Christmas Blessings

Last weekend I packed up the kids and headed to Minnesota to spend Christmas with Lisa’s family. Wednesday night I packed up Hope, Vinny’s and my clothes and all of the presents because the plan was to leave Winona Friday morning and I had to work Thursday. So, after work on Thursday, I picked up Hope and Vinny from school, ran home and loaded the van and was back on the road by 5:40pm. Not bad considering. The trip to Winona was uneventful: Hope and Vinny watched a movie in the back seat and I listened to music on my IPod. Brittany and Trevor wouldn’t be coming until Saturday morning (they both had previously made plans with friends). Friday morning was a little hectic as we had presents yet to wrap and kids to get ready. Lisa ran into town to get her mom (yes, I know…visions of Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation came to mind!). We had a challenge getting everything (and everyone!) packed and loaded into the van (I felt like I was playing a real life version of Tetris!), but we finally got it all in; leg room is highly overrated and who really needs to see out the back window anyway? Using the rear window is for wimps…I’m a man! I use my side mirrors! So, with the back-end piled high, the kids and mom packed in like sardines, we got on the road at 10:45am. It was like we were on our very first family trip!

Now, Lisa and her family are originally from Worthington. Lisa grew up and even went to the community college that is located either in or near there, before she transferred to Winona State. Worthington is about 3.5 hours from Winona, but we were going to Luverne, where her dad and stepmother built a new home about a year ago. Luverne is about another 30 minutes past Worthington and is a sleepy little town. On the trip over, the boys kept themselves busy playing their Game Boys while Hope and Grandma watched a movie on the portable DVD player. Lisa and I listened to music and talked. All in all it was a nice trip. Once we arrived, Lisa’s dad Leroy (or LeRoar as Hope likes to say!) met us at the hotel and took us to Kathy’s (or Taffy…again, Hope) brother, Curt’s little home to show us his puzzle collection. Now, Curt is retired and lives by himself. He busies himself by assembling jigsaw puzzles…but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. He had hung up his puzzles…not like you or I would hang a piece of art, but more like wallpaper! Nearly every available section of wall space was covered in a fantastic mosaic of puzzles! Cats, dogs, city skylines and western scenes! Beautiful Thomas Kinkade prints, Norman Rockwells and impressionistic Monet’s. Puzzles in the shape of bears, wolves and states! Even three dimensional ones like the cathedral at Notre Dame and I paused looking at a card table that contained a section of New York city…the twin towers (now gone), stood tall against this three dimensional cityscape and I was caught in the remembrance of that horrific day. In all, Curt has assembled 604 puzzles and he has many more in his basement just waiting for his attention!

Leroy and Kathy have a very nice home and play the part of host/hostess perfectly! Leroy like to grow his own hot peppers, dehydrate them, grind them into powder and then mix them into the ultimate collection of pepper seasonings! Some are fire hot and others quite tame, but my favorite was one titles Super Chili’s. It had enough oomph, to let you know it was there, but also adds a great flavor to whatever you mix it with! It was great to see Donna and her kids Stephanie and Justin from Las Vegas again. And it was good to finally meet her other son Brandon. Trevor really took to Brandon and Justin and it even came down to Trevor and Brandon going head to head in Monopoly! I also finally met Lisa’s brother Alan, his wife Robin and his two daughters Ali and Sarah. I also met Justin’s fiancé Jackie, Brandon’s girlfriend, Candace and Sarah’s boyfriend, Austin.

We talked, played games and grazed like sheep! Hope was in top form and charmed her way into everyone’s hearts. If we would have been on a cruise, she would have been our cruise director! She freely past hugs around, took pictures (on other peoples digital cameras!) and just generally brightened everyone’s day! When Britt and Trev arrived the next day, she was watching out the window for them and when she saw the van, she ran into the kitchen yelling. ‘They’re here everyone! They’re here! Now let’s ALL stand up and greet them!’ I swear if she would have had a red carpet, she would have rolled it out for them! We shared laughs, fun, food and even tears. Time, like water in your hand, ran quickly and before we knew it, it was time to leave.
We headed back Sunday after brunch at Leroy and Kathy’s. We had plans to stop and visit Lisa’s Grandmother and then some friends of hers on the way back through Worthington. Brittany and Trevor decided to press on and go home. About 2 hours later, Britt called to report that it was snowing and the wind was so bad that it was becoming difficult for her to see. I told her to pull off into the next town, find a place to hunker down and I’d get back to her. I found out that a winter storm warning had been issued for the part of Minnesota that we’d be driving through and that they were advising people not to travel. Snow accumulations of 8 to 12 inches were expected and winds in excess of 45 mph would make travel hazardous, if not impossible. I called Britt back and told her to find a hotel and call me back. Lisa did some quick calling and was able to get permission for us to stay at the house of the parents of her best friend. It was a beautiful house and they graciously told us to make ourselves at home and to help ourselves to anything. Britt did call back and I set them up with a room at a hotel in Rochester. We ordered Godfather’s pizza (one of my favorites!) and later on, Lisa and I relaxed in their hot tub (I pretty much decided right then and there, that Lisa and I NEED to have one in our house!)

