The Nativity Scene

IMG_2209A simple nativity scene is the only Christmas decoration I put out this year. It’s a drastic departure from the years I obsessively decorated every corner of our home. My dad once joked, “Don’t stand still, or she’ll tie a red bow on your butt.”

In the past, our nativity scene fought for space among all the snowmen, Santas, elves and reindeer I pulled from several plastic tubs of decorations. As I thoughtfully arranged the nativity scene on our fireplace mantle this week, my mind wandered back to a memory I had all but forgotten.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and the Jaycees were putting up Christmas decorations in town as they did every year on this day. I looked out the passenger window of my dad’s car with a flutter of holiday anticipation as we drove down Main Street.

On every light post was a familiar friend I hadn’t seen for a whole year. Against the silver afternoon sky, their colorful lights twinkled, but for a few bulbs that hadn’t worked in years. I greeted each one as we drove past ~ Santa, candy cane, angel, tree, Santa, candy cane, angel, tree. The angel was my favorite. 

I was ten now, old enough to be part of the live outdoor nativity scene held each year at the Central Church of Christ. It was a staple of Christmastime for as long as I could remember. I was scheduled to play an angel for two nights in December. We passed our church where the make-shift barn was being built.

In just a couple of weeks, I would stand on Tenth Street dressed as an angel next to a real donkey and sheep. (Baby Jesus was a doll wrapped in blankets lying in the manger.) I shivered both with excitement and the thought of standing in the cold from five to eight o’clock. I wondered if I could wear long underwear with my costume and if I’d get to pet the barn animals. 

December flew by in a flurry, and it was suddenly the day of my participation in the live nativity scene. My mom took me to the church to pick up my angel costume after school. It was cold and raining as we ran inside. 

“We’re in for some very nasty weather,” the preacher’s wife said. Looking at me sympathetically she said, “We’ve decided to cancel the nativity tonight.” By morning, freezing rain coated every sidewalk, tree limb and phone line. As rarely happened, school was cancelled for two days. I never did get to be part of the nativity scene. 

I emerged from my childhood memory as if from a dream. My hand tightly held the little angel from our nativity scene. In the absence of all the distracting tinsel and trinkets, my heart and mind were free to conjure up the memories, magic and meaning of the season.

For a suspended moment I was, at last, dressed as an angel standing on Tenth Street next to Mary and Joseph, the wise men, a shepherd boy, a donkey and a sheep in celebration of the beauty and wonder of a baby born in a manger on Christmas day. § 

 

The Gift of Miracles

IMG_2002It’s a wonderful time of the year to believe in miracles! Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” 

Consider the ubiquitous trees strapped to car tops, beckoning from store windows or decorating your home. While all the earth lies brown and dormant, an evergreen tree remains fresh and verdant, unfazed by winter’s harsh cold and snow. Underneath all the tinsel, lights and ornaments is a miraculous symbol of eternal love and life.

Our fresh-cut Christmas tree stands outside on the deck off the living room. Through unadorned glass doors, it twinkles with simple white lights. We frequently see birds flutter around the tree and alight on branches like a scene from a greeting card.

In my mind, birds carry garland in their beaks and gracefully drape the tree with gossamer ribbon. Woodland animals gather around the tree and sing carols. They are dressed, of course, in winter coats and scarves. And why not? Birds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes and raccoons are such magical creatures.

Just imagine seeing one for the first time! Sweet, cute, funny and majestic barely begin to describe them. The sight of one flying, hopping or scurrying through our yard thrills me and ignites my imagination.

The holiday season brings out the child in us. As we get older, it’s easy to become cynical, to take for granted the miracles and magic, and focus on the muck. Perhaps we get a little too big for our britches, too smart and sophisticated for visions of sugarplums and the like. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

With the innocence of a child, take a closer look at nature this season. A brilliant star, a red poinsettia, a silent snow, a newborn baby all offer tangible proof of the marvelous miracles all around us.

Maybe then we will be inspired to do the very grown-up work of seeing and manifesting intangible miracles of grace, forgiveness, courage, hope, faith and love ~ all the beautiful things the holiday season is really about. §

The first Sunday of each month, I share a previously-posted story. It gives me a chance to tinker with something I wrote a year or so ago and more time to write new stories the rest of the month. Maybe you missed this post the first time. Even better, maybe you’ll think it was worth a second look. Thank you!

 

 

Tuning-In to Abundance

IMG_1824Armed with one reusable shopping bag and a list of eight necessities, I pushed the big red cart into the store determined to stay focused. I could have been in and out in less than fifteen minutes, but before I knew it my eyes glazed over, and I found myself wandering down aisle after aisle in a trance.

I tried on fuzzy mittens, held coffee mugs, imagined new wall art, smelled candles, touched furry blankets, marveled at high-tech gadgets, and admired twinkling holiday decorations. Lipgloss, pot holders and a scarf were final contenders to fill my cart and my vague longing for something more.

I snapped out of it when I heard a child stomp her feet and wail, “I want it!” I made it to the check-out line with only the items on my list and an unpleasant feeling I couldn’t really name. Dissatisfaction? Anxiety? Emptiness? As much as I wanted to shake the feeling, I wanted to understand it.

