Tag Archives: childhood

Remember, And Be Glad

My first memory is of being carried up the center aisle of the United Methodist Church in my small home town. I was a three-year-old girl in my daddy’s arms, and my eleven-year-old sister walked up that aisle with us, next to my mom who carried my baby sister.  I come from what, in the midwest at that time, might be considered a religiously diverse family. My mom grew up in the Baptist church, and my dad’s parents were Christian Scientists. Through friendship, my mom began attending the Methodist church in the small town that had become their home. On the day I was baptized, so were both my sisters and my dad, we all became members and that place became our church home.

I went to Sunday school there every Sunday, and in third grade received my first real Bible, a Revised Standard Version covered in pebbled red vinyl, with a scrap of gold leaf that I used to inscribe my name on the cover. I was in many children’s Christmas programs and occasionally got the nerve-racking job of page-turner for my mom as she played hymns and special music on the piano. I went to church camp and found in Jesus the friend I needed to help me survive some turbulent years. I was confirmed in that church, wearing a dress of my mom’s and with my hair in French braids, feeling very grown up. There were annual Christmas eve candlelight services, where we sisters would inevitably get such giggle fits that suppressing them was painful and we shook the pew as we wept silent tears of mirth and pain. There was youth group on Wednesday nights and when I was a senior, a cake for the graduates.

I had a bridal shower and a wedding in that church, and about a decade later I brought my husband and my sons, ages 5 and 3, to my dad’s funeral.  My mom, sisters and I gathered up there at the front of the church and walked dad back down that aisle, the same one we walked up on the day of the baptism. I read some poem that day for the service, but now I wish I’d told this story, because this story is about family, love and the kind of faith that is built on simple acts of caring repeated often over time. It is a story about knowing what belonging is in a father’s arms, and about finding belonging in a place of faith.

This sounds idyllic, but it wasn’t always great. There were cranky people and scoldings and judgment and the same petty human problems inside those walls that you find inside and outside any church of any denomination anywhere in the world. My own nature prompted me to a very cliché rebelliousness in my later teens through my twenties. My early ideas of God were simple ones, the kind Jesus said everyone should have. Thinking about faith got more complicated over time, just as life did, but the Sunday school lessons, and the hymns, the messages and the scripture were all woven right through me and held me together for the most part, even in the very bad times. I prayed, and often those prayers seemed unanswered, but they never felt unheard.  By the time I had children of my own, I knew that faith is linked to survival, and that a spiritual home is a good thing to have. I wanted to give my children some of that same experience I’d had, and as babies they were baptized in a small Methodist Church in their own home town. To this day I continue my faith journey in that community and in the world at large. I am grateful for the support I have had along the way. In last Sunday’s sermon we heard the message of John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’s baptism of Holy Spirit, and we heard the words from the confirmation service, “Remember your baptism, and be glad.” I do remember and I am glad.

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The Dark Christmas Night of My Soul

I think this picture was taken to commemorate my new faux fur parka. Toasty and stylish.

I think this picture was taken to commemorate my new faux fur parka. Toasty and stylish.

The Christmas I remember most takes me back to the age of eight. It had been a night of traditions: Dad’s last-minute dash to our small downtown to do his shopping, Mom cooking chili and oyster stew and baking bread for our annual Christmas Eve meal. We dressed up for dinner because soon after clearing the table it was time to go to the service at church, where we sang the best of the hymns and heard again the Nativity story, recently relived through the children’s Christmas pageant in which I was an angel or a shepherd or a twinkling chorus star. At the end of the service the lights were turned off and we all passed flame from candle to candle. Children, fire and hot dripping wax in church–what could go wrong? The yearly case of slightly burned fingers was part of the fun.

Upon returning home it always seemed our tree had shrunk and the beautiful decorations, so big and colorful during the day were thinned and muted in Christmas Eve darkness. Over-tired and over-stimulated, we got ready for bed. My older sister, age 15, had a bedroom on the lower level of our split-entry house. It seemed so remote as to almost be a separate apartment although it was directly beneath my own room. My room snuggled in a corner between my little sister’s room and my parents’. I climbed into my bed that night, determined to get to sleep quickly and not risk being awake when Santa came. Songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” were all very well, but I had an unsettling notion that really seeing Santa would be Breaking The Rules and could wreck it all.

I have no idea what time I suddenly awoke in the middle of the night, sweaty, hysterical and convinced that Santa had not come, that he had forgotten us, or worse, had skipped us and it was somehow all my fault. Summoning my nerve, I crept out of bed and down the dark hallway into our living room, which seemed cavernous. Our tree was in shadows on the opposite end of the room, and I was afraid to go near or turn on the lights, but it seemed to me that there were no more shapes beneath the tree than there had been and the stockings hung on the wall looked pretty flat, too. Afraid to wake up my parents, but dancing around the edge of a full-blown panic, I woke my five year old sister and dragged her to my room. I didn’t WANT to upset her but I could not stand to be alone, and anyway, she was going to find out that Christmas was ruined soon enough. We were both sobbing by the time our mom came to see what in the world was the matter. I explained. She told us to stay in my bed while she checked things out.

We waited in agony–forever. I think part of me is still there. Everything was just so unprecedented and wrong…and yet we hoped. We hoped that I was mistaken. We hoped there had been a miracle and things were actually okay. We feared the worst. Finally, Mom returned, bearing our stuffed stockings: proof. Peeking out of the top of each stocking was a large-eared stuffed mouse stitched together out of paisley and solid polyester fabrics, purple for me and yellow for my sister. The relief was indescribable. Mom let us root through the rest of our stocking and while that also felt wrong, we did it anyway. Each item was evidence that Christmas wasn’t broken. If later we were a little sad to miss the stocking part of the morning gift tradition, even then I knew it had been a small price to pay.

That was probably the last Christmas I really believed in Santa, although since then uncertainty, panic and shame certainly have taken his place in my annual traditions. It is hard to know how to put on a Christmas full of hope and celebration when I get so worked up and worried. Putting away impossible expectations would be a start, as well as remembering the gifts that matter the most. I can’t tell you what else I got that Christmas nearly forty years ago, but that improbably colored mouse will always remind me of the first time I remember receiving grace.

Not THE mouse, but you get the idea. This is a kit for sale on etsy: http://www.etsy.com/listing/83091064/coupon-code-doll-making-kit-knitted