Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to All...

I'm sitting here in the wee hours of Christmas morn, a Christmas Story marathon running across the television screen and our tree twinkling it's myriad of lights over and against the plethora of colorfully adorned packages beneath. And I'm thankful. And a little guilt-stricken as well.

I say guilt-striken because I'm ashamed of some of the emotions, the feelings, that I've had over the past week or two. Just review my last few posts and you'll see what I mean. For whatever reason, I've just been wrestling with contentedness and, once again, God has seen my wager and upped it with His amazing grace. My son has been praying for this to be "the best Christmas ever" and, I daresay, he's going to get his prayers answered. And I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that some 2000 years ago God chose to introduce Himself to us as Immanuel, or "God with us."

I'm thankful that He's taken away my sins and has given me the glorious gift of grace and mercy.

I'm thankful that I've been blessed with the most amazing, loving, and beautiful wife in the world.

I'm thankful for my bouncing baby boy, who's not so baby anymore, through whose eyes I learn to see the world anew.

I'm thankful for my most beautiful blue-eyed daughter who tugs at my heart with every smile and laugh.

I'm thankful for lazy, happy naps together with my children, their little hands holding fast to mine.

I'm thankful for parents who raised my wife as well as myself up in the faith and who continue to be supportive of us.

I'm thankful for dear friends, new and old, who continue to sow into our lives the seeds of life and love.

I'm thankful for a refrigerator, freezer, and pantry full of food and for a bank account that's full enough to buy more when we need it.

I'm thankful for cool, clear water to drink and for warm, hot showers.

I'm thankful for our new home and the fun, tender times it's already provided us and that we pray it will continue to do so.

I'm thankful for new jobs, new opportunities, and new challenges that continue to open my eyes both to the gifts God has allowed me and to new avenues within the world.

I'm thankful for God's gift of a new church in 360, one of the first places we've felt at home in a long, long time.

I'm thankful for health, for intellect, for gifts and, yes, hindrances that continue to teach me to rely on Him.

I could go on and on but, lastly, I'm thankful for you. If you've taken the time to read through this, even you've made an impact on my life and for that, I thank you. I pray that you have a blessed Christmas and that you find yourself immersed in the amazing love of God in this new year to come and on.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Continued Frustration

D-Day. Three days and counting and I still haven't gotten all of my Christmas shopping done. Oh, the kids are taken care of, save for the occasional stocking stuffer and whatnot and that's great. And the better part of our family is bought for as well, parents, brothers, sisters, and their kids as well. But, well, call me unsuitably frustrated, to date, I've only purchased one thing for my wife and it's driving me crazy!

Now, you might be thinking, "That's what you get for waiting till the last minute!" But you'd be wrong because I would've loved to have been shopping for the past month, allowing this frustration and the hecticness to lay itself aside. But sadly, and I know I'm whining again, we've just not had the funds. A shift in jobs, purchasing a house, and the subsequent renovation have taken their toll and, while we've food to eat, clothes to wear, and all the good American virtues of living, we're still recovering. And thus my Christmas shopping is at a standstill.

So why's it driving me crazy? Why am I so frustrated, so malcontent with the blessings I have? I just can't put my finger on it but for whatever reason that's exactly what I am: malcontent. I'm a blessed man and I'm longing for more, more money, more resources, more stuff. And I do this with the full understanding that more stuff, more possessions, more money all bring with them more headaches, more responsibilities, and, in many cases, more problems.

On top of that, I can't shake this arrogant feeling that I deserve more. As though I'm worthy of it. As though I've earned it. In some ways, very human ways, perhaps there's some truth to that. I'm earning more, working hard, and am doing the best I can to be the best me. But, the best me simply isn't enough. I'll never be enough to deserve all the blessings that I've been given. But still I long for more...

Are these longings wrong? Selfish? Arrogant? Part of me says yes, the other part says no. And, three days before Christmas, I find myself in a battle with myself. Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adam and Eve Meet a "Blue Christmas"

Just the other day I was talking with my son and asked him what his favorite Bible story is at the moment. It's been the story of Moses for some time now, largely due to the plagues and that whole parting of the Red Sea thing, so I was quite surprised when he shared with me that his current fave is that of Adam and Eve. We discussed it a bit and have had a few moments whereby we've been able to return to that story for a teaching moment here recently.

