Archive for December, 2021

31
Dec
21

Winter Wonderland

It finally snowed here in Fort Collins. 

The falling right now is the first snow this season… and the latest first snow in the town’s history. 

And so naturally, as Patrick the dog and I set out on our morning walk – wet flakes descending rapidly on our heads – I began singing, Walking in a Winter Wonderland. 

You know the song, don’t you? [And no, Christopher… it’s not about you.]

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

In the lane, snow is glistening.

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight,

Walking in a winter wonderland.

I’m sure in my life, I have sung it over 100 times with no thought at all to what I was singing.

But for some reason today, as I walked along singing, I was suddenly snagged by these words in the second verse:

“To face unafraid, the plans that we made…”

My first thought was, “What a great mindset to have as you make the transition from one year to the next! Maybe this is really more a New Year’s song than a Christmas song.”

But then I stopped to ponder a little further. I asked myself; Is that the way I am approaching 2022? Am I facing my/our plans for this coming year fearlessly… confidently… in a positive, hopeful state of mind? Or am I shaking in my shoes a little bit?

Because, honestly, peering at the road ahead shows me a lot of potholes, hairpin turns, mudslides, and washed-out bridges. Facing that mess “unafraid” (in the words of the song) seems like it might prove to be a daunting task.

As I stand here and gaze down the road, I see that the YUCK has already started. A beloved family member just tested positive for the COVID virus. Thick smoke from the wildfires west of Boulder, Colorado enveloped us as we drove home yesterday from Kansas City. Reports say that over 500 homes have been destroyed. John Madden died last week, and Betty White died today!

Thank God (literally) I am not facing all this alone.

Thank God there is someone who has been there, who has seen the worst of it, and is still there to reach out, take my hand, and say to me, “Do not be afraid.” In fact, that exact phrase is repeated more than 70 times in the Bible… spoken by God to the numerous “feet of clay” heroes scattered throughout its pages. 

Think of it… Abram was afraid. Hagar was afraid. Isaac was afraid. Moses was afraid. The entire nation of Israel was afraid. Joshua, Deborah, Jacob, Gideon, Samson, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, and a bushel basket full of other big names in the Bible all had reason to quake in their shoes as they looked at the road ahead of them. 

And to each of them, God said in a loud, strong voice, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV). 

In my mind’s eye, I see each of those biblical “heroes” jotting that phrase down on a piece of papyrus, taping it to their bathroom mirrors (like I did in 2011, during a time of great trepidation), and reading it to themselves every morning. 

And then – much as I did back then – I see them each marching out into the day saying, “OK, world… Bring it on.” 

Looking out my window, I see that the snow is getting deeper. It is a much-needed dose of moisture in a dry, parched land. It quiets things down and creates a uniformly white blanket of silence on everything it touches.

And so when you combine that very “Currier and Ives” visual with the reminder of God’s enduring presence in each of our lives, it truly does look like a Winter Wonderland. 

– Abundant blessings and a Joy-filled 2022 to you and yours.

24
Dec
21

Why Give?

It’s Christmas… the season of giving.

But why? 

I mean, why do we give? I am not ONLY talking about Christmas giving. I’m talking about any kind of giving.

I puzzled on this one for a while and came up with a few answers. To wit:

  • Sometimes we give because it’s a tradition. It’s expected.
  • Sometimes we give because someone needs something, and we have the means to provide it.
  • Sometimes we give because we feel the need to TANGIBLY express our love and affection to someone.
  • Sometimes we give because we feel insecure about the status of a relationship and believe that giving will help strengthen and shore it up with “stuff.”
  • Sometimes we give because we just have too damned much money and we don’t know what to do with it. [I cannot personally relate to this one].
  • Sometimes we give because we want another person to feel they are in our debt.

And so on.

It didn’t take a lot of sweat to come up with this list because every one of these reasons (except for the “too much money” one) has motivated my own giving in the past.

But what if I asked you to look through this list – including any others you might add to it – and choose which Giving Motivator best describes the true spirit of CHRISTMAS giving?

Honestly, I think every gift you’ll find under your tree might well be wrapped in one of these motivators. But I am not sure anything listed here actually lines up with the motivation that was behind the Original Christmas Gift

And by Original Christmas Gift (OCG), of course I mean JESUS!

And so, the two questions I am wrestling with here at Christmas Eve Eve 2021 are: #1 – What was God’s motivation in giving us God’s Own Self, in the flesh, as the OCG? And #2 – How might MY giving (Christmas and otherwise) more closely reflect that same motivation?

What do you think?

Right off the bat I am going to have to rule against “To show us God’s love” as a possible answer to the first question. Regular readers of the Bible will know that God was in the business of showing love to humans from page 1 onward. 

