Thursday, December 27, 2007

GRINCH AND GRACE - December 22, 2007

Are you suffering from the, “You’re getting on my nerves and I’m gonna blow if you don’t let me get these packages wrapped in peace!” type of anxiety that characterizes the last minute countdown until Christmas? If so, you’re certainly not alone.

That pesky Grinch is messing with me, threatening to rob me of my Christmas cheer. W e were really looking forward to having Rex’s office staff over to the house last Sunday for a Christmas party. As you know, it snowed—A LOT. The dear woman who cleans for me came on an off day so the house would be spic-n-span for our guests. Like many other events, we canceled our party. But I bought THREE cheese cakes from GFS!!! Now what am I to do with the 39,924 calories and 2,808 fat grams stored in my freezer that are screaming to be devoured? (Yes, this is an exact count!!!)

Ah, well… I used my free evening to write our yearly Christmas letter. I had it just the way I wanted and saved it on my laptop. Then I set to the task of updating my mailing list and printing labels. What?! The option tab for “Envelopes and Labels” is missing. It was there last year! Now poor Rex has to hand address all those envelopes (I’m great at delegating.)

Monday morning, I reread the Christmas letter, did some tweaking, and saved it—so I thought—but evidently the Grinch got it!!! So now, along with addressing envelopes, I have to rewrite my newsletter! I feel a chocolate attack coming on! I believe one of those cheesecakes is chocolate…

…You’ll be relieved to know that the letter is retyped—and printed, and after merely two hours at my computer, I finally figured out how to print those ?@%&*?! labels.

The Grinch is messing with Rex, as well. His task was to pick out a family picture to include with our cards. Digital cameras and computers make it so easy to upload (or download?) pictures from camera to computer to disk to Snapfish—and you breeze into a local store and pick up your photos. NOT! The Grinch is playing hide and seek with Rex on the desktop computer. Inserting the disk, the computer flashes a warning “no disk found.” Another 45 minutes to fix the problem.

Who ordered the pictures? “I thought you ordered them.” “No, I distinctly remember YOU saying you would order them! It’s now Wednesday and I’ve e-mailed a picture order to Meijer. Alas, the Grinch is messing with their computer, too! Yikes, I just glanced at our nicely printed Christmas letters and I see one—no, THREE; make that SIX—errors!!! (Word to the wise: don’t proofread on only five hours of sleep.)

As if that is not enough Grinchiness, my brother-in-law had the audacity to fall and break his hip, messing up the plans for the Teeple Christmas to take place at our CLEAN house. So, we’re taking the party to him. “I truly am sorry for your suffering, Steve, and I’m very glad you’re doing well. But your timing is just awful! There’s a cheesecake with your name on it headed for your freezer. You can listen to those calories and fat grams singing their siren song of calo-chloreste-ric doom!”

Hey, am I going to let that Grinch steal my Christmas spirit? There is so much to be grateful for this Christmas. Like, it could have been ME who broke a hip. This winter wonderland is “Just gorgeous!” I have the ability and time to rewrite, copy, catch errors, and reprint that letter. Everybody loves cheesecake! There’s always next year for having Christmas gatherings at our house. (I’m warning you, Steve, you’d better watch your step next year!!!)

A little bit of humor goes a long way during the holidays. I hope that you can laugh at the Grinch and grab on to the grace of this holiest of times.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 KJV

P.S. to Santa: I’d like a computer geek for Christmas!!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

WAITING - December 15, 2007

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
Psalm 130:5

Waiting is not my forte. Especially at Christmas time. I have too much to do to wait while you dig out your coupons from the bottom of your bottomless purse—and then discover that you left your check book in the car. Oh, ye, who blocks the aisle with your shopping cart, totally obvious to my anxious presence—beware! I’ll be smiling and cordial when you turn and apologize profusely for inconveniencing me, but, trust me, you don’t want to know what I am thinking. Practicing patient grace during the holiday rush is one of the best gifts you can bestow in the long, lingering lines and parking lot jams of holiday life.

