The Sounds of Christmas

I don’t know about you, but I love the music of Christmas. (Just not played 24 hours a day on so many radio stations starting on Thanksgiving Day! That’s a bit much.)

It seems every musician has their own versions of popular Christmas songs, as ell as some that have been composed over recent years and quickly became well-loved classics. Each year it seems as if I collect a new favorite.

manger-sceneMy mother’s favorite carol was “Silent Night.” To this day I cannot hear that song, or sing it at church, without thinking about her. How she’d often explain how it made her picture the shepherds at the manger that night, seeing baby Jesus for the first time, and the wonder and amazement they felt knowing that tiny child was the savior of the world. She said she could almost feel the quiet of that night, no sound at all, until a tiny baby began to softly cry, then close His eyes to sleep in that heavenly peace.

“Away in a Manger” was also a favorite of hers, and even to this day I can’t help but think about my mom every time I hear those songs. In fact, I can almost still see that old record player we had with her favorite Bing Crosby record spinning around on it at 33 1/3 rpm. We played that record so much it got really scratchy, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying it. (I actually still have that album in storage, but of course nothing to play it on now.)

Mom also loved “The Little Drummer Boy” and taught it to every one of her kindergarten classes. That was when teachers could still talk about Christmas, have class Christmas parties the last day before school was out for the holiday, kids could give their teachers Christmas gifts, and even have Christmas pageants with the children dressed up to recreate that first Christmas.

In those early years I always enjoyed hearing “Silver Bells,” perhaps because I liked the images it created in my mind. People rushing around, dressed in heavy coats, walking past festively decorated store windows, carrying stuffed shopping bags, and walking past Salvation Army bell ringers with their silver bells tinkling away in the chilled frosty air.

snowy-christmasAnd then there’s “White Christmas.” That song was really special to a lot of us kids, because after all, who didn’t love snow back then?! Especially at Christmas time. We’d dream of waking up Christmas Eve or Christmas Day morning and finding the ground covered in snow, and it still coming down. I think we only had that happen a couple of times at Christmas while we were kids, but I have to admit, there’s still enough kid left in me that I’d really like to see it happen this year! But I’m probably still dreaming.

The old songs are wonderful classics that will never go out of style. But there have also been some other Christmas songs that have come out over the past years that have been quickly added to my list of favorites.

Although “Mary Did You Know?” came out years ago, it feels like it’s new every time I hear it. The poignant words, when you really listen to them, and digest them, so clearly detail all of the myriad of emotions Mary must have felt when she was holding her new baby. Joy, mixed with the sorrow of knowing what His future entailed. How she wanted to protect him from all of that! Yet she knew in her heart that God’s plan was so much better than hers….

“The Christmas Shoes” was recorded by the Christian vocal group Newsong in 2000. I still remember hearing it for the first time, the feelings of sadness and hope combined into one huge emotional mess, but at the same time evoking feelings of what true love really is. Christmas and faith…through the eyes of a child. And because so many of my friends have lost loved ones at this holiday season, that song will forever have a special place in my heart.

santa-reading-listThen there’s another song I keep hearing in my heart and in my mind every Christmas season. I’ve written about it before, and how I felt the first time I heard “Grown-up Christmas List” recorded by Amy Grant. That list is still in the forefront of my heart today. If only we could have just a few of the items on that list….

Yes, certain songs, certain Christmas carols, will always bring to mind memories that are beautiful, comforting, and nostalgic, making me wish I could relive certain special Christmases just one more time. But those memories will have to continue to live only in my mind, because I wouldn’t want to miss the joys of Christmas today with the ones I now have around me to love.

In our memories, past Christmases were always happy and joyful, whether they really were or not. Because the very meaning of Christmas is just that. A time of unconditional joy because of the gift of love we were given on that night so long ago.

The musical sounds of this season are special, and unlike any other. They can create emotions and memories inside of us that we didn’t even know were there.

What memories do your favorite Christmas songs bring to mind?

Unexpected Encounters

Over the past several months I haven’t been shopping that much. And for someone who began her career marketing and promoting shopping malls, that’s a bit unheard of. Those younger days were fun, and I still remember the very late 2:00 AM nights those few days before Thanksgiving that were spent with my maintenance and security crews installing the mall decorations so we’d be ready for the big shopping season.

And it was worth it all…so rewarding to see the looks on the faces of the children and their parents when the big day arrived and the beautifully decorated mall was unveiled! Along with Santa’s special welcoming center for all the children.

Now fast forward some 40+ years.

A different mall, in a different city. Professionally decorated by the decor company’s professional crew at least two, if not three, weeks before Thanksgiving to put shoppers in the mood to spend money as early as possible.

A different and older me…no longer a young woman just out of college, but a new grandmother with my first book being published….a five year dream come true.

Having not been to the mall in a while I hadn’t really noticed this new store there. It had actually opened back in April! It looked far too expensive for my shopping budget, but my husband said let’s just go in and take a look. The windows were beautifully decorated, so we went in, thinking we just might find something interesting in there.

Christmastime is full of stories and divine encounters. It’s a time when God puts us in certain places for the sole reason of helping someone we’ve never met before.

Yes, this was one of those times.

2016-12-09-19-37-33As I walked through the store enjoying the wonderful unique gift items and one-of-kind clothing items, I wandered back to the dressing rooms, which were also beautifully decorated. And there I saw it. And I knew my visit to that store was more than coincidence.

A prayer journal. Available for each customer to write in and request prayer for others, or themselves. And you can believe I added a prayer request for the father of a very dear friend, as well as prayed for one of the other requests in the book!

A young woman, probably not much older than our own daughter, had greeted us when we walked into the store. We’d talked briefly, just small talk between customer and sales associate, and she’d gone on to assist other customers while Ben and I looked around. Suddenly, there she was again, talking with another customer just a few feet away. When they’d finished their brief conversation, she turned to me and asked how we were enjoying the store.

Obviously I told her how impressed I was with the prayer request book, and how I’d written a request in there.

Then the God-ordained moment came, as I casually mentioned to her I was going to contact their home office to inquire about putting my new book in their stores, which had just been published that same day. She asked me what the book was about, and when I explained it dealt with losing my mother and surviving the grief afterwards, she started tearing up and trying not to cry.

“My best friend just lost her mother a month ago, and she’s going through an awful time. I don’t know how to help her. Where can I buy your book? I want to give it to her, and I want to read it as well. Maybe it’ll help….”

Of course I told her where to order it, and also gave her one of my new business cards that coincidentally I’d just received in the mail that afternoon. We talked for a few more minutes and I promised I’d pray for her friend, and that I’d contact the store’s home office and try to get some books in there. She added that she certainly hoped so, because she’d love to have a book signing there for me!

Coincidence? Absolutely not! This was one of those divine appointments that the Lord had orchestrated. He knew what this young woman and her friend needed, and He also knew I needed some encouragement that my book would be well-received and important to others.

I have no way of knowing whether she has ordered the book or not. I sincerely hope she has, or that she will. But I do know this. Visiting that store was not just a spur of the moment, “let’s go in here!” visit. It was a result of perfect timing, and following what that little inner nudge, that still small voice, said to do.

“In his heart man plots his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) And that’s certainly what happened to us that night.

We never know whose lives we will impact when we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit: when we just do what we feel we’re led to do. Who knows what this one innocent encounter in a retail store just two weeks before Christmas will do in someone’s life?

I know how it impacted me. And I pray the repercussions in that young woman’s life, and her friend’s life, will not only make a difference in both of their lives, but the lives of others they come in contact with as well.

This Christmas season especially, be watchful, and be listening to that still small voice inside of you. If your heart leads you to do something, don’t hesitate; just do it. You have no idea what a difference one encouraging word can make on someone’s life.

Be blessed, and be a blessing to someone else this Christmas.

 

As a companion story to this one, read “Finding An Angel”, which can also be found in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart.”

The Mystery of Santa Claus

This was originally published in December, 2015, but I wanted to share it once again. Because the mystery of Santa Claus is still with us!

A big part of Christmas when I was growing up, like most of my friends in my hometown, was wondering what Santa Claus was going to bring us.

Sure, we all knew the real meaning of Christmas, because back then there were nativity scenes everywhere, not just at the churches, and no one complained at all. Almost of us went to church regularly with our families, and participated in Sunday School Christmas pageants as well, so we were quite familiar with the reason for the season.

But that didn’t stop us from believing in Santa Claus, and knowing that when we got up Christmas morning, he’d have been there and left presents for us under the tree! And we couldn’t wait to see what he’d brought!

I don’t remember the first time I saw Santa and told him what I wanted for Christmas, but I did find this photo several years ago, and that may well have been At Wannamakers 4 yr oldmy first visit to see the man in the red suit. It was taken at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia, most likely in 1954 or 1955. As you can see, I was all dressed up for this special visit, in a new hat and coat my mother had probably bought for me just for this important occasion! It wasn’t real commonplace back then to take pictures of kids with Santa Claus, so this picture is even more special, and the only one I’ve found of me with him.

And from the look on my face, I can’t tell if I was excited to give him my Christmas list, or just wondering who in the world this person in that furry red suit was, and why I was there!

Back in the 1950s Santa Claus was everywhere. We never questioned why. Because he was Santa, and he was, well, a bit magical. And we never questioned how he could be in two or even three places in town at one time; we never even thought about it. He just could. We never noticed that his beard didn’t look that real, and how it didn’t feel like our own hair, and how it didn’t even look like it was actually growing on his face.

Just like we never thought about how truly impossible it was for a sled to fly through the air pulled by reindeer, who certainly can’t fly, and even if they could, they could never pull a sled all across the world in just one night while their driver had them stop at each house, go down a chimney that he certainly wouldn’t fit in, and leave a bunch of toys under someone’s Christmas tree. All those toys would never even all fit in that sled! But we didn’t stop to think about any of that.

P1070253Of course we all left milk and cookies out for him. And we expectantly checked the next morning to see if they’d been eaten. Of course, all that was left were crumbs, and a few dregs of milk in the bottom of the glass. Reason tells us there’s no way someone can eat thousands of cookies and drink gallons and gallons of milk in one night and still function, let alone deliver toys! But that never occurred to us.

We never questioned. Because that was the mystery and the magic of Santa Claus. Eventually, though, we all figured out there wasn’t really a Santa Claus. Our parents had made it all up, just like their parents before us, and probably their parents’ parents as well. But it was a huge part of our Christmas tradition. And we never got upset that he didn’t really exist when our parents told us he did. We accepted it just as one of those rites of passage of childhood into adulthood. And we made sure we didn’t let on to our friends’ younger brothers and sisters and spoil it for them!

Today some of my friends don’t believe in telling their children about Santa Claus. They’re worried that if they tell them about Santa, when they discover later on it wasn’t true, they’re afraid they won’t believe other things they’ve told them. They don’t want them to miss the true meaning of Christmas. And that’s their choice; they have a right to believe that way if they wish. But personally, I can’t imagine not growing up without my dreams of Santa!

For all of us who grew up with him, the love and mystery of Santa Claus is always going to be alive and well in our hearts, whether we’re four years old, forty years old, or even eighty-four years old.

And do you know, to this day, I’ve never figured out where my mother hid those presents that were marked “From Santa”, and how she managed to get them all under the tree to surprise me without somehow waking me up!

I wonder…….??? Is it somehow possible……..???

Decking the Halls

Through the eyes of a child….

Recently I came across a few photos from Christmases from my childhood….some from my first Christmas, and a few when I was probably five or six years old. Aside from thinking about how different my mom’s living room looked back then, I couldn’t help noticing the Christmas tree in the background, and thinking…did it really look like that?

