Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: The Sticky Nativity

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.  –Unknown

I’m just CRAZY about Christmas!  I always have been.  And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year.  As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house.  I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging.  When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made.  Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic.  Both a baby and a Savior.  The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time.  Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness.  There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course.   It was pretty wonderful.

So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own.  Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married.  In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old.  It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)

After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!)  Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task!  So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home.  This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own.  In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house.  Sean was just so hands-on about everything!  In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas.  It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level.  He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.

FullSizeRender (5)It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable.  My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item?  Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head.  After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.”  My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house.  She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it!  And asked him if he was ready to choose one.  Sean beamed!  From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.)  One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing.  The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options.  Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard.  It was a wonderful little dance.  When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us.  It was perfect.  A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small.  Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set.  Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room.  However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box.  Uh-oh.  She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out.  She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility.  It was not.

IMG_3354Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations.  Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted.  She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do.  She asked if we could buy this very set.  The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon.  She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate.  Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam.  Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off.  It was no easy task.  Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps.  The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base.  She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set.  And so, it was settled.

Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket.  There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car.  From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue.  Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped.  Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean.  His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one.  He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again.  I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all.  It was truly a labor of love.

IMG_2682Sean played with the nativity all December long.  Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.”  Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that.  Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set.  When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her.  “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line.  These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.

Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table.  I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.

–Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Trilogy, Episode 1: THOSE Christmas Aprons

Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.  -Unknown

Sometimes I think that we open some of our very best Christmas presents long before the big day arrives.  For me, there’s something special about unpacking all the Christmas décor, ornaments, and trinkets that I’ve collected through the years.  Every December we lug the boxes upstairs and like little kids open each with a sense of excitement–kind of like running in to an old friend or finding something that was once lost.  My kids (even as a tween and teen) exclaim, “Remember this!” Or they’ll question me, “Why did you save that?” and “How long has this been in the family?”  One of the things that touches my heart most are the tales behind these treasured keepsakes which leads me to my favorite comment, “Tell me the story about this one!”  Then I get to share the story behind baby ornaments, school crafts from days gone by, or the Hallmark Yoda figurine that adorns the tree every year.  It was actually this ornament (and all the hub bub about the recently released Star Wars movie) that led me to write this post as I chronicle three of my favorite Spencer Family Christmas stories.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Let me begin with the FACT that my mother-in-law is far more popular than I could ever hope to be.  I think even complete strangers would nominate her homecoming queen should we ever find ourselves in high school again (despite the fact that we graduated in different decades and states!)  From hello, people just love her.  Actually, you don’t even have to speak to her to like her…I’ve witnessed countless strangers ask her for directions, information, and just start chatting with her without any prompting whatsoever.  She just has one of those faces that says, “Let’s be lifelong friends.”  It’s a rare gift (my husband has the same one,) and I just can’t help but sit back and marvel.  This sort of thing comes in handy when you shop at Hobby Lobby…or at least that’s what I’ve concluded whenever Karen is around.  And Hobby Lobby is the scene for this Christmas memory.

My daughter Casey was just a little, bitty thing at the time…probably 3 or 4ish.  She didn’t mind sitting in shopping carts especially if grandma was “driving.”  While I can’t recall why we went into Hobby Lobby that day (although I don’t think one has to have a specific reason for going into Hobby Lobby because who doesn’t LOVE that store?)  There we were in the fabric section when my mother-in-law spotted these cute, matching, mother/daughter gingerbread aprons.  Displayed on mannequins for all to see, they were just perfect for Casey and I.  Karen pointed them out to me…suggesting that we really needed to have THOSE Christmas aprons.  I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because the Christmas apron pattern was situated in such a way as to suggest that you had to make the aprons yourself (this is a craft store after all.)  I believe Karen’s response was, “Nonsense,” as she took them off the mannequin and put them in the cart.  We continued our shopping and eventually landed at the check out.

