I unloaded my fresh 2×4’s and sanded wood slabs out of the back of my truck and laid them on the garage floor. Like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper handing off an assignment to Chip, I sketched my design and pushed it into my son, Christian’s hands.
His brows raised. “Momma really? I mean this is not going to look like a barn in Bethlehem.”
“Of course, it will. I’ll dirty it up when you’re done with some paint. I want a manger scene that’s going to be bigger and better than anything you can buy in the stores. We’re going to show people the real meaning of Christmas.” I patted him on the back. “Get to it. I have dinner to cook.”
The next day, my husband Jay and Christian unloaded old pieces of rotten wood and branches they’d collected from the dumping spot in the woods, out of the back of Christian’s jeep. They cut the branches to size, buried them into the front yard and laid a rotten piece of wood on top and against the back. Inside, they sprinkled hay, made a manger box by leaning rotten scraps against one another, and tossed in some lights. The whole process took less than an hour.
Several neighbors walked by, “That’s the best manger scene I’ve seen.” One of them said.
Another, “I can’t wait to see it when the baby’s in there.”
(The baby will be added tomorrow night (Christmas Eve).)
Our manger scene was made from trash.
In the midst of the Christmas season, we buried our Ompa (Jay’s father). I watched as the men folded the linens in over his face and closed his casket. It reminded me of a day I wandered around his art studio, fingering the brushes, rubbing my hand along the wood easels, while he worked on a painting. His studio was my favorite room in their home. It was where the magic happened.
“Dad, when did you know you were an artist?” I said.
He chuckled. “When I asked God to make me one.” He dipped his brush in the cleaner and spun around in his chair. “I had a friend in New York, who was a great artist. He was so, so talented. He could paint anything. He died young. I stood by his casket at his funeral and prayed that God wouldn’t allow his talent to die with him. I pleaded God would give his talent to me.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Wait. You knew right then you would be a painter?”
“After his funeral, I went out and bought some paints and supplies. That’s faith daughter. The willingness to find out.”
A few days later, I asked God to teach me to paint. I bought the supplies and painted a portrait of a friend’s dog. It still hangs in his office today. We both started with a prayer and a step forward.
I was anxiety- ridden yesterday getting Bella and I dressed for her Christmas pageant. “The note says wear your Sunday best. This is your Sunday best Bella.”
“Humph! But it’s scratchy Momma,” she said. “And I’ve got blisters, I can’t wear those shoes.”
Three minutes late, –for the teacher’s reminder stated students had to be dropped off at 4:30 sharp! — I ran in skinny heels sinking into soft earth, dragging my Bella—wearing a red cotton dress and red cowgirl boots into her classroom. Whew!
But then sitting in a pew…within my messy swirling storm of consumerism and perfectionism that has taken over my spiritualism, I was reminded there’s Jesus. Bella the only angel with red cowboy boots, belted out her songs about her Lord being born in a stable, and I forgot about the mud sticking to my skinny heels, or the wasted fresh wood lying across my garage floor, or the sadness I felt watching the coffin door close over her Ompa.
I’ve thought about how hard we make our acts of faith, when really all God wants is our heart’s devotion. All He wants is men fist pumping over their rotten barn made from trash, a whispered prayer over a willing brush on a canvas, a little angel in cowgirl boots singing her heart out, and a stressed-out Momma melting into Him in a pew.
Remember His yolk is light… Put your feet up and spend time in His presence.
When we’re finding our spiritualism being robbed by our consumerism and perfectionism this Christmas, we must take time to remember our Lord’s imperfect birth will be the only perfect thing about Christmas, and His perfect gift of salvation is free to all.
Here’s an example of my perfectionism. I think the manger made from trash is the most beautiful part. Those white trees have fallen down in every rain storm and I’ve had to tape one of them back together. Strangely enough, the lean-to manger has withstood the storms. I included one of the songs I’ve listened to this Christmas to help me remember to breathe…Winter Snow by Audrey Assad.