Christmas 2014 Is Over

Dec 28, 2014 by

Christmas 2014 Is Over IMG_4923

It’s been a depressing sort of weekend. With Christmas Day Thursday, and daughter Chandler’s 18th birthday to follow Friday, I went ahead and removed our trees and decorations Thursday evening. Yeah, Christmas night everything came down and was boxed up in hopes I’m still alive to unpack it and put it all back up again next November.

At 49-years-old, I probably should not begin to wonder if I’ll be around for another Christmas, but there are some things that are deeply troubling me that just make 362 days from now seem like they’re an eternity away.

While I was packing things up, I even considered writing myself a note of congratulations in hopes that I’m around to read it next year and maybe tell myself that I shouldn’t do that again. But that seemed a little too morbid.

There’ve been some significant family losses the past few months. I lost my grandmother and a brother-in-law. Last week my youngest daughter was in a one-car accident where she very well could have gone through the windshield and into a tree the driver hit at a moderate rate of speed. That’s made me think a lot lately about the frailty of life and at Christmas when family members are missing, well….

Thing I Do Want To Do Differently For Christmas 2015

Friday night at 1 a.m. the power went out for several miles around. Maycee and I got up and walked the complex to see if it was a local accident or something else. Apparently, it wasn’t a drunk hitting the power units on our main road. But I came to realize that I’m tired of a Christmas tree with static white lights and red balls. That’s really been my Christmas Tree set up since at least 1988 and it occurred to me that that’s gotten a little tired.

My mom always used to hate blinking lights on a tree. And then I discovered white lights and moved completely away from the multi-color strings.

So next year, I’m thinking that at least on one of our trees, I want to try multi-color lights with a few blinkers.

Things I Learned During Christmas 2014

Andy Williams sings The Most Wonderful Time of the Year and he mentions the telling of ghost stories. Huh?  Well, my Aunt Lynda said to Google it and leave to the Victorians, but yes, they would actually tell “scary ghost stories” at Christmas, not just at Halloween.

Did you know the guy who wrote Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas was from Birmingham, AL, and Judy Garland at first refused to sing the song as originally written? I think I actually read that last year, but for you trivia buffs, it’s still a valid fact.

And Speaking of Christmas Songs…. 

How on earth did John Cougar Mellenhead’s I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Bruce Springstein’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town become songs that SiriusXM and commercial radio decided they need to play every 10 minutes on the radio at Christmas? Mannheim Steamroller is in that mix, too.  My gosh, there are so many Christmas songs. These get worn out before Christmas season even gets close. I’ve gotten to where I just turn off the radio when either Bruce or Mellencamp come on.

And Kelly Pickler can’t sing the word “Bag.” It comes out “Bahaagg.”

The worst thing about Christmas music to me is how many songs are about not being with the person you love for Christmas. It’s bad enough when that really happens. If you turn on the radio, you get it over and over and over. It has made it worse this Christmas.

That North Texan, Kelly Clarkson’s Underneath the Tree has to be my new favorite Christmas song of 2014.

January 2015

When I was a kid in Northern Michigan, I didn’t know I was going to spend so many more years of my life in California, Alabama and Texas where the idea of a White Christmas is something in a song sung by Bing Crosby. The Weather Channel has been toying with the idea of freezing rain here in DFW for New Year’s Eve, but the odds are minute.

To me, Christmas just doesn’t seem to be the same without a mantel of white to cover up the ugliness of the world. Maybe that’s what it is in my mind because I know there are tough aspects in the road ahead.

I wish you all the best for the coming year. Please pray for my family and I shall do the same for yours. We’re all going in so many different directions. I hope and pray we can all celebrate the holidays together again next year. But down deep, I know that’s not really possible. Even if we come together, we will all be so very different from life’s experiences the next 362 days.

Remember when we were kids and didn’t realize when Santa asked Rudolph to use his nose to help him through the Christmas Eve fog, that clouds weren’t encircling the entire planet all at once? Yeah, life just isn’t that simple. But it’d be nice if it was.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

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Eulogy For Grandma Claxton

Aug 21, 2014 by

The following are portions of my eulogy for my grandma, Retha Jackson Claxton, delivered at Rees Funeral Home in Hobart, IN, Aug. 20, 2014. The passing of grandma marked the last of my living grandparents. 

Eulogy For Grandma Claxton

This morning I will attempt to deliver a eulogy the last time as the eldest grandchild in my maternal and paternal families. And do it without losing my composure.

It’s not done out of expectation or obligation but out of what my Grandma Claxton would see as an appreciation. My hope is to add honor to her memory.Grandma Claxton

I’ve been by the old Claxton house our family inhabited for decades and I’ve seen the body that used to be that of my grandma’s. She’s no longer at home in either.

