This morning, I was up at 5AM - not unusual for me the first few days back in the United States. It was such a good trip home from Kenya - we saw the favor of God in so many ways.
We arrived in Detroit about 1:15 December 24. We thought we might see snow, but there was none in Detroit. God had given us such favor for our last flight home, as we were upgraded to first class from Detroit to San Diego. Our flight started at 3:45 Monday afternoon. It was quite cloudy, so we were not able to see the snow in Iowa as we passed over it. However, I had my window shade open to see if we could catch a glimpse.
It was almost surreal as we flew across the US. Here we are, Christmas Eve, flying over the United States. As we flew over Iowa, my mind went to Christmas past - first of my childhood, then of the first few years of our marriage. I was remembering how every year my dad's church had their children's Christmas program every Christmas Eve. (I always secretly wanted to be Joseph in the Christmas play, but was often only a shepherd or a cherub...the latter was really a stretch LOL.) After the Christmas Eve Service, we would run to our house, and go upstairs to get ready for bed. Santa always came early to the Pfaltzgraff house - we would wait patiently until we heard the old set of sleigh bells that my grandfather used on his old sleigh ring out. We knew then, Santa had come, and we would run downstairs to gather around the Christmas tree to see what he had left. As I flew over Iowa, I remembered one year when we all hoped that Santa would leave us a Color TV! We ran down - looked first in the living room, but there was only the old Black and White sitting in the corner where it always was. But each of us had a small gift from Santa - a pair of green tinted glasses - we were told if we put them on when the TV was on, we could see TV in color! LOL
After we opened gifts, we would all go to bed and sleep a few hours, In the middle of the night, my dad and mom would load us into our van and we would head to Blue Earth, MN to my grandmother's house for Christmas. In our van, we each had our place - mine was the third seat - where I could lay out and sleep. My two sisters would be in the seat in front of me, where my older sister Tamie would lay on the seat, and my younger sister Anne would have a bed made on the floor for her. My two younger brothers always had a bed made in the very back of the van where they would sleep...and we would drive to Minnesota.
Christmas morning was always full of preparation for my two Uncles and their families would come for our annual Christmas Celebration and meal. I remember my grandmother would have fresh baked breads, and some of the best Christmas cookies ever made! (especially those cut-out cookies with frosting - and no one since her death has been able to duplicate that frosting!!) We would then gather around the Christmas tree, with a great fire in the the fireplace and have a family worship service before opening gifts.
I remembered our first Christmas as a married couple. We lived in a small two bedroom apartment in Des Monies - we had bought a real tree and had it in front of our sliding glass door. I remember how special it was to celebrate Christmas together with my wife. It was so nice, Donna had to make me leave for an errand the first week of February so she could take down the tree without my complaining!!
I remembered our first Christmas with our daughter. We were pastors of a United Methodist Church in Randalia, Iowa - our house was right on the edge of town. We had bought a beautiful Christmas Tree. Donna's parents came early Christmas morning and we opened gifts, and had a very nice breakfast together. After breakfast, we all got in one car and drove to Chicago to celebrate with Donna's sister and family in Libertyville - it was such a great time!
I remembered our first Christmas in Oklahoma - although we drove home Christmas Eve day to spend Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with Donna's family, we had a tree right next to our fireplace! It was so beautiful...although I remember it being quite strange to have such a warm Christmas that year, and no hope of snow! (I don't remember if we had snow that year in Iowa/Illinois or not).
By the time our flight had reached the Nebraska line, I dozed for a bit...but woke up suddenly, looked out my window and saw the East Range of the Rockies of Colorado. I looked on our flight tracker, and saw we were flying over the mountain where we lived in Rye. I remembered our first Christmas in Colorado - we had no money, but a member of our church took us shopping so we could have at least one gift each! I remember, I got Donna a new Microwave, and she got me a ski jacket! I don't remember for sure, but I think we got Kierstien a mountain bike for Christmas that year! I remember going into the woods to cut a fresh tree - and how we placed it in front of our picture window. I remember one Christmas in Colorado Christmas fell on a Sunday - we had no plans to go to visit family that year, but my parents bought us airline tickets to fly from Colorado to Kansas City, where we then drove to Iowa for Christmas night! I also remember leaving a bag at the car rental place that night - and how they had to send it to us by next day air!
Our flight continued across the US - and I continued to think about Christmas past. Our first Christmas in Southern California - when we got up early Christmas day, put on our bathing suits and went to the beach! I remember - by Southern California standards, it was COLD! But we were fresh from Colorado - so we thought it was pretty nice! We spent a few hours on the beach, in the water, and then went back to the house for our Christmas dinner. Our first Christmas in Arizona - we had moved to Tucson in October, and Donna's dad had a heart attack the week after we moved! We flew back to Iowa and spent three weeks there, until his death the end of November. When we got back to Arizona, we came to San Diego to move our things just before Christmas Eve! In fact, I remember unpacking on the 24th of December all day, and even got all our Christmas things up and our house decorated by the evening! We always had a tradition of doing Clam Chowder for Christmas eve - but that year we were so exhausted we went to Black Angus for Clam Chowder instead!
As we flew into San Diego, we saw from the air the lights of Christmas. The Coronado Bridge was lit up, it looked so nice coming to our home in the US. I remembered our first Christmas in our home where we now live. The landlady had left a wreath in our garage that fit over our front window - we had put a Christmas tree in the window, decorated with white lights only and all our "old fashioned" Christmas Ornaments. Then we put the wreath on the front window. It looked so nice. We also put a live tree in our family room close to the fire. Such good memories of Christmas past!
The past three years have been so different for us at Christmas time. in 2010, Donna and I took our first trip to Africa at Christmas time. That year, for some reason, we decided to fly from Kenya to Iowa for Christmas! What a fiasco! We missed our flight from Detroit to Des Moines...and didn't get to Iowa until 11PM that night! There was lots of snow and ice that year! Kierstien came and joined us in Iowa - and she had such challenges getting out of San Diego that year too! But we had a great time with family! Last year, we flew home and got in just in time to attend our church's Christmas Service! We drove straight from the airport tot he church! Can you spell TIRED!! But it was such fun! This year, we got home at 7PM last evening (Christmas Eve). We were tired, but it was good to be home for Christmas.
So this morning, I am reflecting on Christmas past - but rejoicing in the day! We will spend a quiet day, maybe go find someplace that will serve a Christmas lunch for us (who has had time to go grocery shopping??) and then stop by and visit our Pastor and his family for a bit - and I am reflecting on Christmas future. We don't always know what the future holds - but we see a bright future filled with hope! We thought of traveling to the Mid-west again next year for Christmas - maybe one year we will celebrate Christmas in our home in Africa. But what ever the future holds, we are confident of this - Jesus is alive!
So today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We didn't do any shopping this year - our gift to each other was getting to the US for Christmas! But we will celebrate the birth of our best friend, our Savior! And we will celebrate the love of family and friends! MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!
TOGETHER WE REALLY DO MAKE THE DIFFERENCE!