It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Each year in the Seagoville Federal Prison the seven dorms have a Christmas decorating How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-dr-seuss-963113_1024_768contest. Each building is judged as to which is the most decorative and creative. Believe it or not, months of preparation go into this as it is a very big deal for some people. For me, I just love looking at all the Christmas decorations and getting in the Christmas spirit. The dorm winning first prize gets a movie in the auditorium and gets to go first to the chow hall on Christmas Day. (And if you read my previous blog on November 12 entitled “Ready.Set.Go” then you know that going first to eat is a big deal). Unfortunately, nothing of a Christian nature can be used for the contest. The theme chosen by my dorm is “The Grinch” from Dr. Seuss. There are some very creative people in my dorm who recreated life-sized figures of all the Whovilles and even the Grinch himself. It is a spectacular sight to see and I wish I could take a picture of it.

A few days ago I was able to sneak into the reigning champs building and see what masterpiece they are working on this year. And let me tell you, a masterpiece it is! They recreated a Christmas morning living room with a tree, presents, chairs, and a two-story high glowing fireplace with a chimney. All of this was made out of cardboard!!! The artistic abilities that are in this compound could easily fill an art museum. It’s simply amazing the skill some people have. So the entire compound now looks very festive, and I am loving it!

Unfortunately, during this season of the year, some of the attitudes of the inmates change, even as we enjoy the change of routine. They miss their families and holiday traditions. It is a time that all of us get homesick. But I do my best to stay positive. When I think of the holidays now, I get more excited and anxious as to what I have to look forward to again when I leave here. I have numerous Christmas memories during my life and I know there will be many more to come in just a few short years. Here is a list of some of the memories I have that make me think of home during this time:

• Receiving Nintendo from Santa Claus
• Rob your neighbor game on Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ home
• The Old Woman in a Jar that gets passed around every Christmas
• Shrimp platters
• Christmas lights at Lady of the Snow Shrine every Christmas night
• Christmas Eve candlelight service
• Making a family video that remembers the highlights from the past year
• Singing Little Drummer Boy
• Playing Scattegories
• Watching basketball on Christmas Day with Uncle Melvin and listening to his hilarious comments
• Ski trip to Breckenridge CO
• Cutting down a Christmas tree followed by dinner at Pizza Hut – did this for 10 years straight
• 7-layer bars that my Mom always tried to hide for herself
• Snooping for hidden presents (found them once and got in big trouble!)
• Christmas morning stocking stuffers
• Playing and singing Christmas carols with my guitar
• Gooey butter cake
• Getting measured by my grandpa on his measuring stick
• “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas” Santa that spoke those words every time you walked by him at my grandparents
• Cut out cookies and decorating them
• The huge star on the roof of Grandma and Grandpa’s. Where is that star now?
• Breakfast with the neighbors on Christmas Eve morning
• Decorating the Christmas tree with our own ornaments from years past
• Christmas jigsaw puzzle that my mom puts out on Thanksgiving to be finished by Christmas
• Shopping for my family members….and getting yelled at because I only spent .99 on Christmas mints for my Mom one year
• Driving around and looking at Christmas lights
• Decorating the room I shared with my brother with Christmas lights
• Watching Christmas movies with the family – It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone, Elf, A Christmas Carol, Little House on the Prairie, the Herdmans, Christmas Vacation
• Opening gifts at my grandparents, youngest to oldest and then waiting for my Grandma to open allllllll of hers…..she always seemed to get the most.
• Family pictures in front of the Christmas tree
• My Grandpa always asking every year when he would open up one of his gifts if anyone had a pocketknife …..one year we all then handed him a knife! He laughed so hard!!
• Red ribbons on the antlers of the mounted deer head.
• Using the front door on Christmas Eve at my grandparents – the rest of the year we entered through the garage

These are special memories of good times and great laughs with my family, moments I will never forget. And now for these next few years as I put my family memories on hold, I’ll be creating new memories with my new friends I’ve made here. No, it’s not the same as being around family. But these will be special times, too; times I will never forget for as long as I live. No matter what circumstance I am in, Christmas can be a special time.

Wherever you are in life right now….with family or separated, hospitalized, in the military, going through a divorce, grieving over a loss, between jobs…..make some memories of this special season of the year. Do something out of the ordinary; it doesn’t always have to be done the same way. Volunteer or help a neighbor out. Start a new family tradition. But most importantly, give your time and glory to God in all that you do, remembering that Jesus is the real reason for Christmas. Take time to get to one of the many worship services available at this time. May God bless you and your families as you celebrate His birth and spend time with those you love!

Merry Christmas – from my heart to yours!!

P.S. My building won the decorating competition!!

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Strange and Different – A Christmas Story

Author unknown

On a December night in Chicago, a little girl climbed onto her father’s lap and asked a question. It was a simple question, asked in children’s curiosity, yet it had a heart-rending effect on Robert May. “Daddy,” four-year old Barbara asked, “Why isn’t my Mommy just like everybody else’s mommy?” Bob May stole a glance across his shabby two room apartment. On a couch lay his young wife, Evelyn, racked with cancer. For two years she had been bedridden; for two years, all Bob’s income and smaller savings had gone to pay for treatments and medicines.

