I have some of the best Christmas memories! There are a few that I’d like to not remember, but this year’s celebration will be right up there with the very best! It all started when my son called to tell me that he and his wife had decided to spend Christmas with his father in Mississippi. When he said the words I was caught between my own selfish “what-about-me?” thoughts and more noble ones like “what-a-great-idea!” and “we-can-celebrate-Christmas-anytime-so-don’t-worry-about-me-I’ll-be-fine.”
I know Scott was struggling with the whole idea of leaving me alone at Christmas. Not only would it be our first Christmas apart, it would be his wife’s first Christmas away from her family and his children’s first Christmas without Christmas breakfast at their great-grandparents’ and without Gabba (that’s me) to pounce on at the crack of Christmas dawn. I could hear the pain in his voice as he laid out their plans to drive to Mississippi and as he related to me how he and Stacey had come to this momentous decision.
It’s been a very bad year for them, beginning with Scott’s botched hip surgery, which actually fixed his hip problem but left him with a “drop foot” and the prospect of a lifetime with no feeling in his foot and constant pain in his leg from a damaged nerve. He then traveled to Houston for nerve transplant surgery, which was “successful” but has not yet resulted in a return of feeling in his foot. The children have struggled with their own “growing pains” as Jared nears puberty (which is a daunting experience in itself but is exacerbated by his Asperger’s) and Emily feels the brunt of being relatively “normal” (which is difficult when you’re 9 years old and you have to struggle for attention from a mother who is stretched way too thin by the needs of the other family members). They needed to “get away,” Scott said and I totally understood. But, my thoughts kept jumping around between “it’ll be great for you to be with your Dad at Christmas for the first time” and “this will be the first time I won’t be with you for Christmas.” It was all I could do to keep from crying, “how can you do this?”
As I write this on the 2nd day after Christmas, I am so glad that I was able to “take the high road” and NOT make my son feel guilty about turning Christmas upside down for us all. I struggled through the rest of the conversation but I was able to say, “we can celebrate Christmas any time we want to and THAT will be our Christmas Day.” I heard myself saying, “I’ll be fine – I’ll just treat it like any other day off from work and when the day is over, I’ll still be looking forward to Christmas.” I assured him that I completely understood and I was even able to say honestly that I was glad he’d be able to spend Christmas with his Dad for the first time. I just wished that there was another way that didn’t involve the words “the first time.”
Throughout the next few weeks, he and my sister went on a crusade to convince me that I shouldn’t stay “home alone” for Christmas, and indeed, that I should jump in my car and drive to Virginia to spend Christmas with my sister and her family. Well, I don’t “jump in my car” and drive anywhere these days, much less 5-6 hours away. Just the thought of spending that much time sitting in a car makes my knees hurt and I rebelled at the idea of putting that many miles on my leased car. They tried valiantly to convince me that it would take me as long, if not longer, to make the trip by plane (adding up the time it would take to get to the airport at least an hour before flight time, get my bags and a rental car, drive the 2 1/2 hours to Front Royal through Baltimore and DC traffic to the hour and a half flight). I was NOT convinced and I was not yet convinced that I should make yet another flying trip to Virginia. If you have read previous posts, you know that I attended a funeral in Virginia the first week in November and then flew down for Thanksgiving with my sister.
A calm head prevailed and I did my “pro-and-con” list with all the reasons I should just stay home and “veg out” in one column and the advantages of “going home” for Christmas in the other. As I made my list, I was immediately struck with the realization that I had started the process with the assumption that I was going to Virginia as the “pro” column began to be filled with reasons in favor of making the trip, leaving the “con” column for all the negative arguments against it.
To keep this relatively short, the “pro’s” won, (especially after we found out that my brother David and his family could come up the day after Christmas), I made my reservation for a Christmas Eve flight and here I am – 2 days after Christmas – and I have survived my first Christmas without my only son and his family. I have survived waking up alone on Christmas morning without my precious grandchildren pouncing on my sleeping body and I have survived the day with only my imagined thoughts of how they were spending their first Christmas without me.
This morning I am packing to return to New York and to belated preparations for yet another Christmas celebration – I haven’t wrapped a thing! – and I am flooded with my memories of all the Christmases with Scott, Stacey, Jared, and Emily but I am also flooded with the new memories I made in the last few days as my brother and sister and I made our own “Christmas firsts.” We calculated that:
this is the first Christmas that the 3 of us have been together for 43 years;
this is the first Christmas that I have ever spent with Joe, my brother-in-law;
this is the first Christmas that I have ever been with Lou, my sister-in-law;
this is the first Christmas that I have ever been with Kelly & Will, my niece & nephew;
this is the first Christmas that my cousin Fran and I have been together for 36 years;
this is the first Christmas that Fran and my sister have spent together – ever; and
this is the first Christmas that my sister and I have attended a midnight service together for 43 years.
Not only did we make all those “firsts,” we also made some precious Christmas memories as we have laughed, cried, told stories, remembered our parents, our long-ago Christmas traditions, and how they all had come together to make new traditions in our own families. We have celebrated the monumental “first” of being together for this special day – one that we have always treasured for the fun we had and the family memories we made as well as for the gift that God sent to the world in the person of his only Son, Jesus.
When Ginny, David, and I were growing up church was always a large part of our Christmas celebrations and since I retired from active parish ministry (5 years ago), I have not attended a midnight Christmas celebration – until this year when I went with Ginny, her husband Joe, and cousin Fran to a lovely church in Upperville VA. The music was grand, the church was spectacularly decorated, the sermon was terrific and I totally loved singing the Christmas carols. It was beautiful and it was special – after all, I was sharing it with family and making a new memory with them that I know I will cherish forever.
It was also “being home” for me as the Episcopal Church at Christmas is about as perfect as it gets. It was also “coming home” for me as I have mightily struggled with God this last year over the whole “why do bad things happen to good people” thing. My kids are good people and they’ve suffered through way too many bad things lately and I want them to end. I’ve prayed and prayed and many other people have prayed and prayed and still the “bad things” continue. So Christmas was looking tough for me but when I walked into that church on Christmas Eve only moments before the first strains of “O come all ye faithful” filled the santuary and my heart, I knew I had “come home.” I knew all over again what I had been telling people for more than 20 years was true. God doesn’t bring the bad things, God does help by being there alongside the bad things, and that the bad things can never take away the miracle of God sending his only son to die for the sins of the world, including the “bad things.”
So, I was glad to be “home” with God in God’s house, singing about the birth of his son – after all, isn’t that really what makes Christmas celebrations special?
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Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry. Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. Register below to receive her newsletter and important emails and don’t forget to check out Susan’s Facebook page at https://facebook.com/ladyfather.