Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31 – “Reflections on gifts”


Have you started reflecting on your favorite Christmas gifts of the year?  I don't know that I have ever done that myself, consciously.  I don't mean ranking them in order from best to worst.  And it certainly wouldn't be appropriate to rank them based on how much or how little you like the person who gave them.  Just think about them.  And appreciate the person who gave them.


I know I got the biggest laugh out of my superhero cape from my brother Stan and his family.  They know I was a Superman comics guy from way back, so it was especially appropriate.  I have already worn it to the fire station and to church.  I'm sure there will be at least one more event I can squeeze in where it will be appropriate.  Well, maybe appropriate is not the right word.  But I'll look for somewhere else to wear it.  And they also gave me a rocket blender.  I don't know what rocket has to do with it, but I really want to make a cherry limeade slush.


Movies always seem to be a good gift as well.  I know there are days when all I want to do is sit and watch three or four movies – a marathon.  Of course Chris usually will only join me for one, maybe two.  This year I got Chris one of those vampire vs. wolfman love story movies.  We watched that one first.  It was the third in a series of – well, more than three.  I never read the books, but she did.  I get a kick out of hearing her say how much better the book was when we see a movie based on a book.  I sure hope the book was better, because the movie was slooooow moving.  And the star never even got bit by a vampire or a wolf.  It did finally have a battle scene, though.  After that one we switched to something a bit more light hearted.  Josh and his family gave me the entire first season of the original Superman TV series.  That's one I grew up watching every week.  The only sad thing about it was that they changed the name of Clark Kent's Mom and Dad from Jonathan and Martha to Eben and Sarah.  I didn't remember that one.  It was fun reminiscing, though.  Still on tap to watch are three from Nathan and his family: Despicable Me (That's from Cailyn.  It looks like a cartoon, so I will have to struggle to stay awake), Batman Returns, and The Black Knight.  Chris gave me another one called Letters to God.  It looks like it will be similar to another one I have been wanting to see called Conversations with God.  This morning when we did some returning of duplicate items, I did pick up a copy of Inception.  I have been wanting to see that one since it came out.  It was well worth the wait.  Very strange. 


Clothes made their appearance.  Chris got me a new "preaching" shirt.  That just means it's a short sleeved shirt with three buttons on the front – the style I usually wear on Sunday mornings when I dress up.  She also gave me some dress shorts (hey, it's Galveston.  That's how we dress up) and blue jeans one size less than I'm used to.  I thought it might be good motivation.  The waist actually was perfect, but the hips were too tight.  Got those switched out today.  The sweater from my brother Jay and his wife looks very nice.  If it ever gets cold again I'll try it out.  The proverbial underwear from Mom turned out to be too big and the wrong style, but the t-shirts were great.  2 black and 1 white.  I don't remember ever having an all black t-shirt with white stitching. 


On the practical side I need to do some more work in the garage to make use of the socket racks from Chris.  They were metric, so I may need to trade some out for good old USA measurements.  We have a preponderance of sockets that I salvaged from Hurricane Ike.


Great gifts.  Great people.  Great God.


2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 says, "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."


Father, thank you for the little gifts, the ones that are so easy to overlook.  Amen.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 30 – “Our Christmas Day – Part Two”


Lunch is always a special part of our Christmas Day.  This year I actually got to choose the main course.  That was an easy one for me.  Since we weren't sure about the weather, and since frying shrimp around our house is done outdoors, I selected Chris's chicken enchilada pie.  It's more of a casserole than a pie, but whatever you call it, it sure tastes good.  Chris had to make two separate dishes, though.  One was made with some of the turkey we fried at Thanksgiving and put in the freezer.  But she had to make a special one out of plain old chicken for Jachin.  He's allergic to peanuts and the turkey was fried in peanut oil.  Christina brought over a chocolate pie and an apple pie.  I think there were probably some vegetables somewhere on the table, but who counts those anyway?


Part of the day's festivities included the kids helping Chris bake and decorate a birthday cake for Jesus.  That's always a fun thing to watch.  After we got the candles lit – several times because someone kept blowing them out – it was time to sing.  And Zakary never missed a beat.  He led out in the singing and everyone joined in a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus."


