Tag Archives: New Year

How was your Christmas?

“How was your Christmas?”

I’m glad you asked.

It was good.

Allow me to try to explain what I mean by that…

December 24

When our girls were little we started the tradition of giving them each one gift to unwrap on Christmas Eve. It was always pajamas. The idea was that they would have nice new pj’s for the pictures on Christmas morning. They caught on after about…one year.

Our girls are now 35 and 33. They can buy their own pajamas. But we continue the tradition with our grandkids. On Christmas Eve they stop at our house either before or after the Christmas Eve worship services at church. They get one gift each. They know what it’s going to be. They just don’t know what they will look like. But we also throw in a little something else, like a book or a stuffed animal, just for fun.

It’s our tradition. It warms my heart.

And it’s good.

December 25

Christmas morning used to be just the four of us. Lloyd & Kathie & Liz & Kate. The LKLKs. (Pronounced “lick-licks.”) This was still true when Liz & Kate grew up and moved out. But now it revolves around the next generation. This is as it should be. But the transition has been a little awkward, I think. We want to keep family traditions alive, but we recognize the need for the next generation to establish their own traditions. Like we did.

We’ve settled into a pattern where the kids have their own Christmas celebration at home, then, later in the morning, everyone comes to our house for brunch and another round of gift giving. By “everyone,” I mean Kathie and I and our kids, and kids-in-law, and grandkids.

We take turns opening gifts. There is chaos, mess, laughter, and love.

And it’s good.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but earlier in December, Kathie’s mother took a turn for the worse. Her health hadn’t been good for a while now, but it had worsened to the point where hospice care was called for. During these weeks Kathie made the 45 minute drive to be with her mother almost daily. We had even discussed how things might go if her death occurred before Christmas. Her condition weighed on our hearts during our Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day activities. But, as I reflect on those days now, I realize that, even though there was sadness in the knowledge that Louise could pass into the arms of Jesus at any time, this knowledge did not cast a gloom over our family times.

In fact, I think it added warmth and meaning and depth.

This is why we celebrate.

This is what hope can do.

This is what Jesus’ coming to earth can do.

And it’s good.

December 27

On Tuesday morning we got the call. Louise’s breathing had changed. It was starting to happen. Kathie left work and I met her at the Hospice Care Center. During the rest of that day the room was filled with her children and grandchildren. There was laughing, and talking, and serving, and remembering, and loving. Louise wasn’t really conscious, but I’d like to think she could hear it all. I believe she did.

As evening came, some decided to go home. The lights were lowered. It got quieter.

A couple years ago, Louise was very sick. We thought we were going to lose her then. During some of those times of delirium she would call out for her older sister who had passed away some years ago. “Ruby!” she would cry.


She did this again a couple weeks ago. When she was more alert she explained that she had dreamed she saw a door in front of her. Light was streaming from under the door, and she knew that Ruby was on the other side. But Ruby wouldn’t open the door to let her in.

I don’t really know what to make of these kinds of experiences, but there are too many stories like this to ignore. There is something going on here that we cannot quite understand.

What I do know is that, around 2:30 on Wednesday morning, surrounded by her children, Louise’s breathing slowed to about 6 breaths per minute. Susan whispered to her to ask Ruby to open the door and let her in.

She did.

And it was good.

The following days were spent planning a memorial service.

December 31

Just as Kathie and I have had to transition our family Christmas time from one generation to the next, my parents have done the same thing. Not only do their kids have families of their own, their kids’ kids have families of their own, and we don’t all live in the same state. So, it takes a little effort to figure out how and when we can all get together. But we believe it’s important, so we do it. This year, the 31st was the day.

It’s nothing fancy. Just the usual holiday food and gifts.

I picked dad up at the nursing home and brought him home for the day. I can’t tell you in a few words what that man means to me. This is the man who would throw the childhood me in the air. The man who would make the teenage me work with him in the hot sun building a stone patio behind our house, and I just couldn’t keep up. The man who consistently demonstrated to the grown up me what it means to stand for what was good and right, regardless of the personal cost. He’s the same age as my mother-in-law. He is certainly not dealing with the same life threatening issues she was, but his physical ability seems to deteriorate every time I see him. This is why my heart aches every time I’m with him.

I want him to experience the love of his family as often as possible.

Four generations celebrating together make for an interesting afternoon. There is certainly a lot of joy, a lot of love, and a lot of warmth, but there are definitely stressful moments. It can’t be helped, and it shouldn’t be avoided. The stress is where love grows. You deal with it, recognize it for what it is, forgive, and move on. You’re family. That’s what you do.

And it’s good.

Then there’s New Year’s Eve.

We have celebrated New Year’s Eve with the same basic group of friends for many years. These people mean the world to me. This year, I think I needed their presence more than ever. Yes, it added one more activity to what was already a busy and emotional couple of weeks, but we needed it. It was life giving.

And it was good.

January 2 & 3

Funeral services.

Monday evening’s visitation. Watching a video collage of photos and telling stories. Covered with love from family and friends. Oliver, 18 months old and currently the youngest reminder that a part of Louise lives on, oblivious to the purpose, but enjoying the gathering, bringing life and charming everyone.

Tuesday morning’s memorial service. A bit of a delay as we wait for one family member to arrive. Typical. While we sit and wait like mature adults, inwardly we run and explore vicariously through Oliver who has a hard time sitting still but easily brings a smile. Young life. It’s sort of hypnotic in these circumstances.

It’s a dreary, drizzly day, and kind of muddy around the gravesite, but we’re thankful it’s warm for a January day. After the short committal service, we were invited to take a flower from the beautiful spray on the casket. I was deeply touched when my daughter Liz took one of the flowers across the road to the nearby grave of her great-grandparents and placed it in the small vase on the marker. Her sensitivity impresses me.

The chain of life. Generation to generation.

These connections are important. We do live on after we die. I carry the life blood of those who came before. A part of me lives on in those who come after.

It’s humbling.

And it’s good.

I think maybe it’s fitting that our Christmas season ended with a funeral. This is why Jesus came, isn’t it?

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
-1 Corinthians 15:25-26

So, maybe our Christmas didn’t look like a Currier and Ives print.

Everything wasn’t perfect.

But we were reminded why we celebrate.

And it was good.


So long 2015. It’s been great.

My earliest memory of a New Year’s Eve was very traumatic. I had to be maybe 4 years old. No, seriously….I was. What I remember was my dad saying, “This is the last cigarette I’m gonna smoke all year.” (It was the late ‘50s. Everybody smoked.) He wasn’t saying that he planned to quit smoking. (That didn’t happen until I was in college.)

He went on to add that this was the last snack I would eat, that I had taken my final bath and that this was the last time I would go to bed all year.

Looking back, I realize that he was making a “dad joke.”

What my four year old brain heard was: This is the end of life as we know it!

I think I’ve been scarred for life.

I tried the same thing with my kids but I don’t believe it had the same impact.

Years have come and years have gone since that New Year’s Eve of 1958. Some have been exciting and filled with changes, some have been hard and filled with challenges, and still others were pretty much the “same old, same old.”

I’ve got to say that, as years go, 2015 was a pretty good one.

I have mixed feelings about saying that because I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I’m not bragging or comparing. I know many people who have had a rough time this past year and my heart truly goes out to them. I know others for whom this past year has been a time of amazing joy and blessing.

But for me, when I look back on 2015, I feel an overwhelming flood of gratitude.

It actually started on Christmas 2014 when Kate gave her mother this picture as a gift…
christmas gift photo

It took us both a few minutes to realize what this was telling us. We’re gonna have a third grandkid!

To provide some emotional context, you should know that late in 2014 we were facing the very real possibility that Kathie’s mother, Louise, was not going to live to see 2015. Plans were made. Funeral expenses were paid. Power of attorney was assigned. So the knowledge that a new little boy was going to be joining us was very moving indeed.



