Christmases two and three

img_8086.jpgToday was crazy fun as we had Christmases two and three. I picked up my son, daughter-in-law and grandkids at the airport last night and got home about 10 pm. We planned to open Christmas gifts with the children this morning and our secret Santas and white elephants tonight. It was way more fun than I anticipated.

Take a pile of gifts and stir in a one, two and three year old and you have a recipe for an energy-filled Christmas “two” morning. We had so much fun with the current Paw Patrol and PJ Masks characters, and doctor kits that we didn’t want to break away for our traditional breakfast of cinnamon rolls, quiche and fruit.

We spent a good portion of a beautiful Florida December afternoon outside, playing hide and seek, swinging and following lizards and frogs. In the evening, we had a rare gathering of my whole family four generations including my wife’s parents, our three children and their spouses, plus the three grandkids. As Elijah began grace by saying, “Our Father, thank you for this food…” I felt incredibly thankful for this rare moment of togetherness.

After a supper of filet mignon, salad and curly fries, we had Christmas “three” and opened the hand-made secret Santa presents we made for each other and chose our white elephant gifts. Our evening was blessed with laughter, personally crafted gifts and the best gift: togetherness. There’s a gift I wouldn’t exchange for anything else in the world.

With family spread out around the country and work commitments that limit travel, time together is a rare moment and precious gift. img_8083.jpg

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No gifts for you!

david-everett-strickler-60328.jpgMy wife and I stopped buying Christmas gifts for each other a long time ago.

Why? Read on.

It wasn’t always that way. Early on in our marriage we did buy gifts for each other. What kind of gifts? Beats me. I don’t remember any of them. Actually, that’s not true. I remember one, but only because we video-recorded opening gifts one year in Connecticut. She got me a beard trimmer. I got her some kind of personal grooming thing. That may have been the moment when we both realized, “This is stupid.” We were spending money, often in short supply, on gifts for each other for no other reason than the culture demanded that we buy gifts for each other. It was a lot more fun buying toys for the kids. It was a lot more fun going somewhere and doing something. That may have been the year we decided to not worry about buying Christmas gifts for each other. And we’ve never looked back.

One of the reasons this makes a lot of sense is that I just don’t have much that I want. My Amazon.com wish list is pathetic. If you ask me, what do you want for Christmas, I won’t have much to offer. Frustrating? You bet. I have forgotten about, thrown away, and given away most of the gifts we’ve received over the years. Bottom line: why bother?

If you have read this far, you have probably categorized us as scrooges, which is pretty judgmental and harsh. Come one, give us a break. We have replaced the ceremonial, obligatorial (how do you like that word?) gift-giving mechanism with something that means much more to us. I always create a Christmas card with a poem for Lisa. Then, we invest our Christmas gift dollars into either going to be with our kids, or bringing them here to spend Christmas with us. Believe me, that is a precious, valuable, and memorable gift! Nothing else (not even a nice bottle of scotch or bourbon) will touch that in the gift category!

Our Christmas memory book is filled with photos of our times together, not the merchandise exchanged. Our mental memory books are filled with images of family, places, laughter, births, marriages, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and parties together. It’s not the stuff, folks, but the relationships and experiences that I want.

This is our year to have everyone at our home for Christmas. In a perfect world, we get every other year. I told my wife today that I have saved up seven months of patience to spend with our grandchildren (ages 3, 2 and 1), so bring it! I will push the swing, play with dinosaurs, line up the miniature cars, eat pretend food, color pictures, make worms with the Playdoh, roll in the grass, pull the bike trailer, push the swing, and read stories until I drop from exhaustion! There is nothing you can give me that can compare to hugging my tall, handsome son and my beautiful, diminutive daughters! (Take a breath girls, and focus on “beautiful”…)

This year, our family exchanged names, so that we only buy one gift for one other person. Grandchildren are exempt. We can buy as many toys for them as we want. But for the exchange, our gifts must be homemade or experiential. It wasn’t mine, but it is a very cool idea. I have received homemade journals in the past, definitely a winner, because I go through three or four a year. I wouldn’t complain if my gift were a few shots or beers at a local establishment. I promise to write about my gift, both given and received, right after our Christmas/New Year celebration.

Do you want to get off the hamster wheel of Christmas gift giving and receiving? Stop giving stuff. Give to a charity. Then, take your significant other out and do something fun. Trust me, it will be worth it!

 

 

Grandpa Douthwaite

Me with pop and grannyOne of my favorite (but not too difficult) trivia questions to ask those who know me as William Douthwaite III is, “What is my grandfather’s name?” Without too much thought you should be able to come up with “William” as the correct answer.

My only memory of William Douthwaite, Sr. (whom my dad called “Pop,” and who died in 1959), is seeing him in bed at his Ridley Park apartment, with a glass straw in his drink. I’ve never seen a glass straw since, although I know they are available. If this is a reliable memory, it is my earliest, since I was at best two years old.

William, Sr. was a carpenter. My dad kept some of his tools in a homemade toolbox for years. My grandfather had seven children, of whom my father, William, Jr., was the youngest. And that is about all the information I have about him.

I believe this picture is my baptism day, September 29, 1957, one of the few when all my grandparents were together at the same time. He would have been 80 years old in this picture. I have not found any other pictures of me with William, Sr.

My friend Richard, who did a little ancestry work for me has been able to trace the Douthwaite name to Richard Douthwaite who was born in 1580 in Warcop, Lancanshire, England. Before that, the records are spotty and uncertain.

 

Wait for it – Matthew 1:24-25

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25).

If anyone ever underestimates Joseph's part in the story of Christ's birth, they just need to read these two verses. Some honeymoon, huh? I know, I should be a little more reverent, but the whole idea of getting married is so that you can “know” your wife (and I know you know what that means!). Obedient, patient, self-controlled — if you ask me, Joseph is one heck of a husband!

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I did a funeral service today for the brother of a dear member. I had visited, talked and prayed with him a number of times over the past six months as his cancer progressed and his family took care of him. During one visit, he asked me to do his funeral service, and I was glad to say yes.

After the worship service at the church, I chose to drive myself to the cemetery, following the hearse on a slow but steady eight mile ride through town. During that ride, I found myself marveling at all the people involved in making this day happen. I believe I was initially impressed with the six citizen patrol cars that escorted us through the various intersection of town. Zooming ahead, then lagging behind, we didn’t have to brake once.

“We” included the funeral director and staff. They arrived two hours early, set up the viewing in the chapel, arranged the flowers, welcomed and directed guests, and paid special attention to the family. They reverently moved the casket in and out, covering and uncovering it with the pall, drove the cars, and had the cemetery ready just when we arrived. Each one was professional, compassionate, efficient and a pleasure to talk and work with.

Meanwhile, back at the church, the organist had prepared music for the service, a dozen or more members prepared and set up a meal, the custodian had everything in order, elders were on duty, and even the office manager stepped in to sit with the family.

I had met with the family, helped them choose some hymns and scripture readings, put the service together and preached. I did my part, but it was only a slice of the day’s agenda.

What a difference a community of faith makes on a day like today! I suppose all of this could have taken place in non-faith context. But would it? Would we put that much effort into this event without the love of Christ and the hope of resurrection? Would people who didn’t know the deceased come just to be with someone in the family? (We had two dozen from our church, none of whom had met the man who died.) Perhaps. But I don’t believe it would be the same. As dearly loved children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, our family is much bigger than we realize.

Until we get together to mourn or celebrate, to cry or laugh, to welcome or say goodbye, to both live and die. And how good it is to be able to do it together.

Five is very good

Last night my wife, my three children and myself were at supper together for the first time since Christmas. My son’s been at St. Louis at the seminary, my older daughter was in Gainesville graduating from college, and the rest of us were at home doing our thing. My younger daughter’s comment as we said our prayer together before we ate was, “Wow, that was loud!”

What a blessing to have all our voices together again! Until college life pulled us in different directions a few years ago, we had always eaten supper together daily. As our number gradually shrunk, it was sometimes no more than one or two of us praying. In the future, there may not be many “five” nights. We’ll often have less. Eventually we’ll have more when my children have spouses and families of their own. ┬áBut for now, five is very good.