The Annual “Christmas at Labor Day” Celebration

It’s very hard to explain to people just what our annual family Labor Day celebration looks  like.

But then every year it’s a little different.

giant jenga
This year we had a giant Jenga game on the porch. Trust me – you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of this guy when it finally fell!

painting playhouseAnd the cousins (with the help of Uncle Rod)  painted the prairie playhouse – and each other.

We even had a Redneck Shower this year.

redneck showerSolar powered and designed by my brother Tim – this was the perfect way to clean up after playing in the Redneck swimming pool…

redneck swimming pool…the river. Which was pretty low this year. The kids didn’t mind though. It was a great place to cool off!

gocart ridesEspecially after a very dusty go-cart ride down the gravel road!

We had our second annual Family Tractor Ride (more on that later – it needs it’s own post!)

tractor ride

And our very special family worship service on the prairie.

prairie worshipFollowed by a very special Christmas celebration, in lawn chairs, outside.

And of course – the traditional walk to see the elk and take the crazy cousin picture on Fort Sumter rock.

Fort Sumter rockWhich isn’t anywhere near the real Fort Sumter.

But then September isn’t anywhere near Christmas.

So I guess it fits just right with my slightly crazy but super fun family who likes to take “making memories” to a whole new level!

Photo credits: Wiggy Photography Inc. Thanks guys!

And It Is Done.

I made it.

When I woke up the morning of Christmas Eve, I knew that it would be at least New Year’s Day before I came up for air again.

I was right.

Here it is – several days into the New Year, the tree is finally down, the decorations put away for another year, Christmas letters are read, a new calendar is hung, Matt’s back in Colorado,  and I’ve finally come to the end of the laundry piles.

And there – at the bottom of the last pile was the Christmas table cloth, just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

We always eat by candlelight on Christmas Eve, and the candles always drip, and I never seem to have time to get the wax off so I can wash it and pack it away.

And so it waited. Until now.

Today’s list includes, finding my iron, several layers of paper towels, layering them with the tablecloth in the middle, and methodically melting away the wax.

It’s a slow job. But one that doesn’t involve thinking, or even much moving. Unlike the other jobs associated with packing away Christmas.

And for me – it signals the end of the holidays; my last task before I can close the book on Christmas 2012.

And then I can finally say, “It is done.”

Let the Stable…

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw – dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen:
Crumbling, crooked walls:
No bed to carry that pain,
And then the child,
Re-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.

Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: “Yes,
Let the Lord God of all the heavens and earth
Be born here, in this place?”

Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker fouler rooms
of our hearts
and says, “Yes,
let the God of Heaven and Earth
be born there –
in this place.”

Leslie Leyland Fields

May that baby in a manger be born in your hearts this Christmas.

Merry Christmas dear friends.

Merry Christmas, Grandpa

As I was writing Christmas letters this week, I came to Grandpa and Grandma’s address. After a moment of sadness that Grandma was gone and wouldn’t read it this year – I thought of Grandpa.

He’s spending his first Christmas alone without Grandma in over 60 years. I wish I was closer so I could spend some time with him. I wish I could bring him home with me for a few hours on Christmas Day.

But most of all – I wish he remembered me.

Alzheimer’s is cruel.

But if Christmas wishes did come true – and I could give Grandpa a hug in person and have his eyes light up in recognition, this is what I would tell him…

Hey Grandpa!

It’s me, Melinda. I’m one of Shirley’s girls. Remember me? I’m the one who drove the car into the side of your granary.

I just wanted to say thank you for making Christmas at your house so wonderful.

From the moment we drove in, you made me feel loved.

You remembered how scared I was of dogs so you tied him up before I got there. You didn’t want me to be afraid to get out of the car. Poor Smoke – he wouldn’t hurt a flea, but you wanted me to feel safe.

You were the one to open the door – standing in the cold Iowa winter to greet us. “Merry Christmas! Come on in! Did Santa come last night?”

A tickle, a tease, a hug and we were swept inside.

That old farmhouse was warm and full of noise and activity. Aunts and uncles and cousins filled the table in the dining room and spilled out into the living room. And there you were – larger than life in, the middle of everything, teasing,  laughing, loving us.

