We have been using Max Lucado’s study guide, “Because of Bethlehem,” for Advent in Sunday school this year. It’s been a great guide to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the big day soon to come. Christmas is just two weeks away.
This morning’s lesson, based on Session Three of Lucado’s video series, was: “God Guides the Wise.” It was about the three wise men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to find and worship the newborn King of the Jews. Mostly, it was about how they deservedly earned their moniker, and how true wisdom is not so much about practical matters, but more about living a good and kind life with deeds done in humility. It was powerful! The discussion questions, and some of what others in our class shared, were moving. But most moving to me were the memories that welled up within me, memories of past Christmas experiences.
One discussion question about holiday travel brought back vivid memories. The memories were about times when I had behaved poorly on Christmas mornings, not with humility at all. The question was based on a passage in Matthew, Chapter 12:2. It reads, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they (the wise men) departed to their own country by another way.” The message in this passage clearly suggests that God imparts wisdom to those of us who are open to receive it.
In my memory, I was reliving how I felt many Christmas mornings years ago while driving the miles between our home in Lawton, Oklahoma to the home of my wife’s parents in Weatherford, Texas. The trip took us about two hours, one way, and our two boys, long since grown, barely had time these mornings to open their gifts before we had to be on the road. It was a family expectation that we would spend Christmas Day with my wife’s parents. I was resentful, and I’m sure that I must have complained to my wife about it, in the process making her Christmases less enjoyable too. Shame on me.
One Christmas, perhaps because of my attitude about these Christmas morning road trips, my wife’s parents agreed to come to our place. On arrival, their attitude was much more joyful than mine had been when we traveled to their place. My wife’s dad was especially joyful – excited actually. He had brought with him a special Christmas gift for his grandsons: a prefabricated play fort.
Towed behind his van was a trailer with the fort’s component parts: lumber, nails, shingles, bags of concrete mix, four very long telephone poles, and tools for the construction. His design, quite ingenious actually, was for an enclosed room with a floor, a gabled roof and shuttered windows, all perched about a dozen feet off the ground on a tower of telephone poles. The design incorporated a rope ladder suspended from an opening in the floor of the elevated room. The fort, as he had envisioned it, would be constructed in one corner of our backyard. I would be his construction helper… only I had not been given advance warning about his plan for us to labor together Christmas Day. Surprise! Did I mention that it was freezing cold that Christmas morning? No, I didn’t.
Attitude? Yeah, I had one. But when I saw how excited my boys were and how they loved their grandfather — Popo they called him — for his loving gift, well, I sat down with dad and listened to his plan over a cup of coffee. The more I listened, the more I got over my attitude and resolved to spend a memorable Christmas, and a few days thereafter, working side-by-side with him.
Tom was his name, I always called him this, or Popo, never dad. But, not having had a dad of my own while growing up, he became my surrogate dad. He’s gone now… been gone for several years. But the more I think about him, the more he becomes my true dad.
Holes for the telephone poles were dug with a posthole digger that dad had brought with him on the trailer from Weatherford, and a “sharpshooter” shovel that I just happened to have. I would dig awhile, then dad would spell me. The frozen ground made for hard work, but we dug together till noon. Then we took a long break for lunch prepared by the ladies. We finished the day with the poles set in concrete, perfectly aligned and angled to mount the tower’s room. Dad had it all planned. I imagine that he had spent countless hours with his design, calculating just how to ensure that all the parts for the fort would line up just right.
I was glad for the warmth of our fireplace that evening after we had quit for the day.
It would take us several more days before the whole project was finished. In that time, we grew closer, dad sharing his passions for politics and Dallas Cowboy football. He shared more than this with me too. He shared his wisdom — wisdom born not of facts or reason, but wisdom born of love.
God, I miss that man…