Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Home Arts’ Category

The handsome gentleman pictured above is my Dad, Ernst Longenecker.  The portrait was taken in the late 1930s when my cousins and I (clustered on the steps of our Grandparents’ home, on the left side of the picture) were kids.  I think most everyone who knew my Dad smiles over memories of this man.

He was an individual!  He was a mechanical engineer by degree, a manager of various manufacturing companies, an inventor, a wonderful father, an outdoorsman, and a mellow story-teller.  Dad had a passion for life.  His enthusiasm influenced many people who knew him.

When Dad was 88 years old, I asked him if he attended the Retired Men’s Club at his church.  Dad’s answer was classic: “I’m not about to hang around with those old geezers!”

Dad lived until age 102.  His last years were marked by an increasingly painful arthritis and other ortho issues which slowed him down, physically.  But he loved books, and continued reading until just after his 101th birthday.  Suddenly his eyes would no longer focus, and the absence of reading broke his heart.

My dad had a pet peeve:  people who spoke condescendingly to senior citizens.  He used to say (rather vehemently!) “Don’t call me ‘spry’, and don’t call me ‘sprightly’! ”  My husband and I chuckle every time we mention those words.

Why are some individuals young at 95 and others seem old by the time they reach 60?  Health often plays a role, yet I’ve known people with frail health who maintained that life affirming vitality to the very end.

Both of my Grandmothers were youthful until they died, in their late 80s.  One suffered from many ortho issues (my Dad’s Mother) and the other had serious cardiac issues. Neither of my Grandmothers let health problems interfere with their joy in living.  They were Christian women who knew where they were ultimately going, and they had a lot of fun on earth in the meantime.

The common denominators (in every person I have known who lived a vibrant old age) are FAITH and PASSION!  Faith in GOD and meaning in life.  A passion for something, or things, causing joy when everything else hurts.

Dad loved travel, and when his body no longer traveled he continued to travel via books.  He was passionate about new discoveries and technologies.  He read THE WALL STREET JOURNAL assiduously, and he always seemed to know things the rest of us wouldn’t realize until years later.  Dad lived on the “cutting edge”.

In the 1950s, when many of us (including myself) were cluelessly puffing and inhaling on our cigarettes, Dad began sending me clippings (from the above mentioned news source) linking smoking with lung cancer and other respiratory ailments.  While most of my friends were still smoking, I had bouts of pneumonia and severe bronchitis—and I experientially understood the dangers of tobacco.  In 1963 I quit smoking and never looked back.

One incident involving my Father looms large.  When our 1st child was a toddler in 1955, she fell against a space heater and burned both hands.  Laura’s fingers curled as she screamed with pain.  Without hesitating, Dad sprang from his chair, picked Laura up, and rushed to the sink where he poured cold water from the tap on Laura’s hands.  He held her hands under the cold water for many minutes.  Finally, he turned the water off.  Laura was peaceful and comfortable, and her burns never even blistered.  This, in an era where most of us were still putting grease on burns!

In the 1960s, Dad got very excited.  He told me that someday infinite amounts of information would be contained in a little “chip” about the size of his thumbnail.  Quite frankly, I thought my father had crossed the line into science fiction.  But he had such a glow in his eyes, when he talked about an “information revolution”.

Today I recall that conversation frequently, whenever I load the photos from my camera chip into my computer, or when my Husband’s cardiac technician holds a little disc in front of Joe’s chest where a pace maker/defibrillator is installed, to record the activities of his heart.

My body is following the genetic course set for me by Dad and his Mother.  I have inherited the orthopedic issues—disintegrating bones and lumbar discs, spondylosis, sacroiliac disfunction, and general arthritis which becomes more pronounced, painful, and physically limiting every year.

But I’ve also inherited the passion gene.  With books, a computer and I-pad, a piano, two spinning wheels and a plethora of gorgeous wool and vibrant silk for spinning (purchased online), knitting supplies, plants growing indoors and out, and art paraphernalia at my finger tips my body doesn’t need to be an athletic wonder.  And I do not have to focus on pain!

A passion for living!  A passion for learning, fueled and satisfied by books and online sources, and a love of creative pursuits—as many as possible for as long as possible.  Most of all, a PASSION for our Lord.  Praise Him, I know where I am headed!

