Open the Door

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.  –John Barrymore

If the title sounds like a command, I think you’re right. If you have any guesses as to how this pertains to my life…I’d love it if you’d clue me in!  On its face “open the door” seems pretty straightforward, but since I got this word from the Holy Spirit, I know it has to be a little more (okay, a lot more) nuanced than that.

The message came to me a little more than a year ago.  That’s a long time to ponder its exact meaning!  At that moment, I thought it was a word of encouragement.  You see my introverted nature is constantly trying to balance the fact that I live with three extroverts.  So, I figured this was an assuring message about hospitality…a way to move me forward and out of my comfort zone.  Satisfied with that, I went about my business and learned to better carve out some “introvert recharging time” for myself while welcoming the kiddos’ friends with open arms.  And it worked.  Our home is basically a mini version of Grand Central Station and (believe it or not) I’m actually good with it.  My kids have really great friends…tweens/teens that I enjoy having at our house, kids who are positive influences for my babies and are all around good people.  Score, right?  That’s what I thought, too!

Still, the command wasn’t satisfied.  Hmmm…what now?  I tried to push it to the back of my mind.  If it was really important, the answer would reveal itself.  Nope.  So, after much more consideration, I arrived at a new conclusion.  It wasn’t so much about letting someone/something IN…it was about letting someone/something OUT.  I was holding my children back.  That had to be it.  I was “s-mothering” them!  (That’s smothering and mothering at the same time!)  Of course.  I’m a little overprotective, a little too available, a little too quick to solve their problems.  I’ll admit it, I am my own “afterschool special.”  To remedy the situation I tried to take a step back (just a little.)  I understand that independence is an important part of growing up.  Maybe I didn’t need to be fully enmeshed, just engaged.  Yes, that’s it-ENGAGED.  Mystery solved.  (Feel free to start laughing at me now.)

Wrong again, I tried to push this edict away.  Burdensome, that’s what this was.  I had no idea what the answer could be and honestly, I didn’t want to be bothered by it anymore.  We were busy.  We were overscheduled.  I was tired.  It was summer and the days were hot, long and full.  I didn’t have time for this.  I’d already given the subject so much thought and prayer.  The answer was not coming and I began to doubt the message.  Surely, I had heard it wrong.  If this was for me, then there was obviously something that I was missing.  So I put it on a “spiritual shelf.”  I’d deal with it in the fall….

Fall came and went.  We rolled into winter and the message remained the same.  From the “spiritual shelf,” I could still hear it calling me.  And I still had no idea how to respond.  It wasn’t until after the holidays that a (or another) new thought occurred to me.  Perhaps, this was more personal.  Maybe, I needed to go “outside?”  Take a chance?  What if there was something that I personally needed to take care of?  Could this message be calling me to open the door and step out in faith?

I thought about a job search, looking into starting some sort of side business, and even going back to school to earn a master’s degree.  I stepped back from some volunteer commitments and ventured into new volunteer opportunities.  In the past, this type of itch has been satisfied through creativity…so I began baking up a storm, photographing everything in sight, playing the piano, sewing, daydreaming, reading, writing, etc.  And…nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

When something weighs heavily on your heart, it’s really hard to put it “away.”  I know I’m not the only one who’s ever been here.  There’s a reason why we can’t “run” from our problems.  The Bible speaks to it (just ask Jonah) and we all probably have countless personal anecdotes about trying to “run” when things get sticky or uncomfortable.  And I wholeheartedly believe that there’s a reason God has whispered (and occasionally shouted) this command to me.  I just wish I knew what it was.

In the meantime, I’m actively waiting.  Understanding that prayer is answered with YES, NO, GROW and my least favorite–WAIT.  I know that I have nothing to complain about.  Life is good.  We are well.  God is with us.  In this waiting season (yes, I’m learning to better practice patience,) I’m trying hard to be fully present.  This is more difficult than it sounds as I waiver between feeling apathetic and restless to energized and eager.  It’s a situation that I’m not used to and one that I’m certainly not prepared for.  I didn’t ask for change…and maybe that’s what this is all about.  Yet, I know and trust that there is a purpose.  Knock.  Knock.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Matthew 7:7-8

 

 

 

 

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In These Desperate Times

Are we not all desperate one way or another?  Taylor Caldwell, author

The funny thing about standing on the edge is that there’s typically little to no warning that you’re about to go over.  No countdown.  No alert system.  I usually only realize that I’ve arrived at this point when one foot is dangling and the other is making every crazy attempt to stay planted.  It’s a dance I’ve seen countless times and one that I’m not proud of.