I have to admit that it was pretty funny watching the cashier search the aprons for the price tag, but what was even better was the look on her face when Karen explained how she got the aprons.  I imagine that it’s a pretty rare occurrence when someone takes a sample product off a mannequin and then proceeds to try to purchase it.  The cashier explained that sample items are not for sale…they are SAMPLE items.  Karen wasn’t deterred in the least.  She asked the cashier to get someone from the fabric section to come to the check out stand so we could discuss the purchase of THOSE aprons further.  I’m pretty sure at this point we were holding up the check out line, but still we waited.  Finally, someone came up.  She agreed with the cashier that the aprons were samples and not for sale which led to a conversation about what actually happens to the samples at Hobby Lobby when they are no longer needed.  It was interesting…typically the items are returned to the person who made them, stowed away for display at a later date, or just given away to someone who works at the store.  Karen reiterated that she would like to purchase them as a Christmas gift for me and my daughter…telling about her visit to Kansas from California, my love for baking, and Casey’s fondness for Rachael Ray (but that’s another blog.)  Clearly, Karen had won over the woman from the sewing department and a few seconds later we were exchanging phone numbers and my mother-in-law had arranged for the store to call me (after Christmas) to pick up the aprons when they were no longer needed.  They agreed the aprons could be purchased for $5 each and all I had to do was keep a hold of this little piece of paper until the pick up date arrived.  SCORE!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

In the back of my mind, I wondered if they would really call.  I mean, Karen had already returned to California, no money had changed hands at that point, and the note from the store (scrawled on the back of a receipt) hardly seemed like a binding contract.  Yet, there it was…a few days after Christmas…a message on the phone from Hobby Lobby saying that I could come and pick up the aprons from the sewing counter in the store.  Well, Casey and I hot-footed it over there and sure enough, THOSE Christmas aprons were right there waiting.  They were even cuter than I remembered and Casey was so excited!  We proceeded to the check out full of smiles…and then….

The cashier (the same one from our previous visit to the store with Karen,) looked at the aprons and frowned.  FROWNED.  She looked at me said, “You can’t have these.”  I was taken aback as she explained that she couldn’t possibly sell these aprons to me because the sweetest woman from California had come to the store before Christmas and she wanted to buy them for her granddaughter and daughter-in-law.  She repeated the whole encounter to me and I couldn’t help but laugh…which threw her off a bit.  I pulled out the little note and told her that I was with Karen that day.  I wish I could have captured her smile!  She was so delighted that we were going to have THOSE aprons after all!  She said she remembered my mother-in-law very well and although she didn’t recognize me (surprise?) she didn’t think she had the heart to sell them to anybody else after meeting Karen that December day.  Karen had used her “gift” to secure a truly, special gift for Casey and I.

Every year at Christmas time we pull THOSE aprons out–our cookie baking wouldn’t be the same without them!  This year when Casey put hers on we realized just how tiny the apron really is.  Casey is 10 now and while the apron still fits it’s clear to see that she’s not a preschooler any more, but that same sweet smile spreads across her face when she wears it.  THOSE Christmas aprons have become a part of our family’s Christmas tradition and I love to tell the story.

It is in the kitchen where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans the generations.  -unknown

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 2:  Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

 

 

WINK ;) baby names

😉 What I Now Know about baby names

baby-namesAs a Sunday school teacher I often find that I learn as much (and often times even more) than the young people in my class.  This week was a perfect example of that as we took out our “God goggles” and looked at “naming” and more specifically the difference between good and bad naming.  Who knew that so much could be wrapped up in a name?  And as I studied the lesson a couple of things stood out to me.  First of all, the idea that naming is Biblical.  It was the first job that God gave to man.  You might recall the story in Genesis where Adam was called to name all of the creatures.  The second thing that kept coming up was just how powerful a name can be…which led me to this post.