Meanwhile, I love to dress up in fun and funky attire, drape beads around my neck, plug my ear holes with gems and dangles, and blend my PT exercises with the slow intro to the famous Greek ZORBA DANCE.

Recently, my loving and admiring husband said, “Oh my, you look spry and sprightly!”  Unlike my Dad, I don’t mind those adjectives one bit! 🙂

Margaret L. Been, March 25th, 2019 

(Reprinted, edited, and brought up to date from a 2011 entry in my health blog:  accessible through GOOGLING “Margaret L. Been —  RICHES IN GLORY”.)

Read Full Post »

uEncore.JPG

. . . and now we are eight.  Eight women who have gathered every second Wednesday at each other’s homes since the late 1950s and early 60s.  Originally bonded by graduation  from Wauwatosa High School (a near west side suburb of Milwaukee) in 1953, we’ve gathered other friends along the way.  Since the 50s and 60s were early mothering years, we began with evening meetings including lots of chat and a sumptuous dessert with our prettiest tableware.  Candles and/or centerpieces were givens and always will be—so long as we can still manage to strike a match (and blow it out!) or delve in our storage closets for interesting adjuncts to the occasion!

As our children grew to school age, we switched to mid day, with lots of chat and a luncheon on the above mentioned tables—varying of course with the seasons, availability of fresh flowers from gardens, and prevailing daylight or early dark.  Now we are getting into the mature years, and we sometimes opt to serve dessert only, or even meet at a restaurant.  But homes are still the best.  Last week the eight of us, plus one delightful guest making us “nine”, met in Joe’s and my condo on a drop-dead gorgeous March day with doors open and sunlight pouring in.

How can we do this, year after year?  Unlike every other gathering to which I’ve belonged, we are not glued together by a specific interest such as Bible Study, knitting, spinning, serious bridge, writing, and antiquing which have composed the grist of my other groupie activities over the years.

In our thirteen-now-eight group, we’re not all on the same page—worldview-wise or according to politics.  Not one bit!  Indeed, it’s tacitly understood that there are conversational places where we simply never go—for if we did, our shared pleasant origins might deteriorate into a food fight, especially if some of us were to begin quoting our favorite, highly-polarized Cable News sources.

Some share an interest in a craft, and others don’t craft at all.  Some of us decorate with antiques, and others with practically nothing in the room except for a couch, table, a few chairs, and a lamp or two.  We all share a love for family, but we rarely talk about our families.  (I probably am the most apt to talk family, because I have so many fun and funny little people to talk about.)

We rarely discuss a problem.  Or medical stuff—the most boring topic of all.  Our bodies are beginning to fall apart, but we try to eschew talking about bodies.  On perkier days, we talk of the natural world outside our doors:  the birds we’ve seen at our feeders; the recent cougar siting in Brookfield, WI—a suburb west of Wauwatosa; the deer and coyotes ubiquitous in our county.  That is real talk.  Some like to travel: always fun to hear about.  Some, like me, stay home and enjoy each day.  I can make jaunty conversation out of that—at least no one has fallen asleep listening to me so far.

Perhaps the closest to a common bond other than families would be pets and gardens.  No matter what side of the political aisle we are on, we agree that cats are hilarious and infinitely interesting.  Plus, most of us agree that dogs are people.  Although I have been cat-less for decades, and (sob-sob) currently dog-less (that cannot last much longer), I never tire of hearing talk about anyone’s cats and dogs.  Better than politics any day.

But even pets can’t explain the phenomena of women gathering every single month over a period of almost six decades!  So what’s up?  I go back to one common denominator:  a gracious mother in an open home.  I believe we were all blessed with such mothers and homes.  We learned the art of disagreeing without throwing food; and we avoid areas of pointless discourse where no one’s mind will budge short of much prayer and a God-given epiphany.  We agree to disagree, and get on with the “math” in terms of our considerable common denominators.

We learned to chew WITH OUR MOUTHS CLOSED, not to lick our knives, and other mannerly amenities of dining.  We learned TO NEVER TALK WITH FOOD IN OUR MOUTHS.  The alternatives are unthinkable.  These mouth bits alone make for six decades of companionable talking and eating.  🙂 

And believe it or not, the mouth manners have been instrumental in naming our group:  We are TALK AND EAT!

