12.25.2010

"This is the King that we are looking at"

For weeks, my first grader shut herself inside her room at various times, working feverishly on a "project." Very secretive. Very serious. I knew she had big plans when she asked for some wrapping paper, tape, and scissors. And a stapler, too.

She proudly placed her creation under the tree a week ago, with a "to mom and dad" sticker slapped on it in a prominent position. She really wrestled with the "do not open until Christmas" principle. It seemed like ages until we would be able to open it, but she understood it would be better if we all waited.

This morning, she brought it to us to open. And even though I got some nice gifts under the tree, her gift was my favorite. It was a "book" that she had written, stapled together on the side.

The Jesus Story

One day an anjl came to Mary and said go to bethlham you will have a baby. He will be the king. So Mary went to Bethlham with Joshf. She was on a donky. She folowd the star.

They got to Bethlham. They asked a man to have selter. I am all filld up. You can stay in my stabl. So they did. Then Mary had Jesus.

There were seprds in the fild. An anjl came. But the anjl said do not be afrad. You need to go Bethlham to see the new King. So they did. Folow that star said the anjl.

This is are king they said. Sent to erth. They wishupt Jesus. They were so happy they had a new king.

The wise men saw the star. they said it will leed us to a new king. So they rod on camls. They travld for meny days.

The wise men got there jesus was a kid. The wise men gave him prests. They wishupt him. This is the king that we are looking at.

That is the story of Jesus.

12.23.2010

How to Break the Conventional Rules of Blogging

There are a lot of blogs out there about how to blog successfully. The more I read them, the more I see that I am doing a stupendous job of breaking all the rules. I am also certain that the phrase "blogging successfully" is relative. I'm like James Dean on his motorcycle. A renegade. A rebel without a cause. Make that...a blogger without a niche. Here are the top ten ways you can join me out here on the fringe.

1) Don't post every day. Or even every 2-3 days. Posting constantly is the number one cardinal rule, according to the experts. You owe it to your readers, they say. But instead, just get something up there once a week or so. Maybe. I promise that no one will cry themselves to sleep if you don't.

2) Don't worry about a facebook page for your blog. Why does my blog need its own facebook page? I have a facebook page because I have a face. I post links to my blog there. If my blog had a facebook page too, that would be like wearing pantyhose with sandals. Facebook pages for blogs are very much en vogue, so many of you are now vehemently disagreeing. But I'm sure that only about 3 of my facebook friends would "like" my facebooked blog, and that would be emotionally crippling for me. So let's move on.

3) Make sure to neglect the rest of the blogging community. Conventional wisdom dictates that as a blogger, you should be reading about 87,362 blogs and commenting on all of them to increase traffic to your own blog. Who has time to do that? Read some when you can, but by all means, do not drown in a sea of endless blogs. Your family will thank you.

4) Use a standard blogger template, even while beautiful and slick-looking designs abound all around you. Blogger is kind of like the family sedan that gets you from point A to point B. It's not fancy, but it does the job. Having design envy accomplishes nothing. Just use what you've got and make the best of it.

5) Don't have your own domain name. Because "dot blogspot dot com" is fun to say.

6) Always write posts that are too long. This one is my personal favorite. I do it all the time. If you stick with me when I go over 250 words, I love you.

7) Don't appeal to a specific demographic. Just be all over the map. Commercial sponsors really like that. No target at all. Old people, young people, male, female, whatever. Pitch it like this: "Hey, you could reach the ENTIRE world by advertising on my blog! Forget about that one segment that you are hung up on!"

8) Make sure that your readers have no idea what to expect by visiting your blog. The whole "your readers have to trust you" line is a little touchy-feely. So make your blog be like a box of chocolates, as Forrest would say. You never know what you're gonna get. Something crunchy? Chewy? Spiritual? Funny? Yuck? A mouse-click is a roll of the dice.

9) If you had to choose between one reader and 50 "followers" who come once and never come back, always pick the one reader. They are a lot more real than the numbers are.

10) Above all, just write. Write whatever you want, whatever you're thinking about, whether somebody is reading or not. If they are, fine. If they're not, too bad. Write because it's fun. Because you have something to say. Because it might make a difference for someone out there.

That's how to be a blogging renegade. And this is the perfect moment for me to jump on my motorcycle, rev the engine, and ride into the sunset.

Until next time,

12.19.2010

Dirty Santa Play-by-Play: A Tale of Woe and Undoing

There's always one person in a Dirty Santa game who gets dumped on. Someone inevitably hits the jackpot and then watches helplessly as it all unravels. This year, at our annual family get-together, it was my husband.

Maybe he brought woe upon himself when he stole the animal-shapes waffle maker from my cousin's super-sweet wife. (To his credit, he was only dutifully carrying out my wishes that had been whispered in his ear). Or maybe I brought woe upon us both when I talked trash to my cousin before the game started and told him he was "goin' down!" An analysis of the pivotal moments of the game reveals that the waffle-maker steal was a definite turning point. It all went downhill from there.

As a coach shows slow-motion video footage to his players after the big game, so we shall now re-visit yesterday's Dirty Santa dirtiness.

Once my husband grabs that waffle maker, I know that it's only a matter of time before someone else steals it from him, rendering it "dead," unable to be stolen again. If only I can swipe it from my own husband (a lateral steal), I can ensure that the waffle maker goes home with us. But alas, Aunt Joyce gets to him first. So it goes.

Gift #1...lost. Which means our kids will continue to eat Eggo waffles.

Husband has to dig under the tree again for a replacement gift. He opens a phonebook-sized reproduction of the Sears Roebuck Catalog from the 1800's, with lots of strange, old-fashioned items in it. As he flips through it, it is obvious that he is not quite sure what to make of it, and neither am I. My mom, who happens to like strange, old-fashioned pictures, is next up in line. She also feels sorry for him, like a good mother-in-law, and I am almost certain she takes it from him so that he can choose something else (a sympathy steal).

Gift #2...lost. Thankfully.

Husband, left giftless once again, contemplates swiping someone's gift (a rebound steal). But he is told that he must return to the tree, since rebound steals are forbidden (although they are known to happen occasionally, under the radar). So then he opens a manly-looking hat with a light attached to the front of it, which even has a manly knife of some sort included in the mix. But in our family of manly men, the man-hat lasts all of 25 seconds in my husband's hands.

Gift #3...lost. "Nooooo!" he pleads. It falls on deaf ears. The man-hat is no more.

Husband then concedes to open the gift that our daughter has enthusiastically selected from under the tree and plunked into his lap. Body creme and a $20 gift card to McDonald's (yessss!) In the hierarchy of Dirty Santa gifts, gift cards are usually pretty sweet, even if they're from McDonald's. Visions of free happy meals for my children are dancing in my head until my cousin's wife...the first waffle-maker casualty, as you recall...sees her opportunity. She swoops in and claims MickeyD's as her own (a payback steal). Bam. It's the equivalent to a quarterback sack, as the coach reviewing the plays would explain.

