I missed the PSO Christmas Party today….I am sorry that I did. I received an invitation and on the envelope was written, ‘Please come, Jay.’ My reaction was, that is very nice and considerate. I felt wanted! I have been reflecting on my friends during this Christmas Season. I can think of few friends that I admire more than, Brad Dillard, the Director of Plant and Service Operations. I have know Brad for a long time. Well over 30 years.
MJ saw Brad at a local gas station, the other day, and she said that Brad told me to tell you hello, and she commented that she was amazed that he remembered her and that he was so friendly and open. I responded that she is speaking of the Brad Dillard that I have know, since I was young, and that is a long time ago.
Brad is a person that projects his care and concern for you, the first time that you meet him.
I was at the Campus Lake this past winter. I watched as several PSO staff followed their leader into the icy depths of the frigid lake! The all wore hard hats and vests and carried in their hands, as their Crest, a plunger!
The experience of meeting Brad is to be made, immediately, comfortable and at ease. His keen mind is coupled with a big heart!
Many years ago, I heard our campus First Lady, Shirley Beggs, compliment Brad to his boss, at the time, Harry Wirth, regarding the careful and considerate and professional response that she had received from Brad, when he oversaw what we referred to at the time as, Central Control. Harry noted that he appreciated the positive remarks regarding Brad and then went on to tell Mrs. Beggs, that the stellar treatment that she had received from Brad…was the same treatment that he provided for every member of the University Community.
Brad is a ‘big idea’ leader, with an eye for both the elephant in the room and the mouse that is hiding in the corner!
I know that Brad carries the burden of many of the concerns of his colleagues and that he is, constantly, searching for an answer to their problems.
Servant Leadership is is more rare that the gold of Ophir that is mentioned in the Bible.
Brad, is a Servant Leader.
As the candles that light the way of success, for the rest of us, and strengthen the renewal for our Campus…are extinguished…we are forced to travel in darkness.
One of the most moving tributes that I have ever been witness to was our niece, Tara, who lit a candle and spoke of her deceased mother at each Christmas…after Mary Jane’s untimely passing. The lighting of the candle and the words of tribute and sadness, that Tara spoke…were some of the most moving Christmases that I have ever experienced.
2013 was a difficult year for the Brooks family. MJ was treated for breast cancer in January, with a great prognosis, and mom left us in October…after a long battle with Alzheimers Disease.
Mom and I were very close. We had seen a lot of hard times together. She always had my back! One of the first jobs that I had, where I felt that my boss was a bit abusive, I considered that if I told mom…she would tell him where to get off…in colorful language.
When a loved one leaves us…there is a hole in our heart that will never be filled. So much of our lives are inextricably intertwined with others. Christmas will never be the same…because our loved one…was a large part of the holiday!
So, we will sit at the Christmas Table…and we will reach over to hold the hand of our departed…and we will know in our heart that they see us and are with us and that they love us!
They are just in the other room……
It is a week until Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, in the Brooks family, was always a time to celebrate around our Christmas Tree and enjoy egg nog and open, one, present. After all, you can not open all of the presents before Santa Claus makes his, worldwide, sleigh ride. I used to look at the size of chimneys and ponder how the ‘Jolly Old Elf’ was able to fit down them?
When we began attending First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, Illinois, we were told by our friend, Carol, that we did not want to miss the churches Christmas Eve service. So, 21 years ago, our church began their Christmas Eve Service at 11:00 P:M:. The sanctuary was packed and folding chairs were set-up in the back to facilitate the overflow crowd that was in attendance. The church seemed to have beautiful, brilliant red, poinsettias everywhere. There was a large and ornate Christmas Tree in the Narthex. There were several nativities placed throughout the building. The Christmas Carols and hymns and the old world ambiance was reminiscent of Charles Dickens London…I looked for Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit. As the service concluded, shortly after midnight, we sang ‘Silent Night,’ by candlelight…and we greeted each other with a hearty, Merry Christmas!
This Christmas Season, I have had the profound pleasure of seeing some friends of mine, realize that they are appreciated and respected and seen by the community that they are a part of. It is a moving experience to watch a fellow human being who has felt, somewhat marginalized or invisible, realize that they are loved and a vital part of the work of the organization!