When my husband and I found out that we were expecting we tossed around several name ideas.  It was fun, light-hearted and a learning experience as we discovered that we had very different ideas about what makes up a good name.  Soon after finding out that we would be having a boy, we began to narrow our focus.  I wanted Matthew or Thomas…family names.  Steve wanted to name our son Jacob or Calvin.  Family members and friends weighed in with their ideas.  Before long we had a long list of possibilities–none of which we were really crazy about or could agree on.  Then someone threw out the idea that we should have a backup name for a little girl…just in case the doctors were wrong.  Yikes!  Like a lot of couples, we finally got serious and bought a baby name book–and the real trouble began!

If you’re ever looking for a good chuckle, look up your name in a baby book.  Better yet, look up the names of family and friends.  Very entertaining.  The baby book we chose (from Motherhood Maternity) was particularly golden as it had a subsection under every name that detailed celebrities who share the same name as well as a sentence or two that describes how the general population feels about the name.  Priceless.  For example, my name–Anna–means graceful, however, the general perception of the name Anna brings about images of a hardy, pioneer woman.  Let me just say that I am anything but a hardy, pioneer woman.  I would have DIED on the prairie!  If I couldn’t pick up my food at a grocery store or through a drive-thru window, I wouldn’t eat.  Nevermind the fact that I can’t stand to be cold (or hot).  I need climate control, too!

This newfound information made choosing a name even harder.  Through laughter we eliminated many names and with awareness added many more.  Finally, we found a name for our son where we least expected it.  In a conversation between my husband and I (about an old Air Force buddy of his) we settled on the name Sean.  Our son would be named for a friend.  The baby book confirmed our choice as Sean means “God is gracious.”  It was perfect.  Still I couldn’t help but look at the two little sentences at the end of the entry…Sean is typically a well-liked man who is debonair and sophisticated like Sean Connery’s James Bond character or  he is an intense, moody (yet talented) character like Sean Penn.  Chuckle, chuckle.  (If you know my Sean, you know exactly which description he favors.)

My daughter’s name came about a little differently.  Armed with knowledge (veteran parents now) we set out to choose a name for our little girl.  Many of the girl names we liked just three years before didn’t makes sense for this new bundle of joy.  I started at the beginning of the baby name book and went about choosing a name methodically.  This became a bedtime ritual for me.  When Steve would finally settle in for the night I would toss out a few names.  He was great at pointing out potential problems with little girl names, things that I had never thought about.  The list of acceptable names was short.  I found myself drawn to one name in particular and offered it up for opinions.  Bad move.  Let me say that again…baaaaad mooooove!  Turns out people have very strong opinions about little girls’ names.  Our mothers were not impressed with this name option.  Oh, they were polite about it…but “umms” and “wells” can surprisingly speak volumes.  I was at a loss until I started the name game fresh again…back to the beginning of the book.  I came upon the name Casey.  It was a sweet Irish name that meant “brave.”  I liked it and before I knew it, I LOVED it.  This was the baby’s name.  This time when we announced our name choice there really was nothing anyone could have said that would have changed our minds.  I think that’s how you know when you’ve come across the right name.  You just have that gut feeling and won’t be swayed any other way (which is good, because this one wasn’t an immediately accepted name choice either.)  I especially loved the short little sentence at the end of this entry.  Casey is an outgoing, friendly brunette.  You just can’t go wrong with an endorsement like that!

So, both children ended up with wonderful, well thought out Irish names (did I mention I’m nothing close to Irish?)  And here’s What I Now Know about baby names:

1.  Naming requires time and consideration.  Many times we overlook the significance of a name and forget to weigh our decisions.  A cute name today can easily become outdated.  An old-fashioned name may require a lot of explaining for years to come.  An unusual spelling is unique, but can be problematic down the road. 

2.  Family names can be tricky.  I have mixed feelings about family names.  I don’t mind the idea of Junior, the Third, the Fourth, etc., but when you have a family name chances are someone is going to nickname your child.  Don’t consider it rude, it’s just that differentiating one person from another is often a necessity for a family.  Be prepared to offer your own nickname.  It can save you a lot of trouble. 

