Thursday, December 28, 2006

What Must It be Like to be Dad?

Late one night I was wrapping a stack of presents, when Kindred Spirit, my daughter visiting from out of town mused, “What must it be like to be Dad?” “What do you mean?” I muttered as I focused on the bow I was tying. “Well, he doesn’t go shopping; he doesn’t buy, bring home, or wrap the gifts. Yet, on Christmas morning, there are all of these presents under the tree from Mom and Dad, and he gets a “thank-you” like everyone else.”

It’s true; my beloved doesn’t “do” Christmas. I am, pretty much, the list-maker, shopper, buyer, and wrapper of the gifts labeled: Love, Mom and Dad. When the kids were young, he did go out at the last minute and get my gifts, and I loved every one. Often, he gave me money, knowing that I love to hit the mall for after-Christmas sales. Once the girls got old enough, however, they took over the chore of shopping for me, feeling that they knew better than he did what I would like. Since they took care of my gifts and I took care of theirs, somehow it evolved to what we have today, a dad who doesn’t appear to do much to help with Christmas.

The reality, as I like to remind them, is that it is their dad who finances this operation we call Christmas shopping. He also insists on taking over my part of the household chores so that my time is free to shop and wrap. His contribution is very much behind the scenes. In this way, he uses his gifts and I use mine.

Isn’t that just like church? Those with gifts that place them in the spotlight get all the attention for the works that they do, while the invisible worker-bees are behind the scenes, up to their elbows in service. Usually, these are the very people who do not want any attention, yet they need our encouragement and prayers.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”

I Corinthians 12:4-6

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What About Your Mother-in-Law?

With only 3 shopping days until Christmas, I take a deep breath, firmly set my jaw, grip the steering wheel, and inch along in traffic to buy another gift.

Having bragged the day before that I was completely through with shopping, with all of my presents wrapped and under the tree, it occurs to me that my beloved has not yet decided on a gift for his mother. After badgering him for days, “Have you thought about a gift for your mother?”, “What are you going to give your mother?”, “Do you have that present for your mother yet?” I finally resort to calling his sister. He has three sisters, and usually one of them will come up with a cool “group gift” they can all get together. However, this year, each sister has purchased her own gift.

So, I head to the mall at 10:30. We have a new outdoor mall in town with just about every store you could want. Traffic to the mall is heavy. Traffic at the mall is completely stopped. I finally park a good distance away and begin my trek, deciding that the distance is no big deal as everyone is walking outside from door to door anyway.

I am a fast walker; stroll is a word I do not comprehend. As I round the corner with my first destination in sight, I run smack into the packages carried by a woman strolling along with her head turned to her neighbor, deep in conversation. After much apology, I reposition my purse over my shoulder, place a death grip on the strap to ward off pickpockets, lean into the wind, which had picked up as soon as I approached the main row of stores, and continue on my way.

I’ve never been to New York, but this street of stores is close to what I imagine it to be like. The sidewalks are jammed with people. Joining the throng is like joining your friends on a jump rope in motion. You stand back; get the feel of the rhythm and at the first opportunity jump into the first hole you see. You quickly adjust your pace to that of the shoulder-to-shoulder mass of humanity, and, at the precise moment you reach your store, inch your way to the outside and drop out of the line.

A people watcher by nature, it is interesting to me how similar we all are as we breathe in each other’s tension and make it our own. Navigating my way through one store after another, I catch snippets of one-sided cell phone conversations. It seems that every lone shopper has brought a companion via cell phone. As I pass by, I hear one man whine to his cell-phone shopping companion, “I know a gift card would be easier; it’s just not fun to open a gift card at Christmas.” Maybe not, I‘m thinking, but it is way more fun than standing in the return line the next day. So go ahead, Mister, get that itchy sweater for your wife, two sizes too small with orangutan arms, and listen to her carp about the long line she has to endure the day after.

Still wandering around, trying to figure out what to buy a sweet mother-in-law, who doesn’t like to leave her home, doesn’t cook, has no hobbies, and won’t tell you what she wants for Christmas, I fall in line with an exasperated woman who is practically shouting to her cell phone shopping friend, “I have completely run out of ideas!” I chuckle to myself, “I’m with you, sister!”

Although I narrow my search to a few possibilities, nothing jumps out as being the one thing she would like to receive. After several hours, I take my aching legs, throbbing feet, sagging shoulders, and empty arms back to my car.

This experience reminds me of my Christian walk. I usually begin my ministry to others with great enthusiasm and energy, a song in my heart, and a spring in my step. However, faced with the challenges of difficult people, disappointment, and fatigue, the ministry often becomes drudgery. How often have I quit a good work simply because I got tired?