So often we pass the, cleaning person, and do not stop to consider their contribution to the success of our church or school or company.
Perhaps the clerical worker is working hours of unpaid time…because she/he loves the University and subsequently takes the burden of many on their shoulders?
Our church could not function without the expertise of our Administrative Assistant, Barb, and her compassionate caring for all who she encounters. Her ministry to the homeless and the needy, of whom she speaks with daily, should be entered into the ledgers of excellence!
Sara, professionally and with love, takes care of our childcare on Sunday mornings and at other times during the year. Her wisdom and measured and thoughtful handling of this vital service that our church provides, is exemplary!
Carlyn, is our, Music Director, and the Choir and our church love her! She is the holder of two, extremely vital, talents. She is a virtuoso in her field and she has the finest people skills that I have witnessed.
One of the first things that I noticed when I began attending First Pres, was that virtually everyone in the congregation volunteered in some type of worthy endeavor! They are, to this day, the most diligent and hardest working group of people that I have ever been associated with. Many of the people that I am referring to are in their; 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s!
Time and again, I was overjoyed to see members of the Building Services Staff at SIUC…honored for what they brought to the success of, and the recruitment, and retention, of our students! I have witnessed, quiet and reserved custodial workers, become leaders of their peers and contribute, expertly, to the success of their University.
We had a Chancellor who’s name was, Jo Ann, who recognized, by name, every kitchen laborer, and Grounds worker, and Building Service Worker, and Skilled Craft worker…and they loved her for it and would do anything for her!
I wrote of my friend, Patch, the other day. He appeared to be either homeless or from mean circumstances. Jonathon and I spoke with him, at church, for 20 or 30 minutes. When we parted, he said that he wanted to thank us for taking the time to talk with him….I appreciate that he took the time to talk with us!
The big day is drawing close! It is at about this same time, each year, that I begin to experience Christmas gift fear. I am apprehensive that I have not purchased enough gifts for my family and friends. My, late, mother-in-law, said each Christmas Season that, ‘Jay sure loves Christmas!’
One Christmas Eve…I chose to travel to the St. Clair Mall that is near St. Louis, and shop with abandon! With no one to temper my Christmas wishes…I had a good time. So, I visited, my favorite department store, Famous Barr. I not only enjoyed the store, but I had spent so much time there through the years…that I felt like I was at home when I was there.
There was a Dooney and Bourke leather key chain and matching leather wallet for MJ, and a racetrack for Aaron and Jonathon, and stuffed animals for all. I literally paid no attention to the price of the items, but instead was lost in the Christmas Spirit! And, so, I threw in some Waterford Crystal for MJ and electronic games for the boys. There was a Waterford Santa figurine for me and fine chocolates for the family. And, almost, a Partridge in a Pear Tree!’
When I arrived home and the gift opening commenced…all were happy and and their cheeks were red with delight, and their eyes glistened, and their hearts were merry,…and I learned that I must never be allowed to Christmas Eve shop, by myself, again!
When Aaron and Jonathon were small, we made an annual trek to the headquarters of Famous Barr, in St. Louis, to see the Christmas Bears. The store took their entire seventh floor to set up the most unique Christmas display of holiday bears assisting Santa with his Christmas gift making and the subsequent wrapping. The Bears were animated, and Disney World had nothing on there lifelike movements! The line for this, must see, display was long, and we stood in the queue patiently to be a part of this annual holiday event. Aaron and Jonathon loved the Christmas Bears!
I saw a picture of a Little Golden Book entitled, The Night Before Christmas, by W. Clement Moore. I had that very book! I so loved this poem that I memorized it and quoted it at each Christmas gathering, when I was a child.
Santa, for me, was Laughing Santa! He was a little stuffed creation with a plastic beard and a crank on his back, whereupon when turned he created the most unique and joyful laugh! Mom loved Laughing Santa and she enjoyed him as much, or perhaps more, than I did. I remember him from my first memories of Christmas.