Case in point: He has a video that he was watching for a bit (Scooby Doo) and at the time we thought nothing of it. Yet there were a few things that came out of it that he started saying that we weren't so fond of so, good parents we, we took the video away. Now keep in mind that the child has about 900 more to chose from alongside the millions and millions of toys he has to play with as well. The kid was devastated. Crying, whining, pleading, the whole deal. We revisited our good friends Adam and Eve and I asked him, "Tyler, what did God give to Adam and Eve?"

He responded, "A garden."

Me: "And the whole earth pretty much, right?"

Him: (Sniff...) "Yeah..."

Me: "And did God tell them NOT to do anything?"

Him: "They couldn't eat from the one tree, of knowledge of good and evil."

Me: "Right. They had everything in the whole world save one tree yet they just couldn't bear to not try that one. Sounds a little bit like what you're doing right now. You have all these things, all these toys and movies, and you're not happy because you don't have this one thing."

Him: (Another sniff...) "Yeah..."

I don't share that story to shine the spotlight on my stellar parenting skills but rather to tell another story from my perspective. Because what I'm finding this Christmas is that I'm a lot like my son right now. I'm a blessed individual. I'm healthy. My children are healthy. My wife is healthy. And by and large, my relationship with all of them is a positive one while others battle divorce and more. I have a job, more than one in fact, while others stand on street corners simply begging for work. This year we became homeowners and have been blessed to have tons of folks over and are planning for more while others are facing foreclosure or worse, are living on the streets already.

Additionally, I have a refrigerator and a freezer that, while not bursting at the seams, is full of food while others scrape through garbage cans and line up at soup kitchens for one meal a day. I have fresh running water, hot and cold even, while others are forced to drink impure water day in and out, causing irrevokable harm to their systems. Clothes, I've got them, and they're clean to boot while others wear the same day in and day out and others shiver in the cold of winter due to a lack thereof. And oh the comforts I enjoy, whether it's sitting down on our comfortable furniture with a glass of wine listening to some music or watching television or playing a game or even reading a book while others simply huddle for warmth and a moment's peace on the ground or in an alleyway, many not sure if they'll live to see tomorrow.

I share those things because I know that I'm blessed. I am. But as Christmas rolls closer, I'm finding myself a bit blue and it's making me feel so selfish that it hurts. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, with pretty lights and faithful fun songs and, yes, gifts. And for me gifts have alwasy been a form of love, in some respects. As Dr. Gary Chapman would phrase it, one of my "love languages" is the language of gifts. I give and receive love by giving and receiving gifts. That's one of my languages. So with each and every Christmas, I've loved the interaction of thinking and pondering and hunting even to find the perfect gift for my wife, my kids, my parents, and my friends. And I rejoice in similar fashion when I find they've done the same for me. It just warms my heart, for whatever reason.

But this year, largely due to buying a house, not to mention the slowing economy, we're just not at the best place as of yet. No, we haven't bitten off more than we could chew but recovering from a month or two of unemployment and getting adjusted to being paid once a month takes a little time. So Christmas is rapidly approaching and we've really only done a bit of Christmas shopping, at that for the children. And we've enough to do well for them that they'll have a stellar Christmas for sure, for it will be all our delight to awake on Christmas morn and see the stars in their eyes as they joy in their new toys and doodads. As for buying things for one another and even others though, it's gonna be tight.

And I guess that's where I'm struggling right now. I love giving gifts. And, on the flipside, I love getting gifts. And, like a little child, I do love the anticipation of Christmas Eve as we lay in our beds wondering what delights await us on the other side of the night, what fun and exciting finds lie wrapped so delicately in that ornate paper. And this year, I'm afraid it's just probably not gonna be there. Selfish right? On top of that, I feel like this year I've worked harder, and I daresay more, than I ever have, juggling this and that and drawing more money than I have in some time. And what do I have to show for it? I don't know yet. I just don't know.

So pray for me if you think of it. I'm not trying to lay out a sob story here about how poor we are because we're not. Our bills are paid and will continue to be. This is just another tale of one young man having the world and wrestling with his desires to have just that one more thing, a battle that I fear will be lifelong.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crappy Christmas?