Gift #4...lost. Tragically.

Husband faces the barren tree, with one gift left underneath it. It's like throwing a hail mary pass. He reaches for it, opening the paper slowly, hoping desperately for redemption as bittersweet memories of the treasures that slipped through his fingers cloud his thoughts. And he pulls out --

A guitar-playing turkey that sings Feliz Navidad when you punch the PRESS ME! button on his foot, as his neck wiggles side to side, forward and back. A far cry from the waffle maker.

But our kids love it. I mean, they REALLY love it.

Please, someone. Save me from Jose Feliciano, whose song now plays in our home and in my head over...and over...and over...

I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas! From the bottom of my hearrrrt!

Until next time,

12.11.2010

The Greatest Christmas Song Ever Written

The genre of Christmas music is vast. In fact, I am pretty certain that the number of holiday songs ever written would stretch all the way to infinity, if you lined them up next to each other. And within that genre are other vast genres. When you type in "Christmas music" on Pandora radio, it will ask you what kind. R&B/Pop Holiday? Classical Christmas? Peaceful holiday? Christmas blues? Country Christmas? Folk holidays? Jazz holidays? Rockin' holidays? Or Swingin' Christmas? (Umm...I really had to wrestle with that selection.)

Musicians have been creating Christmas music for, I guess, 2,010 years. Contemporary musicians, if they are more than one-hit wonders, are expected to release a Christmas album at some point. It's just what you do. No other musical genre exists that is only to be consumed for one month out of the year. We have to cram every bit of our Christmas listening into December (or the end of November, for those who just cannot wait.)

So this Christmas, I have contemplated which Christmas song, out of all the ones ever written, is the best. Above all others. It's a tough challenge, especially for someone like me who hates to be asked to pick a favorite movie, favorite song, favorite singer, favorite food of all time. When confronted with those questions every now and then, I usually just wring my hands and think, oh that's a good one...but what about?....how can I pick that one over that one?...I can only pick one? Really?...I know there's one I'm forgetting... And I end up having to list several.

Not so, for this Christmas challenge to myself. One song. And only one. And not only the title, I also must explain why I selected that song as the winner, put it out here on this blog, and be prepared to face my peanut gallery.

Maybe I should do this like the competitive singing shows we love.

And now...the ones who have NOT been chosen to go on to the next round: Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer...I'm sorry, but you have not made the cut! Jingle Bell Rock...you've worn out your welcome! Sit down! I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas...nope, it's definitely not you! Thanks for playing! O Holy Night, you were almost it. I stand up and give you the slow, deliberate Randy Jackson clap. Your drama and beauty have my utmost respect. Sometimes second place is good...even fourth or fifth. Just ask Chris Daughtry.

But ladies and gentlemen, in all seriousness, the best Christmas song of all time is...wait for it...

Silent Night.

*boom! confetti falls* The crowd sits there in shock because that was all somehow anticlimactic. Silent Night? Are you sure that's the winner? But...but...it's slow! The melody is too...simple! It's not glittery enough. Not big enough. Not showy enough!

Neither was the stable.

The judges stand by their decision. Silent Night is the greatest Christmas song ever written. No other song captures the essence of Christmas like it does. It seems like an ancient classic, written in 1818. But that is still 1,818 years after the night Christ was born. Back then, Joseph Mohr, an assistant pastor in Austria, asked his friend Franz Gruber to set to music the words to a poem he had written for Christmas Eve midnight mass. They sang it as a duet, accompanied by a choir and a guitar. The idea that people all over the world would still be singing it hundreds of years later would have been laughable to them.

This is a boys' choir singing it as it was written, "Stille Nacht." Have a listen, please.



The music those two men created in 1818 is a soundtrack for the scene that night in Bethlehem. The mother and the child. The shepherds quaking at the sight of the angels. Heavenly hosts singing Alleluia. Jesus, Lord at thy birth. The melody - tender and mild, gentle, humble. Lyrics that evoke reverence, stillness, and wonder. When I sing it, holding a candle on Christmas Eve, then I am able to be there, too, at the manger, witnessing the greatest moment in history...when a baby was born into the most humble of circumstances, a baby who would one day save the world.

It is the lullaby that allows one to enter in, alongside the shepherds and the animals, welcoming the Lord. Peace has quietly come to the earth on a silent night. Heavenly peace between God and mankind. Winter Wonderland and Silver Bells are happy and fun, but truly, there is no better piece of Christmas music than this one. There is no more beautiful a song to sing than one that speaks of the peace that all of mankind longs for...and finds unexpectedly, illogically even, in a baby.

Shhhhhh. Christ the Savior is born.

12.05.2010

Elf on a Shelf

Santa has spies.

Stunning, I know. I was in the dark until last year, when a family member enlightened me about the Elf on a Shelf, which has been on the market for a long time and has made a resurgence in recent years. It's a plastic elf that comes with an elaborate, ready-made story about how he sits in your house and watches you. He reports back to Santa, on a regular basis, on whether your behavior has been naughty or nice. Don't touch him, or his magic will wear off. Every morning, you'll find him in a different spot. He might be getting into the Christmas candy or committing some other act of mischief. But from what my friends all say, it's a sure-fire way to make your kid behave, that is, if you want to go one step farther than the old "Santa's always watching" bit, which comes with its own set of doubts and questions as children get older…

"Can Santa read our minds?" my first-grader asked today. She's starting to understand that the whole omniscient-Santa thing does not make a lot of sense.

The Shelf Elf (given a special name by the child who awakens him from hibernation in his box) seems to satisfactorily bridge that gap for some kids...except for my daughter, who saw her cousin's shelf elf and, to my surprise, reported back to me that he was fake. At least Santa is, ostensibly, a real person. You can talk to him at the mall. Talking to an inanimate object is a stretch, even for a first-grader. Still, I could see in her eyes that she was not a hundred percent sure about her position on the matter.

Little bitty tikes, on the other hand, are completely snowed. They suspiciously eye that stuffed elf, perched atop the mantle, or wherever he lands after flying around the house at night, and they wonder if he's really going to tattle on them to the big man himself. Creepy, right? No more creepy, I suppose, than a fat man in a red suit who breaks into your house one night a year.

Some of my dear friends reading this right now love their elves. They get attached to them, and talk to them, and above all, are quite pleased with the changes in their children's behavior patterns upon the annual arrival of Mr. Foofoo (or whoever). And I sincerely wish them all the best in their secret-agent elfin adventures.

So there is a part of me would like to get on the shelf elf train. Really, I would. It's a fun idea. But I know my kids. I know they would be absolutely destroyed if they thought that Mr. Foofoo was going to jeopardize all their hopes for Christmas morning. I think they would resent him. I know I would, if I were in their shoes. And even as an adult, I can't associate a doll that comes to life at night with anything other than Chucky. So in that sense, I would be suspicious of Mr. Foofoo, too. I would have to sleep with one eye open and a baseball bat by the bed. And inevitably, one of my kids would touch it, and the other would despair that all the magic had disappeared. (I know exactly which child would do what in that particular situation, and so do you, if you know my kids.)

