Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Lesson for Christmas

A Lesson for Christmas

            Christmas.  Some say Merry Christmas, those who feel they must say it politically correct, say Happy Holidays.  Whichever way you feel obligated to wish one a merry Christmas, most everyone will agree that the holidays that surround what has been called Christmas, is a time of joy and excitement.  Families become closer. They will set aside a few days and sometimes travel long distances to spend time with those they do not see on a regular basis.  Friends will give much thought to acquiring the perfect gift to give, attempting to capture the feelings the meaning of their close friendship.
            Children revel in the idea that Santa Claus is making his list, checking it twice, and trying to find out who’s naughty or nice.  The children dreaming of that special bicycle, bat and glove or special little doll that will make their Christmas complete. 
            The holidays gives one a time to reflect on Christmas’ past.  Some of the most memorable moments of childhood, parenthood, and being a grandparent occur during this special season.  So it is only fitting that on this particular holiday, I too reflect, remembering a Christmas twenty three years past and think about that Christmas when I learned a very important lesson.
            My wife, Rhonda, my daughter, Haley, and I went as usual to our church’s Wednesday night supper.  It was only a couple weeks before Christmas and there was to be some special music performed for the holiday season after supper.  There was a festive feel. Everyone wore their favorite Christmas sweaters and the children were bouncing off the walls with anticipation having heard that Santa was to make his appearance.
            It was an evening that was much like thousands of others across the globe. It was the season of Joy.
            After the dinner and the special music, Santa did make his appearance.  He let each child sit on his knee and explain to him exactly what they wanted for Christmas.  The parents watched with smiles on their faces as each child pleaded their case.  Santa assured each child that if they were good, he would attempt to bring them what they desired.
            Santa left with a big Ho…Ho….Ho, and the parents helped clean up the tables and put away the chairs as the children played. 
            My daughter at the time was about three years old and as we drove through the neighborhoods returning home, she was mesmerized by the display of Christmas decorations that adorned most every house.  There were some houses that had huge lawn displays.  Large inflatable Santa’s, and snowmen.  There were wood cut-outs of Rudolph and houses draped in a multitude of lights.  Christmas trees glowed in the front windows, covered with silver and gold tinsel. 
            As we drove slowly through the neighborhood, we came across a house that was decorated rather simply.  The house was not draped in lights and there was no inflatable Santa’s.  There were a few single candles that glowed from each window, but no Christmas tree was visible.  There was a small, manger scene displayed in front of the house.  It was softly lit, giving it a humbling ambience.  I questioned Haley, my daughter, “Do you know what that is?” And I slowed even more and pointed toward the small discreet manger scene.
            Without hesitation she responded, “That’s baby Jesus in the manger.”
            I was surprised she knew this.  I knew I had never told her the story of Jesus and I glanced at my wife and she too seemed surprised.  I questioned Haley again, “Do you know who Jesus’ mother was?”
            Again without hesitation she said, “Mary.”
            “And Jesus’ father, what was his name?”
            She answered, “Joseph.”
            Both my wife and I was pleased that she knew this but we both were surprised.  This was our only child and neither of us had any experience with children before Haley was born. We had assumed that most everything a child learns, at least in early childhood, was taught by the parents.  We had not intentionally withheld the story of Jesus, we were simply waiting for her to reach the age where she would comprehend. I took the opportunity to briefly explain the story of Jesus as we completed our ride home, but somehow I felt as though Haley was not hearing it for the first time.
            Back home, after putting Haley to bed, I questioned my wife about where she thought Haley may have learned the story of baby Jesus.  She could only assume that it was taught in day care or Sunday school. 
            I went to bed that night realizing that for the rest of my daughter’s life, I would not be the only influence in her life.  There would be others that would teach her lessons.  They would teach her values and how to be responsible.  There would be others than myself that would mold her into the person she was to be. Why I assumed I would be the only one responsible for this I’ll never know. 
            It did give me a peace of mind, knowing that I was not the only one responsible for teaching these things to our daughter, but I also realized that there may be some that would attempt to influence and teach her in a negative way and this concerned me. 
