Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Quarter of Remembrance by Mike Cope I actually got to meet Dr. Channing Barrett, though I don't remember the meeting because I was too young. But that doesn't change my picture of him as a young man walking a marathon of miles every weekend. In my mind, I see him returning home to Blissfield, Michigan around the turn of the century. Channing Barrett was one of eight boys and was the first ever in the Barrett family to go to college. From his medical school, he walked twenty-five miles home each weekend, always returning a couple days later with clean clothes, a food packet, and a dollar. Dr. Barrett became one of the first ob-gyns in Chicago, practicing at Cook County Hospital. He was known widely both for his innovative surgical techniques and for his ambidextrous skills that allowed him to change hands during long procedures. There was no patient whom he wouldn't accept. He delivered many "tenement babies" for fifty cents and many babies for the wives of Mafia dons for a good bit more! With a growing, respected medical practice, a wonderful wife, and three children, this young physician seemed to be living the idyllic life. He enjoyed riding horses and lifting weights, and was an early member of the Polar Bear Society--that "unique" group that takes to the chilly waters of Lake Michigan in January each year to prove--well, who knows what they're trying to prove? And then World War I interrupted this Norman Rockwell life. Dr. Barrett left Chicago to run a field hospital in France, followed shortly by his 17-year-old son, who fought in the trenches. As long as he could, Barrett sent money back to his wife and daughters. But by the last year of the war, his funds were nearly exhausted. He had no more to mail home. Mrs. Barrett sold most of what they owned, trying desperately to keep her daughters fed and clothed without having to lose their house. By the time Christmas rolled around in 1918, there were no presents to place under the tree. They were lucky to have a place to live. But Mrs. Barrett had managed, despite all the financial scrimping, to save two quarters. So on Christmas morning, when the girls emptied their stockings, under the paper dolls their mother had cut out for them and under a couple pieces of candy, they each found a coin. Previous Christmas mornings had been more lavish, filled with frilly dresses and expensive toys. And there would be more such mornings in the future. But this was the Christmas the family would always remember. In the future, even during the years of plenty, when the girls emptied their stockings, they always found--under the apples, oranges, nuts, and candy--a quarter. It was a reminder--a reminder that some years are good while others aren't too good. Some years deliver new babies, promotions, raises, and great promises. Other years offer sickness, failure, death, and deep disappointment. The quarter reminded them about both possibilities. It warned them not to write off all the pain of the past as if it didn't exist. It taught them that the sorrows and wounds of their lives had shaped their characters as much as their joys and accomplishments. Anyone who takes seriously the Christmas stories of scripture knows that the first Christmas had more than angels, shepherds, wise men, and a mother nursing her baby. There was also the anguish of childbirth. There were the pungent, impolite odors of an animal pen. There was an old man who held the baby and told his mother, "A sword will pierce your own soul too." There were the voices of many mothers screaming for their baby boys being slaughtered by a demented ruler named Herod. There was a breathless escape to Egypt. The entrance of God's Son into the world meant peace--but it didn't assure that people would get along. It meant great joy--but it didn't mean we'd always be happy. And it meant unconditional love--though it never implied that everyone would act lovingly. And so one family, year after year, continued dropping a quarter of remembrance into the bottom of each child's stocking. At least one of Channing Barrett's children picked up that tradition. Every year through the '30s, '40s, and '50s, her five children, Dr. Barrett's grandchildren, pulled their stockings off the chimney on Christmas morning to find quarters buried under fruit, nuts, and candy. And at least one of those five passed it on to her four children. And at least one of those four is passing it on to his children. The quarter has mysteriously tied this family together--binding even generations who never met. Together they have remembered that bad year in 1918 and other bad years since. - One year brought the safe birth of a new nephew; another brought the self-inflicted death of a relative who couldn't keep fighting the demons of his life; - One year brought the thrilling news from the gynecologist that a baby was on the way; another brought the news from the pediatrician that the baby wasn't developing right; - Some years brought joy; others brought deep, deep pain. The quarter is a remembrance that the meaning of Christmas is deeper than our triumphs and sorrows. It is a joy that can't fully be expressed, a peace that passes understanding. For years my children have followed this tradition started by their Great, Great Grandmother Barrett. Together, we've experienced the love of God, woven through the fabric of good days and dark days. Eleven Christmases ago the quarter represented a burden that was crushing our hearts. Not long before Christmas of 1994 our ten-year-old daughter, Megan, took her last breath in the pediatric ICU at Hendrick. Her death was surely the darkest moment in our lives. We felt very connected to Matthew’s Christmas story, the one that tells of “Rachel weeping for her children” (Matthew 2:17). And then five Christmases later, our family returned to that grief, for in June of 1999 my brother’s son, Jantsen BARRETT Cope, died suddenly and unexpectedly after lifting weights with his high school football team. We barely survived as we gathered in my parents’ living room that Christmas without my nephew’s big, joyful laughs. Fifteen is too young to die. Our quarters were quarters of grief. But by God’s grace, we have survived. We’re still together, we still love, we still hope, we still believe in that one who was born in Bethlehem. This Christmas there is still that gaping hole of absence. And yet our quarters will also represent joy. For when people gave money as a memorial to Jantsen, my brother and sister-in-law prayed about a place to let that money be used in the name of Christ. Through a ministry of their church, they traveled to Vietnam to visit an orphanage. They only went intending to give money. But there in a foreign country, across an ocean, on soil where American and Vietnamese soldiers had died, my brother looked into the eyes of a little guy whose name was Vihn, but is now Van – Van Cope. A year later in the same place they looked into the eyes of a sweet Vietnamese girl who is now Tatum Cope. As Randall Frame has written, “Christmas does not deny sorrow its place in the world. But the message of Christmas is that joy is bigger than despair, that peace will outlast turmoil, that love has crushed all the evil, hatred, and pain the world at its worst can muster.” That’s why this Christmas Eve, late in the evening, my wife and I will slip a quarter into the bottom of the stockings of our boys and our daughter-in-law. The quarter will always remind them of a story that is truer than life: that God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son. There in that simple manger in Bethlehem, “the hopes and fears of all the years” found their fulfillment. God had broken into a world of great darkness with the light of his Son. And yet while the Kingdom of God came in Jesus Christ, we haven’t yet experienced it fully. That’s why the church has continued to pray for 2000 years, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In the meantime, in the words of scripture, we groan, we long, we wait, we hope. We live in the belief that our simple acts of kindness and giving are not without meaning because Christ has come. And we live in hope that one day the Lord Jesus will come again and all tears will be wiped from our eyes. That’s the story of Christmas. I know it’s true. I’d bet you a quarter!


