A Christmas Gift From My Mother

Christmas 1978 was memorable, and not for all the right reasons. Cindy and I were in seminary in Boston. We wouldn’t be able to come home for the holidays, but I wanted to spread some cheer, especially to my Mother. She was always keen on doing unselfish things for others. She had a huge heart and was generous to a fault. She didn’t like much fanfare or thanks. She was kind to the core. Plus she was gifted in making crafts which provided a never-ending source of “pretties,” as she called them, to give to people.

One Christmas I recall her melting paraffin and pouring countless quart milk cartoons full of wax to make candles. She painted. She crocheted all sorts of things. At Christmas 1978 she decided to make a gift for President Jimmy Carter’s 11 year old daughter, Amy. Since President Carter had been a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, Mother decided to crochet what she called a “peanut doll” for Amy’s Christmas present. From what she described to me on the phone, it was an elaborately painted peanut with all the features exquisitely done with a full blown costume including a purse and shoes.

She also described the derision that my brother Carlee and my Father heaped on her. They said things like, “She probably won’t even get the doll. The Secret Service will confiscate it.” “You’re wasting all your time on something, and you’ll never even get a thank-you note.” She told me all of their comments, and I decided right then and there to do something about it. Cindy and I might not be able to come home for Christmas, but I could certainly stand up for my Mom. I wanted to silence her critics!

The next Friday I called. My brother answered and I put on a fake voice, “This is James McCabe calling from the White House. I want to express to Mrs. McClendon the gratitude of President and Mrs. Carter for the gift sent to their daughter, Amy.” Before I could say anything else from my script, my brother interrupted, “I’m sorry. She’s not here, but if you will call back in 15 minutes she will be here.” I said, “Certainly. I’ll call back.”

I didn’t think about my Mother’s usual Friday hair appointment at Sara’s in Edgefield. Anyway, I found out what my brother did. He went into town, burst into the all-female domain, blurted out that a phone call from the White House had been received, and that they were calling back in a few minutes. Mother was rushed out with her hair half-completed and whisked home.

I made the call with just the right amount of delay. Mother answered the phone and I went into my spiel: “This is James McCabe, White House Chief of Staff, and I just wanted to convey the President’s thanks for the lovely Christmas gift to his daughter.” I went on a little further and then gave her time to respond. She said, “Thank you so much for calling. I didn’t expect this at all. I just wanted to let Amy know that I was thinking about her and wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas.” She said some other formal sounding pleasantries, ever the Southern Lady in genuine appreciation for the call.

You could smell and hear the honeysuckle dripping. I couldn’t hold back any longer so I semi-yelled, “Mama, it’s me, Tim! I wanted to show up Daddy and Carlee for making fun of you….” She interrupted me, as if I hadn’t said anything or revealed my true identity, and said, “Once again, Mr. McCabe, thank you for your call. My husband and son are standing right here and are so pleased that the White House has called. Have a Merry Christmas and give my best to the President and Mrs. Carter, and, of course, to Amy. Goodbye.”

As I learned later, my brother drove her back into town whereupon she was greeted at Sara’s like a regal queen. No doubt they had heard about my Dad and brother’s mocking of her crocheted Christmas gift to Amy Carter. She told them about the call and got back under the dryer. By afternoon she had been contacted by what we affectionately called the “Edgefield Astonisher.” A front-page article the next week was titled, “White House Phone Call.”

Mother called me and said in no uncertain terms that I should never, ever, ever do anything like that again. My Dad and brother never learned the truth. Mother went to her grave never spilling the beans. I’ve wondered ever since what the moral of this Christmas story is. I think I’ve got it now. Mother always did things for others without ever wanting any thanks. She would have been happy even if she never got a thank-you note from the White House, which she did, by the way, the very next week. I was the one who wanted thanks as I blurted out my name to her on the phone. It was my way of saying, “I’m the one you ought to thank for defending you.”

I was right to defend her, but I was wrong to have wanted her thanks. It made the whole ruse about me more than about her. Well, my lesson was that Mama didn’t need defending nor did she require thanks. I wish that I was more like her every day. We don’t give gifts for the thanks we receive. God sure didn’t when he gave us Jesus, the best Christmas gift of all.

mother-picture

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Jesus, Narcie, and a Topsy-Turvy Week

Every week is an adventure! Who knew that last Saturday, November 1, we would have the earliest recorded snowfall in South Carolina? I ended up driving through a rough stretch of it to get to my brother who was hospitalized with a heart attack. Since Saturday he’s had a total of two, his renal function needs to improve, and God bless his wife. She is literally the best thing that has ever happened to him!