Santa Claus was and is real to me! He visited my house when I was 9, at 116 West Street, in Eldorado, Illinois. The ‘Jolly Old Elf’ knocked on our front door and briskly strode in, with a wink and a grin, and a little pipe that he held in his mouth, ‘and I laughed when I saw him..in spite of myself!’ I was, literally floored in my revelation that there really was a Santa Claus!
When I heard, much later, that Santa was really Bob Winters, a friend of my step-father, Earl, I chose not to accept the news.
MJ and I enjoyed Irish Coffee during the Christmas Season, for several years, with our good friends, Jo Ann and Peter Argersinger. Jo Ann and Peter had a magnificent Christmas Tree! We exchanged Christmas gifts and they were Annual Waterford Santa Claus Figurines. Jo Ann seemed to believe in Santa Claus as much as I did. The Irish Coffee was strong and good and created a substantial Christmas Spirit!
When we first began attending First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, Illinois…among my initial observances was that the First Presbyterians do Christmas Right! There was a Christmas Tree in the Narthex and a Christmas Cantata and a Christmas Eve Service that transported me back to Charles Dickens England!
I saw a photo, of my friend Steve, sitting on Santa Claus lap. Steve is grown and as I saw the smiles on both his face and Kris Kringle…I knew that, ‘yes Virginia…there really is a Santa Claus!’
I throughly enjoyed lunch with Jonathon and, his good friend, Pinckney, this past week. We had pizza at the SIUC Student Center…and it was delicious. Pinckney is an english professor and good friend to Jonathon, as is his entire family. I have known many professors during my 41 year affiliation with Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale, but Pinckney is one of the most genuine and caring academics that it has been my privilege to meet.
We spoke of our beloved university and our mutual belief that it is on the upswing. We are satisfied that the worst days are behind us. We agreed that the high quality of the students that are attending SIUC is exemplary and that their thirst for learning is inspiring.
We also agreed that the pizza was delicious!
I was reminded during our enjoyable conversation that the, artificial, divisions that are prescribed as walls between; faculty and staff and students are a myth. We all desire the same success for the ‘Jewel of Little Egypt.’ We want the revitalization of our University and its continued success.
We spoke of the beauty of the Southern Illinois region. We commiserated on the fact that when people move to the region to join forces with SIUC, they often do not leave due to the idyllic and natural setting and peaceful living of the community.
We noted our mutual dismay that our experiences were similar in some churches that we had been associated with.
I mentioned that I had been affliated with more than one church, that when I chose to leave…no one called to say that they missed me or to inquire if I was planning on returning. One of the churches that I am speaking of, I had been a member for over 17 years and had been involved in every aspect of the operation.
We agreed that it was a bit like being affiliated with a Club…but not yet a member? It is a strange sensation to believe that you are a member in good standing of a church and then to, suddenly realize, that your importance to the groups was negligible.
Most christians want to be a member of a faith community. It is important that all are included, both when they are lovable and when they are grumpy. It is vital that free-thinkers and curmudgeons and doubters have a place at the table.
Those different than the majority and who have a differing understanding of scripture, and who are quiet or reserved or introverted, are vital to the success of Christ’s vision for his followers.
The poor, and the destitute, and the lonely, and the afraid…those who neither sing nor dance nor preach…have gifts for the community of faith that must not be ignored.
There must be a place for the depressed and the aggrieved and the abused and the downtrodden of society.
Is there a place at the churches table for the mentally ill?
Is there a place for the homeless, who are a bit scary, due to their long term suffering and rejection from society?
Is there a place for the atheist to come and enjoy the music and singing and encouraging words and the surrounding beauty of the sanctuary?
Is there a seat, and inclusion, for those who the church world deems sinners…and to be marginalized…and in Jesus time…stoning?
Perhaps we allow people to slip away from our church without ill intentions. We did not know them well…we do not want to intrude on their personal lives…we suspect that they must know what they are doing when they stop coming to our church?
What if we decide in the New Year that we are just going to be genuine with everyone that we meet? How about when our fellow parishioner is absent…we drop them a note, or call them, or an email would be fine, to let them know that we care about them and that their absence leaves a gaping hole in the faith community and that we miss them?
It was a gray and cold day on Christmas 1981. There had been snow flurries all day, and now it was sleeting. Joe had been amazed at the, new computer technology, such as Atari and Word Processors. Jane asked him what he would like to have for his Christmas gift? Joe responded, heartily, a Texas Instrument computer that you could hook up to a small television that would serve as a monitor.
Their newborn son, David, was fast asleep in his crib…and Joe had done all that he knew to do, to plug up the holes and cracks in their little house. The 20 mile per hour wind had a below 0 Fahrenheit chill factor!
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com
Joe and Jane and little David, had enjoyed a delicious holiday meal at Bert and Mae’s house, in DuQuoin, Illinois. There was Jane’s brother and sister and their spouses. There…
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In 1956 the Drama//Fantasy movie entitled, ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ was released.
‘In Santa Mira, California, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is baffled when all his patients come to him with the same complaint: their loved ones seem to have been replaced by emotionless impostors. Despite others’ dismissive denials, Dr. Bennell , his former girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) and his friend Jack (King Donovan) soon discovered that the patient’s suspicions are true: an alien species of human duplicates, grown from plant like pods, is taking over the small town.’ Google
I have witnessed several people, over the course of my 62 years, hat have succumbed to dramatic changes in their lives and subsequently become a different person.
When the path of life has a fork in the road, that is he result of a job loss or devastating reversal of fortune…it is easy to follow the fork in the road of least resistance and say to hell with it all! Of course at the end of the fork in the road is the, ‘Slough of Despond.’ In the Slough we begin to sink, as if in quicksand, and many of us…never extricate ourselves from our deserved anger and depression and despair. It becomes an identity for us. It becomes a hat rack and a clothes closet that we dutifully, hang all of garments upon.
I knew a wonderful person who lost her position of leadership. She never recovered from the damage that the, unjustified, loss did to her charisma and can-do attitude.
Draconian reversals happen in all of our lives. We may have every reason to believe that we are on top of the world and have so many friends, and that we are supremely happy in our closed environment. Then, a life changing event happens to us and, suddenly, we are all alone…and those who care about us and endeavor to reach out to us…are an irritation.
We become, Great Garbo and “we want to be left alone!’
Perhaps you have separated from your spouse. You think, now is my chance to be me! But, soon you find that the bedrock of your happiness was inextricably entwined with your spouse and children. Your ‘Me’ identity was reflected in the eyes of your loved ones.
I have know people that their poor heath has become their new identity. They talk of their maladies incessantly and when they are not talking about their illnesses…they are thinking about them.
My mother and father separated and soon after divorced when I was 5 years old. I began to feel that she and I were just going to have it tough for the rest of our lives. I took a dim view of humanity and they’re, apparent, better lives than mom and I had. I spoke negatively of those that I met and felt that the world was not my friend. One day I decided that I did not enjoy living with such a profound negative mindset. It dawned on me that I could change that…if I wanted to! So, I did.
I recall being diagnosed with a heart murmur, as a very young child, and later being told that I had rheumatic heart disease. I decided, when I left home at the tender age of 17…that I was going to do any and all physical activity that came my way. I am now 62 and I still have that philosophy.
It is true that life events can bring us a ‘new normal.’ But, there is a difference in adjusting to the inevitability of life changes…and allowing your personality and outlook and sunny disposition being altered by reversals that were beyond your control.
As a wise person once said, ‘Don’t let the bastards…get you down!’
‘It is the most wonderful time of the year!’ But, perhaps it is not for you or your family or your friends?
Christmas has always been a joyful time for me. I like the entire idea of the holiday! When I first began attending First Presbyterian Church, in Carbondale, Illinois, it was during the holiday season. We are having Cookie Sunday at our church,… this Sunday is Cookie Sunday. This is a time where our deacons take cookies to all of our ill and shut in members as well as the communal enjoyment of holiday treats after the Sunday service. It was Cookie Sunday the first Sunday that we attended First Presbyterian, in 1998 and a wonderful, elderly couple, Evelyn and Harold Engilking brought us Cookes to our home in Elkville, which is a full fifteen miles from Carbondale. They told us how much they enjoyed our visiting the church and invited us back next Sunday…and we returned the next Sunday…and we felt wanted!
I have been made aware of three deaths this week of family associated to people that I know or am friends with. Death always carries a heavy burden on the loved ones that remain…but it seem especially heavy at Christmas. We were talking last evening and reflecting on the importance of life. So often we are actively planing our next move on the ladder of success and do not realize that, ‘this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’
The scripture tells us that we, ‘tear down are barns and build bigger,’ while truly we do not see the forest for the trees. We believe that it is all about wining! The current political discussion surrounding impeachment is a stellar example. Truth and facts and logical systematic evidence seem not to matter….But rather the reflexive rhetoric of a team who wants to win.
Illness can change our perception of our role on earth and the purpose of life. The holidays exacerbate the feeling of loneliness the death of a loved one or the illness of ourselves or someone that is close to us, or the loss of a job.
We have loved Arnold’s Market in our town, Carbondale! We heard, the last time that we were there, about a week ago, that they were closing their doors on the 18th of the month. We were devastated! I pondered the feelings that the employees must be experiencing at this sudden news. Christmas is a large magnifying glass!
Last year at this time MJ had just undergone spine surgery. We were hopeful that the operation would be successful in alleviating her terrible pain…and it was. Many members or our church stopped by to visit and bring us dinner to eat and cookies for our encouragement and sustenance!
So, what is Christmas to you…if you are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation? Or what is Christmas to you if your father just passed away or you spouse or your child? Statistics illustrate that suicide are up doing the holiday season.
How do the elderly feel as they watch the Christmas movies on television and see the cheerful and bright holiday decorations on the Christmas Tree in their Nursing Home or their assisted care facility?
What do the homeless think as they sit by the door of Macy’s in New York or watch as the holiday partiers enter the Ritz Hotel or many other upscale establishment for the numerous Christmas parties that are occurring at the writing of this blog?
Two years ago MJ and I were the invited guests of Park West Gallery’s art show. It was at the lRitz Carlton in St. Louis, Missouri. There were the most magnificent holiday decorations…and Christmas Teddy Bears that were the size of real bears! The food, that was provided by the Gallery was divine and the complimentary drinks were wonderful. Needless to say we did not have, a seeming, care in the world for the four days that we were there.
But, how is the holiday enjoyment for the sick person who is battling a chronic illness? I doubt that there is a Ritz Carlton or a bar that you can order any drink that you desire, complimentary, or Christmas Bears?
Let us remember that the holiday season that brings us so much joy…brings others…loneliness and pain.
Shall we welcome them in their pain? Shall we demonstrate Christ’s love at the celebration of his birth?
The time of year that is full of delicious odors and confections is here!
The Brooks family, my chapter at least, began in Chicago. Permanently imprinted on my 62 year old brain is our visit to the city to watch the release of the Disney favorite, Lady and the Tramp. It was during the holiday season and the sites and sounds of the yuletide are as real to me now…as they were on that cold afternoon.
There was the massive theatre and a throng of holiday shoppers and the bright strobing lights of the marque. There was a Salvation Army soldier, with his kettle, at the front entrance and as he rang his bell, I thought that I am witnessing something special. The theatre was resplendent with poinsettias and Christmas Trees in the lobby along with free candy canes and popcorn balls being given to all of the movie goers as they made their way into the cavernous auditorium. It seemed that I had left my construct of reality, living in the suburb of Sauk Village and had entered a heightened state of Christmas Bliss!
Laughing Santa was a Christmas tradition in Chicago. He as a little stuffed Santa with a crank on his back, whereby when it was turned…created the most effusive and compelling Santa Laugh that I have ever heard….and I hear it to this day!
Mom’s Christmas speciality was coffee cake. It is difficult to describe the pure nirvana of taste and texture that this marvelous baked good created in the mouth of the recipient! The cakes were long vertical affairs with an abundance of delicious jams in their center and perfect white icing on the top!