            I think it is those fears of possible negative influence that motivate some parents to home school.  This allows the parent to censor what they feel is harmful or detrimental to their child’s development. I can see both sides of the argument.  On one hand, if you decide to take complete control of the influences on your child, then you become solely responsible as well.  On the other hand if you use diligence and allow your child to experience the lessons from others, then they may learn more and possibly quicker from someone who is more experienced in the teaching or parenting arena.  Regardless which may be the best way, I never really felt I had an option.  My daughter taught me that night that there would always be others that would influence and teach her.  A lesson learned.
            A year later, there was another lesson learned.  Similar but different.  My wife and I once again had gone to pick Haley up at day care.  Haley enjoyed her days at day care and developed many friendships, during those days, which she still enjoys twenty-three years later.  It was a Christian daycare.  We attended church, Sunday school and of course Wednesday night suppers at the same church where Haley spent her days in their care.  We felt comfortable knowing Haley was being taught and influenced by people we worshiped with on a weekly basis and somehow the fear I had at one time of the possibility of negative teachings seemed to fade.
            My wife and I entered the room where the children were playing enthusiastically, and we both spotted Haley right away.  She was playing with two other little girls, laughing and having a good time and unaware that we were there.  The teacher called Haley by name and said to her, “Haley….your momma and daddy are here for you.”
            Haley came running to our side, giving us both a hug and a big smile.  We were gathering her things preparing to leave when the teacher hesitantly said, “Ms. Morgan….Mr. Morgan….I am sorry to say that Haley said a bad word today.”
            I didn’t know how to respond.  I did not know if I should ask what she said or ask for any details, but fortunately I didn’t have to think about it for long, because almost immediately my wife asked, “What did she say?”
            The teacher glanced around her, to make sure there were no other children, or for that matter, other adults around, and realizing that it was only me, my wife and Haley, who apparently already knew the word, said almost embarrassingly, “She said Shit.”  
            The word had not left the teachers tongue before Rhonda had knelt in front of Haley and very sternly scolded her.  Telling her she should never say that word.  It was a naughty word.  My wife asked, “Haley…..where did you hear that word?”
            At that moment I realized that the word in question was probably the most used word in my vocabulary.  I never said it in a profane way.  From the earliest time I can remember it was a word that seemed to adequately and sometimes accurately describe a particular situation or particular condition.  It could be used as a verb, a noun, an adjective or an adverb and convey with just four letters exactly what I was trying to describe.  I didn’t describe my car as simply an old car, my car was old as shit.  My car didn’t run bad, it ran like shit. Last night’s supper wasn’t bad left overs, it tasted like shit. All of a sudden, once my wife questioned Haley as to where she might have heard that word, I knew I was in a world of shit!”
            Haley did not answer right away.  Both the teacher and Rhonda waited patiently for Haley to name the guilty party. My mind raced, attempting to prepare my defense, and I suddenly felt feverish as I expected my daughter to point at me and say, “Daddy.” I wanted to hide.  My wife questioned again, “Haley….where did you hear that word.”
            Haley looked across the room and pointed meekly at one of the other little girls she had been playing with and said, “Caitlyn……Caitlyn told me that word.  I Sorry Mommy.”
            My wife hugged her and explained to her once again that she should never say that word. We gathered our daughter’s things and hurried out the door to head home. 
            Once in the car, I admitted to my wife that when she asked Haley where she might have heard that word, that I was afraid she was about to say it was me.
            Rhonda smiled and said, “Yeah…I figured she was about to call you out myself.”
            That was the next lesson I learned.  Yes, there will be negative influences and teachings on your child’s life.  Some of those negative influences, bad teachings, might be simply poor habits you as a parent had acquired, and as the age old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
            It seems odd to me that from the moment my daughter was born, I felt an extreme responsibility to raise her the best way I knew how.  Teaching her the joys, the sorrows, the ins and outs of life.  It is strange that in just these two short lessons of Christmas, I was taught some lessons of life by my daughter.
            I realized later that night, that I would have to improve my vocabulary. I realized that I welcomed, even more now, the assistance of others to adequately teach my daughter and help her to become the person I wanted her to be.  I also realized that there had to be a certain amount of faith and trust, in allowing others access to influence and help mold the daughter I so loved.
            The answer came to me slowly that night as I thought about the events of the day and thought back to that very first Christmas lesson.  I would put my trust in that little lesson Haley taught me that Christmas a year before.
             I felt at ease that night as I realized that even though I still had a tremendous amount of responsibility in raising my daughter, I knew I would not be doing it alone.  I had my wife, countless friends, trained teachers, and baby Jesus to help.   


