Ron and I were married in 1968 and, after five childless years, adopted a family of three through the State of Oregon. They were two ruffians, aged 10 and eight, and a four-year-old diva. We were over-the-moon excited.
A year later,Ron's job was terminated and we had to relocate. That holiday season when I brought our Christmas things up from the basement, I realized that I had most of our Nativity set, but the shepherds and the structure were missing. I looked everywhere and discovered an unfamiliar box with teaching supplies in it. I concluded that somewhere a teacher was trying to post the alphabet around her classroom with our shepherds and manger. I was bummed. My life - or rather, my motherhood - wasn't turning out quite the way I'd imagined. I wasn't as good or as smart as I thought I'd be. I thought love would solve everything, but while it's a powerful tool and usually wins out in the end, there's a lot of messiness in the middle that requires knowledge and understanding - difficult things to come by with confused and frustrated children. I needed my manger!
On a shopping expedition to Portland, we found a sale of Fontanini nativity sets. They were beautiful but a little pricey. There was one set, though, that was half price! As we made the purchase, I remarked to the clerk how lucky we were to have found the sale, and she said, "You realize the ones you bought are half price because the shepherds are missing and it has no building?" Accepting that as some cosmic joke on us, we took them home, not much better off than we were before.
Ron went down to the basement while I fixed dinner and emerged with a dusty, ancient box and a wide smile. "Part of the roblem solved," he said. He'd found the Lincoln Logs from his childhood. If you're too young to know what those are, they're a building set from the Thirties and Forties (maybe older) using wooden log-shaped pieces with notched ends. I was doubtful, but I smiled supportively.
He cleared off the top of our old stereo and started building. Interested, the children went to help. By the time dinner was ready, the four of them had built a very elegant structure with a pen for the animals. Our new figures looked beautiful inside - even without shepherds. Mike, Pat, and Kathy were thrilled with the outcome and Ron wore the triumphant look of the man who has saved the day.
After dinner, when everyone else was occupied, I went to take another, closer look at the manger. It WAS beautiful, and I had a sort of epiphany. The manger was patched together like our lives. Wow. I clearly remember that as a turning point in my mission as a mother, a rededication of myself to the job. A new serenity came over me. I could do this. It wouldn't always be pretty, and it would take more than I thought I had, but I could do it.
It occurred to me, too, that most times, there is no visible shepherd to guide you. You have to look inside to find Him.