Posts Tagged ‘joy

24
Jan
19

Tree of Light

christmas treeYes, it’s true.

Today is January 24 and our Christmas tree is still up.

Fully decorated and lighted.

Know what else?

It will probably be up for another two days.

Every other scrap of indoor and outdoor Christmas décor has been carefully returned to its off-season storage place… waiting patiently for next year’s winter pageant.

But somehow we felt the need to hang on to the tree… for just a little while longer.

It might be because it has been a rougher-than-usual winter this year.

Part of that roughness is because it is snowier and colder here this year than the past six years combined. The childlike wonder with which I once greeted a snowstorm evaporated about the time I stopped celebrating school’s cancellation for a SNOW DAY.

For the past week, we have also been trying to cope with a sudden and heartbreaking end to the professional football season here in our hometown. I mean, sure… in the grand scheme of things, it is a trifling concern. But sometimes football fans forget to focus on “the grand scheme of things.”

I suspect there might be another reason we feel the need to hang on to the lights and shiny ornaments a little longer than usual.

I suspect it might have something to do with a shadow that fell onto our house about four months ago; a shadow that first showed up on a routine CAT scan that led to nine weeks of chemotherapy, a major surgery, and nine more weeks of chemotherapy; a shadow that caused both silent and out loud tears to be shed, but which also brought forth amazing outpourings of prayer, love, support, and hope.

So yes, we still kind of feel the need to have the tree here to twinkle and blink and light up the room.

But we are just about ready to pack it up and then try and see if we can find another source of light and joy.

I think I just might have an idea…

26
Dec
18

Christmas Past?

Outside picAnd… it’s done.

It is back to being the wet winter world full of car horns, dry cleaning, bare trees, and muddy footprints I always thought it was.

It is the 26th. And today all the dreamy blurred edges and Christmasy fairy dust have been washed away by the cold rain.

Was I dreaming?

Did any of that really happen?

Did that Asian couple I passed in the park yesterday actually look at me, smile, and say, “Merry Christmas” as we passed?

Was that actually a glow of peace and goodwill I saw framing the faces of my family members… even the ones I usually speak of with air quotes firmly in place?

Did peals of delighted laughter from grandchildren really bounce off these walls just a couple of hours ago?

Is it possible I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror and saw flecks of kindness and grace sprinkled there in the lines of my face?

Was I actually content to block out the news with its reports of roiling unrest and Real and Imagined Epic Disaster and then breathe slowly… deeply… calmly?

Did all of that just happen?

I don’t know… maybe we were all just under the spell of some Master Hypnotist whose fingers have just snapped and jolted us back awake.

Maybe it was the psychotropic effects of one too many pieces of homemade fudge coursing through my bloodstream.

But maybe…

Just maybe…

Hope Incarnate really WAS just born into the world.

Maybe the Word really did become flesh and dwell among us.

O God, let’s hope so.

 

O God, let’s make it BE so.

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
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”

27
Mar
18

My own Facebooklessness

Facebook iconSomething had to change. And it had to change soon.

I would compare the feeling I was dealing with to the very earliest nibblings of an oncoming head cold… you know; those times when you know something is a little out of kilter but you’re not entirely sure what it is.

I looked and saw my normally puckish, buoyant outlook on life taking on unfamiliar, churlish overtones… I noticed my already woefully short attention span getting even shorter. I noticed that I seemed to be more reactive and less thoughtful and deliberate.

The guy looking back from the mirror didn’t seem nearly as likable as he did a few short years ago.

Alarmed at where symptoms like these might eventually lead, I did my own armchair diagnosis.

The diagnosis? Acute Facebookitis!

The cure? Phased withdrawal from the social media miracle known as Facebook.

According to the Facebook stats page, I have been a part of that universe since 2008. (Is that really possible?)

And for the most part, I have really LOVED it!

  • Where else can one find a platform from which to dispense one’s own slightly off-center commentary on the world and know that many more than two or three people sitting around your dining room table will hear it?
  • Where else can you go and regularly see pictures of family members who live 2,000 miles away from you?
  • And where else – pray tell – can you go and take a quiz to clarify which month you REALLY should have been born in?

But it was becoming increasingly clear to me: ever since entering semi-retirement, I have been spending waaaay too much time Facebooking. One sure-fire indicator (to me) that I was overdosing on this form of social media was my belief that posting my calm, rationally composed political views on Facebook would actually change someone else’s opinion!

I know… right?

And so… I started cutting back.

The first step was to remove the Facebook app from my phone. YIKES! That step was HUGE. I had no idea – until after the fact – how much time I spent every day mindlessly picking up my phone, tapping that friendly, blue icon and peeping in on the spiffed up, sanitized lives of a whole bunch of different people.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I soon became aware that I usually came away from that time feeling somehow “less than”. Studies have now shown conclusively that people who passively scroll through Facebook are more prone to depression than others. Psychologists theorize that this is because we look at the exciting and glamorous posts from our friends and judge our own lives to be rather shabby in comparison.

And let’s not even get started on political “discussions” on Facebook. Treading onto this turf guarantees one of two things will most certainly happen: 1.) You will be loudly affirmed and encouraged to continue holding the views you now hold, or 2.) You will be ridiculed, mocked, belittled, and condemned to hell for those same views.

And honestly… I am not sure either of those results helps me grow as a person.