That night we capped off the Christmas theme with a trip to the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights.  Cailyn was a lot of fun to watch as she recognized the different characters and animals outlined with lights.  Josiah stayed pretty snug in his stroller, although he did manage to find his way into someone's arms every now and then.  Caleb surprised me (and his Daddy) with his grasp of the language.  I was carrying him at one point, and he pointed out and said "Lion."  He also called the fox a kitty cat, but that was probably because that's what Mom thought it was.   They all loved the pirate ship, and I don't remember seeing Jachin hamming it up for photo ops like he did.  Micah was startled at first when walked through an array of animals and a recording of assorted jungle sounds began.  He told Zakary that he thought there really were animals out there.  A quick cup of hot chocolate when we got home and everyone was ready to hit the sack.


Wow.  It feels like I just finished an essay for school on "How I spent my Christmas Break." 


1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."


Father, days like this are so full and tiring and frantic and … worth it.  Amen.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 29 – “Our Christmas Day – Part One”


Yesterday was our family's Christmas Day.  Josh and his family didn't get here until Sunday.  Then Kel and Nathan had to work on Monday.  Well, Kel had to work.  Nathan was sick as a dog.  So yesterday was the first time we could all get together.  And we definitely made a day of it. 


Josh started the day off by filling Kel and Nathan's stockings up with coal.  Then he took a picture with his and sent it to them with the caption, "Looks like you two were on the naughty list again this year."  He didn't hear right back from them, so he posted it on both of their Facebook pages.  He said it was only right that their friends know so they could "encourage" them.  Nathan finally responded by saying that since Josh said he wasn't getting anything, then he wasn't coming over.  He relented, though, since he was Cailyn's ride.  Ah, brotherly love.


Zakary did some heavy duty pacing while waiting for the cousins to arrive.  He knew there would be presents, but I honestly think he was more excited just to have Jachin and Micah to play with.  That was helpful, because they got here before Nathan and April and Cailyn.  Since there was playing to do, though, the time didn't seem quite so long.  Except maybe for Kel.  He was pretty excited about presents.  My older brother Jay and his wife Fran even came this year.


Last year we tried to open gifts one at a time so everyone could see each gift and ooh and aah appropriately.  That took forever and really didn't go over so well with the little ones.  So this year I decided to try and speed things up a bit.  We got the kids to open their gifts first (for the most part).  That helped, since it gave them some things to be playing with.  Then when they got another one, it was a surprise all over again. 


When the gifts were done and the kids were outside playing, I pulled out the now-infamous "Dad gifts."  These are special presents that I get together on my own for each of the "adults."  I try to take some particular event or stag of life they are going through and get something to match up.  For instance, since Josh and Christi just moved to San Antonio and Christi is dealing with learning how to get around in a different town that has a totally different culture than Mansfield, she got her own personal explorer guide to the city – a Diego doll (From the Nickleodeon TV series).  They have to read out loud the introduction I write and tape to the package.  Then as it's being unwrapped, everyone tries to guess what it could possibly be.  It's a lot of fun for me, and they seem to like it as well. 


This year Chris had some extra gifts for our daughters-in-law.  Her Mom left each of them a little piece of jewelry, so it was a poignant moment for us all as Chris made the presentations.


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."


Father, thank you for the special bond that exists between our children and their families.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 28 – “Child’s play – really”


It's fascinating how play can be so different from child to child. All I remember wanting to do when I was a kid is play baseball, "study" baseball cards, or engage in some form of activity that combined the two.  It was OK to do some of the other games we invented and adapted, like "Hope I Don't Meet the Ghost Tonight" (a combination of hide and seek and tag), or "Kick the Can" (A strategy game where one person protected the old tin can that was sitting on a rock from everybody else who tried to kick it away with getting tagged first), or "First One Under" (A race.  The first one to get under the light pole at the end of the street got to pick the game we played.  I don't remember ever winning that one).


I've been watching my grandkids.  Of course I've been watching them.  What better entertainment is there?  They each have a style of play that meets their needs and enhances creativity. 


Jachin is an avid reader and has actually seen the Star Wars movies.  His play is somewhat more realistic, at least from a science fiction point of view.  He is big on following the rules, unless of course it is necessary to change the rules so that he can win.  And he will win.  His plots are full and ever-expanding and very much include the bid picture of the universe he has created.


Micah is more mellow than his older brother – up to a point.  He will allow his characters (which are just as likely to be from Toy Story or Spiderman as Star Wars) to be involved in Jachin's plot until he realizes that once again the older brother is going to come up with some unknown twist of fate that dooms his character.  Then he is just as happy to disappear into his own world with less rules and complications.  He will be back, though, because he really does prefer being with someone else.


