The traditional Christmas tree cake, for about 25 years.
Ideals often drive us to commit to more than is reasonable to accomplish. I always think I can do more than I can, because I didn't always understand the limitations of my children's ages. I didn't build margin for outside, inevitable life issues that require time and attention. And often, I didn't take into account my own limitations.
At 62, I look back over the years and can still feel the pressure, stress, busyness, interruptions, and frustration with messes, irritations and disappointed expectations. Yet, last night, after our Christmas open house, I am so grateful that every year, we invested in hospitality and parties that have ministered to hundreds of people over many years.
Deep in my heart, I grew to believe that every person in my life had a need to be loved, known, validated, encouraged. Of course, I am limited in time and energy and resources, yet, our family decided many years ago that we would use our home as a place of refuge, encouragement, instruction and love for those God would bring into our lives. We shared the understanding that God made us to be those who would reach out, extend His grace and love and to be the lights others needed. So, our parties became for us a way to extend his love and grace to those in our lives. And because we moved 17 times, often, our Christmas's were pretty lonely. We needed to reach out to others so that we would not feel alone.
For years, all of us Clarksons, Clay down to Joy, have pulled together for each party. Boys setting up chairs, all of us shopping, putting together treats, lighting candles, putting on music, cooking and cleaning again. What I truly see now, is that, because this was the habit of our lives, the oxygen that my children breathed year after year, they are all great at using their spaces for hospitality--be it a small dorm room, an apartment or a cottage shared with roommates. Traditions practiced and practiced over and over again become second nature.
When my children were "littles" I did not have as many Christmassy things and most of the time we would eat off of paper plates and our gatherings were child friendly. Of course now that Clay and I have been married for almost 35 years, we have inherited stuff from parents and grandparents and years of "collecting" stuff that accumulates and so we use everything we have grown to enjoy over many years. But simple is always a goal so that we don't get too worn out. Preparing ahead little by little also makes gatherings possible no matter what age the family. Some years, though, when illness strikes or a hard year has come, just staying alive is great. But sharing home with someone else almost always feeds the heart at some level.
Living through the messes is definitely worthwhile when it is building a legacy of love and hospitality.
Our parties include:
*A Mom's tea where each women brings a savory dish to share and a sweet to share and a mug or tea cup that is their favorite.
*A Mother-daughter-friend tea for close friends
*An open house where everyone brings snacks to share, we provide the drinks, and we visit and then end on a Carol sing each year.
*A progressive dinner with the closest of friends where we go to different houses for a different course. (appetizers/salad at one family's home; main meal at another/ desert at the final home!) This is always a wonderful time of fun and giggles as we traverse all over the north Colorado Springs area to each other's homes and have tiny little gifts to share.
This is tonight--so no photos yet. But, now after being faithful after all these years, we are all so thankful for memories made and friendships slowly built by the rhythms of sharing life together.
Home! This is the place where after all of these years, friends look forward to these times together--times to worship, pray for one another, to remember the years of life events we have shared. At the beginning it seemed like we were always the ones who had to give and give--but the giving became friendships, memories, support systems and a legacy of our children learning to cultivate a heart for ministry.
I can't wait to share Sarah's and my ponderings about home in our new book. If you need a last minute gift to share, you might consider The Life-giving Home and the planner/Bible study! Then we have a post card you can send to let your friends know it is coming.