Isaiah 40:27-33:

The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Nest is Full, and So Is My Heart

We have a large family and my favorite times are when we are all together. Since two of our children are married and two are off at college, our home has become very quiet and relaxed, which I have come to enjoy. However, whenever one or more of the kids announces that they are coming home and word spreads to the others, they chime in with a “Me, too!”

I love the anticipation of their visits. My beloved and I count down the days as we busy ourselves cleaning the house, changing the linens, and filling the refrigerator and pantry with their favorite foods. I begin planning, shopping, and baking days before so that I can serve their favorite meals topped off with their favorite desserts.

This is one of those times. There are 4 shopping days until Christmas. The presents are bought, wrapped, and under the tree. My beloved and I maintain that we did clean, shop, and bake in preparation for their visit, but the college kids, Bud and Lovie, have been home 6 days and I can no longer walk through the house in the dark without stumping my toe on someone’s boot or textbook scattered randomly around. The pantry has been replenished twice, and the washing machine and dryer seem to run constantly. Lovie apparently “borrowed” my athletic shoes yesterday and took them with her when she spent the night with her high school best friend. I discovered they were missing as I was dressing for my Spin class. Bud decided that since we only take a few camping trips a year, we won’t mind if he takes one of our collapsible camp chairs back with him, as he needs more furniture in his living room. There is at least one television on at all times. Every morning this week, I have awakened to find the den TV still on from the night before. It seems that neither of them knows how to work our remote to turn it off, so they just turn the sound down and go to bed.

Kindred Spirit flies in today; her husband Sammy will join us Christmas Eve. Sweet Pea, Yibby, and Little Bud will join us for lunch and presents on Christmas day, as this is the first Christmas with Little Bud and they want to experience opening presents in their own home on Christmas morning with the baby.

This will be our first Christmas since we became empty nesters. In three short months, we have become used to, and actually grown to like having the whole house to ourselves with no day-to-day responsibilities for anyone other than ourselves. Having said that, however, I love having things to look forward to, and we have looked forward to Christmas and everyone coming home for weeks. I plan to savor every minute, every late night noise, every tiff, every chore, every hug, every moment of side-splitting laughter, every tense, highly-competitive game of Spoons, Mexican Train, or Mafia, every Christmas movie, and every tradition as I soak in their youth and energy.

There is plenty of time after New Year’s to sleep. For now, I don’t want to miss a thing!

“Christmas is not a time nor a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

~ Calvin Coolidge ~
Former President of the United States

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lifestyle Choices (Psalm 1)

Dear Child of Mine,

Since the day you were born, I have prayed for you. As you venture out on your own, I pray that God will fill you with His wisdom, so that you will make wise choices. Life is just that, a series of day-to-day choices. Each decision we make, each daily choice, determines the next choices we are faced with in this maze of life.

As a child, I was required to memorize Psalm 1 for Sunday school. It occurred to me recently while re-reading this passage that it presents a wonderful lesson on lifestyle choices, contrasting the way of sinners and the way of the righteous. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but for your convenience, I have paraphrased it in this love letter to you.

Scriptures use various terms to refer to the people of God, those whom he receives in His presence and favors with His salvation and blessing. One of those terms is righteous. It doesn’t mean perfect, but rather refers to one who faithfully responds to God’s directives for life, for this is the path that leads to blessedness. Scriptures also use the term blessed to refer to the happy condition of those who revere the Lord and do His will, and put their trust in Him, and as such are blessed by God.

Here’s basically what the psalmist is saying:

A blessed person does not live his life according to the ways of the wicked or even seek advice from them. He does not choose to participate in their chosen, ungodly way of life, or to spend his time with them, for their lifestyle choices openly ridicule God and defiantly reject His law.

Rather, this happy man will delight in God’s word. He will seek guidance for his life in God’s word, rather than the decisions of the wicked. As a result, he is like a strong tree that withstands the buffeting of the winds and lives to provide strength and nourishment to all around him.

Not the wicked! They are like chaff, which is carried away by the lightest wind. Tragically, the wicked will not be able to withstand God’s wrath when he judges.

So remember this: as you navigate through this maze of life, if you choose the lifestyle of righteousness, the Lord will watch over you, for your very life honors God, and everything you do, every choice you make will be in accordance with His will. However, if you choose the lifestyle of the wicked, you are also choosing the tragic consequences that come with that lifestyle, both now, and forever.

Rest assured that this scripture is not only for the young. Even at my age, I am faced with the same day-to-day lifestyle choices. My prayer for you is that you figure out at a young age what took me many years to learn, for I love you with an all-consuming passion, a special kind of love that a parent has for a child. God placed this love in me the moment I knew you had been created, and it will fill my heart until the day I die. I am so proud of the person that you are becoming and so blessed to be your mom.

I love you,