Memories of Christmas

Close your eyes for a moment and try to remember the first thing you recall of Christmas as a child. For me, it wasn’t how slowly December 24th proceeded. Nor was it waking up at 5am while I could still hear my dad sawing logs from the master bedroom.

I’ve heard it said more than once that the older one gets, the faster time flies. I believe it, 100%. When I was a young boy, Christmas Eve was at least 72 hours long. I’d go out, help clean up snow, or help around the house, look at the clock and… it’s only been 15 minutes.

Today, most days feel about 8 hours long. I’m absolutely hurtling through life, sun up to sun set. Here I am, December 24th… getting some work done, listening to It’s a Pokenberry Christmas, smoking a brisket, and every time I look at that clock… another hour has gone by.

For me, it was always the night before Christmas. My mom had this picture book, heaven only knows how old it was. I remember it because Santa’s outfit was actually overlaid with felt, so not only were the pictures nice but I could actually feel Santa’s suit!

But it wasn’t just the book. It was that every Christmas Eve until I was a teenager, my mom would sit next to me and read The Night Before Christmas. I can still hear her voice in my head retelling the story. It wasn’t just the story, it was mom reading it to me.

Nothing else mattered to me once the poem was read, the book closed, I was tucked in, and everything in the world was good. To be a child again, to know that peace again. Something to look forward to, a promise by God to be fulfilled?

The next day I’d wake up eager to shred every package under the tree, as my father drank his coffee and my mother drank her tea. Out would come the Johnny Mathis Merry Christmas album on vinyl. We did have the CD eventually… but the record sounded better.

I remember every year my dad would buy something big for my mom. Now for all the jokes I’ve heard about “never get your wife X for Christmas” I never saw her complain. To this day she still raves over the Pfaltzgraff dishes she received one year.

It wasn’t so much the big gift though, as we always knew that the real gift was hidden inside the seemingly un-tampered package… Usually some jewelry that would put a big smile on my mothers face. I always looked forward to seeing both of their reactions.

Of course, being a little kid… I wanted to play with my toys. If I was lucky – we’d have gone to Christmas mass the night before. However some years, be it rain, snow, or shine – we would go to the Christmas mass at St Stephens (despite my pre-teen protests).

As I got older and turned farther from the Lord, I always made sure to go to church for Christmas. Midnight mass. If I was lucky, a few of my buddies would come with, and afterwards we’d toss back a few ounces of bourbon and share some Xbox fellowship.

That’s the thing though – the special thing about Christmas to me, back before I truly believed in God. It was always family. My strongest memories of this holiday are spending it with my family. It was my mom, dad, brother and I together. God’s been good to us.

Mom’s holding the camera here…

Merry Christmas everyone, I pray you have a blessed day and get to hug your family until the stuffing comes out… or they fart. Whichever comes first. Eat, drink, laugh, cry, live, and love every moment you get with them. God bless.

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It’s a Pokenberry Christmas

I was listening to SiriusXM FamilyTalk and heard this story based on It’s a Wonderful Life (something I still have never seen). It’s a good story about faith and what can be accomplished by turning to God, especially when everything seems to be falling apart.

Part 1 and Part 2 can be heard here:

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II Corinthians 1:3‭-‬4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

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Joni Mitchell – Woodstock

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Aaaaaaaaaand now I’m a blubbering mess.

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Disturbed – The Sound Of Silence

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Normally when a number dials my cellphone and I don’t recognize it, I’ll decline and send it off to voicemail. If it’s valid, I get a message, if it’s not (more likely the case) then it’s done. If the numbers used were common, I even have a contact configured on my phone that I would add them to, which never rang and automatically sent the call to voicemail.

I even pay a little extra to my cellphone provider every month for their enhanced Caller ID which quickly identifies most spam / telemarketer / robocalls. The calls I’ve been getting lately though? Good grief. These folks will automatically fake their Caller ID so it uses the local telephone numbers which can make it hard to discern.

Problem right now is, I’m dealing with a lot of loose ends related to my father, so I’m not exactly sure where a call I actually need to answer will come from… so a few times a day I get the automated message in the topic. I seriously have to wonder how much money these folks are making, and how many people will sign up for a vehicle warranty due to a cold call.

At least if it was a human on the other end of the line, I could mess with them a bit before I hung up…

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Christmas with The Chosen

For King & Country, Zach Williams, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, Joshua Aaron, The Bonner Family, The Piano Guys, Stephen McWhirter/Jason Clayborn, Phil Wickham, Matt Maher…how’s that for a lineup of music artists celebrating Christmas with The Chosen?

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My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean

So last week I apparently hit the “anger” stage of grief. I’ve grieved in the past, for my failed marriage, for lost pets, but never really like this for a person, especially family. Loss of a loved one is different. I’ve lost friends and been upset, but overall I didn’t really get it.

When I woke up each day on the wrong side of the bed, and my temper had a hair trigger, it was entirely new to me. A good friend of mine, a veteran, made it simple for me. “The initial shock of losing your dad has worn off, now you’re going to feel everything else.”

I wasn’t angry at anyone in particular, not God, certainly not my dad… but a few folks said the wrong thing at the wrong time and my mouth quickly outran my ability to brush it off. I genuinely dislike being angry, as unleashing it feels too good regardless of the outcome.

Things changed on Thursday though. I woke at my normal time to get ready for work, and this song I only vaguely recalled as a Beatles song was stuck in my head. “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.” I can’t tell you how much I dislike the Beatles, which didn’t really help my mood.

Off to YouTube, the saving grace of curing ear worms, I went. I looked up the song which as it turns out wasn’t just a Beatles song, but a very old Scottish Folk song. So I click the link (and despite the creepy animation) I sat back and listened…

As the song played, my anger quickly faded and I started to cry.

Then in my mind, I saw a woman in a yellow room holding a baby boy, singing the song to him. I immediately knew that what I saw was my grandmother holding my father. The song ended, my mind cleared, and I believed that God had shown me something beautiful.

Being a scripture-minded Christian – I had to take a step back. I understand the demonic influences of the world, how the enemy can twist truth and thoughts for his own gain to turn a believer away from God… but this experience made me lean in further TOWARD God.

In the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 28, the story is told of how King Saul sought out a medium to communicate with “a man who has died.” This practice was expressly forbidden by God (Leviticus 31). In this case, it wasn’t Samuel, it was either a demonic entity or an all out hoax.

Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:31

So back to current events. I wasn’t consulting any medium here, no spiritualists, nor was I attempting to communicate with my Dad. In a moment of grieving, the Lord brought His Grace upon me and gave me a glimpse of something that brought me peace.

Much like the glimpse He gave me a few years back that led a stubborn me back to my parents front door to reconcile and bring us all peace, He did so again to bring about peace. I thanked Him, because all I felt after the experience was the peace beyond all understanding.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

A couple days later, I’m visiting with my mom, helping her with some more paperwork and cleaning… So I ask her if she knew of the song… she stops what she’s doing and asks “why?” I proceed to share the entire tale, the ear worm, the song, the glimpse…

My mom reveals to me that many months ago, before my father’s health really began to deteriorate, he told her that when he was a child, his mother would hold him and sing “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” to him.

That settles it for me. My father went home. He’s at peace in the presence of the Lord, and he’s with his family that went before.

Praise Jesus.

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Emotional Landmines, and Truth

I’m back at work this week, so I need to get my usual habits back in order. That means setting up my coffee for Monday morning. The folks in my department were very nice and sent me a gift basket which (in addition to a really good bourbon I’ve yet to crack open) had coffee.

I decided to try one of the coffees, a Brazilian blend. Since it’s pre-ground, I decide to grab the percolator pot my father gave me a few years back. I reach up into the cabinet and the moment I lay eyes on it… *boom*. I turn into a blubbering mess.

Now there’s a story behind this coffee pot, it in part lead to the falling out I had with my parents 2 years ago which I discussed in the post Thy Will Be Done.

My father had always used a very old percolator made by Farberware when making coffee. I’m fairly certain it was a wedding gift to my parents that they received back in 1960, and over the years has only ever needed to have its power cord replaced. I’m sure you’ve seen one…

The thing about a percolator, is that it makes a very strong and flavorful cup of coffee. IMHO there really is not a better way to get the job done. So after my dad gave me a 4-cup model, I proceeded to go through 2-3 pots a day (read: 8-12 cups a day).

This lead to insomnia (because, duh). Until I discovered the correlation, I did my usual Facebook post complaining about a problem sleeping. Now my Dad could see these posts, he knew I worked hard, and the fact I wasn’t sleeping made him worry… quite a bit.

So one day he showed up at my house unexpectedly… and tried to be my Dad. He was worried. He shared his worries. I wouldn’t have any of it. I took it all as an attack. I did what I normally do when I’m attacked and lash out verbally. I unloaded a lifetime of anger at him.

So many things I said so quickly. So much that I didn’t listen to at all. We’d been fine for nearly a decade, and within moments I unloaded near 40 years of things that really shouldn’t have mattered. I was – pardon my French – an asshole to my Dad. He didn’t deserve it.

After the fight he tried to reach out a couple times, but I kept shutting him down. I was such a prideful fool. What followed were months of silence. Skipped holidays. Anger. Resentment. Pain. Regret. Hopelessness.

My dad and I have had many fights and arguments over the years… We were two sides of the same coin. Many a time it lead us to retreat to our mutual corners until one of us made amends. Our last big fight was back in 2006, and my late uncle Roger got us talking again.

God knew what was coming to my family, and specifically how tenuous my relationship with my dad was. God worked in our lives even when I didn’t believe in Him. God knew we had to settle things, and as far as my human pea brain can process – it started with that coffee pot.

Had my father not given me that coffee pot… we would have never had that specific fight.

Had we not had that specific fight… I wouldn’t have fallen so far into a pit of despair.

For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’

Matthew 15:4

Had I not experienced such despair… I wouldn’t have begun to seek the Truth.

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13

Had I not sought the Truth… I would not have been saved by Christ.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5

Had I not been saved by Christ… I wouldn’t have been listening to Him.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Had I not listened to Him… I would not have reconciled with my parents.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Had I not reconciled with my parents… I cannot imagine the regret I would feel today.

As it stands, I have no regrets. God made peace between my father and I. Despite the emotional landmines that I will step on in light of my father’s passing, and any tears I shed, I find joy because I know where he is, who he is with, and that I will see him again. Praise God.

The coffee came out great, by the way. Thanks Dad.

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