So all things considered, no sneaky-spy elves will be flying around my house this Christmas season. If I see one, I will take him out with the bat and wish him a Merry Christmas before he can tattle on me.

BAM!

12.02.2010

Where's the Line to See Jesus?

When you check your e-mail inbox, if you're like me, the first messages you read are the ones that do not have a "FW:" preceding their subject headings. It's like checking your real mailbox and opening the letters with handwritten addresses first, before you open the junk mail. Everyone likes that connection with other human beings, whether through real mail or e-mail, and we seek that out before we do anything else.

So after you read your personal e-mails, then you work through the ones that are left...the forwards. Some are good. Some, not so good. They've probably been a part of the internet since its inception. You get a nice little sentimental poem in your inbox, and it's way too easy to send it to everyone you know. Surely they will like it as much as you do, right? The addendum at the bottom of the e-mail about how only the good people in the world will forward it, and the bad people won't, has sort of lost its oomph after being attached to every internet poem in the history of the world. It's a good thing that the e-mail-forward guilt trip has no teeth anymore. Generally, if someone sends it along, there are other reasons why.

So I do try to read them. And occasionally, I will send them to a few (a few) select family and friends if they meet certain qualifications, specifically, a high level of hilarity and/or inspiration.

I got one yesterday that was good. It's not just forward-able. It's bloggable. A meditation for this Christmas season.

It's the true story of a grandfather who was inspired to write a song about a single question asked by his grandson last Christmas. (If you just rolled your eyes at the words "true story," the website about the song should put your doubts to rest.) The four-year-old boy, waiting in line to see Santa at the mall, tugged at his mother's sweater, looked up, and asked her, "Where's the line to see Jesus? If Christmas is his birthday, why don't we see him more?"

The boy's grandfather, Steve Haupt, wrote out song lyrics in a matter of minutes. He made a demo video with his daughter, Becky Kelley, which has gotten over a million hits on youtube over the course of the past year. It's a wonderful example of the power of the internet, which made it possible for a "do-it-yourself" song to reach thousands, when, years ago, it would probably have had a much smaller impact.

An innocent, honest question from the mouth of a little child who really wanted to know...where is the line to Jesus? It's his birthday, after all. It makes sense that a little child would ask such a logical question. Of course he would want to go straight to the Man himself, not just Santa Claus (who's a great guy and everything, but in the end he's still just a nice guy that brings presents.) It's the same question that the children were asking when the disciples told them Jesus was too busy for them...to which Jesus responded, "Let the little children come unto me." Those kids way back then wanted to get in the right line, just like the line the little boy at the mall was seeking. The line that would take them to the One who would give His life for them. And...as the song says...the line that will one day stretch from His throne.

Take a minute to listen to this sweet, inspired song. And then, if you're a good person, you should forward it to everyone you know. Just kidding. But I bet the next time you see a Santa line weaving through the mall, you will think of the little boy who asked this question:





11.25.2010

Blogging on Location: Thanksgiving '10

Today I heard a friend say that "holiday" is really a code word for doing a lot more things than you would normally do.

I think she's right.

Traveling, eating, family-ing are all multiplied around the holidays...in much larger quantities than on plain old ordinary days. And the multiplication of each of those factors is the very thing that makes a holiday extraordinary.

Tonight I am blogging on location from the in-laws' house after a long, busy, blessed two days of car mileage, feasts (two, to be exact), reunions, and laughs. And I have managed to grab a few moments here upstairs to reflect, while the men of various ages are all downstairs playing video games, and the children are nestled all snug in their beds.

In the stores and the media, Thanksgiving gets kicked to the curb in a lot of ways. The day after Halloween is the day that Christmas arrives in the retail world. You'll see a few "harvest" decorations for sale, but most things turn from orange and black to red and green within 24 hours. Thanksgiving is barely a blip on their radar screens. In fact, you hear more about the day after Thanksgiving than Thanksgiving itself, which, for many, has become simply a green light for the mad rush to December 25th. Other than grocery demands, it is a holiday that doesn't have a thing to do with dollars...until it officially ends. It's not about getting, and, as admirable as giving is, it's not about that, either.

The act of thanking does not require any exchange of goods or services for money. It's an attitude of the heart. And attitudes usually don't have price tags. That's why you can't shake that irritating feeling that you're being rushed into Christmas against your will.

But even though the stores might not have much use for it, I am pleased to report, in good faith, that Thanksgiving was not overlooked today in millions of homes across the U.S.A. I am quite certain that in these cases, Thanksgiving was not kicked to the curb and ignored and treated like a second-class citizen. Instead, it was celebrated, as families like mine gathered together, bowed their heads, thanked God for his many blessings, and shared meals together.

Being thankful for what you have been given always solves that pesky problem of wanting more...and more...and more. Funny how the holiday that sometimes provokes that problem comes right on the heels of the one that reminds us to give thanks. As the Christmas season officially begins at midnight in T-minus two hours and two minutes from now, I would like to hold on to this thankfulness in my heart right now, on this Thanksgiving evening, as the antidote to all the "I-wants" (iWants?) that are sure to assault me from all directions this December.

It's really a wonderful thing that this day comes before all the madness begins.

May God bless you and your family on this Thanksgiving day.

11.22.2010

The Boom and Bust of Oz Records and Tapes

Once upon a time, (or rather, once upon the very early 1980's), a marvelous store existed inside Eastwood Mall in Birmingham, AL. It probably existed in other malls across the country, as well, although I can't be certain. Maybe someone else in cyberspace will remember, too.

The store was Oz Records and Tapes. But it wasn't just a store. It was Oz. At least, to me it was. And as a kid-under-the-age-of-8 whose ultimate fantasy was to be Dorothy, it was the closest way for me to do just that. I suppose it might not be so special if it were in existence today, now that we have plenty of "entertainment-marketing" stores like Bass Pro Shops, and over-the-top special effects, and virtual reality...but at the time, it seemed there was nothing like it.

The entrance to the store was a dark, swirly tornado tunnel, which opened into a high-ceilinged, rock-and-roll, Land of Oz extravaganza. Snaking away from the tornado tunnel was a real yellow brick road that weaved its way through the store. Murals of Kansas and Oz covered the walls. The domed-roof houses of Munchkin-Land were visible up high, as I recall. But most captivating to me were the life-sized, full-costumed mannequins of the movie characters located among the racks of vinyl and cassettes. Looking for a Van Halen album? Just to the left of the smiling Tin Man. In search of Kiss? I imagine the wicked witch was probably pointing right at them. One of her favorites, I'm sure.

The Wizard of Oz movie looped non-stop on big screens. (Remember, unlike today, that was a unique concept.) Even the house of the Witch of the East, complete with striped stockings and ruby slippers sticking out at the bottom, was back in the corner, which both horrified and fascinated me. And as if all of that weren't enough, whenever a customer purchased an item, a creepy winged monkey flew in on an elaborate pulley system to deliver it.

