As the old year segues into a new one and the 2013 clock (in this case) ticks down to 00:00:00, it’s not unusual to weigh all the important events that have taken place in the year that has passed. For goal-oriented people, this means evaluating the benchmarks that were set, what was actually accomplished, what still needs to be followed up and other metrics that give order to life. (I think this is a good habit to practice.)
Thinking about such annual evaluations, I like what Psalm 90:12 says: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
Even though life expectancy continues to increase and centenarians are more common than ever, the sense of numbering our days about which the Psalmist speaks has to do with how relatively short our lives are. In the overall span of Time, our days are brief. Seeking to have a “heart of wisdom” is a purposeful goal that requires intentionality.
The sonnet below does not primarily refer to ushering in a New Year; it’s more an acknowledgement of the passing of Time in general. As a mother, wife, grandmother, and all-around participant in life, the metaphor of a bucket seemed appropriate to describe my experiences. In my day by day evaluations, sometimes I think I’ve accomplished a great deal; other times, I feel like I have little to show for all my striving.
Viewing 2014 (and every subsequent year) from the starting gate tomorrow, I don’t want to reach my last day and be left thirsting for more. So, I adapt to looking at life one day at a time, yet always cognizant that each day is a loan. In that sense, if I can accrue a “heart of wisdom” for my labors, I will consider it an exceptional reward.
For some of us, closing out the year 2013 means saying goodbye. Death is never pleasant; we have treasured moments to remember, but it’s not the same as having your flesh-and-blood loved one with you.
(How thankful I am not to have lost anyone close to me this year!)
Because I’m a people-oriented person though, my attention is usually caught by the newspapers, magazines and television that run retrospective pieces on famous or infamous or otherwise well-known people who’ve left us during any given year. These lists include names of people with whom we may be familiar as well as names of some who are unknown to us.
One list that attracted my attention was a list offered on the World Magazine website. This alphabetical list included six pages of names (and a small bio for most). As one might expect, a few names included on the list were people whose web of influence touched me in some way. I pulled out ten names that meant the most to me.
What girl in the 60s and 70s did not know Annette Funicello? As a youngster, she shone brighter than most of the other Mouseketeers. She sang, danced and won the hearts of viewers everywhere. For me, she was a picture of grace, always smiling, exuding sincerity and warmth, a role model to emulate.
Not everyone will know who Dr. Howard G. Hendricks (Prof) was, but I remember him well. When my Beloved attended Dallas Theological Seminary, Prof was a favorite instructor and along with his wife Jeanne, they generously hosted students and wives in their home, teaching us as we shared delicious meals together.
The next name might seem a bit odd: Tom Laughlin. This actor and screenwriter (many other things as well) brought Billy Jack to the screen when my Beloved and I were young married folks. (One of my school classmates had a bit part in the film, so naturally I wanted to see the movie.) My Beloved and I found the film sort of campy.
Being a gal who grew up in St. Louis, the name Stan Musial was a household name. He started his career in 1941 with the Cardinals. He had a restaurant (Stan & Biggie’s) he operated until after I left the city for college.
One of the pivotal books I read during my early years of marriage and parenting was Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund. I never knew her personally but her book influenced me to train (discipline) my inner person for the purpose of developing true beauty.
Another woman whose influence was strong was author Edith Schaeffer. She wrote many books, but her book Hidden Art encouraged me to make my home an expression of beauty and peacefulness.
My love for music is embedded in my soul. My parents were early mentors, especially my daddy. He loved to hear George Beverly Shea sing the sweet hymn How Great Thou Art, and I pretty much cut my teeth hearing this song as well as others Shea sang (I’d Rather Have Jesus, The Wonder of It All etc.). My daddy often sang solos in church (an occasional duet with me) and though he was mostly self-taught in music, I always thought he sounded a lot like Shea.
When you’re married (as I am) to a lover of sports, the name Pat Summerall will be familiar. Of course his connection to our home state doesn’t hurt, but I just remember sitting with my husband (again, we were young married folks) viewing football and hearing the genial Summerall explain the game to me. I learned a great deal from him.
Margaret Thatcher of course was a role model for many women, particularly those of a conservative persuasion like myself. As first female Prime Minister in England, the Iron Lady inspired me with her tough-minded (but always ladylike) approach to politics and government. Her friendship with President Ronald Reagan increased my admiration for her even more.
