A Christmassy blog post…(“…if you want it.”)

My local radio station usually goes to their all-Christmas-music format on Thanksgiving day each year.  But this year, after an alleged “influx” of requests, they chose to crank up the silver bells a week BEFORE Thanksgiving day.  My first response: “Ugh.”  I just wasn’t ready for all the merriment that comes along with this season.  I’m not grumpy.  At all.  I just felt like it was too oddly early to start in with the Christmas music.

And speaking of Christmas music, I find that each year I’ve added another “please don’t play that Christmas song one more time or I’m going to throw myself from a moving vehicle” song to my short list of Christmas songs I just…well…abhor.  Last year’s song was “Christmas Shoes”; a song that for me still triggers the dry heaves.  Quick reminder:  I’m not grumpy.

This year’s recipient of the “please don’t play that–” oh never mind.  This year’s song is “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”, originally performed by John Lennon.  I know, I know.  It’s a Christmas season staple.  I know I’m messing with John Lennon and for some people that’s like messing with Jesus.  I know how it must sound to say that I just can’t stand anything about it.  I know.  So anyway, congrats John, Yoko, and anyone else involved in birthing that “War is over if you want it” anthem.  Congratulations on making the list.

I was just looking at a really funny blog post by Mark Oestreicher (starting to resemble a jolly ‘ol elf himself) highlighting the worst nativity sets.  (By the way, my favorite has to be the Mexican Mermaid nativity set.)  I found it hilarious and it made me think about the things we assume about Christmas that we really shouldn’t.  That’s where this post springs to life…I hope.

First off, most (nearly all) nativity sets include the “wise men” or “magi”.  And if it weren’t for the certainty of arrest, I’d be way more tempted to “correct” any nativity set I came across by removing the wise men from the manger/barn/cave scene.  They simply weren’t there at or immediately after Jesus’ birth.  (Matthew 2)

We also have quite a good time each year battling over public displays of “Christian” Christmas-themed decorations.  From the swirling controversy hither and yon our country at various city halls, to the ever-popular reports of the president using the term “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree”.  How dare he.  I mean, when we all stand outside the gates of heaven waiting for our turn to go in, I’m certain Saint Peter will be there next to an evergreen tree and the one-question quiz for admission is going to be “What do you call this?”  So you’d better be ready with the right answer.

Another paradox is our thankfulness/greediness reality.  On one hand we’re thankful for what we have and love to say “Oh honey, I don’ t need anything this year. I have you and that’s all I’ve ever wanted”, but on the other hand if I don’t get that 80 inch LED flat screen–so help me–I’m going to probably burn that holiday tree to the ground in protest.

The last one just might get me thrown off some Christmas card lists.  And that is the idea of celebrating Jesus birth at all.  Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Am I against Christmas?  Am I against gifts? Trees? Decorations? Jingle bells? Egg nog? The colors red & green put side-by-side?  Of course not!  But let’s be honest: the Bible tells us to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection, not His birth.  Now, I know that you’ve got to have the one before the other.  I know that common sense says to laud His advent on earth as much as His ascent to heaven. And you won’t find me turning down even one invitation to any festivity that gathers people around the manger to reflect on the gift of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world; especially when food is involved.

 

That’s because I really do love Jesus.  I love the prophecies spoken hundreds of years and then months before His coming. I love the events surrounding His birth.  I love how we make a fuss about Christmas in every store window, in our homes, in our yards, on our roofs, and in our hearts.  I love (most) Christmas music.  I love to celebrate the baby who became the boy who became the man who has always been, is now, and will always be the Savior of the world.

 

Look for at least one other blog post regarding Christmas between now and December 25th, which has no evidence as being Jesus’ birthday.

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So far.

I’m on day 11 of being apart from my wife.  This ties our previous record of being apart which happened (I don’t know how many) years ago when I went to Honduras on a mission trip.  I’ve learned some things in these 11 days.  While our situation is unique in some ways, I think there may be some transferable nuggets I can pass along.

1. Facetime is amazing.  

Facetime is Apple’s video chat app.  Last month I bought an iPad for my wife, primarily for the purpose of her being able to “facetime” with her ailing sister in Missouri. I have a picture of my wife looking into her sister’s face onscreen. It captures the pricelessness of making that purchase. I’d do it again instantly, if only for the Facetime program.  But an added benefit has been that I have been able to borrow an iPad and can Facetime with my wife while she’s away. It may sound silly, but seeing her face makes a huge difference. If we were left to phone calls only, I think I’d be in far worse shape at this point.

2. Keeping order helps…big time.

My kids are amazing. I don’t have perfect kids. Neither do you. But I’ve been blown away by their togetherness, their teamwork, their laughter, and their strength. Life without Mom isn’t easy at all for any of us, but they have collectively pulled together to make this season of life work. In order to facilitate order in what might otherwise be a chaotic household, I created a chart for them to follow; bullet points of what each of them need to do everyday. Its been very helpful for me in that I don’t have to repeat myself and its helpful for them to keep track of what needs to be done and when. Its neither rocket science nor complicated but is a helpful tool.

3. Roll with it.

One of the major causes of injury in car accidents is the “tightening up” that passengers do as they brace for impact. While this goes against our basic instincts, experts say that injuries would be fewer and less severe if there wasn’t so much clinching, straightening, and tightening of muscles. In a strange way, we’ve got to learn to flow with the punches that inevitably come with life on earth. I’m not saying we’ll come through without a scratch, but we’ll likely come through with less trauma if we learn to flex with the situation. In these 11 days, rigidity would not serve me well. Flexibility has been a key ingredient to success thus far.

 

I’ve told my kids on multiple occasions that we’re going to have to be really careful to rely on each other and stay close.  Bickering has to be short-lived.  Divisions and quarreling just can’t have a place in our family.  There’s too much going on and there’s too much at stake.  Now, I’m not naive to say that I’ve waved some magic “no fighting” wand, but being preemptive in this has really (so far) been effective.  In a related story, I had to run to the grocery store for a couple things yesterday and passed a small display of “spa socks”; they’re knit, cozy, & colorful–the kind of thing by oldest daughter lives for. I bought a pair, took them home and handed them to her while thanking her for her help in keeping things rolling while Mom’s away. Did a pair of socks make everything better? Of course not, but I do think that a small token of appreciation (especially for the oldest child) goes a long way in keeping the gears greased.  And since I know she reads my blog I’ll tell her again how proud I am of her and how much I love and appreciate who she is and who she’s becoming.

 

The truth is, we don’t have a date planned for my wife to return.  And I won’t promise to have another post related to this situation in our lives.  But let me wrap up by saying if you have not put your complete trust in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son let me plead with you to do so.  He is the reason for the peace, hope, and even joy we overflow with even in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Someone once said, “In the end it’ll all be okay. If its not all okay, don’t worry. It isn’t the end.”

love you

I have two nephews, Christopher and Jacob who live in California.  They recently got their own email addresses and ever since then I have gotten several emails from both of them, usually one or two lines each with simple statements or questions.  They keep me up to speed on what they’re doing at the moment, how their day has been, and other various tidbits.  But I’ve gotten the same message from one of them (Christopher) on a few occasions.  It contains just two words:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing you’re loved does something to you, doesn’t it?  I remember how I felt the first time my college girlfriend told me she loved me.  It rocked my world.  It changed my outlook on myself, on my surroundings, and on my future.  I’m pretty sure it even changed my walk.  The fact that I could at any moment rest in the knowledge of her affection somehow made (and still makes) everything better.

Maybe you need to be reminded that you’re loved.  Every day, every hour, every minute, every second…God is loving you. And not the kind of love you see in so many places in our world. It’s not a love that’s earned. It’s not a love that is fragile. It’s not a love that depends on reciprocation.  It’s not a love that expects or demands.  It’s a love that is full and free; available to anyone who’ll receive it.  And this love of God has the power to make the difference in your life. When the ground beneath you feels shaky, its there. When you have more questions than answers, its there. When you feel like nothing is making sense, everything is broken, and you don’t know which way to turn, its there.

This simple and sweet email from my nephew has been such a blessing to me.  It’s been God’s reminder that no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I am, no matter how I’m struggling, no matter what condition I think my life is in, God is with me with those two perfect words: “love you”.

 

Getting where you’re going

I’ll skip the part where I give a nod to the fact that its the day after election day in America. You’ve already thought, talked, seethed, celebrated, posted, read posts, commented on posts, stepped away from Facebook & Twitter because you’re sick of it all, given advice, heard advice, tried to unite, sulked, or danced your happy dance.  You’ve done all that.  I’m not talking about that.    You’re welcome.

I live a happy life. It’s a life I’m honored, privileged and blessed to live. Its not an easy life, so don’t think I spend each day strolling tulip-lined paths of cotton balls, sniffing the flowers and smiling to myself.  But so far, I can honestly say that I’m thrilled to live the life I’m living.  While my life is mine and not yours and vice verse, I know there are common truths that can be embraced by any person anywhere.  Let me share a few.

1. Be a friend and follower of Jesus. There is not one thing in this life that will do what that one relationship will do. No social issue, no political victory, no financial gain, no accolade or success, and nothing else on earth will give you hope, joy, and peace like a living, thriving, walk with God will give you. This is not rhetorical. This is as real as real gets.  

2. Live your life loving others. I told you I wasn’t going to talk about the election results and I’m not.  I’m just saying there’s a lot of mud being flung around today. A lot of boo-hooing. A lot of woe-is-us. Now, I’m not a hipster kind of “love makes it all better” type of person. I don’t see that in the Bible. But what I do see is the reconciliation between God and His creation, carried out by the ultimate gift of love–the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice that paid for your freedom. It’s that love that will ultimately prevail.  Not a “peace at all costs” kind of love that says anything goes as long as we humans love each other. That’s not actually love at all. The love I’m talking about seeks God’s best in the lives of others; but only after you have embraced it for yourself.  As the saying goes, “You can’t give what you ain’t got.”

3. Go back home. For way too long, our families have been neglected to the detriment of our society. Husband, you need to love your wife and lay down your life for her. More to the point: look for and do things that bless her and help her.  Clean the dishes after the meal she cooks. Or cook the meal so she gets a break. Kiss her neck for no reason. Send her on an hour (or two) errand to Starbucks or Panera and make sure she’s got money to buy herself her favorite, biggest, whatever-it-is.  Stop making the TV your favorite after-dinner companion. Write her a love note and stick it to her steering wheel once in a while. Wife, you need to love your husband with a respect that empowers him to lead your marriage and family. Ask for his input on decisions, big or small. Let him know how much you appreciate what he does to provide for you and your family. Send him an amorous text message in the middle of his day with no other goal than to make him smile (and blush).  Husbands and wives need to return home, return to family, and–with God’s help–rebuild all that those words mean.

 

Three simple things more people need to do.