Zak likes to develop intricate scenarios using legos or action figures.  His plots invariably involve some kind of super power.  They also often require the input of his Dad.  Josh sometime begins a storyline and Zak takes it and runs with it.  He also is quick to explain the rules when an infraction occurs.  His plots are different from Jachin's.  He can jump from one scene to the next and not have to have a transition event to explain it.  And he also expects to win.


Caleb is all about action.  He wants his whole body involved in the action, rather than just small characters that he controls.  He's most like I remember being.  He wants to jump and be thrown into the air and turn flips and roll around on the floor.  He can enter into Zak's world, but more often as a character himself rather than as a controller of a character.  For example, he makes a great Godzilla in the world of tiny humans.


And of course Cailyn is different from them all.  She is all about nurturing.  She always wants to have a "baby" in her arms.  She has to see that the baby is covered and properly tucked in.  She recently discovered those little miracle baby bottles that have milk in them, and when you put them in the baby's mouth and turn it upside down, the milk disappears.  She has already developed her own personal style of flirting that she tries out on DadDad, mainly because it always works on him.  She has the beginnings of "the look" that every female on the planet has – that turn of the head, or sideways glance or toss of the hair or that extra second or two when those big dark eyes hold you gaze in their spell.  Watch out for this one in the future, all you guys out there.  You might want to watch out for her Daddy as well.  He says she can't date until she's 30.


And that leaves the newest addition, Josiah.  I guess the jury is still out on him, but Christina did mention that he has figured out how to follow his older brothers all over the house.  And he's not even on hands and knees.  He scoots along using his right arm and his left leg.  And his speed is improving daily.  With command of a stealth behavior like that, who needs the conventional hands and knees posture, anyway?


Isaiah 11:1-9 says, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.  Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."


Father, it sounds like to understand heaven we need to understand children.  Teach us to play.  Amen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27 – “A Guest Teacher”


Josh and Christi got here yesterday.  I didn't they were coming until after church in San Antonio, but what do I know?  Christi's grandparents were in a pretty bad wreck on their way to their church's Christmas Eve services.  They are OK now, but will be in the hospital for awhile as they recover. 


I texted Josh when I found out they were planning to meet us at church.  I asked him if he had a sermon in his back pocket that he would like to do at Seaside.  Sure enough, he said he did and would like to lay it on us, as long as it didn't interfere with what I already had planned.  One of the things he was disappointed about in his move to the monster church in San Antonio was that it looked like he wasn't going to get as many opportunities to teach as he at first thought.  The way I see it, one of my main responsibilities as a pastor is to give young guys that are called by God the opportunity to exercise that calling in a safe place.  Besides, he is an amazing teacher.


And he didn't prove me wrong.  The teaching was about how God commanded us to be joyful at celebrations (like Christmas!), even when we don't feel like it or when our circumstances are in the pits.  It was a great encouragement to be positive and encouraging as part of who you are as a believer.  We also prayed and sent Lanny out into the world as a missionary for Christ.  People shared encouraging words for him, and he laid some more of that Lanny-wisdom on us as well.  Looking forward to whoever it is that God will raise up to meet this particular need in our family.


Sunday afternoon became one of those times when no matter what I did, I just couldn't keep my eyes open.  Of course all the little guys had to take a nap, so it made for the perfect excuse.  Problem was, Josh was talking to Chris and me as she finished cleaning up the kitchen.  I could feel myself sinking, so I moved to the couch to sit down.  Big mistake.  I have no idea when that conversation ended.


James 5:13-16 says, "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."


Father, please touch Christi's grandparents and do for them just what they need.  Bring them and the family your comfort and peace.  Amen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26 – “On Christmas morning”


Christmas morning. 

Waited until 9 to send texts all around to say Ho Ho Hooooo.  Got some responses but only one right away.  Everybody else was sleeping in or opening gifts, I guess.  Uncle Jerry was up at 9, though.  Of course, I think he's in New Jersey.  Wouldn't that be 10 there?  Finally began receiving text-ual greetings from all over the place, and not just from those I sent to.  So this is the new way to do Christmas cards, right?  Wait until Christmas morning and text everybody you can think of.  I like it. 


