Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Power of Christmas

It has been a year of odd memories. At the end of August, I made one of those Planes, Trains, and Automobiles types of trips from Tennessee to Michigan. I wrote about it in “Murphy's Law and a Malicious GPS” and then a few weeks later suffered through knee surgery which I wrote about in “For the Love of Surgery.” Then my school year started and my father-in-law wandered off, starting six days of desperate searching and a resulting funeral. I wrote about my wife’s father in “Darwin J. Smith.” As things began to settle down, a deer committed suicide with my wife’s car and the day she got her vehicle back from repairs, she hit the front end of an idiot’s car with her stationary vehicle. My wife was going 0, the idiot about 60. Just a few days later, I got in the swing of things by denting in my daughter’s passenger-side door with the back end of my own moving vehicle. I mentioned the “incidents” in “Disaster Zone Ahead.” I thought my year of fun was over, and then we had an ice storm in Michigan and we lost our power—over Christmas!

With the passing of my father-in-law and my mother-in-law housed in a care facility with Alzheimer’s, my wife threw herself into Christmas preparations. I always had nice, family Christmases as a youngster, but the holiday with the Smith family was like Christmas times ten—maybe twenty. I’m fairly certain Jennifer was afraid that Christmas without her parents was going to be sad, so she was determined to honor the traditions with her best Christmas spirit. Well….

Christmas lights can’t be lit up without power. The Christmas tree can’t be lit up without electricity. Christmas carols can’t play on the stereo without energy. It’s difficult to wrap presents using an iPhone flashlight. We traditionally opened stocking stuffers on Christmas Eve and followed lots of traditions. The dip in the hot tub where we sang Christmas carols was out—the hot tub temperature was gradually receding from hot to frigid. The steaks broiled in the oven for our traditional meal became KFC. We took the generous financial gift that my parents had given us as a Christmas present, and instead of a new TV we were considering, we purchased a gas-powered generator so we could have enough heat in our house to keep the pipes from freezing. We didn’t have running water, so I bailed the chilly water from the hot tub to pour into the toilet tanks, and we brushed our teeth and washed our faces with bottled water. We ate our chicken and mashed potatoes, bundled up in my bedroom, watching our traditional Christmas movie. Our plan to have Jennifer’s family over to our house on Christmas Day was cancelled and plans were changed to go to her brother’s because their power had been restored. 

On Christmas morning, I awoke and made my trek to get more gas for the generator. We redirected extension cords so we could play our traditional Christmas music. After unwrapping gifts, we forsook the traditional breakfast cinnamon rolls because there was no oven, and we gathered our things to go shower at my brother’s house. At my brother-in-law’s house, we ate and prepared to open gifts, and just as we gathered for our first family Christmas without Jennifer’s parents, their power went out again. We unwrapped presents by candlelight and phone flashlights. Christmas wasn’t the same. It wasn’t convenient. It wasn’t traditional. It wasn’t what it usually was. But it was amazing.

Yes, gifts are awesome, and good food is appreciated. The comforts of home and the traditions of Christmas—too numerous to elaborate upon—are part of what makes Christmas special. But what makes Christmas truly special is the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, because we didn’t have opportunity to celebrate how we usually do, we went to church. We sang Christmas carols and listened to our pastor talk about Jesus’s birth—the Christ of Christmas. We read the Christmas stories from the Bible together on Christmas morning. We thanked God for our meals. We gathered with family in the dark and were able to enjoy the experience without dwelling on the death of my father-in-law.

Christmas wasn’t the same. It was lacking in so many ways, but it allowed my family to focus on the right things. It allowed us to not be so caught up in the traditions that would have likely been a bit sad this year, and focus on our family and on the many blessings we often overlook—like heat and water and light. It helped us to ignore the hustle and bustle and not focus on the amenities of Christmas but rather on the reason for the special day. It allowed us to not be sad but rather to be grateful. I’ve had a lot of experiences this year that I’ll always remember, but the Christmas without power might have been the most memorable of all.