A Brand New Year!

A brand new year!

Photo on 7-13-14 at 7.39 AM

It is always my hope that I will do better in a new year. Better diet, more exercise, less sin, more friends, and a lot more family.

Yet, I never seem to get there.

Pounds cling to my body, chances to stretch and to strengthen are too often left by the wayside, I do what I want — even when I don’t really want it, I sit alone and I think about me too much.

I’m excited about a brand new year. Despite my failings to improve in my 60+ years, I still have hope. In fact, in many ways I have done better year after year at many of these resolutions. It’s just that I have had such a long way to travel — and the path stretches out in front of me for quite a ways.

As I age, I’m becoming more and more aware of the danger of emphasizing SELF-improvement over a joyous, focused effort to walk closely with God.

Better times are often less a product of what we avoid and more the result of what we actively pursue.

That’s where we should be headed this year. No doubt, we may veer from that course from time to time. But with eyes trained on Him, we can’t help but do better.

Happy New Year!

And now for something completely different . . .

and without any particular value

Writing on December 31 always presents a problem. People have expectations. People have needs. Yet, I feel drawn to create something completely different.

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Let’s face it. On the last day of the year, you probably have little interest in reading something life-changing. Frankly, even something inspiring can be a little daunting.

What you expect is for writers to reveal their wisdom regarding New Year Resolutions. Or, you seek out the countercultural group that write, at great length, about their disdain in reference to New Year Resolutions.

The trick for me is to not write about either perspective. Of course, I had to write about both in order to tell you that I was writing about neither.

What I just realized is that, now that I’ve started down this path, there is little I can do to distract you from New Year Resolutions. I count that as a character fault on your part and I accept no responsibility.

Be that as it may, perhaps this will help . . .

Happy New Year!

Liars’ Holiday

the problem with talking too much

It’s the holidays. I haven’t been to the office in over three days. I watched a couple of Christmas movies. I read my new book. And I spent an unbelievable amount of time catching up on the political scene. In fact, I spent over an hour yesterday morning just trying to grasp the enormity of “misinformation” that leaks out of people. I knew it was there, but I found myself intrigued by the liars’ indexes that have been gathered.

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photo credit: The Telegraph

Much could be made of the fact that the worse offenders seemed to be gathered along one end of the political spectrum. But it’s shocking to see how much falsehood is thrust upon us by all of the candidates — and sitting officials.

Still, I wondered why some of these folks seemed to be so focused on falsity.

‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’

I have settled on the idea that is attributed to Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And no, this is not an indictment of the female candidates for president. In fact, both appear in the middle of the list of fabricators. Instead, I’m thinking about the meaning attributed to that statement over the years.

We think of the statement using the modern definition of the word “protest” — a challenge, a defensive move. When Bill Shakespeare wrote, protest meant a vow or commitment. The Queen was saying that that the lady in the play she was viewing was trying to promise too much. To which her son, Hamlet (the playwright), said, “Oh, but she’ll keep her word.”

As I reviewed the list of candidates, it occurred to me that placement on the liars’ scale could have a lot to do with promising too much. That’s a common malady of those who talk too much.

Now, for those of you who are offended by my analysis, I am truly sorry. But listen to those statements. Take a close look at the quotes that land these people on the liars’ list. In most cases, their statements would have been valid if they had just stopped early enough.

In the press to win, to overcome, and perhaps, even to lay waste to others, we all go beyond what we’ve thought through. Sometimes we’re lucky and we deliver on our promises. Sometimes, we “protest too much, methinks.”

A healthy pause can be a good thing. And listening to others during the pause could be, too.

Opening the Package

A post Christmas post

The package.

Opening the package is a necessary part of the joy.

Christmas gifts can occupy a lot of our time. Coming up with just the right gift. Wrapping it in just the right paper. (Unless you’re like me and forgot to get wrapping paper — so, whatever scraps are left from many Christmases ago on the rolls still stacked in the closet.) Finding a complementary bow. Writing on the little, tiny Christmas tag. Blowing on the writing to keep the ink from smearing. Placing the package in just the right space under the tree — not right out front, but conspicuous enough to draw interest. And all of that is just Phase One.

Phase Two begins when the gift recipient notices the package . . . and begins to wonder about what’s inside. The left side of their brains begin to calculate size and possibilities. Perhaps, when everyone is away, they heft the package to get a better idea of weight and volume. And then, they wonder about the contents.

At the designated time for opening, we smile with pleasure as Santa’s designated helper places the present in the recipient’s hands. A wash of anticipation reaches peak velocity. And then, the decision. Should the package be unwrapped neatly, without tearing the paper? Or should the wrapping be fully exploited, ripped to smithereens? Most choose a thorough trashing of the paper, a messy exercise of exuberance. And that’s Phase Three.

Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.

Christmas giving. Christmas receiving.

Our ultimate Christmas package comes in those four phases, as well.

For centuries, God’s people were told of a gift that was coming. A Messiah. A Savior. They waited with expectations of wonder. They dreamed of the way that God’s gift would be packaged. The thought and the meaning of the gift were incredibly complex and almost incomprehensible. Phase One.

Then, as the gift came near and as the Christ-child lived and walked this earth, people had images of what He would become. Some expected a military leader, one who would free God’s people from the captivity of earthly rulers. Others, perhaps those who came to know him best, fought confusion but relished the hope of something wonderful. An existence closer to God and His love. Phase Two.

With the gift in hand, all of us were faced with the choice of how to unwrap the package. Some do it delicately, with an elegant regard for all of the splendor and beauty. The rest of us rip through the wrappings, creating a mess with our lives, but keeping that hope that the content of this gift from above will bring us joy and peace. Phase Three.

Repeat the chorus:

Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.

For many of us, we’re in that final time. Learning how to live with this gift, this Jesus. Discovering every day the value of the package. Understanding a little bit at a time about the waiting, the anticipation, the hope and the love expressed by God’s gift. For others, the package remains unopened. Still hoped for. Still anticipated.

Open the package.

Emmanuel. God with us.

 

The Dreams of Christmas

from sugar plums to . . .

I can remember the dreams of Christmas. They started with the arrival of the Sears Roebuck catalog. Page upon page of wonderful toys stirred my imagination. I knew I couldn’t have all of them and I honed my powers of selectivity.

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What one gift would I want? And as importantly, what one gift would meet with my parents’ approval? I would spend hours looking at the pictures, reading the descriptions, and trying to foretell the wonder of having that prized possession within my grasp . . . and I would dream dreams of Christmas.

As I grew a little older, I didn’t fully lose the excitement of “getting.” Let’s just be honest, I still get excited. But my desire has shifted to other things. And my dreams have changed, as well.

I remember the dreams of Christmas. Not just about toys and ties and tools and treats. I remember the dreams of Christmas trees with the smell of  evergreen and even that slightly malodorous scent of electrical magic coming from those bubble lights. I remember the dreams of candy dishes on every surface of my grandmother’s house filled with bitesize packets of sugar and chocolate that were mine for the taking. I remember the smell of my other grandmother’s “pie cabinet” and the incredible bounty of sweet goodness stored within. I remember the dreams of quiet times, lying on the living room floor amid the torn wrapping paper and bows, with family around and content swelling from every corner of the room.

I still have dreams at Christmas. But they aren’t quite the same. My subconscious bypasses the festivities and centers instead on the quiet times — the peaceful times — of being there and having family close by. I dream of having everyone present, even those who have passed on. I dream of having things to talk about, memories to recall, and visions to share.

I still dream at Christmas. Just less of sugar plums and more of why we celebrate.

Merry Christmas! May your dreams come true.