I have a friend on mine who's a bit of a Grinch when it comes to the world of Christmas music. He abhors the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and has lamented the need for "Feliz Navidad." And recently, he shared that he just doesn't get folks who accept what he labels "crappy music" around the holidays.

Now, I'm just the opposite. And while I do still manage to keep some sort of critical filter afloat, I tend to like a lot of Christmas music whether it be Elvis classics or something from a new artist. I just dig the tunes. But why, why do I have such a deep affection for these songs? For, to be honest, some of them are pretty cheesy. And yes, "Feliz Navidad" and "All I Want For Christmas (Is You)" tends to get on my nerves after a while too. So what is my addiction to these most saccharine of songs?

I think for me, and perhaps for many more, Christmastime itself represents a time of innocence, of childlike wonder and joy that we don't get to experience any other time. We're free, if but for a moment, from the constraints of "real life" and are open, and I daresay encouraged, to return to our childhood, to those days of carefree snow angels and catching snowflakes on outstretched tongues. (Of course, as a native Floridian I've never done either of those things but you get the picture!)

And as we give in to that inner child and it's innocence, something within us steps out too. We learn to laugh, to have fun, to frolic even. And that music, that wonderful bubblegum pop that oozes from radios and iPods and store speakers each and every year conjures up thoughts and memories and moments from days gone by. One of my earliest and fondest Christmas memories is tied to such a song.

As a young boy, I knew that Santa had arrived when a sliding wooden door was shut when I awoke. It usually took me a long time to get to sleep so God bless my parents for sticking it out as long as they did. But when I awoke, in the dark, early hours of the morning, I saw that door closed and rushed to open it. As I did, I marveled at the decorative bounty before me, shiny ribbons and bows reflecting red, green, and blue lights while colorful wrapping paper clothed what would soon be revealed as wonderful delights. After playfully shaking a few boxes and lifting others, I retrieved a blanket and pillow and lay next to the space heater nearby to await morning. Laying there, the radio played softly nearby and the gentle sounds of "Snoopy and the Red Baron" hovered over my sleepy form, indelibly printing itself into my mind and into my memories with warmth and goodness.

And the same thing can be said of so many songs. Whether it be the rapturous ecstasy of "O Holy Night" or the homespun humor of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," they're simply songs that conjure up the best parts of the past, the parts that we long to return to if but for an all too short season of playfulness and innocence. At least that's what it is for me...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Battling My Inner Materialist

It's funny how certain situations find you reflecting inwardly, isn't it? For instance, in the past month, I've been laid off and enjoying unemployment while my new job gets up and running, we're in the groove toward closing on our first house, and we've started back to church. It's quite a batch of experiences to work with, right?

Well, as I've interacted with each one of these areas, I've noticed within myself what I'm certain is a not so unique trait, and that is my latent materialism. Now, I'm not one who's particularly attached to things. Like, I don't believe that my life would be over if some of my books were lost or if I couldn't get that movie right away. In fact, unemployment has made me test these theories, with stuff like season five of The Office hitting stores as well as today's release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Now, as much as I'd have liked to, I didn't hit the stores for my copies of these because it wasn't wise.

And as I've had this downtime of unemployment/waiting, I've taken the opportunity to do some packing, some rummaging through things, and have actually been fine getting rid of some things, of trashing some and giving others away. If it's of no use or interest to me, I don't need it. And one thing our last move showed us was that removing any and all clutter is a good thing. It's liberating to have less in some respects, for it opens up the doorways to a freedom of thought and ease. Good things both.

But, I don't know what it is, whether it's idle times while I wait, boredom, or a lack of faith, or simply pure greed, but I keep finding myself longing for that next thing. Just this morning I was perusing emusic (a great site for music lovers, well worth the investment) and found myself looking for more music to add to my collection. But the problem is, it was adding the albums to my 'saved' file so I could reference back to them later when I had the opportunity/credits to download them. It's a neverending battle!

The same is true of my on again, off again relationship with my Amazon wishlist. What began as a honest attempt to help folks out wondering what to get me for Christmas and birthdays has also now become my den of avarice. I can simply spend way more time than I should bouncing from one thing to another, wishing and wanting. And they're good things that I want, for sure, but do I really need them?