  • Thank you so much for telling the story of Christmas for our family!! I will treasure this!

    By Blogger Nancy W., at 12/20/2005 06:17:00 AM  

  • Holy cow, Mike.

    Excellent job. Just so much good there. Thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger Phil, at 12/20/2005 06:30:00 AM  

  • That was powerful, Mike.

    By Blogger TWD, at 12/20/2005 06:33:00 AM  

  • Thank you very, very much.

    By Blogger mark, at 12/20/2005 06:51:00 AM  

  • Wow! Through tears, I am SO thankful to have read that! Might I suggest that you print this post & place it in their stockings with the quarter so that they can pass on the story to their children too!

    By Blogger Beaner, at 12/20/2005 07:10:00 AM  

  • Thank you so much, Mike.

    This is a wonderful tribute to your g,g,grandmother, [is that enough 'g's? :O).] It is also a tribute to what our God does in our lives when we allow Him to be our guide and our comfort. Truly, only He can guide us in truth and only He can truly comfort us. Praise Him!

    IIRC, it was last year that you shared this family story with us at Highland. Thank you for sharing it with us here. Reading it makes me wish it were possible to give you and Diane a huge hug. I'll deliver it in person when you return from Christmas trip. In the meantime,

    (((Mike, Diane and family)))

    By Blogger Kathy, at 12/20/2005 07:33:00 AM  

  • Wow! Awesome story Mike. Oh the lessons we need to learn, over and over, to be reminded, to be humbled, to be overjoyed in memories good and bad. God bless your family this Christmas as you have certainly blessed others, me included.

    By Blogger Paul, at 12/20/2005 07:35:00 AM  

  • You always provide a place to find a good healthy cry if needed, Mike.
    Many thanks, and merry Christmas!

    By Blogger cathy moore, at 12/20/2005 07:40:00 AM  

  • Praise God for Mr. & Mrs Barrett!

