Sunday, December 25, 2016

Put your hands in the air like you do care

Christmas Eve, 2016.  Vicksburg.

Kathe and I went to the candelight service at the church we have been attending.  It was a packed house, and we stood against the back wall.  Several people made moves to allow us to sit together, and we shoehorned our way between the end of the back pew and a lovely couple from Colorado Springs, who had just arrived on the steamboat between New Orleans and Vicksburg.

The service was lovely.  There were kids everywhere, and the joyous laughter rang out throughout the service.  There was no shushing, there was no embarrassment that the kids were not sitting silently.  And there certainly were no trips outside, with the stern promise of a more severe spanking when we get home.

But I digress.

There was lots of beautiful music - organ, violin, solo, piano.  The old, familiar carols.  The children's choir, singing one I did not know.  Then a  children's sermon, with fifty children all joined at the front of the sanctuary.

And then Sharon Penley got up to sing.

Sharon is our choir director, and she has a passion about music that is very nearly unrivaled.  When we first spoke, she told me that when she sings, it is like she gets transported to heaven.  And when she directs the choir, it is like bringing her best friends to go there with her.

I believe her.  She is amazing, and lets us be amazing with her.

She has a beautiful, powerful mezzo soprano voice.  And when she stood up, and the organist began the opening arpeggio of O Holy Night, I got excited.  This was going to be special.

It was.

I closed my eyes, savoring the beauty of the full sound, all the way back in the back of a church designed for acoustics.  And just after Sharon got to "Fall on your knees. Oh! Hear the angel voices" I got a nudge from Kathe.  I opened my eyes and looked at where she was indicating, and saw the most amazing scene.

About six rows up, there was a darling little girl - maybe 18 months.  We had admired her earlier during the children's message - how beautiful and well behaved she was.

When Sharon's voice reached its powerful crescendo, this tiny girl stood up in her mother's lap, and reached her hands to the sky, as if to make herself bigger so she could hear the notes better.  Her entire little body became an antenna for the sound Sharon was making, and this child was giving it back with every thing she had. Hands up in the air, then clasping them together as if to hold on to the sound, keeping it from escaping.

Oh night when Christ as born.  Oh, night divine.  Oh, holy night.

Without question, it was.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Two Days and a Wake-Up

Counting down to Christmas was always fun.  Mom would come in and say, "Only ten more days and a wake-up until Christmas morning!"

Nine more days and a wake-up.

Eight more days and a wake-up.

With each day, the anticipation would build just a bit more, culminating in a fever pitch on Christmas Eve. The 23rd was Grandmama's birthday party at Charlie's Steak House, with the most incredible steak in existence, followed by a single sample of Dad's annual gift (the 23rd was his birthday, too) of a box of Andes chocolate mints.  And polished off with the free Tootsie Roll at the door.  The 24th was Christmas Eve party at Grandmama's house.  All of the sugar and candy imaginable, and the first salvo of opened presents.

Then the ride home, where we would watch out the window for any chance sighting of Santa.

Finally, the glorious wake-up.

The countdowns are fewer these days, with more stress piling up as I strike through items on my ever-expanding list.

Present for wife, check.
Rake the leaves that fell since I last raked, check.  Kinda.
Plants on the porch for the winter, check.
Visqueen up on porch to help protect plants (especially important with the coming 70 degree temperatures), check.
Report draft, check.

The countdowns are now about getting things done before, rather than looking forward to something with anticipation.  Work lists that are getting ticked off, gift lists that are getting ticked off, me getting ticked off, and the countdown to a Merry Christmas just seems to lack some of the anticipation of days of yore.


But this year, my sister and my mom are coming to spend Christmas at my house.  They are flying on Christmas day, and will be arriving in Jackson around noon.  I then get a week of showing them around my town, doing all of the things I love.  Things that usually get put off, because I am making these lists, and checking the items off.  Sometimes twice (those thrice-blasted leaves!)

And I have found myself excited for Christmas.  Looking forward with great anticipation for the time when at least part of my family is together.  Counting down the days.

Texting my sister each morning, "Three more days and a wake-up."  And today:

"Two more days and a wake-up."

May your Christmas be filled with the love of family, and the joy of advent.  The excitement and anticipation of the arrival of the babe in a manger.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

You Gotta Squint to See Better

A year ago, I had traveled to central Massachusetts to attend a conference for work, and when it was over, stayed an extra day to visit with my sister.

While I was there, she had her Christmas tree delivered.  It was a lovely spruce tree, and it immediately made the room smell divine.  Later that evening, she began a slow waltz of placing lights on the tree, stepping back, then stepping in again to adjust, and then placing the next swoop of lights.

Confession:  I have never enjoyed the decorating part.  I love having the tree, but the act of decorating has never given me joy.  But I love my sister, and so I helped.

My helping normally involves handing the lights around the back of the tree, and then pulling the slack.  The idea of adjusting is so foreign to me that it had to be explained.

The real trick, explained Caroline, is to squint.  If you step back for a second and squint your eyes almost shut, you can see the areas of the tree that are still dark. Then you can adjust the lights to fill that void.
Tree by James Wade


"Try it", she said.

Now my family has a long history of telling one another stories with the sole purpose of making the victim do something and look ridiculous, so that we can mock them.  It was definitely not out of the realm of possibility that I was being set up.  But I was also curious, so I tried it.

And I gasped.  "Are you kidding me?  Where did you learn that?"