I am pleased to tell you that removing the Facebook app from my phone brought an unexpected level of tranquility into my life. Since it was no longer there to check, I was instantly cured of the twitchy, impulsive practice of taking out my phone and “just checking.” I was actually free to lift up my eyes, talk to people around me, and notice the subtle shadings of spring beginning to appear.

And then came the season of Lent… that great time of self-denial and reflection on the Christian calendar. Could I go completely cold turkey and even give up Facebook on my laptop?

Here we are, in the last week of Lent, and I am happy to report that the withdrawal has been (mostly) painless. Since February 14 I have not maligned or been maligned by political adversaries. I have not tested my I.Q., or found out my celebrity crush, or investigated the amazing array of skin rejuvenation products available. I have not snarked or jeered at the fates of the basketball teams of my friends.

And not once have I pined for a life other than the one I am living right now!

On the other hand, I have also not congratulated anyone on their son or daughter’s piano recital, seen the photos of my siblings’ European vacation, told a high school buddy “Happy Birthday” or marveled at the wit and faith of one of my pastor pals.

In the end, I guess I have to conclude that Facebook is a lot like fire; kept under control and used judiciously and carefully it has an enormous capacity for good. Used mindlessly it can cause enormous harm.

Facebook – and all other forms of social media – are tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is up to you and me to use them wisely.

09
Mar
18

The Child Within

inner childrenHe sees so much, sitting there
Perched on the edge of my soul.
An avalanche of wonder cascades
On… in… around his open, receptive eyes.

He misses nothing.
He is a bridge.
He is a lighthouse.
He is the key to the door of secrets.

His hand outstretched
E.T. glowing white fingertips
He invites me to “come”
“Learn”
“Listen”

“We should climb this tree
And sit silently
And watch.” 

“We should dive into
That pile of leaves…
And roll around.”

In his hand, a wrapped gift appears.
Open it,” he sings.
And so I open it
And I weep.

The gift pulses, shimmers, purrs
It glows a deep, satisfying blue.
It is the gift I have always wanted
But could never speak.

It is the gift of my life…
Whole
Affirmed
Holy.

Mine to cherish.
Mine to own.

I love you,” he says.
And smiles.

05
Sep
17

Caught in the rain

caught in the rainIt happened again.

We got caught in the rain.

For the second time this week, my wife and I decided we would go ahead and take a hike… even though the weather forecast said rain was likely.

And for the second time, the local weather forecasters proved to be annoyingly accurate. (When I want them to be right, they are wrong. And when I want them to be wrong, they are right. What’s up with that??)

In both instances the skies got dark, the temperature dropped dramatically, the winds started whipping the trees around, and the heavens opened up almost EXACTLY halfway through our hike.

Forge ahead? Turn back? Zero difference.

In neither case were we adequately prepared for the rain… despite the forecasts and my trusty weather radar app.

On the first hike we each had hoodies in the backpack; nice, long-sleeved fleece hoodies… with zero water repelling qualities.

The second time we didn’t even have those.

(Isn’t there a saying that begins something like, “Mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

If something like this has ever happened to you, your reaction might have been similar to ours. We started out by shaking our fists at the storm… exasperated by its mean-spirited decision to ruin our outing.

Because, you know… storms are like that.

Next, we tried to hide from it. On the first hike the woods were pretty thick, so the tall conifers provided a measure of shelter. We hung out for a while under a particularly dense patch but then realized the storm was NOT going to blow over anytime soon.

Our next approach could best be described as “dejected trudging.” It was a kind of, “OK, this thing isn’t going to stop, we need to get back to the car, so let’s just grit our teeth and slog it out.”

Squish… squish… squish we went one unhappy step after the other.

Then it happened.

At some point, on both hikes, in the middle of the dejected trudging, a switch flipped; for both of us. A moment of awareness dawned, right there in the middle of the pelting raindrops. In nearly perfect synchronization, we looked at each other, started to laugh and said something like, “Well this is certainly an adventure, isn’t it?”

Our “moment” certainly didn’t make the rain stop… didn’t make our shoes less squishy, or warm us up at all. But it certainly did impart a different spirit to the remainder of the hike.

It made me wonder if there might be any rich veins of metaphor “ore” to be mined in this experience.

Like, for example, might there be any parallels between our experience of these actual, meteorological storms and other “storms” of life?

Such as; is it ever my tendency to start out denying the possibility of storms… to embark on the journey without paying any attention to the clouds gathering on the horizon?

Maybe.

Or to react initially with anger when the rain actually does arrive… to see it as a very personal, vindictive attack on ME?

Hmmmmm…

And then, is it possible that I might ever try to find some kind of silly, inadequate shelter in which to hide from the storm’s relentless presence? Or that I might then turn from my “hiding strategy” to a grim, teeth-clenched trudging acceptance of it?

Yes… it is entirely possible.

The real question is: do I ever arrive at the last stage – the stage of embracing the rain-soaked moment and seeing it as a kind of adventure? Am I ever able to shift gears and see the new outlooks and skills required of me by this downpour… skills that might have been needed, but were lacking heretofore?

In terms of a goal, “laughing in the rain” might be a little excessively Pollyanna-ish at this point. Some rainstorms (both the literal and metaphorical kind) are truly life threatening and dangerous.

But based on our recent hiking experience, I pray I will be able to spend significantly less time in the denial and angry fist-shaking stages and move more quickly to something hopeful and productive.

 

Abundant blessings…




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