I miss standing around a tailgate on cold Christmas Eves with Hart men waiting for the heat of a wood fire to pop open fresh North Carolina oysters. I miss the fried oysters, steamed shrimp, cornbread, turkey, stuffing, and endless desserts that my grandmother, mom, and aunts made for those same Christmas Eves. I miss the nervous energy of all my cousins and me sitting at the kid’s table waiting for the last adult to push away the final bits of so much good food. Under the watch of our anxious eyes pushing the plate away signaled dinner was over and it was time to gather in the den.
I miss my Uncle Billy putting on a Santa hat and handing out presents. I miss my grandmother sitting quietly looking at all her sons, daughters, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and even great-great grandchildren. I miss the Christmas Eves of my childhood when we all gathered at my grandmother’s, ate seafood, opened presents, and celebrated Christmas. For me, Christmas began on December 24th at Grandma Hart’s.
We have not celebrated Christmas at my grandmother’s in more than 10 years. Uncle Billy passed away. My dad a few years after him. All of my cousins and I have grown up and have families of our own. Some of us have hung on to some of the old Christmas traditions and started new ones. I still try to have some oysters and shrimp on Christmas Eve, but it’s hard no longer living in Eastern North Carolina. I cherish those Christmas memories and traditions of my childhood.
Present on Christmas Morning
On Christmas morning, I try to make it around to a couple of Crossnore cottages. I love seeing the joy and excitement on the faces of the children we serve. They have the same nervous energy I had so many years ago as they wait for cottage parents, brothers, sisters, and friends to wake up and get moving. They celebrate Christmas with meals and traditions that are as rich and diverse as the cottage parents who live with them.
As I make my Christmas morning rounds, I cannot help but wonder what these children’s memories will be when they are my age. Maybe they will remember some of the Spanish words from Mrs. Betty or Mr. Steve’s smile and laugh. Maybe they will remember Mr. John’s and Mrs. Betsy’s patience. Maybe they will remember the Crossnore staff who was present for them. Mostly, I hope they remember the excitement of being a child on Christmas morning knowing they are loved.
One of my favorite scriptures to read on Christmas morning is John 1:14 from Eugene Peterson’s translation called The Message. It is written, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” To the dismay of all the folks in the congregation, I used to read this scripture at every Christmas service when I served a church. God moved into the neighborhood. Not just the rural Eastern North Carolina neighborhood of my family or the more urban neighborhoods of the Winston-Salem area, but the neighborhood universal. He moved into the world. He became incarnate and walked among us.
Generous and True
Last week, I asked one of our teen cottages what it would be like if Jesus moved into their neighborhood. They laughed and had a good time calling out each other saying their housemates needed Jesus more than they did. Their CPs even had a good time thinking about Jesus moving in. Through their laughs and ribbing of each other, I could see they were really processing this idea of Jesus moving into the cottage so I asked them my last question. “If He moved into the cottage, but we did not know it was Him, how would He act?” After some back and forth and more ribbing, I read the last bit of John 1:14: “Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
When my days at Crossnore Communities are nothing more than memories, I want to miss the Christmas excitement on the faces of the children. I want to miss their words as they tell me about what Santa brought them. I want to miss being present with them. I will cherish the memories of Spanish words, smiles, and unending patience.
If I was as smart and determined as Eugene Peterson, I guess my translation of John 1:14 would be, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the community.” That is what I want my ultimate memory to be. That God was and is present in the communities of Crossnore. That He continues to call volunteers, donors, and employees to the community. I want to remember each of those folks who are generous inside and out, true from start to finish.