Monday…Christmas eve! I was to sing at Walnut Hill’s Christmas eve services (4:00pm and 5:30pm) and needed to be back at 2:30 to practice. It was between 9:30 and 10:00am when we left Worthington and it would be a 5 and a half hour drive from Worthington to Baraboo and I still had to drop Lisa, the boys and her mom off in Winona…so, I quickly calculated and knew I wouldn’t make the practice, so I called and cancelled the practice, but told Tyson (our music leader) that I would still make it for the performances. We got to Winona and dropped everyone off and was on my way out of town at right around 2pm…YIKES! Winona to Baraboo was about a 2 hour drive and so, with a prayer and determination, I pressed my speed and rolled out in front of my house at 3:30! I quickly ran into the house, re-dressed and was out the door by 3:45! I called Lisa on my way up to the church and found out that she had just left town! Her plan was to leave by 3:00, but didn’t make it! I was originally told that the second service was scheduled to start at 6pm…when I told her it was actually starting at 5:30…she about cried. As the second service started, Lisa still hadn’t arrived, but she still had time as it was about 20 minutes into the service before I would sing. As I sat there watching each performer and listening to each reading, I silently counted down the time until I would have to perform. As the service got to the last perform and reading before I was to go on, I got up from my seat and went to the back of the church. Listening to the performance of O Little Town Of Bethlehem, I stared out of the big picture windows in the foyer of the church, watching desperately to see if Lisa’s car would pull in at the last minute…It wasn’t there. I turned as the soloist finished and waited until the reading was about halfway through when I walked down the aisle to the stage. Feelings of disappointment, not towards Lisa, but that she wouldn’t make it in time, flooded my thoughts and I had to consciously push them aside so I could concentrate on the performance at hand. There were about 600 people at the first service and while there wasn’t that many now, the place was still near capacity. I looked to Ruth (the pianist) and she started playing. And as I sang the first words, ‘Oh Holy Night…’, I caught site of Lisa standing in the doorway at the back of the church! Honestly, it was exactly like a scene out of a movie…against time and against all odds, the heroine makes it just in the nick time! I stood there singing for my church…for Lisa and for my God. I’ve sung O Holy Night countless number of times over the years and it had become somewhat of a tradition for me to sing it…this would most likely be the last time I would sing it at Walnut Hill…I sang from my heart and I pray that it brought glory and honor to Jesus…many babies have grown up to become kings, but there has only been one King who humbled himself for our sake to become a baby. Laying aside His throne and stepping down from the right hand of God, He entered this Earth just like you and I did.

I find it utterly amazing that in this culture of Political Correctness and tolerance, all religions are embraced and even displayed except for one…Christianity. Our public schools openly talk about Chanukah and Kwanza, but the true reason for Christmas is not only left out, but actually shunned in areas. Selective tolerance isn’t tolerance at all…I believe that’s actually called prejudice. Interesting that all throughout the New Testament, Jesus reached out to the poor, the injured, the ‘untouchables’. His door…His path was and still is open to all and all He asked was for us to turn away from sin and to accept Him as Lord and Savior of our lives.

I really missed the boys on Christmas morning, but it was nice having Lisa there. It really felt like we were a family. Over the past month I have watched my kids and have seen an ever deepening love developing between them and Lisa. I’ve seen Hope call her mom…I have heard Vinny say that it will be nice to have a new mom…I have seen Trevor give her a hug and I have watched Brittany warm up to her, even start to joke and tease with her (that is SO one of her love languages!). As I sit back and think about this past year…all that we’ve been though…all that God has done for us, I am in awe and humbled by the love He has shown, the blessings he has bestowed and the restoration He is enacting. I think of Job and all that he lost and through his faithfulness and steadfastness, when his season of pain and suffering was over, God not only restored that which Job lost, but He over and abundantly blessed him. By no means am I comparing what I went through to that of Job’s story…he lost SO much…but I KNOW that God is faithful and He continues to bless us and is restoring ALL of us…Lisa, the kids and I.

Praise be to God, our Father! All day long we will sing of His glory, from the highest mountain we will shout of His greatness, From the depths of the sea the very Earth proclaims His holiness! The rocks, trees and birds of the air resound His majesty, while the plants of the field and animals of the land honor Him.


~ V


  1. Forever, God is faithful! You are so right about that, hon. As we look back, the faithfulness of God can be clearly seen woven throughout our lives over the past months & and I have both endured great suffering, as have our children. I know it is not over, as our kids will continue to grieve, but we do know that God is and will continue to prove Himself faithful in all of our lives....restoring what has been lost, blending our lives together, and composing our futures!!

    Psalm 126:3-6 "The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears
    will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him."


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