Were you born in a barn?

You may recall that time last week when my son used his brother’s face as a door stop and I might’ve lost my cool for the teensiest, tiniest bit of time.

I looked straight my husband and said, “WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BABY?!”

And Greg said, “I JUST ASKED CAEL TO CLOSE THE BACK DOOR! It hit Cai in the head.”

And I said, “What were you thinking?? We don’t close doors around here! WE WERE ALL BORN IN A BARN! Geez!”

And then I had to apologize.

Later, though, when I quit my wallowing, I got to thinking about the barn.

I thought about all the times I’ve heard someone say, “Close the door! Were you born in a barn?” And I thought about how nice it must be for them to live in a house where everything is immaculate. A house where you take off your shoes so you don’t track mud all over the pristine floors – unlike at my house, where I insist guests remain shod lest they step on one of many grotesque things on the ground. A house where there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. A house that smells like cinnamon buns and not like children’s bums.

Most of the time, I love the happy chaos of my house, and I realize that the dirty walls, the broken cabinets, and the sticky couch are an easy exchange to make for the privilege of raising people who carry my heart in their grimy, precious hands.

Other times, though, I wonder whether life is better on the other side of the barn door. You know, the one where people don’t act like they were born in a barn, where they keep their crap together, and where they don’t stop and think, “Oh good grief, have I even bathed my children this week?”

But then I remembered something that, to me, is a total game changer.

Because guess who was born in a barn? A real, dirty, grimy, nonglamorous barn?

Jesus. That’s who. Jesus was born in a barn full of pooping animals.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

‘Tis the season! The season of Christmas. The season of peppermint candy canes. The season of hot chocolate with whipped cream and red sprinkles. The season of wonder and wow. The season of big eyes and bright lights. The season of magic and anticipation. And, of course, the season of The Baby. The Baby who epitomizes everything that’s precious about waiting with pregnant expectation.

Now, I know that churchy people complain about the emphasis of gifts and Santa and trees and reindeer at Christmas, and I know why they do it; it comes from the best of places – the desire to put the emphasis of Christmas where it belongs, on the Christ child. And I tried on that Mom mantle for size – the displeasure at the sparkly periphery of the season – but it didn’t fit right; it itched and scratched in all the wrong places because I’m stuck somewhere in childhood myself, and I love every bit of the magic that comes along this time of the year. I love the Baby, and I love the periphery, too. I love talking about Christmas elves and waiting for the Christ child.

I wonder about the “extras” of Christmas – things like presents, Santa, and waking up far too early on Christmas morning. I wonder, rather than detract from our children’s understanding of Advent, if the fun and silly bits – even the make-believe bits – just might help our kids understand the Jesus story better.

See, I’m a mama who waited for my babies. Through the throes of miscarriages and infertility, down the long and winding paths of adoption and high-risk pregnancy, my journey to motherhood was scary and uncertain. I ache for young Mary and for every mother who has to choose faith and hope when all she can see is darkness. I understand to my core the expectation of Advent. I know that to wait for a baby is to feel pulses of adrenaline, surges of love, fear of failure, and hope for a family. And I know no greater joy than to have chubby arms wrap themselves around my neck and feel the hot, wet breath in my ear that whispers, “I wuhve you, Mama.” I have, in fact, long suspected that such moments are the very things that Mary pondered in her heart.

My children, though? They don’t know. They don’t understand.  They can’t comprehend what it means to wait with expectation for the Baby that will change Everything. Not yet. Not the same way a mama does. But my kids do have an innate ability – a gift – to understand magic. To have faith. To know that wonder is worth waiting for and that joy lies at the end of anticipation. My children are living fully in the present, in a whirlwind of Jesus and Santa Claus, lowing cattle and reindeer, the gifts of the Magi and the presents under the tree. And I believe this: Children who walk Christmas roads that are saturated with expectation of all kinds will forever long for Advent. For the Coming. They will be comforted, when childhood fantasies fade, that the bigger magic – the best magic – is really real. Because Emmanuel means God with us. And that, my friends, is the most powerful magic of all.

But it gets better. At least, better for me! Because God knew that to be with us meant inserting Jesus into the muck and the mire, right into the gooey, sticky center of life. It meant sending a baby – The Baby – to be born in a barn. And then, THEN God gave admission to the stinky shepherds right alongside the Kings… because God left that barn door all the way open.

