What is your Christmas like?

Remembering Christmases past, my childhood comes to mind. I received my first baseball glove, ball and bat on a snowy evening. One year, a wind-up train set arrived under the tree.

But perhaps the most notable gift Deborah and I received was the birth of our granddaughter, Eva, three days later. This week, we celebrate that birthday, along with the Christmas celebration of Jesus’s birthday, and are thankful that we can be together with family and friends.

In similar fashion, I remember dear friends who have passed from this life and are now celebrating their “new birth” into the presence of God. We celebrate with them, and are mindful of the temporary separation from loved family and friends on earth. Parting truly is such sweet sorrow.

Though there are other names within our community who are no longer present, three stand out in my circle of friends; Larry Bartel, Delora Kaufman and Elaine Alderfer.

In earlier days, Larry and I rarely crossed paths. Build­ing houses was his occupation, mine was farming and working a second job to supplement the marginal income while growing the business. Later, as he changed his vocation to custom harvesting, we began to meet while eating lunch at Tabor College in the early spring, late fall and winter.

Many conversations began and ended on how the crops were doing here and elsewhere, and the latest innovations John Deere introduced in their newest models. His experience with operating Deere rotary combines helped to identify and diagnose machine components that were about to fail.

But mostly, his attitude and encouragement, even while facing the pain and reality of a life threatening illness, will be missed. My thoughts turn to his family, and I ask the Lord to give them comfort and an abiding presence as they gather this Christmas.

Delora and I served together on our church’s education committee for three years, and I appreciated her dedication to serve and diligently contribute to the needs of the children’s ministry. Those were difficult times as we were transitioning between the loss of our church by fire and working without the benefit and security of a church home.

My thoughts turn to her family as well. Her temporary absence as a loving wife, mother, grandmother and friend is tempered with the knowledge and assurance that she also is celebrating with the Lord in heaven.

Elaine recently lost her struggle with cancer. Two years ago, her husband, Harold, assisted us with wheat harvest, driving the tractor and grain cart. That winter, we traveled to Virginia, where they live, and we were introduced to Elaine at a Christmas celebration dinner.

Though we only knew her briefly, we did get to know Harold while he stayed with us during harvest. We also were friends of her son, Jason, and daughter in-law, Kirsten, best friends of our daughter and son-in-law. Elaine and Harold are also grandparents of twin granddaughters.

It is not always how much time we spend with each other that matters, but how we invest our time in the relationship. This week, our thoughts focus on Harold and his family as they celebrate the life of Elaine, the beloved spouse, mother, grandmother and friend.

Each year, we look back and wonder about all the events that took place. Christmas is a good time for such a reflection.

Jesus, Emmanuel, the baby; this focus make us to pause for a moment and encourages us to think, to evaluate, to confess, to make a change, to determine which things in life are truly important.

Are we having a really merry Christmas, or do we know what it is all about? If we do, let it be known! If not, come to the manger with the baby in it. Or come visit a trusted friend who can listen, can show by deeds what it is.

You can interact with Paul Penner at smokeyjay@em­barq­mail.com.

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