It was all very authentic-feeling. I was enraptured by it. I always wanted to stay in there for as long as I could until my parents ushered me out. I don't think the store was there for very long. It seems as much like a dream to me as the real Oz seemed to Dorothy...kind of fuzzy, and without any real evidence that it actually existed. An internet search didn't turn up much, except a faltering message board where someone commented, "Too bad the management team for Oz Records wasn't as smart as its marketing team."

Whatever the case was, it seemed that one day I turned around and - poof - the store was gone, like the Wicked Witch of the West and her cloud of orange smoke.

It's a shame, really.  It was my favorite place to go.

And now...the most beautiful song of all time.


11.15.2010

Bulldog Tenacity

"RIIIING!"

"Hello?"

Pause, pause, pause.

"Helloooooo?"

"Uh, yes. Mrs. Farris?"

"Yeeees?"

"This is (fill in the blank) Cable Company calling to make you aware of how you can save money by upgrading your subscription to our service."

"No, thanks. I'm not interested."

"But, Mrs. Farris. You are currently spending (X), and I am sure that you would much rather spend less."

"No. I'm not interested."

"Well, I'm certain that you would be interested, if you would be willing to listen to the options that we have available..."

"No, I'm not willing. I really have to go now."

"I understand that, Mrs. Farris. But you will be able to save..."

(Interrupting, irritation growing) "I have to go."

"So many of our customers have already chosen to upgrade because of the unique benefits that we..."

"I'm not interested in hearing your pitch." (She and I both know that I have the upper hand in this situation...the power to end the call.)

"You don't want to save on your cable bill?"

"No."

"Because I am currently showing that you now have the (X) plan. But if you bundle everything together, you can get...."

"I'm sorry. I'm in a hurry. I can't listen to you."

"Mrs. Farris, what you must understand is that..."

(Thinking) Time is UP. I have said NO seven times. The woman obviously has been told never to take no for an answer, no matter how ludicrous this conversation becomes. She leaves me no choice but to lower the boom.

CLICK. Begone!

And with that, the telemarketer is no longer a part of my day. Until the same company calls again later that same day, with...naturally...the same pitch. Before the National Do Not Call Registry came into existence, these situations happened much more frequently. Unfortunately, the little loophole about your current or former business "relationships" allows those folks to continue to call you, even if your number is on the registry.

Not all of them display such bulldog tenacity. Sometimes they wait for only two or three refusals, and then they will graciously surrender. But occasionally you get a fighter, fighting for reasons unknown. Maybe there is an incentive that has been dangled before her. Or maybe there is a fear of what might happen to her if her supervisors find out that she let me off too easily. Fighters fight... because somewhere along the line, somebody gave in to their shameless persistence. And for all they know, I just might, too. So they ask.

Somebody in the 11th chapter of Luke asked. A lot.

"Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. [emphasis mine]

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." (Luke 11:5-8)

The friend that was in bed for the night initially said no. But that neighbor kept knocking. And knocking. And knocking. Asking repeatedly. Never giving up. Refusing discouragement. Standing outside the door with shameless persistence. What you would do if one of your neighbors did that? You would throw those loaves out the door at them! "Here's the bread! Take it! Now let me sleep!" (Either that, or call the police.)

Most of us do not aspire to be telemarketers. They are the ones who disturb our private home lives, just like the neighbor in the parable. And there is probably not a more disheartening job on the planet than being hung up on all day long. But the one thing they have going for them, if nothing else, is their persistence. In the same way, rather than praying halfheartedly and then giving up, it might not hurt to take a cue from them and really press in. And thankfully, the Father is not waiting in hostility to hang up on us. He is lovingly waiting to hear us ask.

He's not a customer that is obligated to pay when a service is provided. He's not a magician that pulls rabbits out of hats. We cannot understand his ways, why some prayers are answered and others are not. But we do know this: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you," Jesus said in Matthew 6:33.

How to seek?

With bulldog tenacity.


Until next time,

11.08.2010

Call Me Rocky

Most bizarre event of the week: my face swelled up.

It was not grotesque or strange-looking, but I could tell. I got out of bed one day, and one side of my face felt weird. Huge. Even though it didn't look it. Like there was a big piece of scotch tape stuck on there.

I was at a total loss. Was it something I ate? I mentally went over all possible culprits and came up with nothing. Maybe that medicine I took last weekend? I googled the known side effects and actually thought I was on to something. Yes! "Facial swelling" was sandwiched right in there among the other hundred or so unfortunate problems. That had to be it. A drug reaction. Even though it had been a week since I took it. Stranger things have happened. Drugs are unpredictable, right?

Which brings me to this important side note: generally, one should not try to self-diagnose oneself online...if one can help it. Google is not a doctor. And whenever you visit Dr. Google, he will usually lead you down some rather shady paths. Not the tree-lined kind...the alarming kind.

So by Saturday night, I had talked myself out of the drug-reaction theory and was getting ready to go see a real doctor. I needed to know why my face felt like there was a boulder on top of it for no good reason.

And then, my husband, grasping at straws, asks me this obvious question: "Have you gotten hit in the face?"

I frowned and thought for a minute. And like the sun coming up over the mountain with the Hallelujah Chorus playing, I grinned and said, "That's IT! Our son punched me!" A great moment, indeed.

Flashback: I am leaning over the four-year-old's bed, and he is playing around, limbs flailing, and somehow his right hook connects with my left cheekbone. It hurts. REALLY hurts. It's a tear-pricking hurt, even, but I suck it up because I can tell he feels terrible. So I did the standard, "I'm OK. I'm OK." Then...I shake it off and forget about it.

I guess I forgot a little too well.

Finding out the truth is a freeing thing. No more murky, unpleasant questions. Or failed detective attempts. Or long waits for answers. There, before me, was the truth, and it had been there all the time, waiting for me to find it.


Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). The un-truth binds us up, but the truth is the key that opens the cage.

May you walk in the truth today.

Until next time,

11.01.2010

Offended

It's popular to be offended.

Just turn on one of the 24-hour news channels. You can be certain that within the hour, you'll see a talking head who is offended about something. And you'll see another talking head responding to the crisis, doing damage-control of some sort. And still another head in support of the first head, and another head in opposition to the first head.

Granted, many of the issues and circumstances in question are truly inexcusable. Not all of them should be easily brushed aside, and often, they do merit discussion and apologies. But other times...not so much.

One of the minor characters in the 1980 movie Popeye constantly shuffles around throughout the entire movie muttering to the other characters, "You owe me an apology!" He can't get past that point. And Popeye wants one too: "Another thing I got is a sensk of humiligration," he says through his corn-cob pipe. "Now, maybe you swabs can pool your intelligensk and sees that I'm axking you for an apologeky."

In the midst of all the bristling, all the incivility, and all the rancor, it has become way too commonplace to see the media spotlight shift almost daily to a new offended personality, group, or country. No need to cite examples here. If I did, I would almost certainly offend someone in this discussion of the tiresome stream of hurt feelings on every front. But it is very telling that googling the word "offended" produced plenty of current news stories on the topic. Maybe the Today Show's Willard Scott should start recognizing the offended person of the day rather than the centenarians.

