Thursday, December 25, 2008

Family Christmas

Last night, Christmas Eve 2008, we had our Family Christmas.

We do things specially in my family. We exchange names for Christmas, so each person gets one gift. And there is a $5 limit. There aren't very many things you can buy for $5 that are meaningful, so often people make something for each other. I already know that when I get back to school, people (kids and adults alike) will ask the inevitable question, "So what did you get for Christmas?" And I will respond with, "A calendar."
"Is that all you got? A calendar?"
"In the words of Esther Aimesworth, 'It's much more than that.'"
Let me explain.

Last night began with Steve, my brother-in-law. He had drawn Susan, my sister and his wife. When she opened her present it was a box of Fruit Loops. Now a box of cereal might not seem like much of a gift, but you have to know our family, which Steve obviously does (mostly because he's a great husband, father, son-in-law, brother-in-law and all-around great person). When Susan opened the gift, she got to tell the story of why cereal has meaning.

When Susan and I were young, we weren't allowed to have sugared cereal. Except on Christmas, when Santa would bring us one box each. Susan always got Fruit Loops. I usually got Apple Jacks, but sometimes something else. Cereal never tasted as sweet as it did on Christmas, and not because it was 90% sugar.

Then it was Susan's turn. She had drawn Debora, one of my Brazilian nieces who is living with Susan and her family while attending Northwest Nazarene University (NNU). Earlier in the day I had heard what Susan was giving Debora, which turns out to be part of the gift. Susan had told the story about waiting to get Debora's gift because, "it's a simple household item I can pick up at the thrift store anytime." Of course when she went to the thrift store, there weren't any left. So she went to another thrift store, and found one. It was broken, and Steve wasn't sure he could fix the handle, so they decided to try another store. A third store was found, with ever increasing frustration in my sister, only to be denied once again.

Steve, who was Susan's chauffeur for the day, was ever the calming personality. Throughout the ordeal, he just enjoyed being with his wife, despite the miles, and traffic, and empty stores. When the the third thrift store was a bust, they went back to get the broken one at the previous store. You already know what happened next ... it was gone. Sometime in the previous 30 minutes, someone else had decided it was too valuable to pass up, broken handle and all.

After the second thrift store (the second time), they decided to try Fred Meyer. Surely they would have one. Nope.

Last chance: Walmart. With prayer on her voice, "Please let there be one here. Please let there be one her," Susan walked down the aisle. There it was, the last one, hanging on the rack, and under the $5 limit.

Back to Debora: when she opened the gift laughter was her first expression. Susan had found the perfect gift, a wooden rolling pin. Of course you're thinking, "A rolling pin? What kind of gift is that? Is she a baker?" No, she's not a baker.

We then got to hear the story of why a wooden rolling pin had meaning. Several weeks before, Debora had been sitting on the stairs near the kitchen, when she heard a rapping, a gentle tapping at the kitchen window: three knocks. From the stairs, the picture window in the kitchen isn't visible. And anyone looking in from outside, through the window, would not be able to see the stairs. Since it was late, and because of another situation involving her sister Haline (which you'll get to read later), Debora was scared. Did she imagine it? Who was at the window this late and why were they knocking?

Then it came again, three small knocks on the window. Debora bolted downstairs to the bedroom, where Haline was there to comfort and reassure her.

The next morning, Debora and Haline were at the breakfast table, when Debora saw something move in Steve and Susan's dark room, which was thought to be empty. The motion came again. With all the bravery she could muster, Debora sprang to the kitchen, opened a drawer, and pulled out a wooden rolling pin and big knife. "I'm going to see who's up there." Slowly down the hallway, wielding the two weapons, Debora crept toward the dark, dangerous room. "Who's in there? I have a rolling pin and I'm not afraid to use it."

A nervous voice responded, "Debora? It's me, Steve."

We all had a great laugh.

So Debora was next and she had drawn Janae's name. Janae is my niece.

When Janae opened her gift, it was a purse, a handmade purse, just the right size. Janae said, "I remember seeing this fabric on your bed and asking you what it was?" She had been told, "It's for something." She had seen her gift in the process and didn't even realize it.