It took Mom most of the day to make her coffee cake. She only made it once a year, Christmas! As she labored her dark eyes gleamed and she smiled a knowing and wicked smile! Mom understood how delicious that her special holiday treat, was.
Christmas day, there was a massive Christmas Tree, to a 3 year old, erected in our living room. There was Burl Ives singing, ‘Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,’ and the Christmas episode of I Love Lucy, and a palpable feeling of warmth and love and the endless possibilities of the future that stretched, endlessly, before our little family.
We moved to Eldorado, Illinois that is located in the deep southern part of the state. Mom and dad were having marital problems and soon after our move they separated and divorced. Eldorado was the home of my mom’s mom, Grandma Askew, and her sisters, Guelda, and Vema, and Wanda.
Christmas began to be celebrated at Grandma Askew’s. Grandmas Askew was a woman of deep christian faith, who read her Bible on a daily basis. Our first Christmas in Eldorado, I experienced sensory overload. Aunt Wanda, who’s children were, Billy and Brenda, brought a white and sweet confection called divinity, and it was sublime!
We moved, several times, during our first years in Eldorado. My favorite residence had a long and enclosed front porch that I recall smelling a unique and profoundly Christmas odor in…during the holiday season…and I have searched for that unique fragrance ever since!
After a year or two of Christmas celebrations in Eldorado, mom began to make homemade fudge. It would melt in your mouth! Some years it was either the homemade fudge or the coffee cake…while during the good years….we had both!
For several years, in Eldorado, we took to the aluminum Christmas Tree with the turning light wheel that when pointed toward the shiny tree caused it to change colors as the slow rotation of the wheel occurred. You did not place lights on the aluminum Christmas Tree….the lights were the colored rotating wheel.
One special Christmas, I received the Big Swinger Polaroid camera. The Swinger camera first took life as a small white camera that printed a developed photo of whatever the photographer had snapped in about two minutes. The photo emerged from the front of the camera, and had to have a top cover removed from the image and then the process of waving it back and forth to aid in the developing fluid drying. After the picture had clearly come into view…you had to apply, fixative, to the image to ensure that it did not fade.
I received the Big Swinger, which was larger than the Swinger and was Grey rather than white. It took a larger photo than that original Swinger! I took it on a school trip when I was in the 6th grade, to New Harmony, Indiana…and snapped a lot of Big Swinger Polaroids…which I have to this day!
A little bird told me…that I may be receiving a Polaroid One Shot…for Christmas. More instant photos are on the way!
Pastor Kerry was speaking, this past Sunday, about the dynamic strength and comfort of hope.
Would you enjoy conversing with your, younger, self? Perhaps at 20 year intervals. What would your 20 year old version of you…tell the 40 year old model? Would the fresh and full of life Mr. or Ms. ’20’ expound to the slightly graying ‘new and improved 40’, all of the possibilities and adventures and victories that were ahead for them as they journey together in time?
Would the older version of you, kindly, tell the younger…’you don’t know the trouble I’ve seen.’ Would, old, Mr. 40 tell his youthful image that life is hard, with little sleep, and working two jobs or overtime…and struggling to keep it all together!
Now would, slow moving Mr. 60 admonish, still physically active, Young 40…to take time to smell the flowers. To focus on enjoying every minute with his family….because the minutes become months that quickly morph into years?
So it is with our hope for the future and our expectations for our faith walk. As we age we become certain that the hopes and dreams of our youth…were a bit overblown and full of the manifest exuberance of hormones and 20/20 vision.
There is a profound variable in our lives journey, and that is God’s perception of the passing of time and our understanding of the experience…is much different.
Did you always believe that God has a plan for your life…look back and you will see his hand.
Has your faith amounted to a study of small things? Often the small things are the most intricate and ornate and beautiful in this life.
I heard a minister preach, in 1970, that Jesus Christ was going to return to the earth and set up his kingdom…in 1975. That was the year that I graduated from Eldorado High School. That was 44 years ago.
If I have learned anything over my 50 year christian journey, it is that God is love, and he loves all of his creation, and if we want to follow in his footsteps, ‘we need to build a bigger table…not a wall.’
‘Jesus said, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ Matthew 17:20