Finally, I must mention golfer Ken Venturi. (Again, being married to a lover of sports and most especially a lover of golf, I’ve learned to love the game myself.) Since Venturi’s actual golf career ended in 1961, he is most memorable to me via his distinctive broadcasting voice. Yes, I’ve even learned to watch golf with my Beloved … though I much prefer to play the game instead of watching it on television. Listening to Venturi in the broadcast booth helped his love for the game spill over to me.
There’s another golfer in the list − Miller Barber − and while I recall his name and that he was a golfer, that’s about all. (My Beloved could probably regale me with stories of the man’s career. I can’t.)
So, we say goodbye to these men and women, influencers all. I am grateful for the impact each had on me. Heeding this wisdom from Mark Twain, may we each live fully now, today and each tomorrow God gives us: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
The day after tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, the ending of an old year, quickly followed by the fresh new start of another.
At times like this, I’m usually a bit nostalgic. Nothing momentous has happened in 2013 to make me wistful for its continuance, nor do I have any earthshaking plans that cause great anticipation for the New Year. Still, I ponder the old and warmly embrace the new.
I recall my first New Year’s Eve as a married woman. Our December 20th wedding had given us time to have a short honeymoon, to spend a few days of Christmas with my family and then to return to our rented living space, a sparsely furnished half-house, just in time for my Beloved to report for duty working the busy New Year’s Eve (and morning) shift at a nearby country club. (He waited tables, cleared dishes, etc.) Of course, he told me not to expect him home again until the wee hours of New Year’s Day!
Spending my first holiday alone was something of an eye-opener for me. Though I hadn’t thought much about it until the reality set in, my overriding emotion was how “unfair” it was (1) we weren’t enjoying the evening together and (2) I was stuck at home without even a small party to attend! In my self-centered opinion, his boss should’ve given this newly-married man the night off … so he could be home with his still-blushing bride!
I remember lying on our creaky bed thinking I wasn’t sure I cared for this new life we were beginning. He was acting responsibly; I wasn’t especially eager to do the same.
Naturally, I also thought about other New Year’s Eves I’d experienced in my single days … usually out on a date with someone who delighted in taking me to an upscale dinner and dancing or a concert. This marriage stuff (not to mention the alone time) paled by comparison.
There was, I realized, absolutely no point in staying up until midnight … the idea of “ringing in the New Year” didn’t appeal to me at all! And celebrating the New Year after my husband finally returned was unlikely. He’d be tired … and I was already grumpy.
The small town in which we lived was located in a dry county and the citizens mostly rolled up their sidewalks around 7 p.m. and retired inside to watch television or read a book. (We didn’t even own a television.) I might have opened a book, but I was feeling so sorry for myself, I couldn’t even be lured into reading.
Instead, I engaged a full-blown pity party that lasted until I eventually cried myself to sleep. (What a baby I was!)
In spite of time spent indulging my selfish alter-ego, I also did some business with God that night. I grudgingly acknowledged my grown-up life had begun and agreed there were going to be plenty of tasks and duties (responsibilities, ugh!) I probably wouldn’t care much to do, but I had to admit going back wasn’t an option. I’d best get on with making the transition from spoiled-rotten young woman to a mature individual who was determined and would refuse to shirk responsibility. Wow! That really made me cry.
It’s not that I didn’t want to be a grown-up, but I was scared I wouldn’t be very good at it! I was comfortable having my parents carry those burdens for me, making decisions on my behalf. (If there were missteps, I never knew about them.) I had so much to learn. What if I was a lousy adult? A horrible wife?
What if I failed?
Of course, I did fail, plenty of times and at plenty of things. I learned, my Beloved learned, we went on. We began to grow up a bit more every single day. When our first child arrived, we took gigantic steps to grow up! (We never realized how selfish we both were until we had a helpless infant in our arms and understood she was completely dependent upon us!)
Thankfully, those days are behind us now. But we haven’t ceased growing up. I’m old enough now to understand growing up is something of a continuum. As a child, I guess I thought by now I would have attained. Instead, I recognize I’m just further down the path than when I was sixteen or twenty.
Back in January of 2012, I posted this poem, Sonnet For A New Year. The sonnet reflects something about my approach to the New Year in general. We move away from an old year with relief and sometimes regret. We move into a New Year with expectation and mystery. And every change of the calendar reminds us: everything old is new again.
In 2014, this is my wish that God may give you a Happy New Year and the rich blessings only he can bring!
Earlier this month, I neglected to acknowledge the birthday of Jane Austen who was born December 16, 1775. (Shame on me for overlooking her!)
As an English novelist, Austen’s name is a familiar one to almost everyone who enjoys period fiction. Though her books are usually categorized with the Romance genre, I think her books appeal to a wider range of readers. Further, both Austen and her books have held consistent appeal for film and television audiences (imdb.com has an overview).
Writing during a time when women generally achieved their social status and economic security through marrying well, Austen’s books relate the strict conventions that governed social interactions. The author’s astute observations provide keen insights and amusing situations for one’s reading and re-reading pleasure.
The reason? I had just purchased two Jane Austen books for my two-year-old granddaughter!
English professor Janine Barchas (University of Texas, Austin) writes in her guest post that this gift-giving season is (was) a perfect opportunity to make “… a holiday present of a Jane Austen novel to that budding (or confirmed) Janeite in your circle.” She displays in her post a splendid variety of book covers from different editions of Austen books.
Now, my granddaughter is only two − and while she’s bright, she is not yet reading − so I didn’t actually purchase any 200+ page Austen novels for her. Instead, in a moment of serendipity, I discovered the Cozy Classics, and I’m absolutely enthralled!
The Cozy Classics are a series of board books that a “budding (or confirmed) Janeite” from the under-five age group might enjoy. I don’t know that Professor Barchas anticipated Austen fans in that age group, but why not?
Our diminutive future book lover (we expect she will be, as the rest of us are) can achieve Jane Austen fan-status first by studying the full-color pictures presented on each page of her Cozy Classics editions.
These pictures are not highly-detailed, but still simply expressive and they combine with a one-word description (i.e. “friends” − twelve words in all for a single board book) by which the child can comprehend something of the scene depicted on the page. It’s an impressive creation … and I suspect, a fun way to introduce one’s children to classic literature long before their reading level would normally allow it. How I wish these had been available when my children were young! Developing their reading skills would have been a much more pleasant experience.
I thought it was interesting to read the reviews of these board books on the Amazon website. One comment puzzled me with the commenter noting:
What puzzles me is the suggestion “marry” is an “obvious exception” to the rule for using common words with board book aged readers. Perhaps I’m being too picky? Argumentative?
My personal philosophy (as a parent, grandparent and home educator for a decade) was to employ a reasonable vocabulary with my children (whatever their age at the time). While some words/concepts may be beyond their grasp initially, the context often expands their understanding. A child who doesn’t comprehend the full scope of “marry” (enough to explain the concept for your satisfaction) is still capable of understanding common connections in relationships.
Furthermore, in my view the best way to encourage a child’s growing and broadening vocabulary is to speak normally using words one would normally use instead of dumbing down conversation to the child’s level. Children want to learn. They’re like sponges, absorbing every droplet of knowledge. This is one way we teach them.
One final thing about Austen. I always think of her mostly through the lens of her fictional character, Emma. This novel portrays Emma Woodhouse as a well-meaning matchmaker whose scheming often goes awry. For all Emma’s contrivances, she eventually realizes Mr. Knightley has captured her affections and she his, leading to their happily-ever-after life together … in stereotypically perfect romantic fashion.
For Jane Austen, novelist, a perfect romantic ending only happened in the pages of her books. She died single in 1817 at the age of 41.
My recent posts discussing the perennial favorite, A Christmas Carol, got me to thinking about the oeuvre of its author.
Besides the incomparable Christmas novella of Charles Dickens (my previous posts begin here), other books by Dickens retain their reputation as “classics.” I can’t remember my first reading of A Tale of Two Cities, but I recall the impression it made on me.
The contrasts Dickens uses give us a glimpse into this dramatic period of history and upheaval. As the novel says in its opening paragraph, this era was “the best of times” and “the worst of times,” and with the French Reign of Terror as a backdrop, Dickens moves on from this initial description to lay out one of his bleakest narratives.
Dickens was of course closer to the actual events about which he wrote than we are today. His concern about the England of his day (and Dickens thinking there was a possibility England might be following down the same road of sorrow as the French experienced) may have factored into his intent for writing this novel. Whatever his reasoning, he created believable characters struggling through a nightmarish clash of ideologies and lawlessness. There are characters who display heroism and others deeply involved in evil. The book definitely portrays the entire human condition.
Besides the actual tale itself, knowing this story unfolded in installments has always intrigued me. In recent years, I’ve read several writers who suggest serialization is making a comeback. (Of course, if by serialization, these writers somehow equate installment fiction of old with the regularity of blog writing, my intrigue diminishes.) I remain hopeful − but skeptical − that a 21st century kind of serialization is possible; I’d like to see such ventures succeed. So far and to my disappointment, currently available episodic reading material (other than classics like a Dickens serial novel) has failed to engage me.
