I grew up many years living alone in the little house on Bog Road with just my Dad. My parents divorced when I was 8, and eventually, my older sister moved into Mom's house, while I stayed with Dad. This created a close relationship between Dad and I that was a treasure to me.
Dad played guitar. He had an old, F-hole guitar of some kind. I used to know the brand but I have forgotten it. He sang and played songs like "Hey, Mr. Banjo," and "The Wabash Cannonball." Dad loved listening to down-home music, and his cousins often got together and jammed on guitars, stand-up bass, fiddle, accordion and banjo.
I wanted a guitar almost as much as I dreamed for a horse growing up. But we were poor, and getting a guitar seemed much more likely than getting a horse. Dad promised me that I'd get a horse, "when his ship came in." But we lived quite a long ways from the ocean.
With parents living in different houses about 30 minutes apart, I usually spent the weekends with my Mom and her husband and their kids. Dad would drive me up there and let me off on Friday night and then pick me up on Sunday. All weekend, I'd pray for there to be a horse out in the little shed when I got home.
Though I really didn't understand the Gospel, I had faith even then, and I knew God could make a horse appear out there if He wanted to. If I asked hard enough. So, as soon as we drove into the driveway, away I'd run out to the shed to see if there was a horse tied up in there for me.
There never was, but that is another story, of how I got a job at 15 and bought my first horse, a 3 year-old, wild Buckskin gelding named Buckshot, with my saved paychecks from waitressing.
One Christmas rolled around and Dad knew I wanted a guitar. That must have seemed a much more achievable gift to him than a horse.
I was up at my mother's house and on Christmas, after lunch, the phone rang. Mom said it was Dad...for me.
I took the phone and Dad said, "Do you know what this is?"
And he strummed a chord down the strings of a guitar.
I said, "No...what is it?"
"It's your guitar," he said, his sly smile evident in his voice.
"Come get me now!!!" I demanded.
He did, and as we drove again into the driveway, I piled out of the old Hudson and ran into the house. We never locked the doors in those days so there was no reason to stop and get the old skeleton key out from under the garage eaves and unlock the door.
I opened the door and looked behind it, at the Christmas tree. No guitar or large, wrapped, guitar-shaped box! So, I ran from the living room into my bedroom, but no guitar.
"Where is it?" I shouted to Dad, who'd come into the house behind me. Our little house, he built it in 1947, one room at a time. It was very tiny, but full of our love.
He laughed out loud and said, "Right here, silly!"
I went back into the living room and there it was, lying on the couch. A brand new Silvertone guitar he'd bought for $20 at Sears. That was one-third of his paycheck. He'd tuned it all up for me, had probably played with it all weekend!
It was a black guitar with a sunburst design, a reddish-golden glow that burst out from around the sound hole. And it was the best thing I ever saw.
Over the next few days, he taught me the three chords in the key of G.
I didn't have a guitar case, but I had the cardboard box the instrument had come in, and it had fold-out, cardboard handles. When summer came, I would pedal my bike the 4 miles or so up to my best-friend, Barb's house, somehow hanging onto those cardboard handles and riding up a very steep hill past the granite First Congregational Church, up Hutchins Street.
Barb and I would spend whole days pretending we were the Beatles and now I had the guitar to add to the authenticity of our imagination. Over and over, along with our other friend, Gretchen, we'd sing "She Loves You, Yah, Yah, Yah," and "I Want to Hold Your Haaannnnd!"
Years later, I sold that guitar to my brother, Larry. I wish I still had it.
Many years after that, after moving out West, getting married and working on ranches, I picked up music again, playing guitar and mandolin and banjo. My Dad got to see some of that, and just now, while writing this, I am remembering a wonderful spiritual connection between my Dad, his guitar and me. And God.
It was in the 1980's, I was in my 30's. I had several years before (in 1978) learned about Jesus, the reason He came to earth to be born in a manger. Once I understood God's perfect plan of salvation, I accepted Him into my life, I dedicated my life to Jesus, and became what the Bible calls, "saved."
I always tried to tell my Dad about Jesus. It was important to me that he be in heaven with me. And I do believe that only by Jesus are we allowed to enter Heaven's gates and God's presence.
I believe that because that is what the Bible states very clearly. But he had never really listened or had a heart open to it.
Back in NH to visit my Dad and Mom (in separate houses!), one night I was sitting on my Dad's bed, and I picked up his old, F-hole guitar. It was in tune, like it always was. I quietly strummed and sang, "Amazing Grace."
"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found...was blind but now I see."
Dad came in and asked me, "Can you tell me what that song means?"
Dad was about 70 then. I'd told him many, many times the way to salvation through belief in Jesus in the previous 7 or 8 years. I was jaded. I didn't see then that a mighty spiritual moment was about to happen.
I put the guitar down gently on the frayed, chemise bedspread, and led the way for my Dad to follow me into his tiny living room. I sat on the same couch that had lovingly cradled my first guitar back when I was a kid. And I told him what I call the "Reader's Digest" version of salvation.
I told him that sin stood between us and God. That God can only be surrounded by good and that only good can enter heaven, or commune with God. But humans (us) are not without sin. All of us sin and "come short of the glory of God."
So, God had to create a way for us, His children, to be saved, to come to Him. He sent His Son, Jesus, on Christmas morn, to be born in that manger. The child fulfilled all the prophecies in the ancient scriptures. He came to be "The Way, the Truth and the Life." Jesus grew up to say those words, and added, "No man cometh to the Father but by me."
I told Dad that the Bible shows us that we need to believe with all of our hearts in Jesus. That He is real, that He is God, that He came to save mankind. That baby that is so cute on Christmas cards had to be born in order to die a bloody, ravaged death, the death we deserve because of our sin. Jesus did that so we can be forgiven of our sins and can then have our place with God in Heaven, at His throne.
I asked Dad point-blank, "Have you ever done that, Dad? Have you ever given your heart wholly to Jesus?"
He said (I will always remember these words precisely!), "Who, me? No, I haven't."
I then asked him simply, "Would you like me to help you do that now?"
And he whispered, "I'm ready for it."
This wise, wonderful father of mine, the man I loved like life itself, who gave so much to me and for me, who sacrificed to raise me, who gave me unconditional love no matter what bad deed I might do...this bald, bespectacled man knelt down with me in his living room and we held hands, and as I prayed the "sinner's prayer," he repeated after me.
That night, Jesus came to live in my Dad's heart. He forgave Dad of all his sins, even the times he knew to do good and didn't do it. He performed a work in Dad's heart. And gave me assurance that when it's time for me to go, my dear Dad is right there waiting for me "on the other side."
What a glorious thing to know!
So it is that the Christmas guitar ties in with the real story of Christmas. That God used that connection He'd made between Dad and I, and even used the same house that I grew up in, though our spiritual experience together happened at least 30 years after the gift of the guitar.
Jesus was born for us. He died for us.
Jesus lived for us. He became the sacrifice for our misdeeds.
His life is the key to the door that opens to God.
There is only one Key, and it is not hidden under the eaves somewhere.
The Key is right out in the open, easy to find and accessible for everyone.
Merry Christmas, all of my dear friends.