Memories of Our First (and Favorite) Boston Christmas

T and Rick at Christmas 

T and Rick at Christmas 

December 18, 1999, four or five months late, the Downs family of eight with three pets (having left three behind) departed Winston-Salem, NC for Cambridge, MA in two vehicles. The truck with our stuff, courtesy of Jungle Aviation Relocation Services, was already on its way. Our plan was to take two days, stopping to stay with friends in the DC area for one night.

After a vacation stopover in Boston in ‘96, a visit to Christ the King to lead a weekend conference in ‘97 and the experimental summer of ‘98, and after much prayer and counsel, T and I felt, as best we could figure out, that God was calling us to move to Cambridge to work with CTK. We had navigated a process full of surprises to find a house in Cambridge and sell one in NC. We had said some painful goodbyes and gotten T’s mom situated in the Alzheimer’s wing of a facility in her old hometown in South Carolina. We were shipping up to Boston.

On the night of the 18th, while with our friends, one of our kids had kidney stones and needed a night in the hospital in DC. Due to the tight schedule of closing on the house in Cambridge we decided that I would proceed with three kids and the pets the next morning and T would stay with the other three for another day to let the sick one rest.  As she was checking our child out of the hospital she got the news that her mom had died earlier that morning, one of those mixed-emotion deaths that pairs normal grief with gratitude that suffering has ended. The vigor of Cornelia’s faith and the wondrous story of her survival through war torn Germany laid a foundation of gratitude as we were forced to shift on the fly to make it to SC for the memorial service.

T and the truck arrived in Cambridge at about the same time. We were able to fit most of our stuff in the half of the house that was ours initially but needed to put fridge and freezer in the social hall of the church and a piano at the Russells’ apartment. Imagine getting ready to fly to South Carolina not knowing where specific items of clothing were packed. We cobbled together what we could and made our way to the airport, learning as we went how the subway could eventually get us there (back then Red, then Green, then Blue Lines).

The memorial service was wonderful, sadness supplanted by joy as we sang of the sure hope of eternity. As we were resting with extended family after the service we looked at the calendar anew and realized it was December 23. It’s really a great treat to have a good excuse to forget Christmas consumerism and then squeeze it into about 12 hours. The morning of the 24th we got to Walmart as it opened for three gifts that could fit in our luggage, then to the airport for the flight to Boston. On the way home on the Red Line, I got off at Porter Square to go to the sporting goods shop to buy gifts for the other three kids, T and the kids continuing to Davis in hopes that the gifts would surprise. I’ll never forget what it was like trying to carry a 40 pound dumbbell a half mile to our house. I felt like a complete wimp that this little dumbbell was doing me in, eventually making me switch hands every ten steps or so.

We went to bed on Christmas Eve feeling very temporary. We were hardly unpacked at all, furniture scattered. We got the dining room table set up, of course the TV. Photos show that the rug was laid out in the living room, but we were discombobulated. No tree, no lights, just a manger scene T had been determined to find and unpack. Waking the next morning and reading the first chapters of the gospel of Luke, we all felt a resonance that only the dispossessed can know. To be sure our chaos was not caused by an oppressive regime, nor were we cold and hungry. But there was an unsettledness to our existence on Christmas that had us yearning more for the solidity of gospel promises and feeling more that Jesus had come a great distance to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. The next day at the worship service the congregation was fewer than 15 people and we were eight of them. The scheduled preacher, Manoel Oliveira from Framingham, was sick. He told me that he could probably pull off a sermon in Portuguese but didn’t think he could pull it off in English. So, my family and the few others got an impromptu sermon on the beginning of Luke.

As T and I think back on our adult Christmases, ’99 is the most memorable (and favorite). There is something right and good in small beginnings amidst the splash that Christmas has become. They remind us, as we reflect with gratitude for not only the wonder that CTK has become but also for the sufferings endured, that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son, as a baby, into the world so that we wouldn’t be afraid but trust.

Since moving to Cambridge with T and their six children in 1999,  Rick has served as the Senior Pastor at CTK Cambridge for the past 17 years. His vision of a multi-site congregation has led to the church planting efforts around the Boston area.