This room last night was filled with laughs, jokes, love and fond memories. Only periodically were there tear-dimmed eyes and that’s just how she would have wanted it to be. A celebration of sorts. And relief that one of God’s servants finally has gone home.

What she taught me to enjoy in life: The tastes of good foods and the practice of having something good to feed others when they come to your house. Not necessarily healthy food, but gosh-dog it tasted good. For her that was:

  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Cinnamon toast

When my brothers and sister and I all lived in the same town, our house became the family dinner spot. My answer to “what should we bring?” became “only your smiles.”

Grandma loved to laugh. Maybe that’s one of the things that kept her young for so long.

The eve of Grandpa Claxton’s funeral, piled around her dinner table for snacks, I’d brought Mrs. Renfroe’s Habanero salsa. When people started dipping in I said Habanero means “Damned Hot” in Spanish. Grandma stood in her kitchen laughing. She thought it was hot, too, but that’s how Claxton’s roll.

She emphasized a love for music.  She once gave me an Englebert Humperdink album. There also were albums from Abba, and in kindergarten she gave me an album with Alvin and the ChipmunksAll I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.

Her least favorite Christmas song: Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

She talked constantly about how she loved the trip to Germany to see my Aunt Patsy and Uncle Mike when they were stationed there in the Army. She loved the colors of the trees in Northern Michigan in mid-September. Yosemite in California. She and grandpa rode the Alabama Reunion Train with Gov. Hunt from Auburn to Montgomery in 1990. And they both went to a Cubs game with me and my friend Tim Cobbs in 1993.

When traveling home after wedding in December 1995, Tim was checking her bags in BHM and greeted her with, “Hey, I know you, I’ve been to your house.” It made her feel good to be so far away from home and have someone tell her they knew who she was and had been excited about being at her home.

Words of Advice:

She loved the quilts she made. If you have one, take great pride in your possession of it. There’s a story in the fabric. Her heart and soul still lives on in every stitch.

Even as you age, don’t ever let a dentist take out all of your teeth.

Work the tense situations in life like you were working a puzzle. Put the straight-edged pieces together first then go about filling in the middle part. In time, you’ll start to see the bigger picture.

True love doesn’t have age restrictions. This is the girl who eloped all the way from Athens, down to Decatur, AL—about 10 miles or so—with a man six or seven years older than her when she was 16, and she stayed married to him to the day he died 61 years later. These days we’d put a guy in jail for doing that. Where would you be right now if they hadn’t run off and gotten married at such young ages?

If you’ve been struggling over a puzzle too long, take a break. Go to the bathroom. Go for a walk. Come back in 10 minutes and the answer/puzzle piece probably will be the first one you find.

Read. Every night. Keep the phone by your bed and stop reading when your grandkids call you. They may be keeping you from your reading, but you’re giving them a lifetime of joy in every conversation. And if you can answer it before it rings, well, then you’re faster in their minds than the gunslingers you’re reading about.

Why go to the store and buy Playdough when you can make your own. Even if it was white and didn’t last, the story that you made it with your grandkids will endure for the next 40 years or more. The point is, time with little ones count. It’s not the big things, like trips to Disney World, that count the most. But making Playdough in your kitchen does. Trips to the store to buy things they really don’t need is pretty cool, too, though.

When your family is coming and going to and fro and the Air Force makes them feel like they don’t really have a home, let them know that no matter where they travel, your home is their’s, no matter how big or small it is.

Life can be difficult and families can be hard on each other. Love harder. No matter how mad you are or frustrated you are with someone else in the family, never close your door to them. Life’s too short.

Love music.

Love God. But not being at church every Sunday doesn’t mean you don’t love the Lord.

If you’re sitting there sad about her passing I ask you to stop. She wouldn’t want that. She wouldn’t want tears. Just like in the old hymn Where the Soul of Man Never Dies … she would want no tear dimmed eyes today. She’d want us all to be happy, to tell a joke or two, to find Mike Feltman and get him to say something about “Mama” that would make her laugh. She’d want us all to find a way to get along … life’s too short to be mad at each other over differences of opinion or doctrinal interpretation. I heard so many times from her over the years the heartache she had over the fissures that were there between brothers and sisters. Life’s too short, she would say.

And it is. Forty-three years after I really came to understand who this woman was, it seems like it only was yesterday. Life has raced by with all it’s pains, sufferings, temptations, high points, celebrations, births, successes, and tragedies.

Grandma believed she was going to Heaven. When Grandpa died, her last words to him were “Grab hold of Charlotte and I’ll see you soon.”  She lost a child who was age five and until these recent shadowy years, never forgot Charlotte had left so early to be in God’s arms.

Now she, Grandpa and Charlotte are reunited again and in the words of Grandma, we’ll all be seeing them soon.  In Heaven.

Do not pain the loss of this great, loving woman. She’s dancing with angels now, and out of pain.