The terrible ordeal already had shattered two adult lives. Now Bob suddenly realized the happiness of his growing daughter was also in jeopardy. As he ran his fingers through Barbara’s hair, he prayed for some satisfactory answer to her question.
Bob May knew only too well what it meant to be “different.” As a child he had been weak and delicate. With the innocent cruelty of children, his playmates had continually goaded the stunted, skinny lad to tears. Later at Dartmouth, from which he was graduated in 1926, Bob May was so small that he was always being mistaken for someone’s little brother. Nor was his adult life much happier. Unlike many of his classmates who floated from college into plush jobs, Bob became a lowly copy writer for Montgomery Ward, the big Chicago mail order house. Now at 33, Bob was deep in debt, depressed and sad. Although Bob did not know it at the time, the answer he gave the tousled haired child on his lap was to bring him to fame and fortune. It was also to bring joy to countless thousands of children like his own Barbara. On that December night in the shabby Chicago apartment, Bob cradled his little girl’s head against his shoulder and began to tell a story.

“Once upon a time there was a reindeer named Rudolph, the only reindeer in the world that had a big red nose. Naturally people called him Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” As Bob went on to tell about Rudolph, he tried desperately to communicate to Barbara the knowledge that, even though some creatures of God are strange and different, they often enjoy the miraculous power to make others happy. Rudolph, Bob explained, was terribly embarrassed by his unique nose. Other reindeer laughed at him; his mother and father and sister were mortified too. Even Rudolph wallowed in self pity.

“Well,” continued Bob, “one Christmas Eve, Santa Claus got his team of husky reindeer -Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixon ready for their yearly trip around the world. The entire reindeer community assembled to cheer these great heroes on their way. But a terrible fog engulfed the earth that evening, and Santa knew that the mist was so thick he wouldn’t be able to find any chimney.
Suddenly Rudolph appeared, his red nose glowing brighter than ever. Santa sensed at once that here was the answer to his perplexing problem. He led Rudolph to the front of the sleigh, fastened the harness and climbed in. They were off! Rudolph guided Santa safely to every chimney that night. Rain and fog, snow and sleet; nothing bothered Rudolph, for his bright nose penetrated the mist like a beacon. And so it was that Rudolph became the most famous and beloved of all the reindeer. The huge red nose he once hid in shame was now the envy of every buck and doe in the reindeer world. Santa Claus told everyone that Rudolph had saved the day and from that Christmas, Rudolph has been living serenely and happy.”

Little Barbara laughed with glee when her father finished. Every night she begged him to repeat the tale until finally Bob could rattle it off in his sleep. Then, at Christmas time he decided to make the story into a poem like “The Night Before Christmas” and prepare it in bookish form illustrated with pictures, for Barbara’s personal gift. Night after night, Bob worked on the verses after Barbara had gone to bed for he was determined his daughter should have a worthwhile gift, even though he could not afford to buy one… rudolph-book

Then as Bob was about to put the finishing touches on Rudolph, tragedy struck.
Evelyn May died. Bob, his hopes crushed, turned to Barbara as chief comfort. Yet, despite his grief, he sat at his desk in the quiet, now lonely apartment, and worked on “Rudolph” with tears in his eyes. Shortly after Barbara had cried with joy over his handmade gift on Christmas morning, Bob was asked to an employee’s holiday party at Montgomery Wards. He didn’t want to go, but his office associates insisted. When Bob finally agreed, he took with him the poem and read it to the crowd. First the noisy throng listened in laughter and gaiety. Then they became silent, and at the end, broke into spontaneous applause. That was in 1938.

By Christmas of 1947, some 6 million copies of the booklet had been given away or sold, making Rudolph one of the most widely distributed books in the world. The demand for Rudolph sponsored products, increased so much in variety and number that educators and historians predicted Rudolph would come to occupy a permanent place in the Christmas legend.

Tis the Season

snow-report-headerHave you ever ventured out to the middle of nowhere, all by yourself, not a single person or man-made object around, and just observed God’s creation and love for us?  Have you ever had those moments when you are surrounded by 10-15 of your friends, with everyone smiling, talking, laughing, and having a good time? Have you ever witnessed a birth or your son’s first Little League hit or enjoyed a family vacation? These should be moments of thankfulness!

What is thanks? Thanks is defined as expressing gratitude or appreciation. Although I have many things to be thankful for, one thing I’m particularly thankful for are my five senses. Imagine not having one of them. It would be tough, wouldn’t it? I absolutely love the outdoors and could not imagine not seeing the snowcap Rocky Mountains, the smell of pine trees, the taste of snow on my tongue, the sounds of river rapids, or the feel of sleeping on the forest floor. Ever hear (yep, using one of your senses!) the song “Indescribable” by Chris Tomlin? Check it out now! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yQW_4zNt_w It’s a great song describing God’s creation.

I can remember one winter when I went skiing in Breckenridge, CO. I decided to venture off the beaten path and do a little backcountry skiing by myself. Within minutes, I was completely away from all civilization. I came to a clearing when the snow just started falling. I stopped skiing and paused to take in my surroundings. The gentle sound of the falling snow. The picturesque view of the snow covered pine trees. The intimidating height of the snow filled mountains. The smell of the mountain air. I wondered if heaven would look like this. I sure hope so! To not be able to have one of my senses in such a time as this would be tough.

I must say that God is pretty cool to design our bodies in a way so that we can enjoy all He created – the sights, sounds, taste, touch, and smells of the world. He definitely knew what He was doing. And for this, I am truly thankful!

During this holiday season, I encourage each of you to take time to think about all the things you are thankful for. Tell your family and relatives that you are thankful for what they do for you. Give some encouraging words to your boss or a co-worker. But most importantly, give God the praise He deserves for what He has done in your life. Give thanks in all circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

****Thank you, my family and friends, for your love, support, letters, encouraging words, and prayers during this time in my life. It’s people like you that make my situation that much easier. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!*****