Lately, this idea of desperation has been rearing its ugly head in all kinds of places.  I see it everywhere–in my home, overheard at the grocery store, on television/radio, it’s become a mainstay on social media, I hear it in the voices of my closest loved ones and it even stares back at me from the bathroom mirror.  It’s become practically inescapable and totally overwhelming.  And it appears to be the new norm.

What I hate most about desperation is that it clouds decision-making, muddies our sense of right and wrong, and worst of all causes us to say/do things we (should) almost immediately regret (although that’s not always the case.)  And “desperation” has become so incredibly clever.  Nowadays, it masks itself as “urgency,” “FoMO” (fear of missing out) and even “self-righteousness”…often times creating an anxiety that holds us captive.  This type of desperation not only leaves us hopeless but it creates fear, anger,  and sadness.  Desperation puts us in situations we could have never imagined…poisoning ourselves and everything around us.  Numb and cowering like a defenseless animal, we can only respond by lashing out at one another or internalizing our darkest fears.  When these feelings reach their peak, one is left feeling incredibly alone.  And yet, we keep coming back to the same well.  Doing the same things.  Repeating this frantic pattern over and over.

Where is the faith, the peace, the hope?  As a Christian, I think it’s in the same place it’s always been–Jesus.  I’ve noticed that as our culture continues to distance itself from God…the only truly content people I can find are those who consider themselves followers of Christ.  In fact, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Christianity was the sense of peace that Jesus offers.  Picture the most devout person you know and I’m willing to bet that person just exudes peace.  Shining, content, grace-filled peace…in abundance.  The kind of peace we hope to capture for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that peace is elusive…only attainable after years of practice.  We’ve been told that peace is for the enlightened, those who have achieved some higher level learning.  We’ve been advised that peace is for the naive.  And we’ve been warned that peace simply cannot exist.  And I think that’s exactly what the world wants us to believe.

There are no quick answers here, only prayer.  Distancing ourselves from desperation requires discipline and personal growth.  I imagine it’s a lifelong endeavor, but one well worth every effort.  I refuse to drink from the world’s cup and fall prey to these desperate times.  I will continue to seek out those whose grace-filled examples serve as encouragement and inspiration.   And I fully plan to surround myself with only His perfect peace.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

A Case for Kitchen Walls (My Rally Cry Against Open Concept)

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  –author unknown

When I was a kid I remember telling my Mom all about my dream house.  I mean, if Barbie could have a dream house…surely I could, too.  In my simplistic, imaginary abode there would be few rooms (less to clean,) one room completely without furniture (reserved exclusively for me,) and absolutely NO KITCHEN.  “How will you eat?” she asked, “Where will you prepare your food?”  Okay, Mom, I didn’t have it all worked out.  I always thought food was overrated anyway, but in a pinch I figured a microwave and a mini refrigerator would bail me out.  Eventually, I developed a love for baking and thus a kitchen became a necessary evil in my small mind, but it still didn’t make me an overall fan of the kitchen.  In fact at that point, I started championing the idea of paper everything.  Paper plates, paper cups, disposable silverware, etc.  I even spoke of inventing paper pots and pans (I was a tween at this point and HATED doing the dishes!)  Finally, as a young adult preparing my own meals in a “one-butt” kitchen, I gave up on the idea of the “kitchen-free” home.

Fast forward many years (and many kitchens later,) and I practically double over laughing at myself for these crazy anti-kitchen ideas.  Especially now that I claim the kitchen as my favorite room in the whole house.  No, it’s not because I somehow became a master chef (we all know that didn’t happen.)  The reality is that no one in my home seems to really enjoy being in the kitchen. For our family, the kitchen is for doing homework afterschool and grabbing the occasional meal together.  This means that I basically have this room all to myself, ALL THE TIME.  As an introvert…this qualifies as my own little inner sactum.  And I like it that way.  So when everybody on HGTV demands open concept, I’m the one screaming at the television, “DON’T DO IT!”  Keep your walls, people.  Whatever you do, keep your walls!!!