Thinking back on those Christmases past, I still picture those trees in my mind, really big and fat, and smelling like, well, Christmas! There was a special scent in the house once the tree was put up. And I so enjoyed sitting in the living room at night with the only lights being from our tree. Through my child’s eyes I always thought each one was more beautiful than the previous year, but looking at the photos I’ve found, they really weren’t all that spectacular, compared with the ones we decorate today.

Christmas time certainly seemed a lot simpler when we were growing up. Because almost all of us used fresh cut trees, we’d wait until almost the week before Christmas before putting it up and decorating it. My mom and dad would move the old floor model radio that was in the corner of our living room by the fireplace to make room for the tree. Daddy would bring the tree home on top of his car after work, and set it in a bucket of water on the front porch until it was time to bring it in. Then he’d set to work sawing the bottom of it just right so the tree would fit in the stand. He’d put it in the corner and adjust it until it was straight, and then fasten a piece of string around the center and tie it to a nail in the wall, just in case it tried to topple over. And after it was up we had to make sure to keep water in that stand every day, or the tree would start drying out and dropping its needles all over the floor.

After the tree was in place, my mother would bring out the boxes of ornaments and lights, and we’d finally get to start decorating. We’d start with the “bubble lights” with their colored liquid that would bubble up as soon as the lighted bulb in the bottom of the base got hot, and then add big round snowball lights that looked like they were coated in colored ice. And of course there were strings of plain fat lights in different colors that got really hot, and would burn your fingers if you accidentally touched them.

Because we didn’t have as many ornaments as Ben and I do today, we’d make sure we placed each one carefully on just the right branch; certain ones needed to go close together. Why? I have no idea. They just did. And we carefully placed the delicate glass birds that had been my grandmother’s in a place of honor, so everyone could see them. I actually still have those birds, and still use them every year.

And who can forget those skinny silver icicles we used to throw on the tree as a finishing touch? The first ones I remember were real aluminum, and sometimes broke when you took them off at the end of the Christmas season. We’d always try to save them for the next year, but they didn’t survive very well. In later years they were made of some shiny synthetic material that stuck to everything…including our hands…when we tried to throw them on the tree. Even though they weren’t the easiest things to use, we still had to use them. The tree wouldn’t be complete without them.

Then we’d hang our stockings on the fireplace mantle, very carefully, sstockingo the tacks wouldn’t make too big a hole in the wood and mess it up. I had a red felt Santa Claus stocking that my aunt had made for me, and my mother had a matching one with “MOM” on it. I still hang mine up with our newer ones, even though it doesn’t get filled. (Although this year it just might find a few stocking stuffers in it for our new granddaughter, even though she isn’t here yet to appreciate them!) My mom would add some sprigs of fresh holly that she’d cut from the woods behind our house, and a few candles, and we were ready for Santa Claus!

Yes, I’m nostalgic for those days in the past. I don’t have a lot of memories of Christmas with my dad, since he died when I was only eight. But I remember the huge smiles on my parents’ faces when I’d come into the living room on Christmas morning, finding the cookies and milk gone, and all sizes of wrapped boxes under the tree, just for me. And there was always some piece or pieces of doll furniture my dad had made for me in his basement workshop, just like Santa Claus! It was truly a magical time, or so I thought.

But life goes on, and the memories of those long ago Christmases have become just that…memories which hide in special places in our minds where we can relive them briefly. But only briefly, because they tend to fade as they’re replaced with newer ones.

And in those memories, we can once again enjoy Christmas through the eyes of the little child we used to be, and for a brief moment, forget the years that have intervened, and still smell the fragrance of that brightly decorated tree….

My Little Christmas Tree

Sometimes it’s the little things we do that seem inconsequential to us. But to others, they make a huge impact on their lives.