Janae was next, so she gave her gift to Steve, her step-dad.
He unwrapped the gift to find a second layer of wrapping paper.
He unwrapped the gift to find a third layer of wrapping paper.
The third layer (or fourth, or eighth; to be honest I lost count) was completely wrapped in clear tape, completely.
Steve said, "I gave you this tape!"
He told the story of how Janae had come to ask for tape and all he had was packing tape. I think she used it all.

He unwrapped the gift to find an apron. Janae had made an apron for Steve so that he could bake his wonderful pies, and barbecue for the family in the summer. It had a pocket on the front, and it included all Janae's effort, and love. She had to learn how to sew to make it.

Since Steve had already gone, that circle of gifts was complete, although the stories weren't. My mom, Gramma Jan, went next, giving her gift to Braeden, my nephew. It has become a Christmas tradition that Janae and Braeden receive new pillowcases every Christmas. Mom - Gramma Jan I mean - had made Braeden new pillow case, which I'm very jealous of. It's dark blue fabric with planets and stars all over it. He also received a softball sized rock. "Is this rainbow obsidian?" It is. I didn't even know my nephew was a rockhound.

Braeden was next, but he deferred until the end. We would all have to move to see his gift. So dad went next. He had drawn Haline's name. She opened her gift to find a handmade book. Rather than retell what she read aloud to us, I'll include it here. Dad - Grampa Ernie - had written stories about Haline and our family.

You're Family Now: The Adventures of a Girl from Brazil Now Living In Idaho (As told by Papa Ernie)

Welcome to Idaho

You were excited when Steve and Susan invited you to live with them. That they lived just a block and a half from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) where you would soon be a freshman made it all the better. Then you met their son and daughter, Braeden and Janae, and felt even more at home.

You were a long way from your own family in Africa, where they were serving as missionaries, so you were eager to be part of your new Idaho family. Then you met Susan’s parents. That would be me and my wife Jan. “We’ll see you around,” we told you. “We live right next door.”

And so we came to dinner and sometimes walked to church together and watched you settle in. You didn’t miss much. You listened carefully before you spoke and quietly observed before you acted. You wanted to fit in to the American culture and get to know your new family before you began your studies at NNU. You couldn’t have known what strange things you would encounter until that night in September soon after you arrived.

It was late evening, already dark outside, when all the lights inside the house went out. At first you weren’t surprised. No country has a reliable source of electricity 24/7 does it? No big deal! You had lived with power outages on the mission field. “That must be what’s happening in my new home,” you thought.

Then you spotted movement just outside the window. Someone was walking around the yard, shining a light into the windows. One by one they looked in each window. Memories from the mission field raced through your mind. They’ve cut the lines to the house and are going to come in and kill us all! But why? This is a nice family. Why would anyone want to harm them? I am too young to die this way. Why did I come to NNU?

Shaking, you hit the floor to avoid being seen, crawled upstairs to the bedroom of Steve and Susan, and in a loud whisper called out: “Steve! Susan! Someone is outside trying to get in. And He’s going to kill us all.”

Steve opened the bedroom door and came out. Then somewhat to your surprise, he went outside to investigate. He found nothing out of the ordinary; saw no intruder shining lights into the windows. The electricity was off in the whole neighborhood, but that was all. Steve re-assured you the electricity would be restored shortly and everything would be okay. Then he went back to bed.

But you had had way too much excitement. You just knew you would lay awake the rest of the night listening for the intruder; you felt sure he was still out there. Your welcome to your new home-away-from-home was packed with too much adrenalin for sleep that night.


Welcome to Papa’s World

I was proud of my daughter and her family. They opened their home and hearts to you so you could attend NNU without worry about paying for room and board. It was a generous and compassionate thing to do; the sort of thing that makes a dad’s heart swell to realize his daughter is following the Christian principles on which she was raised. I knew your coming would be good for my daughter and her family.

I also wanted the experience to be wonderful for you, Haline. I was as excited about your being here as you were and ready to help in any way. You didn’t know yet that in my enthusiasm and spontaneous way, I sometimes jump in too quickly to help and make everything right for everyone. But you were soon to discover the truth about “Papa Ernie”. Your new Idaho Grampa. So I’ll include here “the rest of the story” about that eventful night the lights went out.