Obviously, no one is listening to me.  Kitchen remodels are underway as we speak and the people are clamoring for the open concept.  Apparently, we’re all hosting large dinner parties and get-togethers thus making the need for a life without walls mandatory.  I believe the folks on HGTV call this ideal for “entertaining” and everyone on the planet is doing this but me!  Look, I’ve had the open concept kitchen before.  It meant that I was subject to watch/listen to whatever the person in the “family” part of the room had on the television.  It meant no private phone calls.  It meant constant interruptions.  If I wanted to take in a little talk radio or music (as I am prone to do,) I had to do so via ear buds which meant I couldn’t hear my kiddos (this is imperative as everyone knows that the best time to act up is when mom is out of earshot.)  The open concept was also problematic whenever company decided to drop by unexpectedly (as is apt to happen in a parsonage.)  Oh yes…on HGTV the kitchen portion of the open concept is always spotless.  In real life, however, the kitchen is a constant work in progress.  I don’t know about you, but a pile of dishes in the background quickly negates any inclination toward hospitality.  I just remember feeling so self-conscious.  I know, real friends don’t judge…but come on, it’s a little weird to have your breakfast leftovers hanging out for all to see.  Then there’s the smell.  Okay, we all burn the bacon every once in a while, but sitting down on your couch and catching a whiff of it in the fabric of your decorative pillows hours later is just not worth it.  And since I’m laying out my case, have you ever noticed that food travels just a little easier in the open concept home?  Toddlers suddenly believe that mac and cheese is good at the kitchen table, but even better on the living room floor.  Uuugggghhhh.

kitchenI could go on and on about the pitfalls of the open concept, but what really inspires me are all the perks of having a “real” kitchen (complete with WALLS.)  This is my space.  I control the lighting, the radio, and the level of activity in this room.  I can quickly whip something up for dinner or I can methodically (and slowly) try out a new recipe with the level of concentration a less-than-great cook requires.  I can spread out without the risk of someone “observing” and judging the madness.  I can multi-task and take my time cleaning up (or better yet, I can just walk away.)  Like a dictator, I can make sure food doesn’t wander out of this space.  While kitchen smells always migrate, I am less likely to catch a whiff of “Taco Tuesday” in the couch cushions on Wednesday morning.  Still, my all time favorite argument in defense of kitchen walls is that I can dance.  A lot.  I can blast New Kids on the Block, George Strait, or my non-stop Christmas music and jitterbug, two-step and let loose to my heart’s delight.  It’s at times like these that walls make all the difference.

I’m no interior designer (and no one is asking,) but I have a feeling that the open concept is here to stay.  As much as I love HGTV, I am fully aware of the more/bigger/better/different agenda that permeates our culture and homes.  Still, I will not be deterred.  Say it loud, say it proud…I AM ALL FOR WALLS…because if cooking is good for the soul, then the sanctity of the kitchen must be a personal heaven.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.  (Lamentations 3:28)

 

 

 

Graduation Speeches Are So Long (But Maybe It’s a Good Thing)

Under all speech that is good for anything, there is a silence that is better….  –Thomas Carlyle

Let me start by saying that I have mad respect for public speakers.  It takes a great deal of time, thought, composure, and courage to share your ideas and perspectives with audiences both large and small.  It is no easy feat to step up and out into this arena, which is probably why public speaking is high on the list of our “greatest fears.”  It’s one of those occurrences where we are typically happier on the receiving end and offer pity to the “poor soul” up front with a microphone.  Often times though, it’s equally uncomfortable for both parties…and yet this is exactly where many of us will find ourselves this graduation season.

