Thursday, January 7, 2016

Holiday Memories


                               December 25, 1995 Monday  Christmas Day

Dear Friends:

          What a Christmas this has been.  Somehow, the wife, sister-in-laws and Kellie got all of their shopping done.  The presents were all wrapped, filling the space under the tree and flowing out into the living room floor.  For what has seemed weeks, every available space was occupied with cakes, cookies, candy, baskets and bags, boxes of oranges, grapefruit, tubes of wrapping paper, bags of tape and ribbons, scissors and name tags.

          As the house became increasingly cluttered, my heart seemed to grow increasingly empty.  I was unable to get into the spirit of Christmas.  There was no way to force myself out the door to do some shopping.  As the girls came back from each shopping excursion and told me about the nightmare conditions they had experienced, my determination not to become a part of the problem only solidified.  I knew I would regret it if I was not able to overcome this barrier which had been erected before me.  However, nothing could make a dent in it.

          I had written my composition for our annual, family get-together and was satisfied with the result.  It said what I was feeling inside this year.  It was titled "What Christmas Means to Me".

          Our family had been asked to visit a small, Baptist Church, way out in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, to sing some Christmas Carols.  I don't know exactly why, but the prospect caused a strange excitement to rise up inside me.  It was the thing to do for Christmas, I thought.  It was a reason for the whole family to get together once more, a reason to be "US" again, doing what God had given us the talents to do.  An opportunity to renew our unity as a family.  A way to honor our up bringing, our family values, our traditions, which have been getting away from us lately.  I kept expecting a call to tell us where we were to meet for some badly needed practice, but the call never came.  The Saturday before Christmas was approaching fast.  Had the Church changed their mind?  Had we just pushed the request aside and forgot about it?
          Saturday morning the phone rang.  It was my brother, Dennis, informing us that we would meet at my sister, Julie's house, out in Walton, which was on the way to Dry Ridge.  I had never been to her new house, so I arranged to meet Dennis at his new house, another place I had not visited yet since he and his family had moved.  Getting directions from him, Kellie and I got dressed and left the house around 3:30 PM.  I was killing two birds with one stone.  Get to see his new house and deliver a special Christmas present I had planned for him this year.  A shotgun of mine which he had coveted for some time now.  A Ted Williams Model, 20 Gauge Pump, with ribbed barrel, poly-choke, and padded stock.
          When we found the house, which was no problem, Dennis and Ginger gave us the short version of the new house tour.  It's a great place and I am so glad that Dennis and Ginger are finally reaping some of the rewards of their hard work.  There simply wasn't any time for lingering or small talk.  Church would begin at 6:00PM tonight and we still had to get to Julie's, squeeze in a short practice session and make our way to Dry Ridge.
It was a tight schedule, but things fell into place, as they always do, when you are doing God's will.

          We were on the road again by 5:20PM, my sister, Frances, the oldest girl in the family, rode with Kellie and myself.  Frances had been to this particular Church before, so having her with us was a big bonus.  I was told the Church was a very small one, and in my mind's eye, I formed a mental picture of what "Small" was, but when I saw the building, I knew I was off scale considerably.  I've seen bigger tobacco, stripping sheds on some farms.  There was no parking lot, just a wagon road leading to a large barn setting back in a field.  Parking was a matter of finding a place off the beaten path, which looked solid, and pulling off the road.

          Once inside, it was warm and comfortable and those friendly people which greeted us, only made us feel all the more comfortable.  I've been in many store-front Churches about this size, so it didn't take me long to adjust.  There were no microphones, no sound system.  There was a piano and a small tape deck, with one tower, type speaker, which I found out later, was for playing back-up sound tracks for members who did special singing.

