One of the treasures that I received on Christmas morning was a rubber stamp from my sister and her husband. It reads, “Fruit of the Spirit is Love.” Well, the Spirit was mighty fruitful this Christmas. I felt embraced by love in a way that left me teary-eyed every few minutes.
Perhaps it was the warmth of feeling so completely accepted and even treasured by my husband’s family. We’ve been married for over eight years, so my full induction into the in-laws’ lives shouldn’t surprise me. It doesn’t. But I don’t take it for granted either, and I always feel blessed and humbled by their love.
Perhaps it was the joy of watching my older child come to understand Christmas in a richer way. He began to get the hang of gift giving, practicing with his own toys and scraps of wrapping paper in the weeks before Christmas. He also grew in his ability to receive gifts graciously. I was proud of my little man with his many prompted and un-prompted “thank yous.”
Perhaps it was the light in my baby’s eyes as he gazed at one Christmas tree after another or the mischievous grin as he banged the cymbals and tambourine from Santa.
Perhaps it was the two books on academic writing given to me by my husband. While these might not seem like romantic gifts to anyone else, for me they represent his belief in my dream, his support, and his confidence that I can make my goal happen.
Perhaps it was the pleasure of curling up on my parents’ cushy loveseat on Christmas night with a new book while the potbelly stove crackled and Mom and my boys played another round of “Don’t Break the Ice on the Floor.”
Whatever the reason, it was a happy, happy Christmas.
Some people, Christians and non-believers alike, point to the pagan roots of the Christmas tree. They dismiss it as yet another way that Christmas isn’t really about Christ. But when I look at my beautiful Christmas tree, I see the light…the Light of the World brought to Earth as a little baby. I see the evergreen branches, never fading just as God’s love never dies, never changes. I see the magestic stature, reminding me of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I see the upper boughs pointing heavenward, making me thankful for a God who saw the short-coming of humankind. Instead of giving up on us, turning his back on us, he reached down to a tiny blue planet and gently nestled a baby of unlikely parentage into the lowest of beds, a manger. Among the animals’ feed rested a Savior who would feed the world with his love and his grace.
With two “college kids” in our family (by that I mean the hubby and myself), Christmas preparations usually don’t happen until after Finals Week ends, typically the week before Christmas. We’re too busy writing papers, reading thick books that nobody has taken out of the library in decades, grading papers, and ultimately submitting grades for the college students under our care. Therefore, except for Sunday church services, we basically miss Advent. Well, this year, I decided things would be different. I started Christmas prep in November (the music still didn’t come out until Thanksgiving evening). I had an elaborate list of tasks and gifts. I started early–and happily.
We are less than a week away from the blessed day. The lists are not complete, but Advent 2009 has been better than any in my married life. We’ve made decorations. We’ve kept up with the Sunday School’s Advent activity–more or less. We’ve enjoyed time with friends and family. We’ve gathered gifts for our loved ones in a slow, relaxed way that has allowed reflection and a sense of happy discovery when the right gift came along. Most importantly, we’ve tried to keep our eyes on the manger.
Today, we awoke to a wonderful blanket of snow. And it hasn’t stopped snowing! We spent a nice day together. My guys went out to play in the winter wonderland. I baked biscuits and tried a yummy vegetable-bean chowder recipe. Perfect for a snow day. I’m feeling cozy, relaxed, and oh so blessed.
I love winter because I love its opposite: warmth. I love mugs of tea and hot chocolate. I love chunky scarves and my white wool mittens. I love soup and slippers and my down comforter. I love my cuddly husband and the fact that he doesn’t mind me putting my icy feet against him as we fall asleep. You know my favorite thing about winter? I love the fires Dad builds in the potbelly stove. Now that’s warmth…the physical and figurative kind. As soon as I walk into my parents’ home, I head for the stove. I stand so close and so long that I sometimes have to jump away with a little yelp. But it feels wonderful. I can’t help thinking of the part in Little Women when Jo is scolded for singeing her dress by standing too close to the fire. That little stove equals family and comfort. It also represents hard work. For my entire life, I’ve watched my dad build fires in the potbelly stove. He gathers kindling, pieces of wood and scraps of newspaper. He slowly and carefully builds a fire that will last indefinitely. He tends that stove like a baby—sprinkling coal, checking the draft, and shaking down the ashes several times each day. Mom, of course, is an integral part of the system, too. On many occasions, she’ll end our phone conversation with an announcement that she “better go. Dad doesn’t want the fire to go out,” and she’ll hang up to add a bit of coal. It’s quite a routine, but the results are a long-lasting, toasty source of heat that keeps the whole house warm. Sometimes too warm! It’s not a surprise to see Mom cracking the doors a bit on a January evening.
The little potbelly stove reminds me that my parents went to a lot of trouble to keep me warm, safe, healthy, and happy. More than that, they provided a life that wasn’t ordinary. They taught me that the usual way of doing things isn’t always the best way, that a little extra work is worth the results, and that building a simpler life leads to a closer family and a greater appreciation for God’s blessings. I’m trying to create that kind of life for my husband and my sons. It’s a struggle to fight against the typical American lifestyle, but I’m doing my best to keep our focus on the things that matter, to keep those little hands and little minds busy with creativity and love.