13
Dec
18

Christmas Present

It is one of the hardest questions I ever have to answer at this time of year. I puzzle over it for hours and still really don’t ever come up with a good answer.

Christmas listThe question in question is, “So, Russell… what do you want for Christmas?”

My wife asks me… my kids and stepkids and their spouses all ask me… beginning usually before Thanksgiving.

And yet somehow every year I continue to respond with a big, blank look and a sentence like, “Ummm… let me think about that and get back to you.”

And then I never do.

There could be a couple of reasons I might struggle so much with this question. It could be that my Christmas wishes include too many things that are huge and expensive and beyond anyone’s gift-giving budget.

For example, I would LOVE to attend the Kansas City Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona some year. The price tag, however, for the five-day trip is a mere $4,000. Not including transportation.

I also don’t think it would be right to tell my son I’d like a 12-string guitar for Christmas… Or that the model I would really love to receive is the Taylor 956 CE, priced at an entirely reasonable $5,399.

That’s just not the kind of thing a loving father does.

Clothes are always a good gift to give me… mainly because I never buy them for myself. But if you start asking questions like, WHAT KIND of clothing, I freeze up and begin to stammer and stutter. The most detailed guidance you will get from me will be something like, “Uh… something nice?”

But there might also be a positive reason I have a hard time with this question. It might be that I feel so grateful and blessed with what I already have in life that I can’t think of a single thing that I want or need.

I may also have learned the lesson that adding more “stuff” to one’s life does not increase anyone’s level of happiness. I might have learned that additional “stuff” usually only increases the recipient’s hunger for more and more “stuff.”

And yet… the Christian faith tells me “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV) Consequently, if I can’t come up with any concrete gift ideas for myself, maybe I am thwarting my family’s opportunity to be blessed through their giving!

Of course, I am kidding. No matter what our net worth is or how much we have in our bank account, we have God has enriched us each more than we can possibly imagine.

Today I count you as one of my richest blessings and look forward to celebrating the miracle of LOVE INCARNATE with you throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

 

Abundant blessings;

10
Dec
18

Chex Mixed

Chex cerealLast week we had some friends over.

No big deal… it was just a friendly gathering to eat food, catch up on each other’s lives, and share a laugh or two. Or three, if needed.

As good guests often do, these brought an appetizer to share.

They brought CHEX MIX.

Do you know Chex Mix? It is a delightful, savory combination of the three kinds of Chex cereals (wheat, corn, and rice) with little pretzel bits, nuts, and other assorted nibbles. It is then coated all over with some kind of butter and garlic drizzle and tossed in a bowl.

Delicious!

As I helped myself to my second serving of Chex Mix I could not restrain the memories it evoked.

Growing up, my grandfather worked for the Ralston Purina Company in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to making Purina Dog Chow, Ralston Purina is also the producer of Chex cereals. And so boxes of Wheat, Corn, and Rice Chex always occupied a place of honor in our family’s pantry.

With enough sugar and milk I could work with Corn and Rice Chex. But in an outrageous act of family treason, I now admit that I absolutely detested Wheat Chex.

BLECH, as Charlie Brown used to say.

My personal preferences, however, never stopped dad from buying all three flavors of Chex. But I knew that ignoring the Wheat Chex and just eating the other two was never a solution. Dad would simply refuse to restock any Chex cereals until ALL Chex cereals – including that ever-so-nasty Wheat Chex – were gone.

And so, as I stood there in my kitchen in 2018 casually popping a handful of Chex Mix into my mouth, it inevitably brought scenes of my grandparent’s kitchen in 1960s St. Louis to mind.

I suddenly remembered their parakeet Billy and all the little phrases he used to say. (“Billy go sleep now.” “Hello!” “Pretty bird!”). I thought about the warm smells of baking bread and the small, carefully manicured front lawn. I thought about the box of wooden matches sitting there on top of the toilet tank… only to be lit when the air needed a little purifying.

I was surprised, though, to discover other, less genial memories crowding in on my moment of reverie. I remembered growing up that I usually poured milk made from a powder/water mixture over my Chex cereal. That was because milk from a bottle was too expensive for our family.

I remembered other times of “doing without” and uncertainty from my childhood.

Chewing my Chex also caused me to think about my dad’s memories of the emotional distance between him and his father. He often expressed a hope that he and I would become much closer as father and son.

I was seriously taken aback. “Is that how this is supposed to work?” I wondered. “Shouldn’t my nostalgic recollections only be sweet, special, and Hallmark-colored?”

“What’s up with this other, dark, brooding stuff crowding its way in?”

But I had to confess that this little detour was a good reminder.