And there's the rub in the ointment. Because the answer, of course, is a resounding "no." Do I want them? Sure! But need is another story. It's so easy to forget how blessed we are. I'm sitting here typing this random personal blah-blah-blah on a laptop that was given to us, connected to the Internet whereby I can access tons and tons of information, sitting in an air conditioned house with a fridge and cupboard full of goodies and a supermarket just down the road and money in the bank (albeit not as much as I'd prefer) to buy those items in a pinch. I have a television, a Playstation 2 (and yes, I'm still longing for a PS3 and their dropping the price this month definitely upped my materialism ante) with tons of games, satellite television, a desktop computer, and more music and movies than I know what to do with.

Even more important, I'm married to an amazing woman, one who loves me and cares for me like no other. I have two beautiful children who, while being precocious and challenging, bring me more joy than I could have ever thought possible. I'm blessed with great parents and in-laws, and as my experience with Facebook has reminded me, a plethora of friends that are easy to forget sometimes but are so real and great.

And yet I long for more. I long for more possessions, more (I should say any) fame, more this and more that. And why? It'd be easy to say that I don't know, that I don't really understand these inner working of my mind and it's subconscious and, while that's true to a point, it's also not entirely accurate either. I think the simple truth is that, as much as I desire to, I don't find contentment in the places where I really should find contentment. I need to be reminded of the love and the relationship that is mine in Jesus. I need to be reminded of the love and relationship that is mine in my family. I need to be reminded to be thankful and to do so through my giving.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Spending Some Time at 'The Shack'

Recently, I finally got down to reading The Shack. For the unititiated, The Shack is a Christian novel written about a man whose daughter is kidnapped and murdered. After some time, he finds himself drawn back to the last place where she was known to be, the shack, and he meets up with God in a way that he would never have imagined. The book made the New York Times bestsellers as well as ignited a flurry of controversy, with many taking offense at some of the books theological thoughts as well as plot devices. In short, it's a book that lots of people seemed to flock to and that got a lot of conversation, good and bad, going. The popularity kept me from it for a time but unemployment and time opened up the door and I finally got it read.

Let me first say that I'm sure that some of my more theologically astute friends and brethren will take me to task here but I really didn't have many issues with the book as a whole. It's not War and Peace by any means but it does possess a compelling story and some keen perceptions on both life and faith. I personally really enjoyed the concepts of God appearing in three persons to the chief character and especially enjoyed the appearance of God the Father initially as a saucy African-American woman. Likewise, I really enjoyed the assertions that Jesus was not a "Christian." That's something that will certainly cause some eyebrows to raise but when we think about it, He really wasn't. There's so much that I could elaborate on there but, I just won't...

I guess the thing that hit me the most with The Shack was the idea that God really does love us. I know that's the most simple of truths and is the one that we're supposed to really learn early on but for myself, as I've gotten older, it's also the one that's harder to believe. I guess with age, experience, and failure after failure, big or small. the love of Christ is something that we consciously know but don't always believe. The Shack offers up a different perspective on that, showing a God who does love us, who does care for us, and even weeps with us in our sorrow. It's nothing terribly original but I can certainly see why folks have gravitated toward it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've never been the best at life transitions. In some ways, I've been able to roll with the punches and counter pretty successfully. In others, it's almost as if I have a tendency to retreat within myself, either scared of the next step or simply trying to protect myself from the pain of the break. I'm not really sure but it's something I've noticed.

I'm in the midst of a transition right now in my life, right in the midst as a matter of fact, as my job of nearly ten years has come to a close on this day. It's not been a perfect job but it's been an interesting one, providing me with food for thought, great friendships, and flexibility that was much needed during that season. I'm sad to see this chapter come to a close, in some respects, but am also pretty excited to see what the next season will hold. My only fear is that, as in some times in the past, I retreat instead of marching forward.

In the meantime, here's to you, all my Living Word cohorts, past, present, and perhaps future. It's been an adventure!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kung Fu Kitchen

This is the conversation Tyler and I had last night as I was preparing dinner:

Tyler: Dad, what kind of rice are you making?

Me: Chinese rice.

