Church-Family Christmas

P1010126Family is so special to us that calling any unrelated group of people family is one of the clearest ways to express the importance of those relationships. My husband, sister, and I do that in our workplace, where our staff and their children become such an important part of our daily lives. It always pleases me to hear a staff member tell someone else “we’re not just co-workers, we’re family”, and I hear that from time to time. More importantly, they act like family as they support each other and help us out in so many ways beyond their job requirements.

Many Christian churches refer to “our church family”, and most of these churches strive to create that sense of family connection. Seeing all other believers as “brothers and sisters in Christ” is a biblical principal. Like most principals, it doesn’t mean much unless it is shown in our actions. It is a glorious thing to see or be that family-love-in-action when rallying around someone in need with prayers, hugs, and gifts of food or service. It is humbling and wonderful to be on the receiving end of such church family love during a tough time in your own life.

Our church is large in a denomination of small churches, large in a small community, but it’s no mega church. We do not know everyone by name on sight, but recognize most regular attenders. It is large enough to come and go without much attention unless you seek connection, so we strive to make that connection happen with greeters and small group opportunities for people to get better acquainted. We want people to feel at home among family, to be loved by the body of Christ, His Church.

I saw a great visual for this idea of church family during the recent Christmas season.

Some talented people work hard to decorate our church each Christmas, and though they mix it up to change the look a little each year, it is always a very polished look. A beautiful, but definitely formal Christmas decor. I stood beside one of the trees, waiting for my husband as we were leaving the Sunday before Christmas. As I admired the red, green, and gold ornaments, I saw a new addition and smiled. A paper angel, probably made in our Children’s Church, had been added to one of the lower branches.

Nothing says family at Christmas time like a child’s homemade ornament. I am so glad the child who shared this angel feels like part of our church family.

A Standup Grandpa

To meet my grandpa’s approval, you could be thin, good looking, rich, a fellow Christian, or none of those things.  Only a sense of humor was required.  Often opinionated and gruff,  humor bridged his connection to others.

Visitors to his home were greeted with “Sit down and make yourself homely” and dismissed with “Well, I’d better get to bed and let you good people go home”.

We children collected jokes, gifting him with endless “knock, knock” variations, just to earn his smile.  He rewarded our weakest efforts, giving a joke in return. 

Whatever the holiday, our family feasts ended the same way.  While we were still at the tables, Grandpa would stand up at the head and do about twenty minutes of material.  Many were long, involved stories, meandering to the punch line.  Family members comprised most of the audience, so many of the jokes were familiar old favorites to them.

The adults laughed in anticipation as each joke began, getting more hysterical as he moved from story to story.  Observing from the kids’ table, the laughter-to-tears of aunts and uncles entertained us as much as the jokes, but I still strained to listen for the one joke I never heard him finish.

  As grandpa wrapped up one long story (about how the farmer finally figured out he could tell his two horses apart because the white one had longer ears than the brown one..) it happened again.  Grandpa said something about two men in a boat while all the adults howled with laughter.  Then he grinned and sat down.  Foiled again, I wondered why they never let him finish this last joke…

Years after Grandpa’s death I had the chance to visit with a cousin who spent many childhood years living with or near my grandparents. A great story-teller and comedian in his own gentle way, he told me a few of his favorites from Grandpa’s collection.  His retelling of the old jokes prompted my memory, and I asked him if he’d ever heard the end of the boat joke, expressing my frustration at never hearing the whole thing.

He gave me an odd look, and asked what I remembered of it.

“Something about two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.”

He grinned Grandpa’s grin.  “There were two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.  No…no…the OTHER man was the Captain…”.  In chagrin I realized I’d heard the whole thing all along.

I think of this joke every time I hear someone needlessly correcting the details of a story, and I smile, remembering Grandpa.

 

My Mother’s Hands

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My daughter’s hands are slim and smooth. They move with confidence as she quickly finds a recipe online and begins prepping the food. Twice lately they have reminded me so much of my own hands, moving in familiar gestures.

