Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31 – “Good morning”

I think I’ll let two other guys speak through my blog today.  You’ve certainly heard from me quite enough, for one year anyway.  The two comments are from widely different sources, and were spurred by vastly different catalysts, but they both provide plenty of food for thought.

The first is from our newspaper this morning.  Over the last few days there have been too many incidents involving officer involved shootings all over the nation.  We have had one in our area as well, and it inspired the obligatory protest gathering.  One difference here was the appearance of an outside faction from the big city (Houston) who was apparently invited to help make sure appropriate justice was meted out.  Meanwhile, a local motorcycle gang had determined to stand up for the police if any such gathering occurred around here.  It had all the makings of something that could turn quite violent, quite fast.  In a nutshell … it didn’t.  The police were standing by.  The rhetoricians attempted their speech-making.  The motorcycle gang revved up their engines so the speakers could not be heard.  Individuals literally went toe to toe “sharing dialogue” with one another.  But no violence.  Hats off to the local ministerial alliance for doing their best to keep everyone calm.  Here’s what one of them had to say in today’s paper:

“I’m personally encouraged that even though nonmembers of our community came to stage a protest, our police department simply stood by and allowed those persons who chose to argue with each other – without physical violence – to exercise their lungs as they called each other names that are not worthy of being repeated in print.”  --Rev. James E. Daniels

The second message comes from the book I have been reading from daily over the course of the last year.  It is called Strength for Service to God and Community.  It is a daily devotional book for first responders and really for anyone engaged regularly in the service of others.  Here’s a portion of the entry for today’s date:

            “It is interesting how an infinite God with no beginning or end gave us all stopping and starting points, allowing for new places in life.
            If today you have old patterns, unhealthy ways, or excess emotional or spiritual baggage that you are tired of carrying, what a great day to tell it all goodbye and turn over a new chapter in life.  You can reflect back over the blessings and beauties of this past year, be grateful for the victories, then let go of the failures and begin anew.  God is in the business of new beginnings and fresh starts.”

There is much that I, too, am personally encouraged about, Rev. Daniels.  And paramount among those is that new beginnings/fresh start idea of God’s.  In fact, he liked it so much he encouraged it, not just yearly, but every day.  Every day is new.  Joy comes in the morning.  So my closing wish for 2014?  Good morning!

Psalms 30:4-5 says, “Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Father, thank you for granting us new beginnings.  And thank you for making them possible every day.  Most of us need a good reboot more than once a year.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 30 – “Visitors from afar”

We had some pretty interesting visitors in church Sunday.  That in itself of not so unusual, but what happened was a bit different and quite entertaining.  Among this particular group of visitors was: a couple from Southern Illinois, another guy who I think was the father of one of the couple, and a Mom with her two kids from South Korea.  They were all members of a church in Illinois that particularly reaches out to international people in the area.  The South Korean Mom is a master’s degree student at eh University of Chicago.  Her husband is a doctor of medicine back home, and will be in the states to visit with them in a week or so.  Seems the couple has a time share at the complex near the church.  When they decided to come to Galveston, they opened up the trip to anyone at the church who wanted to join them, and this family jumped at the chance. 

Now as we talked before the service I found out that the husband (I know, hard to keep them straight, but I can’t remember their names.  I can’t even pronounce the South Korean names) was a violinist with the symphony orchestra in a town in Kentucky several miles from where they live.  He also teaches violin (Suzuki method, whatever that is.  If you’re ever transferred to Southern Illinois …).  I told him we had a guy here who used to play violin for us for worship.  Then I invited him to bring his along next time he came and he could play for us.  Bam.  That hit a positive cord (like that musical connection there?).  He told me his violin was in the car.  So in the spirit of the moment I asked him what he was waiting for and encouraged him to go get it.  The guy obviously loves to play, because in minutes he was back and tuning up. 

Now before he started he called me over and introduced me to one of the South Korean children, a boy about 12 years old, I would say.  Violin Guy told me they had been walking around a mall near Dallas the day before and stopped at a music store.  This youngster sat down at one of those grand pianos they have on display and jumped into some kind of incredible medley of classical music.  Amazed the whole place.  Introductions complete, he then pulled a fast one on the unsuspecting kid.  He invited him to join him in playing some Christmas music for the group.  The kid kind of stumbled around, but ultimately agreed.  Violin guy asked me for a hymnal, so I had to go track one down.  It was for the youngster though, and not him.  As it turned out the youngster had never heard our Christmas music before, so he needed to see the music to play it.  Violin Guy told him to pick any song, and he would just follow along.  The youngster thumbed through and finally stopped on Joy to the World.  Had nothing to do with that being my favorite song, either.  He sat the book down and picked his way through a line or two.  And then they began.  The kid did an amazing job for never having seen the music before. 

