Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stable Background

I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas. So tonight, not being able to stand any more outdated Thanksgiving cheer, I turned on some seasonal music and hauled down my Christmas boxes. I was giddy. Especially when I open the nativity box.

Last year, my Grandmother - the same one who bestowed upon me the now infamous toothpick holder - culled her Christmas collection. I was excited to get one of her nativity sets. The one I've displayed for a thousand Christmases is one I bargained for years ago in a market in Mexico. It's carved from soapstone, and baby Jesus is missing half His face. (Maebelline, my cat, abducted baby Jesus and His manger back in 2004. I freaked out for a week before finding Him under the bed. That night, I told Maebelline she'd better repent of swiping and biting Jesus or she'd have a lot to answer for. Let's hope she did.)

That aside, suffice to say that I was due a new nativity scene. Sentimental or not, you just can't display a gnawed-on baby Jesus.

So the new one went up tonight. I carefully arranged the figures atop a piece of furniture Mae never jumps on, and retired to the living room where I began watching television. Within moments, I was yawning to a show that mentioned a set of twins: one successful, one trouble. The psychologist and the host argued the whole nature versus nurture issue, and I switched the channel. Predictable stuff. I thought they'd proved long ago that we, as humans, are a product of both nature and nurture...

I walked back into the entryway and looked at my nativity. Sure was pretty. And as I stared at baby Jesus, I realized: forget nature. Forget nurture. It's all about a stable background.

Hear me out. I believe the Bible is clear that we are all born with a sin nature. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Romans says. Even perfectionists are a joke. We're all sinners. Me. (Especially me.) You. We all mess up. I guess that's why we all had such a fundamental, all-encompassing need for... baby Jesus. Talk about a nurturer. Sure, children with affectionate, doting parents statistically tend to grow up to be more loving, responsible adults than their ignored, neglected counterparts. But all of us, regardless of upbringing, need a Savior. A "Comforter". An ultimate nurturer...

A stable background.

I'm not sure where you started out, but it's kind of irrelevant, don't you think? I mean, all of us... you, me, everyone... has the same chance - the same access - to the Child born in that manger so many Christmases ago. We may not have had stable, nurturing backgrounds, so He offered His. God became man - was born in a stable - just so we could come to know the nurturing love He offers. I could bore you all day with my past, but the truth is, nothing really matters save the day when, as a child, I accepted Jesus as my Savior; the day I realized His stable background could become my stable future.

Yep, that nativity means a lot to me. It's the embodiment of a level playing field. It's the hope of emotionally banged-up, bruised, and hurting grown-up children everywhere. And the neat thing this Christmas? A stable background... well, it's yours for the taking, too.

Just ask that Child in the manger.

The Toothpicks and The Nutcracker

It's odd what people remember about you when you're gone. Take, for example, what we remember about Laura Ellen Pearson Caviness and the great Peter Tchaikovsky...

My Thanksgiving week was weird and wonderful. The week started with a grand performance of E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker as set to music by Tchaikovsky. My aunt and I bundled up and drove to the Strand in Shreveport, Louisiana, to catch the night performance. It was spellbinding, and I didn't take a single breath during the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. (If you ever get a chance to see the Moscow Ballet, go. Even if they're doing a ballet rendition of Hee-Haw. Go. Those Russians know how to dance.)

I got home from the performance and went to bed. Then I got up. I'd read The Nutcracker years before, but I was suddenly curious about the author. What was his story? How did he meet up with Tchaikovsky? The dork in me had to know.

So I found out. Turns out E.T.A. Hoffmann was a civil servant turned composer/musician who nearly starved to death before publishing The Nutcracker and the King of Mice in 1816. His version was much darker than we know it today. It was so twisted, in fact, that Tchaikovsky refused to compose for the piece until a French writer edited the story and added a Sugar Plum Fairy. (I should add, too, that Tchaikovsky was bribed with the promise of the production of his opera Iolanthe should he complete the ballet.)

Anyway, Tchaikovsky finished the music for The Nutcracker in 1892. He hated it. It was "all ugliness," he wrote. The public at the time agreed. His opera was deemed a success, but the newspapers poked fun of his ballet.

Odd how 100 years later that's all the average person remembers of Tchaikovsky. Bet he never would've guessed it.

Just like my own Great-Great-Grandmother probably never would have guessed that in 2006 she would be remembered for her toothpicks. My family made a quick trip to Paris to clean out my Great-Grandmother's home, and my Grandmother returned with a "surprise" for me. From behind her back she produced a tiny, cut-glass toothpick holder. "This used to sit on the dining room table in Paris when I was a little girl," she said softly. "Your Great-Great-Grandmother, Laura Ellen Pearson Caviness, kept it stuffed with toothpicks," she added.

