My Christmas Wish Book

MW Christmas catalog

Growing up every year as fall began, I would begin getting excited when the mailman came.  I would come home from school and ask my mother, “Did it come today?”   Anticipation grew each day until finally Mom would smile and say “Here it is!”  How excited I would be as I opened the Montgomery Wards Christmas catalog.

Aaron Montgomery Ward launched the nation’s first mail-order business with a one-page price list boasting 163 items, which he sent to farmers’ cooperatives throughout the rural Midwest.   Unlike existing mail-order businesses that dealt only in individual items, Ward offered the rural consumer a variety of merchandise and, by eliminating the middleman, kept prices low. His new business found a ready market as homesteaders pushed west across the frontier. By the spring of 1874, his price list had grown to 32 pages and was bound into a catalog. Ward offered a guarantee – “Satisfaction or your money back!” It was dubbed the Wish Book.

Wards was the first, but ultimately not the biggest, mail-order business in Chicago. In 1887, Richard Warren Sears, who had sold watches in Minneapolis, moved to the city and with the help of Alvah Curtis Roebuck, a watchmaker, began a mail-order business selling watches. By 1893, the Sears catalog, soon to be called the Big Book, was selling furniture, baby carriages and musical instruments–and carrying some clever advertising. One item–a sewing machine, price $1–was really a needle and thread.

For my family in the 1950’s there was no shopping mall, no on-line shopping, no strip malls.  But faithfully every year we got a Christmas catalog from Montgomery Wards.  My sister, Minnie, and I got hours of joy out of that catalog.  We would sit on the couch with the catalog open to the girls’ clothes or the toys, me on the left side and Minnie on the right, pretending we had lots of money and could order anything we wanted.  With the catalog open, I got first choice of anything on the left page.  After I picked what I wanted on that page, Minnie could then pick what she wanted.  She could pick anything except what I had picked.  That was mine.  Then we would go to the right page and Minnie got first choice with me getting second choice.

Scan_Pic0038

My family in early 1950’s:  Dad, Mom, “Big Sis” Velma, brother Dorvin, “midde Sis” Minnie and me – the baby of the family!

We did that for weeks before Christmas until the pages were all ragged from our turning them over and over.

Over the years, both companies opened stores, and the mail-order business became secondary. In 1985, Montgomery Ward ceased publishing its catalog; Sears ended the Big Book in 1993. Yet the mail-order catalog’s place in American life was undeniable. In 1946, a book-lovers society included a Montgomery Ward catalog on its list of the 100 American books that had most affected American life, noting “no idea ever mushroomed so far from so small a beginning, or had so profound an influence on the economics of a continent, as the concept, original to America, of direct selling by mail, for cash.”

Today, I miss the wish book.  Somehow standing in long, long lines and watching people grab and push to get an specially priced item does not compare to sitting in my pajamas in my own home with a cup of coffee and spending hours looking at all the different options available in the wish book.

Time moves on, things change.  While I really do not wish to return to the “good old days” I do miss the “good old days” of wish books.

 

Abundance of Friends

Friend – a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

Friend – a person who you like and enjoy being with.

I sometimes envy other women when they share how they have been friends for 10, 20 or 30 years.  I listen to them talk about their high school days or they share those years when they were both raising their families and the good times when the two families would get together for holidays or camping trips.

Looking at my own life, I have moved around a lot.  In the 12 years of grade and high school, I attended 10 different schools.  In sixth grade, I was in three different schools.  Growing up, I was always the new kid.  The longest I have ever lived in a house is 16 years and that is the house I live in now.  When people ask me where I am from, I am not certain how to answer.  My “home town” – the place where my parents and their families are from is in southern Illinois.  However, we moved from that town when I was ten and the only connection I have to that place is the graves of my parents.

So sometimes when I listen to these women speak of their long-time friendships, I feel like “I have no friends.”

