Sunday, December 11, 2011
A GREATER GIFT FOR CHRISTMAS (Jennifer Weeks Crain)
Tonight, we are blessed by a guest author, Jennifer Weeks Crain. I think it's likely I have not seen Jennifer since I was a teenager but many of my childhood memories include Jennifer's family. My parents and hers, Patti and Jerl Weeks, always seemed to live close to each other. Dad's first preaching job, when he was twenty-one and a newlywed, was in Morrilton, Arkansas where Pattie and Jerl lived. (Mom taught at Morrilton High School.) My folks moved to Brooklyn and her folks moved to New Hampshire. My parents relocated to Nebraska and hers to Iowa. Our two families often traveled to spend time together, even holidays, as their children and my siblings roughly lined up in age. When I taught in Tennessee, Patti and Jerl were living one hundred miles away in Cookeville and my folks made a number of trips to see them. Both sets of parents passed away in the past several years so we now share a common grief but rejoice in knowing we will be reunited in heaven. Through the wonders of FACEBOOK and the chance that we shared a student, the wonderful Rachael Dailey, Jennifer and I have reconnected. Here is a beautiful and touching story she penned about one of her last holidays with her beloved parents who were so much like y beloved parents.
Christmas Eve day, just a few years ago, I sat in my parents’ house in the woods, surrounded by love, but distressed over financial worries and our mutual inability to exchange gifts my family could never afford.
As snow quickly covered the roads, my father rushed to gather the trash that had to be driven through the woods to a nearby dump. The snow was deepening, he was gone longer than usual, and we began to worry. He finally came through the door with a troubled look on his face, and sat long and thoughtfully in silence before he was able to convey what he had experienced.
As he was unloading trash at the dumping grounds, he encountered an elderly man digging through the garbage, carefully examining items before returning them back to the ground. The man explained that he and his wife loved the holidays, but they had fallen on hard times. He was rummaging through the trash in hopes of finding some discarded treasure to take home to his wife for Christmas.
We wanted to go back to reach out to him, but the roads had quickly covered with ice, so we were left to agonize over the inability to go to his aid with anything we might have to offer. The aged hands that sifted alone through garbage, driven both by empty pockets and love for the wife he longed to shower with gifts, haunt me to this day like a missing piece of my heart I can never find to help or comfort.
He reminded me of my parents who had little to give materially but gave all the love they had to make Christmas, and life itself, meaningful. The heartbreak of those empty pockets truly pales against the wealth of a life lived with such undying love.
Little did I know that would be one of our last holidays together.
Three years ago, just before Christmas, my mother and I spent hours recalling numerous events of our lives and agreeing that no matter how many mistakes were made along the way, the love we had for each other prevailed and was all that mattered. We had no idea that just days after that talk, my mother would unexpectedly die.
Just two years later, a few days after Christmas last year, my father was found unconscious on the floor. Just like the passing of my mother, there had been no warning and no time to say goodbye. But we discovered that during his last moments when he felt himself slipping away, he thought of us and gave all he had left to give.
From the floor where he lay dying, he had pulled a chair up to his body, removed a pendant from his neck that he had wanted us to keep, and tied it to the bottom leg of the chair so it would be found by us after he was gone.
The wedding band he never removed, so cherished in memory of my mother, was also missing from his hand. Later, we discovered that just before he fell, he had placed the ring in a wooden box on his dresser for us to find and keep. Even in his last moments, his final thoughts and deeds were for us.
The elderly gentleman at the dumpster and my dear parents all found a treasure far beyond any this world has to offer. I can’t find the man at the dumpster, but the gift of his and my parents' hearts taught me to live with resolve to show that same compassion to desperate people everywhere – lonely people hurting over losses, elderly people feeling unloved and useless, empty people searching for some kind of meaning to make their lives worthwhile. Compassion first taught by example burns like a fire long after the teachers are gone.
Christmas is approaching, and this will be the first with both of my parents gone. I am bracing myself like a soldier determined not to break, even while tears flow with a mind of their own. I have lost much, but found even more. No matter how cruel this world can be, there is a love that can motivate a man to dig through trash in the cold for a wife he adores… or to crawl through a house placing mementos for loved ones to find and treasure, even as he is dying.
In our darkest hours we ache for someone who loves us this much, but the only control we really have is to turn the tables and be that person for someone else. Even when the human heart is breaking, it can still give to others. While praying for comfort through these losses of my own, more people thirsting for compassion were placed in my path than I ever imagined possible. In pushing past my own despair to reach out to them, I have received back more than I ever gave, and I believe this was God’s answer.
There is a season of life when Christmas is purely joyful, and a season in life when it can be brutally painful; but truly, in reaching past our pain to embrace others, we can find a greater comfort and higher calling than we ever knew before. Dr. Seuss’s words for children resonate profoundly to an old soul: “Christmas day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.” …And even when some of those hands are gone, the love remains and leaves us richer than kings.
To the memory of my parents, to people I love and friends I have yet to meet, and to the stranger at the dumpster wherever he may be: Merry Christmas, everyone.
E-mail me at email@example.com
Posted by Steve Hawley at 8:09 PM