The Family Just Keeps Growing!

News Flash! Dateline North Carolina–Thurs., April 5, 2018

We’re grandparents again! Our daughter Rachelle gave us Number 7 yesterday morning. That makes five granddaughters and two grandsons.

Dakota Grace Anderson was born via C-section at 7:43 a.m., Thursday. (Because the parents moved down to North Carolina from Wisconsin last summer, we told them that she’s South Dakota!) She weighed in at 6 lb., 15.7 oz. and measured 20 in. Mother and baby were doing as well as could be expected as of this writing. Because Dakota had some fluid in the lungs (common for early-arriving babies), she was on oxygen to flush it out, so she might be in NICU for anywhere from a few hours to up to 72 hours.

We’re not old enough for this! But the responsibilities are great. We’re praying to have a good influence on each of the seven grandkids. With the geographic distance, that’s more difficult, but. . . . We’ll do what we can and pray for opportunities.

Late-Breaking News!

And this late-breaking news about another of my “babies,” my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries: 73 major university libraries (both U.S. and international), historical societies, and museums have now purchased copies. (Harvard actually purchased two, one for the main library and another for their HCL Technical Services library!) May the Lord continue to bless its sales in His perfect timing. I also have a couple of other book manuscripts “in embryo.” May He see fit to place them with a “good home” soon!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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A Week for Friends and Family

The much-anticipated week has come and gone, and when I look back on all that happened, it was good, a refreshing break from our routine and a time of reminiscence and nostalgia. And it all began with a pleasant surprise, something that we had not planned as part of our busy schedule.

About 4:00 p.m. of the Friday before the Monday on which our scheduled visitors were to begin arriving, my wife got a call at school from her sister Faith. She and her husband Roy were on their way to visit their parents in central and southwest Florida via their son’s in Atlanta. They were only about 45 minutes away and wanted to stop by to visit briefly before continuing their journey. We rushed home and arrived just minutes before Faith and Roy. After chatting for half an hour or so, we went out for a laughter-filled supper at one of my favorite restaurants, Fatz Cafe. Their visit was much too short, but we appreciated the unexpected treat.

On Monday afternoon, Craig, one of my college roommates and a groomsman in my wedding (as was I in his), and his wife arrived. And talk about a time of reminiscing! We had seen each other only about four times since we graduated college, so we had a lot of catching up to do. During the days they were with us, we toured downtown Greenville, explored the campus of our alma mater, sat in on the last few minutes of the daily chapel program, and chatted with a professor friend and former churchman of Craig’s. Near the end of Craig’s visit, my brother Dale arrived from Michigan, and the five of us went out to eat–at Fatz. (No wonder I can’t lose that spare tire!)

While here, Dale met with one of his former professors and several of his friends, none of whom he had seen in quite some time. Also, the two of us did a lot of reminiscing and went target shooting. But the main reason Dale came was not to see us but to see and hear a renowned speaker and athlete: Tim Tebow. Dale was accompanied on his trip from the still-cold northlands by his friend Bob, who had an extra ticket to the Tebow event, and he graciously invited me to accompany them (including his son, grandson, and son-in-law). We all had a wonderful time not only fellowshipping together but also hearing Tebow recount some of his life experiences, from growing up in a family of missionaries in the Philippines to playing T-ball to events of his college and pro football days. The heart of his message, of course, was the role his faith plays in his life and the consequent influence he has had helping others in need. (Photo courtesy of Robert McCall.)

From the euphoria of all those reunions and activities, Connie and I had to return to the real world of yard work this past weekend. The main task was cutting down our pampas grass and burning the flags and leaves on an increasingly windy day without allowing the flames to get out of control. (Thankfully, a burn barrel does wonders for the containment of embers!) By the time we finished, we were both exhausted, and our clothes and hair reeked of smoke. The odor of smoke washes off; the exhaustion has carried over into the new week!

As quickly as it came, the week of excitement and enjoyment has passed. Not every week can be so fun-filled; the real world demands work and exertion and sometimes exhaustion. But the memories remain, and they will carry us forward to the next time of similar refreshment. As I age, however, I’m finding that I just can’t take much of such excitement, at least not all at once!

Exciting Week Ahead!

Sometimes one gets bogged down in routine. We get up (tired); go about doing the same daily tasks; eat our meals at the same time, often the same menu week after week; do the regular routine chores, following the same pattern or schedule; and then go to bed (tired), sleep, and then get up to start it all over again the next morning. But occasionally a few unexpected, non-routine events come along, disrupting that hum-drum routine and bringing a bright spot to the otherwise gray, predictable, hum-drum schedule. Looking forward to such moments (or hours or days) is good. It helps one get beyond the routine.

I’m not saying that I’m bored or in a rut. Actually, I thrive on routine; I dislike change or disruptions to my schedule. But I’ve been looking forward to next week in anticipation of a welcome break from that routine.

My brother, whom I see maybe once or twice a year and that for maybe a day at the most, will be visiting us for about two and a half days! Granted, he has other people he also wants to see during that time, but it will still be the longest time we’ve spent together in quite a while. I’m looking forward to talking and laughing and drinking a lot of coffee with him. And I’m sure there’ll be a fair share of good-natured, brotherly ribbing.

I thought that nothing could top that momentous upcoming event, but then I got a call from Craig, a friend and former roommate from our sophomore year

of college. We not only were roommates but also were both history education majors, so we had many of the same classes together. We crammed for exams together; read each other’s term papers; discussed economics, history, and politics; played practical jokes on each other; worked together in the same extension ministry; and were in each other’s weddings. Then life happened. We each went our separate ways.

I haven’t seen Craig in six or seven years, and then for only an hour or so. Before that, we had reunited only one other time in about 35 years. During our recent phone conversation, we reminisced and laughed a lot. And then Craig said that he’s coming to town next week and would like to visit for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more laughing and reminiscing with him next week.

Now when something as momentous as these two events occurs–and both in the same week at that–even an old tied-to-routine guy like myself is willing to cast aside that routine. All the people who think of me as always having my nose in a book will be shocked; I won’t be doing any reading next week. Everyone who thinks that all I do is sit behind a computer tapping out articles and books and other drivel will be similarly disappointed; I won’t get any writing done next week. And all of you who think that since I work from home I’m retired and don’t really work at all but have all the time in the world to do as I please will, for once, be almost right.

Only one week, and such a rare one! I’m looking forward to relishing every minute of it. Reading, writing, and routine can wait!

Twice- (or More Often) Told Tales

Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Such is similarly the case with stories, especially stories that involve one’s family. Some family stories are good for one or two tellings, but a few stories are to be told over and over again. They are, like the title of a set of books that I was given as a child, Stories that Never Grow Old. And they should be told and retold so often that one’s children can tell them accurately to their own children, and their children’s children to their children.

They do not have to be long, elaborate, detail-laden stories; they might be mere passing incidents. But, told and retold, they become part of family lore and potentially carry with them strong family values. That’s how the children of Israel passed their religion from one generation to another with the purpose “that the generation to come might know” (see Psa. 78:1-7).

For example, when our daughters were young, my wife and I were driving in the city with them one day. We were driving the speed limit, but when a traffic light that we were quickly approaching turned yellow, I couldn’t stop safely, so I sped up ever so slightly and sang out, “We’re going through! The commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.”

In response to my daughters’ curious inquiries of “What was that?” and “What did you mean, Daddy?” I told them about Fred, a college roommate who was a cinema major/speech minor. Fred had a lot of speaking assignments for his classes, and he practiced all of them before the mirror for hours on end. One night, when I was trying to study int he room, he was practicing an excerpt from James Thurber’s story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” As he practiced, he was increasingly dissatisfied with his rendition of one particular segment, and he kept repeating it in attempts to get it right–the right sound, volume, tone, and intensity of feeling. In fact, he repeated it so often that I had that part of the story memorized as well as he did by the end of the evening. And I’ve never forgotten it.

When I went through the caution light, the situation reminded me of Fred’s story line, and I instinctively repeated it aloud. After I had told the story to the girls, I used the phrase every time I went through an intersection on a yellow light. They soon became so familiar with it from my repeated recitation that they started saying it before I could.

The other day, one of my daughters told me of an incident that occurred as she and her husband were driving in their city. They had almost entered an intersection when the traffic light changed to yellow. Reflexively, she cried out, “We’re going through! The commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.”

Her surprised husband looked at her strangely and asked, “What was that outburst all about?”

