Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christmas Collections

If we had our druthers, there would be two Christmas trees at our house each year. My husband’s would be elegantly appointed with beautiful, trendy decorations, probably all in the same color family. His might completely change from year to year. Mine, on the other hand, would display the same treasures I carefully store away at each year’s end. As I write this, they are still boxed up, but when you read it, they’ll be in a place of honor in the corner of our living room.

After thirty-five years of collecting, I have more ornaments than I can practically place on the tall but skinny imitation pine with plastic holly berries and fake twists of grapevine worked in. So, as I decorate, I’ll just pull some of the precious pieces out and pause for a moment as I place them back into their home for protection.

There are ornaments fashioned by my children when they were small. Created from ideas in craft books owned by a clever teacher, they may have started as a clothespin, or a jar lid. Paint, ribbon, glue and glitter transformed them into something wonderful, a tiny piece of a child’s heart. As they say in the credit card commercial: Priceless.

Then, there are the dated ornaments purchased over the years, one for each year of our married life. The designs reflect the times and the budget constraints of those years. Some celebrate a big event in our family- “Baby’s First Christmas”. Others were purchased at after Christmas sales. Each brings along a flood of been-there-done-that memories.

My mother has long upheld a tradition of making ornaments for our family’s trees. Hers show imagination and creativity, and always bring to mind the reasons for the season, love and family. I followed her lead for several years, so you’ll find some examples of my feeble attempts at craftiness. Teddy bears with ribbons and bells, scraps of leather with cut-outs from old Christmas cards, rings made from a special, inedible dough.

Not all of the ornaments are home-made or inexpensive. Otherwise, they’d all be relegated to the back of the tree by my “curb-appeal” conscious hubby. We do own some really nice ones, including part of a Norman Rockwell collection purchased by my step-mother sometime during the last century. There are also tributes to our favorite sports teams, and a few with Disney connections.

I must confess that my Christmas collecting isn’t confined to the tree. You’ll find memorable items displayed on almost every flat surface in the house. One, in an honored position on top of the dining room hutch, even belongs to my husband. Yes, he looks forward each year to seeing the Santa Claus doll (well, that’s what it is) his parents purchased for him on a Christmas shopping trip to Benton when he was small. It really is all about the happy memories this time of year.

One of my favorite Christmas stories brings home the fact that God is a collector, too. The difference is that, he desires to collect our souls for protection from the evils of this world, and to provide a permanent home with Him.

The story goes something like this: There was a man who was raised as a Christian, but had become cynical after years of existing in our rather self-absorbed world. While his wife and kids went to a Christmas Eve program at church, he stayed home, and watched out the window as a strong winter storm brewed. The wind howled, the cold blizzard raged, and he saw a large flock of birds battling the wind, looking for some form of refuge. He’d often enjoyed feeding and watching birds, and his heart was touched by their struggle. He glanced at the large barn that stood behind their house, and he was inspired. Bundling up, he hurried out to the building, threw open the door, and turned on the lights, hoping to lure the floundering creatures to safety. The flock continued to fly hither and yon, and none made their way into the warmth and protection of the barn. The man finally gave up and returned inside, leaving the door and lights as an open invitation.

When his family returned home, he told them of his efforts, and a strange realization touched him as he spoke these words: “If only I could have turned myself into a bird- then I could have guided them in ….”

This Christmas, as you collect happy memories, remember the perfect plan of your heavenly Father. He still wants to draw you closer. Let the baby in the manger be your guide.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Fulness" : It's All in the Moment

We throw around a lot of superlatives. It’s not just great, it’s wonderful. Not just pretty but beautiful. How often does whatever we are describing really fit those words?
We don’t have to look too far in Arkansas to find some really pretty scenery. Every evening we can look to the West and see a remarkable display of colors. If there are hills in the distance, the colors seem magnified as the sun makes its slow and careful descent. But, sometimes, something really special just knocks us back and takes our breath away.
One of these unexpected moments happened to me during the Great Ice Storm of early 2000. That year, we lived in Bryant under a lot of gorgeous, tall pine trees. The ice had fallen for several hours, knocking out power, and quite a few loose limbs. Everyone in the neighborhood was beyond thinking the scenery looked pretty, as we contemplated the cleanup efforts that would be necessary to get things back to normal. But, after a night of playing cards by kerosene lantern-light, and sleeping under piles of quilts, I stepped outside to see the morning sun reflecting off thousands of frozen branches above my head. It was like some sort of fairy-land. Light flickered in every direction, sparkling brilliantly. It was absolutely, drop-dead Beautiful.
Recently, I’ve seen pictures of two of my friends who were more than just happy to see a new baby. One had waited for the right husband, then waited again to be a mother. Now that her daughter is here, every photo of the two of them seems to glow. Another friend is a grandma for the first time. After experiencing the loss of a grandson before he really got a chance at life, she now has a tiny, precious grand-daughter. The pictures of these two ladies holding their infants betray the fact that they know the Grace of God is the chief reason for their happiness. The label for those photos: Grateful.
Babies provide us with such delight. They have no qualms about laughing when something is funny. Even at things that older people would label impolite or inappropriate. Their laughter is infectious, and the more we laugh, the more they laugh. Joyful, pure and simple.
After all, it’s really about the emotions that we feel in moments like these. A series of well-crafted commercials on television play directly to our emotions, as a weepy voice sings about the arms of angels, and poor mistreated animals stare up at us with sorrowful eyes. Literally, Pitiful. I don’t know if it is coincidence, but two of my children have adopted puppies from their local shelter since those commercials began airing.
I usually have a problem with watching a television reporter interview a family member immediately after a tragedy. I feel that this invades a very private, emotion-filled moment for that person. Recently, though after the tragic fiery crash that killed Indy Champion Dan Wheldon, his friend and fellow driver Dario Franchitti summed things up perfectly. He said something like: “We all know there’s a huge risk every time we get into our car at the beginning of a race. At a moment like this, when we’re asked if it’s all worth it, we have to say No. It’s not worth it at all. But we all know racing is part of us, and we’ll be back out here again.” It was hard to hear those words, but his point of view at that moment gave us a real impression of what all of the drivers were feeling. It was, in a word Insightful.
Another inspirational story on television came at the end of a newscast. This one depicted a group of American military veterans playing baseball. Nothing unusual about that, until you noticed that one of the teams was made up of men who had lost at least one limb in the service of their country. These warriors were navigating very well, thank-you, both with and without the aid of prostheses. For all who played against them or watched them, the experience was Powerful.
As we approach the holiday set aside for appreciating what we have, let’s look for these moments that are completely packed with something special. We may have to step back, take a deep breath, but they’re all around us. Enjoy these times, and be Thankful.