Tomorrow I return to Ohio. Despite much to do and sleep beckoning, there is something inside needing to be expressed before I leave Minnesota.
I came to here a week ago in order to spend Christmas with my mother and brother. It can be a wearing trip from Cleveland, despite the conveniences of modern travel, but I could not imagine going anywhere else but where my family is.
I do not need to travel to see my father anymore. Since his death 6 months ago, he is always near. However, not surprisingly, I sometimes find him even closer when I am here to see my mother…in my motel room, when I close my eyes at night…
When I was a young child, like most of that age, I loved Christmas for the excitement of opening presents, decorating the tree, playing special music and baking cookies. But especially the presents!
However, by the time I was an adolescent, I had become rather serious about faith and longed for more simple, Christ-centered celebrations.
Family traditions are solid structures, however. Christ was certainly in Christmas but everything else remained, much to my dismay at the time. (The gifts I gave did take on a rather unique flavor during this phase though, often being homemade or from fair-trade shops.)
Finally, perhaps a half dozen years ago or more, I proposed to the family that we let go of the gift exchange. We are a small family with no young children. We all had more than we needed in terms of material possessions. We could celebrate with cards, time together or small, homemade things. The motion passed, with only a little reluctance.
As the oldest generation ages its way toward heaven, this too has had an impact on the family experience of Christmas. We can no longer do what we once did and some can only be present in spirit.
Yet, for me, it is simple and beautiful, even if tinged with sadness.
This year, upon my arrival, I found my mother sick with what seemed to be a bad cold. As the days passed, she became sicker and sicker. It soon became apparent that some strain of influenza had taken over her 88 year old body and did not want to let go.
Because she was so sick, no one came over except my brother and me. She was unable to go to church, of course, and was even unable able to pray at some points, she told me, because she could not stay awake.
My brother’s family had a gathering a couple days after Christmas but, not wanting to leave her alone, I spent the day quietly in her apartment. She ate almost nothing and could remain awake for but 10-15 minutes before sleep overtook her again.
Today, she is a bit better, staying awake a little longer, eating a bit now and then and no longer feverish. Yet she is still very weak and frail in a way that I have never seen her.
Several years ago, I had a Christmas like that with my father, seeing him for the first time as an old man whose grip on this life was slipping away from him little by little. And there was nothing any of us could do about it.
Certainly there is no beauty in my mother’s suffering and illness. I would not wish that on anyone. But there has been a simplicity and beauty in the Christmas experience, despite her concerns that I wasn’t having any “fun” during this visit.
As my parents have entered the latter stages of their lives, I have been invited more and more deeply into the life of Christ, His body in this world. Christmas has become what I have longed for in a way that defies words.
This year, I live and pray with a sense of my father gazing upon Christ in glorious eternity.
This year, I grow closer to Him as I am given the privilege of sitting with my mother in one of her many times of trial.
All I want is to be with Christ.
And that has been given. Alleluia.