How hard can it be to find a handmade, fair-trade, biblically-accurate, ethnically-realistic, reasonably-priced, child-safe nativity scene?

“It’s been 10 years,” I say from across the dining room table. “This is the year. Let’s just get the first one that appeals to both of us and be done with it.” 

The room falls silent save the tap-tap-tapping of our fingers on our keyboards. 

“Here we go,” Dan says after a few minutes. “This one is porcelain. It has 15 pieces. Kinda looks like the one I had growing up, and it’s got a detachable baby Jesus, which you know I prefer.” 

He turns his laptop around so I can see. 

“No. I refuse to have a blonde Mary in my home. That’s non-negotiable. Also, let’s start with fair trade options.” 

Tap-tap-tap. 

Tap-tap-tap. 

“Oh look at this adorable Peruvian one from Ten Thousand Villages!” I coo. “They’re wearing traditional Quechua garb!” 

“You realize a Peruvian Mary is just as unrealistic as a blonde Mary right?” 

“…Or we could make a statement with this one that depicts Mary and Joseph as immigrants arriving on a bus. I love that.”  

“You’re kidding right?” 

Tap-tap-tap. 

Tap-tap-tap. 

“You know,” I finally say. “We should get something that’s appropriate and fun for kids. It probably won’t be just the two of us for much longer. We need to think ahead.” 

This changes everything for Dan who immediately begins assessing every nativity scene based on potential choking hazards. Suddenly a detachable Jesus seems like a Very Bad Idea. 

“Look at this one,” he finally says triumphantly. “Each piece is nearly a foot tall and BRONZE. Now, BRONZE is a sturdy material. No one’s going to choke on or break that!” 

I look out of morbid curiosity more than anything else. 

“Um, it doesn’t have any shepherds, only wise men, AND THE WISE MEN WERE NOT EVEN THERE!  Why can’t anyone get that right? Does anyone even READ the Bible anymore?” 

“Bronze is a very sturdy material,” Dan says. “It would be a legacy piece.” 

“It’s $300.” 

“Well I saw one that came with actual gold, frankincense, and myrrh that was $1500.” 

“Lord have mercy. Jesus would roll over in his grave…not that he’s actually in his grave. What? It’s a figure of speech.” 

Tap-tap-tap. 

Tap-tap-tap. 

“This one’s hand-carved from olive wood in Bethlehem.” 

“Too abstract” 

“This one comes with 25 pieces.” 

“Too small.” 

“This one comes with a battery-lit star.” 

“Too kitschy." 

“Well, we’ve got that gift card for Hobby Lobby,” I say. “Maybe we should take a look there. I’m sure they have lots of them.” 

“Aren’t you, like, against Hobby Lobby?” 

“No, I’m not against Hobby Lobby. I’m for affordable birth control…I just need to find a ‘This-is-What-a-Feminist Looks-Like’ t-shirt to wear before we go. To make a statement. Oh, and we gotta figure out what time to go to avoid all those consumeristic Christians crowding the stores. 

“We’re never going to get a nativity scene are we?”

“Probably not.” 

 

Y’all know I don’t believe in the war on Christmas. 

But I’m beginning to suspect there’s a war on handmade, fair-trade, biblically-accurate, ethnically-realistic, reasonably-priced, child-safe nativity scenes. 

Help me out here.  

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It’s a miracle any of us survived youth group…

So as I’m writing my next book—a memoir about church— I started reminiscing about youth group and all the crazy games we used to play, chief among them Chubby Bunny—a game in which several “volunteers” cram as many marshmallows as they can into their mouths and attempt to say “chubby bunny” without throwing up or choking to death. I asked on Twitter if you remember playing such games and this is what happened: 

I received more than 200 responses. You can read through my Twitter feed for more. 

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The day we made the Berenstain Bears laugh

From Monday:

It started after several of you commented on this little piece of Facebook hilarity

Which led to this fun conversation: 

Then a bunch of you jumped in and shared your favorite Berenestain Bears stories and I counted the whole day as an internet win. 

You rock. 

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What I did on my summer vacation

I went to my favorite place in the world.

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(view from the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park)

I spent some quality time with friends.

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(at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park)

I spent some quality time with my best friend.

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(from Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park)

 And I spent some quality time with Annie.

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I saw things bright and beautiful….

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(Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park)

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(Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park)

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(The Tetons)

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(White Cone Geyser, Yellowstone National Park) 

…and creatures great and small.

(Dan captured this awesome video at Fishercap Lake, Glacier National Park)

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(photo by Dan)

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(photo by Dan)

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(Photo by Dan) 

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(Photo by Rachel) 

Thankfully, we avoided this potential series of unfortunate events…

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But not this one:

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I went to church.

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(The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park) 

I waited for geysers, listened to birds, ran through a thunderstorm, heard the ground hiss and roar and bubble, smelled sulfur, watched wildflowers, tracked Moose, dozed off in the sunshine, fiddled with maps, hiked trails, got off the internet, adjusted to the earth’s schedule for a change, drove to the sun, and found these words to be true:

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(from the Logan Pass visitor’s center, Glacier National Park)

I listened, and in the silence I felt God’s delight in all these wild things, and I felt God’s delight in me.

I am wiped out, yet refreshed, sore but energized.  I’m the best kind of tired there is.

Thanks for giving me the space to rest.

 

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Eye on the Sparrow: What I've Learned from My Irrationally Personal Relationship with a Pair of Birds

'Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica)' photo (c) 2005, Lip Kee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

(I know it's Monday, but today's post isn't about sex; it's about birds. We'll get back on schedule next week.) 

The first rule of human-animal relationships is this: Never name an animal that isn’t your pet.  You don’t want to get too familiar with the pig you’ll be sending to slaughter or the stray cat that spends too much time by the road. If Charlotte’s Web taught us anything, it’s not to get attached (and not to take an unsupervised rat to a fair). 