Suddenly realizing what she had done, my daughter burst out laughing.

“What made you say that?” her husband pressed.

Between fits of laughter, she explained the whole backstory of the exclamation. Now he knows. The story is spreading.

My sons-in-law are getting used to such things as they happen often in our family. Just as they’ve become used to saying, in chorus, “We were meant to be here!” whenever we’re out shopping and find a parking spot close to the store when the parking lot is crowded.

I recounted that lengthy explanation as an illustration of how family stories, legends, and even values get passed from generation to generation. That particular incident is inconsequential, but some family stories are critical to an understanding of who we are as a family, how we got to where we are today, or what makes us tick as a family.

What stories do you have to tell your descendants? Tell them! And then retell them–over and over again. Your family will, in turn, tell them again. “That the generations to come might know. . . .”

 

 

Trip Revived (and Produced) Great Memories

My wife and I celebrated the Labor Day weekend with a quick trip to visit two of our three daughters who live in the Thomasville-Sophia, N.C., area. (The third one thought she and her husband would run off to Charleston, S.C., to celebrate their wedding anniversary rather than see us!) This trip was a real treasure to us for a variety of reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Granddaughters were at the top of that list of reasons, of course. Three of our six grandkids live in that area, our most recent addition having just recently moved within driving distance. (A three-hour drive across the state border sure beats going all the way to Wisconsin!) We enjoyed each of them immensely–(according to age, oldest to youngest: Regan, Morgan, and Ryleigh). But we fully understand why God gives little kids to young, strong young people who can get along with little sleep and who have a lot of energy!

Another reason the trip was memorable was because I was able to meet up with a guy, Keith Nance, from my college graduating class who was also in my literary society, Chi Delta Theta. We hadn’t seen each other since we graduated in 1975–42 years ago! We managed to work out a time to meet at a Chik-fil-A in High Point, where we spent about an hour and a half reminiscing and catching up (while the grandkids played in the kiddie area).

We both ended up teaching school, he English and physical education/coaching and I history and English. We both are now semiretired but still active in education, he teaching part-time in public education and I writing, at least part of it dealing with Christian education. But Keith has a story that’s simply amazing and puts me to shame. Keith has an adult son, Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and is paraplegic. One day, the Nance family attended Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, N.C. (Mount Airy, for those of you who might not be aware of the fact, is the real-life town where Andy Griffith was born and reared and the town on which many aspects of the Andy Griffith Show was based. Connie and I also once attended Mayberry Days.) But for some reason, Jordan was more interested in observing the elderly man who was sitting behind him broadcasting the parade remotely for a small radio station, WPAQ, than with the parade itself.

To make a long story short, Jordan ended up directing a television documentary on the history of that radio station, a country/blue grass-dedicated station, and its founder, Ralph Epperson. Keith sent me a link to a newspaper story about Jordan’s production, but it didn’t include the whole story; the link that it gave to continue reading the rest wouldn’t work. So I Googled the documentary title and found the entire broadcast. At the end when it ran the credits, it showed several photos of Jordan and his parents. As I finished, I was blown away by how much such a young man could accomplish in spite of his physical limitations. I have no such limitations, so what’s my excuse? Makes one think!

This reminds me of a poem that George Washington Carver used to quote whenever he spoke to high school students:

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,

You’ve all that the greatest of men have had:

Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,

And a brain to use if you would be wise.

With this equipment they all began.

So start from the top and say, “I can.”

Thanks, Jordan, for the challenge!

Secret Surprise

Combine the need to keep a secret with a growing forgetfulness in the secret-keeper, and you have a potential major problem. That was my situation most of last week. I’ve already posted some comments about my worsening memory, so you know what’s coming. Or maybe you just think you do.

I got a call from Daughter No. 1 early last week. She, her husband, and their nine-month-old daughter Ryleigh recently moved from Wisconsin’s frozen wastelands to the sunny, hot, and humid South. We were planning to go see them as soon as they got a house of their own, but life has intervened–school, work, etc. Daughter No. 1 decided to surprise us and come to visit this past weekend. As busy as things are for my wife and me, however, Daughter No. 2 warned her that she’d better tell one of us to ensure that someone was home when they got here. I was the one she chose to tell. “And don’t let her know we’re coming, Dad!” Daughter No. 1 admonished me. “It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

I knew I was in trouble. But I surprised myself. Despite my several near slips of the tongue, my wife never heard my slips–or at least never caught on to what was happening. Much to my daughter’s surprise (as well as my own), I kept my end of the bargain and never let the word escape. But it wasn’t easy. My wife wanted to go shopping as soon as she got home from school on Friday, and my daughter and her family were hoping to arrive by 4:30, but it all depended on down-to-the-minute timing and traffic and a host of other factors. Would I be able to delay Connie enough for the rest of the family to arrive? Or would I have to do something drastic, like pull off a fraudulent sudden “illness” or “accident” to slow things down?

