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,
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