O Christmas Tree

The traditions of my childhood were like many others growing up in the 70’s, although there is one element that I recall to be quite different from that found in the homes of my friends.

Our Christmas tree came by airmail.

How might that happen you ask? Did Santa send special deliveries to extra good children? Did Amazon sell trees online back then? Did the Brooks family have an organic eco-farming operation outside of College Station? Hardly so.

Around the time when we would be sending our letters north to the infamous Mister Claus, another division of Claus Enterprise would send something south to us, in the form a very small but yes, very fresh Maine spruce.

When we would open the three-foot box each year, the smell would spill out first. It was the real deal. So were the dirt and needles that would inevitably make a mess on the carpet as my dad would carefully pull the cooped up tree out of the box. I’m sure my mother would cringe at all of the dirt to clean up, but not for long, for once the tree was upright in its base and relaxed back into its natural form, all was right in the world, at least for the moment.

The rest of the story about our Christmas tradition would sound more or less familiar to you : decorations, carols, popcorn and cranberry strings, church services, cookies, letters to Santa, stockings, fights with my sister, movies about Frosty and Rudolf, uncomfortable ruffled neck things, and long road trips to grandparents (over the interstate and through the woods). My favorite sight on Christmas morning (other than the abundance of nifty presents that appeared out of nowhere) was the messy cookie crumb evidence which always came with a bizarre note about broken sleigh runners and peculiar reindeer injuries sustained from crash landings on I-95. The Santa I knew was a decent stand-up comedian.

The magic of Christmas, as it is called, felt pretty real for a ten year old. My sister and I spent every Christmas Eve looking out the window, standing up on my grandparent’s sofa bed, wondering if it all was true and listening for the hooves.

What I know to be true today, about Christmas and about other things, is perhaps a little different than what I thought to be true back then.

Clearly, when looking back at such matters, we must admit that one can’t be a grown up until one is in fact grown up. I’m not saying at all that I am a grown up or have grown up but I do know that I am more grown up today than I was back then. It goes without saying that a ten year old and a forty-four year old have a different level of experience that can only be accomplished through the hard and messy work of life, including dirt and needles that fall out of the box all the time.

In terms of Christmas tradition, I have certainly moved my center of gravity, or perhaps more aptly put, my center of gravity has been moved. I still love Christmas trees, although I’m not very particular about type and how they arrive. Down here in Mexico, the spruce options are limited, the quality is dodgy and Claus Enterprise (Maine division) delivery costs are exorbitant.

Back then, what I knew to be true was that Christmas could arrive in a three-foot box.

Today, what I am discovering to be true is that Christmas did in fact arrive in a box, perhaps about the same length, but of a slightly different type.

“And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12



Last February our small group from Calgary came down for a family mission trip. We spent time with all of our partner projects, serving pancakes, playing at the orphanage, leading programs in pueblos, loving the abuelitos. One evening we served dinner outside the public hospital, which offered an opportunity to invite one of my friends from Merida and a single woman that she knew. Mary’s seven-year-old son was receiving cancer treatment. As we heard Mary’s story, through Paty’s translation, tears rolled down our faces. She shared the pain of a mother fearful of losing her only child. We prayed for her, and for her son, Angel.

Thursday morning Paty told me that Angel had died.

She went on to say that Mary is struggling with a great depression. I don’t know how that kind of depression would feel. To lose a child must be the worst kind of tragedy that anyone could bear. I don’t know how one would bear it.

As I reflected on this news, it sank in. The prayer I prayed that night in February, for Angel’s life to be spared, was heard. But God’s will was different.

So then, why did God choose to take this child?

This will fall into a box of questions that I have which will remain unanswered. For Mary, life continues. For her son, it does not.

The mysteries of life and death, who lives and who dies, the when and where and how, are beyond my comprehension. Why certain things happen to certain people, why children get cancer, why mothers must bury their sons.

All I can do is place my hope in the Lord, that He has this all in hand. I can only pray that the bruises and blood shed in this life will somehow result in a better state of being. It goes without saying that I will keep praying that no such tragedy will fall upon my own children. But I must guard my heart for the truth of the matter, that this life will not be easy, that the way will not be smooth, and that His ways will not always be understood.

God bless you, little Angel.



Fifteen Minutes with Felipe

You’ve heard me talk about Estela. This woman moves me to places I can’t describe in words. Here’s a woman who, 37 years ago, decided to give her life to serve the .0001% of the world who you don’t want to think could possibly exist.

I mean, seriously, who would do that to their parent? To their grandparent?

We’re in Yucatan, Mexico for crying out loud. The land of peace and tranquility, nestled between struggle and difficulty. Where family matters. Where generations take care of generations. Where 15 people can co-habitate peacefully under one small thatched roof, with 12 hammocks and one wood fire to cook over.

This is not a place known for leaving people homeless on the street. They may be poor, but they are not homeless, in a sense. At least this has been my experience thus far, serving in Merida and in the neighbouring pueblos.

In Hunucma, the poorest of the pueblos in which we serve, 50% of the homes do not have a toilet. And yet, I do not see grandparents sleeping on the street.

So, why are there 37 orphans living at Estela’s house right now?

I don’t know  the answer. It is complicated. Are these people ‘unwanted’, ‘unloved’, ‘unknown’? Or are they innocent casualties of families who desperately want to care for their elderly, but simply don’t have the means to do so anymore?

Estela does not venture into the ‘why’ question much. She focuses on what needs to be done. Then she does it.

These abuelitos need only one thing. They need love.

Abuelo Felipe was brought to Casa de los Abuelos this year, via the public hospital. He had not showered in more than a year and he did not speak. The man was covered in dirt and lice, not just in his hair, but also in his eyelashes. Estela has done it all, seen it all, knows what to do.  She carefully bathed him, removed the lice one by one, gave him new clothes, hot coffee and a pan dulce to eat. He smiled, and said thank you. And then, 15 minutes later, he died.

As Estela shared the story with our group, we shed a few tears. She smiled and explained, it’s okay. The Lord knows.

He knows that 15 minutes of love was all this man needed.

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