Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like....WHAT?!

Don’t tell anybody, but lately I’ve felt like I’m kind of going a little bit crazy. I love this time of year; the beautiful sparkly lights, the crisp, cool pat on the face when you walk out the door, and the acceptability to wear multicolored velour warm-up suits any day of the week. It almost feels like there is magic in the air and that people are nicer. But then there is a downside to all the good and happy things. There is an inner struggle between all the things I grew up thinking were perfectly normal, like Santa Claus and stockings and knowing that Bobtail was the name of the horse in “Jingle Bells;” the tangled knot begins to unwind when I start to think, “But really, this is all a clump of stupid.” If a person walked into a room, never having heard about the “traditional” “Christmas” movies and legends, they would think people were off their rockers. And stuffing stockings with junk food and candy and sugared sugar, well it only leads to obesity and unfortified immune systems. And then there are all the people out there yelling about how materialistic Americans are, how greedy the “church” is, and some nasal inner voice drones on about how I should find a good middle ground in all the chaos, about what I believe and what I think, and to not just be another voice spouting off ideas and theories and empty sentences.

And then I start to get stressed out. Am I being nice enough to everyone around me? Should I not get Christmas gifts or get them? Isn’t it nicer to send some cookies than to not send them? Or am I basically sending them a gift basket of ill health? But if God has provided certain things for me, shouldn’t it be a blessing to others to give to them, even if it just so happens that it’s December? Should I decorate with Christmas items like nativity scenes or should I start completely avoiding the whole “tree” thing because of its pagan roots?

It’s getting kind of loud upstairs.


For starters, let’s deal with the insanity. As a matter of fact, there will probably never be any final answers or conclusions to any of these issues, so it is just about time to accept that and quit trying to always be right. Moving forward from there, this life, this earth, these circles of friends and families and ideas and philosophies will all have varying degrees of truth, goodness, and mistakes. Our points of view change as we grow. My thoughts about Christmas, or the Christian walk, or politics, will probably be different next year to some degree. We learn as we go. That said, let’s take in some wisdom from Gavin Degraw.

I don't want to be
Anything other than what I've been trying to be lately…
I'm tired of looking 'round rooms
Wondering what I've got to do
Or who I'm supposed to be
I don't want to be anything other than me.

Are we supposed to strive for being better? Sure. Let’s not chunk that idea in the trash can just yet. But sometimes I – and we all – listen more to the voice of anxiety telling us to be better than the voice of love guiding us to the feet of Jesus. We are made individually, with gifts and talents and a unique beauty. Each of us sees the world through different eyes, dreams, hopes, and afflictions. I think we are our best when being satisfied with who God made us to be, and cling to his gracious hand as we walk. This verse seems to have a good goal; that instead of letting the spinning wheel of confusion whirl before the eyes, or try to do what is on everyone’s “This Is Correct” list, aim for pleasing God with each sunrise and sunset.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Christmas is a funny thing in my family. We are big on traditions – we bake cookies and decorate them together, go to the Christmas Eve service at church and then go out to Mexican food, we painfully sing some carols together at home, my dad strumming the guitar while we all avoid eye contacts so we don’t laugh and make the awkward situation even more awkward, and then watch the Muppet Christmas Carol. We make food loudly, bustling through the galley kitchen, we take lots of pictures, play music in the background, and play games, finding lots of time to laugh, bicker, and eat more food. With all the very very good memories are several that all fall in the running for The Worst Christmas Ever. We’ve seen some great days and some terrible moments. We’ve seen too many last Christmases, we’ve experienced great loss, and we’ve celebrated marriages and healthy babies. Last Christmas was my Grandmother’s last Christmas with us; I’d say it was her last day of good health before she died. I made her some cute coasters with Madeleine’s pictures in them. She never used them.

There was the year of the flu, the year of the Yapping Dog While David Ended Up In The Hospital And There Were No Messy Potatoes So We Went To Every Grocery Store For Ten Miles Looking For Hash Browns And Sour Cream; there was the year I went with my fiancé and we drove through the worst blizzard Colorado had ever seen….twice. There was the year my sister Bonnie got me a Nickelodeon Flash Screen which was one of the coolest toys ever, there was the year Laura Threw Her Shoe, there was the year of the Puffalumps, the year Grandmother Ordered A Beer And We All Looked On In Shock, the year of the Big Floppy Dolls…in between there are a lot of good and not-so-goods that don’t really stick.