As for me and my family, we choose the barn. The stinky, smelly barn, pregnant with joyful anticipation and doors that are always open.

Merry Christmas!



“red doors to heaven” image credit pixomar at freedigitalimages.net

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. Linked back to this post thru today’s post. Been thinking about that “stable/barn” thing. Pretty amazing. I mean, seriously–giving birth with no running water, not a whole lot of privacy, and how the heck do you clean everyone up? It’s a first time mom and dad in a BRAND NEW TOWN. Can’t you just see it. “uh, pardon me, I don’t want to be a problem, but my wife just had a boy in your barn. We kinda need something to clean up the mess. What? Oh, yea, we KNEW she was pregnant, but Caesar wouldn’t let us waive the travel requirements until the baby was a little older. I’m really sorry to bother you. But maybe some old rags and a bucket and could you point me to the nearest well?” And then later “Sorry about the noise and the bright light. Not really sure how the word got out that we had had our baby. But the shepherds found out about it and HAD to come see and with the sheep that wouldn’t stop following them and the excitement of telling us about angels in the sky singing. . . Well, it got a bit rowdy there for a while. I’ll do my best to try to quiet things down now. Yea. And thanks for letting us use the manger for a bed. I’m a carpenter by trade, but just didn’t have time to make a cradle yet–what with having to travel to Bethlehem with a pregnant wife. Just wanted to say Thank you very much. Have a merry Christmas.”

  2. […] look; even though I’m very Jesusy and very churchy, I do not ever, ever, ever push my faith here because I believe that whole […]

  3. i just found your blog today (and boy am i glad i did!) so i´m a couple years late on this, but this post is wonderful.

  4. Beautiful, Beth. Thank you for this. You have an uncanny way of eloquently putting what is in my heart. Merry Christmas from this mama of 8.

  5. Perfectly said. I just love your reminder about the barn door – also part of why Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of my favorite Christmas stories.

    “And I believe this: Children who walk Christmas roads that are saturated with expectation of all kinds will forever long for Advent. For the Coming.” hits right at my heart, too. Even with or without Santa, there are so many wonders & expectations of the season that contribute to that expectation. I love the spark they create in a child’s eye & heart.

    Thank you for sharing your heart this Christmas & all year.
    ~the mom in the CO barn, not too far down the road from yours, that smells of rabbits & bearded dragons & horses & glue & Christmas

  6. This is really lovely. I agree that though sometimes I feel put off by the commercial side of Christmas, I remember my own love for non-religious Christmas as a little girl and can’t quite bring myself to hate it. We have a blended part Jesus/manger-part Christmas tree/candy cane Christmas. It works for us.

  7. […] Were you born in a barn?” Maybe the reason Jesus doesn’t close the door on us is because he was born in a barn — a real, dirty, grimy, non-glamorous barn – and so he understands our mess.  “And she […]

  8. […] if not worry, then what? Prayer? Oh, blurg. Please don’t misunderstand. I love Jesus. I do. And not only because of that whole water-to-wine number, although I will say, Good one, […]

  9. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

  10. […] thousand years ago, God-with-Us was born in a stinky barn, proving that miracles happen right smack dab in the middle of the […]

  11. I’m so grateful for each and every kind and encouraging (and funny – thanks a lot, J!) comment! I keep meaning to reply to you individually, but I’m struggling with time. I still intend to mix up a batch of time… but in the meantime, know that I read and cherish every comment!

  12. I, too, cried. Beautiful. And truthful. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Holly! After J’s comment, I needed that. 😉

  13. You are a cool woman, Beth Woolsey. That probably means a lot because I’m a hip twenty-something.

    I’ve been thinking about Christmas magic that isn’t specifically Christian as well, and being without most of it in China the season lacks something special. My excitement in general epitomizes in my excitement in Christ, and a lot of that comes from secular seasonal stimuli.

    Also, many a door has been shut on me and my siblings by me and my siblings, whether it hit our fingers, feet, or the ever popular face slam. Barn raising is a common phenomenon these days it turns out.

    1. I guffawed so loudly when I read your 2nd sentence that it might more properly be called a bark. I’m a cool, barking woman.