Margaret L. Been — March 18, 2018

Always Time for Tea 2.jpg

 

Read Full Post »

Us

“Finally, Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time as the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

One would have to be clueless, to doubt the fact that the days are evil.  The days have been evil ever since the game-changing fiasco in the garden.  But Eden did not have cell phones, a worldwide internet, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and billions of people—starving, warring, and suffering unspeakable horrors.  Eden’s evil was not so sophisticatedly organized, so widely and criminally justified by evil national majorities—so whitewashed to appear humanitarian, reasonable, rational, “kind to the planet” and altruistic, as the convoluted sin of these days.  It took thousands of years to get here.

Those of us who prefer keeping our heads in Scripture rather than sand believe we are nearing the book of Revelation, when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth to establish justice and reign in His Holy City, Jerusalem.  No we are not to name the day or the hour.  But YES, we are to watch for the signs prophesied by Old Testament Prophets, the Lord Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), and New Testament letters culminating in Jude and Revelation. 

The days are evil, and we are nearing the end of the Church Age.  In the words of beloved Christian brother, Francis Schaeffer, “How do we then live?”  How am I to respond or react to evil times?  Am I to go high stress, slap-dashing about in a fervor of Chicken Little-ish behavior?  Wrong!  Am I to think about nothing else than the fact that the days are evil?  Wrong again!

Am I to eschew beauty and instead fashion a drab, lackluster world around me, an environment which says nothing about creative living?  How horrible is that!

So what is Right?  My quest for an answer always comes back to the above quotes from Philippians and Ephesians, and countless other passages having to do with gracious, Spirit-filled living.  Joyous living.  God is still in charge.  God has always been and will always be in charge.

Yes, we are to speak up and out whenever we can.  Yes we are to pray with compassion for those who suffer all over this crazy, convoluted earth.  Yet it is still God’s earth.  As well as being fully God, Jesus was fully human—modeling the perfect humanity intended for people on earth, until man and woman (not in that order) blew it in the beautiful garden which God had provided for them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will return, to reign on earth for 1000 years.  Scripture predicts a New Heaven and New Earth.  Certainly we will not fathom details until they unfold, but nowhere in the Bible is “earth” left out of the equation.  God created earth, and He loves His creation.  In light of that truth I can only gather that we humans, the most valued of His creation, are to go on living and loving the life He has given us on earth.

That means gratitude rather than gloom.  That means serenity rather than stress.  That means pure, down-to-earth appreciation for and pleasure in His boundless gifts—people to love, gardens to plant, creative hobbies to pursue, art, music, poetry, sports, sunshine, fresh air, the list is endless.  Earth gifts!

There is a pathetic “hangover” from past Christian eras and persuasions which taught that physical and soul pleasures were intrinsically evil.  Hence:  the monks who starved themselves or didn’t converse with each other, those Christians who wear drab clothing because anything eye-catching might lead to idolatry (or immorality), and believers who avoid the enjoyment of any pastime without blatantly “spiritual” overtones.

Asceticism is NOT BIBLICAL.  It NEVER WAS BIBLICAL.  Asceticism is a boring, yet potentially devastating ploy invented by the Evil One who—if he cannot get Christians to throw in the towel and quit, will instead lure them into nurturing a sense of pride in not doing this and not enjoying that.*

The paradox here is that within God’s creative, expansive and wholesome arena of “this or that”, we are to walk with joyous confidence; it is the pride inherent in asceticism which God hates, and holds us accountable for.  The person who lives by asceticism may be bowing before the idol of pride!

Life on earth is to be loved, savored, celebrated, and enjoyed to the max while never losing sight of our Creator, never forgetting that He is the Creator of all things—every breath we inhale, every flower we plant and gather.  With our heads full of God’s “whatsoever things”, our lives will shine out to the lost souls who desperately need to know about our Saviour.  As long as God’s people remain on earth (His earth!) and continue to redeem the time, there will be some light, and some good, although the days are evil.

Margaret L. Been — January 26, 2016

(First posted in “God’s Word is True”, September 25, 2015)

*THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, by C.S. Lewis provides a witty and wonderful treatise on the pitfall of asceticism.

Read Full Post »

C4

Who can deny that some of life’s most memorable events are spontaneous—those unplanned occasions which we would not have dreamed up in a million years?  Such was a recent serendipitous party in our home, with our granddaughter Leah and her four children.