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mother's Best Friend (Mother's Day 2013)

 Mother’s Best Friend


          I woke with tear filled eyes.  The room was still dark, implying it was still in the middle of the night.  The soft, fluorescent glow of the digital clock on the night stand cast an eerie glow throughout the room, augmenting the strange emptiness I felt.  I was confused as to the terrible sadness I was feeling.  I lay there in the darkened room, weeping, attempting to smother the sobs of sadness within the folds my pillow.

                        It must be just before sunrise.  The birds always began their songs a few minutes before the sun peeked over the horizon, and I heard the first melody being sung outside my bedroom window. I was not concerned of the time.  I was concerned about me and the sadness I was feeling.

            I could not even begin to describe the sadness I felt.  It was a combination of feelings.  Feelings of guilt, regret, sorrow and loss.  Even though the sadness was indescribable by me, I did understand the reason.

            It was May 12th, Mother’s Day. 

            In years past I would wake on this day, excited, anxious, and happy to be able to spend some time or at least some conversation with my mother.  Even though I never needed an excuse to call my mom, it was this day that there was an understanding between the two of us. It was a day that we shared a few laughs, a few tears and generally some heart felt emotions.  Sometimes it may be the whole day, sometimes a few minutes on the phone, but this day was set aside for me to express my love and gratitude for her. It was a day that was special for her and for me as well. 

            The conversations were always easy on this day. We would reminisce, laugh, and share what had always made us happy as mother and son.  I would tell her how much she had meant to me and always end by simply saying, “I love you mom.”

            She would always answer, “I love you too Jeff.”

            That’s why I felt so depressed.  My mother had passed away a year prior. I had an urge to call her… tell her once more how much she meant to me.  To tell her one last time….. “I love you mom,” but that would not happen today.

            I realize that it’s normal to feel the grief of the loss of a loved one, but this was different.  I felt regretful. I was feeling as if I had left too much unsaid.   

            I lay there in bed, in the dark filled room and tried to calm my emotions.  The birds began their singing in earnest and a few minutes later, the sun crept over the horizon. Sun rays bent their way through the thin slats of the blinds, painting horizontal amber stripes on the bedroom walls.  I was hoping with the light of day, my emotions would ease, but the tears continued.

            I wrestled with my emotions.  I tried to rationalize that the grief I felt was normal, but even though the grief of the loss was bad, it was the regrets that had me in a turmoil.

An hour or two went by, and the sadness had not assuaged, I decided what I must do.  I would do the next best thing to talking with my mom.  I would talk with my mom’s best friend. 

            Mom’s best friend had been with my mother most of her life.  They were the best of friends.  It was a friendship built on respect, love and most of all dedication.  My mother had always felt she could tell her friend anything and not be judged unfairly.

            I was hoping that mom’s friend could ease some of the sorrow and regrets that I had.  I’m sure mom would appreciate, me taking the time and making the effort to talk with the friend that she had loved so dearly.

            I waited later in the morning before attempting to talk with mom’s friend.  Would her friend remember me; wonder and say…why do you show up now? 

            “Hey…..this is Jeff…….Jeff Morgan….. Garnet’s son.” I said realizing the friend might not know who I was.

            “Hi Jeff…..I know who you are……How are you?”

            “Fine…I paused trying to collect my thoughts and the words…...Just thinking about Mom…..Mother’s Day and all……I thought it would be nice to talk with someone that had meant so much to her.” I said this and then realized how desperate I sounded.

            “I know….. I was just thinking of her myself.  How have you been?”

            “Alright I guess….….. I miss her though.” I said and sighed.

            “Yes…..I know…….I miss her too.”

            There was a pause as if we were both waiting for the other to continue. I sensed my mother’s friend was waiting…..not because there was nothing to be said but was waiting for me to say what needed to be said. The friend appeared to receive my reaching out with blessedness. There was not a hint of surprise that I was there to talk. It was almost as if I had been expected.

            “I loved her.” I said and began to tear once again.

            “I did as well.”                                                                                            

            “She loved you so much.  You meant everything to her.” I said, stammering a little as I said it.

“She loved you too…..more than you will ever know.” The friend said with more sympathy than one could imagine.

“I miss her.” I said and waited.

“I do as well….but……….the memories……..they’re still there…….right?”

“Yes.” I said and then began to sob uncontrollably.