Offended-ness is apparently good for ratings and readership. You probably clicked on this blog post because you wanted to know why I was offended. It makes for a dramatic storyline for viewers to follow. It gives them something to shake their heads about. To rant about. But the more it piles on, the more apologies are demanded, the more angry everyone gets...the more fragile the eggshells become...the eggshells that we tread upon as human beings interacting with one another on this planet. The stifling cultural environment of political correctness is enough to make one reluctant to tread at all. Or tweet the wrong way. Or breathe the wrong way.

Based on the barometer of the media, it appears that there is a general shortage of love that is being extended from human to human...both from those who trespass, and from those who are trespassed against. Not much grace. Not much understanding. Yes, these are hot-button days filled with hot-button issues. But just like that guy from Popeye, there are an awful lot of people shuffling around, muttering (or, in some cases, howling) that someone owes them an apology. It wears on the collective consciousness at the national level, and on the personal level, it affects our relationships with others.

Love is not easily offended, says 1 Corinthians 13. Love has a pretty thick skin. Love can take it. Other people are always going to say and do stupid things...and so are we. But love covers over a multitude of sins. Covers them. Makes them invisible.

Wish you could take back what you said because it offended someone? Love can do that. Offended by what someone said to you? Forgiveness is a mighty, mighty force, demonstrated most supremely by Christ himself, putting the brakes on the downward spiral of apology-demands and wounded psyches. Like a pre-emptive strike. Or a forcefield against the assault of ensuing bitterness.

The only way back.

I need it. You need it. Talking heads need it. Churchy people and non-churchy people need it. Marriages need it. Social networkers need it. It is the unexpected, the supernatural, the refreshing and blessed balm of forgiveness...extended to those who don't deserve it. Jesus did just that...even though he could have just said he was "offended" and walked away. That is the humble force that can shake the world, both for the offended and the offender. It can shake it more than the value of the dollar, more than the quality of our educational system, even more than politics that are on display tonight.

So let's all give each other a big fat break. The world needs it.

Until next time,

10.28.2010

The Leftover Halloween Candy Guide for Dummies

Halloween candy has its own hierarchy. It's very simple. There's the chocolate...and then there's everything else.

You bring home your overflowing plastic jack-o-lantern bucket (assuming the made-in-China handle didn't break under the weight), dump it all out on the living room floor, and perform a quick, cursory scan of the haul. It's easy to key in on the most valuable commodities - members of the classic chocolate family - Hershey's miniatures, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, Twix, KitKat, Rolo, and MnM's. Those babies have to be immediately corraled into a special pile, separate from all the rest, in case any siblings attempt quick, unsolicited switcheroos amidst the chaos. You seriously cannot afford to lose a smidgen of the chocolatey goodness.

Once that's done, you examine the leftovers with a jaundiced eye:

Crayons, Notepads, Fruit, and Pencils. Utter disappointments.

Dubble Bubble Gum. These enormous pink globs in the pink, blue, and yellow wrapper are equivalent to putting five sticks of gum in your mouth at one time. When you start chewing, you can actually feel the gritty sugar granules...and the beginning of cavity-formation. It stays sickly sweet for a total of 9 seconds, and then it turns to tire rubber. The first 9 seconds are pretty great, though.

Dum-Dum's. Pass. Your doctor gives you those after you've had a shot. So does the nice lady at the bank. They're too pedestrian. Moving on...

Smarties. For reasons unknown to man (since moms are the ones in charge of such things), Smarties are the candy-of-choice for birthday party favor bags the world over. They are cheap, easy, no mess, no fuss, but a bit redundant. Seen one Smarty (yes, that's the singular version), seen 'em all. It's dangerously easy to eat the whole pack before you can blink. And then you ask yourself...why did I do that? You didn't even want them to begin with.

Atomic Fire Balls. When your parents "checked" your Halloween candy, they were really checking for these atrocities. Because I am pretty sure they can kill you.

Pixie Stix. Whoever got rich of these had a brilliant idea. "Let's fill a tube of paper with dyed sugar! And then kids can dump it all out in their grubby little hands and lick it off!" If they don't do it that way, they suck the sugar from the paper tube, which turns the paper all wet and soggy. Pixie Stix are a dead end, I tell you.

Candy Corn. They say that writing about controversial subjects is a good way to attract readers. Let's try it out. I am going to make a provocative statement, and I shall then stand by it unfalteringly: Candy corn is unquestionably the worst candy known to man. I really don't think corn was ever meant to be candy. Squanto would agree.

Tootsie Rolls. When you think of a tootsie roll, what do you think of? Enough said.

Now...for the most sinister of all leftover candies. The ones that have no real name. The ones that you always see left in the bottom of the candy bucket when Thanksgiving rolls around. The ones that only mean people give out. You know them. I know them. They are...

The tan chewy things that come in either a solid black or orange wrapper. What ARE those? Why do they have no name? Where did they come from? Why do they mysteriously turn up every year? No one knows! Their sole purpose is to entice you into giving them "another chance" just before you gag and run for the trash can.

So the big take-away for today's survey of leftover Halloween candy is this: Once the chocolate is gone, no good thing dwelleth within your bucket. Adopt this as your mantra. And I assure you...it will never steer your wrong.

Until next time,





10.22.2010

The Full Armor According to She-Ra

She-Ra Princess of Power is celebrating her 25th anniversary.

In the 1980's, she was the ulimate heroine of little girls everywhere. (Actually, I WAS her.) We watched her cartoon every morning before school and would anxiously await our favorite part, which you could always count on happening the exact same way without fail...because the animators inserted the same sequence into the show for every episode. She would pull her sword out of the sheath behind her back, raise it over her head, and say authoritatively, "For the honor of Greyskull, I AM SHE-RA!" Then in a flurry of blue and pink sparkles, she transformed, Cinderella-style, from squeaky-voiced Princess Adora into decidedly deeper-voiced She-Ra, leader of the Great Rebellion and defender of planet Etheria from the evil Horde.

She was awesome. Really.

She had superhuman strength. Could lift huge boulders over her head and throw them at bad robots. Communicated with animals. Ran really fast. Had He-Man for a brother. Was allowed to wear gold knee-boots and a mini-skirt. Carried a sword with a jewel on it from whence sprung all manner of rainbow sparkles on command. Blocked dangerous laser beams with her shield. Had really cool friends, each sold separately.

And she was not afraid of anything.

I made it one of my goals in life at age 9 to collect as many of the each-sold-separately Princess of Power dolls that I could. I still have them, to this day, and now my daughter plays with them, even though none of her friends know who they are. Names like Flutterina, Frosta, and Perfuma make the bad guys tremble in their boots. I'm happy to see that the Great Rebellion lives on.

One thing that I have always found to be notable about the She-Ra doll (and probably completely coincidental, as well) is that she embodies every single aspect of the "full armor of God" described in Ephesians 6.