It helped me remember that when Jesus described his mission as bringing the world “… life abundantly” (John 10:10, NRSV), he did NOT say that he came to bring only an abundance of pre-sweetened Corn Chex.

It helped me remember that authentic abundance means a rich supply of ALL life’s flavors… the bitter, the sweet, the tangy, and the sour.

It also helped me remember that we are called to give thanks for that abundance… remembering that God’s love for us and our connection to God is the real sweetener in our bowl.

So at the next Christmas party, we happen to attend, I will be the guy making a beeline for the bowl of Chex Mix… and giving thanks for each of its abundant morsels.

Even the Wheat ones.

08
Dec
18

20 Ways to Create Christmas Cheer

I really liked the suggestions she makes here. Fun, effective, low-cost and guaranteed to revive your Christmas spirit.

ordinarilyextraordinarymom

I have been in a rut, and I have not been able to fix it.  My normal go-to behavior is not working.  I fill my mind with positive thoughts.  I capture negativity and work to redirect it.  Still nothing.  I get into the zone, and within 24 hours find myself on the outside of the circle looking in…trying to find my way back.

***

I am at capacity and harnessing no holiday cheer so I resort to my lowest level of training.  Since I cannot find happiness, I will create happiness.  Since I cannot find joy,  I will create joy.  Since I cannot find Christmas cheer, I will create Christmas cheer.   I am determined to declutter my holidays for myself and for all those I love.

20 Ways to Create Christmas Cheer | Happy Holidays | Holiday Acitvities | Christmas Activities | Low cost Christmas | Minimalist Holidays

I am here to create what I cannot find, to pull together the wisdom of those who have been where I am…needed what…

View original post 1,542 more words

08
Dec
18

A Gift to Share

Advent candle imageToday I would like to share a special gift with you, my beloved WordPress family. This is a poem written for this Advent season by my friend and counselor, Warren. I loved it and wanted you to catch a whiff of the promise it makes for this holy time.

ADVENT CHILD
God of love appearing at solstice as a child
knows that, while my welcome mat grows bare
with signs of wear after all those Santa trips in and out gathering my bag of gifts, perhaps there still could be something new”
for him among the wrapping, ribbons and bows
that elicits more joy than merely Ahs and Ohs.

So I simply want to share with you this time around,
that after our guests go home and the tree comes down
and the sky turns dark again – and while this may not
seem like new good news to you after so many Advent
calendars counting each day after day until the Child
has come and gone – I must say if I may that Christmas
seems quite new for me this year since I decided
to make room for the Child to stay.

Warren L. Molton    12.6.18

 

Make room. You will never regret that you did.

Abundant blessings;

03
Dec
18

Storm Shield

One of my favorite apps to pull up on my phone is an app called “Storm Shield.”

It is a weather radar app that allows me to see CURRENT weather radar as well as a view of what the weather radar will look like in the FUTURE.

I enjoy opening this app periodically so I can look at what is going on in the world, meteorologically. I feel like a genuine weatherman as I peer at my phone and make uneducated guesses about where that big ol’ patch of thunderstorms will be heading next.

And let’s face it… who doesn’t love getting a little peek into the future? Even if it is just the next few hours of weather?

But as fond as I am of this app, I must take its developers to task here a little: despite its reassuring name, not ONCE has this app ever actually shielded me from a storm. Winds have tousled my hair and rain has fallen on me JUST LIKE IT DID before I bought it!

Besides being a fan of the FUTURE feature of the app, I also love having the ability to shrink or widen the perspective. I can look either at this view:

Storm shield 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or THIS one: Storm shield 1

… or even wider if I so desire.

I’m not going to lie; all this power – including the ability to peer into the future – makes me feel a bit like The Great and Powerful Oz!

I think the urge to “look beyond” ourselves and see an enlarged picture of our world is a fairly basic human tendency.

I mean, who knows? Maybe it is exactly this “looking beyond” urge that supplies the energy for space exploration, and undersea voyages, and archeological digs.

It is certainly the reason we will likely never face a shortage of movies on the subject of time travel.

Yes… we all want to “see beyond” our present moment and setting, but it seems we really only want that vision if it fits in with the way we see the world right now.

 

In this age of relativism and inflated self-importance, we really don’t want to be bothered to consider a cosmic point of view that might dare to challenge our seat on the Throne of Power of our lives.

I make this statement because of the research that shows an ever-accelerating rise in the number of people who reject any notion of God or Ultimate Reality or a Higher Power, preferring instead to operate by the seat of their own, omnipotent pants.

They do have a point. This is, after all, the God who said (through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah):

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
–       Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV

This is probably not the God from whom you would ever hear a phrase like, “Yeah, OK… whatever you think. That’s cool.”