3.  Step into the role of a class clown or bully.  This tip probably seems odd, but it has a serious place on the list.  For example, I really like the name Ashley.  But it was quickly pointed out to me that this name is gold as far as teasing is concerned.  Also, if you child has trouble pronouncing the name Ashley, there’s another opportunity for poking fun.  Kids have enough going on these days…don’t add to it by giving them a name that someone else can easily exploit.

4.  Tread lightly where initials are concerned.  I used to think initials were cute and don’t get me wrong, they work for some people.  But overall, I wonder whether using initials is a disservice to the child.  Look at it this way…when you go by your initials it’s somewhat of a shock to people when you use your real name.  And you’re going to have to use your real name at some point.  I remember someone who went by his initials.  Honestly, it was years before I knew what his name actually was.

5.  Keep the name to yourself…at least for a while.  Let it grow on you.  Walk it around a little bit.  Consider it from all angles.  How does it sound for someone at age 5, 10, 15, 50?  Does it still sound good to you?  When you finally decide to share your baby name–be prepared.  You will get feedback!  It’s not like you have to defend your baby name, but if you’re dead set on it you should be ready to back up your name choice.  Ultimately the decision is yours, but I remember in the name announcing process not really being prepared for some of the comments I received. 

6.  Think of your child.   It’s their name, not yours.  Sure you like it, but think about pronouncing it, spelling it, hearing it chanted at a football game, read aloud at an awards assembly, with the words Mister or Madam President in front of it.  Look at the name’s meaning and significance.  You shouldn’t base your name on some celebrity, but it doesn’t hurt to be knowledgable about whether or not the name will bring to mind a famous person. And lastly, pray that you will give your child a good name…and when you do, use their name well.  How quickly a name can go from good to bad based on tone and inflection.  Build your child up by using their name with love and never in a negative way.  Have you ever seen a child cringe when their name is called out?  Make it a practice to use their name with respect, after all you’re naming a child of God. 

All in all, I’m happy with our baby name choices.  It’s been fun to share with the kids the stories about how we chose their names and what their names mean.  I love to hear how others have arrived at their child’s name choice as well.  There’s only been one hiccup to Sean and Casey’s names…over the phone (especially) people often as me, “Are your children boys or girls or one of each?”  Yes… I thought that I had considered every aspect of their names.  Apparently, I had overlooked gender neutral naming.  LOL 😉

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.   Proverbs 22:1

😉 What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog.  The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry.  You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing.  And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know).  I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl.  Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog!  (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)

Our Sunday Best

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.  Matthew 18:20

I can remember going to church as a kid and counting tiles on the ceiling.  We didn’t go to church very often and I couldn’t tell you why those tiles appealed to me so much.  Nevertheless, it was a perfect ruse for not paying attention.  It makes me giggle a little because I probably looked quite angelic staring off into space like that.  I imagine that my head was tilted just so that any onlooker might think that I was lost in prayer or in some kind of deep conversation with God.  In reality it was simply–one, two, three, and did I count that one already?

Today I can tell you that I truly look forward to Sundays and attending church.  I rush around trying to get myself ready, tame my son’s bed head, and fight with my little girl about clothing options (and she’s just in grade school!)  Every clock in the house flashes a different time (maddening really) and I rally the troops with coffee and breakfast in hand…then it’s out the door we go.  It’s comical because I go to church for a lot of reasons, but at that particular moment every Sunday morning all I can think about is that when I get to church I can finally REST!