      Now, I’ll grant you that being called cool by a hip, 20-something man is AWESOME. But if you can get a teenage girl to call me cool, THEN we will both have arrived at such a state of Zen Coolness as to be untouchable. 🙂

      Wishing you a joyful – if different – Christmas in China,

  14. Thanks Beth. Proud of you, your writing and the way you raise our grandkids!

    1. Thanks for raising my husband. Still hoping mine turn out half as good. 😉

  15. yeah, you made me cry, too.

  16. Well put, Beth!! Raisin’ a festive glass of mulled wine as I write this, to celebrate the Magic and Truth of Advent. Merry Christmas to all in your barn, from across the Big Pond. x

    1. Thanks, Sarah! Making my own glass to clink against yours. Wishing you and yours every blessing this Advent! Please pass along my wishes to your fam.


  17. I love your blog. I started reading it a few weeks ago, and decided to start from the beginning. I am now in Feb. 2011 + the last few weeks-worth (my favorite, I think, is the line, “maybe penis later.”). I’m not a parent, but I am an auntie, and maybe one day, I’ll have a family of my own. I admire how true you are with your writings because that’s how my blog is, and every time, it makes me nervous: “Did I say too much this time?” The theme of our blogs are different, but I put a link to yours on my site- I hope you don’t mind. I just think that many of my readers will enjoy what you have to say.

    1. Fern – this comment made my day. Thank you! I linked to you, too, on my readers’ blogs section. Thanks for taking the time to write!

  18. Brilliant. G.K. Chesterton (who also believed in magic) kind of brilliant.

    1. Thanks, Old Marine (aka, Dad). I spent an inordinate amount of time googling G.K. Chesterton and I drew this conclusion… you’re my dad. 🙂 It’s nice to have someone around who foolishly believes that I’m one of the “greats.” I hope my children will know someday that I’m equally foolishly in love with them.

  19. I have been lurking for a while, found you through the contest that parenting illustrated with crappy pictures was on. Your writing skills are always relatable and hilarious but I love seeing this side of you. This brought tears to my eyes, thank you so very much.

    1. Katharine, thanks for stepping out of lurkdom to comment. It really means the world to me to get to have a two-way conversation, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to meet you. Thanks for the encouragement!

  20. I always laugh out loud when I read your blog. This post made me cry. I love how you wrapped up Christmas Spirit into an eloquent and beautiful post. It took me a while to get into the spirit of this time of year after the tough times we’ve had too, but when I realized that it’s not about what you don’t have – but rather what you do have and who you are, I feel so festive and spirity! And the kids love it.
    The other night they were at grandma’s for dinner and tree decorating and my hubby and I were having dinner alone. The Silence was everywhere. We had a conversation. And we both admitted how boring and weird the house seemed without the kids! My life isn’t pristine or dust-bunny free. I don’t have time for spotless. I am grateful for my two little munchkins and everything that they bring into my life.

    1. Aw! Thanks for sharing this, Kasia! What a beautiful story and reminder of gratitude.

      And for being so kind about commenting.

  21. I’m so glad there’s room in our family for all kinds of Christmas celebration without detracting from the amazing reason we celebrate! After the Christmas I spent in a country where very few were celebrating, I love all of it! Including the over-the-top light display in my neighbor’s yard, Jingle Bell Rock and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree blaring in all the stores along with Silent Night and Bing Crosby. (But I can do without Santa teaching gun safety, which I saw on TV this morning.)

    1. Thanks, Judy! I’m glad for our family, too.

      (Gun safety, huh? That’s a new one!)

  22. Love this, Beth. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Paula. It means a lot to me that you’d say so.

  23. I love the way you put this. It just fits right in all the right places. Magic is magic. And even though I’m grown up and know all about the solar system and the universe and stuff, I still wish on stars. It’s like praying kinda.

    Also, I used to retort to my mom all the time when she said the barn bit….”No, but Jesus was!”

    1. Yes, Janelle. It took me a long time to figure out that God was listening to all of the longings of my heart – the wishes on the stars, the daydreams, the feelings I couldn’t pin with words, *and* the prayers. I love the magic with you.

  24. Beautifully written! Thanks for reminding me where my focus belongs.

    1. Thanks, Christine, for taking the time to say so. I’m grateful.

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