Christmas at Grandpa's

When the meal was over – you took your self-appointed place at the kitchen sink and washed the dishes.

Every dish. And with a smile on your face.

When we were really young, it seemed like dishes took forever and kept us waiting to open presents. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand that the act of washing dishes was a present – a sweet and priceless gift you gave Grandma every Christmas. And I loved you even more for it.

I can still see you standing by that sink, Grandpa, wearing your good bib overalls with the sleeves of your shirt rolled up, your hands deep in the soapy water.

A picture of love. Commitment. Sacrifice.

I remember your small living room being literally covered with family members. All sitting around your tiny silver metallic tree, dwarfed by all the gifts.

You and grandma sat side by side as you announced, “We need to pass out some presents!”

I looked forward to opening your gift every year, Grandpa. I know you picked it out – Grandma always told us. The two of you would go to Dralle’s Department Store in Greene and you bought us clothes – real store bought clothes. For kids whose mom made all their clothes – from swimsuits to snow pants – your gift was such a treat! And you have such good taste!

My all-time favorite was the rainbow striped sweater. It was a sad day when I outgrew it.

You really knew how to give gifts, Grandpa. I think that’s because you have such a big heart.

Christmas presentsI miss you Grandpa.

I thought of you when I took our Sunday School kids to the nursing home to perform our Christmas Program. I hoped there were kids at your nursing home who sang for you.

When the singing was over and I walked around the room greeting the residents, I missed you.

As I looked in their eyes, took their hands and said “Merry Christmas”, I prayed that there was someone holding your hand this Christmas.

Someone looking in your eyes and saying “Merry Christmas”.

Someone to make you feel special.

And loved.

The way you made us feel – every year.

I love you Grandpa.

Merry Christmas.

Ready for Opening Night!

Sunday night is the big night.

After weeks of rehearsals – hours of sewing and singing and writing – the Children’s Christmas Program is really coming together.

And as it came together – we all saw both in the story we tell on stage, and more importantly in real life – that God always provides.

Christmas Program 2012He provided costumes – many of them free.

All the girls have jumpers, blouses, and great big hair ribbons.

All the boys have knickers, sweater vests, argyle socks and hats.

Everybody has black shoes.

McTavishOur smooth talking salesman has a loud checkered coat, super sized bow tie, bowler hat and cane.

stage

God provided everything we needed on stage – including a front porch complete with screen door, window and a rocking chair.

He provided all the props – the quilts, the wagons,  even the horse.

piggies in tutusHe provided some adorable piggies with appropriate noses, pig ears, and pretty pink tutus. Piglets just look prettier in a tutu!

Now – after taking the kids on the road for a dress rehearsal at the local nursing home – we’re ready for the big night.

It’s always a little sad when it’s all over.  I really love working with the kids – and this has been such a fun program!

Soon this Christmas program will be just a memory – but I hope and pray that the kids remember the lessons learned in the program – that God always provides.

A Sense of Urgency

Would you believe that one of my sisters is already wrapping presents, has Christmas candy made and is cleaning house?!

It’s only the first week in December.

I was amazed.

Why the rush? What’s her hurry?

It’s actually quite understandable. You see, she has a grand baby coming.  A sweet precious new one due to arrive soon – right in the midst of the Christmas season.

And she wants to be ready. She wants to have time to meet that little one, hold her, admire her, and fall in love. She wants to be available to help her daughter in whatever way she can.

She has a sense of urgency.

A baby is coming.

I was struck by the parallel of the first Christmas.

Imagine the sense of urgency Joseph felt as they entered Bethlehem, his young wife experienced the pains of labor.

Imagine the sense of urgency Mary felt as the pains increased and her husband could find no room for them.

A baby was coming.

Can’t you see Joseph frantically making a bed of straw, cleaning out the manger, in anticipation of the imminent arrival.

A baby was coming.

They had to prepare.

A baby was coming.

Are you ready?

I’m not taking about buying gifts, making cookies and decorating a tree – although those are wonderful. But if you take all those warm and merry accents of our Christmas season away – you are left with one thing.

A baby.

Is your heart ready?

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given,
so God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”