“She misses you too….I’m sure…..and she would not want you to worry……”

“I just don’t feel like she knew how much… much I appreciated her.”

“She did!  You just didn’t know it.”

“I feel so bad that I didn’t tell her… you and her always seemed to know each other so well that for the most part….nothing had to be said….it was understood.  I feel I just left too much unsaid.”

Her friend sighed and said, “The heart speaks louder than you think.”

Again there was a silence as we both digested all that had been said.  It was a comfortable silence, as if we both respected each other’s ability to sort through the emotions 

I spoke first….almost meekly….but it had been bothering me. “I was always somewhat jealous of you.”

There was a chuckle then an exclamatory, “Of me? Oh my” and another voiced smile.

I felt a little embarrassed I even brought it up…but truth be known….yes I was a little jealous.

I began to try to explain, “Mom would tell me about you…..the conversations..... the trust…the faith in each other.  I just never felt like I achieved that with her.”

“She had faith in you…..she trusted you.” The friend said with assurance.

“How do you know?” I said and waited, hoping the friend had an answer.

“Because she told ME.” The friend said indisputably.

            “But I didn’t spend the time I should have…..I feel like I ignored her in some ways, especially as I got older.  I feel guilty because there were times…..and I hesitated, almost unwilling to admit…..that I felt she was a bother.” and again I broke down crying, more out of shame than anything else.       

            “No one ever has enough time to spend with the ones they love…..mainly because as we grow older…..we love more and more people.  That’s life.  It’s like trying to read all the classics in a library. They’re thousands. You pick and choose….and read a few…..hopefully….you enjoy.  You chose the best you could.  No one judges.  Especially your mom.  She did love you.” The friend said with a smile.

            I thought about what mom’s friend had just said and I wished I could accept it.   I realized that even though I at times made excuses because I did not want to be bothered with mom, I knew I loved her and I knew she loved me, and all the excuses…..the times I was too busy…..too wrapped up in my on family to spend time with her……maybe it was normal. “I could have done more.” I said and bowed my head in disappointment.

            “Jeff……..don’t ever believe that you can earn someone’s love.  Love is a gift.  Love is something someone feels toward another because it’s what’s in their heart.  It’s that spark of emotion that kindles a warmth within and it’s that warmth……the love….. that is simply shared. Gifts, favors, and even time are just tokens……..tokens that attempt to express the love felt.  Understand that these tokens of love are not for the one you love……they are for you. They make you feel better about yourself……It’s simply your attempt to prove you’re caring to yourself. Probably the best way to show someone you love them…….is to simply say…… I love you.” 

            I thought once again about what had been said, and I began to understand, “but….mom….and you……were together a lot….She could always count on you and you could always count on her. Were those just tokens?

            “Oh no……….no those were not tokens……..that’s respect. Respect and faith in each other.  Your mom could count on me because she had faith in me. I on the other hand could count on her because I had faith in her. She knew that when she was troubled…..a problem or whatever….that she could come to me because she had faith in me.  She knew that I would tell her what was right and not necessarily what she wanted to hear. She had enough faith and respect in me to know I would be honest. Respect……faith…….they’re no doubt associated with the love one feels for someone but the love is not dependent on them.  You can love someone and have very little respect or faith in them and keep in mind……that respect and faith have nothing to do with the tokens…….tokens such as time.

            I began to understand what the friend was saying and my emotions began to ease.  There was a tone of conviction in the friend’s words that made it hard to argue or to doubt.

            I thanked the friend for the conversation; that I appreciated the friend being there for my mother all those years, and for me as well. I left feeling relieved, the sorrow lessened, the guilt and regret silenced, and felt the warmth, the spark of love from my mother.

            It had been an enlightening conversation.  It had eased the sorrow, and diminished the guilt and regretful feelings that had consumed me earlier. I understood why the friend had been so important to my mother.  The friend was understanding, non-judgmental, and compassionate. 

            My mom had always been extremely religious and spiritual. She found a peace within her faith that had always impressed me.  I was raised in the church, read the bible regularly, and tried to live my life as a good Christian, but I never felt I had developed the faith, the relationship with God as my mother had.  I often questioned my mother about this. She would smile and say that I had to learn to open my heart, have faith, and develop the relationship….the relationship with God.  She would describe her conversations with God as if they were two friends, sitting over two cups of coffee, discussing the day’s events.

            Today I too had that conversation.  I spoke with her best friend……God.