The cattle are hunkered together in a bunch, their backs to the wind, finding some solace behind a row of willows. Together, they find protection. A few hundred make a group and conserve body heat.
The snow pulling on tree branches, the cattle bunched up, the wind carrying snow looks picturesque. Nothing we create can truly capture what it looks like in nature. It makes me think of the artificial Christmas trees with snow painted on the fake needles. It looks pretty, but it doesn’t look real.
When our kids were little, we had an artificial Christmas tree. Two of them were allergic to pine trees, and we figured out the kids were sick all during Christmas season. Certainly, to keep them healthy, we didn’t mind setting up an artificial tree, but when we were able to reintroduce a real tree again a few years ago – hallelujah. The smell of pine, the fun of cutting it down ourselves, the extra branches for wreaths, the pine needles all over the floor as the tree aged out …
Our kids are past the age of Santa visits, and I’m not a huge Santa person anyway, but when we were out and about, the kids would sit on Santa’s lap and get a candy cane. Well, two of the three would. Our oldest was usually the one to shock Santa: “I’d like a pink lariat rope and a pair of chinks.”
Insert blank-faced Santa.
“What? It’ll go with my pink gun. Thanks for the candy cane.” Off she’d go. (She did have a pink BB gun.)
Poor Santas. Most of them didn’t know what she was talking about. Ranch kids’ Christmas lists are sometimes a bit more interesting.
One of our kids, though, was terrified of Santa. As in, “Don’t make me go near him. I don’t care if I get candy, I’ll scream my head off if you try to take my picture with him.” This child, as he got older, said, “Doesn’t it bother you that a man we don’t know comes in our house? Yes, he’s leaving gifts, but isn’t that weird?” I think he was 6 or 7 years old when he said it.
He had a point.
There is still a point: We want to be known.
When the news is full of numbers and headlines, none of us want to be simply a statistic. We want to know our life matters and there is a point to what we do and who we are. We want community and connection. We might want to be heard.
These are all good things.
Thinking about gifts for people is a delight because I get to think about what might make them smile or be special to them. I want people to feel heard and seen.
As I think about Christmas this year, I keep thinking about authenticity. As our world has been in a spin of chaos for the past two years, I want to sink my teeth into what is real – good things that are real.
Real for me is:
- The smell of cookies baking in the oven
- A note or text from someone you care about
- Cows that dance up to the feed wagon (when feeding is necessary)
- Horses that make you look good
- Mittens and hats dripping dry in the mud room
- Warm boots on cold days
- A neighbor stopping to say hello
- A hot cup of tea or coffee on a blustery morning
- Snow tugging on leaves holding on to their green
- Real is emptiness giving way to life: an empty womb becoming full … a full tomb becoming empty
Mary wasn’t barren, but her womb was yet to bring life before Jesus. She was young and unmarried when Jesus entered. She had questions she didn’t have answers to and a heart that rejoiced because she knew God was working.
That is quite the balance: The known pulling equal weight with the unknown, keeping an equilibrium.
This is what I see with the snow tugging on green: an equilibrium of barrenness and life, dormancy and activity.
This is a balance I hope to keep front and center this year: uncertainty and a heart that rejoices. May it be a balance of fruitfulness and thanksgiving, redemption after loss. Authenticity even if there is artificial. If the first Christmas was dirty and messy and yet full of joy; well, that works for me.
Now, time to move the cows to a pasture with more protection from the weather. Happy trails.
Merry Christmas and many blessings to you all this Christmas season.
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife).