Here's her story along with life application questions on how to keep the real meaning of Christmas.
THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS PAST
By Marsha Hubler
“Mom, are you ready to help decorate?” Amber hurried into the living room and focused on her eighty-five-year-old mother sitting in a wheelchair and staring out the bow window. The woman didn’t answer.
Carrying two plastic storage boxes packed to their limits with Christmas paraphernalia, Amber quickly placed the containers next to four others stacked in the center of the room and took a deep breath. Hands on hips, she studied the barren eight-foot artificial blue spruce that her husband Earl, the night before, had mounted in its favorite corner, the niche where it had displayed its splendor the last thirty holiday seasons.
“We sure have our work cut out for us,” Amber said as she relaxed on the sofa next to her mother.
“We’re going to decorate the tree now.” Amber’s gaze focused on the frail likeness of the woman she had known, and loved, all her life. The woman who had brought her into the world, had loved her sacrificially, had introduced her to Jesus, had come to live with her ten years ago…who now had Alzheimer’s.
“What are you looking at?” Amber hoped this time her mother might focus enough on the question to give an answer.
“A bird,” her mother said convincingly. “It’s building a nest.”
Amber hunched next to the wheelchair and slipped her arm around her mother’s bony shoulders. “Where’s the bird, Mom?” she asked. “I don’t see it.”
“There!” her mother’s shaky voice said as she pointed her bony finger. “Way up in the top of that tree. Do you see it?”
“Yes, I see it. It’s very pretty.” Amber hated that she had lied to her mother once again, but the last six months had proven that trying to reason with the woman’s deteriorating mind was an exercise in futility. Amber glanced outside at the six inches of fresh snow and crystal icicles that sparkled with the noon day’s sun. It was that special time of year again when the house was transformed, both inside and out, into a palace of glitter by the season’s charm. The wind blew wisps of snow that only added to the beauty of God’s latest creation, a landscape garbed in a lacy robe of delicate white.
Amber gave her mother a gentle hug as they both stared out the window. Amber’s eyes moistened as memories of her childhood flooded her mind. She studied all the boxes…waiting to take her into those wonderful Christmases from the past…begging for one more glance.
“Well, we better get started!” Amber said, grabbing one of the boxes. Carefully she pried off the lid to the container labeled “Tree Ornaments” and found a set of antique porcelain balls, the deepest of blues, which stirred one of her earliest memories as a child. Those years were so difficult when Dad had no time for God or us.
Amber picked up one of the balls and held it for her mother to see. “Mom, do you remember all these blue balls? Remember the year we bought that monstrous tree, the one Dad despised as soon as he wrestled it into the trunk of our old Chevy? He drove home in a huff and threw the tree in one of the corners in the den, leaving the decorating to the whims of two starry-eyed females, who somehow still found joy in the midst of such ugliness. Remember the coal and bucket—and how hard it was to balance that heavy pine? I thought that tree was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen because you and I had decorated it together.”
“Yes, I remember,” Mother said, her stare reaching far beyond the ball.
“This same blue ball also reminds me of the year Dad managed to remain sober. Somewhere you got the idea to have a “different” kind of tree, so the three of us hiked in the woods until we found just the right one—a maple, not too tall, barren of every leaf. After we dragged it home and Dad mounted it in a bucket, we wrapped each limb and every thin branch with white cotton. We thought we’d never complete the task! But, oh, how gorgeous it was when you and I dressed it in blue lights and blue Christmas balls. Do you remember all the friends and relatives who dropped by that year just to marvel at the sight?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And, Mom, you’ll never guess what else I found as I prowled around the basement. That suede cowgirl jacket with all the fringe! Remember how excited I was to open my present that year? I had dreamed about that jacket for months.”
“You always loved horses, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and I still do.” Amber placed the ball back in its resting place and lifted out a small tattered, taped and re-taped cardboard box that held a special childhood memory.
“Mom, look what else I found—your miniature manger scene. Isn’t this the one you bought in 1950 when you opened your beauty shop, and from that first year on you always put this in your shop window at Christmastime? Would you believe that every piece is still intact?” Amber sat on the sofa and carefully searched through the box until she found the baby in his manger. She held up the piece for her mother to see. “Do you remember this?”
“Yes, I remember. That’s the baby Jesus.”
“And Jesus is our Savior too,” Amber said, walking to another container and opening the lid. Wrapped in white tissue paper, right on the top, rested a special ornament. Amber lifted out the ball, removed the paper, and went back to her mother’s side.
“Look, Mom, I found our favorite ornament of all—the one with the picture of our first Christmas together after Dad was saved—our first holiday as a real family. Do you remember the church service on Christmas Eve that the three of us sat together for the first time ever? Dad sang at the top of his lungs with a huge smile on his face. At last we could celebrate Christ’s birth as one.”
“Yes,” Mother said with glassy eyes. “I remember.”
“It’s hard to believe that Dad’s in heaven five years already, celebrating with Jesus, the one who made it all possible. Do you miss Dad at all?” Amber asked.
“Not too much,” her mother said.
“Well, I miss him at times like this. I sure could use his help today.”
“Yes, we sure could.”
Amber shifted the containers, searching for the one labeled “Candles.” She opened the box and pulled out a faded yellow plastic candle with a red bulb, its base cracked, the cord frayed and taped. That dilapidated old thing, more than anything else, reminded her of her family’s home so long ago, a home that radiated with a mother’s love. The spirit of past seasons had shone from that old light purer than any other. Now, as a beacon of wonder, it brought another flow of memories that reminded Amber of why this season was so special. It would be the last she’d share with her mom.
Amber wiped a stream of tears from her cheeks as she twisted on the red bulb and set it on the windowsill. “Mom, look at the pretty candle. You had also bought that back in the 50s, and you always placed it next to the manger scene in your shop. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” her mother said, her voice growing weary.
“We certainly have a lot of memories, don’t we?” Vivid pictures of past Christmases filled Amber’s heart and soul. She reflected again on her mother’s love and all the things she had done to honor the Savior’s birth and make Christmas so special for a little girl whose spirit had been so enriched then and now. One last time.
Amber hunched beside her mother and caressed the woman’s wrinkled hands. In silence they stared at the candle.
“I love that candle,” Mother finally said.
“I do too,” Amber said, tears trickling down her face. “I love you, Mom.”
“And I love you.”
With the obvious “war on Christmas” by the secular world every year, we Christians need to take a stand for righteousness, especially during the holiday season. Christmas is a wonderful time for us to “remember” traditions our parents have passed down or for us to establish and maintain our own customs for future generations. Proverbs 22:28 reminds us to “remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” Rehearsing a tradition steeped with Godly principles during the Christmas season is the best gift any of us could receive from our family members who claim the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. And what better gift could we bestow on those who follow behind than to do the same, thus remembering that the true meaning of Christmas is Christ’s birth.
For those who find themselves in the role of caregiver, Jesus reminds us in Jude 22: “Of some have compassion, making the difference.” Although caregiving is an extremely strenuous job, the rewards from our heavenly Father are great: “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).
The days may grow long and weary, but the love shown will make a difference in the needy person’s life. And God will never forsake those requiring extra strength from above to face such a difficult task. Our Lord promises us with these encouraging words: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Run the race, fellow Christian. Pass on those precious traditions to those who come behind, and love that needy soul with a compassion that only Christ can give.