So, this morning I was sitting in my usual pew feeling quite good.  I had just received communion, the organ played in the background and I was at REST.  Then, all of a sudden, the REST was over and I found myself counting!  No, I wasn’t staring at the ceiling or counting tiles, instead I was counting blessings.  I was watching as each member of the congregation came forward for communion.  My counting began with a memory of the first time I met this person, the kindness of that person, the loss that this other person had recently experienced.  My heart counted children whom I’ve come to know and love in our church, their parents who have become my friends, and a woman who will soon have a baby.  I counted the people who have joined the church in the almost three years we have served here.  I counted people who have been at this church for years and years and who will continue to worship here long after we’re called to serve elsewhere.  My counting included those who faithfully serve the church each Sunday…ushers, communion stewards, and musicians.  I counted staff and their families who attend worship each week.  And when the moment passed, I felt more than REST…I felt true peace.   The funny thing was at the end of all my counting I didn’t have a number.  I couldn’t tell you how many people received communion that morning (and of course, that number was completely irrelevant.)  I was left only with that warm feeling that fills my spirit every Sunday…and I will happily count on that!

Faithful attendance at Church meetings brings blessings you can receive in no other way.  –Ezra Taft Benson

The Birthday Brother

I smile because you’re my brother.  I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.  –Author Unknown

Little brothers are g-g-g-great!  If you can swing it, I highly recommend having one…and I can say that now because I don’t live with mine and haven’t for years.  And I am especially reminded of how great it is to have a brother because today is my littlest bro’s birthday.  (Insert birthday horns here!)

I dont’ remember the day my youngest brother came on the scene.  I think I might have been three or four and those kinds of things don’t really register when you’re little.  What I can honestly attest to is that I can’t remember a day in my childhood when he wasn’t around.  His cute little, round-cheeked, skinny self running around the house…usually right behind my other brother.  To this day I still refer to them as “the boys” (notice the plural) because they were always together!  And together they managed to get into all kinds of adventures.  But this blog is an ode to the birthday brother so I’ll try to stay on task.

My memories include all the regular little brother stuff like how he would play with toy trucks, get dirty, play sports, get dirty, bother me, and get dirty (of course it didn’t help that our backyard at the time was nothing but dirt.)  But he did other things, too, and some of them still put a grin on my face to this very day!  I remember the summer he wouldn’t wear shorts.  I’m not sure of the real reason behind this abnormality, although I have my theories, but he just flat out refused to wear shorts one summer.  Instead he opted for jeans!  Jeans in the hot, dry western Kansas heat.  I can remember it was a family effort to try to convince him to wear shorts.  It was a battle we lost.  I can still picture him on the sidewalk in front of the house with a pair of black jeans on…and his little shirt was tucked in!  But those jeans were the least of his worries.  During one of the summers when he did wear shorts that boy had more mosquito bites than the whole population of GC!  He had welts the size of ping pong balls and they always got infected.  He practically bankrolled the Campho-Phenique corporation that summer!  The mosquitoes sure must have thought that kid was sweet (I’ll throw him a bone, after all it is his birthday!)  Other summer memories include his obsession, or was it superstition, with Gatorade gum and sunflower seeds.  (Upon a recent trip home a story was relayed to me that he is still crazy about sunflower seeds.  A little bird told me that he uses his prechool-aged son as a pack mule for carrying around three different flavors of sunflower seeds at a time.  If you’re ever in need, check his boy’s backpack for sustenance!)

My littlest brother was also a bit of a clown and could be counted on for a laugh or a quick remark at anytime.  This orneriness landed him in trouble once or twice (ha ha) and he was lucky that he was such a cute little boy– it was his saving grace!  As a consequence of his cuteness, little girls were always buzzing around, going to his ball games and calling our house.  Not sure if he’ll admit it, but I think he secretly liked all the attention.  Things got weird in high school when girls my age were asking who’s “that guy” and it turns out they were pointing to my kid brother!  It got even weirder when a friend of mine called and I started chatting with her when she interrupted me to say that she was actually calling to talk to him.  Awkward.  But as fate would have it, he is now the father of two beautiful girls and a darling little boy and I can’t wait to see how he handles the consequences of their “cuteness.”  I can already hear him saying, “Well things were different when I was your age….”