Circumstances, however, helped me out a bit. Connie left school a few minutes later than she had planned. Traffic was a little heavier than normal for her. She still would have to change clothes and put away her school paraphernalia. I could drag my feet getting ready too. And then I had planned a scheme for delaying her beyond that, if necessary. I had earlier in the day received a long-awaited foreword for a book, and (with the author’s permission) I had edited it for length and organization. When Connie arrived home and I had depleted all of my other delaying tactics, I pulled the “hey-could-you-listen-to-these-two-versions-and-tell-me-which-one-is-better” routine. I read slowly, enunciating carefully and dragging it out as long as I could without making her suspicious.

Just as I was finishing my reading of the second version, I glanced out the front window just in time to see my son-in-law’s car come pulling into the driveway. I proceeded to ask my wife an endless stream of questions about the two versions of the foreword and her opinion of them, stalling long enough for the kids to get our newest grandchild out of the car and make their way to the door. Finally, just when I was running out of questions to ask Connie about the manuscript, the doorbell rang.

I answered the door while Connie got her shopping list ready.

“Connie, it’s for you!” I called from the front door. She came from the kitchen with a wondering look on her face.

“Who could that be at this time of day?” she asked under her breath.

When she opened the door, she was duly surprised. And then she basked in her glory as a grandmother the rest of the weekend. And I breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t spilled the beans. And, knowing my memory, that’s no small accomplishment! (Oh, and I enjoyed the surprise too–especially Ryleigh!)

 

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Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Pleasant Distraction

While passing through our utility room on my way to the garage the other day, my attention was attracted to (or perhaps distracted by would be more precise) a shoe box on a shelf above the dryer.

Now what could that be? I wondered. Although I’d passed through the room many times a day, day after day, I couldn’t recall seeing the box there. I forgot why I was going to the garage and stopped to take down the box and examine its contents. What I discovered inside held my attention for the next hour or so. (I don’t think I ever made it to the garage for whatever it was I was seeking.)

Inside that box were old family photos from when our four daughters were infants and toddlers, when we lived in Pennsylvania and Tennessee and the kids were growing up–and when my wife and I were much younger.

Going through old family photos can take up a lot of time, but it sure can bring back a lot of memories! And it can make you think. As I perused those old photos, I was struck by several thoughts.

  • How much fun we had “back then.” We didn’t have much money, but we did enjoy the time with the children–and the photos show that they, too, were having fun.
  • How innocent and carefree life was for the kids. The problems of life–work, money, taxes, government intrusions into private life, etc.–none of that fazed them.
  • How much our grandchildren resemble our own children when they were young. (I can also see now how much like my grandfather my dad looked when he was a kid. And people tell me that I look like him.)
  • How much younger–and lighter–I was back then. The cares of this life, the ravages of time, and overindulgence at the table can sure change a guy’s appearance!
  • How fun-loving my own parents were, such as the Christmas when Daddy got all of us men–my brother-in-law, my brother, and me–overalls and bandanas. We never understood why.
  • How organized I kept the old photos–in contrast to the jumble of files and flash drives I must study to find the image I’m seeking today. I once was super-organized, so much so that I could feel my way through the closet and find just the shirt I was looking for–in the dark. But ever since we moved from Tennessee to South Carolina thirteen years ago, organization seems to have vanished from my list of skills.
  • How glad I am that I can revisit those times with a hard copy of the memory and not have to rely on an electronic gadget–and risk losing the images to a crashed hard drive, an accidentally deleted file, or a lost flash drive.