First, while chatting, she reached over to adjust my sink faucet to its “sweet spot” to stop the drip. She did this deftly and automatically, as I do several times a day, though she has not lived in this home for over ten years. A bit later I saw her gently touch the back of a friend’s shoulder with the little waving motion I also use to say a silent hello. Her hands, so like mine looked twenty years ago, moving like mine. But there are differences in our hands beyond those of age. Hers have talents mine have never possessed. Beautiful handwriting, a gift for calligraphy, speed in typing: in these ways her hands are more like my mother’s talented hands.

I tell them both this talent must skip a generation, offering my cramped handwriting and more hesitant typing skills as evidence. No one argues the point.

Mom used to try to teach me the push/pulls and ovals that she had loved to do in learning penmanship as a child. Mine never matched her samples. Writing by hand gave her joy, and giving others beautifully written notes was one of her few areas of pride. She still received compliments on her beautiful handwriting as she entered her eighties. Now she tells me “It won’t matter, you sign it for me” as we prepare cards for her to send friends or family. Another little pleasure diminished by Alzheimer’s.

Mom was an extraordinary caregiver when we were children, and as she cared for my step-dad through his fifteen years as a quadriplegic. Her hands were strong and confident, gentle and comforting, capable of any task. Her hands are hesitant now, fumbling as she buttons her shirt, brushes her hair, places flowers in a vase.

A secretary much of her adult life, mom typed with a speed and accuracy that I never mastered. In her day, mistakes on a typewriter were not easily corrected. Her skill was valued. We type so easily now,  deleting with a simple stroke of a key, the aid of spell check catching typos for us.

For Christmas, I found a typewriter picture frame, the picture appearing as paper coming out the top of the typewriter. I filled it with a black & white photo of mom at her desk on her first secretarial job after college. She is younger in that picture than my children are now. She keeps it facing her beside her bed. Good memories make the best gifts.

So…and that

A few years ago my adult children heard someone wrap up a sentence with the words “and that” and chuckled as one said to the other, “That reminds me of Aunt N”.

Puzzled, as Aunt N is my sister, I asked what they meant.  They were astonished I had never noticed her habit of wrapping up a sentence with the words “and that”.

Now I can’t help but notice and I smile thinking of my kids every time I hear her use those words to wrap up her thoughts.  I’m not sure what it means, other than that she is done with what she was saying.  I have not mentioned this to her.

Oblivious as I was to her “and thats” I am well aware of my own awkward and involuntary way of frequently ending a statement with “so…”.  Being aware of it hasn’t helped me break this verbal habit.  “So…” might mean I am leaving it to the hearer to draw their own conclusions about what I was just saying.  Or it may be my way of passing the conversational ball, as in  “I’m done.  What do you think?”.

Which led me to think about how often styles of conversation seem to run in families.

Many in my husband’s family need a conversational pause big enough to drive a truck through before they will comment in a conversation involving more than one other person.  My sister and I are more like cars darting from one lane to another on the interstate. One of us begins to talk as the others sentence is nearing an end, but not completed. Reverse and repeat for the length of the conversation.  (Yes, this is also known as interrupting…I try to control it …or at least feel bad when I don’t…) It works well enough for us and neither is offended.

I’ve  learned the nonverbal clues that mean my husband has something  to say, and I try to open the conversational gate wide for him at those times.  It became a nightly routine around the dinner table, the kids and I chattering away until their dad would reach in his shirt pocket and remove a fold of paper.  As the paper crinkled, we grew silent to listen as he shared something about his day, including the daily trivia question he had just pulled from his pocket to read to us.  That done, he was content for our chattering to resume.

Over the years his few words often carried more weight than my many words to the children – a good lesson for writing as well as conversation.  Our adult children are considered quiet by some, chatty by others.  They are a little of both.

My sister and I continue in our awkward sentence endings, perhaps because we are less comfortable in situations where no one is talking yet as we wrap up our thoughts.  I’m not too concerned about breaking that habit.  But I do try to curb my tendency to interrupt when I can see that it is annoying the speaker, so…………