One of the other intriguing elements about A Tale of Two Citiesspecifically is a practice described in the novel: the art of tricoteuse. As a knitter myself, knitting is a creative endeavor I enjoy. The possible genealogical connection with German poet Der Stricker (weaver and knitter of tales, mentioned in this post) causes me to view all things knitting through a more personal lens. (I get positively territorial.)
Hence, the art of tricoteuse as depicted via the despicable fictional character of Madame Defarge bothers me. Defarge turns a positive creative expression (knitting) into a negative record of hate. Dickens shows how destructive and all-consuming Defarge’s drive for vengeance has tainted her “art.”
Tricoteuse also appears in another novel set during the same time period, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. The heroic main character, English nobleman Sir Percy Blakeney, employs various disguises (including the tricoteuse motif) in order to rescue French citizens condemned to a grisly death via the guillotine.
In Orczy’s novel, the fictional Blakeney’s portrayal of a tricoteuse seems less objectionable (to me) because Percy is saving people rather than cheering their deaths. Am I making a distinction without a difference here? (I’m open to other points of view.)
Whenever I’m knitting a piece, I often think about the fictional tricoteuse. What methods did these knitters use to craft enduring (and highly meaningful) pieces of art? I’ve read a variety of articles suggesting possible code patterns. I’ve even considered the way in which I would design a piece for this purpose, but I’ve never been entirely pleased with my final designs.
Perhaps that’s the mystery of tricoteuse: a pleasing result might be too easily deciphered. And then, what would be the point?
EveryChristmas is a merry one! Spending time with family members who − during the rest of the year − are scattered far and wide, provides us time to love on grandkids, to catch up on some of the challenges and joys and struggles of the past months, as well as to recall, to laugh and to cry about long-forgotten memories and shared history. We all end up exhausted, we eat too much but have trouble fitting dishes full of leftovers into the refrigerator. We down gallons of juice and soda pop and coffee and tea.
The grandchildren (seven of them between the ages of 2 and 10) stay up too late after playing hard all day. They argue with each other about toys and sometimes even break into childish scuffles (not a shrinking violet in the bunch). They pass back and forth through the kitchen claiming hunger, but rarely pause long enough at mealtime to finish what’s on their plates.
While the entire celebration can be wearying, the saddest sound is the silence that hangs heavily in the air once the door closes and everyone has packed into their cars to head home. Still, we go about our busy lives knowing next year we’ll enjoy more sweet days together, attempting to create precious memories for our grandchildren, just as our grandparents and parents did for us.
Like many families, however, we regretfully acknowledge an empty chair. I’ve written before in this blog about our absent son and brother (here and here) so I won’t rehash old ground now. Yet, no matter what family gathering takes place, we know we are not quite whole because of our loved one’s absence. I don’t write this to be gloomy. I’m quite aware of others whose situations are far more troublesome or tragic. And I’m buoyed by the comfort about which Proverbs 13:12 speaks: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
The artwork I’ve used in the background for this sonnet is a favorite painting of mine, produced by the master painter Rembrandt. The work is based on Luke 15:11-32, Jesus’parable of the prodigal son. Rembrandt’s painting reflects his heartfelt compassion for the subject. Of course, as Rembrandt well understood, this parable carries a deeper meaning beyond a family’s estrangement between its members.
When it comes to our Creator, he longs for all of us to return Home where our separation from him is resolved through the Christ of Christmas. There, at his feet, just as Rembrandt portrays in this painting, our forgiveness and reconciliation is certain and without reserve. A father and son share an embrace that declares past grievances moot … the momentous picture of desire fulfilled.
Scrooge has experienced a new understanding about himself during these night-time visits. He’s immediately aware when this last spirit appears that he will be shown things that maypotentiallyoccur. However, the dusky shroud of presence that appears to him is more fearful than either of the other apparitions. He feels “uncertain horror” when the “ghostly eyes” fix upon him.
At this point though, Scrooge seems more than eager to bear what is before him and to “do it with a thankful heart.” The tale that unfolds from here − without the apparition uttering a word − wholly transforms Scrooge. Before the wraith disappears, Scrooge begs: “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?”
Even if you’ve read it before, you won’t be disappointed to re-read the novella today. Once more, the question begs to be asked: what relevancy does A Christmas Carol hold for those of us living in the twenty-first century?