I could go on and on about my littlest brother, but I will stop short and relay my two favorite stories.  The first takes place in Allen Fieldhouse during a Jayhawk game.  I remember him sulking because he had to accompany my folks on a weekend visit to see me in Lawrence.  Poor guy!  He happened to be in trouble (again?) and my parents were afraid a typical grounding would be ineffective if they were out-of-town.  I’m sure the house party invites were already out by the time my folks told him he had to go with them on their road trip.  He was not very happy.  So while thousands of Jayhawk fans were screaming at the sight of the Jayhawks and Jacque Vaughn running through the tunnel, my brother sat sulkily in his chair sucking on a soda.  Nevermind the awesomeness of seeing the Jayhawks play at home.   Nevermind being on the hallowed grounds of basketball history.  Nevermind that it’s next to impossible to get tickets to a Jayhawk game.  As the saying goes, “Beware the Phog,” but that afternoon it was more like the Phog should beware him.  Hell has no fury like a boy who lost his house party!

And my all time favorite story takes place back in high school.  He was a freshman (I was a senior) and he was having a hard time relating to his math teacher (and that’s putting it nicely.)  As I bounded around the corner in JDA, I almost fell over myself at the sight of my brother sitting in the hallway.  This floored me for two reasons:  1) I didn’t know teachers put high school kids in the hallway and 2) I wouldn’t have imagined that if a teacher did put him in the hallway that he would have actually STAYED!   Okay, you’re thinking what is so exceptional about this story?  Well here it is.  I used to tell my friends that my brother was destined for great things, if only he would put all his energy into good instead of evil.  It’s a little dramatic, but I think it was right on.  As a kid, my brother was a good-hearted, funny, spirited, adventurous people magnet…what he didn’t realize was that he was also thoughtful, kind, intelligent and a born leader!  Today, my dearest little brother is a TEACHER and works at our old middle school where he also coaches football and freshman baseball.  In a twisty sort of tale that is all his own, he found his way out of that high school hallway and made his own round-the-way path to success!

He’s no longer the round-cheeked, skinny fella tagging along after my brother.  He’s much more than that.  He’s a terrific son, brother, friend, cousin, husband, father, uncle, son-in-law, brother-in-law, child of God and TEACHER who puts his energy into good and making a positive difference in the lives of others. He’s the teacher with a story that even the orneriest child can relate to.  But let’s not kid ourselves here, it is a little funny to know that as a 30-something year old man you can still find him hanging around in the hallways at school!

On your birthday, may you find joy, blessings and lots of laughter, little brother.  Enjoy your day.  YOU ARE LOVED.

A brother is a better defense than a strong city.  Proverbs 18:19

 

They Grow Up So Fast (and a dozen other cliches….)

Here sleeps a girl with a head full of magical dreams, a heart full of wonder, and hands that will shape the world.  -Author Unknown

WARNING:  SAP ALERT!!!  You know those TV shows and movies where the teary-eyed parent goes into  flashback mode.  I trust you’re familiar with that slow fade producers use to signal that we’re going back in time.  And heaven help us if they actually use the wavy picture trick!  Well, I’ll fess up.  For the last week or so I’ve been camped out in that dreamland because my baby girl just had a birthday!  (Dissolving…now.)

I’ll begin the tale with the fact that I didn’t really want a second child.  Every step of the process with our firstborn was difficult from pregnancy to post-pregnancy.  Blessed as we were with one child, I sort of thought we should leave well enough alone.  One baby is good.  But as it typically goes, my plan was not His plan.  When we found out that I was pregnant with our little girl, we could hardly wait to share the good news!

