Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Part Two

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.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Christmas At Martha's House"

In honor of Christmas I wanted to post a story that my mom wrote. She labeled it as fiction, but there are A LOT of events in this story that really happened. It is rather long so I will post half of the story this week and the other half next week. Enjoy!

Christmas at Martha’s House

by Jeri Doner

Call me Martha. Better yet, don’t call me at all until at least the middle of January. I thought I had all the preparations for Christmas under control, until the meeting that Sunday after church.

Five Sundays before Christmas: Claire, the Sunday school secretary, says, “We’re doing a play this year and I apologize for not getting together before now.” It seems the Sunday School Superintendent put her in charge and gave her a copy of the play he had chosen. It took her three weeks to convince him that it just wasn’t right for us, and to come up with another script. I’m surprised she convinced him at all. But now we’ll have to work extra hard to get it ready, if we think we can, if we aren’t too wrapped up in our own little interests, if we really have enough faith that the Lord will enable us. And my kids think their generation invented peer pressure!

Our friend Ron says he’ll build the scenery. I never even knew he could do that. Bonnie will play the piano, as usual. The boys would rather stay home and watch football. I inform my fourteen-year-old son, “If the rest of the family can get involved, Tom, you’re going to do the same. It’s not going to hurt you one bit.”

My husband and two girls are asked to sing. How nice! Oh, great! They’ll all need decent clothes. Maybe Karen can wear her outfit from school chorus, and Karen’s red velvet from last year should fit Cindy if I can hem it up and locate the belt.

At the first rehearsal I offer to be in charge of costumes, partly because I love to sew and partly so everyone will understand that I am NOT singing. Suddenly everyone in the cast seems more interested in the whole project. The Superintendent told me I have to dress, “Mary, Joseph, three Wise Men, three shepherds, and an angel.”

“Who’s the angel?” I ask. Then he tells me. “She’s some angel!” I accidentally let slip out of my mouth. Maybe she can get by with a choir robe and some tinsel in her hair. One down, eight to go.

Mary, played by Claire’s favorite niece, comes to me and says how she would like her outfit to look. I really appreciate her enthusiasm and willingness to help. “I want a simple blue gown and white veil,” she says. Mary always wears something like that. I wonder what would happen if some year she showed up in brown and orange?

Monday: “If I’m going to do this, Lord, I’m going to give it my best effort. You deserve nothing less. Maybe it’s not important to anyone else, but it’s for You.” I glance through a book on historical costumes, and begin envisioning the three Wise Men. We don’t know how many there really were, of course, but I’m glad we decided to stick with tradition on this point. I couldn’t handle any more unruly teenage boys. They have become the Three Wise Guys.

I refuse to throw bathrobes on those boys and call them costumes. One will be a Mede. He can wear the long white gown I made out of old drapes for Trick or Treat. With the addition of a colorful yoke, a sword sash borrowed from a Civil War uniform, and a cardboard crown, he’ll be fine.

The next will be an Indian or African looking person. He’ll have a red and green floral tunic and matching turban. I’ll ignore the cracks about Aunt Jemima. Maybe we can borrow Mr. Halsey’s oriental kimono for the third. It is a bathrobe, but at least it’s not chenille.
Tuesday: The mother of one of the shepherds telephones to say, “I have a costume for him that my older son once used in a school play.” I thank her, thinking it probably looks like a bathrobe, but how do I say no without being rude? I quickly make some rather respectable looking costumes for the other two out of old sheets. No one uses white sheets on their beds anymore. I wonder what the next generation of shepherds will wear. Details like a rawhide shoelace for the front of the tunic and a rope from a plant hanger to secure head covering add a lot. The plant died anyway.

Joseph’s outfit is similar, though larger. He has a brown thing over top that a Mexican would call a serape. I’m not sure what a Hebrew would call it, and I don’t have time to look it up. When people know you sew they give you all sorts of fabric you can’t use. This is one chance to get rid of some of it. I wonder how we can hide Joseph’s blond curls.

Mary’s gown goes together easily. She can hem it herself. Her veil looks pretty good. It’s a strip of linen from an old tablecloth that had been chewed by mice. I might as well use it for something.

Halfway through my sewing, Tom’s teacher calls with a request and I agree, “Yes, I’d be happy to make popcorn balls for the high school class party.”

Four Sundays before Christmas: Today I learn I am responsible for props as well as costumes. No problem! Some boxes wrapped in gold foil will look a little like gold bars if I can find the tape to wrap them. I’ll see if I have a fancy bottle of bubble bath. It can pass for frankincense. Maybe we can get an alabaster jewelry box and pretend it’s full of myrrh. I hope those smart alec boys are careful with other people's breakables.

Monday: Now for the hard part. I have to convince my five-year-old daughter Cindy, that her favorite doll, Baby Wanna, is needed to play Baby Jesus. She isn’t enthusiastic.

Tuesday: Karen’s room mother calls and of course I can’t say no. “Yes, I can provide cutout cookies for the fifth grade class party.” I must be out of my mind. “Please, Lord, don’t let anything else come up.”

...Continued next week.