Examples of waiting overflow the pages of the Bible. Abraham and Sarah had to wait until they were ancient before they had a baby. Poor Noah and his family waited for the torrential rains to stop and the flood waters to recede, all the while pitching poop over the side of the ark (just think what a major job THAT was, with the myriad of monkeys, mules, mynahs and gobs of other prolific poopers sequestered on the ark!!!). Joseph, Paul, and Peter, languished in prisons—with no blackberries, I-pods, or laptops to keep their minds off their troubles. But that’s nothing compared to God’s chosen people waiting hundreds of years in captivity or exile, and even centuries for the Messiah to come! And we complain about a two hour delay in an airport!

You would think that by this time in my life I would have gained some skill in the waiting game, but I don’t see much progress on my part. I bet Methuselah was an expert at waiting, given all the experience he accrued during his 969 years on this earth! Mature waiting involves patience, faith, trust, and hope. I can engender small amounts of these spiritual qualities some of the time, but to get them all active at the same time and in sync would take a miracle. Occasionally that miracle does indeed happen and I know that I am standing on holy ground, surrounded by grace.

Elizabeth Canham, in “Pay Attention to How You Listen” (Weavings, November/December 2007) reminds us that “even God waited for the fullness of time before Christ was born among us (Galatians 4:4).” Waiting on God’s timing—whether that be humdrum, day-to-day waiting in a slow-moving check out line or crisis waiting in a hospital waiting room or waiting for the fire truck to arrive, “waiting is a holy thing.”

Waiting—a holy thing??? You’ve got to be kidding! But think about this for a moment. In the midst of the rush, rush, rush of life, waiting is an opportunity to give God a call or send him a text message. Better yet, it is a time to listen for God’s voice.

For a child, waiting for Christmas morning is excruciating. This was especially true for me the year I was eight. In January, we would be moving from New York to Indiana, and my Dad’s new job required that he move to Indiana ahead of us while Mom stayed at home to sell the house. Daddy was driving home for Christmas and I was so excited to see him that I could hardly stand it. Mom made me go to bed, promising me that she would wake me when Daddy got home. Amazingly, I was able to fall asleep.

It was my Daddy’s voice drifting from the kitchen into my subconscious that roused me. I dashed into the kitchen and made a bee line for his lap. I was in seventh heaven! How often do we listen for our Heavenly Father’s voice with such anticipation? Are we eager to find God home in our hearts? I challenge you to take the opportunity to listen for your Heavenly Daddy’s voice while you wait in line for gas, wait for the light to change, wait for…whatever. And then watch for that “all is calm, all is bright” feeling to warm your heart.

HOLIDAYS AND GRIEVING - December 8, 2007

In addition to the reality that all the holiday shopping, gift wrapping, baking and cleaning tend to fray the edges of my holiday cheer, I enter this month with a heavy heart. One year ago this week, on December 4, three of my relatives were in three different hospitals. My husband’s brother, Mike, was dying of cancer and went into the hospital for the last time; Mike’s daughter, Shari, in her third trimester and unduly stressed, went to the emergency room, and Rex’s other brother, Steve, went to the hospital for a diagnostic procedure and was rushed into emergency heart surgery. The very next day, December 5, my good friend, Mary Rose Knipp, lost her eight year battle with breast cancer.

I know that the holidays are shrouded with grief for many of you as well. For some, your grief is fresh and raw, from an immediate loss. For others, your grief may be a dull, throbbing ache or a painful stab of remembrance, from losses of years past. “Going through the motions” may be the very best you can do this year. “Bah! Humbug!” may find its way from your lips far more often than “Merry Christmas!” If this describes you, please know that you are not alone. If this describes someone you know, please be gentle and compassionate.

Today I share with you, “The Author of Our Salvation,” a devotional I wrote in December 1998, based on the lectionary for December 27. I must have been aching then, too, but I have no recollection of the source of my grief:

“In bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering… Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity… For this reason he had to be made like his brothers (and sisters) in every way… Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:10-18

At this time in the church year, we are accustomed to reflecting on images of our Savior as an innocent newborn “babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Yet Hebrews calls us to ponder how “the author of our salvation” was perfected through suffering. “Wait a minute! Stop the tape!” we shout. “That’s the video for Lent; for Good Friday! Pop in the video about the Christ Child surrounded by angels and shepherds and wise men!” We don’t want to contemplate suffering right now. It’s Christmas. We should be pondering happy thoughts, surrounding ourselves with good cheer. C’mon! Get with the program!”