We started calling people on a drive out to beautiful Colorado.  Smiling and happy we passed the miles jabbering along telling everyone we knew.  The pregnancy was off to a great start!  I had such a wonderful doctor who was an angel throughout the process.  She eased my fears, reminding me that every pregnancy is different.  She was right, every pregnancy is different.  While our son was born in record heat for the San Francisco Bay Area…our darling girl was born during record cold in Kansas!

Everything was iced over the night she was born.  My folks had fortunately arrived early–ahead of the date I was to be induced (which was the following Monday.)  We all passed the time laughing, cooking and eating (my Mom is a great cook!) and of course, playing with my son.  We were so busy hanging out that at one point we didn’t even realize that somebody’s car had slid off the road into our yard and ultimately onto our mailbox.  (To our credit, we all thought we heard “something,” although none of us bothered to check.)  Still, the tire marks and the downed mailbox post told the story.  To top off that evening, Steve and I decided to brave the bitter temps and go to Wal-Mart and just walk around, supposedly that’s great for pregnant woman who want to speed along the process.  While it never worked for our son, that night I awoke Steve to say that it was time! (I say that I awoke Steve because I did not go to bed that night.  Our little girl had given me the worst insomnia I have ever known and I had grown accustomed to watching late-night infomercials while the rest of the world slept.)

Off we went into the still of an icy night.  Everything progressed smoothly.  I was told that she would probably be born in the late morning or early afternoon.  I passed the time in a horrible hospital gown (whose idea were those things anyway?) watching Bible documentaries (Steve was with me remember) on the History Channel.  When he managed to doze off (I still had the insomnia), I couldn’t even change the channel.  Tethered to an IV, I had little mobility and the remote was conveniently still in Steve’s possession.  Oh well.  I gained a great deal of Bible knowledge that night!

Soon it was time.  Nurses scurried around us.  Steve and I were ready.  I fixed my gaze on the giraffe painting across the room.  Only one thing was missing–my doctor.  As wonderful as she was, we were on her time schedule now and I was told not to push until she arrived!  Yikes!  So we waited.  Finally during the noon hour (and probably the doctor’s lunch break) our baby girl arrived.  It was the easiest delivery ever…what a blessing!  As our little girl tells the story, she “couldn’t wait to get out of there.”

We had no visitors the first day of our little baby girl’s life.  The weather didn’t permit travel that day.  The hospital was quiet.  We talked on the phone with my folks who were caring for our son, and many other well wishers who called that day.  Steve had some business to tend to and I was on my own for a while.  Nurses would bring our little girl in and I would look at her in amazement.  She was beautiful.  Big cheeks, a tiny amount of downy hair, and such a small bundle of a body.  Thinking about that day still brings tears to my eyes.

Throughout this week I have relived that day a thousand times as well as countless other “baby girl” memories.  I remember that her nursery was pink and purple with butterflies and bunnies.  I recall that she had her days and nights mixed up.  I remember the colic and the switch to soymilk.  I can’t forget when she fell down the steps or how quickly she learned to walk, practically skipping crawling all together.  I remember how she didn’t even own a doll until she turned one.    I remember her first Oreo, her first lollipop and when she learned to talk… “oh, wow, oh, wow.”  My mind goes back to the holidays we’ve celebrated and, of course, her birthdays:  the Elmo one, the Barbie princess one, the Mermaid one, the cookie baker one, the High School Musical one, the let’s eat at McDonald’s one, the Pop-Princess one and now–this one.

Back to reality and the producer brings everything back into focus.  Each birthday is a blessing and nothing is promised.  My baby girl (who is no longer really a baby) has turned seven.  As I write this it is bitter cold outside, and as far as I know our mailbox is intact (no ice.)  I still spend way too much time walking around Wal-Mart and my insomnia is merely a thing of the past.  My daughter, who once had her days and nights mixed up, wakes up with the sun and soundly sleeps through the night in a bedroom that is still pink and purple filled with butterflies and bunnies.

Happy, happy birthday, darling Casey.  You are so very LOVED.

Every good and perfect gift is from above…. James 1:17