Tell Me Christmas Are We Wise

 

Merry Christmas! Yes I know it’s the day after Christmas. It’s time to firm up our plans for New Year’s Eve and start putting away the Christmas decorations. Christmas 2019 was great but Father Time keeps moving on and so must we. In just a few nights we’ll be welcoming in the 3rd decade of the 21st century. Can you believe it? It seems like just last year we were all partying like it was 1999. Time does indeed move on. And quickly.

So what did you do this day after Christmas? Did you do some gift returning or exchanging? Did you stock up on sale items for Christmas 2020? Did you spend one more day with family before heading out tomorrow? Did you binge-watch the final day of Christmas movies on Hallmark, Ion, Lifetime, and Netflix? Or did you spend this day sitting at home, doing pretty much what you do every day, spending it alone?

This afternoon a friend and I went to see the Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) performance of Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Let me tell you the rock and roll road show still exists and man was it fantastic! Awesome guitar licks. Glass shattering vocals. Music that really did rock my socks off. And a light and pyrotechnics show that was better than anything I saw in the 70s. The TSO musicians are true rockers and they made this 60-year-old guy feel like he was 20 again this afternoon. Yes, we went to the matinee performance – I am 60 you know.

You can google the history of TSO to see how Paul O’Neill and his collaborators brought great rock musicians together in the late 1990s to create an entertainment explosion of song and stage. I get goosebumps whenever I hear their music and think about how they took classical music compositions we pretty much all know and rocked them out to reach into another genre. If you haven’t heard them before you should give them a listen. And if you have never seen them on stage, you really need to. Get ready to see the longest hair you’ve seen since Cher in the 60s. And that’s just the guys in the group!

Christmas Eve and Other Stories is the weaving of basically three stories. The original Christmas story of our Savior coming to the earth. The story of God sending an angel today to see if the spirit of Christmas still exists in the hearts of humankind. And the story of a run-away young girl trying to get home to her father who longs for her return. The music that brings all these stories together is beautiful. Each song tells a story within itself and when the songs are put together it’s very moving

There’s one song that always moves me. It’s called Old City Bar. That’s right, in the midst of a Christmas performance there is a song about a bar. Remember this is rock music.

This song tells the story of the run-away girl trying to find a way to get back home on Christmas Eve. It’s sad and inspiring at the same time. It’s a song about how we’re all connected, especially on Christmas Eve, and how we all share the same hope for love and belonging. I’ll include a link to the song at the end of this post. Maybe it will talk to you and maybe it won’t. Maybe this style of music isn’t for you. But the central message of Old City Bar, as well as the entire Christmas Eve and Other Stories performance, is a message for all of us to think about not just on Christmas Eve but every day of the year.

That message is pretty much summarized by this one verse:
If you want to arrange it
This world, you can change it
If we could somehow
Make this Christmas thing last
By helping a neighbor
Or even a stranger
To know who needs help,
You need only just ask.

Change the world. We all have ideas on how to change the world to make it better. But better for whom? For a neighbor? For a stranger? For ourselves? The story of Christmas is perhaps the greatest story about change that has ever been told. You can choose to believe it or not. That’s your right and privilege. But I suggest to you that no greater change for a better future has ever been given to humankind than that which occurred on that first Christmas. If we want to make this Christmas thing last, this spirit of Christmas, of peace and goodwill towards men, then perhaps it is as simple as just asking if someone needs help. Even if that someone is ourselves.

The other song that always moves me is called This Christmas Day. It’s the song the father sings once he learns his daughter is on her way home after receiving the help of the bartender of the Old City Bar. If you’ve ever had a child or other loved one that’s been struggling away from home, you will relate to the father’s words.

Here is the first verse:
“So tell me Christmas are we wise
To believe in things we never see
Are Prayers just wishes in disguise
And are these wishes being granted me
For now I see the answering
To every prayer I’ve prayed
She’s coming home this Christmas Day”

Just as this father saw his wish, his prayer, being granted, I think we too will see the answering to our prayers for those we love. To believe in things we never see. I believe we are wise to place our hope in Christmas and to live out that hope every day of our lives. Think of the joy that would give our Father and the peace we will experience.

Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year friends! I hope you give a look and listen to the Old City Bar link below. Check out the entire Christmas Eve and Other Stories if you can. It will rock your socks off and more than likely bring you the peace of Christmas in a light show pyro-technic sort of way.

I’ll see you down the road in 2020….

Home For Christmas

“The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.”

“But it’s December the 24th
And I am longing to be up north….”

Okay I know it’s only December the 13th and I’m in Frostproof, Florida, not L.A., but the lyrics above have been stuck in my head all day. Thank you FM radio stations!

Do you know which Christmas song these lyrics are from?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Christmas albums had the song White Christmas on it. Not by Bing Crosby but sung by Robert Goulet. If you’re under the age of 50 you probably don’t know who he was but as an adolescent boy going through the voice change of puberty, I envied Mr. Goulet’s deep resonating voice. Especially on his version of White Christmas. I still prefer his version over Bing’s.

And I would bet, most folks don’t know that White Christmas included the opening lyrics above. There’s debate where the song was written. Some feel it was started in Southern California and then finished perhaps in the New York Catskills mountains where Irving Berlin’s family had a home. If that’s the case then including lines about orange and palm trees make sense. Plus I don’t remember seeing any of those trees swaying at the Pine Tree Lodge in Vermont in the movie White Christmas.

Honestly, I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas at all this year. In fact I’m trying to avoid the snow as much as possible. But if old man Winter decides to drop a few inches in Ohio while I’m home for Christmas that will be okay. I have grandkids to play with in the snow now and they make everything more fun. Except for maybe driving in the muck and slush. And certainly not in a one horse open sleigh. The shuttle craft is AWD and stays much warmer.

This will be the first time in my sixty years of living, that I have ‘gone home’ for Christmas. I’ve always been at home for Christmas as well as most holidays, so this year is a bit different for me.

I’ve been on the road, fulltime RV living, for almost five months now. Hard to believe that much time has past by already. And to be honest, with the holidays, especially Christmas, coming up very soon, I’m feeling a little distant from my home, friends, and kids. Both in miles and even in spirit a little. It was just today that the Christmas spirit kicked in for me. I stopped playing Hits from the 70s and made the switch to Christmas music. Most of that Christmas music is also from the 70s or before but it’s music that I’ve heard many, many times and always brings a smile to my face and a lift in my mood.

So on one of the local FM stations down here, I heard the Robert Goulet version of White Christmas. I was singing loud and clear for all to hear while driving down US27 today and received a thumbs up from another driver while at a stop light. At least I think it was his thumb. As we pulled away from the light, White Christmas finished and another of my favorite Christmas songs came on…

“I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you”

Ah, Johnny Mathis! His version of I’ll Be Home For Christmas is a classic and I think it too is the best version of the song. It was also on that Christmas album from my youth. I think I’m becoming that old man that thinks the only good music comes from the 60s and 70s. Maybe early 80s too. Today’s music just ain’t got the same soul. Name that tune if you can.

I love the opening lyrics to I’ll Be Home and this year they are a perfect fit for me. It will be great to celebrate my favorite holiday with the kids and grands. Our Christmas for the past two years has become quite different from the previous couple of decades. Without Barb, the holidays especially Christmas, just aren’t the same. But don’t misunderstand me. Things are different but still good. The love that Barb built within our family has remained intact and even grown stronger as we miss her. That’s part of her legacy and I plan on continuing that over the years ahead.

I remember the first time I heard I’ll Be Home for Christmas that first Christmas in 2017 without Barb. I was again in my car, driving home from work, when the song came on the radio. I had to pull over until the song finished. The words took on a new meaning for me. I couldn’t sing along. I couldn’t drive.

Barb was home for Christmas. Did she have snow and mistletoe? I don’t really know but I knew then and know still today that she is most definitely home. Sure, not at home with me and the kids but she had made it to her ultimate home. Can you imagine what Christmas is like in heaven? I try to but I’m sure I don’t come close to comprehending the beauty of it. The joy in celebrating His birthday with Him. What a party that must be. The true White Christ Mass.

Today I could sing along with Johnny and even tried to harmonize a little with him. Music brings peace to the soul and I’m thankful it does. Songs bring back memories of loved ones we miss and gives us the encouragement to keep going. To dream about the good times in the past and the good times to come. Until I, we all, are home for Christmas.

Friends, may all your days be merry and bright this Christmas season.

See you down the road….

Merry Christmas Eve Eve

December 23rd.

The night before the night before Christmas. Not the most significant day of the holiday season is it. Maybe you spent it doing some last minute gift shopping or purchasing all the food for your Christmas meal. Perhaps it was spent traveling home or getting the house ready for friends and family to arrive. Or maybe you’ve been alone all day, just like you will be tomorrow, and on Christmas.

It could be a day that’s different each year. Perhaps last year things were going well in your life and you were happy but this year it’s been one problem after another and there just isn’t much to be happy about. The tree is decorated and presents surround it but there’s still an empty feeling. There’s someone you miss or you are concerned about. Or maybe you’re waiting on a lab report to come back after the holidays.

At Christmas we all like to have the holiday spirit but some years it just doesn’t come that easily. We try to be merry, cheerful, and glad but underneath our smiles, we’re hurting. And if we were honest we would say that the Christmas season really isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year.

The past four December 23rds for me have been just about as diverse as they come. A holiday rollercoaster ride if you will with tremendous ups and downs.

Dec. 23, 2015 – it was just 4 months before that my wife Barb was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had undergone surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible and had recovered pretty well from that but in early December a follow up MRI indicated another surgery was needed. So the Christmas of 2015 was spent by our family being thankful for the support many were giving us and also preparing for another unknown outcome. We would spend New Year’s Eve in the hospital with Barb celebrating with her as she recovered from what we hoped was her last surgery.

Dec 23, 2016 – the past year had seen Barb not require any further surgery for which we were very thankful. She had completed her radiation treatment and had been receiving chemo treatments for a number of months and was surprisingly strong and doing well. It had been 16 months since her diagnosis. It was our first Christmas with our granddaughter and even in the midst of uncertainty, we celebrated the season and thanked God for His love and gift.

