A Letter to Remember

Hello All,

Many of you know my mom passed away this summer. No day will ever be quite the same for me, but especially this season of Christmas, will never be the same — Mom loved Christmas.  In the first picture here is an ornament from one of my mother’s and our favorite places in the world (Winona Lake’s Warsaw Cut Glass). It has my mom’s earthly dates on it and this: “She loved Christmas and she loved us”. If you knew my mom, you would know that of course, the Season of Giving was her favorite time of year.  I hope she is enjoying playing Broadway show tunes or Christmas songs on some big heavenly piano today as she often did on earth.

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The second picture, from a Christmas my Mom spent here in CA with us — well thankfully, Mom is not seeing it, since she would not like how she looks, but it is a good reminder that with True Love, no one really cares how we look, do they? We enjoy very much this whole idea of little poor minority, Jewish baby Jesus in a stable, and then we forget that there were no kings and gifts then, (that we added on later), and there was only fear, and lack, and uncertainty, and ugliness, and nationalism, and loss, and grieving, and pain (childbirth not least among the pain). There was nothing — not even a home. But there was the most important thing. There was true and great Love. And there was Hope. And there was the kind of joy that is deeper than happiness, the kind of joy we like to think that angels sing about.

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Oh, yes, this is a lovely season of remembering; not one story about one baby, but all of our stories about love in adversity and love in the good times, and joy in the very present moment. As both Jesus’ ancestors and future religious descendants would advise: “Remember”. “Never forget” “Store these things in your heart.” Remember so you can be present in this moment to the absolute joy that you are alive and have been loved and are loved.

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So, as we wrap up a year, and it has been quite a year! — and as we wrap up our gifts for each other, and wrap our arms around each other, and wrap our minds around another year of uncertainty, and loss, and pain, and for so many, too much of nothing or sorrow or need — we need to be reminded — Remember! — that all that ever matters, all that ever remains, is the Love.
Remember the love. Seek the love. Embrace the love. Be the love.

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Be the hope for someone today. Be the joy for someone today. And above all–Be the love.

This is a wonderful season to remember that what we really care about are those we love, and to let the people we care about know it. “Taking Care” — that’s really what the whole Christmas story is about, isn’t it? It is a good season to remember that we humans long to worship something or Someone that takes care of us, even if we are naughty and not nice, even if our doubts overwhelm our faith, even if we have erred hugely in our relationships with others and ourselves, even if we, like the little drummer boy, have nothing to give in return . So the question is — if we long for that kind of care and love despite ourselves, and despite the other person, isn’t the message of Christmas about our deep need to give that care and love to others, even the ones we find it hard to love? Didn’t little baby Jesus eventually grow up to tell and live that story?

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It’s a good time to remember that Baby Jesus was blessed enough to grow up to be a man, and a good time to read some of the stuff he said when he wasn’t a baby any more. It can rock your world. I’m trying more and more to let it rock mine, but I won’t kid you, it’s not easy, which is another thing we have to remember little baby Jesus the grown-up said. No, true love is not easy. But then, the great and true things in life are worth the price, aren’t they? Isn’t that what we are trying to symbolize with our crazy gift giving and decorating and feasting Holy-days — that Love is priceless? I know my mom believed that. I have read that is what Jesus thought, too.

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My mom was a giddy crazy lady around Christmas time. Price tags were meaningless to her. And she had a horrible time waiting for anything. Unlike I, advent and anticipation  did not bring her happiness. There was never too much — there was just so much to give! I once mentioned I liked nativity scenes and needed some ornaments for the tree — so Mom would send not one, but three nativity sets and keep sending ornaments and decorations, and yes, more nativity sets, every year. Putting them up this year made me cry those tears you get — you know the ones — where you cry because you are so sad and missing someone but you are sort of smiling and laughing and happy too because you feel so much love still warming up your insides from memories and thoughts of that person, who is also making you cry. Remember. And so it goes.

