Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Passed

The frenzy is over - or nearly so
At least for this year
Its remnants scattered here
And there

Like the trodden, sodden confetti
Long after the parade has passed

 We are left here wondering
Did we stand
With hand upon heart
Respect and awe written upon our faces
Forever in love with the child
on the float of hay
Silently rolling away?

 Or did we watch it all go by
With wizened, weary eye
Watching him grow smaller and smaller
As he passed from our view?

Are we glad that's over for another year?
Next year it will be better
We'll start earlier,
Be better organized,
Cut back, spend less,
Be first in line...?

A New Year beckons
What's done is done
What's gone is gone
We cannot bring it back

Unless, of course, we join the parade
Hop on the float - the one with the child
And ride with Him the whole, long, way
Trailing snippets to salvage,
and odd bits of change
Leaving behind all the crumbs,
the dregs of excess,
Cares, concerns, and heartaches

Tossing, instead, to the gathering crowd
Those tidbits of trust
Handfuls of harmony
Buckets of bright hope
As we dare to have faith
In the man He'll become

 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:33


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Minding Sheep

Looking back, we were pretty ignorant about the whole thing. But we had an old farm house, a small pasture with good grass, readily available irrigation, and we had read that sheep were easy to raise. We drove to a local farmers' auction, dead-set on getting some lambs. Surprisingly, we took the bid on a nice little flock of three, loaded them into the back of our small pickup, and home we came. Unloading them into the field, the fun began - those little lambs, in a strange place and separated from others of their kind, began a loud, plaintive bleating that we were sure could be heard in the next county; it went on for hours. Who knew???
That first tentative step into raising sheep taught us much, and when we moved from Idaho to Washington, we tried again - in fact, we tried several times. Each time, we managed to raise them to butchering size and were satisfied that we got a big pile of wool to spin and a good batch of meat for the freezer. This is not to say we were highly-knowledgeable sheep farmers. Far from it!
Two thousand years ago, on the other side of the world, the shepherd's equipment was very simple: a cloak woven from wool or made from sheepskins, a lighter, short-sleeved coat, a staff or club, a sling of goat's hair, a skin pouch or bag for his belongings, and sometimes a musical pipe.

In those days, shepherds knew their sheep. Unless he could afford to delegate the work to his relatives or hirelings, the sheep owner tended his flocks himself. If others watched them, they well may have been neglected or abused, but the owner had a personal interest in the well-being of the animals and if he herded them they usually had good care.

Either way, the main job of the shepherd was to see that the sheep found plenty to eat and drink. The flocks are not fed in pens or folds, but depended on foraging both summer and winter. Sheep are fairly helpless on their own and do not possess the instinct of many other animals for finding their way, so they need to be led to good grazing and watered at least once a day. This was an easy matter on mountain tops with melting snows or if there were springs or streams, but in other places they depended on deep wells. Often the nearest water was hours away. Sometimes it could be found by digging shallow wells and the shepherd would carry a container from which the sheep could drink.

The usual time for watering was at noon. After drinking, the animals huddled together in the shade of a rock while the shepherd slept. At the first sound of his call, usually a peculiar guttural sound, the flocks followed him to new feeding-grounds. They never mistook their own master's voice, even if the sheep intermingled and two shepherds called their flocks at the same time.

In the mountains, flocks were gathered at night into folds, which were caves or enclosures of rough stones. Where there was no danger the sheep huddled together in the open until daylight, while the shepherd watched over them. Lambs were often born far off on a mountain side. The shepherd guarded the mother during her labor, picked up the newborn and carried it to the fold. He might carry it in his arms or in the loose folds of his coat for a few days until it grew strong.
So very long ago - I often wish I had been there...

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."...The shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them...The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.                      Luke 2:10-12, 15-18, 20

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Empty Nesters

Empty nest n. - A home or a family where the children have grown up and left home.

Even on the bleakest days of this winter, I notice it outside our bedroom window - seek it out, actually. Forlorn and droopy though it might appear, especially with our dark and soggy northwest weather, it is a good reminder for me of what does, and doesn't need to be.

The bird that made it is long gone, basking in a warmer clime. But it was a sly one, quietly flitting in and out of the leaf cover to build its masterpiece. Summer was half over before we ever noticed it, although it is nearly at eye level from our second story bedroom window which I look out of every single day of the year. That robin carefully and painstakingly constructed this nest of twigs, mud, grass, moss and feathers, before laying its eggs and successfully raising its young. This was one nest that we couldn't really observe - it was just too well-hidden, wedged into the fork of several branches and obscured by thick leaves. I saw enough, however, to know that the young did hatch, were regularly fed and protected, and did eventually leave the nest for good. And in the life of the adult bird, that was it - having no further use for the nest, she also left in behind, never to return to or use it again. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us...

