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“Humanity has unquestionably one really effective weapon – Laughter.” Mark Twain
The year was 1983. It was Christmastime: My father’s very favorite time of the year.
A few months earlier, my family and I moved from our hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, to an even smaller town, Madison, near Jackson, Mississippi.
I was just shy of turning 13 years old when Dad and Mom called a little family meeting in our living room. We had had these meetings before, but this one felt different at the onset.
What I couldn’t have known at the time was how significant this family meeting was and how much that particular Christmas would mean to me for the rest of my life. It was during this one holiday season that I would learn my most humbling and most important life lesson about hope, humility and the significant role that humor plays in all of it.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”
When I think about Lincoln and the life he lived, it is very reminiscent to me as to how my father lived his life as well.
As an entrepreneur, (before it was cool to be one), my father understood that by taking risks, you were setting things in motion that could potentially backfire if they didn’t go according to plan. And when those times happened, (and they did), there would be a great let down of the spirit, along with harsh criticism by some who didn’t understand the mindset of a “dreamer,” as they used to call entrepreneurs.
Also like Lincoln, Dad’s greatest weapon to stave off the negative words and worrisome thoughts that must have surely plagued him during the “down” times was his ability to press on with humor, with hope and with a humble spirit.
We actually never knew when these down times happened because our parents did a great job at shielding them from us.
Mom, many times, would shoulder the burden of worry and stress so that Dad could continue in his quest to find meaning and financial satisfaction in his many entrepreneurial endeavors…. which he absolutely did many times and especially at the end of his life. When he reached his pinnacle, he never shied away from rewarding Mom for her love, devotion and belief in him.
But this particular December in 1983, Dad sat all of us down, while he and Mom sat side-by-side across from us. I knew this family meeting felt a little bit different than the other family meetings because of the serious tone of the atmosphere.
Mom looked at us and then turned back to look at Dad. Dad stared at us for a few seconds and then he smiled a softer version of his dimpled smile, “Guys, you know how much I love Christmas. Some might even say I go overboard during this time of year.”
He paused purposefully and looked at Mom, who smiled back, indicating that she was the culprit he was speaking of.
“But look,” he continued, “When we moved here, I was promised many things that haven’t quite panned out.”
The next thing he said was hard to hear, but not because of the words spoken to us, but because of the hopelessness and helplessness that dripped from those words as they fell out of his mouth.
“Guys, Mr. Smith (the man who had hired my dad and moved our family to Mississippi a few months earlier), hasn’t been able to keep his end of the bargain, so we are going to have to make some hard changes.”
I’m sure our eyes must have all widened to the size of saucers because he immediately reassured us that it was all going to be okay.
We four just sat there dutifully listening.
“Um…uhh…” He stammered, “This Christmas is…uh…it’s going to be a little different…” He was smiling but there was a sadness to his smile.
Noticing Dad struggling to find the right words, Mom interjected calmly, “So, guys, this Christmas is going to be about us being together more than it’s going to be about getting tons of gifts under the tree.”
Upon seeing what I’m sure were four little dead-pan, disappointed faces, Dad chimed in quickly, “I mean, don’t get us wrong! We are still going to have so much fun this Christmas! We’ve already made up a list of some of the Christmas fun we want to do with you guys! Like tonight, we are going to jump in the car and go look at all of the beauuuuutiful Christmas lights around Madison! Would y’all want to do that?”
Excitedly, we jumped up, grabbed our coats, hopped in that big ole white Oldsmobile of ours and had THE best night together looking at Christmas lights in the towns of Madison and Ridgeland, singing Christmas songs and laughing at Dad’s silly remarks along the way.
Those are the sweetest of memories.
I remember so much about that December. In fact, it’s probably my most memorable Christmas ever.
One memory is etched in my mind. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and as I made my way to the kitchen, I noticed my Mom sitting by herself on the living room floor in her long flannel gown in front of the TV. Sleepily, I asked her what she was doing up so late. That’s when she showed me what she was working on.
My mom was staying up late each night, after we all went to bed, making the most beautiful “Precious Memories” dough ornaments for all of our extended family members that Christmas. If she couldn’t purchase gifts for them, she determined she would make them gifts to treasure. And they absolutely did. And still do!
These collectible teardrop-eyed figurines are known around the world for their messages of God’s love and promises for us.
So, for me, those dough ornament replicas that Mom made for our family embody and symbolize where my mom’s heart and especially where her faith remained during a time when most wives would have been filled with hopelessness.
How fitting that in a time of great humility, Mom was able to not only feel the hope of God’s promises for our future, but to continue to share it with those she loved.
Dad, as usual, kept the fun and laughter as the mainstay in our house. Christmas music played constantly. Happiness filled the air and we never missed a beat.
We could feel that the purse strings had tightened a bit, but it wasn’t all that bad since laughter and fun remained in our home.
Our great surprise that year was having our Aunt Kirdy, Uncle Tom and Cousin Robyn fly in to be with us that Christmas! Both of our grandmothers and our Papaw were there as well because they spent every Christmas with us, no matter where we lived. And we loved it!
Not really expecting much Christmas morning, we were thrilled to see that Santa Claus didn’t let us down. Our stockings were full of fun stuff and under the tree, he left me some jelly shoes that I desperately wanted and a HUGE jar of State Fair pickles…My favorite!! I was happy!
Anyway, after all the gifts were opened, Mom made all of us some hot chocolate, as Christmas music filled the air! We mostly spent the morning playing with our little sister, Lindsay, and her new Christmas toys.
Later that morning, our brother Jason came running in the house hollering that our cousins from Monroe were pulling in the driveway.
What?!? We couldn’t believe it!
We all skittered for the back door, and lo and behold, there they were!
Our Aunt Betty and Uncle Joey, along with our cousins, Beth and Kathy, had spent their Christmas morning traveling from Monroe to Madison to be with us!!
I remember them walking towards us with big smiles on their faces while Uncle Joey carried an armload of gifts for us!
There were a lot of tears, tight hugs and a whole lot of joyful laughter billowing through those old pine trees on Wintergreen Road that day. The joy and euphoria that I felt bubbling within my spirit that Christmas has never left my soul. I can still feel it to this day.
Christmas of ‘83 is so special to me. It was my first real lesson that the storms of life are inevitable. But if I simply put my trust and faith in God and carry on with my life in humility, with a hopeful spirit and with laughter at the ready, then I can expect a sense of peace to wash over my spirit as He carries me through to ultimate victory.
Laughter is the inducer of hope.
Hope is the light in the darkness.
Humility is the enforcer of gratitude.
And when you choose to live in gratitude, you are choosing to live fully human.
You are choosing to Keep it Real in a world that craves your authenticity.