As I drove the country roads back home, the word scarcity came to mind. In economics, scarcity describes the result of having limited resources but unlimited wants. It occurred to me the word sounds like scare.

Was it fear I was feeling? Was I afraid I left all the good stuff back at the store? Was I afraid of not having enough? Was I afraid of not being enough?

The opposite of scarcity is abundance. The late Wayne Dyer wrote, “Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune-in to.” Something we tune-in to. 

Looking out the car windows, I focused on nature to soothe my restless heart. A flock of a thousand blackbirds flew in a dizzying black dotted pattern across the sky. A forest of  trees covered rolling hills as far as my eye could see. Bales and bales of hay lined a freshly-harvested field. A herd of more than a dozen deer grazed along the roadside. Abundance. 

I opened the door to our house. Its sturdy roof, walls and windows provide us shelter. It is warm, safe and comfortable. Abundance. 

Clear, potable water flows from the sink, shower and washing machine. Heat and air regulate the temperature. Lights come on with a flick of a switch. Abundance. 

Bowls of fresh produce sit on the kitchen counter. The refrigerator is full. Pantry shelves are lined with cans and jars. Abundance. 

In the closet are multiple pairs of pants, shirts, dresses, coats and shoes. Abundance.

The mirror reflects a healthy, happy person who is free, loved and loving. Abundance. 

The uneasy, inadequate feeling marketers expertly targeted in me disappeared. I was filled with thanksgiving and blessed assurance that all I have is all I need. §

 

 

 

A Romantic Walk in the Snow

 

IMG_1892An unusual November storm covered our world with a three-inch blanket of snow. The next morning, I was eager to bundle up for a walk in the woods where I knew a magical scene awaited. My husband pointed out the record-low temperature more than once, but I wasn’t dissuaded. Sensing my excitement, or perhaps fearful for my safety, he decided to come along.

Under a cloudless azure sky, our woods was a sparkling white tangle of trunks, branches and twigs. We navigated the slippery trail, ducking through crystal curtains that bowed to the ground heavy with snow and icy autumn leaves.

The deeper we walked into the woods, the more enchanted it became. The orange breast of a robin blazed against a snowy thicket, animal tracks lured us to follow, and bright red berries popped against a silvery white backdrop. Glittery snow gently blowing off trees sounded like far-away music. Sharp air filled our lungs, and the smell of pine was intoxicating.

We walked in silence, sometimes raising a gloved finger to point at the beauty around us. Since we’re both retired, we spend nearly all our time together. We know each other so well, we often avoid words and just read each other’s minds.

We could have filled the frosty air with talk about the past or the future, but all that mattered was enjoying the present. I know that’s what my husband was thinking. After all, it was he who taught me that important lesson.

He held my hand, and every sight and feeling seemed magnified. Watching our feet move together through the snow, I remembered our first walk in the woods. It was spring, and we were teenagers.

We’ve traveled down so many paths since then, both together and alone. Had he seen my watery eyes, he would have laughed and teased. He knows sweet, simple moments easily make me cry.

I love my solitary walks in nature, but I’m glad my husband joined me that magical morning. At the end of an hour-long hike in the snowy woods, every corner of my heart was full, and I wasn’t a bit cold. §

Resting Like a Fallow Field

IMG_1762The cornfields lining the country roads to our home lie fallow now. Barren squares stretch out like a patchwork quilt gently covering the land while it settles in for a well-deserved nap. The scene makes me want to snuggle under a cozy blanket and enjoy this time of year when nature encourages us to rest like the fallow fields.

Fallow periods are traditionally used by farmers to maintain the natural productivity of the land. Leaving a field inactive for a time allows the soil to recover, restore and rebalance itself.

You see, the land becomes depleted and unproductive if it isn’t given a chance to rest. Can you relate? Could you use a fallow period? Maybe this stretch of time before the holidays arrive is a good time to recover, restore and rebalance yourself.

You might be in a season of life when rest seems impossible. Stressful jobs, child-rearing, caregiving and other challenges can be exhausting. Just keeping up with the daily news is taxing. Even fun-filled celebrations can leave us feeling a little worn out. The dormant fields are encouraging all of us to use these quieter, darker days as a time to replenish ourselves.

Here are ten ways we can follow the fallow fields  ~

  1. Be still. Being busy isn’t necessarily being productive. Sit in complete stillness a few minutes each day to let your body and mind recharge.
  2. Stay home. Sometimes we stay on-the-go out of habit or fear of being bored. Be it ever so humble, home should be the most comforting place in the world.
  3. Renew your spirit. Read, pray, sing, create. Do more of whatever renews your soul.
  4. Turn down the noise. Do what you can to quiet your surroundings. Unplug at least once a day and experience total silence.
  5. Say no. We aren’t obliged to say yes to every invitation or request. Graciously decline an avoidable situation that’s likely to be more draining than fulfilling.
  6. Eat well. When a field lies fallow, the soil regains its nutrients. Be sure to consume healthy foods to replenish your own nutrition.
  7. Take a walk outdoors. Not only is walking good exercise, the crisp air is a great way to clear your head.
  8. Practice self-care. Get a massage, a haircut, a manicure, or try some at-home spa treatments. Take time to take care of yourself.
  9. Go to bed early. Sleep research shows human beings have a natural circadian rhythm that mimics the sun’s rising and falling. Shorter days are a good excuse to get more sleep.
  10. Observe nature. Take a closer look at nature. Appreciate its beauty. Be inspired by its simplicity. Learn from its wisdom. §

