And the continuation of “Christmas at Martha's House”
Three Sundays before Christmas: Practice was canceled due to the stomach bug.
My sister Jennifer calls and guess what she has to say! “I just can’t have Grandma this year. My kids all work and I have to plan around them. Not to mention the rest of the family. But I do hope to see all of you sometime during the holidays.” I hope Grandma spares us her nostalgia about how they had to improvise during the Depression. There may not be a Depression going on in my house, but improvisation is still very much in style. I must remember to warn Tom not to call Grandma the Ghost of Christmas Past. At least not in front of Cindy. She repeats too much! I can hear it now, “Grandma, do you know what Tom calls you?”
Monday: I find the roll of tape under Karen’s bed and wrap my gold boxes. What IS all that junk she has stashed under there? I hope none of it is food.
Cindy’s teacher calls. “Candy canes for Kindergarten? Sure. I still have some other shopping to do. I’ll pick them up and send them in as soon as she’s back to school. And yes, her stomach seems a little better today.” While she’s home sick, Cindy helps me by putting stamps on envelopes for Christmas cards. So what if they’re upside down? It’s a good thing I only have three kids. There shouldn’t be any other teachers that call me with something they need.
Tuesday: Lord, I really feel pressure now. I want all this to be done well. I want it to honor You. But my house is a mess and the kids keep whining, “Why don’t you have the decorations up yet.” I can’t have hamburgers or instant chicken again tonight. They deserve a decent meal for a change.
My husband asks if he can help by addressing cards. “I wish you had asked two days ago.” I tell him. “They went out in the mail yesterday.” On his way out of the room he adds, “I sure hope you included letters to the out-of-town relatives.” It’s a good thing he left the room and didn’t hear my response, which was a resounding, “NO!”
The phone rings again. We are becoming enemies. And I was wrong about no more teachers calling with requests. “Pizza for the Youth Group tree trimming party? I guess so. How many are coming?” The answer surprises me. “You’re kidding!” Where did they find all those kids?
Two Sundays before Christmas: Dress rehearsal for the play. All costumes are supposedly in readiness. As I’m wondering if anyone has told the “angel” that she isn’t the star of this production, the Shepherds inform me, “We are not going out in front of everybody barefooted.” I sarcastically tell them, “I apologize for not finding appropriate sandals in December, but you are not wearing sneakers.” I am insistent. They pout.
Mary and Joseph look fine. They seem to enjoy helping each other adjust and smooth out their outfits. I hope someone keeps an eye on those two. Cindy brings Baby Wanna and gives instruction for her care.
Eric, the Wise Guy with the kimono, refuses to take off his jeans and hunting boots. We finally threaten him, we think sufficiently, but he retaliates by finding an abandoned umbrella in the coatroom and dancing down the aisle with it over his shoulder. Since everyone else seems to be ignoring his antics, I holler, “You are not a bit funny! Put that thing away!” But he remains convinced that he does have an audience, possibly because the rest of the Magi are laughing out loud.
A Shepherd approaches me and asks, “Where is my sling?” “You’re cute, but there is no way is you are getting a weapon that would pop ornaments off that tree! If you really want something to carry, I have this very nice stuffed lamb.” The lamb baa's loudly as I hand it to him. “I am not carrying a baby toy!” He informs me and stalks off, making as much noise as he can in sneakers.
The Three Wise Guys run through their part again. They don’t seem to understand that this is a stately procession. They look like they’re going to the Gunfight at OK Corral. “Do we have anymore bubble bath?” Tom turns around and hollers to me. The bubble bath that is supposed to look like frankincense “accidentally” spills into the manger, and the boys are dismissed to the room behind the stage. “Lord, how long till this is over?” I think I prayed out loud.
We try going over some of the music. Claire interrupts the piano to tell the boys, “If you guys must discuss football, at least do it in a whisper.” The Director or Religious Education, who hasn’t been to a rehearsal before today, wants the order changed if the program isn’t already typed. “It is.” I tell him in a tone of voice that is not so nice. He pats me on the shoulder and says, “I’m sure you can make the time to retype it. I have faith in you.”
We hear a swish and look up to see Baby Wanna flying across the stage. Cindy lets out a screech that could melt the candles on the windowsills. Tom is very proud of himself, and so is Eric, who returns the throw. Tom, the would-be wide receiver, trips over his own sash, and starts to stumble. He gabs for something to hold onto, but lands in the baptistry. After groaning he achingly stands up, soaking wet, and asks rather sheepishly, “Is there any bubble bath left?”
We go home.
Monday: I wash up Tom’s costume and fix the hay in the manger. It doesn’t look too bad. I refill the bubble bath bottle with colored water.
Tuesday: I call Claire and apologize for the way the boys acted. She understands, and to make me feel better, shares several stories about when her son was in his teens. I could have made better use of the time we spent of the phone.
One Sunday before Christmas: It’s not a bad play, all things considered. I wish I could have sat and watched it, but someone had to stay backstage to keep the children quiet. The music sounded fine, and everyone remembered their lines, or so they told me later. I wonder if anyone took pictures. I forgot my camera in all the commotion. I suppose I pay too much attention to details. I wish my mother had come, but the driving really was slippery. Still, there were some unfamiliar faces in the audience, and a few we haven’t seen in a long time.
My name wasn’t in the program. I sincerely don’t care. I’m too tired to care. I know I should wash up Karen’s and Cindy’s red velvet dresses, but laundry will wait until morning. As the kids try to sneak upstairs I announce, “Nobody is going to bed until the stuffing bread is broken up.”
As I do the supper dishes, Cindy asks me, “Can you pick the weeds off my orange.” I explain as patiently as I can, “Honey, those white things are not weeds and it won’t hurt to eat them.” She leaves the orange and stalks off to bed.
It’s after eleven o’clock and I’m still wrapping gifts. The house is quiet for the first time in weeks. I think of my sister in her well ordered home, everything in readiness for a relaxing holiday with her two quiet children and no Grandma. I catch myself becoming a little envious. It’s common knowledge that she is more spiritual than I and that she can find her way through the minor prophets, and I can’t even find my way through my laundry room.
I take off my shoes and decide to spend some time in prayer. I feel like Martha, cumbered about much serving. I think the world is full of Marthas aching to be Marys. “Lord, what a luxury that would be to sit at Your feet and listen to Your words and not have all these Martha jobs to do. Won’t I ever have that kind of peace and tranquility?”
Maybe, someday. When the kids are grown and can’t make it home for Christmas. Someday the youth leaders and room mothers will stop calling. Someday someone else will bake the cookies and dress the shepherds and wash the red velvet laundry.
But this year someone heard the Christmas story for the first time, or maybe in a fresh new way. That makes it worth the effort. Someone really did care about all the little things that were done to the best of my ability. “Even if no one else notices, Lord, You knew. It’s all I have to give You for Christmas, Lord. It’s what I do.”
Call me Martha. Call me anytime.