A Belated Christmas Gift

In case you’ve never met him, this is my “little brother” Brad (I previously introduced him here and here). We weren’t particularly close growing up, but I have spent the past six years getting to know him on a level I hope that most siblings will never have to experience.

Brad was a freckle-faced, mischievous kid who had lots of friends, but I knew something was different about him with respect to his ability to learn. He went to a special school for a few years, but my parents never let on to any particulars related to his ‘special education needs’ until one day when I was about 12 years old. I don’t remember what was happening at the time, but Brad was having trouble with his school work and I think my dad sensed my annoyance with my brother over something trivial. I don’t remember Dad’s exact words, but he took me aside and urged me to be kind to my brother and try to help him out because life was harder for him than for most.

We three Boyles kids, Christmas of 1963 (l. to r. Cindie, Vivian & Brad)

I do remember promising my dad that I would try harder to be kind. Little did I know then just what that would entail, but Facebook reminded me earlier this week that six years ago I arrived in Milwaukee to look after my mom who was in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s and ended up taking my brother to the emergency room at the VA Hospital in Milwaukee. That trip resulted in a series of appointments and a battery of tests, which led to a diagnosis of colon cancer and various cancerous skin issues, in addition to unmanaged diabetes. And so began my opportunity to keep the promise I made to my dad more than 50 years prior ago as I embarked on my ministry of care for my brother, driving him to and from various appointments in treatment for all of these problems. Somewhere along the way it was determined that Brad had experienced some mini-strokes and that he was cognitively impaired – the neurologist called it vascular dementia. It soon became apparent that it would be wise to move both my mom and my brother to live near me

Brad’s room at a nearby nursing home is scheduled for much needed renovation this summer, so the management asked families to help their resident clean out extra items. I stayed for a bit after we returned from Brad’s doctor appointment last week to take care of that. We tackled his nightstand together first, starting with a bag full of unopened cards that people had sent him. There were Easter cards, birthday cards and even a few from Christmas. I opened each of the cards and read them to Brad, reminding him of who people were if he didn’t remember them. Then, I packed up his winter coat and a few items of clothing that he doesn’t like to wear. There were a few t-shirts which were frayed and stained, obviously his favorite shirts to wear, so I took them with me and told him I would purchase new ones.

Someone had gifted Brad with cookies at Christmas. He pointed to the tin on his nightstand (pictured below) and told me he had saved it because he thought I would like it. I don’t know what it was about that simple gesture, but it meant a lot to me that he thought about something I would like. Honestly, even though he had eaten all of the cookies in the tin, it was like a belated Christmas gift.

The Christmas Photo


It’s the last Five Minute Friday blog link-up of the year 2020. Join me and this beautiful community of writers and bloggers who gather on Fridays around a single word prompt to freewrite for five minutes. This week’s writing prompt is Conclude (check out the other posts here). I suspect most of us are really looking forward to the conclusion of the year 2020, which held no shortage of disappointing losses. I could write a few chapters about losses myself, but let me instead share with you about a special lesson I learned…a lesson from a Christmas photo.


Christmas is coming, so I take my cherished photo from the drawer where I keep it the other eleven months of the year.

Boyles Family of Three – Christmas 1957

It seems like just yesterday when I found this photo. In reality it was about five years ago. As I recall, I was busy helping my dear mom sort through life’s accumulation of things, when I found a shoebox tucked away in the corner of the laundry room near the place where mom would iron the wrinkles out of my dad’s shirts. Removing the slightly dusty lid, I found this box to be filled with fascinating photos of years gone by, each filed standing on edge waiting to one day be added to a photo album. As I thumbed through each time-worn photo, I concluded that Momma had at one time been busy putting the years of her life in order, one loose photo at a time.

That was before Alzheimer’s. Before her mind could no longer put anything in order.

My treasured photo, filed under “Christmas 1957”, captured a moment in my life and a memory I was too young to keep without it. We were a family of three seated in my great-grandparents’ living room. A well-tinseled Christmas tree was in the background, and I was sitting in 3-month-old chubby cuteness on my beautiful momma’s lap. My handsome daddy was seated on the floor next to us, arms casually crossed around his knees. If you look carefully over my dad’s left shoulder, you might spy a portrait of my mom in her wedding dress.

Gracious reader, you probably recall that Jesus took my momma home to heaven this year, which makes this photo more meaningful than ever. Now, as my fingers trace the little gold frame on this precious keepsake, something hits me straight in the heart, making me pause and think about the brevity of life.

Our Christmas present in 1979

I was young like my momma in this photo, just 22 years old when my own daughter was born. Except for the years I spent in junior high school, those first 22 years whooshed by in a flash, and the years from then until now are a blur too. Doing the math, if I live to be 86 like my mom, I conclude that I have 23 years left to spend (a mere 13 years if I live to be as old as my daddy).

The Bible speaks figuratively of our lives being like a mist or a vapor – here one moment and gone the next (James 4:14). It’s so very true. How will the story of my life conclude once the last chapters of my life have been written?

As I set my special photo down in a place of Christmas-y honor, my heart wells with gratefulness for this photo’s poignant reminder to invest these final years God has in His plan for me in what matters most: loving people and pointing them to Jesus for the glory of God.  