The whole idea causes my mind to take a stroll down memory lane.  First, as a sixth grader giving a pseudo-valedictorian speech to my classmates as we prepared to advance to junior high.  I can remember pouring my thoughts onto a few sheets of wide-rule notebook paper…the usual platitudes intermixed with memories of sixth grade antics.  I can recall wearing my hair up (an attempt to look more sophisticated, I’m sure,) donning a flowery dress and trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly.  My palms were sweaty and I hardly recognized my own voice over the loud-speaker.  The event venue, a school gymnasium, seemed extra cavernous and despite the dozens of parents and family members in the audience…there were moments where I felt like I was all alone.  Time passed so slowly…each second its own eternity.  The whole speech couldn’t have been more than seven or eight minutes and while it concluded with applause, I always wondered if maybe they were just happy that it was done?  I know I was.

Twenty plus years later, I can still see the faces of those who spoke at my high school graduation ceremony, but what they said is a complete blur.  Classmates, community leaders, administrators…their mouths were moving, but I have no idea what they spoke of that day.  What I can clearly remember are my sunglasses:  mirrored wannabe wayfarers.  We wore our graduation caps toward the back of our heads to accommodate our extra-large mall bangs and adding sunglasses (and not disturbing the bobby pins) was not easy.  It was an extraordinary, bright, sunshiny day (I remember that)…and I NEEDED those sunglasses.  Gathering in a long line, I remember looking at the faces all around me and realizing I didn’t know everyone’s names (a sad fact that weighs on my heart today.)  Obviously, it was loud as we paraded onto the football field with music and cheering family and friends in the background, but as soon as the ceremony began I was lost in my own thoughts.  Deliberately taking in the moment, I was convinced that I would never experience anything like this again.  I looked for my family in the stands.  I smiled at my best friends.  I scoped out a cute boy.  I looked at the sky…a lot.  This day could never be duplicated and in some ways both the world and time stood still.  There was a charge in the atmosphere (one that would eventually lead to a thunderstorm and tornado warning that night.)  And while the message was lost on me, I silently prayed that the valedictorian would just keep talking.  That didn’t happen.  And in a blink of an eye, I found myself preparing for yet another graduation.

There’s a tradition at the University of Kansas…maybe it’s more lore than tradition…that advises students not to walk through the Campanile until graduation day.  Those who choose not to heed this advice, “risk” not graduating at all.  (In my mind, I equate it with dropping the “spirit stick,” like in the movie Bring It On.) If you know me, you know I wouldn’t dream of breaking tradition.  While the landmark is one of my favorite places on the campus, I vowed to not pass through it until that special day.  So, when it arrived, I was ecstatic.  The opportunity to walk through its doors was symbolic in countless ways…a memory that I truly treasure.  (I secretly relive the moment every time we visit the campus.)

Me and Kimberly at Graduation 1997The forecast called for yet another extraordinary, bright and sunshiny graduation day.  (Newsflash:  It’s also very humid in Lawrence, Kansas.)  Thinking ahead, I decided to wear a red tank top and a pair of cut off jean shorts under my graduation gown.  Not your typical graduation attire…oh well.  I had a paper fish on the top of my cap (so that my grandmother could pick me out of the “sea of students” making their way down the hill.)  I wore comfortable brown sandals as we walked in a procession according to major.  (If I close my eyes, I’m practically there all over.)  As you can imagine, a large university has an especially long ceremony.  There were many, many speakers that day.  We took our seats under the hot sun and fanned ourselves with the graduation handout.  I remember thinking (again) that I would never experience anything like this.  I looked for my family in the stands (futile with this many people around.)  I smiled at my friends and remembered that the cute boy in my life at the time was sitting in the audience.  And, of course, I couldn’t resist looking up at the sky.

campanileEverything moved in slow motion.  The audience’s applause were my only signal that one speaker had finished and/or another speaker was being introduced.  They just kept going…probably offering up similar platitudes to the speech I gave way back in sixth grade.  “Reach for the stars, believe in yourself, this isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning,” at least that’s what I imagine they said.  Honestly, though, I have no idea.  Another motivational speech in one ear and out the other.  But what I do know for sure is that the sky was the best shade of blue that day.  The breeze was satisfying in a way that you can only appreciate when you’re wearing the color black in the heat.  Joy and relief abounded in every direction.  And while most of my classmates could hardly sit still, I remember thinking that I wanted to stay there forever.  I regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then…although I am grateful that we didn’t have the distraction of smartphones.  And just like that, it was over.  The speeches stopped and real life began again…a new chapter.  I threw my cap (paper fish and all) high into the afternoon sky and never bothered to retrieve it.  I congratulated the eight-year old girl inside of me for accomplishing her goal of graduating college and securing her “dream” job.  And just like in the movies, I had a hard time leaving that day.  There were several glances back over my shoulder.  Last looks.

