Wednesday, December 23, 2020

More Like Mary

As I pen this, we leave tomorrow morning for Christmas in Kansas.

My to-do list looms as travel and Christmas nears:

Finish Christmas shopping 

Line up help for farm chore work while we’re away

Pack the kids, and myself for the trip

Wrap and pack all gifts to haul 12 hours

Take care of all professional business that still goes on this time of year

Get Christmas cards addressed, stamped, and to the post office

Line out plans and a menu for Indiana Christmas with my family upon our return

Worry about things I shouldn’t, including but not limited to buying too much for our kids, buying gifts that aren’t practical and will add to someone’s junk pile, somehow finding the gifts I bought and hid in May, and beyond. 


Despite a constant effort to keep Christmas simple and meaningful with the heart of the holiday at the center of everything we do, boy do I feel like I’m failing. 

I think to Luke 1:26-33 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Let me get this straight. I’m superficially stressed about getting presents bought and wrapped and menus organized during the week of Christmas and virgin Mary had an angel show up to her door and tell her she’s going to have God’s baby? 

How’s that for perspective? Where did my heart for Christmas go so wrong?

When we were young we’d open tiny paper doors on an Advent calendar December 1 – 24. For 24 days we’d learn the story of the birth of Christ and the 24th door was always the one covering the baby in the manger. It was the greatest ending to the perfect story.

I searched for an advent calendar in November to continue that special tradition with our kids. I found calendars filled with candy, various toys, wine, chocolate, horses, jewelry, and more. Is Christmas so commercialized that even the days of Advent are filled with daily gifts, trinkets, and junk? Unfortunately yes. It took some searching, but I finally found one as simple as ours from the 1980s. And a note: I later found an even better advent calendar at the Shoppes of East Main in Hagerstown. I’ll be buying ours there, next year.

Oh, how I long to be more like Mary. Less about gifts and food and festivities and more about the heart of the matter: the birth of Christ. Less about a to-do list that dictates my busy activity and more about the daily work that matters: raising children who know and love Jesus. 

Luke 2:19 tells us that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Not the gifts (though I’m sure the frankincense made the stable smell fantastic) or the food (though I’m sure she was starving after such an event). 


More like Mary requires treasuring up all of these things that are quite significant past December 25, spending time in quiet reflection of the incredible event that took place in the manger, and most importantly, having a heart that trusts God’s plan. 


I must pause here, as our son has brought me a large, interesting ball of what appears to be scotch tape, bailing twine, toilet paper, and Barbie hair. Perhaps I better wrap up my lofty goal writing of being more like Mary and just get back to being a farm mom. 

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Outgrowing Naptime

I believe fully that the two things that got me through the infant stages of our children were Jesus and a routine. 

Both children have been fantastic nappers (maybe they did get something from me, after all) from the beginning. Like clockwork for the past four years, come 1:00 PM they’re ready to rest and recharge their batteries – sometimes for up to two hours!


And let me tell you how precious that time is to me. Maybe one day I’ll regret not sitting by their cribs and watching their little chests move up and down. But today is not that day. 

Because during nap time I shut off all toys that make any sort of noise, radios and TVs included, and I enjoy a quiet house. I pay bills without anyone asking me if they can put on the stamp. I catch up on collaborative work without anyone yelling, “Can ya come wipe me already?!” in the background of my Teams videos. I prep dinner without anyone begging for a snack. I take a brief walk outside to check waterers on frigid days or cows who are close to calving without the need to bundle up two tots who can’t keep on mittens. I read my devotions, usually thanking God for naptime. I fold laundry without someone dumping the basket to make it a buggy. On particularly tough days, I just sit in a chair and stare at the wall. 


But our oldest is starting to change. 


“I didn’t think we took naps on Saturdays,” Caroline recently protested. 


“I didn’t think you knew your days of the week,” I responded both annoyed and impressed. 


She is beginning to question naptime a bit. Fewer are the days when, without being told it is 1:00 PM, she finds her white blanket and thumb and rests at the bottom of the steps until I carry her up to her bedroom. She’s learned that when she naps the world does not nap. 