Chris and I decided to open a gift or two for each other.  Chris opened her annual desk calendar gift and the carving.  I opened my underwear and a movie.  Second package of underwear of the year.  I'm all set.  I thought we would save the rest for Tuesday when we have our family Christmas with our kids and grandkids, but over the course of the day she would stop what she was doing and say, "OK.  It's time for you to open another present."  I made her follow suit, so we had Christmas all day long.  It was kind of fun.  Last year we waited to do anything gift-wise until everyone was here, and Christmas just wasn't Christmas.  Besides, we had our very own "child" for Christmas – Mom.  We got her a shelf for her closet so she could organize it a little better.  It was fun bringing in the big box, Chris on one end and me on the other.  Mom was sitting in the rocking chair by my desk doing some crocheting.  We walked right past her without saying anything, put the box on her chair in the other room, and waited.  Sure enough, here she came.  "What was that big box you two were carrying?" I told her to go sit down in her chair and I would tell her.  Well, she could see that wasn't going to work, so she sat down on the couch.  We told her Merry Christmas and said it was for her.  She was very excited.  Just like a little kid.  It doesn't matter if you're four or eighty-four, you can still get that sparkle in your eye when you realize it's Christmas morning.  Of course once she got it open and we explained what it was, I got to put it together.  Again, just like we used to have to put something together for one of the boys every year.  It's kind of fun having a child in the house again. 


Our outside Christmas lights went out on Christmas Eve because of all the rain and high winds.  On Christmas morning they were drooping from the eaves after being blown around by the wind (40 mph gusts).  I decided to put them back up in the cold.  Hey, it's Galveston, and 43 degrees is cold.  I reattached the icicle lights that were hanging, but when I got to the end of the house, I had about a foot extra.  Odd.  I swung it around and had to redo the whole set up.  Did I mention it was cold?  That mission accomplished, I went around back to push all the reset buttons on the outside outlets.  And then I went to the front and plugged them in.  The tree and deer that belong to Nathan and April lit up.  I think the Precious Moments Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus lit up.  But no icicle lights.  I walked around to the front again and began my inspection.  Oops.  The lights were not plugged in to the extension cord.  And the plug was … about 12 inches away from the cord.  There was the extra foot.  It had shifted.  So I had to redo it again.  And if I haven't mentioned it yet, it was cold.  But success.  The lights lit up and Christmas was secure once again.  Let's watch a schmaltzy Christmas movie and drink some hot chocolate.


Luke 2:36-38 says, "There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."


Father, thanks for the "she was very old" people in our life.  Care for them in your special way.  Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 25 – “Super Hero”


The day started calmly enough.  Our Christmas Eve service at the church had a relatively tiny crowd.  I think Chris counted nineteen total.  Hey, it only takes two or three to gather, right?  It was a nice time.  Felt a lot like the family just getting together for Christmas.  We sang a ton of Christmas carols.  I read a Christmas parable I wrote.  Linus recited the Christmas story from Luke 2 (that would be in the film clip from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Definitely a classic). 


When we got home my younger brother who is considerably taller than me and can whip me easily with one hand tied behind his back because he's a black belt time 24 or something like that and his family came over.  My nephew is in college in Pennsylvania and my niece works for the Department of Justice in Phoenix.  I think the FBI is planning something big, and where better to hide it than … the desert?  It was great to see them, and they came bearing gifts.  It was obvious that I was their favorite, because I got the best gifts.  One of them was a plutonium rocket ship that can mix its own fuel.  And it can also be used to mix milk shakes and cherry limeade slushes.  But the other gift was … well, super.  They gave me a red superhero cape.  Yes, it was actually a cape.  Now there were several disclaimers on the box that it didn't actually provide superpowers to the wearer.  But it also said, and I quote: "Because there is never an inappropriate time to wear a cape.  Plus, you're totally popular enough to be different."  And there was even a picture of me printed on the box.  Of course it was in black and white and the face was whited out to protect my secret identity and it was an inverted negative image.  But it was me.  I'm sure of it.  But don't tell anyone my secret identity.


When Stan and his crew left we went to see Nathan at the fire station.  He was on duty until this morning, so we took him and his coworkers some of the Christmas Eve donuts that we give away every year after the candlelight service at church.  By that time it was raining pretty hard.  But I was not worried.  I had a cape.  And I wore it to the fire station.  I figured if I needed to hide, I could blend in with the red trucks and no one would see me.  We got turned around in the rain, and couldn't find the station, but a quick phone call to Nathan gave us the directions we needed.  Of course, I could have used my new superpowers, but it was too soon.  I need to become better accustomed to them first.  Nathan was impressed with my new look.  One of his co-workers came out to greet us.  Nathan introduced us, and the guy was pretty sure we had met before.  He did have a quizzical look on his face as he shook my hand.  So I decided to answer his query even before he could form it in his mind.  I said, "Yes, we have met, but that was … before, and I wasn't wearing my cape.  See, I was in my secret identity."  If you can't trust a public servant, who can you trust?  Perhaps some day he will be my own personal Commissioner Gordon. 