Charles Dickens was a brilliant man. Today (Christmas Eve) represents for us (as it did for Ebenezer Scrooge) our Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Not a second of Christmas Yet To Come so far has been written in stone. From Scrooge’s example, we’ve seen how Christmas Past and Christmas Present offer opportunities for selflessness in the Christmas Yet To Come.
How did Dickens portray the change in Ebenezer Scrooge? It was a complete reversal from Scrooge’s previous Humbug attitude. In Scrooge’s case, it meant adopting a spirit of generosity. It meant swallowing his pride for all the vileness he’d sown and shown to people around him. As Dickens reminds, he even learned to laugh again, and “… for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.” He learned to heartily embrace the words “Merry Christmas!”
Celebration of Christmas isn’t strictly a religious practice. It is that to be sure, yet I acknowledge there are many who celebrate the occasion without relating the day to faith. Likewise, A Christmas Carol doesn’t happen within a religious context, but it is still something of a morality tale. The central character is seeking salvation from the wretched life he’s known and when he realizes how despicable he’s been in the past, he’s eager to embrace transformation (another religious concept).
Just before the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come disappears, Scrooge grabs hold of the spirit’s spectral hand. Scrooge frantically declares:
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
The stone to which he refers is, of course, his own tombstone (notice the tombstone in the picture above). For me, Scrooge’s final plea to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come brings the entire seemingly non-religious tale into beautiful spiritual perspective.
“Tell me,” Scrooge implores. “Tell me.”
Yet Scrooge is surely old and wise enough to realize no matter how he changes his life, no matter how good he becomes − honoring Christmas in his heart and trying to keep it all year − the day will inexorably arrive when a death date is carved into his headstone.
The latter pages of the tale relate how Scrooge honors Christmas in his heart, but the real nugget of the story comes in Stave 2 (while The Ghost of Christmas Present is visiting) when Dickens refers to Christmas, saying: “… it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”
Interestingly, Jesus offered similar advice in the first verses of Matthew 18: “… unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
A Christmas Carol isn’t meant to be a religious tract, but Dickens and the Babe in the manger acknowledge the same language of love and reconciliation upon which Christmas is (once and for always) the capstone.
In yesterday’s post, I suggested all of us have similarities to Ebenezer Scrooge − we each have a Ghost of Christmas Past in the sense that our experiences have helped shape our character (or lack thereof) to some extent.
In A Christmas Carol, author Charles Dickens lays out (through the Ghost of Christmas Past) Scrooge’s earlier life and how his experiences engrained in him deep bitterness and hurt. Because Scrooge fed those feelings, he had become a terribly unpleasant and inconsiderate old man.
Again using the example of Scrooge’s night-time visiting spirits, we pivot here from Christmas Past to Christmas Present.
Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Present seems a dearer spirit, “a jolly Giant” dressed in a “green robe … bordered with white fur” and wearing on his head a “holly wreath” set with “shining icicles.”Christmas Present carries a torch that he uses to spread goodness and cheer wherever he goes. He also carries unpleasant knowledge (such as a potentially shortened life for Tiny Tim) that he only reveals to Scrooge in snippets.
So what makes the Ghost of Christmas Present so relevant for us today?
Christmas Present is today, this season in which we’re engaged (some of us more than others). This is our currency … thenow. There’s no bringing back Christmas Past. Each one in the past has vaporized to memory.
Plus, there’s no guarantee we’ll experience a Christmas Future (as Scrooge experienced the Ghost ofChristmas Yet to Come). Dropping dead before Christmas, dying on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, we probably all know someone who has experienced such sorrow. Dying before next Christmas may not be a pleasant thought, but it happens. (Forgive me please, if this brings up grievous memories for you!)
We only have today, this moment. I think Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Present tried to impress upon Scrooge the importance of making each moment count, and this ghost “lived” the perfect example. The once-vibrant spirit ages so quickly in the tale, Scrooge questions the sudden change. The Ghost tells Scrooge his life is “very brief,” in fact, the length of Christmas Day only.
If we look at our lives this way − making today count and living each day with the same gusto and vigor − the briefness of life becomes irrelevant. I was recently reminded of someone whose life epitomizes this truth.
The man’s name was William Borden, heir of the Borden milk-products family. He was born in 1887 and enjoyed all the advantages of wealth and privilege. While still a teenager, he made a momentous decision to become a missionary and he focused his life with this goal in mind. (Of course, this wasn’t his family’s goal for him; they wanted him to take over the family business.)
Borden entered college at Yale University, spent four years there and went on to Princeton Theological Seminary for three additional years. Friends were dismayed at Borden’s single-minded devotion to serve as a missionary; they considered he was “throwing his life away.” In contrast to this thinking, Borden continued to move forward. In his journal, he wrote: “Say ‘no’ to self, say ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”
While he was still attending seminary, he gave away his personal fortune. Inside the flyleaf of his Bible, Borden wrote the words: No Reserve.
After completing his education, job offers followed. He turned them down. Writing once more in his Bible, he added two new words: No Retreat.
Having chosen to serve as a missionary to China, Borden embarked on his voyage. Beforehand though, he received word his father was seriously ill. Instead of returning immediately to his father’s side, he continued on his journey. Another statement was added in his Bible: No Regrets.
But Borden never arrived in China to begin his ministry. He was in Cairo when he contracted meningitis and within a month the 25 year old had died. Did he (as some classmates suggested) throw his life away?
It’s true he never achieved his goal of being a missionary to China. Nevertheless, the accounts of the years before he set sail indicate he was already living a life in service to his Lord. He was living in the Present, doing what he believed God wanted him to do now, at each moment. Each activity into which he poured himself became an example to those who worked alongside. Newspapers far and wide carried the sad news of his death.
Borden’s short life conveys the urgency that the Ghost of Christmas Present taught to Ebenezer Scrooge. In thinking of gifts for loved ones, our presence is often our best present.
Humbug! may not be your knee-jerk response to greetings of Merry Christmas, though it appears to have been a typical Scrooge expression. Whether you celebrate Christmas in traditional fashion or you don’t celebrate it at all, it’s almost inevitable that one’s life experiences have parallels to Ebenezer Scrooge. Look back at your life. Am I correct?
Attending boarding school as a child, Scrooge experienced extended loneliness, feelings of abandonment, social and familial alienation. Those feelings brought lifelong scars. Later, as a young adult, his gruff personality already entrenched into selfishness, his fiancée walks away from their relationship. This appears to have been a crushing blow for quashing all tenderness in the aging Scrooge. When in the company of the Ghost of Christmas Past, he seethes with anger, underscoring the bitterness on which he’s fed for years.
Thinking of Christmas Past, the story of a young couple comes to mind. It’s a post-war era and families around the world are exchanging gifts and feeling enough of a distance from World War II to celebrate the hope of peace (though battling nations rarely lay down arms or hatred for long). Optimism is on the uptick. Housing is beginning to pick up, jobs are on the rise, and the Baby Boom is making history.
Still, this post-war era seems fraught with uncertainties: Mahatma Ghandi is murdered, tension between India and Pakistan threatens further escalation, the Soviets blockade West Berlin, South Africa institutes apartheid, Israel becomes an independent state. Earthquakes kill thousands. WWII is past, but peace seems desperately out of reach. (A perilous world similar to the days when Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem.)
Like Mary and Joseph, the story of this young couple centers on an impending childbirth. However, the similarities screech to a halt there. This young Gentile couple already have a son, born two years earlier and three days after Christmas. Now, they’re awaiting the birth of a second child who arrives late in the evening of Christmas Day.
Unlike the first Christmas parents, this couple has no divine instruction for naming their daughter. When they choose an unusual French name, their seemingly whimsical choice surely creates a stir. What’s wrong with Mary or Susan or Linda or Barbara (the popular names that year)? Does anyone cattily suggest the young father had a wartime French girlfriend of the same name?
No matter. The couple ignore idle talk, focusing instead that this child with the unusual name is their Christmas gift to each other. They suffer no illusions their child will save the world; they simply love, nurture and do what they can to provide a peaceful home life for her and her siblings. (Yes, four younger siblings arrive in the years that follow.)
This is of course myChristmas Past (and that of my parents). That unusual name Renée I wear today had the potential to be Michelle Renée (Daddy’s choice) but Mamma overruled and I became Renée Louise.
In contrast to Ebenezer Scrooge, the events of my early life thankfully didn’t draw me into bitterness and lost relationships.
Nevertheless, my naming definitely worked to frame my identity. Sharing the same (traditional) birthday as Jesus, I understood from an early age a desire to confirm a personal relationship with him. Then one day, I discovered my name’s meaning: reborn. That I am and when Christmas Day arrives each year, I’m mindful I share a birthday with the Savior, but one day I will be forever in his presence.
This, as the angel told the shepherds, is truly the “… good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”(Luke 2:8-11) Good news indeed!