Years ago…when I still imagined it was possible to be the perfect pastor’s wife… I started the tradition of having the Shouse House Open House. Every Christmas I would invite the entire church into our home/parsonage for food and “fellowship” (the Christian word for sitting around eating, talking, and trying not to gossip or cuss in front of the preacher). And every Christmas I would spend the days leading up to the big event cleaning, cooking, and completely stressing out over ever single detail.
My very first open house I had a menu plan that would rival Martha Steward AND Rachel Ray, a housekeeping list longer than the long-dead Santa’s fictional naughty & nice list (sorry if I just ruined the magic for you), and a stress level higher than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs (picked that one up in Kentucky- feel free to add it to your repertoire).
Christmas is always a busy time of year for pastor’s families, and adding this high pressure event always made it worse. In those years I found myself yelling more, sleeping less, fretting, crying, bossing, arguing, whining…it was certainly not pretty. Peace on earth, my foot! Who’s idea was this open house, anyway? My dear sweet Jeff was always quick to remind me that this was all my idea. Thanks, sweetheart.
This year we’re in a new house, with new church people, and new traditions, but I sorta wanted to keep some of my familiar traditions going. So I started planning our annual Shouse House Open House…but this year I decided to do something different. I decided to keep it simple (Novel concept IKR?…Sorry…I have teenage daughters…). Anyway… It’s part of a new set of principles we’re starting to live by personally as well as within our church ministry. There are 4 principles, actually:
- Cover everything in PRAYER
- Make the GOSPEL the center
- Focus on PEOPLE rather than programs
- Keep. It. Simple.
In order to live by these principles I had to re-think my open house event. I stopped and prayed- God, do You truly want me to do this again or am I only doing it because I’ve always done it (ever heard that? Yeah, we don’t want to be one of THOSE people…). Once I got the go-ahead from Him, I had to remember that my purpose in life is not to impress my friends with my cooking or housekeeping skillz (yes…that’s a Z…don’t judge). My purpose in life is to Know Christ & to Make Him Known (aka “Gospel-centered”). So I made sure to invite people outside my church family- people who may need to know the real “reason for the season”- who may not go to church even during Christmas. I also wanted to make sure to be people-focused during this event. What’s the point of inviting people into my home if I’m too busy keeping the meatballs warm and the layer cake from slipping to sit down and have a conversation with any of my guests? So… I decided to keep it simple.
This year instead of an elaborate menu, we made six double batches of Easy Cookies (see recipe below). Instead of Pinterest-worthy punch, we had red juice with ginger ale. And instead of a spotless house with a worn out family, we swept the kitchen, straightened the living room, and closed the doors to all the other rooms in the house. (We no longer live in a parsonage, so no one needs to be inspecting the bedroom closet, right?) 🙂 Keeping it simple resulted in over 400 cookies to share! (Sounds like a lot, but it actually only took a few hours on Saturday…and we were able to use the leftover cookies for neighbor & teacher gifts.) Plus I still had energy to visit with my guests AND my family still liked me when it was all over! Voila! Simple, meaningful, joyful, fun- not just in theory! 🙂
During this busy and often stressful season- what are some ways you’re keeping it simple?
1 box cake mix
1/2 cup oil
1/2 bag candies or choc chips
Mix well. Place by small spoonfulls on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 10 min or until set but not hard. I doubled this for each batch and used a teaspoon so I could fit 20 cookies per cookie sheet. The doubled recipe made about 75 small cookies.
Variations I used:
Yellow cake mix with chocolate chips (why mess with the traditional chocolate chip cookie? This is always the most popular at any gathering)
Chocolate cake mix with milk chocolate & semi-sweet chips (so rich and delicious)
Spice Cake mix with cinnamon chips (this year Walmart was not carrying cinnamon chips for some reason so we used butterscotch… not nearly as good…but no one complained- they were still cookies) 🙂
Yellow cake mix with peanut butter chips & butterfinger crumbs (Enough said- YUM!)
Chocolate cake mix with caramels (found a bag of little caramel melts that I didn’t have to unwrap or anything. They were so good and didn’t stick to the paper or burn out like I expected. Win- win!)
Red Velvet cake mix with white chocolate chips & peppermint candies (This is our all-time favorite combination for Christmas! Soft, beautiful & oh so delicious!)
*For spring events I’ve used lemon cake mix and rolled the cookie dough balls in powdered sugar before baking. They are perfect for a baby shower or Mother’s Day tea*
What other combinations would you try?