To subscribe to The Simple Swan, just click on the “Follow” button on this page (or at the bottom of your phone screen). Type in your email address. You’ll get an email to confirm your subscription. Once you’ve confirmed, you will get one email a week with my latest post. Thank you! 

 

 

6 Ways Feeding the Birds Feeds Our Soul

My husband taught me the joy of feeding the birds. Initially it was his interest, and I stood back wondering if it was worth the effort. It wasn’t long before I was convinced the time and money we spent caring for our feathered friends was returned many times over by birds who bring us year-round entertainment and a peaceful connection to nature.  

Whether you live in the city or the country, maintain an elaborate system of bird feeders or just sprinkle bread crumbs on your window sill, feeding the birds can feed your soul in some unexpected ways.

1. Kindness – When we do something nice, no matter how simple, it increases the goodness in the world. A single act of kindness can have a long-reaching ripple effect, sending good vibes throughout the planet. Watching the birds gleefully flock to their freshly filled feeders and bird bath, makes us want to keep spreading good cheer.

2. Connection – Over the years, I’ve watched the birds from kitchen windows and backyard porches with family and friends of all ages. Watching the birds creates a sweet and common bond over the wonder of our shared world.

3. Learning –  When we watch the birds, we naturally want to know more about them. Is that a bluebird or an Indigo bunting? Do orioles prefer oranges or meal worms? Did you know a woodpecker’s tongue is so long it wraps around the inside of its head? There is so much to learn! 

4. Beauty – In our flashy bigger-is-better world, we can miss the subtle, natural beauty of things. When we take time to notice a bird’s intricate coloring, delicate shape, and  sweet song, we begin to appreciate the genuine beauty in the world we sometimes take for granted.

5. Simplicity – A few seeds and a little fresh water is all a bird needs. It makes us stop and think about what we really need to live a healthy, happy life. Watching the birds mindfully eat, chirp, nest, and fly can encourage us to strip away the pretenses and live a simple, authentic life.

6. Charity – Remember the bird lady Mary Poppins sang about? “Come feed the little birds. Show them you care and you’ll be glad if you do. The young ones are hungry; their nests are so bare. All it takes is tuppence from you. Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” We all benefit when we share our blessings, not just count them. §

The first Sunday of each month, I’m sharing a previously-posted story. It gives me a chance to tinker with something I wrote a year or so ago and more time to write new stories the rest of the month. Maybe you missed this post the first time. Even better, maybe you’ll think it was worth a second look. 

To subscribe to The Simple Swan, just click on the “Follow” button on this page (or at the bottom of your phone screen). Type in your email address. You’ll get an email to confirm your subscription. Once you’ve confirmed, you will get one email a week with my latest post. Thank you! 

 

Letting Go of Leaves and Things

On a crisp autumn morning I shuffled into the kitchen in my robe and slippers and stopped. Something was different. Our home was flooded with bright golden light. Through the glass doors, the rising sun, usually filtered by thick woods, was in full view. Falling leaves cast confetti-like shadows on the floor and walls. They danced and swirled through the air singing, “It’s time to let go…”

I was suddenly inspired me to let go of a few things myself. The trees showed me the way. I remembered how their budding leaves thrilled us when they appeared in the spring. How they shaded us all summer and graced us with their autumn colors. Soon their leaves would lay on the ground like faded and forgotten toys.

I was reminded most things in life aren’t meant to hold onto forever ~ that’s what people and memories are for.

I spent the day searching our home for things to let go. By afternoon the pile on our kitchen table included a cheap shirt that looked shabby after one wash, a miracle cream that wasn’t, two scratchy throw pillows, an avocado slicer that works no better than a paring knife, old towels, a pair of uncomfortable shoes, a couple decorative doodads, a stack of magazines and a few good books someone else might enjoy.

Are there things in your home you’d like to let go of? Worn-out things. Useless things. Ugly things. Broken things. Meaningless things. Uncomfortable things. Too many things. Perfectly wonderful things that don’t suit your season of life.

Don’t over think it. It’s kind of like raking leaves. There are lots of ways to tackle the job. Just start somewhere.

It’s amazing how letting go of a few things can change our perspective. With the clutter gone, I saw our home in a new light. I appreciated its bones. I noticed a subtle shift in the way the rooms felt, in the way I felt. I think I even found a little clarity under some of that stuff.

That evening I watched the sun sink below the horizon. The clear autumn sky seemed endless, and my view of the lake was unobstructed. Bare trees stood like graceful sculptures, and I thanked them for showing me how to let go. §