She came downstairs recently after a brief thirty-minute shut-eye last week. It startled me. 


“What are you doing up!?” I asked, like Santa Claus who had been caught setting out presents.


“What are you doing up?” she quickly turned the question right back around on me. 


“Mommy is working on a grocery list,” I said, still confused as to why she was in the living room and not in bed. 


“Can I help? Better get some milk.”


“Honey aren’t you tired? You only napped for thirty minutes,” I tried to coax her back upstairs. 


“Is that long? I’m not tired anymore. I want to play without Cyrus. So he doesn’t run through my horse arena with his combine.”


I just sighed. I knew this battle was lost. “When you’re my age you’re going to wish you’d taken a longer nap,” I told her as I sat down on the floor with her and began helping her line up horses for the carpet rodeo. 


“But I’ll be 100 years old then and it won’t matter,” she responded, gently setting down her favorite Pinto. 


I didn’t have much to say after that and decided to just enjoy that quiet playtime while I could. Though if she thinks I’m pushing 100, I would like to know how old she thinks her grandmothers are. 


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Professional Family Photos

 We had organized family photos taken twice that I can remember while growing up; once at the fire station and once through Olan Mills. My sister had strep throat in one set, and I had pick eye in the other. I think that is why my mother never found it necessary to take annual family photos; they were never worth the money. 

As a parent I’ve made the poor choice to try to get family photos taken each fall. I don’t know why I do this, as I already have 1,027 photos of my children on the iPhone in my pocket. There is just something about getting the family cleaned up, out of barn clothes, hair combed and smiling. But let me tell you: it ain’t easy. 


You put a camera in front of Cyrus, 2, and he has as much personality as a celery stalk. He doesn’t smile, he scowls. He doesn’t show you his beautiful blue eyes, he glares. He doesn’t even prefer to stand, he must be held. We’ve always said that Cyrus is an 80-year-old man in a tiny body: he walks like he needs a hip replacement, talks to himself, prefers to eat by himself and generally acts grumpy just so people leave him alone. Add “thinks family photos are ridiculous” to that list. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Caroline, 4, was born for family photos. She encourages props (this year it was a stick horse she insisted on including). She poses. She takes direction quite well. She asks if her hair bow is visible. She tries to act as Cyrus’ smile coach which only irritates him further. 

Cody simply rolls in from the farm two minutes before the photographer is to arrive, washes his hands, combs his hat hair, puts on the clean jeans and shirt I’ve laid out for him and asks, “Why are we doing this, again?”


“For Christmas cards,” I remarked, trying to get Sharpie marker off Cyrus’ chin.


“My mom used to just sign some and mail them. There was never a photo,” he continued, tucking in his shirt. 


I didn’t even acknowledge his passive protest and stories of a simpler life long ago on the Kansas plains. This was no time for happy stories…it was family picture day. I just needed everyone to smile once. Preferably at the same time.


My job is to ensure everyone is fully dressed, and the beads of sweat running down my face - earned from squeezing into a pair of jeans I haven’t worn since quarantine started – aren’t visible. That’s tougher than it sounds. 


We had our family photos taken in October and have yet to see a single result. 

“What do you think it is taking so long to get our pictures back?” my husband asked last week. "I thought you were sending Christmas cards."


“She’s probably Photoshopping a smile onto Cyrus,” I responded without hesitation. He seemed to agree. 


Don’t let the perfect photos you see on Facebook or in Christmas cards this year fool you. Just remember: Behind every great family photo you’ll see this holiday season, there was one husband who would rather be doing anything but this, 45 tears cried inside the house because someone was missing Sesame Street for all of this nonsense, 2 pieces of Halloween candy melting in pockets used as bribery and a mother growing frustrated that it is seemingly impossible for everyone in the family to appear happy on the same day. 


If you don’t get a Christmas card, please don’t be offended. I’m just trying to protect the family reputation.