They dropped in at 3:45 p. m. on the way home after Leah had gathered up the older children at school, to pick up (now 10 year old) Olivia’s birthday gift.  There was no question in my mind, that the visit would be short.  Leah puts in long hours with her family, with helping out at the children’s school—plus riding shotgun on her very endearing but rambunctious 3 year old, Carter.  Still ahead in a long day for this sweet family was a 25 minute ride home, dinner for the children and Daddy Jeff who would soon be at home waiting, and then all the evening rituals—homework, baths, bedtime stories, etc.  (After all these years, I still remember when!)

Olivia’s birthday gift was a St. Vinnee’s mint condition treasure:  a cookbook with 175 recipes for cookies made with cake mixes.  How fun for a 10 year old girl!  And, as it turned out, fun for an 83 year old great-grandpa—my Joe!

Joe was almost as enthusiastic about the cook book as Olivia was.  Right there on the spot he announced, “We are going to make peanut butter cookies NOW!  Although not a gambling woman, I would safely put money on the hunch that Leah’s reaction and mine were in sync.  Yikes!  Late in the day.  Tired.  And, in the beautiful words of poet Robert Frost, “. . . miles to go before I sleep.”

But both Leah and I realized that a spur of the moment cookie party would provide a signature memory for the children—and adults as well.  So into the kitchen went Joe, Olivia, and younger sister, Brynn (in red) who likes to be in the center of any action.

C1

Over the years, Joe has focused on being a wonderful Husband, Dad, Grandpa, and now Great-Grandpa.  He has cared for us diligently and lovingly.  While he has worked hard at bread-earning, I naturally have tended the affairs of the kitchen.  Joe is very adept at some kitchen jobs.  He makes coffee, measures the carbs in his breakfast cereal (he is diabetic so carbs matter), makes wonderful peanut butter and jam sandwiches, mixes a fantastic soy milk chai for me every night, micro-waves soup or left-over dinners, and sometimes creates yummy Swedish meatballs.

But baking?  The mad search for utensils amid requests of “Where’s this, where’s that?” was too humorous.  We no longer have a gargantuan Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter; all cakes are mixed with a 5-speed hand blender which hides in a  round-about cupboard between assignments.  All dry ingredients live in decorative tins scattered hither and thither; I automatically memorize the contents by the designs on the tins—but since Joe normally has no need for stowed dry ingredients, he has not learned the code.

Thus Joe looked to the dining room table for the small amount of sugar needed in the recipe.  I just happened to wander into the kitchen a split second before he dumped Sweet and Low into the mix—thinking it was real sugar.  I have Sweet and Low in a sugar bowl on our table, for our daughter Judy’s coffee.  How was Joe supposed to know it wasn’t the real thing?

Understandably Joe had not thought of the fact that cookies take a bit of time to prepare, given the rolling of balls—and in the peanut butter cookie instance, criss-crossing with a fork.  Upon my mentioning that the old, battle-seasoned cookie sheets would need a covering of oil, I again forayed into the kitchen just as a pan of cookies was oven-ready—and the raw cookies were swimming in olive oil.

Joe is amazingly proficient at cleaning up as he goes; for this reason I never shudder when he does KP.  In college he earned his meals as a “Pot and Pan” boy, and to this day he loves the challenge of washing up.

C6

While history was being made in the kitchen, Leah and the boys—Lucas and Carter—played a game at the living room coffee table.

C3

Well, no one can make cookies without immediately testing them to make sure they are “fit to eat”.  So we are right back to the first photo:

C4

The coffee table was cleared for a party with cookies and milk.  Delicious!  And thanks to a wonderfully imaginative Great-Grandpa, a good time was had by all.  Joe has always been loaded for fun.  That’s one of the countless reasons why I love him!

Serendipity!

Margaret L. Been, February 2015

Read Full Post »

Treasure the Moment!

Leo 7 monthAlicia's wonderlandThree preciesrecent workIF

There is no room for naivité in today’s world.  All I can do in light of the barrage of news we receive is to go on preserving and treasuring the world I’ve always known.  Indeed, my insular world may last only a moment—so I treasure each moment as a gift from God.

Beyond a series of moments on earth lies an eternity of joy for the Christian believer.  Meanwhile my precarious earth moments are filled with prayers, family, friends, a corgi, music, paintbrushes, knitting needles and yarn, spinning wheels, gardens indoors and out, poetry, books/books/books, antiques, junk, never ending batches of soap from our kitchen, and a whole lot more.

