Sunday, December 16, 2007

Family Christmas Traditions

We purchased the Christmas tree yesterday, and had brief moments of happy family togetherness. Shown here are Nancy and I mimicking the photo pose of all local teenagers. If I am flashing a gang sign, it would be for a gang of slightly pudgy middle age white balding guys; The Caucasian Homeys. Although it looks it, I have not been shocked by a 5,000 volt cattle prod. This is, instead, comedy in its purest form. You have to admire my wife, caring for the mentally impaired the way she does.

In years past, we used to drive to approximately 17 different tree lots; a journey of nearly 8 hours and several hundred miles, as my lovely wife searched for the the elusive Christmas Tree of Perfection. The little girls loved this, coming home covered in pine tar and needles, hungry and cranky. After a period of years, Nancy learned that such a tree, was, in fact, not in existence. We have settled on the local YMCA tree lot; filled with good people, making money for local youth and sports programs. Good cause, good trees, two blocks from home, with minimal chance for the hugely embarrassing "tree falls off van" experience on the way home.

Following this, the tree is brought home, where is is carefully placed in the Heavy Tree Stand of Lead (the stand alone weighs several jillion kilotons). The placement of the tree in said stand involves trimming of the bottom of the tree with rusted clippers that barely cut, a rusty saw, and the removal of enough foliage to supply the Boy Scouts with enough material for about 37 additional wreaths. Our carbon footprint is huge.

After the tree is lowered in the Heavy Tree Stand of Lead, I typically spend about 45 minutes lying prone on the floor, advising family members to lean the tree 2 or 3 lineal millimeters one way or the other, in order to have the tree point in a near perfectly vertical position. I use a GPS device and a surveyor's transit, calculating the exact distance between our tree the North Pole. The finished coordinates are supplied to Santa directly. Perfection here is imperative. Sometimes, my assistant people randomly leave the room, and the faithful Labrador is my only friend, sitting next to me, in fear that The Guy Who Buys The Food may be dead.

Following the successful tree positioning maneuvers, my work here is done. The girls are in charge of decorating the tree.

I am in charge of movie watching, with the movie of choice always being the 1954 Christmas classic, "White Christmas". Ok, call me a sap, but I just love this movie. It reminds me of my father's generation, which, even though it elected Richard Nixon, sported double breasted suits, and smoked a heck of a lot, still had a lot of good characteristics, including decency, respect, love of country, and great dance numbers. I think General Waverly is a wonderful guy.

Strangely, my girls actually like to watch this movie. Must be the Irving Berlin compositions, and that boffo ending.

And that is a small slice of Christmas at our house.

Cyber Christmas Greetings for 2007

Water polo. Alabama. 8th grade. The Big Apple. Softball. Soccer. Ordination. Considering private school. Junior year, college ahead. A loss. A legacy. A Future and a Hope. Random words? Not for us. These are the words and phrases that have defined the past year in the life of our family.

Heather, almost 14 and in the 8th grade, is looking forward to moving on from Middle School. Although school has been fun and challenging, over the past year she has decided, very much on her own, that she would like to transition from public to private school as she begins high school. So now we are in the midst of filling out applications and taking tests. Our family would covet your prayers as Heather faces important decisions in the coming months. We are confident that God has a great place for her in a school that meets both her needs and her remarkable personality. Softball, volleyball and soccer are the sports of choice for Heather this year. This has been another busy, fun, and challenging year for her, and it is such a privilege to be her parents, and to join her on the journey of life thus far.

Kelly, almost 17 years old, is the Captain of the JV girls water polo team. Just last weekend the team won a local tournament, upending Beverly Hills High! Kelly is hard working and determined at school, and spends a ton of time studying. In the Spring we will begin touring colleges, if you can believe it! Among Kelly’s many daily gifts to us are her wonderful smile, her ability to find humor in nearly everything, and loud and passionate singing around the house, with many songs occurring as she checks what is in the kitchen refrigerator. How did we end up with these amazing young ladies living amongst us for these few more short years?

Nancy continues her daily blur of a life devoted to others; leading the Mothers of Preschoolers program at church, and PTA at two schools. This past year she has continued to meet regularly with a completely ecumenical (and great!) group of moms in our town, monthly, merely to pray for our kids, our town and our schools. She finds great solace by attending the weekly chapel at Fuller Seminary. Nancy’s greatest gift to me this past year was her consistent and faithful care for my Dad during his final year. A gift of love, given so freely. Kelly, Heather and I are blessed beyond words by Nancy’s daily love for us all.

For me (Steve), this past year has been marked by a long goodbye. In October, my Dad, Roland, passed away peacefully after a more than a year of decline from dementia. Dad was 87 years old, raised me well, was faithful to his bride Betty for 49 years, fought in a World War, and lived a full life. He was part of the Greatest Generation; and I hope to live my life going forward in a way that does not forget the service and sacrifice of this good man; a legacy has been left to us. I will miss Sunday afternoons sitting with him, listening to war and work stories of decades past.

On the lighter side, we did continue to laugh and learn from each other. In the Spring of this year, we spent a week in New York City. We saw all the sights; Fifth Avenue (shopping!), the Financial District, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and we even saw “Wicked” on Broadway. The girls loved it! Kelly’s comment, after wild cab rides and watching pedestrian’s completely ignore traffic lights…”I love this place, they have no rules here at all!”

This summer we took a week and traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for a very special event, and an important moment for our family. Our adopted family member, Jill Williams, was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. It was a great privilege for us to participate in her ordination, after walking with her on her seminary journey for more than four years. We are so excited for Jill, as she begins her pastorate as an Associate Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. She has been adopted by a new wonderful church family, and we remain so thankful for the gift of Jill’s friendship and love.

We hope this Christmas season finds you well, and living in the Hope offered by the coming Christ Child. In this Season of Advent, we are reminded of the words of Christina Rossetti. Words of humility and grace, summing up our response to the most important gift ever bestowed on mankind:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti, written in 1872
and set to a Christmas carol,
“In the Bleak MidWinter”, in 1906.
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