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My kids and husband don’t know it yet, but I also got a little remembrance “thingy” to give them each this Christmas,  that commemorates their grandparents, Raoul’s folks, Esther and Gaston Tawil. One year my dearly beloved father-in-law took me to Fedco or Feddies as he called it and we bought some special little fragile Christmas ornaments for the tree. Each year I put the ones that have survived on the tree and think of him. And our first Christmas with our first child, Justine, we flew to D.C. to spend with Gaston and Esty and Uncle Guy and I bought them ridiculous ugly Christmas sweatshirts with something along the lines of Proud Grandmother and Grandfather of Baby’s First Christmas. You can see below how delighted they were to wear those ugly sweaters, even though my mother-in-law had such style and beauty, she wore that ugly thing so proudly. Look at her face below looking at her new granddaughter. There was no one who could squeal with pleasure like Esty Mizrahi Tawil and Gaston would chuckle with delight as he spent time with each of his four dearly loved grandkids. Esty left us all far, far too soon and Gaston is with her and my mom now too. Ah, I miss them so very, very much. But what a lucky, lucky human I am to have such memories to store up in my heart. Never forget.

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My mom’s and Raoul’s parents’ wonderful Christmas spirit lives on — especially in their grandkids, my children, who aren’t children any more, but who keep the traditions, keep the good things, do a great job of working on healing the bad things, are incredibly giving humans, and who each live lives that did make and would make their “Gram” and Papa Tawil and Grandma Esty proud.

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So yeah, this year we sent a traditional Christmas “brag” letter, because when my mom was bragging about her own children and grandchildren she was happier than anything. I am proud of my husband and my kids, and I am working on being proud of myself. I am proud to be the play-it-forward carrier of my mom, my dad, my grandparents, and my parents-in-law.  I miss them so much. I remember and I am here now and I will do my best to carry forward all the love. All the love.

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So Merry Christmas and Happiest of New Years to you all. Hug your loved ones close, even if they squirm. Study something or listen to something that brings you both joy and growth.  Find forgiveness for others and yourselves for everything. As a different but gloriously similar tradition to the one Jesus believed but which teaches truth as Christ’s many parables taught, let the negative seeds within you go unwatered and nurture the positive seeds that also lie within you so they may grow to the size of huge mustard plants —  huge Christmas trees.

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Remember the good and the love and let it grow within you, this season, and every day you are blessed to wake up.  Whatever you celebrate, celebrate with abandoned joy in the very present precious moment. Take care of yourself. Take care of your loved ones. Take care of strangers. Take care of your enemies. Take care of the world and the planet.

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You are loved. You are love. Remember that.

With Love, Jane

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Jane Tawel, December 2021

2017 Christmas Letter – Remembering

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Christmas 2017

 

Last night, I revealed to the family the Christmas card for this year.  I was pretty proud since I airdropped, loaded, and sent it to Costco all by myself, with no help from any of my technically advanced offspring.  Raoul looked at it, and with a Santa –esque twinkle in his eye, said to me, “Well, Caito, I see you have eliminated the “Christian” out of your favorite phrase, and now are going for just a “Judeo” worldview.  He was referring to my ubiquitous use of the term, “Judeo-Christian” and to the fact that the card stock I chose has the Star of David on it. I had to admit to him, that I hesitated to choose it, but the blue looked so much better with our Hawaii trip photos.  To be honest, I have in fact struggled with calling myself “Christian”. I joked with a friend of mine, that we need a new name, so I suggested “Messianic Gentile”.  It has a ring to it.  I have deeply struggled with what has happened to Christianity and perhaps at Christmas time especially.  I put myself at the top of the naughty list for folks who have lost the meaning of what it means to follow Christ. It has been a delight, a joy, and a terrifying responsibility to teach Bible to my Sixth Graders at Pasadena Christian School. They love God, are fascinated by the story of Jesus, and their hearts are so open to truth and love.  My students were surprised to learn that much of our Christmas tradition is borrowed and stolen from Pagan traditions that had nothing to do with Christianity. Much of it has always been about branding and marketing. The Star of David has an interesting history too.  It had little to do with the ancient Hebrews and wasn’t an official sign of Judaism until the 19th century.  Yet, as I meditated on Christmas and Stars and Judeo-Christianity this year, I realized that for me, the one thing they all have gloriously and wondrously in common is that they all tell stories and treasure memories—Memories of “my people” and my God. Another constant joke about me is my claim of “my people” but this too is what my belief system is all about. Christ came to earth for all God’s people groups but He chose The Star of David from a people group with a long checkered history, a long memory for grievances, and a short memory for God’s grace and miraculous, creative salvation stories – just like my people today. Just like me.

