Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gate of the Year

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!' "

When I graduated from high school in 1975, the Concert Choir, of which I was a part, sang this at the graduation ceremony. Through the years, from time to time, the words have come back to me.

This morning, as I was thinking about the new year and what it holds, these words came to my mind. It has been a long time since I've thought about them.

That brought to mind another song. An old gospel song that I remember hearing my grandmother sing in her beautiful alto voice when I was a child:

I don't know about tomorrow,

I just live from day to day.

I don't borrow from its sunshine

'Cause the skies may turn to grey.

I don't worry o'er the future,

'Cause I know what Jesus said,

And today I'll walk beside him

'Cause He knows what lies ahead.

Many things about tomorrow

I don't seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow,

And I know who holds my hand.

I can still hear her voice singing those words as she went about her daily housework.

As I was thinking about the uncertainty and turmoil in our world today, I thought about my grandmother's life. About the things she went through.

The man she loved and who she would eventually marry went off and fought in the battlefields of France in World War I. She raised her family during the Great Depression. Her only son went off and served in WWII. She was widowed at the age of 54. She battled cancer and won not once, but twice. All that and the other ups and downs of life. I'm sure she faced things I never knew about.

But she knew what to do during all those tough times. "Hold to God's unchanging hand." I learned that at her knee. And at the knee of my mother who faced her own battles with the same fortitude. Prayer. Holding on. I woke up in the morning to the sound of my mother's voice praying. She knelt beside the old floor furnace in the hall outside my bedroom as she cried out to God before she went off to work in the early morning.

My life has been far, far easier than the lives of my mother or my grandmother. I believe it's largely due to their prayers. They built up a memorial of prayer for my brother and me. I'm eating from vineyards I didn't plant and drinking from wells I didn't dig.

Still, I have my own challenges. And the world I live in can be a frightening place. Terror. War. Disease. Economic uncertainty.

But, I know what to do. As we step through the gate into the year of 2009, I'm keeping my hand in His. "I know who holds tomorrow. And I know who holds my hand. "

As a footnote to this post, I would like to add that according to Wikipedia, the song I quoted at the beginning is part of a poem, "The Gate of the Year."

"This poem was written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins, an American lecturer at the London School of Economics, who wrote as a hobby. It was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth the late Queen Mother, who showed it to her husband King George VI. He included it in his famous Christmas message broadcast in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. After the King's death the Queen Mother had it engraved on bronze plaques on the entrance to the King George VI Memorial Chapel, Windsor, where both are now interred. It was also read at the funeral service of the Queen Mother."

Interesting bit of history isn't it?

And now from the Z's:
Happy New Year! May God's richest blessings be yours in 2009!

Monopoly Champ

We spent Christmas Day at the farm. Some things remained the same. Tim, John, and Nick went for a walk.

We cooked up yummy stuff and ate - way too much.
Here's Tim making Eggnog Cinnamon-Raisin French Toast with John assisting, umm, observing him.

Nick was curious and didn't want to be left out of anything.

"Where did Tim go? What does he think he's doing, leaving me behind?"

"Hey ya'll! [ Nick is a southern dog :) ] "Don't forget about me. I want some of that good-smellin' food. It's Christmas, for Pete's sake."

But something was different, and I didn't like it. Not one bit.

We have long-standing tradition of playing Monopoly on Christmas night. And John ALWAYS wins. I NEVER win. Okay, I know those are generalities. But, for the most part, they're true. Maybe Tim has won a time or two. And I think maybe I won once - about 10 years ago.

It is a rowdy, loud, boisterous occasion. Tim and I are first-borns, John is an only, and I think partly as a result of that, we are all highly competitive. It gets crazy. Lots of jive-talkin'. And, Tim. Now, we have to watch him. Because, he likes to cheat. In the real world, you will never find a more ethical man. But when it comes to games, he thinks it's part of the fun. I'm "Little Miss Rule-Follower," and John and Tim tease me because I keep the rules handy, refer to them, and read them aloud whenever I think someone, umm, Tim, is getting off track.

This year, I knew my time had come. I just had this feeling. I was gonna win. I knew it. I kept telling John I was gonna "whup" him this year. And you know what he did? He went to sleep on the sofa by the fire. And wouldn't get up. Tim and I tried to drag him out and make him play. But, he would not budge. Wimped out on me. Cause he knew I was gonna "whup" him this year.

So, by reason of default, I hereby declare myself the "Monopoly Champion for 2008."

Hmmm. It's just not the same as winning after playing a rip-roaring game. I feel cheated.

Monopoly anyone? I hear there's a new version out: "Monopoly Here and Now, World Edition."
You may have heard of it. Or even played it. You use a debit card - imagine that! What's this world coming to?

I thing I'm going out to get it today and challenge Tim to a game tomorrow, New Year's Day. I want to start the new year off right :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Office Christmas Party

Our annual office Christmas party was at John's house this year. Someone remarked that it was the smallest group we've ever had. Several people couldn't make it this year, but what we lacked in number, we sure made up for in fun!

First, we ate. Of course! Two Sisters Catering provided the feast, and a feast it was!

Then we played games. The girls played "Catchphrase."

We girls are definitely verbal :)

The guys played ping-pong.

Here's the two Tims in action.
Then we played "Dirty Santa."

Then we sat around and watched Jimbo do impersonations.
He had us rolling!

Here he is impersonating my husband. You'd just have to see it. And know Tim. Jimbo has Tim down pat.

If you know Jimbo, ask him to do an impersonation for you. Tell him I sent you :)

He'll make you laugh.

Then, of course, we ate some more.
The guys played more ping-pong.

Hamming it up. (Can you see the ball in the air?)

And we girls sat and talked some more. We girls are definitely verbal :)

Christmas Pictures Through the Years (Part 2)

This is a Christmas picture I especially treasure. My mother loved to gather her three grandchildren around the piano at Mark and Kim's house and sing Christmas carols. I think this is such a sweet picture of Natalie, who is singing her little heart out. Brock, too is singing along. But John, oh John, he was not at all happy about singing that night. I think early adolescence was rearing its head. This was made in 1994, shortly before his eleventh birthday.

He looked a lot happier about eating with his cousins. Come to think of it, he still looks this way any time food is mentioned. :)

In 1995, we, along with Mother, got Natalie her first American Girl doll, Samantha. I don't know who was more excited, Natalie or me.

"Aunt Susan, I have a secret." Lots of secrets before we opened our packages. Oh, the suspense!
Christmas is truly a wondrous time of year, but it is never more magical than when seen through the eyes of a child.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Pictures Through the Years

Growing up, our Christmas tree stayed up until New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. And, here in the Little Rock area, I still feel like it's Christmas as long as I look out over the city and see the dome of the state capitol building all lit up for the season. So, in that spirit, I am still posting Christmas pictures.

I really had intended to post these last week, but we had technical difficulties here at the house, and then we went to the farm for Christmas where we have no internet connection. So, I'm just now able to get it done.

Can anyone guess who this beautiful little baby girl is with John and me in 1985? ( One hint, she's married. Okay, two, then. She doesn't live here anymore.)

Mother, Kim, John and me, 1985. Can you see that "binky" in his mouth? Little did he know it, but the end was near for the binky. A few days later on New Year's Day, acting on a tip from my friend, Sherry D., I cut off the nipple, told him it was "broke," and that was it. He whined a little for a few days, but it was not as bad as we expected. We tried to find all the binkies hidden under cushions, furniture, toys, and goodness knows where else, and throw them away. Occasionally, one would surface, and we would scramble to get it before he caught sight of it.

We sent this out with Christmas cards in 1986. I started making this little outfit, but then I had to go back to work, so I got someone else to finish it. I loved to sew for John and dreamed that someday, when he was a big boy, I'd have a little girl to sew for. Can you see that bruise on his forehead? This child looked like a case of abuse at times because he had so many tumbles. He was definitely "all boy" even though his momma dressed him up in these sweet little clothes.

Leaving milk and cookies out for Santa at Me-me and Grandad's house in Liberal, KS, 1987. For the record, we read a book to John called "Santa, Are You For Real?" It explained the history of Santa and how he was not "real," but rather a symbol. So, while John didn't believe Santa was real, we enjoyed this tradition. Each year, Santa not only ate the milk and cookies but also left a note thanking John for them and telling him what a good boy he had been that year. I still have the notes. Interestingly, they are written in Grandad's handwriting. :)

Grandad and John, Liberal, Kansas, 1988. Me-me, Tim's dear mother, was battling cancer, and had just had surgery about 3 months before this. She ordered many of our gifts from catalogs that year because she was not able to get out and shop. She was pleased that John enjoyed his gifts so much. I remember one was a tent that fit over the bed. He slept in it while we were there, and that made her so happy.

Nicole L. and John in the Wichita Children's Museum, 1989. This is from what we call John's "funny face period."

Mark and Tim playing a game at Mother's house, 1989 or '90. I don't know who had more fun with this game, the little boys or the big boys :)

Okay, Nina Brooke, this one's for you. I think you look absolutely adorable, elbows propped on the scoring table, chin cupped in your hands.

This is my class at our church school in 1990, with our gingerbread village. Each child made a gingerbread house, a tree out of a pinecone, and a snowman out of marshmallows. Bro. Nathan H., who was 10 that year, helped me make an old mill with a mill wheel. Can you see the wheel? We set it all up around a "pond" made of aluminum foil, and sprinkled "snow" generously all over it. What fun! I still get comments from these kids, who are now adults, about the gingerbread village.

1990, the "funny face period" continues :)

Our "deer" little boys, John and Brock, 1990.