This Advent season we have just embarked on is a time to be reminded of our utter subordinacy as humans. It is a time when God said, “I know you are impatient for a solution to the web of ills that surround you, but rest assured; I’ve got this.”

And then – at Christmas – we saw that God did INDEED have it!

So thanks anyway, but I think I will just be content to rely on my Storm Shield app for my “far and wide” glimpses of reality.

And I’ll try to be a little more prepared the next time that green blob starts moving in my direction.

 

Abundant blessings;

25
Nov
18

Be My Guest

Catering staffHaving family visit for Thanksgiving – or any occasion, really – is a real treat.

Especially when those family members live far away and you don’t get to see them very often.

Electronic communication – as convenient as it is – is no substitute for seeing people in the flesh, up close and personal.

But I have to admit… the only thing better than having dear loved ones around the table – sharing stories, telling jokes, eating turkey, and watching movies – is waving goodbye to them as they leave.

Because let’s face it, houseguests screw up the whole routine.

I mean, look; they don’t get up in the morning when we do.

They like different kinds of activities.

They don’t watch the same TV shows.

When they try to help cook, they don’t know where the nutmeg is kept. (Or the coriander. Or the oregano. Or the spatulas.)

When they try to help unload the dishwasher – as sweet and helpful a gesture as that is – they invariably put things in all the wrong places.

Lord knows they can’t help it, but even the most lovely, loveable houseguests force hosts to ADJUST!

Heaven forbid!

Wow! Am I really that old? Am I really that cranky? Am I really that set in my ways that I would allow the petty inconvenience of having to relocate the coffee cups completely overshadow the joy of a family get-together?

Jeez… I sure hope not.

Over and over again the Bible commands us to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2, Luke 14:7, Romans 12:13, Exodus 22:21, etc.).And so if the command is to show hospitality to people you don’t even KNOW, how much more necessary is it – do you suppose – to show hospitality to people you are actually related to?

Being resentful – or even slow – to make a few small, necessary adjustments for the sake of my guests’ comfort shows I care more about my routines more than I do about them.

And when you come to think about it, isn’t HOSPITALITY really one of the big, underlying themes of the Christmas season?

Every chapter of the story seems to ask a different kind of hospitality question; who will make room for the Christ child in her womb? Who will make room for the young travelers in their inn? Who will welcome the newborn Savior into the world?

None of us here in 2018 had to answer any of the questions those folks did. But there is one question we might all take a moment and ponder: Who here today will make room for the infant Messiah in their heart?

 

*Special blog postscript: As if sensing my need to enlarge my hospitality skills, God has dumped a massive blizzard on our home here today, canceling all flights out and giving us TWO MORE DAYS with our out-of-town loved ones!

12
Nov
18

It’s Just hair

Well, it’s gone.

We knew the day was coming. Ever since my wife’s cancer diagnosis in late September and the ensuing prescription for chemotherapy, we knew the days of her beautiful, flowing, auburn hair were numbered.

It’s just what happens when those powerful cancer-killing chemicals go racing through a person’s body.

Personally, I was expecting trauma and heartbreak when “HAIR GONE” day came… from me, that is. I knew SHE would handle it just fine.

In fact, anticipating a sky-high level of emotional devastation, I wrote her a lovely little free verse poem called, “It’s Just Hair” to help cushion the blow. (I would share it here, but it is a little too personal and intimate.)

So then, as the stuff began showing up on the pillowcase and coming out in clumps, we realized it was time.

As her hairdresser came to our home one night and gently, lovingly buzzed it right down to the scalp, we were both surprisingly OK. No hair Joan

I went to the utility room, got the broom and dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it.

BOOM.

GONE.

We looked at her mirrored reflection and marveled at how lovely and round and symmetrical her head is. I made jokes about polishing her “dome” with a cloth now and then.

And then we kissed and smiled, looked each other in the eye and said, “It’s just hair.”

As these things often do, it caused me to lapse into reflection.

Joan with turbanI thought about how easily and how often in my life I have confused form and substance. I mused over the question of why I do that and how annoyingly frequently it occurs. I asked myself, “Self… how is it that you are so quick to recognize the difference between ‘hair’ and ‘her,’ when it comes to your spouse, and yet are often so slow to grant others the same grace?”

And then I got global and wondered, “Am I the only one who puts unreasonable confidence in outward, surface appearances and punts on the hard work of diving a little deeper and trying a little harder to understand the souls of other people?”
And I thought, “Naaaaaah. Probably not.”

I also realized it was time to pull out 2 Corinthians 4:18, commit it to memory and try, yet again, to live by its wise guidance: “… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Abundant blessings;




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