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

I guess Paul probably had a Roman soldier in mind when he penned these words, but I still think of She-Ra when I read it. You can see it there - she's got the belt, the breastplate, the fitted boots, the shield, the helmet, and the sword. All defensive elements, except for the last...the sword, which is the word.

She-Ra's sword was her secret. (It even says so on the picture of that DVD cover above.) It had the power to transform. It was not something to fling around carelessly. It's the same for the Word that we have in our hands, which also has the power to transform, but is not to be wielded improperly. Sword...check.

Lies aplenty scurrying all around you. Belt of truth...check.

Emotions running high. Heart is hurting. Having a come-apart maybe? Breastplate of righteousness...check.

Lots of crummy stuff in the world that requires a sure defense. Shield of faith...check.

Hard to keep your mind under control. Helmet of salvation...check.

Open, seeking hearts that wonder why we're here and where we're going. Feet ready to bring the gospel to them...check.

Get your She-Ra on.

Now if only rainbow sparkles would come out of my Bible...

10.14.2010

My Daughter Wants to Meet the Noo Kids: The Sobering Impact of Parental Influence

Kids are like computerized sponges, if there were such a thing. They soak everything up, and then they store it in memory. Indefinitely. And the primary source for their gathering of data to file away is...their parents.

Like it or not, they watch. They listen. And then, they emulate. They pick up on attitudes, mannerisms, likes and dislikes, and moods. They notice inconsistencies and injustices. The world notoriously underestimates their perceptiveness. If a daughter hears her mom constantly talking about how much she loves to shop, then a miniature shopper will soon emerge in that household. If a son sees his daddy watching football every Saturday, then that kid will probably get the football gene imprinted on him, too. And if your child knows who your favorite musical group currently is (or used to be), then they will regurgitate that opinion as their own on a report at school. Which is what my 6-year-old did today.

Her first-grade assignment was: "If you could meet a famous person, who would you like to meet? And what three questions would you ask them?"

To my amusement, this is what my daughter brought home. I have transcribed the report below the picture.


"I wanted to meet the Noo Kids. I now a lot of ther sog's. My mom rele likes them. Wen they wer yug they wer rele famis. Now they are stel famis. At the end of the yer my mom will go to ther consrt. She will take a pechr and show it to me. Som of thim are dads. Can I have your odgraf? What are your kids names? What was it like wen you wer yug?"

I suppose I should not have been surprised. Why wouldn't she want to meet the New Kids on the Block, who her mommy liked way back when and still does this time around? The realm of "famous people" that she knows about is pretty limited, outside of fictional characters. On an artistic note, I like that the guy on the far left, (who my daughter identified as Joey), proportionally has much bigger hair than the rest, which was certainly true in 1990. And I'm certain that the Noo Kids themselves would be thrilled to know that kids today would like to ask them what the world was like decades ago, back in the old days when they were young.

"What did your teacher say?" I asked.

She grinned and said, "She laughed."

I'm sure she did. Most kids in her class were answering with Hannah Montana and the President. How many would know about a pop culture phenomenon that occurred way before their time? And even if they did, why would they care? There's only one answer to that...

Because mommy does.

It's sweet. It's precious and dear, and all of those things. But it's also very sobering.

My daughter's report is a prime example of the stamp that I can place on my kids...for better or for worse. (And this is where I will ask the peanut gallery to refrain from ribbing me about the specific "stamp" I have just discussed.) Our beliefs, philosophies, and attitudes are the very first ones that our children encounter in this world. And that counts for a lot. It is an incredible responsibility. I heard a mother at the school today telling her child to get his (blank) out of the car. That's a type of stamp. The way that I talk about other people, in public and behind closed doors, is like a template for my kids to use. Whatever life-perspective, whatever worldview, whatever preference that parents voice is like handing it to their children on a platter.

And then in turn, they will pluck it from that platter and consume it, digest it, and ask for more, being the little computerized sponges that they are. That is, at least until age 12, when everything changes. But I'm not there yet.

These days, I can enjoy (or rather, be mindful of) the fact that she is into whatever mommy is into. My little mini-me. We only get one chance to do this parenting thing. One time around the (ahem)...block.

And little copycats are always watching.

Hang tough until next time,

10.10.2010

Havin' a Come-Apart

There's an expression that we have here in the South that I am fond of using occasionally. It's called having a come-apart. Ever heard of those? A come-apart is a noun, not a verb. I like it because it applies in a variety of different contexts. Like these:

Sallie Mae, age 2, had a come-apart right there in the middle of the Wal-Mart toy department.

Billy Bob was so excited when the Crimson Tide scored a touchdown that he jumped out of his easy-chair and had a come-apart.

When Cletus broke Raylene's heart, she had a come-apart that lasted for three weeks solid.

(Remember that show Designing Women?) Julia Sugarbaker was so livid that the rest of the ladies could only stand there slackjawed at the magnitude of her come-apart.

Come-aparts can be positive or negative. Generally negative, as you can tell from the above examples. You may be thinking right now about various times in your life that you've had them. Self-control leaves you, your ability to think clearly is minimized, emotions take over, and the fragile seams that hold you together begin to pop, one by one. Like a balloon that keeps inflating into the danger zone. Any second, you know it's going to end up in brightly colored rubber pieces, accompanied by a sonic BOOM. And then behold...the mighty come-apart.

I almost had one this week, matter of fact. It was the end of a particularly trying day. It was late, and I could almost hear the little seams popping all over me. I was on the brink. Nighttime come-aparts are the worst, you know, because troubles are always magnified at night. It was the moment of truth for me - surrender to the come-apart or suck it up?

But in a little window of stillness, this came: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:17

It was like was a life-preserver.

In Jesus all things hold together. The creation. The galaxy. All the planets in their orbits. And everything underneath your skin...bones, muscles, organs, heart and soul. When whatever you're facing makes you feel like you might split into a million pieces. When the pressure is on, with no relief in sight.

In Him all things hold together.

When stress has you under its thumb. When you have had it with somebody. When news comes that is a blow to the stomach.

In Him all things hold together.

You might even mutter to youself over and over to "keep it together" through those intense moments. You can practically will the dam not to bust, even as it begins to sprout some leaks. You can take deep breaths and count to 10. You can go for a walk. And sometimes the come-apart comes upon you anyway. But no matter what you do or don't do, there is an arch that extends over it all, and it's big enough for you...and the rest of creation, too:

In Him all things hold together.

Addendum: Within literally five minutes of completing this post that was still echoing in my brain, a 13 x 9 Pyrex dish shattered in a trillion tiny pieces all over my kitchen floor. Company was due to arrive in an hour, and dinner was not even in the oven. I held together, but sadly, the Pyrex dish had a come-apart right there before my eyes. Oh, the irony, the irony.