Technological advancements surely have made it easier for us to capture memories as images. The passage from 35 mm film and flashbulbs to Polaroids to Instamatics and from slides and prints to digital images has been wonderful for picture taking. The quality of photography possible today is phenomenal. And you don’t really have to have an expensive digital camera with all the bells and whistles to get good photos. Sometimes photos taken with a cheap cell phone today rival anything the professional photographers could produce “back then.” (Well, my wife still cuts off people’s heads, and her shaky hand produces some blurry images, but that’s not the fault of the technology.)

It certainly is less expensive to take pictures today. In the “good ol’ days,” I had to send my exposed rolls of 35 mm film out to be developed, and even the cost of sending it to “economy” companies like Clark and York got pricey after a while, especially if you, as I did, ordered double prints of everything. But now I’m glad that I ordered those double prints. As the kids married and moved away, I noticed that our photo albums’ contents seemed to dwindle as the kids expropriated their favorite pics for their own albums.

But even that purloining is good because it shows that they, too, have valued the times and memories of their past. Those old photos ensure that the memories will live on and the girls will tell their children stories of what life was like when they were little. Their heritage will continue to future generations.

Now, if I could only recall what I wanted in the garage before that box of old photos distracted me!

A Momentous Hiatus

Some people who follow this blog might have noticed that it has languished a bit over the past couple of weeks. There’s a good reason: family.

First, over the Mother’s Day weekend, my wife and I spent an extended time in North Carolina with two of our daughters and two of our six grandchildren. We shopped, attended a rodeo, worshiped in church, played with the grandchildren, enjoyed fellowship with our sons-in-law, and allowed the daughters to lavish well-deserved praise and presents on their mother. (My souvenir from the trip was an expensive new set of wheel bearings on the car!)

After one day back home to repack and reload, we journeyed to Southwest Florida, where my wife and her three siblings had planned a big surprise for their parents. The convocation was an occasion to celebrate three milestones: my father-in-law’s recent ninetieth birthday, my mother-in-law’s upcoming ninetieth birthday, and the couple’s seventieth wedding anniversary. It was also the first time in ten years that we had all been together at one time.

My wife and I spent several nights with her Aunt Florence, who also lives in the area. We usually stay with Connie’s parents when we go down to visit, but the need to preserve the secrecy of the event allowed us to spend time with her aunt this time.

On Wednesday evening, we all traveled to my in-laws’ church, where my father-in-law was preaching for the pastor, who was ministering in Ghana. My father-in-law only recently retired after more than a decade serving as the church’s “interim” pastor. Between raindrops of a subtropical downpour, we all entered the church. My mother-in-law stood gaping in disbelief as each of us filed through the door. My father-in-law grinned from ear to ear to see his children but for none more than his son, David.

After about 15 minutes of breathless hugging and kissing and backslapping, my father-in-law struggled to conduct the service. He could scarcely gather his thoughts for all the excitement and surprise.

For the next several days, my in-laws had to do something they are unaccustomed to doing–sit back and be served. They usually are busy serving others or doing things for themselves and refusing proffered help. Fiercely independent and in amazingly good health, they still drive; mow their lawn; maintain their pool; care for trees, shrubs, and flowers; and work out at a local gym three days a week. They chafe at inactivity.

We “kids” (and none of us is a spring chicken at this point) spent those days trimming palm trees, mowing and trimming the lawn, preparing meals, battling ants, taking a generator for repairs, organizing the contents of closets and kitchen cabinets, and doing a host of other little things to help out our honorees. Between the periods of work, we found time to put together a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Although we had surprised the Dietterichs by all showing up at once (allaying our fears that the sudden shock might trigger a heart attack with the knowledge that David had been a medic in the Navy), we left gradually over several days. Connie and I were last to leave, and the Dietterichs have now returned to their quiet but ever-active independence.

And now you know the reason for the hiatus of this blog. I think that what took its place, however, was well worth it. Family trumps personal and professional priorities every time. Those other things will always be there for us to deal with; family members will not. We were blessed to celebrate the patriarch and matriarch of the Dietterich side of our family, and we hope that it was a blessing to them as well.

 

Broken Christmas Traditions

gifts-under-christmas-treeWith Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about the traditions of the season, the activities and ways of doing things that make the season “feel right,” the way the season should feel. Watching Christmas movies, I’ve reflected on how things have changed slowly and subtly over the years in media portrayals of the holiday. In the process, I’ve recalled one particular time when our family spontaneously and radically changed its tradition–and the effect that change had on us. And I’ve thought of the lessons that are hidden in these memories.

