Walking through the cold, wet grass to the line of cars awaiting our final departure from Kingston Cemetery, I held my Mama's hand. She silently sobbed into my shoulder, while shielding her face from the bitter winds that pierced through her.
Christmas was only a couple of weeks away and it was hard to imagine celebrating this year without Dad. He loved the holidays. He went all out on the outdoor decorations with nativity scenes, inflatables, and even setting up a light show with music for the community to enjoy. He hand carved hundreds of little wooden crosses to give to visitors that stopped by to admire his festive display.
Dad was a planner, always thinking ahead. He made sure that all the bills were paid and important documents properly filed away. He didn't want Mama to have to worry about a thing. However, there was one thing he didn't plan: cancer. By the time he found out he was sick, it had already spread throughout most of his body. It happened very quickly, but we were thankful he didn't suffer long.
The next two weeks seemed to creep by. The constant visitors finally started to dwindle as many were traveling and preparing for Christmas. My wife and I decided to stay in town so Mama didn't have to be by herself.
As per our tradition, mom baked snickerdoodles and served hot chocolate by the fireplace Christmas night. We gathered around Dad's old leather recliner to read the story of Jesus's birth. This is when Dad usually opened the oversized, white weathered Bible that had been passed down to him from his great-grandfather. This year Mama handed the family treasure to me and insisted I read the story from here on.
After a time of reading and prayer, we shared stories of Christmases past. Once we had our fill of laughs and tears, it was time to open gifts. We each took our turn opening one gift at a time, another family tradition Mama started when I was younger. She said it would teach me patience and help me appreciate the joy of others. As we began cleaning up, Mama noticed another box tucked under a branch at the back of the tree. Her eyes filled with tears as she read the tag aloud, "To William, my son. Love, Dad."
My heart raced as I unwrapped the long, thin box festively covered in gold and red paper. Inside was a simple white neck tie with a hand written note tucked neatly between the folds. My hands trembled as I raced to open it so I could read every precious word left behind.
Yes, it's a tie, Son. A plain white neck tie. Nothing fancy, nothing fun, but something special. I wore this tie to your Baptism, Graduation, and Wedding just as my father wore it to mine and his father to his. It is more than an accessory, but a reminder of the family ties that bind us.
There will come a day when God calls me home and you will carry on our name through your own son. Teach him to put God first. Show him by example how to love his wife as Christ loves His church.
Just as this tie is not without stain, neither are you. Remember that Jesus was the only perfect man. Learn from your mistakes and forgive others as Christ forgives you.
The design of this tie may go in and out of style and spend time tucked away in the back of your closet until the fashion comes around again. Do not treat Jesus this way. Speak with Him daily through all seasons of your life, whether good or bad. Though our tastes and situations may change, God is unchanging. He is the same today as He was yesterday and the same as He will be tomorrow.
Finally, as you teach your son how to tie his own necktie, show him patience and kindness. Guide him with a gentle spirit; showing him mercy and grace when needed. Sometimes we, as fathers, may fail but we have a Heavenly Father who is always there when we need Him.
Even in his absence, Dad's words rang loud and clear. He taught me that nothing binds us stronger than those relationships rooted with the love of Christ. I will live the rest of my life nurturing and strengthening my own family ties with those of The Lord.
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