When people in the Bible experienced trials and great blessings, they built altars at the place where the suffering, bewilderment, or provision occurred. They did this to remember exactly what God had done in their lives. They didn’t worship the altar, they worshiped the one who caused the occasion for celebration.

And then they celebrated. They sang songs, they danced, they spoke of the power of their almighty God.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.
2 The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name…
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
Exodus 15:1-3, 11

Our days come tumbling upon us. We live in the temporal, watching clocks go by, rain clouds pass over, and mornings turning into evenings before we’ve even opened our eyes. There are hurried lunches, unopened bills, broken computers, crumpled receipts, smiles, hugs, long lists, and moments lost before we even know they have happened. We need time to be still, to celebrate the goodness, the glory, and the wonder of our God. No, it definitely shouldn’t be done once a year. It should be daily, weekly, as often as we can. And we should give of ourselves, out of the blessings we have received, and of our talents to help others and follow more closely behind our Savior.

If I examine my past Christmas holidays a little more closely, I can actually see more of a time of pain than that of celebration. Sometimes it is easier to let the darkness settle in than to fight, to plead for hope, and to thank the Father for all his abundant blessings. It’s not easy to celebrate death, to accept loss, and pay for flu medicine. (Not all of those in that particular order, nor at the same time. Smiley face.) But we do celebrate, and amidst all the sorrow, the joy is that much brighter. We celebrate a new life, one that surpasses this current experience, because of a love so great we don’t know how to deal with it. We celebrate hope, true joy, and the beauty in the white light of a candle. We celebrate Life – the taste of berries, steak, and the fruit of the earth; the smell of pine, of toasty cinnamon, of our loved ones; the touch of hands as we bow in prayer, the hug of family we only get to see once a year; the flicker of light and dancing shadows on a wall; the ability to imagine and remember and read about old stories becoming truths.

These traditions we have, yes, they are man-made. The Bible doesn’t speak of Queso and Chimichangas being extraordinarily amazing, particularly on December 24th. But we need to set aside time to celebrate. And I love celebrating with my family, because every day I know I’m one moment closer to not having them close to me. Even if they give me strange things as last minute “gifts.” No, you don’t know who  you are. Wink.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Maybe one of these days I’ll start up my own holiday with my immediate family that celebrates the life, hope and joy of my heavenly Father. Or maybe that will be breakfast in the morning. Who knows, maybe I’ll explore some more ancient celebrations like Passover or that Tabernacles Feast. I like a good feast. Maybe not preparing it by myself….but eating is sure part of the equation. And you know, next year will probably be different. Different expectations, different hopes, different lessons learned. But I hope there will continue to be celebration of life, love, of family, of the eternal glory of our marvelous, miracle-working, one-of-a-kind, pretty rad God.

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
 27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:26-31

And that is why we celebrate. We celebrate the Beginning and the End, and we celebrate His coming to earth in the humble form of a baby boy. We celebrate his works on earth and his great lessons in How To Do Everything The Awesome Way. We celebrate his miracles, his healing, his pain, and his sacrifice for us. We celebrate the strength that he gives us to get out of bed every morning, and the refreshment of our souls.

And we celebrate the hope of his return. For we yearn for his presence, and he answers; we run this race, we fight this good fight, and he carries us through with his power.

Life is full of sweet surprises
Everyday's a gift
The sun comes up and I can feel it lift my spirit
Fills me up with laughter, fills me up with song
I look into the eyes of love and know that I belong

Bless us all, who gather here
The loving family I hold dear
No place on earth, compares with home
And every path will bring me back from where I roam
Bless us all, that as we live
We always comfort and forgive
We have so much, that we can share
With those in need we see around us everywhere

Let us always love each other
Lead us to the Light
Let us hear the voice of reason, singing in the night
Let us run from anger and catch us when we fall
Teach us in our dreams and please, yes, please
Bless us one and all

Bless us all with playful years
With noisy games and joyful tears
We reach for you and we stand tall
And in our prayers and dreams
We ask you bless us all

We reach for you and we stand tall
And in our prayers and dreams we ask you
Bless us all
(from Muppet Christmas Carol)

I’m tired of looking around rooms, wondering what I’m supposed to do and where I’m supposed to be. You know what? I think that I’d rather enjoy the ride as it came along, celebrating the weighty good and the blessings as they come along. That way at the end of the journey I don’t look back and say, “Man. I shouldn’t have taken it all so seriously.” Every day is a gift. With playful years, joyful tears, noisy kitchens, unfathomable understanding, strength and songs; we reach for our Father, and we stand tall, and in our prayers and dreams and with every breath we sing, we thank Him for blessing us all.

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