When I was a kid, one of the most popular Christmas songs was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” sung by Gene Autry, “the singing cowboy.” The other day, I was pleased to hear that our two-year-old granddaughter had just added a new word to her vocabulary: reindeer. I thought that perhaps it was from listening to Autry’s song. I soon learned, however, that the source was a different song: “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

When I was growing up, my parents established some Christmas traditions that lasted until we kids were all married and living out of state. Every Christmas Eve, my mother cleaned and decorated the house and cooked all day for a special supper. My paternal grandparents drove from their house on the far side of the cow pasture of their dairy farm to our house on the other side. We had a sumptuous feast and talked and laughed around the table for a long time. Then the ladies cleared the table and served dessert and coffee, and we talked and laughed some more.

After everyone was so full that we couldn’t eat another bite, the ladies again cleared the table, washed the dishes, and cleaned the kitchen. The men (and we kids) retired to the living room, where we talked and laughed some more. During all this talking and laughing, however, we kids were eyeing the gifts under the Christmas tree, especially those that my grandparents had brought with them. We wanted the talking and laughing to stop so we could open those gifts!

When the ladies finally finished in the kitchen and joined us, we exchanged gifts–but only the ones that my grandparents had brought and the gifts that we had for them. All the other gifts we reserved for opening on Christmas morning.

On the big day, we kids were up early, digging into our stockings to find the traditional orange, English walnuts, candy canes, and perhaps a small toy. Then all of us exchanged gifts as a nuclear family. Christmas music played softly in the background. We laughed and oohed and aahed and shrieked with joy as we opened the gifts.

After opening them, we cleaned up the wrapping paper and bows, saving everything that could be used to wrap gifts the following Christmas. Then we went to the kitchen, where we ate Mother’s delicious fruitcake–dark, moist, laden with real fruit, not the dry, light-colored, artificial-tasting stuff one could get at any store.

But one Christmas it was different. We broke with tradition. And we paid for it.

When my grandparents left after our dinner and gift exchange that Christmas Eve, we were all feeling awake and festive.

“Oh, Mother!” my brother said. “I can’t wait for you to open the gift I got you! I wish you could open it now.”

“Why not?” I asked, looking at Daddy for approval. “You could open just that one. You’d still have plenty for tomorrow.”

Against Mother’s strenuous protests, Daddy nodded his approval. “But just one!”

Then someone suggested that we all should open a gift. Just one gift each. Some arguing ensued, but Daddy gave in to our pleas. Mother, with great animation, expressed her dissent as each of us unwrapped our gifts.

Before we knew what had happened, that one gift became two, and two became three–until we had opened all of the gifts under the tree. We felt really good that we had received so many gifts and had enjoyed watching the excitement and surprise of each person as we saw what others had given and received. We all went to bed with a warm feeling inside. Everyone except Mother.

The next morning, we all got up early, as we usually did on Christmas morning. But when we rushed into the living room, we were greeted with the not-so-warm realization that we had no gifts to open. We sat there looking glumly at the Christmas tree. Nothing was under it, except some bits of torn wrapping paper, a stray bow or ribbon, and a lot of dry pine needles.

I looked around at the other family members. No one was happy. Mother was crying silently.

“I tried to tell you not to open them all, but you had to do it!” she sobbed.

It was a miserable Christmas Day. Not the worst, but bad. The worst occurred several years later, just days after Mother had been killed and Daddy and my sister were hospitalized when their car was hit by a drunk driver. We had no control over that latter Christmas, but we could have controlled the former one.

As the Hallmark Channel has run its Christmas movies this year, I’ve noticed another change that has occurred over the years. All of those movies are really merely variations on the same theme: A single mom (or dad) faces personal or financial difficulties (or owns a small business that is about to be gobbled up by a large corporation run by greedy, anti-Christmas grinches) but is rescued by a newly found heartthrob just in time for Christmas, and everything rights itself–and it suddenly begins snowing.

In those movies, there is never any mention, or even an allusion, to the real reason for the Christmas holiday. It’s just a traditional time for friends and family to get together and enjoy each other and exchange a few token gifts over hot cocoa while the snow falls outside. No religious content whatsoever.

