Monday, December 18, 2006

Two Weddings and a Manger

It was early December and there were still so many details needing attention.  Not only was it Christmas and for the first time in years I would be deeply embosomed in the heart of my large family, but I was in the middle of planning my wedding as well as helping my younger sister plan hers.  Our weddings would take place five days apart with Christmas Day sandwiched right in the middle to take advantage of having friends and family there for the holiday week.

I was standing on College Avenue in Fort Collins ready to hit one more used/vintage/nearly new clothing store in search of something special to wear as a bride with no budget.  It was  a bright, snowy day with temperatures in the 20’s.  But the Colorado sun, a mile closer to the earth, warmed my face to the point of feeling the first tingle of a sunburn.  I had instinctively turned towards the sun as I closed my eyes in prayer for guidance and direction while time and resources were waning.  Immediately the title of a recently published inspirational article,  "Maintaining the Manger Attitude" by Marian English* came to thought.   That morning I had grabbed the new issue of the
Christian Science Sentinel on my way out the door to do errands.  I had noticed the title thinking I would read the article as I was waiting in line at the grocery store or at the long stoplights on streets busy with holiday shoppers.

I felt a bit blue that day in spite of my mission and the beautiful setting.   There was so much to do.  The burden of getting it all done in a short period of time was weighing heavily that morning on College Avenue.  How would I find something "bridal" to wear for less than $10, decorate the large lodge on a shoestring as well as graciously host the more than two hundred people that would be converging in Colorado for both weddings.  Talk about
no room in the Inn..."we don't even have a manger" I thought as I felt tears of frustration form in the corners of my eyes. 

My "also a bride" sister, Lila,  had offered to meet me that morning as I searched yet one more Goodwill-type store for something that I could creatively customize into bridal attire.  As I waited for her to arrive I prayed with just the
title of that article since I had left the magazine on the seat of the car parked five blocks away.  What would the "manger attitude" look, feel, and sound  like?  Hmm...all I could imagine was peace...peace filling the rafters of that modest structure, peace descending on the straw, peace laying its mantle on a mother's heavy heart and on a father's furrowed brow, peace in the cattle's "lowing", peace in the coo of a dove.  Peace, as the old Christmas carol that I had loved as a child, said:

"How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of His heaven."

-O Little Town of Bethlehem

The wondrous gift wasn't going to be in finding the $1,000 we needed to pay for the food for our modest reception, or even in figuring out how we would help our 100+ guests find lodging in a remote mountain town.  The wondrous gift would be given to me each moment I found

"Peace on earth, goodwill to men"

throughout the moments of my days filled with errands, purchases, decisions and waiting, waiting, waiting...for R.S.V.P. cards, promised callbacks from vendors and suppliers, traffic lights to change and solutions to reveal themselves like the light from a star in the quiet stillness of my manger heart.

Something settled deeply in my heart as I stood there.  Lila arrived and I was no longer on a
hunt for bridal wear, candles, options or bargains.  I was moving through moments of revelation abiding in a manger and taking it with me everywhere I went.   We walked into the nearly new shoppe where I had been standing.  Within moments I found an old cream-colored wool sweater for 50 cents.  I would later boil and cut it down to create an Austrian-styled boiled wool jacket exactly like the one  I had seen for over $200 at a local mountain wear shoppe.  Further back in that little store we found an antique petticoat that would serve as a skirt once I dyed it in a large pot of weak tea to give it an aging that would match the jacket.  Cowboy boots were purchased for $2 and painted cream for another $1.79.  A gross of candles were offered by a supplier at bargain basement prices because the wax had bubbles in it.   Within hours, details I thought would take weeks to tick off my list were resolved without a hitch. 

My focus became:

"Let every heart prepare Him room..."

I was no longer a bride putting on a wedding...I was a shepherd preparing a place for my lambs, a mother finding a quiet space for my child, a dove sweeping the cobwebs from the rafters of the stable for a King.  Each guest was the Christ child coming to rest in the embrace of this "bridal feast."  I was a host serving "the Lord of hosts" who loved his servant and provided her with all she needed for preparing this feast of Soul.

As you can see, Christmas carols became prayers and provided my heart with the food it needed for its own daily feast.  I stopped worrying about how we would pay for the food.  I just needed to appreciate the table that was being set before me each hour. 

Later that week, the camp that had offered us the use of their lodge and kitchen for our wedding and reception decided to also offer over 150 of our guests free lodging in gratitude for our previous pro bono work when their budgets were tight.   They even provided staffing for our event as well as the chef for our reception fare.  The staff had already been hired and were on hand to care for their own guests later that week.  All that was left to cover was the actual cost of the food which came to the same amount as the cash we received as wedding gifts.   One guest even carried in boughs of holly from her Massachusetts home to cover the broad fireplace mantle.  The large Christmas tree in the lodge had given up enough branches at its trunk to wrap the lodge beams in pine.  Fifty yards of water-damaged, cream-colored, satin ribbon was given to us by a local fabric store for draping through the greenery.  Just before the wedding a friend arrived with antique snowshoes to place on the hearth and finish the "altar" with "something old."

What I learned from that Christmas over 20 years ago wasn't about a wedding and having everything work out perfectly because I prayed, thought the right thought, or created a mental environment where it could all become humanly perfect.  We are not, nor will we ever be that creative or that powerful...God is the only Cause and Creator.  What I did learn was already complete that day on College Avenue with the warmth of an early December Colorado sun on my face.  It was the gift of was the gift of each moment that I was still....a word that doesn't just mean "quiet or calm" but "nevertheless, without interruption" in "I am still with thee."

In that moment I discovered that I could either visit the manger or I could abide in it, take it with me, and offer its solace and stillness to those I shared space with throughout my day...

Where meekness will receive him
Still the dear Christ enters in.
- Phillips Brooks

...that even when the busy Inn looks like it has room for me and beckons to me from its well-lit and festive doorway, I can beg off my regrets and, from my heart's home in the manger, wave to those who seem to be rushing about madly to join me there.   There's room for all in the manger.  Let your heart prepare him--the Christ in humanity--and especially in yourself, room.

*(my experience with this Sentinel article was profound and resulted in many opportunties for spiritual growth,   healing, and the discovery of a deep and abiding peace.  Feel free to visit my website and read another article under the "How" section titled "Maintaining the Manger Attitude")


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