However, Louise apparently had other plans. We are now planning a 2015 family Christmas gathering at the New England Club where she lives. It’s kind of amazing.

Louise and the greats
Louise and some of her great-grandkids.

On my side of the family I admit that I was pretty fearful for what 2015 might hold for my parents. It’s true that my dad continues to struggle more and more with a lack of balance and a general loss of strength and energy.

DadDad played Corn Hole with us in May, but I doubt he would attempt that now. He works hard at keeping a positive attitude but isn’t always successful. Mom has recovered nicely from her second hip replacement and they continue to manage pretty well on their own with some occasional help from my sisters and me.

Photo by Katy C Photography

3Our family gets together several times a year to celebrate birthdays. February is for Mom and Liz. I still have trouble getting my brain around the fact that my first baby girl is now a 30 something. I’m so proud of the woman she has become. She has always been tender-hearted and sensitive to the needs of others. As she has matured, it seems to me she has added to that a drive to excel and to build upon her natural leadership qualities.
I believe this combination of compassion and drive has served her well in her career. I’m so excited to see what 2016 may hold for her.

Kathie and I had been saving up to take Liz, Kate, Timm and the grandkids to Walt Disney World in November of this year. Well, when we found out that Kate was “with child” and the baby was going to be born during the summer we decided to move that up to March. We figured it would be easier to do Disney when you’re 6 months pregnant than to try to take along a 6 month old baby.

“Which way to Space Mountain?”

I don’t really see how that trip could have been much better. Whenever you take a trip like that with a multi-generational group of fairly strong-willed, opinionated people, there will be some tense moments. They were just that: moments. The weather was perfect and it was still sort of the off-season so most of the lines were manageable. Just the other day Asher, my 6 year old grandson, said, “Hey, Pop. Do you remember when we went to Disney? That was awesome! Can we do it again?”

TexasJune found us taking a trip to Abilene, Texas. The son of a couple of our dearest friends was getting married to a young lady from there. It was a wonderful time with a group of some of our best friends in the world.

The next big event was Oliver’s birth. Kate and Timm told us they were having a boy, but his name was kept secret until he actually made his appearance. I think this was partly because they really didn’t know for sure what it was going to be. Kate went to the hospital on July 3rd and the boy was born on the 4th. Looks like he’ll have fireworks on his birthday every year!Oliver 1

Oliver 5We went for our first visit at the hospital that afternoon. This is when she told me his name: Oliver Lloyd Combs. I gotta admit, it caught me by surprise. It’s a little hard to describe the emotions I felt at that moment, but I think I’ll always feel them.


In November of 2014 I told our Senior Pastor that I had been considering retirement. It wasn’t definite yet, but I thought it would only be fair to let him know that I was considering the possibility that 2015 would be my last year of full-time ministry. I told him I would have a definite decision by spring. I won’t go into all the reasons here. Suffice it to say that in the following months it became even more clear that this was the right move. So, together we planned for the end of August to be my final Sunday on the staff of WOCC. The church planned a wonderful reception for Kathie and me. I can’t honestly say that I’ve done no second guessing about this decision, but I still feel confident that it was a wise move.

In October Kathie and I took a road trip. We called it our “Hall of Fame Road Trip.”

mike and kristin


Our first stop was my nephew’s wedding just outside Baltimore.









Then we took in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY…

Baseball and ice cream. Does it get any better?

…then Niagara Falls…

On Maid of the Mist

…and then on to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. R&R

The trip was lots of fun and we were able to visit some places we had never been before.

Now, here it is Christmas time again.

I’m guessing Kate’s gift to us will be something different this year.

It’s very likely that 2016 will hold some real challenges for us and our family. Of course, we thought that about 2015 and, even though it did indeed have some challenges, I feel nothing but gratitude.

I also thank God for His promised presence and peace as 2016 comes rushing at us all.

I pray that you’ll also experience that presence and peace.