10.05.2010

The Gray Hair Song

What do you do when you haven't had your hair colored in a while? Or, more specifically...in eons? You make up a song about it. Here is a little ditty about my recently deficient hair-coloring habits, inspired by Pebbles Flintstone. I'm sure you remember her smash hit from 1965:

I don't think I'm going to make a youtube of this one, mainly because I don't want anyone looking too closely at my hair. So just pretend I'm singing it, with Bam-Bam (I mean, Always-Supportive Hubby) strumming his guitar in the background. OK, here goes.

*steps up to the mic*

Mommy told me something a little kid should know,

It's all about gray hairs, and I've learned to hate them so.

She said that they cause trouble when you let 'em creep up slow,

They will never, ever leave you...So you should let 'em go...

 

And let the gray come in, face it with a grin,

What started with ONE hair...has somehow become TEN,

So let the gray come in, face it with a grin,

Postpone your salon trip, and let the gray come in.

 

If I forget to color and rinse, gray hairs will still remain,

But coloring and rinsing hair is such a dreadful pain.

So if you just don't have time, and your wallet's getting thin,

Postpone your salon trip and let the gray come in.

 

So let the gray come in, face it with a grin,

What started with ONE hair...has somehow become TEN,

So let the gray come in, face it with a grin,

Postpone your salon trip, and let the gray come in.

(*bows* Thank you, thank you very much.)

9.30.2010

The Expanding Universe

Things that expand: elastic, people's waistlines, the national debt.

And the universe. The universe is always expanding. Moving outward. Getting bigger. Pushing away.

Your universe is expanding, too.

One result of getting older is that the number of people you know...or have ever known...keeps expanding. My little son can probably count all his friends on both hands. And maybe a few toes. But pretty soon, fingers and toes won't be sufficient to keep track of his universe.

Every year that you're on planet earth, new people cross your path and enter your life. It's one giant addition problem. Or multiplication, if you consider that "six degrees of separation" theory that people talk about...which has something to do with Kevin Bacon. Or maybe I am getting my theories mixed up.

The little green aliens in Toy Story might say it this way: "Your universe is expanding! We are eternally grateful!" (Love those guys.)

We lose touch with people in our universe, too. Sometimes, (since we're talking space here), people just fall of the face of the earth, although less of that type of thing goes on these days in the facebook era. But even if a friend has been absent from your universe for decades, that doesn't mean they are not a part of your life. They're actually still there. Occupying a part of your history. A part of the story that you both shared together. Their face might not be right there in front of you, but it's clear enough in your mind.

When I was a Brownie back in the day, we used to sing a song that went, "Make new friends, and keep the old...one is silver and the other gold." I sometimes reflect on the salt-of-the-earth people whose universes have intersected with ours over the course of our married life in ministry thus far. So many faces that I don't see anymore, because of time, or distance, or sadly, in some cases, death. There are faces in the present, too. And I know there will be faces in the future who I have not yet met...all composing what the book of Hebrews calls the "cloud of witnesses." And those aren't people in the clouds. It's the crowd of saints who have gone on before, and the crowd that still remains. People in your life who are witnesses to the life of faith. Who root for you to finish well.

Thinking about the faces I love makes me feel rich. Not in dollars. But in a very different kind of richness that surpasses dollars in terms of eternal value. That must be why the old Brownie song referred to friends as silver and gold. You make them. You keep them. They are a treasure to you. It's also why, to this day, people still get lumpy-throated and pull out their cell phone lighters when Michael W. Smith sings, "Friends and friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them."

So no matter your age, there is no need to wish to rewind the clock back to the times when your universe was smaller. "Don't long for the good old days - this is not wise," King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:10. Every day that you live, your world is expanding as you influence lives and they influence yours. And in that way, the stands are filling up, person by person in that cloud of witnesses. By the time we get to the finish line where Jesus awaits one day and all eyes are on Him, it'll be a sold-out crowd.

We can still hope that the national debt would shrink and our waistlines would get smaller. But not so for my universe and yours. To infinity and beyond, my friends.

9.27.2010

A Tale of Two Castaways

Disclaimer: there will be no serious, thought-provoking application today at the end, if that is what you seek. This post is what it is, take it or leave it.

Shipwrecked on a deserted island, the Swiss Family Robinson designed and constructed their personal treehouse resort. But do you ever wonder why, in the same situation, Tom Hanks went nuts talking to a volleyball in a cave?

The Robinsons never really seem to mind that much that they're shipwrecked. The boys galumph around the island, rounding up wild animals to assist in the construction process and swinging on vines because life is grand. Mom's hair looks fabulous as she steps off the life raft, and when her husband wonders why they had ever left Switzerland in the first place, she just smiles, sitting there in the sand on a deserted island, and tells him they did the right thing. Would you say the same thing to your spouse in such a situation?

Need a life raft strong enough to navigate desperately treacherous waters between the shipwreck and the land? Never fear! Dad and the boys can string one together in no time flat that's able to hold two parents, three strapping young men, and two Great Danes.

The treehouse itself is a sight to behold...a tri-level structure that is a child's dream. Beautifully furnished with things from the wrecked ship, none of which were ruined by water damage, it even has a pump system for purified drinking water. Dad managed to salvage a PIANO from the shipwreck and haul it up into the treehouse for mom's pleasure. With only one key that doesn't work.

Foreshadowing lets us know that, oh, by the way, there might be some pirate action coming later on. But are the Robinsons afraid? Apparently not. They'll be ready for 'em, preparing with the same level of emotional intensity that you would have in getting ready for a snowball fight with some kids from your neighborhood. Just build some coconut bombs and let the youngest boy play with them. Set up a booby trapped bridge that will collapse when you pull the rope, and then laugh with delight when a couple of pirates go tumbling into the water, even though 50 more are still charging you.

But here's the real kicker. When the Robinsons are rescued at the end, mom (whose skin has remained fashionably fair for months) realizes all of a sudden that all they ever wanted is right there in front of them. Pirates, tigers, lizards, deserted island diet, and all. Why leave the Disney treehouse resort? So they happily stay. The end.

WHAT?

Poor old Tom Hanks in Castaway didn't have nearly as sweet of a deal. He didn't have strapping young men to help him. He also didn't have wrecked ship supplies. He was absolutely devastated to be stuck. (See facial expression here.) The Robinsons were living it up, and he was running around in his skivvies trying to spear fish in the water. When you're utterly alone on an island, there's no one who can cut your hair for you or perform dental surgery. There's also no one to talk to, to keep you from going insane. Which is exactly what happened to poor old Tom...whose only friend was his volleyball. Wilson. And as for a life raft? It was all he could do to put together a sorry little excuse for one. Compared to the Robinson's BMW raft, it was like a Yugo. I would venture to say that even Gilligan and the Lost crew in all of their lostness had it better than Tom.

So...I guess in one sense, life is what you make of it. But on the other hand, I think that the big take-way here is that it really helps if Disney is telling your story.

9.23.2010

R.I.P. photo albums…and other things

I’ll just admit it. I have photo album guilt.