1991. Oh what joy to have a little niece! I was absolutely crazy about Natalie. Well, we all were. Of course, we were crazy about Brock. We couldn't help ourselves. He was a gregarious, irresistable little fellow. But, Natalie was our only girl. And I finally got to go down the "pink aisle" at Toys R Us!!! Yay! I was the mommy of a little boy. I was the aunt of two little boys. I wore "Gee-Jie-Joe" bandaids because that's what we had at our house. I bought monster trucks and dump trucks, and wrecker trucks, and firetrucks, and books about trucks. Oh, I was so happy to get to go down the "pink aisle." This is a pink, yes pink!, Little Tykes vanity that we, along with Mother, got for Nat that Christmas when she was 2 years old. She loved it.

But what she really, really loved was these shoes we got her :)

This is later, on Christmas Day, at her house. Kim said Nat didn't want to take off those shoes.

Made her auntie a happy gal.

I miss those times.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our Church Christmas Celebration

Sunday was a special time at our church. We had our regular Sunday morning service; our pastor preached a stirring message. That evening we had a special time to celebrate the Christmas season. A mailing had been sent out to the entire city of North Little Rock as well as Sherwood. We had lots and lots of visitors.
The Children's Winter Wonderland began at 6:00. It included a Puppet Village, Bethlehem Stable with real animals to pet, Gingerbread Lane, and Teddy Bear Land. There was plenty of steaming hot chocolate. It was a good evening for that - it was extra cold for this southern climate!
At 7:00 we had a gospel Christmas concert in the main auditorium. There were many different types of music: southern gospel, bluegrass, classical, as well as various choirs, including a 100 voice children's choir. It was annointed and uplifting. I'm so thankful for all our talented musicians and singers.
Most of all, of course, we are thankful for our pastor, for his vision and wise leadership. We are blessed to be a part of FPC of NLR!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Memories of Christmas Past (Part 5): 1984, John's First Christmas

Oh, joy! A baby boy! What a year 1984 was! John was born 2 weeks early. He arrived on Valentine's Day - our little sweetheart. (I don't think John looks at this blog very much at all. Don't tell him I'm on here calling him our little sweetheart - LOL!)

Christmas was extra special that year. Mark had a new someone too - his bride, Kim. They married in June. I was so happy to have Kim as a sister at long last. We had known her since she was 14; she was (and still is) a doll. Daddy had told me not long before he died, "If I was Mark, I would have changed that Kim's name a long time ago."

Mark and Kim came to Wichita to celebrate Thanksgiving. Then we put up the tree and had an early Christmas with them.

John "helping" his Aunt Kim decorate the tree.

"Oooo! Ball!"

Tim's mother brought her mom, whom we called Granger, by to meet John during the holidays. This is the only time she ever saw her great-grandson.

Mother took pictures of us to send out with Christmas cards.

We spent Christmas day with Tim's parents and sister, Jane, in Liberal. Jane went to a Christmas party and brought Santa home with her. The series of pics at the top of this post were made at that time. We settled John in on Santa's lap from the back so he didn't realize who was holding him. He was fine until he looked around and saw Santa; then the jig was up. Tim and I love that series of photos.

Yes, 1984 will always be a Christmas to remember.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Memories of Christmas Past (Part 4): 1983, Baby on the Way!

Christmas of 1983 was a joyous time. Tim and I were going to be parents! We were expecting our first baby in late February.

1983 had been a very good year. Tim got a much better job selling computers and software to insurance agencies. His sales territory was the entire state of Kansas, so he had to travel a lot. That was the only drawback. He usually set out on Monday mornings in our little Pontiac T1000 that we bought in the spring. He was normally back home by Thursday night.

Mother had moved to Wichita. She thought a change would help her following Daddy's death. She was thrilled that at the age of 59, almost 60, she was going to be a grandmother.

Just before Thanksgiving we moved into a new home on the outskirts of the city. A one and a half story, it was in a new neighborhood, had charm, and offered room for a growing family.

My brother, Mark, came to visit at Christmas. We had a real tree at last! An eight foot one that we decked out in new tinsel and, best of all, some new ornaments that hinted at our impending arrival. Mother and Tim were rooting for a boy. Mother bought three special ornaments: a toy soldier, a blue sled, and a blue block. I have the toy soldier and baby block to this day.

There was a fireplace in our new home. Oh, was I excited about that! I had never lived in a house with a fireplace. Tim's mother bought me a beautiful antique rocking chair which we placed by the fireplace. I nurtured visions of rocking our baby by the fire.

We hung three stockings over the fireplace: a big one for daddy, a medium one for mommy, and a tiny one for our baby on the way.

Tim's gift to me that year? A bicycle! He wanted to be sure that I got back to my original shape after the baby was born - LOL! On Christmas morning he insisted that I mount the bike in our living room. I couldn't begin to balance it!

What a special Christmas that was! We knew the new year was bringing us great joy!

Our new home as it looked when we first bought it: 10123 Carr, Wichita, Kansas

Mark and me playing "Chopsticks." Can you see the stockings and the bike in the background?
I love this picture of Mark and me at the piano. Not only because you can see how much fun we were having, but also because Mother's laughing reflection is in the mirror.