So we didn’t name them at first—this family of flycatchers that built a nest in the corner of our carport four springs ago. We just watched their progress as each day their home grew from a mess of moss and twigs to a sturdy little fortress, high and safe from the elements, with a lovely view of our garbage cans. 

Location. Location. Location. 

We’d had a bit of a mishap with a family of Carolina wrens who set up camp in our grill two years before. The existential crisis brought on by sacrificing an entire summer of cookouts only to have them eaten by a cat was not something we wanted to repeat.

But not long after the first round of tiny eggs became observable from our poop-splattered car, the flycatchers in our carport became the Pips.  Mr. and Mrs., we presume, but we wouldn’t judge if it were some other arrangement because we’re progressive like that. 

(I can read the hate mail now: “Dear Mrs. Evans, I have followed your blog with great interest over the years, but have written to say I intend to ignore you from now on due to your blatant endorsement of alternative lifestyles within the animal kingdom.”)

One thing we did know was that the Pips were an egalitarian couple, switching out the duties of sitting on the nest and hunting for bugs, singing instructions and encouragement to one another from the railing on our front porch and the power lines above the house. We could watch all of this from our living room window, learning their routines, admiring their skills, wondering where they got off to and if they were okay when we hadn’t seen them in a while. I knew we were too far gone when, while watching “Dexter” on the couch, Dan and I spotted our little feathered friend just outside the window and said in perfect unison, “Hey, Pip,” like he was a member of the family just strolling through. 

The Pips are also Catholic, apparently. We marveled as their first brood of five grew so big we had no idea how they managed to stay piled on top of each other without toppling over, a precarious pyramid of wings and beaks and eyes. One sunny afternoon, I sat undetected in the car for an hour and watched them leave the nest—each one squawking nervously for about ten minutes before taking a giant poop and then flying away. 

To our surprise, a second round of eggs appeared not long after, but this one didn’t fare so well. Within a few weeks, we found the body of dead baby bird just below the nest. And the Pips—the whole family—suddenly disappeared. 

This pattern repeated itself for three years. The Pips would suddenly appear in the same nest each April, raise five healthy babies by mid-May, try again in June, and then disappear by July, leaving a nest of bones behind. 

After nine months away, they would come back, kick the leftover bones out of the nest, and start the cycle again. It became something of a seasonal delight, like strawberries in May, blueberries in July, and the Pumpkin Spice Latte in October. And, despite our best efforts, Dan and I got emotionally invested in the whole thing. 

Once, when I caught a pair of mockingbirds (otherwise know as the assholes of the sky) giving the Pips a hard time, I ran outside in my pajamas with a broom and screamed, “HEY! THIS IS PIP’S HOUSE! GET OUT OF HERE!” 

I imagined myself as something of a St. Francis figure in all of this, but Dan said I just looked like a crazy lady running through the yard without a bra on, screaming obscenities and waving a broom around. 

But don’t let him fool you. Dan loves the Pips as much as I do. Once, when he was mowing the lawn, he spotted a bunch of feathers scattered about near the edge of the property. Dan came inside, and gravely asked if I’d seen the Pips recently. We both stood by the window in nervous silence until, at last, we saw the pair of them flit up to the power line.  “Pip!!” we shouted together in relieved delight. Dan played it off, but I could tell he was truly relieved. 

We thought that perhaps our story with the Pips had reached an end when, last summer, after they had left for the season, Dan insisted on removing the nest. It had attracted a bunch of mites and spider webs over the past three years, and to be honest, we were getting a little tired of this reminder of the frailty of life that showed up in our carport without an invitation each year. I confess I got a little teary as Dan ceremoniously lifted the well-worn mess of leaves, twigs, moss, trash, and bones out of its spot to take it back into the woods. 

No trace of the Pips remained.  By winter, I’d nearly forgotten about them. 

So you can imagine my surprise when, nine months later, I pulled into the carport one chilly April evening and my headlights illuminated a mama flycatcher perched in the very same corner of the carport with her tail feathers in the air and frazzled look that plainly said:  “Where’s my nest, Bitch?” 

And so this year, we enjoyed yet another season of Pips, discussing them as though they were human neighbors: 

“Look! Pip’s got a caterpillar and is banging it against the railing to stun it! Nice!” 

“The last baby has left the nest! Maybe this year they’ll have the good sense not to try again.” 

“Pip’s mad. Look at his tuft; that’s what he does when he’s mad, I think.” 

“So I may have chased a cat down the street today. She was watching our yard a little too closely. Had to send a message.” 

“I haven’t seen Mr. Pip in a few days. You think he left her?” 

“How do you know it’s Mr. Pip and not Mrs. Pip who left? Maybe he’s been abandoned.”

“There’s a dead baby bird in the driveway. Please can you take care of it? It just makes me so sad.”  

“The Pips are gone. You think they’ll come back next year?” 

Jesus said that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing. 

I’m not sure why God is so partial to sparrows when the flycatcher is clearly the superior bird, but regardless, unlike most Christians, I’ve never found this statement to be of profound comfort. 

Jesus said God knows when a sparrow falls, not that God will do anything about it. The fact that we are worth more to God than many sparrows will not spare us from the same cycle of life and death we watch play out in carport every year. 

But I suppose it’s nice to know that God isn’t afraid of getting too attached, that even though His most valued creation will experience suffering, pain, sadness, and death, He still gives us names.  

Judging from my Facebook wall, we’re not the only ones invested in the lives of a little bird family each spring. So I guess I wrote this post to let you know that if God’s eye is on the Pips, then God’s eye is on your birds too. Heck, it may even be on the mockingbirds. 

What a privilege to see the world a little more like Him each spring. 

 

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