Tyler: What's in Chinese rice?

Me: Carrots, onions, celery, ginger, garlic, chicken...

Tyler: No, no, no...That's not right!

Me: What?

Tyler: Jackie Chan only has white rice. That's Chinese rice...

So maybe I introduced the kung fu movie a tad soon...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Disagreeing With Tozer

The great pastor/preacher A.W. Tozer has always been a great source of inspiration for me. From my first discovery of his little pamphlet, How To Be Filled With the Holy Spirit, I was hooked. That led me to other gems of his, most notably his most famous book, The Pursuit of God, and a few others. Plus, it also lead me to some of his fellow contemporaries like Dr. Leonard Ravenhill, who was just as compelling and hardcore as Tozer himself.

So, recently, when my friend offered me a chance to read another Tozer gem, I gladly accepted. The book was Tozer on Worship and Entertainment and it sounded right up my alley, the good culture seeking child that I am. And Tozer didn't disappoint. He doesn't mince words, calling out perceived evils, sins, and gaps wherever they stand. He's old school and calls it as he sees it. And that's something I appreciate, and particularly that Tozer doesn't come across as an uneducated slob either. He's well spoken and convincing.


You knew it was coming didn't you? Some of Tozer's thoughts this time out definitely cause me to pause and, well, frankly, disagree. He makes some solid challenges to the Church, calling out issues of performance that have slipped into our worship which are certainly pertinent to this day. Those issues I have no problem with. Yet, when he turns to the believer's interaction with culture, with the movies and music of the world, that's where we've got to part ways.

For sure, the interaction of faith and culture has always been a dicey, contentious area. And there are surely elements wherein we've fully dropped the ball. But Tozer takes to task the idea of "story" and I really have to disagree with him there. Tozer contends that the idea of story takes away from the Gospel itself, from the teachings of the Bible. He believes that the parishioners are more interested in hearing a good story as opposed to his hard-edged truth. And he's right and I agree. Yet, I can't believe that detracts from the beauty and the need for stories.

Consider our own Bible. Essentially, the Bible is just that, a collection of stories. It's the tale of God's interaction and overarching love for His creation, as they rise and fall and rise again, all due to His grace. And these stories encourage us, they challenge us, and in many cases, they convict us, leading us to salvation. And it's near impossible to detract from the truth that Jesus Himself utilized the power of story as a key to his own teaching. Clearly, story has a place in the life of the believer.

Stories draw us in. Stories challenge us. Stories invite us. We need the power of story.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gold on the Horizon

For whatever reason, save for a small window during my late teens when, well, I think we all made every attempt to sleep until 11AM, I've pretty much always been an early riser. This is never more true than the few and far between times when I get to go camping. I usually awake curled up in a ball and lay for a few minutes, relishing the warmth of my sleeping bag against the cool dew beaded up on the outside of the tent. My eyes adjust and I reach for the zipper and step outside into the cool morning air.

Once I've restoked the fire, a really cathartic process in camping for me, I sit down and just listen and experience. It's so quiet, so very quiet, with just the gentle sounds of nature awakening around, the crackle of the fire, and the yawning of the early morning. And this time is one of my favorite of all, as, off along the horizon, a gentle glow begins to emanate, shrugging off the inky black night and eventually morphs into these golden rays of sunshine that emerge and blossom into the day. It's one of the most beautiful times of day for me.

I say all that to share that I feel like the night of my life, so to speak, is reaching another dawn. For some time, I feel like I've been in the dark of night, with the night sounds and little but a dying fire to keep me going. Yet now I feel as though the first rays of dawn are peeking out from the horizon, casting their ethereal gaze onto the canvas of my life. For whatever reason, I feel as though the doors are finally opening to something new, something beautiful, and something redeeming.

So, I'm back to blogging. For some time there I was religious about it, much like the way some are with their Facebook or Twitter now, but life just didn't seem worth blogging after a while. But I think that that time has passed and that it's safe for me to once again take up the pen, er, keyboard, and start writing again. Friends, family, and newcomers alike, please understand, you won't always like what I have to say or, dare I say, the way I say it, but this is just me being real and honest and open and growing and learning and all of that. If you want to journey along with me, please come along.