Her name was Charlotte.
I’ve wanted to write about her for such a long time but I couldn’t find the words until now. I’ve desperately wanted them all to be so honorable and right, full of grace and love— just like she was. I confess I didn’t know or appreciate her half as well as I wish I had, but I know she loved me and I’m certain she knew I loved her too.
And… I won’t lie; we didn’t hit it off right away— I really wasn’t her type of girl. I might have scared her. Heck, I scared myself. Thank heavens, she tried and kept on trying.
While she’s been gone for 6 years, so many things around our home continue to keep her memory alive. Especially at Christmastime; her most favorite season of all. Gosh, how she loved Christmas! Partially because she flat out thrilled at any chance to celebrate, decorate or arrange something. Seriously, she was the kind of woman who had a tablecloth and matching paper products on hand for every season. I used to tease her about belonging to the “Potholder of the Month” club for that reason alone! Yes, she loved a holiday but Christmas was her time to shine. Charlotte understood as deeply as possible the real joy we have for celebrating the birth of Christ: Jesus was her Savior.
In her earthly lifetime, Charlotte was the classic “Southern Lady”- private, proper, loving and loyal. Hospitable and generous too— you’d have to work hard to out-give her and after she was gone it amazed us to discover how charitable she had been with her meager retirement income. Whether caring for her aging mother, children and grandchildren, or serving her church, retirement center neighbors and community through delivering Meals on Wheels— Charlotte spent herself wholly in the name of Christ. What a legacy.
Charlotte was forgiving— at least as forgiving as humanly possible and willing to pray for the strength to forgive better when necessary. Despite the pain and betrayal that singed her heart terribly, somehow she managed to never let it interfere with the way she lived on a daily basis. Pain just didn’t define Charlotte or her relationships with others—Christ did. She taught me by these examples and her life is teaching me still today. Especially at Christmastime.
I vividly recall her last Christmas with us. We didn’t know it was the last one we’d have together and certainly she didn’t either. There we were— crowded together in her tiny apartment visiting, sharing a modest but plentiful meal, and opening up thoughtful and silly gifts, much like we’d done the year before.
However, this year she had also decided to gift some of her precious Christmas dècor. She’d already done some considerable downsizing in order to move into the center, but now she was ready to decide what she wanted to keep and, to capture the spirit of her words, she “wanted to give it as her own choice”. Because she knew that this life and these lovely things were only temporary, she happily gave the very things she treasured. That was Charlotte.
So, again this year, as I’ve carefully unboxed and unwrapped our family Christmas items, many which once graced her own humble home, I can’t help but remember my sweet mother in law with a special fondness for her steadfast example of what it means to truly love, truly serve and truly live to give of oneself. And not just at Christmastime; her legacy is the every day sort of stuff meant to be applied each and every moment.
I have to ask myself why this year remembering Charlotte seems to matter more to me than ever before. To be honest, it’s likely for a variety of reasons but mostly, I need the anchoring in these solid memories to help me know how to move forward through this ever-changing season of my life and most importantly— why.
Also because, among these other things, this year also finds her four sons in the throes of trying to respectfully care for their aging father.
The differences between the two of them are like night and day but Charlotte would not want me to dwell on that. However, the life-lessons are clear: how Charlotte gave, he withheld; what Charlotte cherished, he dismissed; where Charlotte released, he spent his life gripping all the more tightly. Sadly, in choosing a much meaner course of life, this poor man put them all on a trajectory that might have ensured no one would be around to stand in the gap for him at this late and most difficult stage of life. But God.
Because this is where all of Charlotte’s love and Christ-like example is bearing the best fruit and an everlasting example. Simply put: the way she raised her sons and lived out her life before them was so thoroughly saturated with God’s protective and sheltering grace, that they are emboldened and equipped to do the very best they can for their father despite the fractured relationship that has existed most of their lives. Because Charlotte loved Jesus the most, she loved her sons well and out of this love they are now able to show love to one another and for this man, their father. In courageously caring for their father, they are honoring the memory of their mother and surely, God is pleased.
So alive and unshakeable for me this Christmas— so real and profoundly true, these things of God matter the most. As I look around our home today, I see a handful of things she passed along but my heart clings to the real treasure that doesn’t fade and one we are attempting to pass along to our own children— it is the Holy Spirit’s everlasting gift of witness showing us the path to follow in the weeks and years to come.
This is Charlotte’s gift to us– the truly, everlasting message of Christmas and I’m so grateful that it’s mine to share…now… with you. Merry Christmas!