My missionary Christmas wish
I'll be the first to admit that I am a total sap for Christmas. There would be Christmas music on at Halloween if it didn't make me such a social outlier. I know by heart all the lines to Home Alone, Home Alone 2, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and of corse the big one....ELF. Dragging my family in tow, I love to go to the big malls (there are many here in Houston) just to see the decorations. Elbow to elbow we shuffle along with thousands of other Houstonians just for me to gawk and the shinny Christmas decorations. I just can't seem to ever get my fill. Every Christmas Eve I cap off my run on all things Christmas, by attending midnight mass. The Co-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Houston - Galveston is not far from my home and even though I'm not Catholic I sneak in the back and drink in the story of my newborn savior. I know that I can be a little over the top for this season, but you know what I'm not even that sorry. Merry Christmas ya filthy animal! Just a little free Christmas trivia. The movie that Kevin in Home Alone watches and plays back for the bad guys is entitled "Angels with filthy souls" and does not exist, but was made just for the scenes in Home Alone.
After a climb over the granite and slate ledges, and through the Hemlocks on the flat, then through the beech trees whose leaves are last to fall to the ground you'll reach 1600' in elevation and this will be your view. The rocks are cold and the leaves so noisy to walk on that they betray your presence long before you see any animals. My cheeks were blushed pink by the persistent wind from the south and my mouth gapped open at this view. Renee, the kids and I spent Thanksgiving with her family in Vermont this year as we made a good by tour to kiss those whom we may not see for a long time and some we will probably never see again this side of Heaven. As we pledge long term service for the Lord on the other side of the globe, this feeling is becoming more real to us and are leaning on Him for mercy. The kids and I hunted with family and a special dear friend. The best man in our wedding was 70 years old at the time and he this month celebrated 85 years of age. He took Layla twice out for a trip around the woods in his wool coat and floppy toque hat. Ralph is by no means feeble and has big but arthritic hands. He moves slowly and prefers shoes that slip on like Wellington boots but can still throw square hay bales in the summertime like a 40 year old man. Ralph is without question my spiritual Grandfather and my mentor. When we got to Vermont the first thing we did was stop to see Ralph. His truck was in the garage but he didn't greet me in the drive way as is his custom. I was concerned as I knocked on the door and worried as I peered in the window to find his place at the breakfast table still set. Remembering where he hides the spare key I use it to open the back door and yelled "Weindel....you home... (his last name is Weindel) . No reply. I scampered down cellar ...."Weindel....you here?".... Nada. I scoured his home and felt better that he wasn't home rather than hurt or ill, or something even worse. In his spot at the table this is what I saw.
When I was down cellar, which is pronounced with a New England / Rhode Island accent and means the basement, guess what I saw by his chair that sits near the warm furnace.
At 85 years old and being a Christian his whole life, I would think that there wouldn't be much to learn for him anymore. But still he studies, and not just studies, but studies daily and in all times. At 85 his eyes are uniquely focused on learning to be loving, having patience and perseverance. Ralphie has always taught me that in all thing and in every way to trust that God is in control. Ralphie encourages me continually to let go of serving myself and "whatever I do, to do it all for the glory of the Lord" . The chances that I never see my best man again are really high. I'll meet him again in glory, but I carry him with me in my heart as I hear his voice telling me to be confident in the work the Lord has called me to. When I left this Thanksgiving I could barely let him go and he told me "he was proud of me". I was crushed to think a giant of the faith like my Ralphie who means the world to me could be pleased by my obedience. The nuggets of gold knowledge that I stole from Ralphie aren't his words, but rather his rhythms. Eugene Peterson puts it this way. " a long term obedience in the same direction". That's my Ralphie, but it certainly isn't me......yet.