But when I take a second look at my life I realize I have been blessed with an abundance of friends.  Looking at the definition of friends as “a person you like and enjoy being with” I recognize that moving around as I have – different communities, different schools, different churches, different jobs – I have been blessed with many people who I liked and enjoyed being with.  There are, I have come to believe, seasons of friendship.  People have come and gone in my life – not because our friendship ended but time and distance have made it hard to remain close.

That does not negate the value of their friendship.  Even the many friends in the past with whom I have lost contact remain in my mind with precious memories of our times together.  Although  there are even some whose last name I cannot recall, I remember their support and friendship at that season of my life and how valuable it was.  And Facebook has been a blessing in that area as it has helped me connect again with many friends from the past.  I was surprised and so happy when I got a message a few years ago from a woman in the Philippines asking if I was the same Barbara Lane who had taught a leadership class at their church years ago.  We reconnected and I was able to encourage her as she went through a battle with cancer.

  • There are my friends from fifth grade who took this shy new kid on the block and made my fifth grade year probably the best school year of my life.
  • There are friends from Perryville, Missouri who supported me with such love after my husband was killed in a tragic accident.  They offered food, they offered babysitting services.  That first Thanksgiving I had so many invitations for Thanksgiving dinner from friends who knew I had no family in the area.  They all  offered their home if I would not be able to go home for the holiday.
  • Friends from Iloilo City in the Philippines who helped me adjust to a different culture, different climate.
Scan_Pic0084

Celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends in Iloilo City, Philippines

  • Friends from work at the law firm of Bernard & Davidson who prayed with me and took on some of my work load when I lost a beloved step-father and brother in death just weeks apart and had a daughter in Texas with toxic shock syndrome.
  • Friends from Mid-American Energy who took such care of me for over a year while I went through treatment for cancer.  The day I came to work after finishing my last radiation treatment, they stood up from their desks and applauded me as I walked to my desk.  I felt like an athlete making a victory lap.
Scan_Pic0080

Friends from MEC who took this picture the day of my mastectomy and brought it to me with a gift basket

  • Friends from churches I have attended as a pastor’s kid, a lay person, a pastor’s wife and now a lay person again.  With them I have laughed, cried, prayed and they have helped me grow in the Lord.

 

Scan_Pic0083

Women from Free Will Baptist Church on a field trip to Galena

 

13669490_10208794364129913_6082713423695605498_o

Ladies Weekend Retreat with friends from Milan Christian Church

Have all my friends proven true?  No.  There have been times when those I thought were friends have hurt me, disappointed me, even betrayed me.  But I still reach out to make friends.  To shut myself off from others because of a few hurts might spare future pain – but would certainly stop future joy!

But the best friend I have ever had is my Lord Jesus Christ!  All of my friends have been able to help me many times, but there are times when only the Lord could meet my need.  I shared in a past blog about being all alone when I had radiation treatment.  No friend could be with me then.  But the Lord was.  Coincidence or An Act of God?

jesus_christ_image_117

Best friend!

One of the old gospel songs says it best.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer

If you need a friend, let me introduce you to the best friend who will ever have – Jesus Christ.

 

 

I Don’t Do Cookies!

cookies

It’s that time of year!

All over the country mothers and grandmothers are busy in the kitchen baking cookies with their kids and grandkids.  On Facebook I see post after post of beautifully decorated cookies and smiling faces of children with their mother as they happily put their special touch on the cookies made to look like snowmen and angels and reindeer.  So many creative women out there making wonderful memories with their children.

Then there’s me.  Mother of the year – NOT!

When my girls were little I wanted to be that mother who makes such memories for her children by following that tradition of making cookies for Christmas.  I got out my cookbooks and looked for recipes that said “easy to make.”  All excited, I brought my little girls into the kitchen, sat them up at the counter and explained how we would start our own tradition and have these wonderful bonding moments making memories to last a lifetime.

We followed the recipe and put the cookies in the oven.  When the timer went off, we eagerly opened the door expecting to have these wonderful cookies to decorate.  The cookies were a disaster.  They looked burned to a crisp.

