When I was in the second grade I remember giving my mom the “gift of all time”, or so I thought. We had a mantle above the gas fireplace in our living room and each December that became the perfect spot for the Nativity set. Putting out the little statues was always mom’s job…nobody else got to help, we just watched her unwrap each piece from the newspaper and shoe box that was its home for most of the year. I’m sure they were made out of simple ceramics but she handled them as if they were made of priceless crystal. I remember her always holding Mary a little longer than the others. I told myself that when I got big I would ask her why…but I never really got the chance to ask that question. Now that I’m a mother, I think I understand.
Early that second grade December, my brother Jim got a pair of new shoes because he was growing so fast his toes just wouldn’t fit into his school shoes any more. We went to Kinney’s shoe store and all their shoes came in brown boxes. As we rode home from Topeka looking at the beautiful Christmas lights I remember spying that brown shoe box on Jim’s lap thinking I had the absolute perfect gift idea. You see, that Nativity set my mom loved so much had no stable and I was convinced that I could turn that brown shoe box into a magnificent stable! The next afternoon I set to work. I wasn’t sure how that shoe box would be transformed but I knew my first step was to make the gray inside of the box brown like wood. It was a little trickier than I had imagined. Coloring the inside a shoe box carefully and in all one direction was hard. Now, before I tell the rest of the story I just need to interject one important detail…I’m not very artistic or crafty so the transfer of the image in my head to an actual stable took some VERY wrong turns! Turning the box lid into a roof was a disaster. I used so much glue and tape trying to get it to stay up that that shoe box weighed about five pounds. One failed attempt actually involved trying to attach real tree bark to the roof to try to cover up all my other mistakes . After several afternoons I finally got a finished product that would stand up with the strategic placement of two nice sized rocks in the back corners. I was so proud! I was also amazed that I had done the whole project by myself without anybody knowing a thing. I’m sure my mom was in the kitchen thanking God for my new found love of library books…NOT! The afternoon I finished, Jim and dad were out in the garage so it was the perfect time to present mom with her gift. I’m not gonna lie…it was an awful looking sight but it was a mess I felt so proud of. Mom looked at it and then looked at me and just wrapped me in her arms. I remember sitting down to the table with her to stare at it and she just scooped me up on her lap. The crazy looking thing barely even stood up but I told her I thought with the rocks and maybe some extra tape we would have no problem propping it up. As I sat there on her lap, my brother Jim and my dad walked into the kitchen. Jim had something behind his back and he was smiling so big it made us all excited. Without even recognizing the “stable” on the table he pulled the gift from behind his back. He and dad had built a stable, a real stable out of real wood for mom’s beautiful Nativity statues.
Looking back at that afternoon I wouldn’t have wanted to be my mom for all the money in the world! Before I knew it, both of us were on her lap and she was just hugging both our necks. After a few minutes the boys were off to clean up the garage and I just sat with mom and her two stables. Dad and Jim had been able to create out of simple wood scraps a stable that looked exactly like the one I had seen in my mind. She kissed my forehead and said, “I am so lucky! I went from no stable to two stables all in one afternoon. Now I have a place to lay Baby Jesus.” That’s it…that’s all she said…that’s all I needed to hear. A place for Baby Jesus to rest! I remember thinking that someone as important as the Son of God, even if only duplicated in plaster, needed the best place possible to rest His head. Mom left both stables there on the table and went about her chores. I just sat there looking at them and I realized the power of her simple words. He would want the best…even from me, as an eight year old. I took my stable to my room and put it under my bed, where it stayed for years. Several years later I pulled it out at Christmas time and mom and I had a great laugh at my creation.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that Christmas humility lesson. Jim could have easily pointed out how much better his was and mom could have certainly pointed out the flaws in my stable but they both loved me enough to let me figure out how to be humble on my own terms. They both left this earth way earlier than I wanted them to, but I thank God every day for the lessons they taught me…even the ones made out of a cardboard shoe box.
A Seed To Plant: Sit for a few quiet minutes in front of a Nativity scene this week and ask God to reveal one simple thing you can do to make your heart the perfect place for Baby Jesus to rest.
Blessings on your day!