Heck, the very act of creation was an act of love. 

Similarly, I am going to go ahead and pre-emptively rule against the answer, “Because God was bored and needed something to do.”

I believe that “the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14, NRSV) for one basic reason; to demonstrate the life-and-world changing power of self-giving, sacrificial love

It didn’t just cost God something to stoop down and pitch a tent here with you and me. It cost God EVERYTHING! It was a gift of epic proportions… given with no expectation of receiving anything in return. 

The OCG was a gift that was supposed to say to us, “Hey! THIS is what giving is all about. This giving is willful self-emptying. This giving lies at the very heart of Who I Am and who I call YOU to be also.” 

“Oh, and by the way… THIS giving is what changes the world.”

And it did, too.

As far as any kind of answer to the second question I posed (I.e., “How might MY giving (Christmas and otherwise) more closely reflect that same motivation?”), I am still chewing on that one. But I think it has something to do with trying to make sure that any giving I do in the future is an authentic GIVING OF MYSELF rather than any of those other reasons. 

That’s all for now. I am not sure I have even come close to the right answers to those questions, but I would LOVE to hear what you think. 

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you and yours. This year, give someone the gift of YOU!

Abundant blessings;

21
Dec
21

Slow Down, Cowboy

Time passes.

Things change.

The fresh, new, and exciting slowly becomes the stale, old, and predictable. 

Energy that once sprang from a bottomless reservoir now trickles sparingly, as if dripping from a clogged waterspout.

Possibilities begin winking out one by one… like the lights of a remote fishing village moving from midnight to pre-dawn.

The same applies to me. Early in my career as a human, I used to walk fast. Stride, stride, stride, stride. Vigorous. Purposeful. Always in a hurry. Never quite enough time to get from Point A to Point B. Checking my watch and multitasking as I went.

I’m sure you’ve heard footsteps of the kind of person I used to be. Whenever I heard those staccato, purposeful steps approaching me from behind, I always had to turn my head. My first thought was usually, “I wonder if I am about to be mugged.” But then I relaxed, realizing it’s just someone on their way to somewhere.

Lately, though, I have slowed down.

Considerably.

I first throttled down from FULL to ¾ speed when I retired. Though I no longer had any place I needed to be RIGHT NOW, I wanted to continue living with a sense of urgency… taking nothing for granted… drinking deeply from each day’s bubbling fountain.

But then came the excruciating lower back pain in early May, slowing me – LITERALLY some days – to a crawl.

Today my back is a bit better, thanks. Treatments, injections, massages, adjustments, exercise, and even some wacky stuff have all helped. But despite that improvement, I continue to be a slow walker. 

Now I take my time getting from here to there. 

I breathe deeply along the way. I look around. I study the trees, yards, houses, dogs, and people I pass. I let them speak to me. I treat them the way a trained sommelier treats that first mouthful of wine from a newly opened bottle of 1949 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru. (Not that we have that vintage on the shelf here at Chez Brown. I just Googled, “What is the name of a really expensive wine,” et VOILA!)

Since I just celebrated a significant birthday yesterday (one that ends in a “0”), I have declared to myself that I am absolutely permitted to slow down a bit. 

I am still – hopefully – a long way away from adopting the Old Man Shuffle step. But fair warning! If you are a young, busy career person dashing through the aisles of the grocery store to pick up a few things on the way home, you DON’T want to be stuck behind me.

As I pause and think about it, I must admit; I am coming to like this new, slower, more deliberate me. But it does seem odd in a way. Younger me… the one with a whole lifetime ahead of him… was always in a hurry to get somewhere. Whereas older me… the one whose days here in this vail of tears are MUCH more numbered… is very OK with taking it slow and easy. 

NEWS FLASH: In case you haven’t guessed, NONE of these reflections are at all new or earth-shattering in their significance.

Jesus – the guy whose mission was to save Creation – regularly carved himself out times of quiet, stillness and solitude. Long before Jesus’ time the psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV). And let’s not forget the story about Elijah’s flight from the wrath of Queen Jezebel when he met God in the middle of the “sheer silence.” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV) in the desert. 

No… while the notion of slowing down and smelling the coffee may not be new or revolutionary, it is somewhat noteworthy that I have finally stumbled upon it. 

And if I REALLY want to complete the “old guy trifecta,” I will next take up whittling and golf. 

Abundant blessings;

13
Dec
21

Jesus and Santa

An image of Jesus thought to be more realistic, based on archaeological records of the people from that
place and time.

On our morning walk today, I saw a sign in a neighbor’s front yard that read: “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.”