          I don't believe Jesus is size minded.  He knows the length and width of the Universe, yet He chooses to dwell in small places, like inside us.  I brought Him with me, so I knew He was there when the service began.  The Pastor said a few words of welcome, informing us that their services were not structured and traditional.  The Holy Spirit had complete liberty here.  The service would proceed as He directed.  Wasting no time, we were asked to come up and do or say whatever the Spirit led us to do.  We gathered around the Rostrum, took our places, and glanced back and forth at one another.
Frances was the first to speak.  Hers was a free-wheeling testimony, spawned from more than forty years of walking with the Lord.

          Her words were emotionally charged, filled with the wisdom of long experience, and already I could see tears running down cheeks, including my own.  There is not much opportunity to testify in a Church with a very large congregation, such as the one Kellie and I had been attending for more than a year.  I was prepared.  I knew the opportunity would come soon, so I had worked on what I might say then.  I told them how I had been loved by my parents and gesturing to this group of siblings behind me, told them what it was like to be loved by brothers and sisters.  I told them how I had been loved by my wife for 24 years and introducing them to my daughter, I told them how I had been loved by my children.  Summing it all up, it was evident that I had experienced all the different kinds of love this earthly life had to offer, but, no one had ever loved me like Jesus.

          I wish you could have been there to hear us as we began to sing.  Our voices blend so naturally, the harmony just happens.  No one needs to strain to reach a note.  It was like we had never stopped singing for all those years.  It just came back, automatically.  Becky would begin and the rest of us joined in at the perfect place, like seasoned veterans.  We must have done one verse and chorus from ten different carols and then it was over, and it was wonderful.  That missing ingredient was back.  I was full to the brim with joy and happiness.  Once more, God had answered my prayers.  I needed that renewal and from the looks of things, so did everyone else.  Faces beamed with a light fueled by Christmas Joy.

          Christmas wasn't over, in fact it was just beginning.  Sunday Morning, Kellie and I went to Church.  The fact that someone had broken into the Church and had stolen all the microphones, the keyboards and instrument monitors, couldn't even dampen this rejuvenated spirit.  We went to our Sunday school classes, which were great also, and by the time we finished and returned to the Sanctuary, they had rounded up enough electronics to get the sound system back up and running.  If you didn't already know what had happened, you never would have suspected.
          After a lengthy period of making a joyful noise unto the Lord and an inspired sermon from our Pastor, we returned home, where Maureen was ready and waiting.  Loading our shopping bags full of gifts into the trunk, we were off to Sister Frances house for our traditional, Christmas family gathering.  This year would be different.  We had talked it over, and were agreed.  Gifts were immaterial.  The children in the family would have to shift their focus from "What did you get me?"  to how important our family was to every member of it.  They would get to open one gift, which was brought from their own pile of presents, from under their own Christmas Tree.  There was no pressure for any of us to buy for the others.  If you wanted to, and could afford it, feel free to do so, but no one was expecting gifts from anyone.

          We had gifts for all the brothers and sisters, only because Maureen had gone shopping after last Christmas and couldn't pass up some of the bargains.  We spent the day eating and talking until it was time for something new.  Everyone who had done their homework was prepared with a piece to read about what Christmas means to them.  I've never seen such tender-hearted cry-babies.  Everyone had some special memory from a past Christmas and the words spoke of the importance of family and family values.  I wish you could have seen the looks on the children's faces, when they only got one present to open.  They were shocked.  Every parent was busy trying to explain "WHY?  to their children, and you know what, I think they actually understood.

          Then it was time for music and making merry, the way the Bowles family can.  My brother Karvel set up the Karioki Machine and performed "Look to Him" as only he knows how to do.  It was wonderful and so moving.  We cried on one another's shoulders, missing our Father as we did this year, hugged and kissed everyone we could reach and then, just before it was time to go, we passed out our gifts and tried to make our escape so Maureen and her sisters could go to the Hospital to spend a little time with their brother Tom, who was hospitalized over the Holidays with heart problems.  Turns out, there were quite a few who had gifts to pass out to their brothers and sisters.  I knew they couldn't make that big of an adjustment in just one year.  Well!, we are trying anyway.
          It was a very special Christmas.  One for the books, memory books that is.

Clarence Bowles  

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