The First Christmas Eve Service and Why the Kitchen Ladies Were Sore Afraid.

In those days, Nixon was President, hair was ratted and lacquered to the heavens, and anti-bacterial products had never occurred to anyone. (Had not man just walking on the moon? Seriously, how much more could society realistically progress?) A pastor in a little red brick church decided to offer a Christmas Eve communion service.
And since this was an unprecedented event, worries abounded. ‘But so many will be out-of-town’ was one argument. Another pointed out the colds, flu, and the I-Think-I’m-Gonna-Die-So-I’ll-Plan-My-Funeral-on-the-Cold-Bathroom-Tile stomach viruses were wreaking havoc in the small town. ‘Is it really going to be worth the effort?’
Still, the pastor was compelled to try, if only for those few faithful that tend to show up whenever the doors are open.
A decree went out over the land, inviting all to worship on this glorious night of nights.
And lo, the pastor was amazed. For unto him a packed house lay before his eyes, one he could have never have imagined. Even faces looked down from the hardly used balcony. Hymns were sung, scripture read, and the Spirit danced among the open-hearts. Yes, the glory of the Lord shone all around them.
Up from the basement the kitchen ladies proclaimed, ‘There are not enough communion cups!’
‘Refill them.’
‘But we don’t have time to wash them!’
‘Refill them, anyway.’
‘But the flu…”
‘Refill them and let God handle it.’
And they were sore afraid.
Now, I don’t know if their hearts were as willing as Mary’s when she said, ‘let it be as you say.’ It’s highly doubtful, but they did as the pastor requested.
Communion was served, and the worship was a precious aroma filtering unto God in the glow of candlelight reflected in the reverent faces.
As time passed, talk circulated amongst the congregation, I’m sure generated by the curious, yet, concerned kitchen staff. ‘Did anyone at your house get sick after the service?’ and ‘You know I wasn’t feeling real great, but went the service anyway. Now I feel great.’ Eventually, after the census had been taken, not a report came back of illness. Yes, the Savior who had turned water into wine had covered a multitude of sins and highly infectious germs, making the tainted vessels pure as if washed in bleach water. Once again he had shown himself to those who were faithful to seek him.
Let us be like Magi, who said, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

From our house to yours, may you have a very Merry Christmas as you welcome the Savior, Healer, Friend, Redeemer, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace……

Cliff and Kelly Long, Casey, Misty, Cole
Karsten, Robin, and Bren Burns

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What Happens When Your Son Climbs on a Casket.

When it was announced Baby #4 was on the way, we knew it was a girl. Like lay-down-the-deed-to-the farm-and-spin-the-wheel-in-Vegas sure it was a girl.  After being blessed with three of them, we really believed God didn’t think we could handle a boy.

And after The Boy arrived, we still wondered.

Oh, he suckered us in with his sweetness and chocolate-eyed charm…until he got mobile.

There was no cabinet high enough; no obstacle intimidating enough, or no situation scary enough.  “No’ was a word he didn’t comprehend.  No amount or type of discipline would deter him. Even with five of us to watch him, he could vaporize in an instant.

Losing this 1 ½ year old at the ballpark put the world in a panic.  The creek was walked, the parking lot scoured,  and under the bleachers searched only to find The Boy had walked up the hill to our house, got in the backdoor, and helped himself to pizza. Car seats or front door locks could not hold our Houdini even escaping to visit the neighbors—sometimes in clothes and sometimes not. 

A waterbed was victim to Baby Chucky wielding a butcher knife, creating a miniature Titanic in my bedroom.  Astonishingly, I’d lost my wedding ring that morning and found it under the bed bladder.   Had he not played Ginsu warrior, who knows when I would have found it.  (He swears he was being God’s answer to my desperate prayers.)

  A perfectly timed announcement of the grocery store owners’ retirement came on the heels of one historic day where he destroyed the cigarette island, punched holes in the hamburger cellophane, and climbed up with the broccoli.  Somehow I arrived home with shoe  polish and Camel cigarettes.  I left shaking and swearing we would starve before we went back, as did the owners.

But the day of my nervous breakdown dealt with a funeral I could not get a sitter for.  A dear friend had lost her 16 year old boy in a car accident.  The Boy would not settle with coloring books or anything from my magic mom bag.  I finally conceded and took him out to the front lawn of the gym so he could run some energy off.  The next thing I knew, he’d dropped his pants and proceeded to water the grass.  I snatched him up and decided to wait in the van, hoping to make an appearance with the family at the cemetery.  As we fell into the caravan of vehicles, I glanced in the rearview mirror to see he had deposited all of his chicken nuggets and Golden Arch trash through the open van window in someone’s yard.

 The cemetery was a playground of throwing gravel at ladies’ legs, climbing tombstones, and trying to tear the hood ornament off the hearse—all with me holding his hand!  The final nerve was when I waited to be the last in the receiving line.  Someone asked me a question.  As I turned my head to answer, I felt his hand shift in mine funny.  I glanced to see him grab the brass handle on the casket and hoist himself up on the lid.

Throw me in the ground and cover me up!

Somehow we have survived the 20 years to this date.  Somewhere between discovering huge vision problems, a couple come-to-Jesus parent-teacher’s conferences, and sticking in the molding and shaping process, the kid hasn’t turned out half bad. 

“Mom, let me get that.  You don’t need to be carrying it.”

“Do you need me to put that laundry in?”

“Sure, I can run to the store.”

Who would have thought?  When he was six, I was sure he’d be stealing cars.

An older man near and dear to our family’s heart passed away.  Even if Cliff and I hadn’t have gone, nothing would have kept Cole from this funeral, sure to be a packed house.  Dean Mantooth had taken a special interest in Cole, flooding him with VHS tapes of ballgames he’d filmed of my son’s team. He kept the rest of us in stitches with his color commentaries and good intended sideline coaching.

“Mom, does this look okay?” Cole asked as he straightened his tie, wearing the requested University of Kansas colors—dressed like a banker without Mom having to make not one suggestion about appropriate funeral dress. 

  Due to a sound issue at the church, our basement overflow crowd filtered up to stand anywhere they could hear. Cole let all the ladies go ahead of him, finally settling in an awkward and uncomfortable corner.  I couldn’t help but think of the epic casket climbing experience and how far we had come.

Funeral bulletins fanned, fluttering a classic picture of Dean resembling Clark Gable, with his bomber jacket, ascot, and pipe. Memorializing this colorful sweetheart’s life, a story burst through the quiet hush.  When Dean was a youngster, he climbed the town’s water tower and threw rocks onto the roof of a revival tent meeting.  “Hallelujahs” rose loudly from the manifestation of Dean helping out the Holy Spirit. He also locked the doors of the church from the outside during another church meeting, causing quite a hullabaloo and severe punishment he would never forget. Mixed in were stories of his compassion to others and relentless dedication to his family.

A great testimony of a once blue bundle of energy, orneriness, and creativity the world would have been in such worse shape without. 

As we waited outside for Dean’s last ride, a huddle hooligans Cole has shared dugouts, Playstation marathons, and an occasional adventure I cringe at the re-telling of, respectfully stood— looking the role of the men they have become somewhere between this day and stress shrieking moments that forced their parents’ first gray hairs to pop in.

On the way home Cole reluctantly asked: “So, how important is Robin and Karsten’s baby shower?  Like is this something I should go to?”  A step in the right direction– with a titch of molding and shaping still to come.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Psalm 127: 3

(Because my daughters will read this:  We love you and are amazingly blessed by you.  And besides, The Boy refuses to watch The Gilmore Girls with me.)