On Christmas morning, among the gifts under our tree were 5 brightly hand-decorated envelopes. They were numbered with huge polka-dotted, striped, neon numbers and Glenn and I were told to open them in order. So, interspersed among our other gifts, we would stop and open one of the envelopes. It felt kind of like we were on “Let’s Make a Deal” and we were sort of wondering when we were going to get zonked, because Hannah, the 22 year old from whom we were receiving our instructions, is a notorious prankster.
But nothing was a zonk. The first envelope was a certificate to eat at a nice restaurant; in fact, a restaurant so nice that we would likely never have gone there without this gift card. A few minutes later we opened free passes to the movie of our choice. Then there was one that was a gift card from a store in the mall where the restaurant and the movie theater are located. Then a certificate to Maggie Moo’s for dessert. But envelope number five, opened at the end of our long family time around the tree was the one that made us both cry. It was the unexpected letter.
If you have the Lord’s blanket of providence wrapped around you as His faithful child, let me encourage you to write such a letter to whomever it is in your life that encouraged, prodded, corrected, and loved you enough to put the Lord’s Will in your heart. From experience I know it will be among the most cherished and meaningful gifts of a lifetime.
I should also say here that I debated a lot in my little brain about whether or not to post this, because Hannah said nice things about me. Let me offer two important disclaimers. The first is that her glowing portrait of her parents is exaggerated. She did not include the times when we made the wrong judgments, set poor examples, left undone eternally important things, or spoke harshly to those around us (and there were plenty of those times). Secondly, I think it’s important to notice that the things that “stuck” with her were not really the things that might seem so impressive at all. They were not largely sacrificial on our part from a material standpoint. They were not even big investments of our time or monumental episodes that changed her life. It’s important to note that most of the things she remembers were very small moments that passed by unnoticed at the time. They were just collections of small experiences that, with God’s help, came together to help shape, at least in her mind, who she is today. They were not remotely remarkable parental achievements. I think that’s why they struck so deeply some emotive artery in my heart. They are just memories. But God can take our feeblest efforts and grace them with His power in our lives and give us blessings we never dreamed possible.
Okay, enough, already. Here is our Christmas letter.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m twenty-two years old. When I graduated high school four years ago, I thought of it like a threshold into the rest of my life. The beginning of being grown-up. The end would be my death. Boy, was I mixed up. I’ve learned that life is a series of thresholds. Each one is filled with uncertainty and fear of the unknown horizons awaiting me. I’m about to cross a brand new threshold into post-grad life, whatever that is. As you know, I’ve been doing a whole lot of thinking and praying about where I’m going when I leave this place. I’m still unsure about a lot, but I’m so thankful when I remember that, whatever I decide, I have your support 100%. The other day, Dad reminded me that since I was a little girl, Dad told me that I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up (even if that meant working at McDonalds so I could “play in the playland whenever I want”), as long as I remained a faithful Christian. I hope you know you have nothing to worry about. Regardless of where I go from here, I have no intentions of leaving my first Love—not now—not ever.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I suppose I should talk about a few concepts I gleaned from Dr. Mark’s class. I really didn’t know what to expect out of a class called “Death and Dying,” but it turned out to be a class I looked forward to every Tuesday and Thursday because on most days, it was simply a reminder to slow down, learn to laugh at whatever circumstances in which you find yourself, look into the eyes of the people you love, remind them you love them, and live each day as if it were your last. I often thought about you during class whenever Dr. Mark or members of the class would talk about their families and upbringings.
The day that shook me the most was when Dr. Mark had a lady come in and talk about how she lost her entire family—a husband and two children—in an automobile accident. She showed us pictures of her late family members, the wreck itself, and the funeral. It was one of those reminders of life’s fragility that you’re just not prepared for when it hits you. I cried during the class and my mind kept creeping back to those pictures throughout the day. The very last pictures I wanted to look at were the ones I couldn’t take my eyes off of. This woman had real feelings–Hopes that if the chicken pox struck members of her family, they could all get it over with at once. Fears that her little girl’s first date would come before Mom and Dad felt emotionally ready for it. Dreams that both her children get accepted into the schools they want and grow up to be whatever they’ve always wanted to be. She was the queen of her home, making up fun traditions that the whole family enjoyed, preparing her children’s favorite dishes for dinner sometimes, playing taxi-driver to soccer practice and piano lessons, kissing her husband goodnight at the end of every happy, eventful day. And then in just a moment, none of that existed anymore. Her world was shattered.
