The Christmas story told in the Bible recounts how the angels told of Jesus birth and the star that lead the way. Clear signs of Christ's birth and God's love. This story was my first realization that God can communicate with his believers in any number of ways. I have heard this story repeated every year at this time of year for the past 55 years. Many of these years I sat in church and heard my dad read the scripture verses. This year my dad is not here to tell the story but his life, especially this past year, demonstrated God's never ending love and grace.
The Reverend James McKinley Shaffer began his life triumphant early on September 27th. A celebration of life service for him was held at the Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church. Prior to his death he had given my three brothers and me a bell and told us this is how he would communicate with us after his death. Some of us chuckled as we thought of Clarence, the angel, in "It's a wonderful Life" and the phrase from the movie that reported, "every time a bell rings and angle gets his wings." My brothers and I each have our bell. Dad has not rung mine yet but I believe he has let me know he is fine.
Several months ago my husband and I spent a long weekend at Hilton Head Island. We rented bikes and rode 15 beautiful miles, some of them on the beach. We walked 6 miles the next day as part of our training to walk a half marathon. The day had started cool but quickly became very warm and humid. With less than 2 miles to go I was tired! Jay encouraged me and as we made the turn to finish the last mile a silent bike rider came up behind us and rang his bike bell. I was startled by the bell. We were over on the right side of the sidewalk and single file so there was no need to ring the bell. We had been passed by at least 5 other bike riders who did not ring their bells but this time we were also right in front of the Methodist Church. Hi Dad!
At Thanksgiving we gathered in Ohio to share the holiday with my in laws. Our daughter. Megan, and her husband, Judson, joined us there. We took my in laws out for dinner on Friday evening and as Megan and I walked down to a store in the shopping complex to pick up some wrapping paper her conversation shifted to her Papa Jim and what an easy going temperament he always had and how she had never heard him complain. She had no sooner finished that statement when we both heard the bell at the church across the street chime once. Hi Dad!
A month or so ago while Christmas shopping I got out of my car to go into Tuesday Morning. Tuesday Morning is just across the street from Woodland United Methodist Church. The bells were ringing at the church when we got out of the car, as they do every hour, but they were playing Fairest Lord Jesus, the same song Dad had asked me to play one more time in the last days before his death. Hi Dad!
Last week as I sat in our family room next to our Christmas tree and quietly watched television with my dog at my side I saw Lily sit up quickly, her ears raised, her body on alert she sat staring at the Christmas tree. Several seconds passed and not a sound was heard but she did not move. Silently an ornament dropped from the tree landing at my feet. There was no hook attached. The tree hadn't moved. Lily stretched back out at my side. Did my Dad have anything to do with the ornament or was it just an everyday occurrence with an incorrectly hung ornament? You can decide for yourself but I know all about my dad's and my relationship with Christmas trees and I am sure he was just wishing me a Merry Christmas.
Today we celebrate or first Christmas without him. He would have loved the ham I cooked using his glaze recipe tweaked to perfection by him with years of practice. He would have eaten his fair share of my homemade peanut brittle and been so happy to know that Amy was going to attempt to make it this year (a third generation tradition). He would have recounted how he had rung the bells at the church on Christmas morning announcing the birth of our first child and his first Grandchild, Megan who celebrates her thirtieth birthday today. But most of all he would have continued to show us his love and God's love by the life he lead.
Merry Christmas Dad! Thanks for letting me know you are fine. Enjoy your first Christmas in heaven.