A common thread connects the moments: BEAUTY.  I know I’m not alone in determining to pursue and celebrate Beauty—and to TREASURE THE MOMENT!

Margaret Been, February 2015

soap 6

Baby D again

Again Sweet Mia

knitters

Daane Boys

IF

T1

T2

Read Full Post »

Piano Musings, Recollections, and Resolution . . . .

music 2

In a good week I have four or five of them:  piano days.  I never sit down to play without thinking of childhood.  How pleased my mother would be with this daughter who, when young, preferred to putter in the shallow creek at the base of our property (crunching on ice floes in winter and catching pollywogs in the summer) to the discipline of piano and violin.  Yet practice I did, many hours per week.  Mom gave me no alternatives.  I had to do a couple of hours of music before messing about in the river.  Mother was passionate about music.  She was a classical pianist, and sat me down at a piano long before I can remember.  At age eight I began my 10 year stint of violin lessons.  I thank Mom for her music passion.  Throughout adulthood, music (especially vocal and piano) has been one of my passions as well.

Mother was unique—so different from some Moms, and how I praise the Lord for that!  Now and then I was allowed in the kitchen to make chocolate chip cookies.  After every meal I helped with the clean up; Mother washed the dishes and I dried them and put them away.  (That was special bonding time.)  But I NEVER cooked a meal.  I picked up a few tips from kitchen observation, but I was not taught to cook.  Mom’s famous words were:  “Soon enough you will grow up and have to cook, and since you can read you’ll be able to manage!  Anyone can cook!” 

I was taught to work.  I had to clean the bathrooms and do the ironing (both of which I absolutely love to this day).  But Mom was the cook.  We frequently had company for dinner and my job—my wonderful job!—was to get out the silver, china, and stemware, and set a beautiful table.  The centerpiece was my domain; I had free reign to arrange flowers, candles, and whatever else I could dream up.  Even when there were only the four of us at the table—my parents, my sister, and me—I dressed the table and took enormous pride in the job.  I still do!  My mother wanted me to invest time in reading, knitting, stitching, and doing other creative things along with the music—rather than cooking.

Obviously, as a wife and mother of six children, I did end up doing a lot of cooking and baking over the years!  My mother was wise.  She schooled me in the even more vital, life energizing creative things that bring grace, beauty, and elegance to those chores we have to do in the midst of life’s inevitable challenges.

I’m eternally grateful for both of my parents, and the older I get the more I think of them.  My father traveled frequently because the company he worked for (Lauson Motors in New Holstein Wisconsin/the company eventually became Tecumseh) was knee deep in wartime production.  But when Dad was home, he was my Dad!  He frequently came home with the gift of a book for me, and he always wanted to read whatever I had been writing.  The greatest boost I can recall was when, at age 11, I showed Dad an essay I’d written for a school assignment.  Dad read the text carefully, and said:  “You really think thoughts!”

I could go on forever and bore you readers to distraction about my delightful life, but I won’t.  I hope to stop short of causing abject ennuni!  Meanwhile, much as I have always thought New Year’s resolutions to be rather silly, I have set a goal for the coming year:

To constantly evoke a rather maudlin, corny old Bing Crosby tune the lyrics of which went:  “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative . . . “.  Not that I subscribe to “the power of positive thinking”.  Mankind is fallen, and without intervention of the life of Jesus Christ we are lost.  The power of positive thinking is hogwash.  I cannot eliminate ISIS by thinking.  We cannot change our nation, by just thinking; we must pray and WORK—and then only God’s Spirit will make a difference!  Just “thinking” will never deal with the horrendous world issues which our clueless, muddleheaded, and/or downright evil President refuses to acknowledge.

Only God can change the world, and eventually He will—as He has promised through ages of Old Testament prophecy confirmed by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, as well as in the New Testament Epistles!  Meanwhile, as I pray and live as the Lord leads, I can—as old Bing crooned—“Accentuate the positive”.

Here is an example:  rather than continuing to spout off about Obama’s idiotic State of the Union address, or grousing about the Packers’ failure to complete their great start against the Seahawks last Sunday I can (and am!) robustly cheering Speaker John Boehner for his classic End Run around our President, by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address The House of Representatives on the threats of Iran and Islamic terrorism.  Clearly, the Seahawks—even Obama’s speech—fade into the back of my mind, next to Boehner’s Play of the Week—maybe the play of the year!