    I'm not taking that bet either.

    Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

    Merry Christmas brother.

    Tell Chris I love him.

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 12/20/2005 07:43:00 AM  

  • Thank you, that was beautiful.

    By Blogger Amy, at 12/20/2005 07:45:00 AM  

  • You are a fabulous writer, and you made me cry at work. :) Thanks; what a precious story with such meaning and depth.

    By Blogger Melanie Knox, at 12/20/2005 07:52:00 AM  

  • Last Christmas - mourning three miscarriages in 12 months.
    This Christmas - Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our baby due in the next couple of weeks.
    Thank you so much for sharing this Mike.

    By Blogger Stephen Bailey, at 12/20/2005 08:00:00 AM  

  • Wow! Your giftedness by God never ceases to amaze me. Praise God for the words His Spirit gave you to bless all that will read this post. God bless you, Diane and family and have a wonderful Christmas.

    By Blogger TDSmith, at 12/20/2005 08:06:00 AM  

  • Thank you for this story. I can't wait to share it with my family.

    Nollaig sona agut.
    (Merry Christmas to all)

    By Blogger PatrickMead, at 12/20/2005 08:10:00 AM  

  • Thanks for your two' bits'.

    By Blogger Clint, at 12/20/2005 08:25:00 AM  

  • Mike, you are like Jesus in your ability to tell a story. That was captivating and Beautiful and full of truth.

    I hope to share it tonight with a group as we gather together to worship.

    By Blogger TCS, at 12/20/2005 08:42:00 AM  

  • That may be the most precious gift I receive this Christmas! "Thank-you" falls WAY short of my feelings.

    I love you, brother!

    By Blogger David U, at 12/20/2005 08:49:00 AM  

  • Thanks for making the tears flow once again, Mike Cope!!!

    Peace to you this Christmas season.

    By Blogger Jana, at 12/20/2005 09:05:00 AM  

  • So, when you told the quarter story at Highland last year, I definitely cried. Thanks for sharing it again this Christmas.

    By Blogger TKP, at 12/20/2005 09:22:00 AM  

  • What a beautiful and poignant story! As a writer and preacher, you weave your life story, the gospel, and the human condition better than anyone (imho). Thank you for the tapestry.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 12/20/2005 09:59:00 AM  

  • The holidays are always a bit sad for me. Mom passing on Thanksgiving and Dad going "home" on Christmas Day. Thanks for reminding me that I have a whole roll of quarters to be thankful for.

    By Blogger foyo, at 12/20/2005 12:16:00 PM  

  • A million thanks, Mike. I am SO gonna crib off of you for Sunday's sermon.

    Fortunately, we've got a few weeks until you come and deliver your own message to us in Fresno. I hope they'll forget your clear voice in these words by the time you arrive. If you're going to steal, steal from the best.


    By Blogger Thurman8er, at 12/20/2005 01:50:00 PM  

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Your family story is going to my children.

    By Blogger Hoots Musings, at 12/20/2005 03:06:00 PM  

  • Wonderful words. Despite the tough times there are always genuine smiles on Estella Dr. Hoping to cross paths this time around. There is yet another representative country in the next generation, and am anxious to introduce Benny.

    By Blogger EBC, at 12/20/2005 06:19:00 PM  

  • Thank you for sharing this! I have been struggling with what to say to our children about the "real" meaning of Christmas. I think I just found a story. One that is so true! Thank you!

    By Blogger Jacinda, at 12/20/2005 07:23:00 PM  

  • I found two quarters at the bottom of my stocking last year after you told this story to the Highland family. My grandmother had passed away just a month before, and both my mom and my dad (independent of each other) had placed a quarter at the bottom of mine and my brother's stockings to represent our joy and sorrow at the passing of my grandmother.

    Your quarters this year will also represent both joy and sorrow for all that your family has been through. I'm so glad that Chris is still here to celebrate Christmas with you (and to gloat to me about how tall he is getting...) :)

    I love you and your family very much! Merry Christmas!

    By Blogger Heather A, at 12/20/2005 08:39:00 PM  

  • Reading NT Wright's book:

    Can we get Dr. John Fortner to do the Saturday night communion service on COVENANT at ZOE2006... I'd like to experience a moment in sharing like that with those people.

