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...