To summarize, my goal is to continually and faithfully focus on and publish good news.  But specifically, what do all these musings have to do with a piano day?  Simply this:  On my piano days I begin by struggling over the few Chopin nocturnes I can even dream of playing, adding some easier classics such as George Winston’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s beloved Kanon, lightening up with a Scott Joplin rag or two, and ending with my treasured book of Gospel hymns including Amazing Grace. 

AMAZING GRACE!  Forty four years ago almost to this very day, I was catapulted in the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It was a bitter cold day in January of 1971 when I entered the Kingdom.  The sun pounding down on the pristine banks of snow was so bright, so exquisite, so unspeakably and amazingly beautiful that I still experience a flush of joy when I think of it.  And every time I play Amazing Grace, the wonder, brilliance, and joy of that day is new—all over again!

Salvation and eternal life in Christ.  That is the “positive” to accentuate, the Good News which tops all else—yes, even John Boehner’s Fabulous End Run around our misguided, muddleheaded, and possibly (quite probably!) evil President!  🙂

Margaret L. Been—January 22, 2015

Note:  Here is an aside:  my pick from the cast of GOP contenders for nomination is Dr. Ben Carson.  Someone new, someone non-political, someone with real straight arrow values—although others in the list, including our own Governor Scott Walker, project straight values as well.

In his book, ONE NATION, Dr. Carson begins by demonstrating how “political correctness” has undermined our nation, as it is literally killing freedom of speech and promoting dishonesty at many levels.  I can accentuate the fact that I positively agree 

Dr. Carson is outspokenly Biblical in his views on the sins of abortion and homosexuality.  He is not afraid to quote Scriptural references, and point to God’s Word as the ultimate authority.  Coming from a distinguished man of science, this is especially refreshing!

Read Full Post »

Giving . . .

A. C. 3

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”   Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV

This is the greatest GIFT, the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ Who suffered on an unspeakably cruel cross and died to pay our sin debt—then rose victorious to give us eternal life, HIS abundant life now and forever!  I received this priceless gift of God’s Grace forty-four years ago this coming January.  The GREATEST GIFT!

I was blessed to have parents and a closely bonded extended family and friends who loved life, valued life, and lived by Godly principles.  My grandparents were Bible believing Christians, and in later years I was greatly persuaded that my parents also received the greatest gift—The Lord Jesus Christ.

In my early childhood, family Christmases were somewhat shadowed by a tragedy that had occurred before I was born:  my sister, Shirley, had died at age two on Christmas Day.  Yet Christmas was always a time for celebration, hope, and joy.  We loved being together, we loved the music, we loved the Christmas Story.  And we loved giving and receiving gifts.

In light of the fact that we believers are recipients of the Greatest Gift in Heaven and on the earth, because we are walking around everyday with the very life of God in the Person of His Holy Spirit, the most natural thing to do is to give gifts to family members and friends.  Up until I believed in the Lord Jesus, I naturally loved giving gifts; it was the most wonderful and fun thing to do.  But once I became a believer, God’s Spirit enhanced and blessed our family traditions in such a way that I was, and still am,”over the top” with His joy over our family Christmases.

The Christmas worship services, the music (decades of singing in choirs), favorite recipes (which our children looked forward to each year and still serve to this day), the gatherings with laughter and games we played with the children (and still play, as new family games appear on a regular basis), and our tradition of GIVING became so endowed with implicit depth of meaning and God’s love, that it is inconceivable to imagine any other way to live.

As Joe and I raised our six children, extra people at the family dinner table (year round, not just at Christmas) was a given.  Friends were family.  If a child or young adult friend of one of our children hung out in our home, he or she automatically became one of the loved ones; they were included in the food, hilarious games, and the Christmas giving.

What is more fun than giving and receiving?  It’s not about spending a lot of cash.  Although exceptions have been made over the years for some special item or when there is a specific need, it cannot be about spending huge sums.  We have, to date, forty-nine immediate family members, not counting myself.  But even if we were just a handful of folks, it would still be all about loving each person and deciding what would be fun to give—rather than just blowing money.

I love to make gifts.  For years good gifts came out of my oven or off my pantry shelves where bountiful jams and jellies were preserved.  Now we have children, their spouses, and their children who share yummy kitchen creations.  Although I still bake some things, now I am very happy to paint a watercolor, knit a hat for a child (or an adult), design and knit funky, colorful scarves for all ages, and share my homemade soaps in those lovely gift boxes (just inside the door as you enter JoAnn Fabrics, and at other outlets as well).

