Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wrapped in love

Following my mother's example, I like to give my kids a tangible expression of love. And since she taught me to sew, I like to give quilts. I've made each of my six children one through the years. Some have enjoyed them more than others, but each quilt has served its purpose-- warming the heart and warming the bed.

With my two oldest grandkids halfway across the country, I decided to make them fleece throws for the frigid Minnesota nights. I picture them wrapped in the blankets watching TV or playing a game. But more so, I hope the softness covering them will remind them of hugs from the extended family so far away.

After making these blankets for Kelsey and Seth, I decide to make flannel quilts for the little ones. Princesses in pink and purple for Mattie, pink rainbows surrounded by yellow sunlight for Lana, and a pink-and-white 9-square for Laci Bo. I'm on a roll now. With so many in our family, we draw names among the adults for Christmas gifts. So I get fleece for my pollyanna. Marissa's birthday is two days after Christmas, so I make her one too. My husband? What about when he is cold on the sofa from watching the football game so long? Okay, this is getting out of hand.

At Damien's birthday party last week someone brought up the old quilts I made long ago. Damien said his is pretty much a rag now (he's 32) but he still likes it when he's sick. He said, "It makes me feel better." So I continue to sew and someday when I'm gone I hope the worn scraps of fabric will remind my family of how much each one is loved. As for Damien--it's his name I drew this year. He is getting a new blankie for Christmas!

Special morning

I never spend Christmas with my mother anymore. It's been over thirty years. But every year she faithfully sends huge boxes of gifts for everyone in the family. She is outrageously extravagant. She made Christmas magic for me as a child and she continues to do so. Every December I can always count on a special, personal "mother-type" gift for me. She knows just what I will like. One year it was a soft, powder blue robe, another year a long flannel nightgown. I like to open these gifts alone beside the tree, in the quiet stillness of dawn. That way I can spend private time with thoughts of the mother I love so dearly.

Today Fred left early and the girls were still asleep. I looked through the packages my mother sent. Some had warnings on them for me--"Don't open before Christmas!" My mother is like that. She always tells me to wait. But she doesn't realize how I treasure this one morning. Still, I choose a large box with no warning label on it. And I also find a small, squishy gift. Before the lighted tree I slowly unwrap her presents. I always picture her hands doing the wrapping. It's funny how we remember hands. Maybe because as small children we see our mothers' hands down at our level. The little package, wrapped in a fancy brocade paper with a curled ribbon contains two pairs of Christmas socks, whimsically decorated with reindeer and snowflakes. I smile. She knows I like silly socks. Then the bigger box. I cut the ribbon and inside is something soft wrapped in red tissue paper, carefully taped. My mother doesn't rush wrapping gifts like I do. She never rushed us kids either. She always took time for us. I take the paper off. The gift is a beautiful fleece zip jacket in blue, L.L. Bean. I can hear her say, "That color will look good on you with your eyes." The jacket is warm, earthy, comfortable--like my mom. Tears spring up in my eyes. She is such a good mother. She has so many kids, so many grandkids, yet each gift is thoughtfully chosen so we each feel special, like we are the only one. In the twinkly light of my living room, I whisper, "Thank you, Mother. Merry Christmas."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

O Christmas Tree

Fred and I were talking about how Christmas is a disappointment for some people. Maybe Christmas was magical when they were children but now they can't recapture that feeling again no matter how hard they try. That's not even considering people who have lost loved ones or experienced some trauma this past year. I've had many Christmases when I just wished it would be over quickly. It's hard to pretend to be joyful when you just don't feel the joy. But the Christmas tree has always been enchanting for me.
This year we went to our local tree farm on the coldest day of the season (again). We bundled up in layers from head to toe. Then we climbed onto the hay wagon and sat on the metal seats as the wind whipped about us. The tractor groaned across the ruts on the frozen ground and finally we were dropped off to select our tree. I resisted the temptation to plead with the man to return for us soon. It was way too cold to dilly-dally. This year we are on a budget and we would just quickly find a small tree. But the girls had such fun as they skipped along the rows between trees saying, "This one!" And then a minute later, "No, this one!" In the end, a seven-footer was calling to Fred and he cut it down and dragged it back to wait for the wagon.

With great excitement the girls unpacked all the ornaments to decorate the big tree. I told them again the story of the special ones I got when we were waiting for them to come home from China. The purple crepe-paper Asian angel for Arielle and a glass ball with a delicately painted black-haired flying angel for Liana. We brought out the little walnut shell cradles that I made many years ago as a fundraiser for Half the Sky. Each ornament has a child's name written on the red ribbon, a child who was waiting for a family back then. I find "Our First Christmas Together" for the year Fred and I got married. Then there are all the handcrafted ones--projects made by little hands. Memories are attached to each decoration. I returned the boys' old ornaments to them long ago so they can add them to their own family's tree. But I would like to see them again and remember. And oh, the ornaments from my own childhood! To unwrap them and hold them in my hands again!

Christmas was magic for me as a child. I loved to sit on the floor in front of the tree, silent, with all the lights glowing. It was so peaceful, a time to wonder and anticipate. Even now, I stare at the tree in the silence and peace descends. I'm filled with gratefulness to God for so many Christmases. I've been given one more year, one more tree to gaze upon, another year with family to celebrate our Lord's birth.

Our pastor reminded us not to lose our amazement at the Christmas story as we reflect on the familiar passages. The incredible birth of Jesus--God, coming to earth as a man! At the time, God had not spoken to His people for hundreds of years. They longed for the Messiah, and generation after generation awaited His coming. Immanuel, God with us. Never again would God's people be lost and alone. Knowing this, we rejoice like the shepherds did as they heard the angel proclaim, "Don't be afraid. I bring you news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."

"For all the people." Jesus did not come only for the people back then. He came for us too and He is here with us. He is the magic of Christmas. He is the peace-bringer, the one whose Spirit comes and calms my soul when I watch the tiny lights on our tall tree. So many memories of Christmases past flood my mind. The love for my mother and all my brothers and sisters. My mother did her best to make the holiday beautiful for us. And my siblings made it fun. With a tear, I think of my little boys, all now grown men. I remember their excitement when Christmas was still magic for them. And my little girls. Oh, what joy fills their hearts this time of year! They love every minute of the preparations, but bringing home the tree and decorating it is at the top of their list. After the frozen fingers and toes and the cold wagon ride and the mess in the living room, we turn on the lights and there it is: O Christmas Tree!