Last Christmas

The former owners had one year to redeem the property. So we went back to living life. And I kept doing my thing.

Listening to stories. Photographing portraits. Sharing testimonies.

And over again.

School started. Jason and I took a road trip to Atlanta so I could attend a conference in October. And then we were face to face with the holiday season. We spent Thanksgiving in Illinois with family. Jason’s dad had just finished chemotherapy and was looking much better. Jason’s brother and his wife announced the news of a baby on the way.

The leaves all fell again in the Ozarks and Christmas Day dawned. I remember being up very early standing at the backdoor with a cup of coffee watching my neighbor as he checked on their dinner. The light from his sun room and the smoke rolling out of the top of their smoker is a vivid memory of how that day began.

2014-11-19_0001The rest of the day was a blur of memories. We watched our kids open presents. We drove to St. Louis to my brother-in-law’s house. We waited and waited and waited on my mother and father-in-law to arrive. The roasted duck my brother-in-law was so anxious to serve was getting cold. The kids were getting restless.

And then they arrived. I will never forget the moment we all realized it was Jason’s dad’s last Christmas with us. No one said a word, but we all knew it. God cared for my heart and my memories of Christmas that day, I don’t remember hearing any Christmas music and I don’t remember what the tree looked like or any of the food other than that roasted duck which I had never tasted before. This image of Audrey playing her uncle’s guitar is only image that captures my heart for that day. She sang to Jesus in the midst of it all.

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My sister-in-law and I were the only ones to sit down and eat Christmas dinner together last year. I don’t even remember when my kids ate. I just remember sitting with Susie and not saying a word but reading her mind knowing she was reading mine too.

We all opened presents quietly.

And when we thought it was all over my mother-in-law who smiled sweetly more than anyone else Christmas Day last year, handed me a “special gift from Rick”. I looked at my father-in-law wondering what in the world… of all the people to give a “special gift” to…

He watched me but couldn’t say a word. I knew that even if he could speak he wouldn’t, he rarely ever said a word to me. It was a simple box, I shook it but it made no sound. He motioned for me to open it. He was so anxious.

When I realized what it was the tears came hard and fast. It was so much more than a bell.

“It wasn’t easy but Rick was determined to get that bell for you. So when the little church is finished…

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I can’t even finish typing what my mother-in-law said. I can’t imagine it yet.

He had somehow managed to get the bell from the door of my grandparent’s former paint and wallpaper store. The current owners had refused to sell it to me or any of my family members on several occasions. But somehow Rick & Marcia convinced them to sell it to them for me. And here it was in my hands on Christmas Day, 18 years after my grandparents sold the store. The old green paint and even some cobwebs were still on it. Marcia told me that Rick insisted they leave it just as it was because the paint and even the dust and webs and scratches were as much my grandparents as the sound of the bell. My grandparents were quite surprised when I showed up with the bell a few days later for my family’s Christmas dinner. Someday I will share more about this gift. It is so much more than a bell.

The drive home to Springfield that night was quiet. I remember seeing this cross and thinking how glad I would be when we all got Home… because after all…

The Way of the Cross leads Home…

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Jason’s dad passed away on January 21st of this year.

I can’t tell you how many times I have nearly asked Jason since:

“Could you ask your dad…” “Would your dad be able to…” “Have you talked to your dad?” “Will your dad…” “Is your dad…”

And over again.

Soon the routine came back. I was glad to be listening to stories, photographing portraits, and sharing testimonies again.

And doing my thing. Living life.

Eight months into our twelve month waiting period, on the Thursday before Easter Sunday, someone broke into the little church and we finally got to see inside. That story is next. But I will not forget stepping into the building for the first time that beautiful Easter weekend, looking up to the top of the busted door and thinking about Jason’s dad AND my grandparents. I will put that old bell on the door one day and it will serve as a reminder of the beautiful promise that death has no power over us who have been redeemed by Christ! And as His Bride, not one of us will ever have a last Christmas.

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