    By Blogger Drew Battistelli, at 12/20/2005 10:49:00 PM  

  • I would love to pass your story on to my children, I might be able to get past the first couple of paragraphs but then I would be crying uncontrollably and wouldn't be able to finish. What an awesome story.

    By Blogger Tammy M., at 12/21/2005 05:30:00 AM  

  • Thanks for your words. Steve - Please feel free to crib off of me. Anyone is welcome to use this story. I trust that Buechner is right when he says that in some ways the story of any of us is the story of all of us.

    Blessings on you, friends. I think I may let this story be my last word until after Christmas. May you all find a quarter at the bottom of your stockings!

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/21/2005 06:10:00 AM  

  • I'm so glad I decided to stop by here early this morning. What a beautiful story! I can't wait to share it with everyone I know!

    Mike, on the day you began blogging did you imagine the impact you might have on the thousands of people that would read your words and be uplifted and challenged by them?

    Thanks you for being open to the Holy Spirit working through you to touch lives! God bless you and your family Mike! Merry Christmas!

    By Blogger Niki, at 12/21/2005 06:42:00 AM  

  • Thank you for telling this story, Mike. I have sent it to my Life Group and to my preacher. I want everyone to hear this story of Christmas. It is such a blessing to all of us--as are you.

    By Blogger Vkls, at 12/21/2005 09:49:00 AM  

  • Thank you - I think I'll think of this story every time I see a quarter now.

    By Blogger Kate, at 12/22/2005 05:23:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Mike. I read the story again each morning and I've sent it to all my family and friends. Besides the symbolic part of those two quarters......a quarter could purchase many things in 1918. Mrs. Barrett gave her love and her treasure to her daughters. I wonder how many of us give so completely today.

    On another note....speaking of money....my sister and I received 50 cents each from an aunt on Christmas morning, 1941. I remember buying Tangee lipstick for my mom, a goldfish and bowl for my sister, candy for my dad, and I had a few cents left over.

    Merry Christmas and many blessings to you and your family.

    By Blogger Kate, at 12/22/2005 07:25:00 AM  

  • Thanks for that memory, Kate.

    I'm still getting e-mails asking for permission to use this story. Yes, yes, please feel free to -- in sermons, classes or anyplace else where it might bless someone.

    May the Light of world shine upon you, my friends.


    By Blogger Mike, at 12/22/2005 08:05:00 AM  

  • Wow-what a story!! Thank you so much for sharing and for putting it all into perspective. That is just beautiful-I am going to share that with my mom when I get home-after I hand her a box of Kleenex!!

    Thanks so much for your humble heart, your insight, and the way that you allow God to use you as His tool to us, His people-you have blessed my greatly this year. Highland is truly becoming home and that is a huge blessing.

    May you and your family be extremely blessed this Christmas and find joy in the quarters you find on Christmas morning! :)

    By Blogger Katherine, at 12/22/2005 09:17:00 AM  

  • Again, your writings have blessed me today, and I have passed this story on to many of my friends. My friend Holly replied that she felt like we were back in the Benson on a Wednesday night. Thank you for sharing and Merry Christmas. Julie

    By Blogger jhp, at 12/22/2005 09:23:00 AM  

  • Thanks for sharing this. I think it's important to share the stories of hardship that families experience. I included your story in an article I wrote about family stories. You can read about it on my blog.

    Merry Christmas!

    By Blogger Joel Maners, at 12/22/2005 10:56:00 AM  

  • Mike

    I came across your story because our minister wants me to read it as part of our Christmas service. Thank you for reminding me that during times of sorrow or happiness we can recall other times and the blessings of grace from our Father.

    And thanks especially for mentioning overseas orphanages. We've been blessed by visiting three orphanages - I hope and pray that others get many chances to do the same.

    By Blogger Bernard, at 12/23/2005 07:07:00 AM  

  • Mike, Thanks for that story. It is really moving. It really helps to keep us focused on why Jesus came.

    Thanks, Ron Clark

    By Blogger KMiV, at 12/23/2005 10:46:00 AM  

  • Thank you for sharing this. I like the idea and think that it is those kinds of traditions that persist for life. I was blessed to begin new traditions in our family, so that my kids look forward to Christmas.


    By Blogger wondering04, at 12/24/2005 07:22:00 PM  

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