Jesus!” Sounds like a new Christian church! But it isn’t. It’s a mosque, and no matter how many clever ways they may advertise, they simply do not accept that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior. They acknowledge His existence, they speak of him as a great prophet, but they think that His disciples hid His body, and therefore there was no resurrection.
If naive Americans would watch what happens in the countries that are governed by Muslims, they might get a better sense of what’s intended. The latest example might be that of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was condemned to death in Pakistan because it was alleged by a co-laborer in the fields in which she works that she spoke out against the prophet Mohammed.
She appealed her case to President Asif Zardari, and a government minister looked into her case and said there was no evidence that she had blasphemed the prophet. It looked like she might get off in an appeal. But the Lahore High Court, perhaps fearing the president may pardon her, passed resolution preventing the president from interfering in “the commandments of Islam.”
Last Friday, the cleric of a mosque in Peshawar, Maulan Yousef Qureshi, held a rally and told his crowd, “Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees as a reward from” his mosque. Since there is a possibility this woman could win her case in appeal, this decades-long religious leader wants to be sure his people know that he will not allow the courts to let her live. “We expect her to be hanged,” he said, “and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”
I hope the judges in Oklahoma read international newspapers.