Quietly sneaking out of bed, I tiptoe out past the dog crate where our two new small rescue dogs sleep, hoping not to wake them or their adopted mom. Softly closing the door, I think the dogs are still sleeping, only to hear the door open and a sleepy mumble, “Please take them out.” Walking from the cozy warmth of the indoors to the stark chill of a winter morning, they wander through the tall grasses and around the trunks of the gnarly oaks, then briskly head back to the heat.

Peace Interrupted

My best Sunday mornings involve quiet, undisturbed moments on the porch or a dock as the family sleeps. Now, a new era involves a couple of tiny dogs the size of couch pillows walking across my keyboard in search of a cuddle. Silence and peace are interrupted by an occasional love nudge or a growl at something seen out the living room window. At least I can see my porch and my little slice of heaven from where I sit. It’s just too cold to be outside writing, and gloves make me hit two keys at a time.

Looming To-Do List

Brightly and with bold confidence, the morning sun streaks a beam of light across the porch, ending on the Christmas tree leaning against the house, waiting to be brought inside. My to-do list stares me in the face — boxes of ornaments and yard decorations that should have been addressed right after Thanksgiving. If I get my chores done, I’ll have the tree up before it’s time to take it down.

A Walk Through the Woods

Last Sunday we managed to drag the triplets away from their busy lives, piling all five of us into Mom’s car, a rarity these days, off on our annual tree-seeking tradition. For us, a walk through the snow-covered woods, saw in hand, and dragging a tree down a country road is replaced by  pointing to a tree and pulling out a credit card. Not terribly romantic, but a tradition the kids love just the same.

The ritual of carrying boxes from the attic, decorating the house, and then tearing it all down again is worth the effort as we pull out ornaments, handmade by the kids as toddlers, that stimulate conversations about childhood. It’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas, especially when the kids bring up their own memories. In spite of being hormone-overloaded teens, there is a brief moment when they think we gave them happy memories.

Decorative Memories

Silly objects that sit around our house will be remembered forever, just as I recall the little white plastic church with the light inside whose doors would open as its music box played “Silent Night,” filling my grandmother’s 1940s living room. One memory stimulates others — odd things we remember, like serving Hillbilly bread at the dinner table, and important memories like reading a devotion and a passage from the Bible at every meal. As I kid I could not wait for it to end, yet today I appreciate faithful dedication, and maybe I absorbed a thing or two.

Family Prayers

Marathon prayers longer than War and Peace came from the hearts of my grandparents, as they made sure to ask for a blessing for every person they ever met in their lives. It’s in the grandparents’ manual, I suppose, because it continues with my own father’s epic prayers. Yet each prayer contains these words we will all remember for the rest of our lives: “Change all of our plans according to your plans, we do and say, and all of our actions according to your will, not our own.” Pretty good advice.

My own kids react the same way we did as kids, just wanting to dig into the meal. I remember an old family friend who used to say, “Don’t ever eat unblessed food.” But we would open our eyes and sneak an occasional green bean. My kids do the same.

Strangers at the Table

Christmas was that time when people we rarely saw would come out of the woodwork. Like aunts and uncles, they were always at holiday meals. One man who was always there, a fellow named Raymond, who was single his whole life and lived alone in a little white house down the road, had served in the Merchant Marine with my dad. I never heard much more about the story of why we adopted him into our family. I’m guessing when I ask my parents they’ll say, “That’s just what you do when people are alone. You include them in family.”

Adopting Families

I don’t know if it was the times, or just something our family did, but people were always living with my grandparents. One woman, Della, was like a third grandmother to us. She was there from the time we were born until she died when we were in our early 20s. I’m guessing she lived with my grandparents for over 30 years. She had lived a few doors down, across the street in a tiny little Craftsman kit house, and was left penniless when her husband and all her kids were killed in an auto accident. That’s when she became part of our family.

Am I That Selfish?

I had not thought about these adopted adult “orphans” in years, and I don’t know if it is what people did back then, perhaps rooted in the Great Depression when people needed help, but I don’t see it today. And I sometimes wonder if I’m too selfish to do something like that myself. I can’t imagine how disruptive it is to a family to take in a widow and let her stay the rest of her life. I’d do it for a week or two, maybe a little more, to help someone get settled. It makes me realize just what special people I had in my life who would put the needs of others before their own comfort. I wish I was less selfish.

Awaiting Your Call

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent some Christmases alone because of circumstances such as not being able to afford to travel home to the family. Being alone for Christmas is not fun. No one should spend Christmas alone, especially people who are suffering with tragedy in their lives, where the simple gesture of an invitation to a meal and to hang out with a family may be the best gift they get all year.

Displaced Families

A few weeks ago I wrote about friends whose lives have been disrupted by hurricanes and fires, losing everything. Maybe you and I can share a little of what we have with them, even if it’s just for a day or a weekend or Christmas. Let’s not assume they have an invitation. There are so many displaced people in those communities that there are not enough hotel rooms or housing to take care of them all.

Is there someone in your life who would enjoy an invitation to Christmas dinner?

Is there someone who, if you stop and think about it, is lonely because of a recent change in their life? Maybe they just moved to your town, or maybe they are recently widowed or divorced. Maybe they are just in need of some friendship.

Imagine the impact you and I could have if each of the 100,000 people who read this would invite just one person for Christmas dinner. That one gesture could change everything for that person. It may seem small to us, but it is major to them.

With Christmas just a couple of weeks away, now is the time to be planning who you will invite.

Charities will tell you that Christmas is the biggest giving season, but what if we found a way to hold on to that Christmas feeling year round? Maybe asking someone to move in for the rest of their life would be a bit of a stretch for most of us, but let’s not ignore our Christmas invitees the rest of the year.

As we get close to the big day, and as the stress of giving “things” tends to keep us going from store to store, let’s not forget the difference we can make in the lives of others with a little slice of our time.

Eric Rhoads