It is becoming obvious that my tales of Christmas in 2010 may take more than one day to communicate, so for now, have a great Christmas Day.  Ho ho hoooo and bah humbug and Happy birthday, Jesus.


Luke 2:25-35 says, "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss  your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'  The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: 'This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.'"


Father, a birth with a purpose.  Thank you.  And Happy Birthday.  Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24 – “On Christmas Eve Eve”


So it's really Christmas Eve.  There have been some definite signs lately.  The temperature got way down to 56 degrees yesterday.  Brrr.  Had to get out a windbreaker and wear tennis shoes with socks instead of my tevas.  Still wore shorts, though.  Galveston winter and all.  The Christmas Eve candlelight service is tonight at church.  The open house over at the Stones is this afternoon. 


I got several Christmas cards this year from couples I have married over at the San Luis hotel.  I try to send them all an anniversary card each year.  At least until they move and the card gets sent back with no forwarding address.  It's always good to hear how they are doing and check out the pictures they send, especially if they have had kids. 


Yesterday - Christmas Eve Eve – we went to Golden Corral for lunch with Nathan, April and Cailyn.  Then we went over to Kel and Christina's house for supper.  In honor of the weather they served chili.  Nice.  And after the meal we piled into their van and drove around looking at Christmas lights in three different subdivisions, Gulf Village (where we live), Colony Park, and Harve Lafitte.  Little Josiah snoozed the whole way, and by the time we got to the last one, Jachin and Micah both were beginning to lose interest.  At that point the wise one, Christina, asked, "So of the three subdivisions we have been in, which one had the best lights?"  Of course Chris spoke up for ours, and I had to agree, as did Mom and Christina.  Seeing his opportunity, Jachin piped up, "Not me.  I think this last one is the best."  We teased him a little about being a traitor, and he loved the attention.  And then he said, "I have an idea.  When we get home, lets write the names of the places on a piece of paper and put them all in something and pull out a name and that will be the winner."  Sounded like a plan."


He wasn't through with his Christmas gems, though.  After taking in some more of the decorations, he commented, "Mom, I think maybe Jesus was the number two gift at Christmas."  Horrified, Christina asked him, "What could possibly be better than Jesus?"  With a sly grin he answered, "Well, there's Legos." 


Sounded like it was time for some hot chocolate, so we headed to our house.  Josiah woke up when the "cold" air hit him.  Hey, he was born in South Texas.  The air was cold.  Micah was revived at the chance to run around and then play with the train under the Christmas tree.  Jachin joined in the festivities for awhile, but the he remembered.  He had a mission.  He found some paper and a pencil.  His Mom wrote down the names and he cut them out.  Nana told him where to find a bowl.  And then it was time for the big reveal. 


Jachin got everyone's attention and asked, "Who wants me to draw the name of the winner?  Raise your hand."  Of course, he won that vote in a landslide (Though not 100%.  Micah and Josiah abstained due to a previous commitment with a train).  He peered intently into the small bowl holding the names.  And his Mom challenged, "Hey.  No peeking.  Shake those names up."  Shake them up he did.  And the tension mounted.  Would Gulf Village take top spot?  Or would the insurgent late comer Havre Lafitte bully its way to the top?  Or would the sleeper, Colony Park come through in the end?  We held our breath as he reached in.  And out came the answer.  Drumroll here, please, as he handed the name to his Mom.  "And the winner is … Gulf Village."


Cheers erupted.  Well, quiet cheers.  Disappointment engulfed Jachin's face, but only for a second or two.  Wise Christina suggested he draw for second place, and he grinned as he quickly completed the task and headed off to get in a few more minutes of wrestling with Dad and DadDad before they had to get home.


Now what better lead-in to Christmas Eve could there be?  Hot chocolate, Christmas lights, giggling children, family. 