Granted, in “the good old days,” not everyone who wrote, produced, directed, or starred in Christmas movies was religious. But they at least realized that at the heart of the holiday is a religious theme and that many of their viewers were aware of that religious significance. Even in those “secular” movies, they often quoted Scripture and perhaps even showed a family reading part of the Christmas story from the Bible. (Think about the religious themes in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Some are subtle; others are overt. But they are there nonetheless.)

Not so today. Someone might be offended, so they omit anything that might hint at any religious significance of the holiday. And they thereby obliterate the whole meaning behind the season. Yes, the season involves gathering with friends and family. It involves sharing and gift-giving. And it involves serving and doing good for others. But even more, it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Person who gives all the gathering, sharing, giving, and serving real meaning. Without that fact at the center, all one has left is the materialism, commercialism, and “feelgoodism” that pervade the season today. And those are like the bits of wrapping paper, isolated bows and ribbons, and dried pine needles that my family and I witnessed one sad Christmas morning.

I’d like to see someone produce a sequel to some of today’s Christmas movies. After the last sip of cocoa has been downed, the last gift has been opened, the last hug and kiss has been shared, the snow stops falling, and everyone goes back to “normal” life, what is left? I suspect that, truth be told, such superficial celebration would end with the same empty feelings that my family had when we opened all the gifts early and had nothing left for Christmas morning.

I hope that all who might read this will have a very merry Christmas. But I hope that they also remember that there’s more to the season than the materialism and good feelings. And it’s found in a Person–not just the Babe of the manger (although that’s a good start) but in the God who came to earth to redeem mankind by giving us the best gift ever–He became the Savior on the Cross.

Reflections

1024px-Thanksgiving-Brownscombe[1]Thanksgiving Day has been eclipsed. First came Hallowe’en tricks and treats almost before school started in the fall. Now we’re being inundated by ads for Black Friday sales and all the Christmas buying. In fact, some stores are already advertising that their Christmas goods are 50 percent off or more–and we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet.

And most of the hoopla is not really even about giving to others; it’s more and more becoming what I can get for me. More material things for self. That’s the modern American way!

Thankfully, that’s not how my parents reared me–and it’s not the way my wife and I reared our children. I pray that it’s not the way our children are rearing our grandchildren!

As one ages, I think the passage of time brings a bit more sober thinking (one would hope), time (if one allows himself to do so) to reflect on what’s really important in life. And there’s only one conclusion that one can reach if he’s honest with himself: the really important things in life aren’t things at all but rather people, especially family, and even moreso one’s spiritual family.

But my, how the family has been attacked and denigrated and belittled recently! Today, the traditional nuclear family is the exception rather than the rule, and it’s getting rarer with each passing year. If you had–and have–a traditional family, that fact should be high on your list of things to be thankful for this holiday and every day.

I’m thankful that our extended family has, by God’s grace, remained intact and focused on the really important things of life. Oh, we, too, celebrate holidays, but we try to put the emphasis where it belongs for each day. We’ll indulge ourselves in turkey and dressing and myriad desserts on Thanksgiving Day, and we’ll probably watch a little of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the dog show, and maybe even a little football. But our primary focus will not be on the eats and entertainment but on the people we have around us–family. Having grandchildren in the house helps us do that, of course. And being together makes us think of all the many other blessings God has given us in each other.

I’m thankful for a wife who loves me and supports me in my passion for writing and tolerates the erratic nature of that calling. I’m thankful for four daughters who are striving to serve our Lord in their respective callings and families. I’m thankful for four wonderful sons-in-law who also are striving both to serve our Lord and provide for the daughters I let them have as their wives. And I’m thankful for the five grandchildren the Lord has given us through them–and for the sixth one who will join us by Christmas, Lord willing.

I’m also thankful that we live in the best country on this earth and still have the freedom to praise and worship and give thanks to our God. But most of all, I’m thankful for the Lord Himself, the One Who rescued me from my sins and adopted me into His own family, making me a joint-heir with Christ. Without that greatest of blessings, none of the holidays would have any real meaning for me. They would leave me in the same sorry state as everyone else who is chasing after the elusive wind of self-satisfaction and materialism.

My hope is that all who might read this post would be able in all honesty to join with me in offering up true thanks to God for His many, many blessings upon us–as individuals, as families, and as a nation.