Friday, December 24, 2021

 The Basement 

A Christmas Story

I was in the basement of my childhood home. It was dark…very dark.  I had been sent to the basement to get a Tupperware container full of some of the most delicious Christmas cookies known to mankind.  A cacophony of lady fingers, rosettes, frosted sugar cookies, molasses crinkles and more.  I couldn’t help but salivate as my 7 year old tummy rumbled at the thought of these frozen treasures. 

My childhood home was old…perhaps a century or more.  The basement had no windows and the rough cut floor joists were exposed on the ceiling.  I opened the door at the top of the descending stairs and flipped the light switch on.  I could see the glow of the single incandescent bulb as it barely illuminated the creepy space below.  The bulb was a mere 60 watts, which did little more than offer a yellow hue and leave plenty of shadows for the evils of basement creatures to linger in hiding.  I made my way down the creaky staircase.  Solid pine planks spanned across the stringers...many of them cracked along the dried grain.  There was brown paint that lingered on the edge of each tread but had worn away to bare wood where the feet of thousands of journeys had diminished the protective coat. The front edge of the stairs had rounded over from countless shoes and the falling of boys’ shins making tearful impact to the wooden corners.

I finished my descent and set foot on the concrete floor, in the North-East corner.  I walked toward the South-West corner and entered the short narrow hallway where the freezer stood humming.  I pulled the string to a second incandescent bulb that lit up the hallway…doubling the amount of light, giving less space for the evils of darkness to linger.

As I opened the freezer and pulled out the Tupperware of cookies…the 60 watt bulb of the main space went dark.  My heart jumped in my chest…someone had turned off the light switch at the top of the stairs…there was no other switch for that light. “This was going to be a problem,” was all I could think.  Sure I still had the light of the hallway…but that wouldn’t last.  I considered leaving the hallway light on to allow me to see my way back to the staircase in the opposite corner.  But I knew that was not an option.  My father was known to be the “Burning Light Totalitarian.”

“Who left the lights on in the basement?” he would demand. “Do you know how much electricity costs?”

I took this as a rhetorical questions…and so I said nothing…wondering…”How would I know how much electricity costs?”

One night we were all waiting in the car for my dad to drive us to grandma’s house for Christmas Eve.  After what seemed to be 15 minutes and a few honks from my mother…my angry father threw himself into the driver’s seat and proclaimed, “I just turned off 14 lights that were left burning…do you know how much electricity costs?”

“I didn’t know that light bulbs were on fire.” I responded.

That was a mistake. His eyes lit like burning light bulbs and he growled, “Do you want to walk home?”

“We are home.” I blurted.  I couldn’t help it. It just slipped out. Me and my big mouth.  His eyes went from 60 watts to 100 watts like lightning.  My mother’s hand touched his knee.  He calmed down and gritted, “You are lucky it’s Christmas Eve.”

It was shortly after this moment that he sat me down and gave me a lesson as to how many watts a 60 watt bulb draws.  My guess was 60…but somehow I was wrong.  Something about how watts converts to kilowatt hours.  He then began a long monologue on how much we pay per kilowatt hour and how much 14 burning lights cost and that we should turn the lights off.

I listened carefully as I stood with the refrigerator door open the entire time…until he finished because I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt him.  “Can I have some orange juice?” I asked.

“What!?...No!...Orange Juice is for dipping, (don’t ask…long story), close the refrigerator!”

I am sure that my father would be pleased to know that I still remember having that conversation…though I still have no idea how to calculate kilowatt hours.

Despite that, I did turn off 13 burning lights in my own home just this morning…I counted them…and told my children what I had just done…and proceeded to ask if they knew how much electricity costs...then…I went and drank some orange juice.

As I remained near paralyzed in the basement, consequently, I concluded that I could not leave the light on and instead I geared up for the journey ahead.  Just before I pulled the string to turn off the light I committed to memory the path that I must take.  I estimated 12 strides…6 slightly to the left to avoid the supporting post in the middle of the room…then 6 steps back to the right to hopefully find the corner and the beginning of the staircase.

I pulled the string…turned off the light…and I ran…through the complete blackness.  As soon as the light went out, I could feel the in-numerable vile creatures dispatch from their shadowy lairs.  The demons, snakes and creatures of death rose up and began chasing me…ready to devour me in the sulfuric darkness.

I sprinted from one end of the basement to the other as fast as I could.  As I reached the stairs, my heart was slamming into my chest and the creatures drew nearer.  I couldn’t catch my breath…not from exhaustion, but rather from the building terror.  I drove my arms as I climbed the creaky staircase and burst forth out of the door leaving the deadly gloom of darkness and the evil that pursued me behind.  I slammed the door shut.  I leaned by back against it and panted…sweaty and shaky.

Having reached the light…I was safe…I was secure.

In the light I had peace.

“What are you doing?” my mother would ask.

“Just conserving electricity” I said…”And running for my life against the powers of darkness of this world.” I thought.

Christmas.  It is the day when the Light of the World…came into the world.  The Light of the World…that destroyed sin, death and darkness, came and changed everything.  The light has come…and the darkness cannot overcome it.

May you find the Light of the World this Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Gift

We are less than one week from Christmas.  The packages beneath our tree continue to multiply…which is odd…considering that they have no mind for basic mathematics.  Yet, in any case the growing number of packages creates a marvelous sense of wonder and excitement in our home.  It was just this morning that my ears heard the squeals of glee and the high pitched words, “I am so excited, I can’t wait ‘til Christmas!”  Imagine my surprise to find that everyone was still asleep in bed…and I so rarely squeal!

I remember one Christmas Eve as a child. I lay awake in bed, wishing without end, that I could just fall asleep so that morning could all the sooner arrive.  Despite my efforts, sleep eluded me. As I remained prone and awake staring at the exposed rough cut floor joists of the unfinished ceiling in my basement bedroom, I could hear my parents filling the stockings that were hung by the weight bench with care.  Excitement built all the more…which did not help settle me into any sort of slumber. 

There was one gift above all else that I hoped for that Christmas…a keyboard.  Not the keyboard of an Apple IIe…or the Tandy 1000 that sat cumbersomely on the oversized computer desk in the dining room…but rather a keyboard that would launch me into stardom.  Ever since “Video Killed the Radio Star”, and Duran Duran graced the screen of channel 34 on my grandmother’s television, I had envisioned myself behind a keyboard pounding out the synthetic sounds of glory with my right hand and running my left hand through my thickly gelled spiked hair.

Nearing the end of the morning…there was one gift that waited to be discovered.  It was the right size…it was the right shape…and as I tore into it and found the words Yamaha, I was ecstatic!  My career was launched.  However, due to my lack of any music knowledge…training…and talent…my career ended about 45 minutes later.  Despite my abbreviated career, that gift resonates in my memory, as do many other gifts of Christmases past…although all musical memories thereafter consisted of magnetic tape and digital discs.

I came to a realization this year, as I was preparing gifts for my children to anticipate, as I had.  For thousands of years mankind anticipated that first Christmas.  Since the creation of the world…God promised a gift…a savior and then…He GAVE IT! He really gave it!

It is a gift that could never be earned…deserved…or reciprocated! It is the gift of gifts!

It is Jesus! 

Paul even says so in Ephesians 2:1-8.  “For it is by grace that you are saved, not by works…it is the gift of God!”

May you come to receive the gift of gifts this Christmas…may you come to see the Gift of God for what…and WHO it is…JESUS!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

 Grace Grace

I tend to enjoy surprises, as do my parents especially at Christmas.  Year after year new efforts were made keep gifts and packages secret until the day of the great festivities.  As my siblings and I grew older…new creative ways to keep the secrets needed to be developed.  No longer could my parents simply write the names of their children on the packages, because we would spend so much time handling each item…shaking it…making guesses…asking questions.  The two James Bond wannabes began disguising packages by adding weight, a bag of rice in this one…a 2.5lb Olympic weight in another one.  Small items were wrapped in huge boxes…and huge gifts were crammed in small packages…don’t ask me how…it must have been magic. 

This still wasn’t enough, and the two childlike adults resorted to creating an elaborate secret code to confuse “would be recipients” of whose package was whose.  During one particular Christmas morning, the climax of gift opening was delayed until the misplaced cipher key was found.

In 1991, my 11 year old little sister couldn’t stand not knowing which gifts were hers, and what was in those packages.  She secretly began carefully peeling away the tape and peeking behind the paper looking for her gifts.  By doing so, she successfully cracked the code and was able to discover what was in each of her gifts.

However…in a family of aspiring secret agents, things like this do not go un-noticed.  My mother went to work accusing each of us boys first.  She confronted me hard, studying my face as I denied any involvement, looking for any signs of a lie or dishonesty.  This continued with my two brothers as well and then my sister…why was she always the last to be blamed?  Probably because she was a girl and was always treated favorably…yet, in this case…she was found to be the guilty party.

In effort to deliver a punishment that fit the crime, my dad sat my sister down…still 2 weeks before Christmas…handed her one of her gifts and said, “Open it.”


“Open it.” He repeated.

She opened up a new telephone…a corded one…this is 1991…cordless phones were high technology at the time and cell phones were only on Star Trek.

“Give it to your mother, so she can return it.” He directed.

Her lip curled and her eyes moistened…and I smiled as I relished the suffering of my annoying little sister.

She handed the phone to our mother. My mother, who only had one daughter, began to cry and my smile quickly faded, as I saw the hurt in her eyes that reflected her bleeding heart.

My dad handed her another gift, “Open it,” he demanded.

She opened a new Paula Abdul CD.

“Give it to your mother…”

She obeyed and the tears continued…except dad…he had no tears…he was either made of stone or just “cold hearted.”

One after another, the gifts were opened and handed over to be returned.  When it was over…so was her Christmas.

Two weeks later when Christmas day arrived, we all sat down with our gifts in front of us…as distributed by our parents.  Three piles sat in the room, one in front of each of my two brothers and one stood before me.  Nothing sat in front of my sister.

She sat, looking sad and forlorn.  Everyone was sitting and waiting for my dad to come into the room so that we could begin.

“Dad! Hurry up!” my impatient little brother called.  He was so immature. 

“Dad! Get the lead out!” I insisted.

When dad finally entered the room, he had in his arms a large number of beautifully wrapped packages and set them before my sister. She looked at him questioningly. “Merry Christmas,” is all he said.




Grace is all that we don’t deserve.  On that first Christmas, the world was offered grace…from a God who has always and already been…gracious.

John 1:16 says it this way. “Out of his fullness we have all received place of grace…that had already been given.”

Jesus is grace…on top of grace that had already been given.

Grace upon grace…it seems redundant.  Redundant?...or amazing?

May we come to know the amazing grace upon grace this Christmas.