My oldest child is six. That fact alone has enormous ramifications. It means that I have six years’ worth of digital photos sitting in folders on my computer. Yes, they are organized there. Yes, they are backed up. But no, they are not displayed in albums, except for my two baby books.

It is the digital age, the age of technology, the information revolution. Blah, blah, I know all that. I have never thought of myself as a luddite, opposed to all the sweeping change around me. Actually, my lack of current photo albums proves that point. I am a Generation X’er. I facebook, twitter, blog, and own at least one device that begins with a lowercase i.

But I confess that I miss opening up a book to look at photos rather than locking my eyes on that ubiquitous screen. I miss turning pages, sitting comfortably, flipping through an album. Scrapbookers aside, who does that anymore? I fear that those old-fashioned albums are dying. And alas, here I am, an active participant in their deaths. I can only hope that books do not await the same fate. I don’t think I could stand reading a whole novel on a screen.

I am aware that there are options. Websites like snapfish will make prints and photobooks for me if I make the effort. Even the local drug stores will make prints from my digital camera. But the thought of sifting through hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures on my computer is so daunting that I am averse to the task.

The slow death of photo albums points to larger issues. Think about the last time that you wrote a letter. Not a thank-you note or a quick “thinking of you” card and certainly not an e-mail, but a detailed, handwritten letter. I remember spending summers in the mid 90’s apart from my college boyfriend, now husband, and writing letters to each other then. Has it really been that long since I sat down with pen and paper to write a lengthy letter to someone? They are quickly becoming obsolete, if they are not already.

One of my college professors introduced me to the Internet as we know it. How could I have grasped the impact it was to have on our lives back then? Going back much farther, my dad told me what a VCR could do before our family owned one. “You mean I could record TV shows and watch them over and over again?” I asked him. Because no greater prospect existed in my young life at the time.

That tired buzz word change does not really begin to describe what has happened in the last 20 years. I suppose that we are better off than we used to be. How could finding the answers to everything we could ever need at the click of a button be bad? Life is more convenient, business is more efficient, people are more connected. It’s all marvelous. Except for this one little thing…the sad, uncomfortable feeling that I get when I hear the shadowy word obsolete. It’s at times like those when I want the world to stop, please, so that I can get off of it.

Just today, I heard someone saying that his blackberry was a ball and chain. Before the information age, none of us knew what we were missing. Were we that disadvantaged when we lived in the relative ignorance of the past? Probably. But at least we didn’t know it.

In mathematics, the “constant” is the part of the equation that doesn’t change. My memory of algebra is foggy, but I do remember that pi equals 3.14 followed by a string a numbers stretching to infinity. It is a value that is always held constant. Parts of life’s equations are always changing, variables within them alternately increasing and decreasing, depending on how the wind is blowing.

No matter what is ahead for this generation and the next, this truth remains: “I the Lord do not change,” Malachi 3:6 says. It’s a weighty statement, in light of the fact that everything else does change. Seasons. People. Technology. Environments. Interest rates. Time. “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow,” (James 1:17). These days, the shadows are shifting so quickly that it’s difficult to pinpoint the location of the sun.

But no matter. He’s there anyway, the center of the universe, the unchanging Son who casts no shadows at all in this world that is hurtling forward at the speed of progress, while photo albums collect dust. He…and He alone…is the constant.

9.16.2010

Things That Startle

I hate being startled. Barney Fife never seemed to like it very much, either.

You can tease me, you can tickle me, you can tell me jokes that aren't funny, you can talk my ear off. But please. Don't ever hide behind a door waiting to jump out at me. My nervous system will not appreciate you. At least, these days it won't.

When you're a kid, getting startled is kind of fun. Take hide and seek, for instance. When the hider and the seeker finally met face-to-face, it was a deliciously shocking 3 seconds of screaming. Pulling the shower curtain back in a dark bathroom to find some kid hiding behind it...just incredibly hilarious, right?

One time, my cousin and I sat in my room reading a ghost story called "Don't Look Behind You," a story that would make any 10-year-old resolve never to turn around again. I got up to leave the room for a minute, venturing down the hallway, past open doors that were gateways to dark room. Rooms that had never bothered me before - but all of a sudden seemed ultra creepy.

From the darkness somewhere, I heard this nasal, other-worldly voice from somewhere closeby saying, "Don't look behiiiiind you!" That was all it took for my knees to give out. I literally collapsed on the floor, unable to stand up, like one of those chicks in the Friday the 13th movies. Later, we laughed for hours about how she had sat back there in my room, holding her nose while saying the phrase that we had shuddered over minutes earlier. The weird thing is, even though I almost passed out from fright, it was ridiculously fun. Kids love to scare each other.

As you get older, though, it's not so fun. For example: canned biscuits that pop like a gunshot when you peel the paper off are a SICK JOKE. A little warning please, Pillsbury? Like maybe, giant letters that say, "BRACE FOR IMPACT"? Because nobody wants to admit they're scared of biscuits. Yet here I am, doing just that on the world wide web.

Another frequent startle-inducer in our home is the kid-standing-beside-your-bed-staring-at-you-in-the-middle-of-the-night. Parents, you know what I'm talking about. You're asleep, but you just have this sense that someone is closeby...so you pop open your eyes, and there are two little eyes staring back at you. Really close to your face. It's enough to make you hit the roof.

I am alarmed when the phone rings after we've gone to bed. I am alarmed when one of my children lets out an ear-piercing shriek. I am even alarmed when a TV program gets interrupted for a "special report" because it's usually something horrible. Between national security concerns, the sad state of the U.S. economy, and Iran's obsession with nukes, there are an awful lot of startle-inducers around these days besides canned biscuits.

But then there's Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation - so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?"

And we are also told not to be surprised as the world becomes a more desperate place. Expect it. But expecting it is kind of like seeing someone jump out at you...and you remain nonplussed. Because of this hope....there's a fortress. A light. Salvation. He's the anti startle-inducer. As someone once said, "Nothing has occurred to God." He has made known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is yet to come (Isaiah 46:10). Nothing, and no one, is beyond his reach. Remember this post from a while back? Do not forget that there are everlasting arms underneath us, come what may in this world.

So I might still jump when the biscuits pop or when some joker jumps out at me. But for the seriously alarming things, the disturbing things, the things that might cause one to quake in their boots...Psalm 27:1 is a great promise to bank on.

One that won't fail like Bear Stearns. Or the wisdom of man. Or even the human heart.

Until next time,

9.14.2010

Housekeeping in the Peanut Gallery

No verbose blog post today...just a little housekeeping issue for the peanut gallery:

If you don't have a Disqus profile already and you want to comment here as a guest, please note that there is an option for you to include a link to your blog. If I am able, I would like to repay the visit when you come here. But I'm finding that with this new system, I can't do that easily unless you point me in the right direction.

If you'd rather not link back to your page, that's fine, too. I just want to make everyone aware of the option.

And hello, iFellowshippers! (If you want a post with a little more oomph than this one, scroll down if you're so inclined.)

Now I'm off to sweep peanut gallery shells from the floor. More to come!

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