I took the toothpick holder over to my Grandmother's picture of Laura Ellen Pearson Caviness, trying to put a face with a toothpick holder. Laura Caviness reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Weird. I could just see my Laura running through the prairie with a handful of toothpicks.

On my way out the door this morning, I reminded myself to grab some toothpicks. You know, to stuff my new toothpick holder. It can't just sit on my dining room table all empty-looking.

I'd hate to be remembered in 2206 as the girl who bored people with the history of The Nutcracker yet couldn't remember to fill her own toothpick holder....

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bridge to Thanksgiving

I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You.... and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth.
-Psalm 138:1-2

Thanksgiving. It's all we hear this week. Be thankful. Give thanks. And we will, too. I mean, someone will say the blessing before we eat....

Ummm... We are missing Thanksgiving.

I was sitting in church Sunday listening to the Thanksgiving message. Our pastor has just returned from doing some work in Kenya, and he related a story of the indigenous people killing two goats (a feast, indeed) and offering our pastor the head. To eat. I inwardly gagged as he described the ceremony in which these folks devoured whole goats. No thanks. My idea of a feast is cheeseburger with a side of cheeseburger. But I'll settle for turkey and dressing tomorrow. You know, if I must.

Anyway, our preacher went on to say that during their time away, a fellow pastor was asked if he was rich. No, the pastor said, laughing, Not hardly.

Do you have a house? the same man asked.

Yes, yes, I have a house, the preacher replied.

How many rooms? continued the man.

Three bedrooms, a garage... the preacher answered.

You have a car? the man asked, incredulously.

Yes, my wife and I both have one.

What about children?

Two, replied the preacher. One's in college and one's still at home.

You all healthy? Not sick?

No, no, everyone's fine, the preacher said kindly.

Sir, you are RICH, the man said, awestruck.

It hit home. I would say the same if someone were to ask me if I'm rich: ha, not hardly. But... I have a huge house - all to myself. I have high-speed internet and a nice vehicle and great clothes and comfortable furniture. My family is healthy and safe. Suddenly my plans for a flat panel TV and spa bathroom seem as shallow as those goat fire-pits in Kenya.

We are rich beyond measure. Why in the world are we not thankful? Going through the motion of this week, it seems like I'm on one side of the water, and a spirit of true Thanksgiving is on the other. I need a bridge. A bridge to Thanksgiving.

I complain too often. My house is cold, I grumble. So I go out and buy insulation. (Sure, I don't read the directions and end up with black, sticky fingers for a week, but still. Insulation is in.) And I moan, I need money. For what? (I caught The Nutcracker at the Strand this week. I have plenty of food in the fridge. No one should pity me. I'm not needy. At all.)

Point is, I'm blessed. My salvation is secure and until then, my needs will be covered. So why in the world does my voice join in with the chorus of complaining crap that daily reaches God's ears?

I consulted my Bible. It seems to say that the answer to Thanksgiving... to being in the true spirit of Thanksgiving... is to meaningfully say those words that were drilled (beaten) into us as kids: thank you.

Thank you, God, for Your provision. Your salvation. Your lovingkindness (that's a cool word), and Your truth. You are faithful, and I am grateful.

There. Even as I type it, I feel all Thanksgivingy inside. I could be a pilgrim. The more thanks I proclaim, the more thankful I become.

Pass the turkey. We've relocated the bridge to Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Doors of Thanksgiving

They didn't have a door to welcome them home. Not even a door.

So I'm reading this book about the years leading up to the first Thanksgiving. (You know, the first "official" one... in 1621.) I was reading of how these people... these normal, every day folks... walked aboard a boat and set sail with the collective dream of living and worshiping their God in freedom and truth. I've read it all before. We all have. It's the Thanksgiving story.

But I'm reading along, considering the Pilgrims' horrible voyage, and a black and white picture dances into my mind. It's odd. I suppose I've always had this mental picture of dirty, poorly-clothed Pilgrims sliding around inside a dirty, leaky Mayflower, hudling together and singing hymns. (You can almost see them there, eating bug-infested food and wishing for a bath and fighting back tears as they prepared to toss yet another of their dead overboard.) But then... but then... they landed at Plymouth. Finally! Home.

Only... it really wasn't. Their home was across the ocean. The picture I viewed in my mind was like a crackly, black and white reel that watched as these men and women silently clamored out of their leaky ship in time to see nothing but water behind them and dead overgrowth before them. I've been to Plymouth Rock. That shore is desolate. I mean, the Pilgrims were home, but... not. There was no front door to walk through. No floor to crash on. No leftover stuffing to look forward to.

I can't imagine. No front doors. No homes. Where were they to sleep? According to history, William Bradford wrote that on November 11, 1620, when the Pilgrims finally dropped anchor at Plymouth, he "stood half amazed at this poor people's present condition,... Being thus past the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles.... they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?"

Indeed, what could?

This week, we'll all be thinking of what we're grateful for. So I'll tell you: I'm grateful for the doors in my life. The door (pictured above) that leads into the kitchen at Freeman House. The door at my folks' house. The door at my job and grocery store. The door of my church. And maybe, too, the door God opened to allow these normal, every day men and women to seek a door-less greeting on those desolate Plymouth shores.

By the way, I should add that William Bradford went on to write about the Pilgrim's landing that cold November day. He said that after they tumbled off the Mayflower - with not a single door in sight - "...they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth."

I pray for blessings on the doors in your life. Happy Thanksgiving! B

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Dress

I don't care what it looked like, what size it was, or where you got it. It doesn't matter if it cost you the world or cost you nothing. I don't think a girl EVER forgets her wedding dress.

My wedding dress memories will always be bittersweet. But no matter. I loved my dress. I've kept it for awhile, wondering how to store it... where to keep it... which closet to smush it in. It's a hard thing to let go of... you want to keep it, yet keep it out of the way. But finally - this week - I gave up. I decided to let it go.

What to do with a wedding dress that holds so many memories? I moved it around Freeman House as I thought it over. Of course, I could always consign it. It didn't have to be altered, so it's very likely someone else could wear it on her big day. But, then again, it seemed disrespectful to sell it somehow. I always hoped I could pass my dress down to my daughter... or maybe granddaughter, if it came to that. (My own Grandmother used parts of her wedding dress to make angel dolls for her granddaughters. I keep mine in my top dresser drawer, and see it each morning when I dress.) But in my situation, there will be no daughters. No granddaughters. No, there's no reason to keep it. I must let it go.

So I wrapped it as beautifully as I could and boxed it up. Then I started making some calls. I discovered that Brides Against Breast Cancer has a donation program that privately sells wedding dresses to benefit brides fighting, or recovering from, breast cancer. That did it. After doing some checking, I addressed my special box to Portland and walked to the Post Office.

I was brave. I didn't cry (or even whimper) as the postal employee checked off the usual questions: "Priority mail? Signature confirmation? Insurance?" No, no, no. Please hurry before I collapse over the velvet waiting rope and cry on your floor. And please see that my beautiful dress gets to someone who can use it to win her fight with cancer....

On the Post Office sidewalk, I lost it.

Bittersweet. My wedding dress memories will always be bittersweet. But thinking of another woman conquering... triumphing... living... makes the dress seem sweeter still.

If you have a dress, veil, or any wedding apparel you'd like to donate, check out the Brides Against Breast Cancer program at: www.makingmemories.org.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006


I was thinking today about banners.

Strange thing to think about, I know. It's just that I drive past this quaint country church every morning and am puzzled by the building's lack of identification, save this sign: His banner over me is love. That's all it says. No "First Political Baptist". Or "First Un-United Methodist". Or "We-Hate-Instruments Church of Christ". Nothing. Nothing except, His banner over me is love.

What a curious thing to spell out on the front of a church, I always think.

But this morning, I didn't have time to dwell. I was speeding off to work, listening to election coverage/results. Yawn. Sounded to me like everyone hates everyone else, and took turns today criticizing and labeling everyone else. I even heard some donkey (democrat) on NPR say he would march through the street with a banner declaring the "culture of corruption" was over.

Banner. There was that word again. It was bugging me.

I looked it up. Banners, that is. I found that the earliest mention of banners occurred in the Old Testament, where Exodus 17:15 refers to them as a rallying point in a battle. Then I read that the Japanese used them in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were apparently big in the Crusades, too, and even made an appearance in our own Civil War. I guess in battle a banner is a clear indication of whose side you're on. Of what you stand for. In the midst of battle, or in the dead of night, a banner is a visual reminder of what you're willing to do for the cause for which you stand.

Huh. Song of Solomon 2:4 says, His banner over me is love. Take Song of Solomon as an allegory for the love God has for us - His children - and what you get is a visual picture of God marching with a banner that simply says...


I nearly cried at the thought that if God were to organize a parade and invite us to march alongside Him, the only thing that blowing banner above our heads would read is: love. That if God were to organize a modern day rally, the only sign He'd be holding would say: love. That if a reporter were to ask God to spell out His platform... His agenda... He'd smile into the camera and pat His campaign button, which would simply read: love.

And when that same reporter asked about His record in office, He'd point to the cross...


I'm going through a really difficult time. My marriage is ending, and the remains are not pretty. The marriage wasn't either. It has been, and will likely continue to be, a hard-fought battle.

I suppose that's why the message on this little church sign followed me around all day. It's a visual reminder of what God paints on His banners. Of what God is willing to do for you... for me.

His banner over me is love.

My cloud of battle-dust may dim,
His veil of splendor curtain Him;
And in the midnight of my fear
I may not feel Him standing near:
But, as I lift mine eyes above,
His banner over me is love.
Gerald Massey, 1863