I sat there and thought about my own life and how shaken my world would be if I lost my immediate family today. The realization of the void I would likely feel for the rest of my life hit me like a slap in the face. The thought of losing you two and Caleb made me appreciate afresh just how much it means to have you guys in my life—to have you in my corner at all times and to know that there are people in the world who will always love me and understand me. That day, I felt the need to call you periodically just to make sure you’re okay. For a couple of days after that class, it was a relief every time I heard your familiar voices.
One thing Dr. Mark emphasized was that when someone dies, the memories you’ve made with that person shouldn’t die with him. You should keep that person alive in your heart by remembering all the good things you possibly can about him. For the remainder of my letter, I’d like to provide you a list of a few things I would want to remember about the two of you, should God decide to take you today (These are in no particular order—remember, order is not my greatest trait today):
* “Dancing” with Dad in public (the Bathroom Dance especially)
* Mom’s caramel popcorn balls every Christmas
* Dad’s preaching (still my favorite—who cares if I’m biased)
* Mom carrying 18 things to church with her every Sunday to hand out to someone who might need a friend, a pick-me-up for the bereaved or depressed, a spiritual tool for a babe in Christ, a celebration treat for someone who’s successfully gone 30 days without smoking or drinking, or something to help nurse someone to back to health.
* The way Dad used to wake me up in the mornings: Turning on Frank Sinatra and tracing my face until I gradually woke up.
* Mom’s Bible trivia games for me and Caleb
* The games Dad and I played, including trying to run each other into poles and garbage cans.
* Mom’s brilliant ability to write HH songs in a matter of seconds. Everything I learned in elementary school was because Mom could make up a song to help me remember it. Even in college, I still make up songs in my head thanks to Mom.
* Those moments when no one else at the table was laughing, but Dad and I were laughing hysterically, tears streaming down the corners of our eyes. Dad could make me laugh any time he wanted (even when I was in the hospital with pneumonia and he ordered me pizza and cracked jokes until I could not help but laugh).
* The ways Mom taught me how to be a girl—pantyhose (wretched things), make-up, hair tips, even feminine products.
* Dad’s Valentines to me.
* The way Mom would make the interior of our house like a wonderland every holiday.
* I might SOMETIMES miss the way Dad would try to embarrass me while I was on dates with guys. Okay, probably not. Not sure why I said that.
* The way Mom would invest a million bajillion hours to be in the community theater plays with me and Caleb while we were growing up.
* The way that every time I called Dad and asked if he was busy, he would answer, “Never too busy for you.”
* The way Mom would remember every little thing about me…everything I liked and disliked, all of my interests, all of my new discoveries and curiosities—she knew them better than she knew her own.
* The way Dad would drop everything he was doing to talk about the Bible with me when I wanted to understand something more fully.
* The way Mom would “beg on” Dad for us whenever Caleb and I really wanted something (like a Frosty from Wendy’s after church).
* The way Mom looked for the friendless and somehow always made them feel wanted. She listened to them and always made them feel important, with heaven as her primary focus in every relationship she had.
* Dad sitting in the “rock box” for hours playing the prettiest rock game with me.
* Traveling overseas with Mom to share the gospel with poverty-stricken people hungry for truth and someone to show them a pathway to hope and a feeling of belonging. I’ll never forget the way I felt sharing Jesus with people living in huts in Jamaica. Mom is the reason I got to do that.
* Dad’s consistent logic and reason when I felt like the world was completely unreasonable.
* Mother-Daughter nights when Mom would set everything aside just to get to know her daughter better during my crazy adolescent years.
* The way Dad would wash my car and check my oil without me ever asking him to do it.
* The way Mom would leave presents on the garbage cans outside for the garbage men.
* Unconditional love.
As I’ve exceeded my 5-page limit, I should probably stop there. I love you both more than I know how to say. I’m sorry I haven’t always showed that to you. Together, you are my rock and my constant. If I can be half the parent either one of you were to me, my children will be blessed. I don’t want to lose either one of you for many, many years. But if I lose you tomorrow of if I lose you when you’re both in your 90’s, I’ll still remember this list of things, and many other lists that would never fit in a 5-page limit.
P.S. Hope you have fun on your date!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!