 

Gram Cook’s annual Christmas money went this year to the Tawels seeing “A Christmas Carol”.  The lines that struck me this year were the ones Bob Cratchit speaks in a dialogue with his family after Tiny Tim “dies” in Scrooge’s dream.

“It’s just as likely as not,” said Bob, “one of these days; though there’s plenty of time for that, my dear. But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim—shall we—or this first parting that there was among us?”

“Never, father!” cried they all.

“And I know,” said Bob, “I know, my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child; we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”

“No, never, father!” they all cried again.

Charles Dickens encourages us to remember the good things about others, but we too often wear a groove keeping the memories of sad or bad things as well. Adult children enjoy helping a parent remember all the mistakes a parent made while raising them, especially the things that embarrassed them or you. As a parent, I realize that this is children’s way of processing their own adulthood and their new roles as “parents” or keepers of the world. They are now trying to lead, and, I hope that somehow, knowing that their own parents could make mistakes and they could years later castigate them and still experience a parent’s love, well then maybe those children will remember their own mistakes and those of others with more kindness and grace.

And of course, this is what is so important about this beloved worldview of mine – Judeo-Christianity is about remembering—the good, the bad and the ugly of mankind, and the eternal and never changing love, grace, forgiveness and perfect holiness of a God who chooses not to remember our mistakes but to always see them in the light of His Salvation Story. Christmas is the climax of that story and The Star of David is the protagonist. When we put all those ornaments on the tree, the ones with the kid’s little faces surrounded by green and red macaroni, we are saying that for us, Christmas is not so much about the beauty of the tree but the memories that it holds.  Just like The Star of David, our Christmas stories help us celebrate the Stars of our stories — our great ancestors and us – our people. We retell the stories, year after year.  Remember that VBS when we made those ornaments? Grandma Cook gave us that mini-van ornament and the Disney cruise ship after she treated us all to that cruise so many years ago. Grandpa Tawel took me to Fedco when Raoul and I were first married and bought me those little purple ornaments and the tiny bird who has long ago lost his matching birdy mate, as Grandpa lost his beloved mate, Esther. Raoul and I trim the tree, and remember the sadness of years ago, having to literally throw our little Glendale Christmas tree out the door, as we rushed off with our toddlers Justine and Clarissa to DC to be at Esty’s sick bedside.  We fondly remember our many friends, who became our California family – the Davis’ Christmas cookie parties, the year Raoul was traveling and Mike Bollenbacher helped me lug in the too tall Ikea “Christmas Tree that Ate Glendale”.  We remember the time Verity got surprised with her very own guinea pig, that she named “Kitty” because that is what she really wanted.  We remember the time that the kids performed the play “Wombat Divine” –oh, wait, that was just last year. I remember each year of preparing for Christmas, getting the house in some kind of order, wrapping gifts late into the night and sneaking down to hide them under the tree for Christmas morning. The times Gordon, excited for Christmas morning’s reveal, woke up at 4:00 am – He who now must be rousted from bed before lunch is served.

I tell the same stories over and over and over again. Every year, we read the nativity story with illustrations by Julie Vivas.  We read “Wombat Divine”.  I tell the story about the time….and then that time…. Oh, and remember when… And every year, the family’s eyes grow dim not with tears and memories, but with minds numbed by Mom’s retelling AGAIN. Because of course they need to focus on the present.  But they can blame my determined  retelling of stories on the Judeo part of me, because the Jewish Scriptures are full of God’s insistence that we remember. God wants us to tell our stories of His provision and love and grace and forgiveness and care over and over and over again. As a matter of fact, God commands that we do so if we want to stay in right relationship to Him and our fellow human travelers. In this way of remembering, we live deeply into the day.