And being the eager Jesus follower I am, I responded with a hearty, “Heck yeah! That’s right, brother/sister/non-binary ally, whoever you are! You’re telling some serious truth right there.”

In that moment, I was caught up in that perennial Yuletide fervor that requires Christians to moan and wail about the gross commercialization of “our” sacred season. “Fie on Santa and his elves and all of their heathen merry-making! People need to focus a lot MORE on the story of God’s miraculous, world-changing incarnation and a lot LESS on finding the best recipe for homemade EGGNOG!”

And of course, that is all true.

But what if… what if it turned out that there was a way for Jesus and Santa to peacefully coexist at this time of year? What if really IS a place for Santa and tinsel and cookies and all those other “trappings” of the Christmas season alongside the manger of Bethlehem? I mean, what if ONE face of the Christmas season did not necessarily have to negate the OTHER?

Pictures of Real Santa Claus

How would that work, exactly?

I think it just might start with the recognition of all the ways that COMMERCIAL Christmas and HOLY Christmas overlap. For example, both celebrate the spirit of GIVING. Both accentuate LIGHT overcoming DARKNESS. And both of them make the FAMILY the center of attention, right?

I am sure this list goes on and on, but the point I am trying to make is: Jesus and Santa might not be quite the adversaries we usually depict them to be. In fact, with Santa’s eternally jolly nature and Jesus’ inclination to love his neighbor as himself, they might even get along quite famously!

However… in spite of the considerable areas of “missional overlap,” there really is one area where Jesus and Santa drastically diverge. And that is the area of THE GIFTS THEY COME TO BRING US. 

In this area, the differences between the two could not be starker.

That’s because Santa comes to fulfill temporal wishes.

 Jesus comes to bring eternal hope.

Temporal wishes are the things you write down on the list that you give to your loved ones (sorry… I mean that you send to the North Pole). They include things like a new FitBit, a new power saw, warm socks, a KC Chiefs stocking hat, and a kayak.

These things may or may not come. If they do, you feel kind of, “joyful and triumphant,” don’t you? 

… for about three days.

If they don’t come (like the new basketball I asked for when I was ten), you feel left out… ignored… forgotten.

Eternal hope, on the other hand, is a totally different kind of gift. The word “eternal” is probably an obvious clue about the nature of this gift. It is the gift that REALLY keeps on giving! It is good NOW, TOMORROW and keeps on being good for your entire life (and beyond!).

It is also available to EVERYONE. Not just those who have a rich benefactor. 

And finally, it is the gift that is perfect for all who receive it. It isn’t made for just one size, shape, or color person. 

I am glad there is a time of year set aside for us to give one another little trinkets and gewgaws that come wrapped with pretty paper and bows. If not for Christmas, I might never get the cool clothes Joan likes to buy me.

But I will be forever grateful that God loved me enough to send the one thing that He knew I really needed…

HOPE eternal.

HOPE incarnate. 

HOPE beyond HOPE…

In other words, his only begotten son.

Abundant blessings;

09
Dec
21

To Plunge or Not to Plunge…

When an inanimate object really, REALLY becomes a member of your family, you give it a name.

We named him Travis.

“Him,” in this case is a 2017 Winnebago Travato, Class B touring coach. Or RV, if you prefer. 

For at least two years – starting right after I finally, officially retired – Joan and I began talking about how much we were looking forward to hitting the open road with our two dogs, Rosie and Patrick. 

We longed to wander aimlessly around this big, beautiful country of ours, seeing all the sights we have not yet seen. 

And re-seeing some we have. 

“How cool will it be…” we said, “… to drive around with no particular schedule or destination and no assignment except to feast our eyes on America’s natural wonders for days on end.”

Exhaustive research, conversation, and prayer finally led us to conclude that THIS (the Travato, that is) was the right way to go. And wouldn’t you know it, shortly thereafter, a couple who lived very close to us listed one for sale.

So we went and met Travis. And it was love at first sight.

Fast forward to today, four months later. Here we sit with egg on our faces and feeling a little silly and a LOT sheepish. That’s because we have decided to put the FOR SALE sign on Travis. 

Why? You might ask. As it turns out, we are not campers.

Neither – apparently – are Rosie and Patrick. 

We certainly gave it the good, ol’ college try. We started slowly, with trips close to home and short in duration… gradually expanding our radius and trip length. We had a two-night trip right here in town, four nights up to Lander, Wyoming and back, and then just shy of a week to Kansas City and back.

The dogs let us know right away that they didn’t like the sleeping arrangements. And so, THEIR nocturnal restlessness led to OURS. 

Both Joan and I also both grossly underestimated the amount of work and preparation involved in getting ready to hit the road… and the clean-up work on the other end when you get back home. 