Throughout the year, my antennae is up when I browse at art fairs, antique malls, and even rummage sales.  By Christmas each year, I’ve managed to acquire a stash for family members and friends who appreciate lovely vintage art glass or a hand crafted piece of stained glass, mosaic, pottery, whatever.

And then there is that fantastic treat, popular as of recent years, the Gift Certificate.  Although that may seem to be a cop-out to some, I think the certs are wonderful.  I tailor them to individuals.  Some of our young families do a lot of home repair and renovation.  Home Depot.  One family member loves Starbucks, but being a diligently frugal young lady she will pass up that luxury on her budget.  I get tremendous pleasure out of giving her a Starbucks cert for her birthday or sometimes Christmas—and picturing her savoring her powerful coffee and perhaps a sweet.  And who doesn’t love Barnes & Noble?  Books and music—something for every preference and taste.

In our mushrooming family, Joe and I have seventeen great-grandchildren ranging from age twelve down to nine months.  Babies typically get little cuddly animals from this Granny—stuffed, not live although I’d love to be given permission to pick out a real kitten or puppy.  That is yet to happen!  The other children?  Books, puzzles, crayons, etc.  It’s easy, almost a “DUH”, to find gifts for young people.  In fact, all ages are easy, when you long to give some little token of your love and thoughtful consideration.

I constantly find wonderful cooking and crafting books (mostly like new) at a nearby St. Vinnie’s.  Again, these gift books are tailored to the recipients and their hobbies and interests.  How rewarding is that!  I have delighted someone’s heart, for all of $2.19 or thereabout.

Underlying it all is the fact that we love because He first loved us.  We give because He has given to us—that Greatest Gift of salvation and eternal life.  Giving is sharing.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s gift of love, we simply can’t not share with those whom we love.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s Word and His gift of grace, we are delighted to graciously receive and enjoy the gifts which our loved ones have thoughtfully selected or made for us.

Christmas!  A stress-free time of joy.  That doesn’t mean that our circumstances are all perfect, at all times.  For many years our celebration centered at our home, and I fed a lot of people.  Granted, sometimes I felt a bit stun-gunned when the season was over, because I had spent physical and emotional energy far beyond any that I possessed.  But God has always given me what I needed, to serve Him by serving people.  And stun-gunned though I was, it was with a sense of purpose and great blessing that I “collapsed” into a quieter routine (as quiet as a routine can be when raising six children).  I knew that God was the center of my giving (as well as my “giving out”) and I rested in Him.  I still do.  It’s the only way to live, and it’s the only way I want to live!

We have had poignant holidays in the wake of bereavement over loss.  We have had tearful Christmases when circumstances were nearly devastating due to a loved one’s rebellious decisions.  Four Christmases ago Joe and I were a wall apart in hospital beds, beginning the arduous recovery from major surgeries both occurring in a space of a few hours a couple of days before Christmas.

But it was still, and always will be, Christmas.  The Grinch can’t steal it and neither can illness, family sorrows, death, economic circumstances, or any of the world’s weighty problems.  Christmas!  If a metaphorical Grinch were to come on Christmas Eve and confiscate our trees and our lights and our presents, it would still be Christmas and we would still be giving—because in all of our giving we are giving ourselves, and giving to our Lord the thanksgiving and glory which He deserves.  If we have nothing to give, we will still give somehow in some way.

Christmas is stress-free and joyous—a time to celebrate the loving and giving that we treasure around the year.  We love because He first loved us.  And we give, because He has given us THE GREATEST GIFT.  It would be unthinkable to do anything else but give when we have received so much!  Merry Christmas!

Margaret Been, December 23rd, 2014

Note:  On the bottom left side of the above photo, you will see a charming manger scene created out of popsicle sticks, bits of cloth, and miscellaneous odds and ends.  This was custom-made for Joe and me a few years ago by four great-grandchildren under the supervision of their Mom—our granddaughter, Alicia. 

If you look closely on the bottom left, you will see little bits of white and purple under or beside the people:  Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus in His manger bed, and a shepherd.  The little bits are sheep, fashioned from pipe cleaners and dabs of white material, by Alicia’s youngest child—less than two years old at the time if I recall correctly.  Now that is a gift to treasure forever!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »