Monday, December 24, 2012


Children sleeping, snow is softly falling
Dreams are calling like bells in the distance
We were dreamers not so long ago
But one by one we all had to grow up
When it seems the magic's slipped away
We find it all again on Christmas day...

                Yesterday at church a lady teasingly asked me if Santa was coming to see me. I told her of course-since I’m married to Santa! She replied that she is married to the Grinch. I hope this is not true. I know how blessed I am to be married to a guy who loves Christmas at least as much as Clark Griswold does and maybe more, a guy who has a  lot of George Bailey and the Old Man from A Christmas Story in him. A man who, like me, has never really outgrown the magic. Whatever our circumstances may be-and some years have been better than others, financially and in other ways-we always seek to make Christmas special. Last year’s great and shining moment was, of course, presenting Raina with her horse. This year, we took a day trip to Montgomery to see the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s fine production of A Christmas Carol. It was our big family gift to each other, and it did not disappoint. We had been before, several times, but it had been about five years and so it all seemed new again-and besides, that is a story that never ever grows old.

                In the book The Polar Express, there is a bell that can only be heard by children-children who Believe. As they grow up ,the sound of the bell fades away. “At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.” Personally, I hope to be one of the ones for whom the bell continues to ring. I do not ever want to lose my sense of wonder nor my idealism to the bitter cynicism that at times threatens to crowd out my joy and steal it from me. I do not want to be one who says that the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s reclamation is only fantasy, that people never change, that Scrooge’s newfound salvation would have ultimately been shallow and fake, a mere emotional response.

                I know that Love is real. If I look closely for signs of it, I see it everywhere. I see goodness and truth in the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary-if I am actually seeking it, if I want to see it. We really can choose to See. And so I decided prior to our Montgomery trip that I was not going to let anything that happened spoil the joy of that day, and that, furthermore, I was going to try to notice things, because our days on this earth are short at best. It was indeed a blessed trip, the worst thing that happened being some spilled hot chocolate on Alyssa’s dress-but even that did not occur until we were almost home. There was no fighting. There were no car problems. We were afraid we were running late, but it turned out that we actually had time to spare, so we were able to thoroughly enjoy our dinner and then peruse the gift shop at our leisure.

                Before we went to dinner, we strolled down to the park area to watch the ducks and geese on the pond. In the fading light, I gazed at my children and realized that they are now all three almost the same height. I remembered the last time we went to the play, when Alyssa was seven and Raina was ten and Tony thirteen. They were so small. Where did the time go? My vision blurred as I tried to fill up my eyes and heart with the sight of them standing there by the water. Then I glanced to my right and saw another family-a young couple, an older man, a boy of about four, and a big chocolate Lab. The grandpa was pointing upward and I saw that he was showing the little boy a small flock of Canada geese flying overhead. The boy, perched on his grandpa’s shoulders, laughed with delight. The family slowly made its way across the park, tossing a ball for the dog who would chase it eagerly and bring it back, a huge doggy grin on his lovable face. They were happy and relaxed. The boy was obviously thrilled to be with his grandpa, and the parents were holding hands and smiling. It was Real.

                After dinner, which was Cornish hen and other delightful things, we purchased some small items in the gift shop and then sat in the lobby and waited. I watched the people coming in, families who, like us, had obviously been looking forward to this special outing. One little girl who looked to be five or six was wearing a pink dress and pink boots. I saw her tug on her daddy’s sleeve and say something to him-and then they began to dance. There were people all over the lobby, smiling, talking, and laughing. The door kept opening and closing, letting in the bitter cold. But this little girl and her daddy danced together as though they were alone in the room. He twirled and spun and dipped her, and then lifted her into his arms. She giggled and put her small hands on his face and they looked deep into each other’s eyes. It was Real. I know it was, because my daddy used to dance with me like that.

                Earlier in the evening, when we first arrived at the Festival site, we had seen a dog jetting across the parking lot with its owner, a college-age girl, running in fruitless pursuit. Tony took off running, headed the dog off at the pass, and returned her to her grateful and tearful owner. “Thank you, thank you so much,“ she kept saying. ‘I don’t know how she slipped out of her harness.” I wonder if this girl lives on her own. The dog may be all she has. It was a mixed-breed dog, exceptionally ordinary in appearance. Yet the love the girl has for her dog is Real. I could hear it in the panicked voice .We were in the right place at the right time, and my son is very quick on his feet and he knows how he would feel if he lost his very ordinary-looking dog. His simple act of kindness may have made all the difference for this one young lady.

                Everyone knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, of course. We own nearly every movie version ever made and we watch several of them every Christmas, my personal favorite being the George C.Scott version while my family likes the Patrick Stewart one just a bit better. We can recite the dialogue word for word. When I teach the book to my English classes they are amazed at how I can go on for several sentences without glancing down at the text. It is not surprising, since some of my earliest Christmas memories involve hearing A Christmas Carol read aloud, and I have read it countless times since, and my children, too, can quote from it. Nevertheless, seeing it on the stage from our front-row seats was a dazzling experience. We laughed and we cried, and we rejoiced when Scrooge went first to his knees, and then to beg forgiveness of his nephew Fred. We lived the story once again, as did the rest of the audience. And when Bob Cratchit placed his hand over his face and sobbed, “My little, little child!” there were more than a few sobs from those watching. Perhaps they were thinking of the little murdered innocents in Connecticut. I know I was. Or perhaps some of them have children who are ill, or are in some kind of trouble. Everyone has a story, and can relate in some way to that anguished, heartfelt, and very Real cry of sorrow.

                There was a purpose, you see ,for Jesus to come as He did, not as a king, but as a helpless baby, a baby born into poverty, a baby whose mother was probably shunned and outcast and whose foster father was made a laughingstock. He came so could he know our pain, feel it for Himself and be able thusly to put His arms around us and whisper, “I know what you mean.” He lived His Story so that He could know ours in a way that is Real. Scrooge’s hard heart melted in the Hand of the One Who knows, and is, the Past, Present, and Future. I love Christmas because it reminds us of the Gift, but it should not be a thing we remember just once a year. It should be Real every day that He gives us. If we can remember that, then we will never stop hearing the sound of the bell. If we just Believe in something finer, stronger, and greater than our finite minds can comprehend, and are willing to give ourselves completely to the One who spoke Creation into being, then we can know beyond all doubt that everything will, in the end, be all right. The Story is unfolding. Choose to SEE. Choose to Believe.

                                                                Merry Christmas.

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste
There's so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe.


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