We found that we loved the part about being able to drive around and explore cool, new places. But we really didn’t much love just sitting outside on our camp chairs staring into the fire for hours after dinner clean-up.

At one point, Joan looked at me and said, “I think the people who do this a lot are really PASSIONATE about it. And the truth is, we just aren’t.”

So now we are both feeling red-faced and asking ourselves questions like: Why couldn’t we have been smarter about this? Why couldn’t we have each KNOWN ourselves a little better and foreseen our deep-seated aversion to the camping experience? How did we let ourselves get so carried away by this romantic notion of free-form road-tripping? Why didn’t we do a better job of anticipating the dogs’ discomfort with Travis?

All good questions. But in the end, unanswerable. 

Sometimes in life you just have to STEP OUT. [Sort of like Peter stepping out of the boat.]

Sometimes the only place the answers can be found is right smack-dab in the MIDDLE of the experience. In that sense it is a bit like parenting… 

We live. We make mistakes. We learn. And we live some more.

I just hope this episode (which we will one day affectionately call, “The Travis Chapter”) doesn’t discourage us from ever again “taking a plunge” into the unknown. I hope it does help us to ask better questions and search our hearts a little more closely before doing so. 

When I read the words of 2 Timothy 1:7 (NRSV), “… for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,” I hear it reminding me that we were created to take risks. Not to risk foolishly, of course, but to use God’s spirit of love and self-discipline to help us step boldly into the Great Unknown. 

Hmmmm. Do you suppose that even applies to buying RVs?

Abundant blessings;

07
Dec
21

An Undistorted Reality

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV)

Have you ever noticed the way anticipation tends to distort reality… both positively and negatively?

If you’re not sure what I am talking about, think back to the last time you sat by your phone as you waited for a call from your doctor, bringing news about the results of a test. Or recall one of those times when you waited for the back door to fly open, followed by the words, “I’m home!” when your child was already 30 minutes past his/her curfew.

On the other end of the distortion spectrum, I can vividly recall the feeling as the days (Hours? Moments?) ticked by until it was time to head out on that long-anticipated vacation. But thinking back, the reality of that trip never seemed to quite live up to the way my imagination had painted it.

If any of that rings a bell for you, you can easily imagine some of the visions and dreams that danced around in the heads of most Israelites as they anticipated the arrival of the One described by the prophet Isaiah as, “… Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NRSV). 

I mean, SERIOUSLY! How could anything on earth be as glorious as THAT!??

I wonder if their imagination got as fevered as mine? For me, as the heat of anticipation builds and builds for that joyous moment to arrive, my brain goes into overdrive. I tend to concoct a distorted, unrealistic picture of the IT I am waiting for… paving the way for heart-wrenching disappointment when IT finally appears. 

In the case of the birth of Jesus (“Immanuel… God With Us”), the experience was exactly the opposite. The REALITY of the appearance of God Incarnate out-stripped even the wildest imaginations of the people of his time.

When Jesus landed in that manger in Bethlehem, he brought with him:

  • LIBERATION… for all people, for all time.
  • FORGIVENESS… for anyone who asks.
  • RECONCILIATION… with God, with others, with the world.
  • NEW LIFE
  • HEALING… for the afflicted – in body, mind, or spirit.
  • HOPE… for the hopeless

… and so much more. 

As Joan can (and will) readily tell you, I tend to have a wild and vivid imagination. But when it comes to Jesus, we ALL come face to face with the God who, “… is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20, NRSV). 

And that’s a WHOLE LOT!

Abundant blessings;




Russellings Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Russellings of the Spirit on WordPress.com

Flannel with Faith

Embracing imperfection with faith, flannel, & fresh air

susiesopinions

Life at age 73, feeling like a 20 year old. You can do it too.

CHOP TALK

Know your stories

My Pastoral Ponderings

Pondering my way through God's beloved world

All The Shoes I Wear

Writing Down The Bones

Just Being Me

My life and faith - without a mask.

La Tour Abolie

An eclectic mixture of personal essays, stuff about writing, stuff about books and far out philosophy from an old baggage in a book-tower.

° BLOG ° Gabriele Romano

The flight of tomorrow

Eden in Babylon

a traditional American musical with a progressive score and topical themes

LUNA

Pen to paper

_biblio.bing_

A law student and an avid reader. Along with your desired book reviews you're gonna get great book suggestions. Books of all genre with detailed review. Thank you, Visit Again ❤️

Humanitarian Explorer

Traveling the world to discover and meet needs

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Steadfast Pictures

Visual Media for God's Glory!

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

yadadarcyyada

Vague Meanderings of the Broke and Obscure

Pics and Posts

Goodies from my mailbox and camera

%d bloggers like this: