Sometimes I get ideas. I don't usually know where they come from but they represent some of my life's finest moments. This idea may be the best. Kori and I were poor. Nearly dirt poor, and we needed something to give to our family members for Christmas. We could have just said “We don't have the money,” because we didn't, but what we did have was our creativity and a need to have a satisfying Christmas. So I came up with an idea to make a top ten list of things that I had learned from my mother and print it, then frame it. I wrote most of the list, with most of it being funny or ironic, but Kori put the finishing touches on it by telling me something I had not previously realized my mother had taught me. She taught me that no matter how long it takes to complete a goal or achieve a dream, the finishing is what counts. Mom had taken many years to complete her college degree due to the birth of my siblings and me, but it wasn't that it took so long that was remembered. It was that she did indeed finish. It was the best, and most personal of the things I'd learned and so it had be number one on the list. It fired my imagination about writing them for other members of my family as well. So I followed a similar pattern, some goofy stuff at the top and some more serious and personal lessons learned at the bottom. What followed was some of the best writing I'd ever done and gifts I knew would be treasured. We (Kori was more actively helping by this time) even wrote one about our pets from the past and present telling what they had taught us. Possibly the ones that were most important, were the lists we made concerning my grandparents. My Dad's parents had recently passed away. My grandmother, called Geemers, a few years before and my grandad, Gramps, who I had been extremely attached to, that very year. I scraped up enough money to buy a nice frame that held two eight by ten pictures. With these two, I celebrated the fabulous lives and the myriad of valuable life lessons they had taught me. Writing it helped me grieve and I knew it would have a powerful effect on my parents, particularly Dad. I also wrote one for my mom's mother, Memaw, who lived with my parents, but more on that one later. We bought paper that matched the personality of the different family members, bought mostly cheap frames, wrapped them, and took off for Amarillo in rapt anticipation I hadn't felt about Christmas since I believed in Santa.
On Christmas morning, I don't remember who was the first to open theirs, but I do remember that after the second one, all of them dove through the piles of presents to find the one that contained their list. Finally it was decided that each person should read their list aloud instead of passing them around. Many a nostalgic moment was relived, many laughs were shared, and many a happy tear was shed as they finished reading. Then we opened the final gift, the one that held Geemers and Gramps's list. I read them to my family and even though I pride myself on not tearing up, I cried and we all grieved for their loss, but even more importantly, celebrated their impact on us. To this day, and likely forever, this is my all-time favorite Christmas memory.
But this is not quite the end, though for years I thought it was. Several years later my brother, who I love dearly, but who had also made some terrible choices in his life, turned a corner. He started college, he gained a sense of responsibility I had given up on, and began to make something out of his life. My whole family had prayed since he was a teenager that he would change, but what he says helped him the most was his list I had given him. I don't even remember the exact words I wrote but they basically said what you do matters and you have the power to live your life and make it go how you want it to. He told me that recently and it blew me away that something I had written in an attempt to give a good gift had helped him so much.
This last part though humbles me beyond words. My Memaw lived quite a few more years before the Lord called her home, but when we were talking to our pastor in the planning for her funeral service, my Mom gave him the list I had made for her and asked him to read it at her funeral. I balked at first saying that it wasn't meant for that, but all my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all wanted it read in its entirety. At the funeral the pastor used the list to tell her eulogy, laughing as he shared the funny stories. His final point coincided with the number one on her list. It said that I'd learned to love so hard that sometimes it might even be painful, but to love less would not be Memaw. He compared that love to the love that Christ showed for us, and as evidence that she had lived her life loving like Jesus.