In 1973 she brought me a 45 of Paul Simon’s Loves Me Like A Rock. For all her four children, the 10 grandchildren and 22 grandchildren, really, anyone she knew, that was how she loved us one and all.

Thank you.

 

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My Thanksgiving Wishes

Nov 20, 2012 by

My Thanksgiving Wishes

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?  

“Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

You may recognize those lines from Clarence Oddbody in It’s A Wonderful Life. I add them to the post today to say thank you to each and everyone of you for your years of friendship, trust and amazing memories.

No Man Is A Failure Who Has Friends

No Man Is A Failure Who Has Friends

Some of you I’m closer to than others, but understand, equally, we’re all as important as the other to the whole.

Thanksgiving Wishes

If you’re hurting this holiday season from the trials of life, whether they be financial, marital, physical, mental, or those caused by the actions of others, please know I’m praying for you and hoping you shall soon enjoy better, happier days.

If the strain of the holidays gets to be too much, please ask someone for help instead of keeping it bottled up inside. Counselors are ready to help you at a moment’s notice. Many have sliding scales for those who can’t afford full-priced help, but desperately need it.

A local minister can be of help, too.

And ultimately, there’s the gift of prayer.

Believe me, I have been weathering some awful storms in my life the past few years. Many of those hard times have been chronicled here. Others are kept locked in the painful chambers of my heart.  Time has done marvels in healing me. God has done much to heal me.  I have taken my own steps.  But ultimately, I have been largely healed by the support of some amazing friends who didn’t judge, who didn’t mock me, and who were there when I needed them.

The purpose of this post isn’t to name them. It’s to thank them in a special tribute this pre-Thanksgiving Eve.  God bless you my many friends.  And thank you.

 

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What Is The Meaning Of Thanksgiving?

Nov 19, 2012 by

What Is The Meaning Of Thanksgiving?

Got your turkey out of the freezer yet and into the fridge so it can start thawing? That’s probably not where you thought this post was going from the lead, but I’m throwing it in for free.

As you begin to make preparations for Thursday’s holiday here in America, I want to ask you about your meaning of Thanksgiving?

In years past, in many ways for me, it has been a gateway holiday, kinda like a gateway drug.  It gets you started, but very soon you need more to get to the good stuff–the granddaddy of them all, Christmas.

First Thanksgivings

I remember being in Northern Michigan, with snow on the ground, and mom having cooked the meal.  I can’t recall if dad was home that year or Arc Light in B-52s. Little else about it do I remember.

I remember being in kindergarten and living in Northern Indiana at my grandparent’s house while dad was in Vietnam a second time circa 1970 or ’71. I remember making a pilgrim’s belt out of construction paper and seemingly a black hat, too. I remember our kindergarten field trip where they took us to a turkey farm.  I don’t remember the meals. (Though my mom has shared a story with me about how there were conflicts between the Sheptak and Claxton meals in regard to how large or small the celery was cut for the stuffing….)

But that’s about it. After that, Thanksgiving largely turned into a day that opened the doorway to the Christmas season.

Later Years

When I began putting up Christmas trees and decorating for myself, it became a tradition that the tree would be up before Thanksgiving. That way we got to celebrate the Big Deal twice, as it were. The thankfulness part largely got lost, it was just something we did to eat a big meal and be ready for Christmas and all. Then we’d watch the Cowboys football game. And later still in life, came a friend whose family would be up for the Black Friday sales–something I’ve never seemed to have the extra dollars to go partake in, let alone, the interest.

Then Came The Second Divorce

In my second marriage, Christmas and Thanksgiving became harder holidays to enjoy. My second wife really didn’t like much of either day. Her dad would come into town from Washington state and stay a few days. That brought stress upon the house because somehow we all had to present more of what we weren’t than what we were or something, I still don’t comprehend nor ever will.  There were always mean verbal words that were exchanged for reasons I still don’t understand, doors slamming, and extra naps. The best part was time sitting with my out-of-town mother-in-law who took it all in stride, was patient, caring, and actually fun to be around. I miss her.

Throughout the months of November and December I would be trying to excite the kids about the holiday season, while my ex was trying to get them to think about something else.

We had the house decorated from top to bottom, inside and out.  It was a very happy time for me, in spite of all the undertow.

When I moved out in 2010, I lost a  lot of my accumulated Christmas fare. With the agony that came from a second failed marriage, and subsequent things I’ve learned since, it got hard to enjoy what has always been my favorite time of the year.

Thanksgiving 2012

Time, they say, heals all wounds. I don’t know about them being completely healed, but this year, for certain, I’m doing all I can to see Thanksgiving and the holidays in a new light. One which I’ve lost touch with, and maybe never really quite understood.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving--Count Your Many Blessings

The Meaning of Thanksgiving–Do you ever Count Your Many Blessings?

Yesterday I went back to church for the first time in months. And like often happens, when you sit there in church and you hear a message, somehow it seems like God was waiting for you to be there in that perfect spot to share with you just the very words you needed to hear.

All weekend long, I spent cleaning up the apartment here and getting ready for Thanksgiving. And yes, I put two trees up Saturday night, put out my animated, mechanical Santa and Mrs. Claus and began to settle back into life and my “home,” as I have not been able to do since before I met my second wife, before we got married, before my world got majorly turned upside down.

So yes, the potential is there to make Thanksgiving 2012 a “going through the motions event,” but there’s more afoot here this year.

Count Your Many Blessings

We didn’t sing Count Your Many Blessings yesterday in church, but this weekend I hanged a sign from my mom above the door that says THANKFUL, and in cursive over that, is Count Your Many Blessings. I’ve been singing the song over and over in my head all weekend. If you don’t know the song, here are the lyrics:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Refrain

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Refrain

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Over the past three years, I’ve let the weight of all that was wrong, all the wrongs that had been done to me, all the misfortune, all the sadness, all of what was wrong in the world, become the overwhelming force in my life. Last year, we didn’t even put up a tree here in the apartment–well, we put up the Charlie Brown Tree–and of course, a lot of that had to do with the fact that we were supposed to be getting back the house–one we found had been trashed, appliances removed and the mortgage hadn’t been paid on since July of 2010.

This year, I’m rising above all that.

I have so many things in life to be thankful for. Things that in many ways I’d lost sight of.

I have my three, beautiful and very intelligent daughters, whom I love beyond words. Each amazes me daily with their many special talents, insights and inner strength. Because of decisions I have made, my girls have had a tough road at times.  But through it all, they have grown stronger and are more prepared for the hardships that this life can cast upon us than I was in so many ways.

Albeit my weight is still an issue that brings me down and troubles me daily. Going swimming five days a week for the past three months hasn’t seemed to help; it’s just made me hungrier!  But I have good health in spite of it all. I can get up daily. I can walk. I can run.  I can work out and I can be productive. I can also eat less and healthier.  It’s my choice. It’s something I must own up to and I must face.

I have some of the greatest friends I could ever have hoped for, many of them scattered around the globe.  Some are closer than others, and that’s okay.  Each has just the right impact on my life.

The list goes on.

This Thanksgiving

My girls are coming Thursday and we’re going to spend the day cooking. We’ve got a great big turkey in the freezer right now and it’s about to make the drop into the fridge to start thawing. We’re going to have healthy and unhealthy snacks during the day and we’re going to have a fancy meal together Thursday afternoon. Every year while chopping onions and celery for stuffing, I tell myself that next year we’re all going to be in NYC for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though I was told by a friend the other week the best vantage point for that remains on my living room TV set. Maybe next year, we’ll see.

And no matter what’s happening outside of my home, no matter how much I owe to this or to that, how much I have been hurt by this person’s actions or that, how much I wish there was snow on the ground or my family or dearest friends were closer, I’m going to be counting my many blessings this holiday season.

God has given us so much to be thankful for, and really, only a few years to enjoy it down here. The promise of Heaven afterward is something I’ve often lost site of these past few years.

So what is your meaning of Thanksgiving?

What do you have to be thankful for?

 

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December 2011

Dec 9, 2011 by

Well, December 2011 is flying by.  Sort of.

Lots of work is going on on a couple of new and incredible projects.

Christbaumkugel Svenska: En typisk julgranskula

Image via Wikipedia

Last night my girls and I stopped at the house of former next door neighbors of ours and decided to knock on the door and say hi.  We haven’t visited with the couple since we moved out of the house and into the one with our last domestic disaster.

At first, the man, Doug, didn’t recognized me.   As we shook hands, he just stared at me, knowing me, but it was taking a while to place me.

Then he looked at the girls. They used to wander over to his house every couple of days for a visit.

We found out his wife has been enduring stage IV cancer this year.  From the sound of it, she’s living a miracle.

She said her fellow workmates this year donated 17 weeks of leave to her while she was out, hospitalized, and undergoing chemo.

Hair gone and wrapped last night, it was still so good to see her.  And the girls really enjoyed stepping back in time.

“As soon as I walked in and smelled the house, I knew where I was,” one of them said as we drove back here to the apartment.

I heard this morning that our house should be moved out of by Dec. 17.  We’re waiting.

No Christmas ornaments, tree or anything else is visible inside our house.  That’s unheard of for me.  And as of 12/9 and maybe moving on 12/18 or so, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll even put something out.  I don’t know.  I’m just not feeling it right now.  I’ve seen so much pain and loss this year.  So much suffering, and have spent so many days in the hospital this year myself.

But like our former neighbor, I’m still here.  Alive.  It’s so good to still be alive.

 

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