Many of us arrive on the threshold of this Christmas season in the midst of suffering. For those of us who are experiencing family conflict or separation, coping with a lengthy, or even terminal, illness, caught in the shock and grief following the death of a loved one, or perhaps dealing with depression or job loss, the image of the suffering Christ may bring more comfort than the image of the Christ Child.

In my own times of suffering, I cling to the fact that my Savior knows first hand what it’s like to suffer. It helps to know that Jesus understands my pain. So this Christmas, as we set out the manger and hang the angels on our trees, let’s also keep this image from Hebrews 2 in our hearts. After all, the Christmas Story is only the first chapter in the memoir of “The Author of Our Salvation.”

Sunday, December 2, 2007

CREATIVITY GONE WILD - December 1, 2007

If your family is anything like ours, I bet you still have a few Thanksgiving leftovers in your frig. This year our son Matt, and his wife Kristy, hosted Thanksgiving dinner and we had the usual fare, plus all sorts of other nontraditional concoctions. Matt, it turns out, did not inherit his mother’s “I HATE to cook” gene and is a wonderful gourmet chef. He created some dishes that would have made Squanto proud! All I had to do all day was rock baby Evan—with occasional breaks to dine and “piece.”

So what do you do with Thanksgiving dinner leftovers? I’ve come up with a list of ways to entertain Evan in the years to come, utilizing—what else—leftovers:

A “Keeping Kids Entertained While All the Adults Fall Asleep Watching Football” List

Wondering what to do with all those leftovers? Unleash your child’s creativity:

1. Turkey leg: create a “tom-tom” with a pie plate and used turkey leg as drumstick (pun intended).

2. Cranberry sauce: great for finger painting; CAUTION: do not use in the vicinity of white carpet or anything else you do not wish to look like it has chicken pox.

3. Mashed potatoes and gravy: another great medium for finger painting; chilled mashed potatoes are great for creating snowmen, igloos, and other wintertime wonder ; or roll out like cookie dough, cut into heart shapes, paint with cranberry sauce, freeze, and serve to parents on Valentine’s Day.

4. Grandma’s Famous Oyster Dressing: form into mushy balls, insert a wire or string hanger, hang up and allow to dry overnight; hang outside for the wildlife to dine on; or play “find the oysters,” and whoever finds the most, wins an “I do not have to eat this yucky, slimy, disgusting dressing” coupon for Thanksgiving dinner 2008.

5. Green bean casserole with mushrooms, water chestnuts, almonds and French’s Fried Onions: rinse beans thoroughly with hot water and wash in soapy water; dispose of all non-green-bean thingies (if you can’t stand to touch mushrooms, get an adult to do this for you); allow to dry for a couple of hours; string on yarn and create necklaces and bracelets; great as Christmas gifts for Mom, Grandma and teachers; best if given ASAP, before shriveling occurs.

6. Sweet potatoes: for leftover raw sweet potatoes, use for a lively game of “toss the potato” – preferably outside; for cooked sweet potatoes, mash with hands and use for finger painting.

7. Rolls: play “How many rolls can you stuff in your mouth at one time without gagging.”

8. Aunt Edith’s mystery gelatin salad: play “name that item” or create silly names for the ridiculous things—like carrots and celery—suspended in the Jell-O.

9. Carrot and celery sticks: throw away—they’re inedible and useless! (Well, I suppose you could use them for finger painting…).

10. Pumpkin pie and Cool Whip: also great for finger painting; may substitute RediWip or genuine whipped cream; if you really want to be cool, have a pie eating contest—no utensils allowed and messiest face wins. WARNING: under no circumstances should you give a pie in the face to one of your relatives sleeping in front of the TV. (If you are between the ages of nine and eleven, you will be unable to heed this warning.)

Almost all silliness aside, I think there is a lot that we can learn from the creativity of kids. Who says that God only created yams and green beans for eating? I live in soybean country and it wasn’t until my daughter lived in San Diego that I learn that people actually eat soy beans as beans (versus a reconstituted additive used in tires, diapers, and wallpaper paste—please don’t quote me on this)! Just because your idea of a perfect afternoon is a tryptophan-induced stupor doesn’t mean your kids can’t have a good time, too!

I believe that God wants us to experience life in all its richness—and most of us would do well to play with our food rather than let all that richness go to our hips.

They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. Psalm 36:8 NIV