Ben and I unknowingly did that last year when our dear friend Annette’s dad, whom we affectionately call Dad Warren, was taken to the hospital about two weeks before Christmas with pneumonia. He was in for almost a week, but he had to agree to go for physical therapy to get his strength back before he could go home. So instead of spending the Christmas holidays with his family in his own home of many years, he had no choice but to spend them in a local rehab center in unfamiliar surroundings.

But before I tell the entire story, let me relate a little bit about this wonderful man.

Rev. Warren Wilson set a goal for himself early in life…to become a minister and spread the word of the Lord. He studied hard, went to seminary, met the love of his life (and the only woman he ever dated) and married her. Together, over almost four decades, they pastored a number of churches, and raised five wonderful children. And as of this writing, at 94 years old, his mind is as sharp as that of a teenager, and although he lost his beloved wife Ruth last year, he still talks about her daily and wears her wedding ring on his hand. His body may not do what he wants it to, because he’s had several heart surgeries, a hip replacement, and a few years ago a stroke that left him with continual dizziness, which has since forced him to spend his days in a wheelchair.

But that wheelchair hasn’t stopped Dad Warren from being the same fun-loving, teasing, and sometimes mischievous man he has always been. He still spends several hours a day reading his Bible, and writing his thoughts about what he reads: essays and sermons that I pray we will one day get to transpose and publish to share with others.

Back to the story…

None of us wanted him to be without some type of decorations for Christmas. Annette brought him some decorations to hang on the wall, and someone brought him a Santa hat, which he wore every time he took his wheelchair for a spin around the facility, but he didn’t have a Christmas tree. And there wasn’t really a place for one in his room.

My mother had a little green ceramic Christmas tree she used the last several years of her life. Her sister had made it for her, and of course when we packed up her home after she left us, that was one of the items I couldn’t bear to get rid of, so it came home with us. Although I very seldom use it, its sentimental value cannot be measured.

It was perfect for Dad Warren’s room; it wasn’t very big, and would fit on his dresser, and it would even serve as a night light for him.

We had no idea what this simple act of loaning a little ceramic Christmas tree meant to this man. When we told him it had been my mother’s, and how her sister had made it for her, he was hesitant to use it, afraid it would get broken. We assured him we wanted him to have it in his room, and finally convinced him by telling him my mother would want to have someone enjoying her tree! He almost cried over it…
vintage-ceramic-christmas-tree-with-lights-4ropbswm
The next day, and for several days later, he called me to ask me specific questions about my mother, and finally told me he was writing a poem about her Christmas tree. He worked on it for a week or so, and when he was done, he made a point of reading it to everyone who came to visit him, and telling them the story of his tree. I was so touched. I typed up the poem and had it framed as a special treasure.

Thank you, Dad Warren, for being who you are and for being such a wonderful example of God’s love to everyone who knows you. We love you. I am honored to share your poem.

“My Little Christmas Tree”

‘Tis not very big, perhaps just one foot tall;
It looks so pretty sitting against the wall,
Dressed in green with variegated lights – perhaps 50 in all.

But what’s so special about my beautiful tree near the wall?
It’s not its luster or its eye-catching glow
Whose Christmas love gave birth to my little friend near the wall.

Its nativity birthed forth from love’s sacrifice of loss – yet gain;
When Deborah and Ben Newell spared naught to share its life,
And now eternal flame.

Its station and reflection on the wall
Bestows Christmas love and joy to all.

Even now Rachel Chapman’s voice enhances Heaven’s angelic choir
Singing, “Glory to God in the highest with peace on earth” to those who can sing:
Crown Him King of Kings, Crown Him Lord of Lords – Wonderful, Counselor,
The Mighty God. Emmanuel – God is with us, and He will reign,
He will reign, He will reign forevermore.”

And He gave a little Christmas tree to prove His love to you and me.

Scribe: Warren H. Wilson
December 25, 2014

Note: Rachel Chapman was my mother. And she never sang. But I truly believe Dad Warren heard her singing in God’s heavenly choir.