Most birds build and use a nest for one reason only - as a safe, protected place in which to raise their young. Some kinds of birds return to the same nest year after year, repairing and re-arranging it as necessary; many insist on building a new nest each year. Either way, very seldom do the adults stick around to use the nest themselves after their young have left it; it has served its purpose. And consider what those adults do when their young have finally learned to fend for themselves and are gone for good. They go on with their bird lives, doing whatever it is that birds of their kind do. I seriously doubt that they suffer long, if at all, from "empty nest syndrome".

I have always been a "nester". I attribute that, at least in part, to the fact that I was raised in a safe and cozy home. Although my sisters were teenagers when we moved in, I was a toddler and it was the only childhood home I ever knew. I lived there until I was married; my parents lived there until their deaths.

My parents did all of the work - carpentry, repairing, painting, decorating - themselves on that old house and so I thought that everyone did that. Because we lived next to our family greenhouse and floral business, the house became the center of our existence. In Our-Speak, it was always "the store" and "the house". To me, the house was a comfortable refuge - a warm, inviting place that was often a bit messy and disorganized, but never dirty nor uncared for. The coffee was always on, an extra plate (and perhaps a thinner soup...) was always available to visitors, a listening ear heard many a lament or heartache, and family mourning or celebration took place there. In the greatest sense of the word, it was always HOME for me. And it continued to function in these ways long after I had left it.

Since our marriage, my husband and I have lived in two apartments and five different houses and each of those was a home for us at the time. We followed suit with my parents by remodeling, repairing, and decorating each one to suit our needs. Each time we moved, I hated to leave the house, but quickly adapted to the new place and set about nesting again. 

Some lessons are learned the hard way and one of the biggest and best for me concerned a house. After spending four years in Colorado, where we poured blood, sweat, and tears into an old log house, we moved with my husband's work to Texas. I was heartbroken to leave, although I did adapt rather quickly to a much nicer house in the new location. A year or two after we'd left, my husband traveled on business back to our town in Colorado and I went along to visit old friends there. One of our previous neighbors insisted that she take me to visit our old house, something I truly dreaded doing because I had loved it so. The current owners were quite amicable and warmly invited us in to take the "royal tour" of our old home. It was then I realized that this house meant nothing to me anymore - absolutely NOTHING. Oh yes, the memories of our time spent there were strong (still are) - and mostly happy - but that was then and this was now. Quite simply - it was no longer our house and, therefore, no longer our home. It is the people and the experiences that make a house a home.

We've lived in our present house longer than in all of the others put together. Again, we have poured time, talent, and money into it and in the process have made quite a nest for ourselves.

We were married for some time before bringing a child into the family, but quickly adapted - and adapted the house as well - to having a young one around.

When the turbulent teen years hit, our son was in and out, out and in, and then finally out for good. Thus, we found ourselves being "empty nesters" well before most people probably do. I would be lying if I said this was not painful - for what wonderful, warm, happy memories children bring into our homes and lives. Nevertheless, even under the best of circumstances, children grow up and move out. Who of us would have it otherwise?

Today, our son and grandchildren are always welcome in our home and they do visit. But we know that they have their own lives to live and understand when the visits are infrequent.

Life does indeed go on - we have friends who come by,

we occasionally have various kinds of meetings here,

we keep in touch with relatives and friends who live some distance away and welcome their visits when they can make them.

We consider any visit to our home a special occasion and therefore make the coffee, offer the food (and sometimes a bed...) and spend the time visiting whenever possible. We consider it a privilege to be able to do so.

Mostly, we spend time with each other or alone doing the things that we enjoy doing here at home. Because it is our home, we are the ones to enjoy it, but we realize that the house is just a building. It is what happens here - and who is present - that makes it a real home.

Recently, it was tree-trimming, cookie-baking, and candy-making with the grandkids.

Next week it will be Christmas Eve and Day spent with them, our son, and my sister, in our crazy, some-old-some-new ways with mystery packages, home-made goodies, mixed generations, good food, recliner naps, rap music, old time carols, and maybe a game or two.

We welcome all the hubbub and when it is over, we will welcome returning to the peace and quiet once again.

And so, as this season of darkness continues to progress, inching ever closer to a new season, I'll continue to watch the deserted nest from our window. Unlike the birds, most of us DO need a place to call home. One way or another, we shape our own nests as a place of refuge and comfort. It does not matter so much the shape or size of the house, only that it suits our particular needs and offers some respite from the busy-ness of the world. Many of us feather our nests so that we may raise children and, eventually, these children do fly away.

But life DOESN'T need to become less engaging when the children leave. There are a great many ways and reasons to feather one's nest...