During Christmas time, I have skated at Rockefeller Center, I sang and danced on stage with Mickey Mouse, soloed in the Magic Kingdom parade, opened presents under a Hawaiian Christmas tree, and I rang in the New Year from Niagara Falls to Vegas to Germany. I’ve celebrated in friends’ homes, boyfriends’ homes, pastors’ homes, cruise ships, airplanes, theme parks, sound stages, college dorms, but what I have always preferred is to be by my mother’s side at home, with my sweet family and pets.
I admit there was a time when my “reason for the season” was my mother’s traditions of putting up the Christmas decorations and making Christmas breakfast, but since my mother passed away almost 13 years ago, it’s almost as if I’ve been searching for a Christmas distraction to outshine the fact that my mother is gone, or I’ve been hiding my heart away from Christmas altoghter. I haven’t put up a Christmas tree for about 6 years (all the ornaments I have were collected with my mother) and for the last 5 years I have celebrated Christmas with different special families, yet not my own. Struggling with disconnection and displacement, I have been a drifter for so long that there is no tradition left in my Christmas. Don’t feel sorry for me…I am always taken in by great people for Christmas, and I trade cards and phone calls, if not more, with my dad and special family members Christmas to Christmas. But the fact is that my heart has been suffering from “Christmas fractures” for quite a while!
This Spring, I decided I wanted to go back to the place of my childhood Christmases, when my Decembers were thick with tradition, before gigs and theme parks and traveling to other countries. My childhood best friend, Summer, and her family welcomed me into their home this week. I’ve driven past the house I grew up in and my grandparents’ house, both now owned by strangers. The great forest by my elementary school is now just a sparse cluster of trees. The red paint is severely chipped at my old daycare center. I keep calling Summer’s dog, “Katie”, the name of the family’s late pet “Scarlett”, because she is the spitting image of Scarlett, who I grew up cuddling all those years ago. So much is different in my hometown. But the memories that come flooding back are the same every time I visit.
I remember telling some dirty joke I heard on the daycare playground, getting caught mid-joke by a teacher, then trying to lie my way out of it by making up some bad squirrel joke on the spot! I remember sprinting barefoot down the gravel road that leads to my childhood home, the white chalky rocks not even hurting a bit. I remember eating fresh pecans from the pecan tree my gravel road encircled at the turn. I remember the sandbox, swing sets, and trampoline my dad built for us in the back yard. I remember thinking the red clay I dug up in the front yard meant that I’d almost dug to hell! I remember my mother cleaning my dirty sneakers when I wasn’t looking, and I thought they magically cleaned themselves! I remember my brother and I waiting for what seemed like hours in my parents’ bedroom for my grandparents to arrive Christmas morning so that we could open presents. I remember one Christmas morning we actually had snow when we woke up!
And when I walked into First Presbyterian Church of Denison this Christmas Eve, it was as if I was back in my childhood days all over again. My grandparents went to that church. I was baptized in my mother’s arms there. Summer and I were the silliest peasant girls ever to participate in a nativity play, giggling in our mom-made rags all the way down the aisle. I accidentally jabbed my right hand with a pencil in 2nd grade Sunday School class and still carry the “Jesus mark” today! I stole an Annie doll and my mom made me bring it back. I barfed in the stairwell! The memories go on and on…
I’ve visited Denison, TX and walked into my church a few times since my mother’s passing, experiencing bittersweet memories, yet this is the first time I’ve learned something new about my mother and my childhood. Summer had invited my childhood photographer and his wife to attend last night’s Christmas Eve service, to hear me sing.
One of Allen Crenshaw’s final projects with me was the composite head shots that were submitted for my “New Mickey Mouse Club” audition, but before that he shot the pictures for my pageant days when I was 7-10 years old.
Last night, Allen’s wife shared with me that the year I lost my first front tooth, my mother was on standby at our photo shoot, my front tooth in her hand, ready to place it back in my mouth for the “smiley shots”! I had no recollection of the tooth fiasco, but as I imagined my sweet, attentive mother, committed to my picture perfect smile…I could see her little fingers carefully placing my jigsaw puzzle piece of a baby tooth gingerly into my gums, backing away slowly, then tilting her head to the side and smiling at her daughter’s sweet toothy grin, surely for only a few seconds before it fell out again! The Crenshaws had given me an unexpected and priceless gift…a new moment of my mother and me!
There are a lot of places I could have been instead of Denison this Christmas. But I believe God called me here this year for His perfect and mysterious reasons…to bless a small congregation with some Christmas Eve music, to remind an older generation of my mother’s face and “how cool she was” (that was my favorite compliment!), to meet new people and reconnect with elementary school friends, to make new memories with Summer and to be another daughter in her family, and maybe, just maybe, to reset my fractured heart when it comes to reaching out at Christmas time.
God has awakened in me the truth that there will always be more to learn from and about my mother, even if she has passed on…the truth that I don’t have to hold “feeling all the Christmas feels” at arm’s length just because any traditions I have are attached to my mother. As important as it is for her high school friends to see her face in my face at church, it’s just as important for people to experience the love and beauty in the traditions she created and passed on to me. The truth is that God looks after me infinitely more passionately than my mother looked after my baby tooth during that photo shoot! (And if I knew my mother at all…that tooth is probably still wrapped in a pink tissue in a jewelry box somewhere in Dad’s closet!) No matter how much I look into the past at Christmas, God takes care of my now and my future, from the big things like salvation and a whole bunch of family, friends, and extended family who cherish me, to the small things like the Crenshaws’ gift of a new mommy memory.
This Christmas week, I encourage you to focus on connections vs disconnections…where you are placed vs displacement. Ask God to reset any fractures in your heart that may be preventing you from seeing and experiencing the gifts and treasures God wants to give you every day, sometimes in the most random and unexpected ways! Take time to thank Him for the gift of Jesus, our Counselor, our Friend, our Savior, the Restorer, and the reason for the season!