Dec. 23, 2017 – this was our first Christmas without Barb. In January of 2017, the cancer began to grow again and Barb made the decision to not try any other treatments as there were none that were viable and would give her a good quality of life. She declined quickly and went to her heavenly home on March 7. It was the lowest of times for me. I had never felt more lost in my life. But as the year went on, I came to understand that even in the midst of my grieve I could still celebrate the Christmas season and be thankful for all the years I shared with Barb and the way God walked with us through both the good and tough times.

Dec. 23rd, 2018 – today. The present. Another Christmas just two days away. This holiday season I’ve been missing Barb, again. The kids and I are continuing our traditions of putting up the tree, baking sugar cookies, and having our family Christmas eve dinner but each of these still have a feeling of incompleteness. Not really sad but just not the same as before. That will probably always be the case. And that’s okay because our traditions were made with Barb. So I will celebrate and honor those memories as I thank God for where He has brought me and how He continues to love me. And for who He is bringing into my life.

I don’t know where Christmas Eve Eve finds you this year but let me encourage you, if you are down, to not give up but to look up. And if 2018 has been good to you, I encourage you to lift up those around you that are feeling down.

In good times and bad, God’s love for us and His gift to us does not change. He is always there. No matter where we go or what we endure, He is with us. Look for Him. You will find Him. Emmanuel is right beside you this day and every day. And He loves you.

I pray that this Christmas you may experience the glad tidings of the good news that the season is really all about. Look beyond where you are now to where God can take you. Where He will go with you.

Merry Christmas my friends and see you down the road….

Another First Christmas

Tis the night before the night before Christmas. The house is quiet except for the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie playing in the family room. Yes, I’m home alone with the dogs and watching a Hallmark movie. Please don’t judge me. I had to see if Santa’s daughter Kristi would find true love with a postman, rock band guitarist. Happy ending.  She did!

Hallmark Christmas movies have been a tradition in our home for many, many, did I mention, many years?! My wife Barb loved these sappy romantic holiday love stories even though every movie I have ever watched has had almost the exact same storyline.

Girl or boy has relationship issues, she meets new boy or he reunites with girl from his past, they awkwardly begin to like each other, laughs are shared, they fall in love, a misunderstanding arises, they part ways, then rush back to each other just before the plane, train or bus leaves so they may live happily ever after. I guess we all still like a fairytale ending and the hope of love it brings. Including me.

I’ve been blessed to have lived a real-world love story and Hallmark is welcome to use it for next season’s hit movie. From our first meeting on a dance floor and then our first date where Barb broiled to a crisp our Valentine’s Day steaks. My first after church Sunday meal with her family where her brother Greg served a small plate of freshly fried squirrel (I’m a city boy). My awkward proposal to Barb on New’s Years Eve and our June wedding six months later where we drove off to our honeymoon in a car, shoe polished with messages such as ‘Another One Bites The Dust’.

Each Christmas over our years together has been just as memorable. Our first Christmas as newlyweds. Then Christmas mornings with one then two then three children under the age of five. The late night Christmas Eve wrappings and assemblings. The Christmas church programs with our little angels playing angels and shepherds at the stable (one year with holsters and toy guns). Year after year so many wonderful Christmas memories with Barb and the kids and now making new ones with our granddaughter. The word blessing is appropriate but doesn’t really convey the true gift these memories are to me.

And this Christmas will be no different except it is without Barb. So, in reality, it is very different. It is hard. It is sad. So much so at times, it is overwhelming. The reason for the season has not and never will change but the Christmas lights are not as bright this year. The songs not as much fun to sing. The cookies are not as sweet. There is a gift missing this year and that gift is Barb.

But there is another gift that sustains me. There is a gift that gives me strength and hope. There is a gift that brings joy regardless of my situation. That gift is Christmas itself. The gift God gave to all of us and continues to give every year, day, and moment. The gift of Himself, a child, our savior. This is the reason for this season and this gift is greater than any sorrow we endure. I accept it again this year and am so very grateful. It is the true love story we all long for.

This Fall I decided to join our church chorus. I had not sung in a choir for over thirty years so my vocal chords are going through a year of retraining and fine tuning but I’m really enjoying the music and our choir family. For this Christmas season, one of the songs we sang is called Fear Not. It was a very moving song for me and at times hard to get through as thoughts of Barb were very prevalent in my mind while singing it.

“To those who think your prayers have all been worthless
To those who think your chains are yours for life
To those who think you cannot leave the darkness
And bring your brokenness into the light” 

“Fear not, our God is with us
Emmanuel redeeming love has come
Fear not, we have a Savior
And nothing is impossible with God
Fear not”

So this Christmas, this first Christmas without Barb, I will fear not. I will bring my brokenness into the light. And it is my prayer that each of you will be able to do the same no matter what circumstance, what darkness, you find yourself in. This Christmas accept the gift of life, love, and joy. Nothing is impossible with God. Fear Not my friends!

Merry Christmas and see you down the road.

{Fear Not – Carl Cartee and David Moffitt}