Not one to give up easily, we made a new batch and tried again this time taking them out earlier.  The cookies were still a disaster.  This time they were gluey and clearly not done completely in the middle.

We pressed on!

I tried valiantly several times to make Christmas cookies before I finally accepted the fact that I don’t do cookies.  No matter what recipe I used, no matter how hard I tried, my cookies were always too hard, too soft, overdone, under-cooked.  In other words, I don’t do cookies.

I make a mean apple pie.  At family gatherings, my kids and grandkids always ask for my banana pudding or peach cobbler.  My husband requests my black forest cake and it is always a hit at potlucks or parties.  But cookies?  I don’t do cookies!

Hopefully my daughters were not scarred by being the only kids in the family who did not make Christmas cookies with their mother.  Hopefully my grandchildren have not felt disappointed that Grandma never had plates of delicious, beautiful decorated cookies to eat at Christmas time.

Papa to the rescue!

This year my husband has come to my rescue.  He makes wonderful jumbo raisin cookies using his mother’s recipe.  When my youngest granddaughter came over today he took her into the kitchen and patiently helped her crack eggs, toast walnuts and showed her how to make cookies.

Papa makes the best cookies in the world!

Sampling the cookies when they came out of the oven looking just right, my granddaughter declared, “Papa makes the best cookies in the world!”  She was right.  They are delicious!

raisin-cookies

We made other memories!

Despite my total lack of cookie-baking ability, I know my girls and I made other good memories at Christmas time.

  • Wooden Christmas decorations we painted one year that they still have on their tree
  • Watching the movie, “Popeye”
  • Snuggling in bed and reading the “Ugly Joke Book”
  • Decorating the tree

So as I look at all the Facebook posts of beautiful Christmas cookies, I thank God for all those mothers out there making memories.  But I want to encourage those mothers whose house does not look like it was decorated by Good Housekeeping, whose cookies are a flop, and whose Christmas presents are not elegantly wrapped.

Just love your children and laugh with them.  Cookies or not, they will love you too and treasure their Christmas memories.

I Hate Waiting!

Waiting….having patience…not easy for me.

In our culture I would guess it is not easy for most of us.  We pull up to the fast food place ready to give our order and if we have to wait more than a few seconds before we hear the words, “Can I help you?”  we start complaining.  “Come on!  I’m in a hurry!”

instant-food

We look for dinners in the store that can be popped in the microwave and be ready in two or three minutes.

We have “instant” coffee, “instant breakfast drinks” and now stores are offering “instant credit.”

Our spending habits reflect that also.  We want it now, we do not have the money now, so we charge it now and pay later.  Unfortunately for many of us, when “later” comes, we still do not have the money.  Waiting is not something we find easy.

But for a Christian, waiting is part of our faith.  In the Old Testament, they waited year after year for the Messiah to come.  In the New Testament, we wait for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In this first week of Advent we focus on that waiting, that longing.  As we reflect back on the longing of the Israelites as they awaited the coming of their Messiah and see the fulfillment of that longing, we can rejoice that God is faithful.  What He says He will do….He will do.

Over 400 scriptures and prophecies tell us of His birth, life, death, resurrection and His return as conquering King.  As we read those scriptures and see how Jesus fulfilled them, we are assured that God has a plan for His people.

And as surely as He brought the promise of the Messiah to fruition, we can rest assured that the promise of His return in glory will also be fulfilled.

So – this first week of Advent, I am preparing my heart to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and remind myself to be patient as I wait for the fulfillment of His return.

As Isaiah said when speaking of the ministry of the Messiah,

Prepare the way of the Lord

I seek to prepare my heart for the Messiah.  It is not easy to do that in our culture.  We have made Christmas such a busy time that often we are guilty of having “no room” in our hearts, in our lives for the one the holiday is all about.

My husband and I have been blessed by the responsibility of planning our church’s Christmas Eve service.  How surprised I have been at the people who told me they could not help or would not be there because they had other obligations.  Not meaning to be guilty of being a Pharisee or judging, but I have to wonder just how much we have made this season about everything except the Messiah.  Shopping, decorating, baking, parties.  All of these are not bad, but I pray that in all of this, I will not lose sight of what it is really about.  I pray that I will take the time to prepare the way of the Lord in my own life.

