This year we decided to celebrate Christmas by carefully folding our children into our Dodge Caravan like Ikea furniture then driving around frantically to visit people we knew in faraway places. It was like a treasure hunt. At every stop we’d unwrap treasures, eat delicious food, laugh over old stories we already heard a hundred times, then squeeze our expanding waistlines and sacks of treasure back into the van and drive off to the next stop.
The first stop was my parents house in Pennsylvania. We drove into the driveway, unfolded our whining children from the van, and threw them into the arms of my mom with sighs of relief. My mom often says that the best present is to have her grandchildren visit, which makes shopping for her easier. It also makes me her favorite child since I keep her grandkids in Ohio which is right next door when compared to Alaska, where my brother Matt lives. He keeps Mom’s grandkids four thousand miles away fighting off hungry bears and hypothermia. Then again, Matt gave her many more grandchildren than I have, so maybe that evens the score. Of course, give us a couple years to complete our MMS Aviation apprenticeship and only God knows where in this world we will end up. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut.
Actually, it was a bummer that Matt’s family wasn’t there. We opened a great big pile of presents then had a great big Christmas feast then ate great big piles of leftovers for several days afterwards. Eating is probably the best tradition there is.
My brother Andrew bought me two bars of soap.This isn’t your ordinary slab of lye and lard. This soap came in big beautiful packaging with deeply embossed gold lettering that said, “Man Bar.” They must weigh a pound a piece! There’s definitely something manly about chasing down a slippery pound of soap while taking a shower. The harder I squeeze the soap, the faster it shoots out of my hand. Inevitably the floor of the shower becomes as slick as a politician seeking re-election and I begin inadvertently adjusting the shower head with my toes. By this time I’m covered in enough soap to get the job done so I slide out of the shower. Not only do I smell like a grove of pine trees that just brushed their teeth, I also had a balanced workout routine. I appreciate practical gifts.
I also realized how old I’m getting. It’s funny but when you move away from home it feels like everything should stay the same until you come back. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t surprise me but apparently I’m not too bright because every time I come home I’m surprised that things changed while I was gone. How dare people move on with their lives! The first time it hit me was when my younger brother Joe got his driver’s license. Why, he just learned to ride a bike maybe a couple months ago; couldn’t have been much longer than that. Now I found out that he enrolled in college! It’s like life is a cheap wind up toy that someone cranked way too many times and now it’s spinning so fast that springs and gears and wheels are straining and creaking and barely holding together. All I can do is hold on while frantically gluing parts back together for another fifty years or so.
After we hung out at my parents house for several days we folded the kids back into the van and headed north into the middle of Pennsylvania to a cabin owned by an in-law of my in-laws. Janice’s family was getting together at the cabin for their Christmas gathering. This was convenient because we fit visits to both sides of the family into one trip!
We ate great big piles of food and drank the best coffee I’ve ever had. My brother-in-law Andrew is an aspiring coffee snob. In fact, you could say he’s a certified snob since he just graduated several months ago with a degree in International Business. His goal is to start a wholesale coffee business that connects farmers in poor rural communities with a worldwide market giving them an avenue out of poverty. This would also be a way to present the Gospel to communities that are otherwise closed to missions. He wants to start this dream this year by moving to Thailand to get the ball rolling. In the meantime, he roasts a lot of coffee beans and is quite good at it. In fact, he mails us bags of fresh roasted coffee regularly and it’s the highlight of my morning. It’s really good! He had bags of fresh coffee at the cabin. He also had all kinds of fancy equipment to make coffee; A teapot with a thermometer, a scale to weigh ingredients, a fancy grinder to grind the beans, and an army of people to give feedback on the final product.
“Ugh. Tastes like toilet water. I had better dump a pound of non-dairy, peppermint mocha creamer in here.” I was just kidding, of course. It tasted great but Andrew threatens you with physical violence if you ruin his coffee with additives and I enjoy occasional drama.
Later that day I took the kids out on a nature hike. I pointed out things like rocks and trees. “That’s a rock. That’s a tree. Oh, and look over there. That’s a creek!” They were all impressed by my survival skills. I showed them how to throw rocks off of the bridge into the creek. I feel a little bad because we threw so many rocks into the creek that we actually changed the course of the creek and made the bridge useless. It was such a nice bridge too. Oh well, maybe next year I’ll get the kids to throw rocks out of the creek and we can change it back to where it was.
One evening Janice and I took the Polaris Utility Four Wheeler thing out for a spin. It was dark and romantic until Janice started talking about bears. The previous day we had seen a bear cross the road about a quarter mile away from the cabin. Janice was worried we would find the bear again. “What if there’s a bear in the road right around this corner?” She screamed the question over the rush of the wind as I drifted smoothly around corners, stones spinning off the narrow gravel road. “We can’t turn around on this little road. How would you get away from it?”
“I don’t know, drive over it?” I shrugged my shoulders.
“It’s like three hundred pounds. It would end up in our lap!”
“Maybe I’d give it a lecture on non-resistance. Either it would die from boredom or be converted and leave us alone.”
“Seriously Josh, I’m starting to get a little freaked out.”
I laughed at her. Haha! Then I started thinking about how narrow the road was and how long it took me to whip this thing into reverse and if I did get into reverse I didn’t have any back up lights and a bear could probably run faster forward than I could drive in reverse. Suddenly it seemed more and more likely that there was a bear waiting around the next bend so he could jump out, thump us on the head, and roll us down the hill where no-one would ever find us. In fact, it was nearly guaranteed. I stopped quickly and turned around by ferociously performing a fifteen point turn. “Well, maybe for your sake we’ll go back to the cabin. Bears. Ha! Such needless fretting.” We were back in the cabin in a jiffy. I was getting cold anyway.
Overall it was a great trip but it’s always good to be home again. It’s amazing how fast Ohio is beginning to feel like home. It’s starting to sink in that when we leave for the foreign field, it won’t be so easy to see all these people we love so much. And chances are people will have the nerve to go and keep on changing even though we’re not around. Shucks, my brother will probably go and get married or something.
From a little hamlet in Ohio,