Christmas 2018 – Seven Differences

I love Christmas. My husband would tell you that sometimes I go a little too crazy with the cleaning, baking, gift-wrapping and preparations. And he would be right. But the joy of a family gathering together makes it all worthwhile.

Our Christmas was different this year. Very different. In fact, I can think of seven differences right off the top of my head.

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The ornament that commemorates our first Christmas in 1976

Difference #1 – I didn’t go crazy decorating this year. I put up and decorated our Christmas tree. And that’s it. And I didn’t even hang ALL of the ornaments. No garlands and lights. No wreaths. No candles, or anything else lurking in the bins marked “Christmas” in my storage area. I didn’t even put out Christmas napkins or plates.

And, you know what? I still loved it.

img_1603Difference #2 – Less Sugar. LOTS less sugar. My children and grandchildren have grown accustomed to favorite home-baked cookies and candies being stacked one atop the other in a special set of aluminum stacking trays I inherited from my mother-in-law. Every year each of five layers of trays included our favorites: Snowball cookies, candy cane cookies, chocolate fudge, peppermint patties, and soft ginger cookies dipped in white chocolate.  Eyes would open wide whenever I’d bring the tray full of goodies out of the 3-season porch (our second fridge in the winter). Everyone knew yumminess was contained within those five layers.

This year, we’re all more conscious of sugar and what too much sugar can do to the body. I made one sweet treat and skipped baking Christmas cookies (with the exception of a batch of gluten-free snowball cookies for my hubby). There also weren’t candy dishes throughout the house filled with M&M’s and chocolate candies.

We still enjoyed Christmas – sans the sugar high.

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A back pack – Miss V’s all too grown up gift choice prompts her beautiful smile

Difference #3 – The guests. The people gathered were a sweet mix of family and friends. Our daughter and her family were part of the usual cast of characters at our celebration, but our son and his family could not come because they were using this time off of work and school to go on a family vacation. This year our gathering included our new friends and adopted family of the heart Herim and Waldely, and their sweet daughters Fabiana and Alexa. If that weren’t blessing enough, as a bonus, our celebration also included Herim’s visiting cousin Anna and Anna’s nephew Luigi.

In addition to hearing a lot of Spanish floating around the room, our little family relished spending time with our new friends as they shared with us more about their country of birth, Venezuela. We learned about the similarities and differences in customs, and laughed together over the cultural differences that one stumbles upon when being immersed in the language and traditions of the United States. Waldely shared the humor she found when Americans are introduced to a new food  they don’t particularly like. We don’t just come out and say, “I don’t like it.” With a little raise of our eyebrows, we say, “Mmmm…interesting.”

I only wish I had taken pictures!!

Difference #4 – The meal. It was an early lunch, rather than an evening meal together to accommodate everyone’s schedules for the rest of the day. It was rather simple fare with ham and cheese sliders on the menu, rather than the egg-laden brunch casserole I had originally planned. There were a few equally simple go-withs such as deviled eggs, a little fruit tray, a few cut-up veggies with dip, potato chips, pickles/olives, and the like. Waldely added quesillo, a delicious traditional Venezuelan flan to our buffet spread. Oh, so yummy! Estaba delicioso!

GF Wisconsin Buns

Difference #5 – Gluten Free Options. In our family, we traditionally enjoy what we call “Wisconsin Buns” on Christmas Eve.  It’s a recipe handed down to me by my mother-in-love.  She made it almost weekly in their family, but I reserve making this special (highly calorific and very bad for you) “coffee cake” for Christmas Eve morning (and will also make it as the birthday treat for any family member who requests it). This year I also made up an experimental batch of gluten-free Wisconsin Buns. Not the same by any stretch of the imagination, but a surprisingly tasty alternative treat for my husband, who now finds allergies to be a daily struggle.

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Papa helping Charlie crack open his gift – new geodes

Difference #6 – The shopping. All of our shopping was done by Wayne on-line this year – mostly via Amazon. No trudging around in malls. No being tempted by impulse purchases placed strategically at every check-out line. The kids and grandkids made lists on their wish-lists and the purchased gifts came to our door only needing to be wrapped. I love watching the faces of each grandchild as they open a gift they really wanted.

Christmas + 3 grandsons = LOTS of Legos

Difference #7 – Momma was here, but absent. Though our house was full of people laughing and the sounds of children playing, Momma pretty much missed all of the Christmas activity as she retreated to her room and slept throughout the day. Last year she was able to join us in the family room and watch in delight as her great-grandchildren opened gifts. This year, Alzheimer’s has noticeably taken away her delight in all things social. Her inability to participate in our celebration was a little sad. In spite of that, I’m glad her number on the wait-list hasn’t come up at the memory care facility we have reserved for her. It brought me peace of mind being able to peek in on her in our home.

If Momma had a wish-list for next year’s Christmas gift, heaven would be at the very top of her list. No more tears or confusion. No more memory problems. No more excruciating knee problems. And together with her Lord and Savior FOREVER!

Now, wouldn’t THAT be an AWESOME Christmas?