In the early 80's ,my then very serious father purchased this Lay - Z Boy recliner. These were the day of 3 piece suits, reading the newspaper in the evening and complete focus on the reprinted New York time crossword puzzle. The church he was pastoring met Sunday Mornings, Sunday Evenings and on Wednesday night for Bible Study. There was no band, no projector no other staff and yet still some how the church grew and many were added to the Kingdom of Heaven. I grew up seeing my dad in "his chair", and this was no ordinary chair as it was costly for my parents to purchase. At no time do I recall my dad eating in this chair or letting the kids sit in it. This was a serious place. A place for study and rest. This was to borrow a favorite Christmas movie line " a major award!" He sat in it like he had just won a major prize. During a recent move I arrived at their garage to find it with the back off ready to go to the garbage. I came unhinged...."MOM, WHY IS DADS CHAIR IN THE GARAGE? YOU'RE NOT THROWING IT AWAY ARE YOU!" She laughed at me....it's just a chair Geoffrey....take it if you want it at your house. So with a defiant we'll see about this...attitude I loaded it into my pickup. While muttering under my breath on the way home I told my kids all about this chair. I said stuff like "your grandpa was sitting in this chair when I asked him if I could go to college" and "he was perched right there in the dark when I would sneak in late at night when I was a teenager waiting to pounce on my newly grounded backside" . The lore of this chair as a prop in my unfolding biography looms large in my mind. I recall my dad sitting in this chair telling me to change the channel on the TV, before there were remotes. He gave me instructions on how to set the needle correctly on the 45 he bought me of Billy Joel's for the longest time after roller skating....right from that chair! Throw it away ! Ha! You'll have to take this chair from my cold dead hands I said as I carried it to my bedroom. A week later it had folded laundry on it. My mom laughed again at me, and for all the right reasons. I'm sitting in this chair as I write this and the springs are poking me and the foot rest is broken so my ankles rest now in more of a folded up V shape. The lever for the mechanism often has to be located as it comes off easily and Seamus thinks it's funny to move it to other parts of the living room. The fabric is worn and the spots where your elbows naturally rest show their use in unflattering ways. Now as we prepare to move across the country we are taking only what will fit in our vehicle. When the farm was sold we got rid of most of our possessions but still need essentials to live here in the 3rd ward, and make no mistake about it this chair is essential. When I was 17 years old I felt a clear calling to International Mission. I attended a conference in Colorado and heard Dr. Thompson, a surgeon working in Afica, give a talk to thousands of teenagers and ask "Why not you". I had a million reasons why not on the tip of my tongue and while I tried to talk myself out of it the gravity in my heart and chest was not to be overcome. My feet colluded with my now 100 pound heart and I found myself down in front in submission saying "if you'll have me I'll go where ever, when ever and for whom ever. "
Guess where my dad was when I got home to tell him just what I did. You guessed it. Sitting in this chair.
What does a missionary and his family wish for at Christmas? I wish to combine my unfettered joy for all the sights and smells of the fresh start, with the long suffering of Ralphie and the studious comfort of my dad. I want the echo of Hallelujah from midnight mass to ring in my heart, to remember the smell of wood smoke in Ralphies cellar and the loving instruction from my father in a priceless Lay - Z Boy. I want God to bless me by using us for his purpose. I want the Christmas miracle that I believe will happen to come to fruition. We are still quagmired at 9% of our total funding required and so much need you to come along side of us financially to put this heart into action for the most vulnerable in the world. I wish the church of Jesus would value once again the calling of families like ours and to send us in love to advance Jesus's goals of love, peace, unity and faith. I wish learning the gift of reconciliation was more easily acquired and didn't take tearful remembrance. I wish that we will be honored in our prayer to be present as the country we are going to opens up and that Christ is the foundation that Zim is rebuilt upon...and that we get to be part of it! I wish you and I can show love to one another with our time, our generosity and our commitment to unity. I wish for strength to throw this chair finally in the trash and to follow with abandon to where ever he calls, when ever he calls. I wish for less of me and more of Him to be seen in my life. All this I pray in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen