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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I think many of us are "haunted" by our pasts. We perhaps have had a terrible childhood, or maybe an idyllic childhood that was disrupted between then and now, or maybe we fear that we never really HAD any kind of foundation. Maybe we consider the years in our own self-imposed exile, and as a result, remember only the negatives. Maybe our photographic flashes of memory are in negatives, sepia-toned with whited-out eyes, to match the horror-story prelude to the horrors our own lives have actively engaged, with or without our acquiescance.

We grew up in an old riverside rambler (across the highway from the river...this wasn't flood land!), and as my brother pointed out, the original homestead was still there at that time. It had been built upon and built upon, coming to be the dissociated ranch house our family came to inhabit.

In spite of some of the weiredness of that house (long story) and our childhood, some of my best Christmas memories took place in that house.

Somewhere I still have a photo of my parents in front of our Christmas Tree, in the corner by the big bay window. I remember when the photo was taken; Mom was in her green velour dress, and we were about to leave for Christmas Eve Mass. We were all dressed up. Dad was in his suit, my brother and I were in our best, and we knew that night that Santa would come. And we were praying for snow.

I will never forget that green velour dress, the scent of Mom's perfume, the bustle, the bitter winter evening air, or the poinsettias at Mass. I'll never forget coming home to sit at the base of the tree and open our gifts. I'll never forget being hustled off to bed, our stockings hung over the fireplace (a REAL one!), the dog stealing cookies from the tray on the coffee table, and the milk we insisted on setting out, in spite of Mom and Dad's protests.

They were still married, then. Even in the house that was a prequel to the Amnityville horror, we had happy times. And on Christmas Eve night, even though we slept with the covers over our heads as usual, we kept an ear out and an eye half-lidded, hoping to catch Santa in the act of emerging from the chimney.

I do not mean to say that the birth of Jesus Christ was unimportant; we were raised to believe that Santa worked for Jesus to help express His love. So a visit from Santa was a visit from Jesus. So it was that on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, nothing could harm us; for the Lord himself visited our home, even in the form of a simple messenger.

My goodness, the wisdom of my parents, especially our mother, when it came to religious instruction!

I still look upon the idyllic Christmas as the one with our family, whole, posed under the Christmas tree before Mass.

Since that time, my parents divorced, Mom was diagnosed with bipolar in a never-ending struggle, Dad died when I was 20, and all of us have been flung to the four corners of the globe....and yet, we are still hanging on. Dad's not with us anymore, but still maintains a presence, to the very blessing at the table. "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed."

Ironic that even as we lived among the ghosts and they terrorized our daily lives, our brightest and most important moments took place. God's grace abounds even in the most desolate of places and conditions.

This Christmas was not idyllic, but it was real. It was fun to be with my family. We were comfortable with each other. We were tired...but there was peace and relaxation, a recognition of exhaustion on all parts.

I have no doubt that Mary and Joseph were fully exhausted and at the end of their strength when Mary went into labor. They had nothing more to give...and then Jesus was born into their hands.

I am fully convinced that it is when we are at the very END of our ropes that God becomes truly present, and while He does not take away our burdens, He places them in perspective and enables us to see His loving hands in every detail.

So even as I have been forced this weekend to contemplate the ghost of Christmas past, I see the blessings of Christmas present and thank God for His guiding hand throughout the years. We may have suffered ghosts and hauntings, we may have suffered a broken family, the repurcussions of which are still embedded today, but overall, the ghosts have made us stronger in our suffering.

Even if you think you are alone at Christmas, please know that you can never be alone; even in your moments of greatest abandonment, God is with you.

Have a Blessed Christmas Season - it has just BEGUN!


Hidden One said...

I have no words.

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

As you know i have bipolar..i hope our Christmas was nice for everyone..God bless you