And I seek to be patient as I wait for the fulfillment of his glorious return.

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Go Home Again

51T0uiLvkyL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The writer Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel entitled “You Can’t Go Home Again.”  The main character in the book, George Webber, realizes “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood …back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing.”

And L.P. Hartley in his book, “The Go-Between” wrote “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

What does that mean – “You Can’t Go Home Again”

I always took it to mean that things and you change, and that you can never recapture the feelings you had in the past. It will always seem different.

Either that, or your parents have moved without leaving a forwarding address

But on a serious note, I recently saw how true those sentiments are.

This past spring my husband and I took a trip to the South.  Planning our trip, I wanted to stop by my home town in southern Illinois to see the house where so many of my childhood memories took place.  It was a small house with a white picket fence, a front porch with a swing and roses growing on a trellis behind the swing.

In this house I was given my first Bible as a birthday gift from my oldest sister.  One of my happiest Christmas memories occurred here.  Shopping with my mother, I had discovered a beautiful little kitchen set complete with dishes.  When I asked my mother if I could have that, she said, “Sorry, honey, but that is too expensive.  But maybe we could just get some dishes without a complete kitchen.”

That Christmas, after we had opened our gifts and I had my small set of dishes, the phone rang.  Some friends of ours had a little girl my age.   She had received two identical Christmas gifts.  Her parents wanted to know if they could share the extra gift with me.  Imagine my excitement when they brought the gift over – it was the very kitchen set I had wanted.

Other wonderful memories I shared with this little house:  playing “cowboys and Indians” in the back yard with my brother; sitting with all the family on the front porch and watching the 4th of July parade which came right by our house; mother’s great chicken dumplings dinner always followed by delicious pies.

Nearing my home town, it was clear that things were not as before.  Our house had been on the western end of town – just a few blocks from our street you were in the country.  But now, there was an interstate running west of town with hotels, restaurants and stores – all places we had never heard of 50 plus years ago.

  • McDonald’s
  • Wal-Mart
  • Cracker Barrel
  • Comfort Suites
  • Days Inn
  •  Instead of driving 4-5 blocks to reach my street, we drove and drove block after block before finally I saw it – 24th Street.  I was so excited as we drove down the street – looking eagerly for that white picket fence.

    But there was no white picket fence!!!

    As we got close to the block where my house was, I was appalled to see the terrible condition of the houses.  Instead of the neat yards I remembered, there was trash and junk cars, weeds were growing where once there had been flower beds.
    When we finally reached the house, I wanted to cry!  Instead of the little white house, I saw a house that had not been painted in years – now a dingy grey.  The porch was about to fall down.  There were no roses growing up the side of the porch and instead of a swing on the porch, there were garbage bags and piles of trash.
    As we pulled over to the side of the road and I took a closer look, memories of the past came flooding through my mind.  Sadly, I realized they were memories only – the past would not, could not ever happen again.  My parents and my brother were deceased, my sisters and I were way too old to ever sit on the kitchen floor and play “jacks” again.  And this poor old house – and this neighborhood – would never be the beautiful, peaceful place I had known as a child.
    Coming home and reflecting on this I realized how important it is to enjoy today – not looking back or looking forward, but enjoy TODAY!  I thank God for the memories of the past – but they are just that – memories.  I must never look so much at the past that I ignore the wonderful blessings  all around me today.  And I must never worry so much about the future that I miss the joys of today.

    The words of Apostle Paul speaks to not looking back:
    No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
    And E. M. Bound speaks so well on worrying about the future in his book, “The Necessity of Prayer
    When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are, in a measure shutting tomorrow out of our prayer.  We do not live in tomorrow but in today.  We do not seek tomorrow’s grace of tomorrow’s bread.  They thrive best, and get most out of life, who live in the living present…Bread, for today, is bread enough.