“OMG, he’s a Jesus Freak! Is this gonna be, like, a lecture, or something? I’ve heard about this Samaritan dude. Isn’t he, like, the guy who, like, is walking along that road, and there is this other guy laying in the weeds cause someone, like, put the hurt on him? And, so the “S” dude helps out the other dude and we’re supposed to be, like, the same to our neighbors, cause that’s what Jesus said we’re supposed to do. Got it! But, do we have to say, like, the “J” word?”
I’m writing this section just before Christmas and I’m looking at our tree. The countdown to Christmas had begun when, after Thanksgiving we trudged out to the tree farm, the kids full of anticipation with the nip of the North wind in the air, the smell of pine in the forest of small trees, and the sound of fresh snow softly crunching under our boots. We wander about, down to the end of the balsam line, then up and over a ridge to where the short needle Colorado Spruce trees are hiding. Maggie finally spies one and points with approval to an 8 footer saying, “I think mom will like that one.”
“Look, Mommy…look at the tree we got,” Max proudly squeals when we arrive home. Jeanne is ready with the boxes of ornaments and her collection of myriad snowmen. Charlie’s eyes nearly explode out of their sockets when the musical Santa perched atop the chimney comes out of storage. It’s the one from my mother and it plays Jingle Bells with the sound of a carousel. Quickly, efficiently, and with three little pairs of helping hands, the tree is transformed from a spindly, lonely spruce languishing in the far corner of the tree farm, to a place of honor in the bay of our living room. Later that evening, the tree shines resplendent in lights and colors. The kids smile and the stage is set.
Jeanne and I do the slow and obligatory annual walk-around. We note more than 20 years of our family Christmas times together. These memories, in ornament form, are flanked by some of our extended family hand-me-downs. We see, touch, and talk about the “Nole” sign Maggie made at age 5. I laminated it to last as a self-deprecating slap at our home-educating prowess. My eyes go to the top of the tree and I make the same comments I made last year about the small Styrofoam ball with arms of pipe cleaners in the shape of the Christmas Star that I made in the 5th grade. There’s a small ceramic star with an even smaller picture of Sammy sitting in his Grandpa Joe’s lap, and I feel the movement in my wife’s heart as she wishes her father could see Sammy now. The tour of the tree high-lights the professional artwork of commercial store-bought decorations as well as the infinitely more precious scribbles, such as a piece of red construction paper bearing the message from a trembling hand unfamiliar with the motor skills necessary for printing his name. It says, “Sammy, 1994.” Manheim Steamroller is oozing out of the stereo with their compelling arrangement of Silent Night, the version with the wind blowing and the sleigh bells fading into the distance at the end. A fake log sends up a nice 3 hour flame in the fireplace. Jeanne has transformed our home into a wonderland of treasures and memories of Christmases past. We are pumped and primed. The buzz is in the air and it is time for the bringing of the gifts. I can’t help but remember the feelings I had as a child, and they flood me each year as I watch my children with their excitement, hopes, and their growing expectations. After all, as Max says, “The Big Guy is on his way!”
This Christmas, and at this time in our lives, Jeanne and I are looking for more than a buzz for the kids, and a fine Lutefisk dinner. Just as we’ve done since Maggie was born, we’ve been looking for some help. I don’t mean the hope kind of help; you know, the philosophical stuff. We’ve got that, and we guard the promises of God in an impenetrable lock-safe deep in our hearts. These days we’ve been looking for some help with our hearts.
The path over which we’ve been carrying our children has narrowed considerably. The journey feels heavier now. The past 25 years have taken a toll which, I suspect, may be no more difficult than any other serious disciple of Jesus Christ. But, the past 3 years concerning Charlie have been much different. It feels as if we’ve been virtually impaled on the cross of sadness we bear. Who else, beside Jesus and myself, will listen to Jeanne’s heartache, and then cry with her? How do we navigate the future for our children, considering their disabilities and needs? How do we teach them about relationships, on which they will always be dependent, in an increasingly mindless and self-centered world. How do we prepare them for our eventual departure. Just how do you say goodbye? And, who is it that can help us answer these questions?
The search goes on.