Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Spread the Christmas Joy with Andrew Swearingen and Giveaway | Day 10

 Joy from Andrew Swearingen
"White December Days"

I’ve experienced far too few white Christmases. Central Illinois in late December, with its empty fields, harsh winds, and leafless trees, can feel quite dreary. But add some snow, even a little bit of it, and it changes everything. There’s something magical about watching the gentle flakes fall to the ground. I watch, hypnotized by their dance and it’s no wonder that some of my fondest holiday memories are intimately connected with snow.

One Christmas, we were hit with a snow storm while driving to my sister Megan’s house in Champaign-Urbana. The storm added an extra two hours and a sense of pioneering adventure to our trip as dad carefully traversed the icy highway at a blazing 35 mph. We arrived safe and sound at Megan’s house late that night. The next morning, the streets had been turned into an artic wonderland reminiscent of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

Another year we were blessed with snowfall when we visited my Uncle Jim and Aunt Kay. I hadn’t spent much time with my cousins from that side of the family, most of whom were girls, but the snow proved to be a great “ice-breaker” as it were. It didn’t take long before my older brothers and I were engaged in a full out snowball war with our cousins. This proved unwise as most of the girls were on their varsity softball team and knew how to curve a snowball. To the best of my recollection the Swearingen boys fought valiantly and left the fight at a stalemate, although the girls would likely say otherwise.
The snow missed us for another several years. In summer of 2008, a week before my sister’s wedding, my dad was diagnosed with cancer in his liver. That next Christmas he had gotten some kind of virus which, in combination with his chemotherapy, kept him either in bed or in front of the toilet most of that week. Meanwhile, my family and my brother’s in-laws played penny poker together around the dining room table. My niece Tess, who wasn’t quite four years old, was having trouble sleeping, complaining of an ache in her belly. She ended up snuggled up on her grandma’s lap, watching the game and snitching chips from the table. A month later the belly ache was diagnosed as nueroblastoma, a rare bone marrow cancer.

Dad didn’t make it to the next Christmas. When it was clear he wasn’t doing well, we assembled the family back home, including Megan and her husband, Jared, who used a friends frequent flyer miles to make the trip from Texas. We all tried to say what we needed to say and provided much needed support for everyone. We would assemble again shortly after for dad’s funeral.

Our first Christmas without dad was difficult, not only because of his absence, but also by the fact that Tess was still fighting her own battle with cancer. Megan and Jared weren’t able to make it up from Texas, but on Christmas morning mom called Meg to wish her a Merry Christmas. That call lasted almost two hours as we passed the phone around, draining mom’s battery, each of us taking time to talk with Megan. One of my presents that year was a family portrait with our entire family on Dad’s 60th birthday, a picture which earned the title “The Miracle Shot” because not a second after the picture was taken the grandkids, impatient with having to sit still for so long scattered across the room, continuing whatever games had been interrupted.

The following year we all got back together back at the farm, meeting a week before Christmas as that was when Megan and Jared would be back in Illinois. Tess was doing considerably better, but was still required to take a regiment of pills (which thrilled her to no end). I don’t recall much about Christmas that year. It’s all a blur of heavy dinners, wrapping paper, and getting tackled by nieces and nephews.

What I do remember is Christmas Eve morning. Everyone had gone back home except for Megan and Jared, Mom, and me. I didn’t want to leave, but I was determined to get back home for the Christmas Ever service at my church. I was packing my bags and putting off goodbye when through the window I saw giant snowflakes start to fall. I knew that the longer that I waited the worse the roads would become. So Megan and I hugged goodbye and we both cried a little as the snow fall whited out the landscape, giving us another cherished white Christmas.

Two years later everyone returned to the farm. There had been a winter storm warning on the day that we were all traveling, but we saw nothing more than a gentle dusting of snow. It wasn’t until we pulled in the front drive of the farm that we encountered massive snow drifts, some six feet high or more. The entire farm was transformed into the artic playground of our dreams.

One particularly large drift became the focal point of the winter fun as my brother and I carved out tunnels in the drift with scoop shovels as the rest of our clan threw snow balls and attempted to build snow men. Tess, now several years into remission, claimed one of the tunnels as her ‘cave’ where she stored an arsenal of snowballs, more than a few of which made it my way. She spent a large part of that week outside with the other kids running, chasing, and exploring in the snow, a feat which would impossible during her treatments.

Megan and Jared won’t be able to make it home for Christmas this year. Just before Thanksgiving, Megan gave birth to their first child, Jacob, and they will likely have a relatively low-key holiday with just the three of them. Mom and I talked recently, lining out travel plans for the holidays. It’s all still a bit up in the air, but I’m certain that it’ll be wonderful regardless of where and when we get together. And while it’s impossible to plan these things, I am hoping that part of this Christmas will involve some new fallen snow.

Andrew Swearingen is an aspiring writer and a graduate of Southern Illinois University. He currently lives in Carbondale, Illinois. For a "real job" he works in landscaping and occasionally works as a substitute teacher. He attends Vine Church in Carbondale where he serves in the kid's program as well as various other service areas.

Connect with Andrew on his blog: http://speculatethis.blogspot.com/
Excited for today's giveaway - I got this CD last year and liked it so much I wanted to offer a copy to a lucky giveaway winner! It features some great songs by popular Christian artists. You'll love it - trust me!

**Giveaway rules: To enter, comment on each the post (or posts) in the month of December that offer giveaway items you wish to win. One entry per person per giveaway item is permitted. All winners will be drawn in January (after the holiday craziness) and will be notified shortly thereafter.

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