Fast forward all these years later and I now find myself attending these same type of events.  I see students waiting (some anxiously, others joyfully,) parents reacting emotionally, spectators sitting impatiently, and speakers searching for new and interesting ways to connect with the audience…to say something worthwhile and meaningful.  Maybe even something unforgettable.  Having done some public speaking in my adult life, I feel a little guilty when someone approaches the podium.  Guilty that I didn’t pay attention back then…knowing all too well how much work actually goes into preparing such a speech.  Yet today I finally realize that maybe the graduation messages of my yesterdays were not actually lost on me.  Perhaps, delivered in that moment was the exact message that I needed to hear after all.  When the speaker took his/her place at the podium I was invited to sit, to pause, to reflect and to savor.  It was an opportunity to take a deep breath and fully absorb the moment…each participant processing the occasion in their own unique way. Graduation and commencement, (often used interchangeably) in truth speak to two different ideas…one an ending and the other a beginning.  And I can’t think of a better way to mark the importance of that moment than by fully taking in the present.

Congratulations, graduates.

Listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.  Job 33:33

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I STILL Make My Kids’ Beds

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.  –Admiral William H. McRaven

I am the mother of two kiddos…a tween girl and a teen boy and I STILL make their beds. Not every day (as if that makes the whole thing better,) but practically every day.  This revelation is something that I rarely talk about and a topic that makes me a little uncomfortable sharing.  At first glance, it probably sounds like I’m some sort of Martha Stewart control freak or worse yet–a mother who coddles her kids too much.  I can hear it now, “She STILL makes their beds?  Really?  Wow.  How old are they?”  On more than one occasion I’ve been accused of not letting them grow up, trying to make them permanent dependents, permitting/encouraging laziness and impeding their emotional development.  Ouch!  An unmade bed is a pet peeve for a lot of people.  I get it.  Honestly, I know it’s a little (or a lot) quirky, but I really don’t plan on stopping anytime soon…and I have my reasons.

I’m a creature of habit.  When the children were little, I would use the time that I spent in their bedrooms as an opportunity to pray for them.  Nothing fancy or formal…just a few quick words.  Praises for the good days and prayers for strength on the tough ones.  And while we have prayed with the kiddos at bedtime ever since they were teeny tiny, I quickly discovered how much I think about my children when they’re away from home.  When my son went off to school I missed him terribly.  It was just preschool and just a few hours a day, but I wondered how he was doing?  What he was doing?  If he was okay? And on and on.  Instead of spinning in this cycle of worry, I decided to get pro-active and purposefully pray for his day while I made his bed.  And I never stopped.  When my daughter came along, I added her to the daily ritual.  In the five minutes it takes to make a bed I would pray for his/her well-being, his/her character, his/her faith development, those in their classrooms, their teachers, their circle of friends, etc.  I prayed offensively and defensively.  Some days I give thanks and other times I find myself on my knees (things sure get complicated as they grow up!)  But most importantly, I pray regularly.

After so many years, this daily practice hasn’t changed much.  Some days I sing hymns as I go about straightening up their rooms.  I mostly pray silently, but occasionally I pray out loud.  The family dog even gets in on the action.  She frequently comes into the room and guards the door…she knows the routine and has become something of a prayer partner.  This past week I have been in earnest prayer for one of my kiddos and decided to write about my prayer pattern.  What’s been reinforced to me lately is that praying includes a lot of listening, too.  And I am grateful for that.  What started out as a personal antidote to worry and stress has proven itself time and time again as a recipe for peace and assurance…and I thought it was worth sharing with my fellow parents in the trenches.

Someday my kids will make their own beds (and in case you’re wondering, YES, they know how.)  But for the time being, I’m happy to straighten sheets, tidy up pillows and simply pray.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity