By Lori Copeland
Zondervan Copyright © 2007 Copeland, Inc.
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-310-27226-7
Rose turned an eye to her refrigerator where her already overburdened calendar hung. Rank smells wafted from the brimming trash can that her husband Joey had forgotten to empty. "What about it?"
"It's for the bulletin. Pastor wants little bits of information on Advent's origin, traditions, how long the season lasts. Then it might be fun to throw in how other countries observe the Christmas holiday." As the ace secretary at Bethlehem Messiah Church, Kay put the merriest slant on the request, and Rose knew by the time she hung up, her calendar would have another starred check mark. The beginnings of a migraine gripped her temples.
Rose eyed the overflowing sink stacked with breakfast dishes. Her two teenagers could open a cabinet, select a bowl and spoon, find the milk in the refrigerator, heap sugar on frosted cereal, and eat. But somehow they were rendered helpless on a full stomach to rinse their dishes. Instead, they'd dump them into the sink with the glowing assurance that mom would come along and locate the dishwasher.
Kay's voice jerked her back to reality. "Think you could do that for us?"
"I guess I could." I guess I could, Rose's inner voice mimicked her standard mantra. "How soon do you need theinformation?"
The fall church craft sales were over, and the crocheted toilet-paper roll covers and wooden rearview cutouts of a woman bending over in the garden were put away for another year. Folks had already flocked up north for their annual pilgrimage to see the leaves, so gorgeous along the North Shore. Performances for Christmas pageants, orchestra, choir, and theater goings-on would soon be in high gear, along with outdoor reenactments by amateurs and professionals.
"As soon as possible. Pastor Ralph wants something cheerful to kick-start the holidays."
"Sure. I'll see what I can find."
Next month St. Paul would host the Winter Carnival with its masterful ice and snow carvings, a treat Rose and the family never missed, and one that took them away from their home in Nokomis at least a couple of weekends during the month. Better to get her good deeds in early this year so she'd have a viable excuse to refuse later on.
"Thanks, Rose. We knew we could count on you!"
Rose punched the "off" button on the phone. Facts about Advent season. The request wasn't difficult, just time consuming, and time was a precious commodity. She whipped the kitchen into order and emptied the smelly trash. A batch of brownies went into the oven for her teenage son Eric's youth meeting that night. Turning to the huge box of Christmas decorations her husband Joey had lugged from the attic last night, Rose scanned the years of accumulated seasonal knickknacks: holiday wreaths that had seen better days, two ceramic cookie jars, a snowman, and a slightly cracked laughing Santa face that Anna had dropped when she was three.
Carefully peeling back the tissue from the family Advent calendar, Rose thought of all the years this timely tradition had given the family. It wouldn't be Christmas without the calendar. A treasured family heirloom from the Black Forest, beautifully carved, the calendar was formed by tiny cubicles where a small nativity figure nestled behind the date. Grandpa Karlsen had purchased the keepsake for Grandma Louise in Frankfurt, Germany, while serving in the army during World War I. Family legend had it that she scolded him severely for spending money on something that wasn't a necessity. It had been passed down to Rose's mother, and in turn she had passed it on to her daughters who shared custody of the priceless heirloom. This year the calendar would grace Rose's home.
She set the Advent calendar on its special shelf above the table in the sunny kitchen nook and located the first piece, then put the tiny hand-painted cradle at the foot of the date of December 1. She stood back to admire her work.
Warm sunshine filtered through the bare branches on the sugar maple tree standing just outside. Minnesotans gave thanks for a mild early winter day like this one.
Rose focused on the brown lawn. Joey had been so busy, he had neglected to winterize the birdbath. The round concrete bowl needed to be turned over so it wouldn't collect water and freeze. Like every holiday season, Joey put in long hours at South Side Transport, the family trucking company. Business was always brisk around the holiday season.
Joey wasn't the only one chasing his tail-they'd all been busy. Christmas meant church activities added to an already hectic schedule. Rose felt the familiar tightening in her stomach, the painful pierce of "how will I do it all?" starting to creep through her psyche. Christmas should be more than frantic activities, hectic crowds, and overworked husbands. The holiday held deeper significance and Rose knew it-it wasn't that she didn't want to slow down, but life got in the way.
This year she would go through the motions for the sake of her family, but that inward elation, the joy she once felt, was missing. Truth was, she was just too tired from putting up all of the decorations, hanging lights around the roof, and baking endless cookies. She was so busy doing Christmas, there wasn't time to experience Christmas.
She shifted the calendar, tilting it just so. The movement jostled December 1, and the wooden square tumbled, struck the white kitchen table, then rolled behind a chair leg. Dropping to her hands and knees, she squeezed through the chair support bars, her hand groping for the piece.
Her cell phone tinkled an animated version of "Jingle Bells," a ring tone her fifteen-year-old daughter, Anna, had chosen for the season.
Rose's head shot up and smacked the hard bottom of the table. Tears welled in her eyes. That'll sure help my headache. Frantically rubbing the smarting area, she backed out of a maze of table and chair legs. The stench of burning brownies reached her nose.
"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!"
She spent precious seconds frantically searching for her oven mitt. Smoke started to roll from the sides of the oven door. The smoke alarm went off, and above the pulsing shriek, the cell phone played its tune.
"Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!"
Rose located the mitt, shoved it onto her right hand, opened the oven door, and yanked out the pan of smoldering brownies. Then she dunked the smoking pan in the sink and reached for the phone with her left hand. A plume of steam fogged the shadow box window.
Snatching up the phone, Rose caught the last notes-"all the way!"
"Rose?" Sharon Walker chirped.
"Did I catch you at a bad time?"
Rose fixed on the smoke and steam spewing up from the sink and was able to fan the air in front of the smoke alarm to silence its shrill cry. Her fingers explored the knot on her head, not surprised to find it the size of a cheese cube. "Did you need something, Sharon?" Sharon was the Sunday school social director.
"Lois Gleeson had emergency gall bladder surgery this morning."
Rose sobered. "I'm sorry. Is she okay?"
"She's doing nicely; she can come home in the morning. I'm arranging take-in meals for the coming week. Can I put you down to help on Friday and Monday evening? She'll need something with fiber, no dairy content, and low fat."
As much as Rose wanted to voice a refusal, she couldn't. But where would she find time to prepare additional food and deliver it two evenings this week? She'd have to crowd it in between basketball and choir practices, but how could she refuse Lois? Lois had carried in meals for her family when Rose was stricken with the flu last winter.
"Sure, I'd love to help!" She closed her eyes, head throbbing, and reached for a pen to scribble the dates on her calendar. Without the trusty calendar and day planner she carried in her purse, she'd forget to dress some mornings.
They chatted a few minutes before Sharon excused herself to make the remainder of her culinary mercy calls.
A loud clatter shattered the silence after they hung up. Rose slowly turned to stare at the calendar shelf, now hanging lopsided, secured to the wall by one bracket. December 1 was probably somewhere between the kitchen and the next block.
Rose collapsed in a chair, a mental to-do list racing through her mind. Church, the Christmas program, thrift shop, brownies, fix dish for Lois, and on and on. And on. How could she possibly get it all done? And what would Joey say about her taking on even more? Lately he had seemed a little irritated at her constant running and doing, but wasn't she doing the Lord's work? How could she say no to any one of the requests? She'd promised God to do everything her hands found to do, and to do it well.
Suddenly she felt every ounce of her thirty-eight years crowding her.
Excerpted from Unwrapping Christmas by Lori Copeland Copyright © 2007 by Copeland, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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