I wandered through the tables that were heaped high with stuff that well-meaning people had cleaned out of their closets and basements to donate to the church rummage sale.  The room was filled with row upon row of rummaging delight, but I wandered in a daze, clutching two small items, a plaque that said “God bless our home”, and a small  ceramic church, a lone building that cried out to be a beacon of hope – to no village in particular, but to me specifically.

My home had just burned to the ground a few days earlier, and a well-meaning friend had drug me to this rummage sale, and generously said I could have anything I wanted — but all I wanted was for God to bless our home – not the one that was gone, but the one that we would create with all of the things that really mattered – our little family, safe and sound.

What do you choose in a room full of stuff, when all your stuff is gone, and you don’t even have any stuff to put stuff in?  I was overwhelmed by the choices, and particularly by the loss of all my familiar things.  We surround ourselves with things that make us comfortable, and then we get in a routine of taking care of, protecting, organizing and cleaning our stuff.  I could hardly remember how to cook dinner, because I didn’t have my usual pots and pans, and couldn’t seem to make my hands remember the routine, without them.

I had always made spaghetti the same way, following the same path in my kitchen, getting the same ingredients from the same spot in the pantry, opening the same drawer without looking to grab the utensil from the spot where it always was, and now I didn’t even have a pot to boil the water, or a colander to strain the pasta, or a serving dish, or plates to set on the table.  – what table?.  Agh!

I needed so much, that the mere thought of thinking about what I needed was overwhelming.  And so, I clutched the plaque and the Christmas Church, my only two purchases that day.

So, why did I choose a ceramic church, when there were so many other things I obviously needed more desperately?  I had loved decorating for Christmas, and collected ceramic ornaments, and Christmas village pieces as soon as I was married.  As a child, I had spent hours lying under the Christmas tree, arranging the cottony snow, setting up the picket fence, placing the village houses and reindeer in certain configurations, and then rearranging them over and over again as I enjoyed the fragrance, if not the poke of the cedar needles.

It was a memory of a safe and happy time, and I had wanted that for my children, but now my village was gone, and even if I didn’t remember how to make spaghetti, I knew that someday I would have a Christmas village again.  I decided to create a new tradition.  Every year, we would buy a new piece for our village.  The first year, the church, the foundation of every community, was pretty lonely, but as the years passed the village grew as we added a school, houses, stores, people and lampposts.  The children took turns picking the piece each year.   Going to the store became an event.  After carefully making our purchase, we’d excitedly remove the piece from the box, label the box with the year, and add the piece to our collection.

And here is the miracle – pain goes away when replaced with pleasure.  We took great delight in our new tradition, and the old losses faded into the distance of fond memory.  Now, I rarely even think of the ‘old days’ before the fire.  I don’t miss any of the stuff that was once so important to me, because it has been replaced by new stuff.  I quickly learned new cooking habits, with new kitchen gadgets, and now make my way around a new kitchen with ease and familiarity.  Hope gets you through the pain until the joy returns.

I thought I’d share a picture of our Christmas Village this year.  We have just about everything in our village — except a police station, my son tells me.  I just remind him that we are fortunate to have a law-abiding village, and he agrees and just puts a black helicopter on top of the General Store to keep the peace.  Soon, our children will begin to leave our home, and I’ll divide up the village and send a share of the pieces to their new homes to begin their own villages.  As you can see, ours is getting kind of crowded anyway!

During this Christmas season, establish your own traditions, realize that you don’t need ‘stuff’ to make you happy, and gather your children close and make some memories that will grow with the years and travel with them to their next home.

Merry Christmas!


You can see the little church that started it all on the top in the very center!

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Won Without Words by Shari Popejoy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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