You know I once wanted to be a famous acting star, but I thank God that He wrested that dream from me.  I never became a Superstar but I got to give birth to four Superstars: Justine, Clarissa, Verity and Gordon, and I live with a Super Nova, Raoul. This year for the first time in my teaching career here in LaLa Land, I actually have a student whose father is a movie star. But you know what I love about this family – they are superstars for Jesus.  They love the Lord and are raising a lovely young child to love the Lord. My own Super-Duper Stars are about a million times more amazing than I could have ever been and they have given me not just good memories, but hope for the futures both of them and of the world. I am grateful that I know a God who knows the best story line for our lives, if we keep following The Star of David, The Bright Morning Star of the Christ.

So in this present Christmas story of ours, as Justine takes work calls from North Carolina where she lives and works her way up the corporate ladder; and Clarissa takes critical work calls from Holly Street investors and financial consultants; and Gordon decides what classes to take next semester to continue his stellar ascent up the collegiate academic ladder; and Verity chats with friends she is already missing as she prepares to graduate from UCLA this spring; and Raoul steps outside the party to talk with Mosaix customers –I sit back and soak in new stories to turn into next year’s memories, God willing.  I am overwhelmed with God’s love and provision for me.  I thought I wanted to be a famous star, but instead, God gave me these five stars, and all the family and friends who contributed to their lives and stories and to making them the amazing humans that I get to walk this planet with – for a time.

This is a season where we celebrate a God who finally decided He needed to contribute His own “DNA” to ours. This is a season when we remember when Jesus was a little tyke, just as I remember when my own thriving adult-children were small. But if it is a time when we remember Christ’s coming, it is also a time when we remember that He has promised to be with us always and to come again.  As I get older, I remember more rather than less about the births of my children, about their childhoods; but –Oh fraptious joy! Oh frimbous delight!  Each year these wonderful biological carriers of my memories, bring their present lives to live with Raoul and me for a time again.  And even more amazingly, Justine, Clarissa, Verity and Gordon bring to their parents their hopes and dreams for their futures.  They talk of their dreams, their plans, their ideas and we listen and sometimes long to be young again, but mostly we long for them to be happy, and fulfilled and to know the God who has remembered them and us through all these many years of His loving provision.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote this poem about stars

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them!

Sometimes, as Rilke says in this poem, I don’t think I will survive the brilliant shooting stars of my children’s trajectories. Even the memories I have “innumerable, leapt everywhere” create a brilliance that pales only to the great delight I find in seeing my super stars now in their adulthood, “leap slantwise through the skies” of their achievements. They are creative, Gordon with his computer skills, Clarissa with her photography, Verity with her writing, Justine with her baking. They are caring and try to find important things to make the world a better place.  They are helpful and so giving to their parents, fulfilling that ancient command in so many sweet and generous ways.  They also keep us in line and prod us to do better. The tables have turned and they often teach or help us to grow and thrive.  But of course, Raoul and I will always have one thing they need – we are holders of their childhood memories.  We remember, just as our Savior’s parent did: “And Mary treasured up all these things; and she pondered them in her heart.”

The Christian tree and gifts, the Jewish star and dreidel, the stories and carols and decorations and games—these are all ways to celebrate our heritage, our history, our present, and our futures. The King whose birthday we choose to celebrate this time of year would not have known either St. Nicholas nor this symbol: ✡ We who tell the saving story of God, believe Jesus was The Star of David. Yeshua [Jesus] said, “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)  We need to tell the story of God often, not just at Christmas, even if people’s eyes glaze over. We need to remember in order to live well our present lives and to keep hope alive for our children’s future ones.

 

I celebrate the season with a full heart of wonderful gifts from God – my family, friends, a home, good food, delightful students, health, and a history.  I remember in order to praise God, in order to redirect my faltering steps, in order to have hope and faith in dark times, in order to help others, and in order to know that Jesus did come to earth as living testament to God’s very own starring role in humanity’s story. It is, after all, His-story.  And just as my children come back to be with us as Christmas each year, the Babe, who became a man who taught us our God-history lessons, who discipled us in the right way of living and loving, who showed us The Father, who died to save us from our sins, and who was resurrected to show us the way to an eternal life – that Son of God has promised, that He too will not just be someone we remember as a good man but that He will come again to be The Morning Star and King of the World forever.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)

 

Following The Star,

 

Jane, Raoul, Justine, Verity, Clarissa, and Gordon