Last Saturday was also my first Apple Fest at St. John’s and it was unbelievable. What an amazing gargantuan task to turn the church into a mall with crafts, treasures, jewelry, casseroles, baked goods, apples galore, clothing for sale, and a silent auction. I suspect that $20,000 was raised for missions. Saturday night was frigid and I was unfortunately on hand to see my SC Gamecocks humiliated by Tennessee. Sunday was wonderful with an attendance of 1061 as we celebrated the Saints and had a baptism!

Monday was the day for my brother’s second heart attack and oral surgery for me. I have been loopy to say the least. My brother is improving, but slowly. Caleb is home from visiting a friend which is grand, but along the way this week there have been 3 flat tires, a hack on my bank account, Cindy locked her car keys in the car at work an hour away. Oh well, the list of the ups and downs could go on, but…!

I am grateful. When I make my pledge to the church this Sunday the most important Bible verse in my mind will be I Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This doesn’t mean that the topsy-turvy circumstances are God’s will, but giving thanks is! Saying, “I’m doing okay, under the circumstances,” sounds pretty good, but as Christians we are never “under” the circumstances. Thanks to Christ we are more than overcomers. Romans 8 reminds us that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love and care. My giving needs to reflect just how grateful I am for a God who helps us overcome our circumstances!

Yesterday afternoon brought the best news of the week. Our daughter, Narcie, went for her usual 3-month MRI on her brain tumor. She’s had two brain surgeries in the past 4 years and the prognosis hasn’t been a good one. Her doctors have been very blunt, but she’s a fighter and full of a realistic faith. Yesterday she had the MRI and then met with the oncologist. He gave her good news that the tumor was not growing then she asked the question she had not been wanting to ask, “Has my prognosis changed?” Originally they were thinking 3-5 years, but the doctor said yesterday that he thought he could conservatively push her survivability out another 6 on top of the four. We are ecstatic!

I know that there are situations where there is despair beyond hope and I commiserate with those of you who live in chronic chaos, pain, or dilemmas of any kind. I also know this: No matter what we go through or how down we feel, Jesus is more than ready to hear, listen, and respond. Sometimes we don’t get the response that we prefer, but we have a friend in Jesus who has been to the grave and back to set our course on the path to hope and heaven.

I don’t what this week has done to you, but in all of our topsy-turvy lives, Jesus remains constant. Hang on to that, no matter what. Thanks for your prayers for Narcie. I am grateful more than words can express.

Almost Plucked Rooster

 

Happier than a Camel on Hump Day

Thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation are usually relegated to Thanksgiving’s once-a-year holiday, and that’s cool, but I wonder how many of us miss a daily blessing because we need a little more awe for today’s gifts. One of my favorite commercials is the Geico one with the Camel on Hump Day – Wednesday. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to express that glee every day?

Luke 17:11-19 has Jesus healing 10 guys with leprosy, but only one goes back and said “Thanks!” Jesus’ response to the man’s gratitude was, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Well, which was it: His faith or his thankfulness that made him well? It strikes me today that the two go hand-in-hand. If you have faith, you’re thankful, and if you’re grateful, you have faith. There you go!

What are we going to do today? Are we going to glum around or let our camel-self “Whoop” it up with glee? What a difference it would make in our churches, offices, and world at large if we recognized our daily gifts from God and said, “Thanks!” Our faith would be evident and strengthened. Our witness would even outshine the Geico Camel! Our hump days wouldn’t be a day to get over in order to take us to what might be a better or worse weekend. With a thankful perspective every day becomes a Hump Day toward the Promised Land. With Jesus, every day we’re one day closer to the New Jerusalem!

So look for the good today and be thankful! It’s dependent on our perspectives. We can either droll around through the motions, or celebrate God’s possibilities. There’s a quote from Wayne Cordeiro’s book Doing Church as a Team that is spot-on: “Some of the greatest discoveries come from people readjusting their eyes to see what’s best about a situation rather than what’s worse. I heard a story about George De Mestral who was out walking his dog one afternoon. The dog got loose for a moment and ran through some tall grass. When he finally retrieved his wayward pet, the dog was covered with burrs tangled in his fur. When he arrived home, George could have cursed the dog while cutting the burrs out. Instead, he decided to take a cutting of the fur and view it under his microscope. Amazed at its gripping characteristics, he decided to study it even further. It was his curiosity and his willingness to see its potential that ultimately led him to the creation of Velcro!”

Amen! I want to be the leper that says “Thanks!” today. I want more than just physical healing. I want a faith/gratitude attitude that promotes emotional well-being, spiritual vitality, even happiness. I know too many people who are physically well and sick in soul. I’m going to be the camel today wherever I am and spread good cheer. I am going to look for God’s gifts and celebrate!