Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Three Christmas Carols



I love Christmas! I love the hustle and bustle. I love the twinkle lights decoratively and creatively hung on window, roof tops, bushes and scrubs. I love plates of sweet treats baked with love and carefully placed on paper plates covered with plastic wrap and tied with ribbons to be delivered to neighbors and friends. I love decorated Christmas trees. I love shopping for the prefect gifts for loved ones and friends. I love wrapping paper and ribbons….and scotch tape. I love the smell of warm wassail. I love any excuse to wear sweaters, scarves and drink gas station hot chocolate. AND I love Christmas Carols. Tonight, on Christmas day 2013 ends, as I sit in my PJ’s in my favorite chair basking in the warm glow of white twinkle lights reflecting on my holiday season, I think my Christmas 2013 can be easily be encapsulated into three of my favorite Christmas Carols. Here goes…


A few weeks ago, Burke and I attended The Lower Lights Christmas concert and one of the songs they played has continued to run through my mind. I’ve never liked this song until I sat in this concert hall and learned the story behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” This song, played in churches and concert halls across the globe, is based on a poem written by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow. In 1863, Longfellow penned the courageous words one night after grappling with the pain and grief associated to the unexpected and tragic death of his young wife, the death of his oldest son, which followed shortly, and the emptiness connected to a country slowly recovering from a civil war. On a cold bleak December night, Mr. Longfellow, braved the elements outside as a distraction from the lack of the expected Christmas cheer. While wrestling through the pain of being a broken hearted widower with debts, anger, loneliness, grief and overwhelming responsibilities of caring for his young family in what seemed an impossible situation, his doubts were finally silenced by the sound of Christmas bells. The think I like about this song, now that I understand the context, is the element of surprising hope. Church bells rung loudly and consistently and clearly on that Christmas day like they had for each day and week preceding the holiday. But for some reason the circumstances were right and those, perhaps expected bells had the power to resonate and reach this man. Sometimes the details in our life can become oh so tricky and complicated and painful that they can be deafening. I totally get where this guy is coming from. BUT, on this day…for this man…the sound of hope rang through his heart. The idea that he finally heard them indicates that his heart was finally ready to let go and begin the healing process. I’m sure, like in many communities, the usual practice of ringing church bells on a consistent basis did not stop even as he was wrestling with his mental, social and emotional demons…but he was just so consumed by the messiness of life that he could not engage with the idea of hope.  My favorite part is the last few words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep’
The wrong shall fail
The Right prevails,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

I’m a firm believer that life is full of seasons of hope and hopelessness. Pain and prosperity. Grief and gratitude. I am grateful for the human process and more personally for the times in life when the fog clears and you can finally begin to hear the bells of hope. The bells of forgiveness. And the bells of redemption that are so personally and yet universally connected to the Christmas season. Christmas, can be such a challenging time, steeped with expectations and nostalgia, and I’m grateful that for better or for worse, Christmas bells ring at least once a year to remind us that life, even as it is full of challenges, it can also be oh so good.

by Isaac Anderson 
Last Summer, over the fourth of July weekend, and after a series of conversations complete with lists of pro’s and con’s, Burke and I decided it was time to move back to Salt Lake City. Our three years in Dallas, Texas knit us together as a family in a way that I could not have expected. We worked hard. We were stretched and challenged and inspired and mentored. We fell in love with a foreign place and found family and friendship in the most unexpected places. We carved out an identity as a family and a couple in a way I do not think was possible had we remained in Salt Lake City. And with all of that growth and gratitude it became very clear that it was time to return home. We want children. We want to be parents and we concluded that beginning our family is far more important than climbing the professional rungs of success. We loved living in Dallas but it became clear that if we were ever going to start our own family it was time to switch gears, make a drastic change and create a new space for our lives to expand. We knew that as long as one of us had a job in Salt Lake City it would be enough to make the leap and we knew that just as important as it was for us to move to Dallas it was equally important for us to leave it. Resumes were updated. Contacts were made. Interviews were held and within weeks, I had a terrific job at Westminster College. By the middle of August we began packing up our lives and we moved back to Salt Lake City three years to the day we left it. I love living in Salt Lake City! I love the people who have made up our Utah community. Living near the mountains is a need, not a want for us. I adore the people and places that helped shaped our youth, adolesence and college years but nothing tops time spent with our siblings and parents. Twice in the last week, I have been moved to tears while being surrounded by our nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, mom’s and dad who have willingly participated in a nativity play at my request. At both family parties, I have invited our families to dress up in fabric scraps, towels, sheets, and old curtains and act out the nativity play. Those who know me understand this event is a hallmark of my holiday season and it had been years since either of our families put on the big holiday show. At the conclusion of our humble production, we sing one of my favorite Christmas carols, Away in a Manger. Both times, without fail I became a puddle of tears when the people I love most in the world sang:

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me I pray
Bless all the dear children with thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

It’s not just these words or these people…its these people singing these words, believing these words, knowing these words that creates a giant lump in my throat. For me, the whole idea of Christmas is the celebration of renewal and redemptive love. Watching my nieces and nephews, our brothers and sisters and our loving parents take part in a re-telling of the Christmas story and then together asking for the Lord’s love to always be near us…it just does not get better than that. Since the time of our conversation on the Fourth of July, we’ve moved across the country, been blessed with two great jobs, moved into the most delightful home and stand ready and prepared for the next giant adventure of life. In January, Burke and I will begin the adoption process and I keep wondering about the dear children who will join our little family. I pray daily that they will be watched over and tenderly cared for. I marvel at how the intricate aspects of life work together in concert to carefully fit us for the next phase, for the next adventure, for the next opportunity to love and be loved. I think of this little family, Mary and Joseph, and the combined joy and terror of becoming parents and I stand grateful for those in my life who so consistently show us love. The idea of becoming parents and starting our family is equal parts anxiety and anticipation. Next year at this time, if all goes as we hope and know it will, there were be a few more little shepherds or wise men or angles in our Christmas play and I know that when we reach the grand finale of this little homemade production the lump in my throat will return and then at that moment Christmas will be Christmas.





For years, far before I ever met Burke Rich, each December, I would drive around Salt Lake City looking at the Christmas lights. From time to time, as a melancholy (and somewhat dramatic) single girl experiencing the holidays, I would drive through Normandie Circle admiring both the classic architecture and the charming holiday d├ęcor and I will admit thinking, “the people who live in these homes MUST have the most perfect lives. I’m betting they are all feasting on delicious foods, laughing and loving each other near a roaring fire with cookies and eggnog a plenty.” I would sigh and then exit the circle wondering about whom these people were and if my idyllic thoughts were real. Well, when I met Burke and learned that he not only grew up in a home located in Normandie Circle but so did his Grandmother and most of his family, I was both delighted and surprised. In time, I was invited to attend the very Christmas festivities of the very people I had day dreamed about. AND as I had suspected the homes were filled with fine foods, endless cookies, comfortable fires and a bounty of Christmas cheer. I realized this does sound a bit like a scene from a Meg Ryan movie but I swear this really happened. Burke and I have been married for five years but it’s been six years since my holiday dreams became a reality. I love being part of the Rich family. Like all families, my in-laws are just normal people, with normal problems, normal up’s and normal down’s. Burke’s extended family is…extensive and full of nuance and history and strength and love and tradition and as a group it does not lacking personality.  My single girl projections are mostly true but like all families we’ve got our warts and in the end its all okay and pretty normal. One of the things I love most about being a Rich is during Christmas, and a handful of other family gatherings, the family will sing “May the Lord Bless you and Keep you” a song arranged by John Rutter and based from Bible verse. The Riches sing this song ACapella and it always reminds me of what is good and honest and true about family and love. Tonight, just like every previous Christmas evening, the extended Rich family gathers and Burke’s Grandmothers home for a night of Christmas cheer. This year’s celebration was complete with the cookies and the fire and the laughter but it also had a somber tone as the family continues to remember the matriarch Mrs. Effie Dean Bowman Rich who passed away earlier this year. As the night drew to a close, as expected the family began singing Christmas songs and ended with “May the Lord Bless You” which is always the final selection. As I looked around the room at the various generations I noticed that most eyes were wet and many voices were shaking. It was sweet and sincere and had everything to do with family and Christmas and the long- standing tradition of warmth that can be found inside Normandie Circle, and especially at Christmas time. I’m not sure this is actually a Christmas carol but it should be.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
 To shine upon you and be gracious
And be gracious unto you
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
To shine upon you and be gracious
And be gracious unto you
The lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you
And give you peace
And give you peace
And give you peace
And give you peace
Amen

Merry Christmas to all!

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