2 Corinthians 8:9 says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."


Father, thank you for your unspeakable gift in Jesus.  That really is the best Christmas gift.  Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 23 – “Saying Merry Christmas”


It's getting closer.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  That should mean shopping should get more and more fun.  Or at least watching other people shop.  I figured out an excuse to go to Office Depot today.  We printed out all our annual Christmas letters, so the printer says we are dangerously low on tri-color ink.  Too many pictures, I guess.  But that means I get to say "Merry Christmas" to at least one more stranger.  When I told Chris where I was going, she added an item to my list: Krogers for a gift card.  No problem.  So that's two sales clerks and whoever I might run across in the parking lot or standing in line.  Surely there will be a line. 


On the way I stopped at the Donut Shop around the corner from the house to order eight dozen donuts for Seasiders to give away.  After our Christmas Eve service tomorrow night wee take a dozen donuts to people who have to work.  Fire fighters.  Policemen.  Convenience store workers.  Nursing home.  Lots of possibilities.  The clerk there has been there a long time.  She didn't know who I was, but I think she remembered me as a local.  Great smiler and her "Merry Christmas" came easily.  The guy in the back who actually makes the donuts recognized me, too.  He's been there a long time, and I have seen him around town as well.  He hollered a "Merry Christmas" through the glass separator.  I hollered back.  Great start.


Office Depot was woefully empty.  Only three cars out front, and I think they belonged to staffers.  I grabbed the ink cartridges (I went ahead and got one for the black side as well), and headed to the register thinking, "Maybe Kroger will be more crowded."  No one was at the register, so I veered toward the Customer Service desk.  Nope.  Wrong way.  The manager saw me coming and quickly instructed me to go to the register.  No smile.  So I told her Merry Christmas, but I don't think she heard me.  A clerk met me at the register and scanned the cartridges.  I found our personal Office Depot credit card this morning while looking for a Kroger card, so I gave it a try.  Nope.  No longer in service.  I wonder how long one of those things has to be inactive before they zap it?  Oh, well.  I paid with Plan B and ended with Merry Christmas.  Still no smile.  But she did manage to mutter, "Happy Holidays."


Kroger.  We don't go there much because we have to cross 61st and go East.  It's a Galveston Island thing.  There were a lot of people there, though, so I was excited.  I went in to the service desk and established my place in the modest line.  The lady in front of me was already at the desk, but her daughter was busily turning the wheel of the makeshift car built in to the shopping cart.  Great inventions, those.  Wish we had had them when I was a kid.  She was quite intent on wherever it was she was headed in her creative world.  I didn't want to scare her, so I kept my "Have a great trip kid" to myself.  It wasn't long before my turn came up.  The lady calling for "Next" looked somewhat haggard already, and it was only 10:00 in the morning.  No smile.  So I greeted her with a "Merry Christmas" and a smile.  What a change.  She instantly smiled and returned the greeting in kind.  No sullen "Happy Holidays" here.  I bought the gift card and asked the question Chris had instructed me to ask.  Now we know that when we turn 59 we can have our Kroger card scanned and get a senior discount.  That might make it worth crossing 61st for groceries.


When I got home I remembered that I was also supposed to stop by Mom's bank and cash a check for her.  So I jumped into the truck this time, because Chris had dibs on the car to go get a haircut.  The bank is not far.  Didn't have to go past that dreaded East-West barrier.  This time I used the "Merry Christmas" greeting again, right off the bat.  And it turned out to be the "On" switch for the teller.  She returned the greeting and started talking.  "Are you ready yet?  Have you finished wrapping?  I started mine this morning.  I still have a few little things left to get."  I interrupted long enough to tell her I wanted tens and that we wrapped last night.  That was my limit, apparently.  She continued on until she counted out the money.  I finally squeezed in another "Merry Christmas" and she gave me one right back, along with a happy smile.  Ah.  Now that's Christmas.  There's hope for happiness out there.


James 5:13 says, "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise."


Father, thank you for receiving as praise this noise I make that I call singing.  That is the intent.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22 – “A New Language”


Our latest mission has been to try to learn Mom's vocabulary of grunts and groans.  We're pretty sure she uses them unconsciously to let us know something, but we haven't figured out what that "something" is yet.  Some days she'll walk the whole way down the hall, get her breakfast, sit at the table and eat, take her morning pills, get a cup of coffee, and sit down to read the paper – all that without a sound.  But let Chris or me walk into the room, and the noise-making begins.  Sometimes it's very quiet, almost like a sigh.  Other times she takes a deep breath and flat out groans.  Most of the time, though, its best described as a grunt. 