I was still up when our house lights flickered and went off. I went to the circuit box to reset the breaker but found no breakers tripped. Then I looked out the window. Our whole neighborhood was dark. Must be a major power outage, I concluded.

Then my “protector” instinct kicked in. “Our new ‘granddaughter’ will probably be scared,” I thought. “Susan and Steve probably don’t have candles. And Haline certainly wouldn’t know where they are anyway. I better get over there.” All the “probable’s” called Papa Ernie to the rescue!

Grabbing a flashlight, I raced next door. I wanted to be there for all those groping around in the dark wishing someone would come and help. I shined light in the front window, then headed toward the back yard, aiming the flashlight in every window as I went to make sure no one was stumbling around in the dark.

After searching in every window and seeing no activity inside, I concluded everyone was already in bed. So I made my way back home and back to bed. I was proud I had tried to be helpful. At least I knew my family, including you, Haline, were safe. I slept soundly with a sense of contentment, knowing I had done what I could and everyone was taken care of.

Some days later, when the family gathered for a Sunday dinner, you began to relate, with great animation, your frightening experience the night all the lights went off in the whole neighborhood. The night an intruder circled the house, ready to kill the whole family. In America even, you thought!

I had to confess. I had to tell you and the rest of the family that I was “the intruder”. I was the one who scared you to death. Somehow, my just wanting to be helpful that dark night did not resonate nearly as well with the family “being rescued” as much as it did with the one I guess the knight in shining armor sleeps better than the one thinking she’s about to be eaten by a dragon.

Fortunately, as time has passed, that night has become a story you enjoy telling and we love hearing. At least I hope that’s true.

Scooters and Keys and Wires … O My!

“So you’ve misplaced your keys; no big deal. I’ve hot wired a few cars in my day. I can get this scooter running in no time. Then when you find your keys, I’ll put the wiring back just like new. Before I start though, let’s make sure you didn’t leave the keys in the luggage compartment. That would be easy to solve too. I picked a few locks when I was a youth minster … just when necessary, you understand.”

So I got some tools and I told you I’d have the scooter ready to go by the time you returned from class. I planned to remove the switch, take it to a lock smith and have a new key made. Your scooter would be as good as new.

I took off one shield, then another, then another, trying to get to where the switch should have been. I finally located the switch but it did not come out like I thought it would. I was a little nervous about the broken plastic pieces lying around (just small ones). I hadn’t thought I was prying hard enough to break anything.

Though my back was hurting from bending over longer than I was used to, I began to put back the shields and was able to camouflage the small broken pieces. However, my ego was bruised. When you arrived back at the house, the scooter was no closer to being fixed than when you left for class. And I had promised. What could we do?

I didn’t want to give up and I did not want to wait for real help. So in spite of your nervousness and uncertainty, you and I and Braeden loaded the scooter into Steve’s pickup and headed to the locksmith shop. I’m sure you wondered as you had many times before: What have I gotten myself into and who is this neighbor who keeps “helping” me all the time?

Well, the locksmith did his thing (without ever having to remove the scooter from the back of the truck) and you headed back home. Then, because I forgot to secure the scooter when it was loaded, the scooter fell over when you turned a corner. Now it not only had some broken pieces, camouflaged as they were, but some fairly visible scratches. What was your new friend going to think? The one who gave you the scooter? You’d already lost the keys and now it was all scratched up.

At that point in time, I’m sure you had more questions than answers: What happened to the keys to your scooter? Will they ever be found? Should I learn how to hotwire a scooter? Or how to pick a lock? You thought you were coming to Idaho to gain all knowledge from NNU. Silly girl. There is so much to learn and Papa Ernie is just the one to help. All you have to do is ask him.

I won't include the "Personal Note." That's for family.

Haline went next. She had drawn my name. As she brought the wrapped present, she said, "It's not quite done yet, but it will be soon." Earlier in the evening Haline had asked for a picture of me with Janae and Braeden. I didn't put too much meaning to the request at the time.

Haline had made a 2009 calendar for me, with pictures of my family at the top of every month. This is not the kind of calender you can get in the store, or the kind of calendar you can make it an office store. You know the kind - upload some photos, print out the whole thing, bound at the top with that plastic spiral binding. No, this is homemade. This was effort and love and time bound with bright green ribbon. However, two months were missing photos! Ahhhh, that's why she needs a picture of me with Janae and Braeden. December with have a picture of the whole family, all 9 of us.

Next, obviously, was me. I had drawn my dad's name, and had written something for him. Here's what I wrote.

From the Government office for the development of

Magnificent Centers for Noise And Ubiquitous Gongs of Habitual Truth

RE: Genetic Update on Familial Unit McN03

As you know, Familial Unit McN03 – Code Name: Christopher – has experienced certain difficulties, which have necessitated a file review. This is a summary of that review.

Recent circumstances necessitated the replacement and repair of various physical components. In our treatment of McN03 we intermixed genetic components of McN01 – Code Name: Ernest. The material used was being stored in a box labeled “RA.” According to our records, RA is the company acronym for “Recently Acquired” leading us to believe that the included material was safe. We have since discovered that the RA on this box actually stood for “Really Awful,” “Reported Anguish,” or “Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
We are investigating how this box was mislabeled, and the true meaning of RA on this package. No matter the true meaning of the label, the genetic components have afflicted McN03 with various ailments:
• physical pain,
• joint stiffness, and an
• inadequate immune system.
Chemical treatment is keeping the conditions under control, but no improvement has been documented. We do not expect the subject’s condition to reverse or improve.

Various other side effects have been noted:
• McN03’s Healthy Ubiquitous Grip System (HUGS) has become overactive. McN03’s HUGS occur as many as 100 times per day, sometimes more. It seems, however, that this overactive system has not been a detriment, but rather may be therapeutic in nature, alleviating some of the ailments of RA described above. We expect McN03’s use of HUGS to either increase or at lease remain constant, allowing for continuing therapeutic benefit.
• McN03’s Nocturnal Activity Protocol System (NAPS) was in excellent condition before the most recent upgrades, but genetic components of McN01’s NAP system has added increased functionality and efficiency. McN03 is able to utilize the NAPS at any time, and seemingly for any length of time. This increased ability for restoration has become a necessary asset in light of the RA described above. We anticipate increased usage of this system, in combination with the regularly scheduled nocturnal rest periods.
• McN03’s Emotional Management, PAin THreshold and Youth (EMPATHY) system has become more sensitive. McN03 has an increased appreciation and awareness of McN01’s physical condition, including pain levels, fatigue, and NAPS requirements. McN03 also has experienced the accompanying mental fatigue and resulting lowered emotional well-being. The EMPATHY system sensitivity has extended to include McN02.
• McN03’s Future And Immediate Theological Health (FAITH) has been adversely affected by the RA and other complications. However, the system is stable; we do not anticipate system failure. McN03’s FAITH seems to be a direct result of McN01’s FAITH. The strength of the FAITH system can only be attributed to the strength of the bond between McN01 and McN03. Further study on McN03’s system is indicated and treatment has begun to repair the current damage.

Evidence of the use of McN02’s – Code Name: Janice – genetic material has also surfaced. However, we will reserve that evidence for another report.

Although it should be impossible for genetic material from McN04/BUT02 – Code Name: Susan – to infiltrate the body structure of McN03, we are documenting significant similarities between the two units. This too will be addressed in another report.

Conclusion: McN03 is progressing normally through a difficult transition. It is apparent to the file review committee that other familial units in the McN design type have had a significant affect on McN03. We expect this positive influence to continue.

I know it was a good gift because Dad cried when he read it.

So now we were back to Braeden. We all adjourned to the TV-Family room, downstairs.

Braeden had received a musical instrument from Gramma Jan several years ago, with the accompanying encouragment, "I'm expecting big things."

Braeden had taken that advice to heart and made a DVD of himself playing four songs. The title of the DVD: Great Things. It even included a blooper song. Although he explained before that song, we still had to ask, "What were you trying to play there?" At the end of the blooper song we heard Braeden realize how badly it had gone, "Oh crud."

I am part of an amazing family.
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