Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The House That Gives Life

Recently, the house in the photo above, was sold and a new family moved in.  So what?  Well, this house was the Smith Family home for many years.  When it was first built, it was one of the only houses in the area.  Now, it is but one among many in a densely populated subdivision.

For years, this house was the center of life for the Smiths.  The family gathered each year to celebrate Christmas, the favorite family holiday.  Packages nearly dwarfed the Christmas tree placed strategically in the center of the bay window for all to see and enjoy.  Peals of laughter and excitement could always be heard those Christmas Eve Nights as adults and children alike gathered together to welcome the Christ Child.  The next day, the aroma of a freshly baked turkey nearly the size of the kitchen itself permeated the house.  The warmth of a crackling fire in the fireplace punctuated the air, adding to the warm feeling of the season.

Birthdays and anniversaries were noted and celebrated within these walls as well.  No one was ever forgotten.  All were welcome as the family's matriarch and patriarch looked on in joy and contentment at their growing family.  They converted this house into a home and it was to this place that all would eventually come at one time or another throughout the year just to be "home."

But time passes and things change.  Children grow up and become adults.  Grandchildren are added to the joy and celebrations become larger and larger.  Soon, great-grandchildren make an appearance and the joy of new life makes the home feel indescribably warm.

Here, within these four walls, the Smiths gave life.  The house provided shelter but soon became a part of the family, always drawing those who call themselves Smith back to within its walls.

Years passed and the parents aged along with everyone else.  Along with age, sadly, can come infirmity and the first signs that life is not endless.  Six years ago, in the spring of 2005, the family matriarch left this world suddenly and unexpectedly.  Yet another family gathering, this one far more somber than any other in its history, took place.  But even in this gathering there were remembrances of life and joy.

More time passed and on an early spring morning in 2010, the patriarch of the Smith Family passed.  The house that had become a home, the home that had become a part of the family, now stood empty.

Much work was needed to clear out several decades of living.  Once the material goods of a life well lived had been removed, the family home went on the market.  But there was no quick sale here!  Finally, after a little over 18 months, the family home was sold.

There was a certain amount of relief when the sale was completed.  It represented a closure of sorts, a time for the family to move on with only memories and a myriad of pictures to accompany them.  But there is also a great deal of sadness in this event.  This home, filled with love and life, is no longer a part of the family.  A new family now occupies its walls and the only walks through its hallways, living room, bedrooms, and family room is in the mind.  And while this is a treasure, it can never match the sheer joy of just being there.

But the story does not end here.  This house, built several decades ago, housed a family full of life, love, energy, and non-stop fun.  It provided shelter to all who entered it.  It endured Midwestern seasonal changes as though it was proudly protecting its occupants living safely and securely inside.

Now the house enters a new chapter.  A new family resides within its walls.  New pictures have been hung.  Perhaps a fire, the first in many years, has been lit in the hearth.  The comings and goings of every day life now provide a new rhythm to its existence and it is once again filled with life.  And that is what this existence is all about.  Life has its changes.  They are inevitable.  Some are good.  Some not so good.  But all represent an evolution of life, a chance to grow and change based upon what has happened in the past.

Another family has celebrated its first Christmas in their new home.  New traditions have begun within its walls and somewhere deep in our hearts we yearn to go back just one more time for a stroll through the living room, to climb the stairs to the bedrooms, or even take a chance at the basement!  But we will never take that stroll because life has changed, has moved on.  And while there is an emptiness of sorts because the house is gone, we will forever remember the laughter, the joy, the sheer pace of life for when this was home.  May those who not occupy it find the same comfort that this old friend brought us for so many years!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Story

Recently, the home in which my elderly mother lives threw a Christmas party for the residents.  Musicians led the group in traditional Christmas carols and songs that I am sure took many of them back to days when life was filled with family, friends, work, kids, and everything else that constitutes an active life.  Many of them sang along with great spirit and vitality even though their tired bodies seldom are able to display such energy.

Life was etched on their faces.  One gentleman who sat near me was just over 100 years old.  As I watched him, I noticed he sang with all the zest of a twenty something.  His face lit up as old familiar tunes like "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Silent Night" sounded throughout the room.  I am certain that he was unaware that he smiled as he sang every note with an energy that I am sure he had not had in some time.  

In other corners of the room, other residents sang out, often way off key, but the sheer pleasure they had in recounting and singing these old traditional Christmas songs brought them to life.  The emcee of the festivities who is also the Activities Director of the home, strolled through the room talking to each of the residents, kidding them about nearly everything from their age to how many meds they take on a daily basis.  Peels of laughter followed all his incredibly corny but gentle remarks.  He brought smiles to faces that probably had had very little reason to smile in some time.

Or course, there were a handful of residents who sat there silently, lost in their own world.  But they were no less a part of the community than anyone else.  They had as much attention paid to them as everyone else.  Still, it was sad to see them so disconnected from the present world, living in the past somewhere unknown to those around them.

As I looked at each face, it suddenly struck me that here is where a very unique aspect of God come to life.  In these elderly citizens who spent years toiling at their lives, raising families, building businesses and industries, and being productive citizens, can be found a spirit of life that only God can instill.  Many have serious medical problems that would knock most of us off our feet.  Yet, somehow, they find ways to keep going.  Against all odds, many of them are living well past 100 years old and manage to still contribute to the community in ways beyond the material and monetary.  

In this room was the accumulated wisdom of lives led through great struggles and magnificent triumphs.  Here was the "Greatest Generation," the generation that saved the world from dictatorial domination and established a way of life that became the envy of the world.  Here were the remnants of a proud generation fading from our midst with little notice.  And in the midst of these aged treasures, God is very clearly present.

He is present in every joyful smile whether elicited by an old Christmas carol or a memory sparked by one of these old favorites.  He is even present in those who are off in some other bygone world because in that world they find comfort and solace.  His love for the simple gestures of love was apparent every time a resident was offered a cookie and a broad smile of thanks swept across their face.  In these ways and countless others, He ministers to us through those who have gone before us.  

His smile is the smile of the 93 year old woman who remembered the first time she ever heard "Jingle Bells."  His playfulness was in the twinkling eye of the 102 year old man as he sang "Walking in a Winter Wonder Land."  His tenderness was in the face of the 85 year old woman as she softly, almost prayerfully, chanted the verses to "Silent Night."  In those moments He reached out to all of us in that room in very personal ways.

In the same way over 2000 years ago, He made Himself manifest in the face of an infant child born to a poor couple in a far off, nearly forgotten part of the world.  Here, in this obscure country of strange people, the Savior of the World became flesh and dwelt among us.  Here He reached out to us through His Son in so many and diverse ways that He continues to touch our hearts today even though so often we ignore His loving attention.  He never gives up.  He always persists because He loves us for who we are.

In a very real sense, the Christmas Story was retold in the faces of these elderly residents.  There were no angels announcing the birth of a Savior, only the expressions of years and years of life and their encounters with the living child born in that cave so long ago.  The hopes, the fears, the sorrows, the joys were all revealed in those moments as God in His infinite mercy and compassion revealed Himself to be the Master of us all.  He has given all of us to each other as a gift just as He gave His only Son to us as a gift on that dark night centuries ago.  We must learn to look at each other as this gift and give the respect, dignity, honor and love due to one another.  In this way, the Christmas Story will live on in a very unique way within each one of us.  And in this way, we shall experience the coming of the Lord every day and maintain the Christmas spirit throughout the year!

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!