We tried to approach her by asking if she was OK, or if she was cold, or any of the myriad of choices that could cause one to grunt.  Her usual answer is a sweet, "I'm fine."  I'm not as good at coming up with ideas of what it might be as Chris is.  She can examine the room and come up with some great possibilities.  It's like watching a Mom and her child.  All of a sudden she'll randomly say, "So are you hungry?"  That was it.  Or "Your coat is in the closet."  Bingo. 


Not me.  I finally just asked her to teach me how to know what the grunts mean.  And Mom has been great.  Lots of fun as usual.  Now when she grunts I look at her and ask what that one meant.  This morning she struggled into her chair near my desk and started reading the paper.  After awhile it started.  So I stopped typing and turned to look at her.  She said, "What?" about the time I said, "What?"  That's when I asked her what that last one meant.  She laughed and said, "Oh, it means 'Hello, there.  How are you this fine morning?'"  "Kind of like Aloha?" I responded.  She grinned, so the next few times I heard a grunt, I hollered out, "Aloha."  And we both would laugh. 


Kind of reminded me of the times Dad would come over for coffee after he was diagnosed with Alzheimers.  We would sit in the rocking chairs and drink coffee and read the paper and most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about.  But it was good to be there.  I miss that.


Psalms 37:39-40 says, "The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.  The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him."


Father, I miss those coffees with Dad.  Tell him I said hello, OK?  Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21 – “Lunar eclipse”


So I missed the lunar eclipse last night.  I saw online that it was supposed to start at 12:30.  No way was I going to stay up for it.  I'm too old for that.  I figured I would eventually have to get up to go to the bathroom at some point.  Also a factor of aging, I might add.  I turned the lights off in the bedroom around 11:00.  Sure enough, I woke up at 2:50 a.m.  Made my "necessary trip" and headed outside.  I knew I was too late as soon as I opened the door.  It was really bright outside, and not because someone left their Christmas lights on all night.  The moon was as full and bright as it could be.  Very beautiful.  Not an eclipse, but very beautiful.  Sorry I missed the event, but grateful for the incredible view.


It's obviously getting down to the wire for Christmas.  Yesterday we went to the post office.  Yes, it was a daunting task.  Not as bad as I expected, though.  We mailed a package to Chris' sister in Virginia.  While we were there we decided to get some more Forever stamps in anticipation of all the mail we have to send out.  The clerk was great.  As she put the little tag on our box, she was going through her speech about "flammable liquids or anything the Department of Homeland Security would be interested in or did we want insurance or did we want to track it or …"  It was enough to put anyone to sleep as she droned on toward the end.  I was not deterred by the incoming messages to shut down, to take a nap, to doze off, to check out, to … wait.  I'm back.  So, my hearing aids were buzzing in anticipation.  I finally heard what I was listening for, "or Forever stamps or …"  "That's it!" I jumped in.  She was so startled she forgot where she was in her monologue.  So I smiled and said, "That's what I was waiting for.  Forever stamps."  She regained her composure and got our stamps.  She even said "Merry Christmas" back when I said that as we left.


That's been my goal this season as well as in times past.  I try to always say Merry Christmas, and then listen to see how they respond.  Sometimes they go with "Happy Holidays," particularly when they beat me to the punch.  But the interesting thing is, most of the time they respond with a "Merry Christmas" of their own.  I was kind of taking a chance the other day at Office Depot, though.  The clerk's name was Benjamin.  Very Hebrew.  I tried it anyway, and sure enough he let loose with a "Merry Christmas."  Back at you, Ben.


Speaking of mail, this morning Chris hand addressed the envelopes to send out our family Christmas letter.  She is making her list and checking it twice (Wait.  Why does that sound eerily familiar?).  We are supposed to go to the store again today.  Final touches on presents.  Grocery run for when all the kids and grandkids are here.  Our family Christmas present exchange won't be until next Tuesday, though.  That's the first time that Josh and Christi and their boys will be here and Nathan will be off work all at the same time.  Can't wait to see them.


Oh.  This Level Two writing thing is really helping me.  Maybe someday my kids will read it and it will leak out.  That is unless the computer dies - like our desktop did this morning.  


Psalms 37:1-4 says, "Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."


Father, that scripture really touches me at the Level Two of my existence today.  Thank you for your encouragement.  Amen.