About the I noticed that the hymnal was doing one of those, pages flipping on their own things, so I ran over to get a Bible to hold it open.  The kid never stopped playing.  By the time I got to him, intent on saving the day, I realized that Joy to the World was nowhere near the page that was showing.  The kid was playing the song he had just seen for the first time … from memory.  Backed up by a concert violinist.  At Seaside Church.  On a little Island off the coast of Texas.  And when that song ended, they almost immediately transitioned into Silent Night.  Apparently the kid had seen the music to that one the day before at the music store.  Now do you see why I was so impressed?  I tried to get the boy to commute and play piano for us every Sunday.  You know, to get experience and all.  But he seemed to think it would be less than cost effective.  In his words, “I could soon buy a piano of my own if I did not come.”  Right about that one, I guess. 

Matthew 7:11 says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Father, thank you for gifting people like that youngster and the Violin Guy.  Thanks as well for the gifts you give every one of us, whatever they may look like.  Amen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

December 29 – “The Bone Monster”

I just returned from making a donut run for the grandkids.  It was after all cousin’s sleepover night around here, and we have a houseful of hungries to pacify.  I have to say I almost had to pull over on the way back home, though.  The conversation started simply enough, but suddenly I actually heard this from the back seat.  The voice sounded eerily like Zakary’s, but I didn’t see how it could have been.  Thankfully we were just a few short blocks from home, so whoever it was managed to escape before we arrived.  Check out this observation:
“In Loozyanna, doncha know, you haff to keep yore door locked acuz o a alligator will be comin into yore house wit you and eatchou up.”
You tell me.  Where did that come from?

That’s the second strange automobile related incident for the Vaughans in as many days.  Saturday (at least I think it was Saturday.  The days are starting to run together) we took the horde to the movies to see the new Night at the Museum flick.  Pretty fun one, by the way.  I only slept for a minute or two.  On the way home, though, Caleb and Josiah were appointed to ride with us.  We got them all strapped in and headed back to Kel’s house for our rendezvous.  As we stopped at a red light, our driver (that would be Chris, of course) asked me to check out the rear view mirror on my side and look at what was behind us.  A strange request.  I thought maybe someone was in distress and needed our help.  A glance out the mirror revealed nothing, however, so I twisted around the other direction, looking directly out the back window.  And I must say I was startled.  Most assuredly not what I expected to see.  Now understand, I have come to terms with my own impending death (no, this isn’t an announcement, just a statement of theological and practical fact).  But never did I expect to see him (Death, that is … the Grim Reaper … Skeletron personified) piloting a motorcycle and following us around LaMarque.  Was he there for one of us? 

The white-faced Harbinger of the End realized quickly that I was watching.  His hand slowly left the handlebar of his motorcycle.  I fully expected that long, crooked finger to uncurl in a point of death right at me.  Higher and higher.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the gruesome sight.  Higher and higher.  Just as I was about to cringe in fear of the final decree, the fingers appeared … and spread wide apart … in a wave.  There it was.  Death was waving hello to me.  Or was it goodbye?  I couldn’t handle this on my own anymore, so I told Caleb and Josiah to turn and look as well.  And as their eyes met his, the hand returned.  Instantly.  In another wave.  Cautiously, we waved back at him.  And he returned the salutation.  The boys were entranced.  I asked them who they thought that was.  The answer came quickly.  “It’s the Bone Monster.”  Indeed it was.  And the Bone Monster followed us all the way to our very last turn, trading waves with the boys (me included.  I was just happy he was only passing through).  Quite the unnerving experience, but certainly one to file in the memory bank of Cousin Christmas Weekend Lore. 

1 Corinthians 15:54-55 says, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’”

Father, thank you for being the One we can trust when death is something more than a guy in a skeleton mask approaching on a motorcycle.  Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

December 28 – “Something’s Not Right With Blitzen”

Well, here it is.  Enjoy.

Something’s Not Right with Blitzen

A Christmas Story

By Kelley Vaughan


Before I begin this tale, I have to acknowledge its roots.  See, something like this has to have an inspiration, or at least a nudge from somewhere.  My nudge sounded like this.

We apparently had some more of those strange, elusive visitors in the house yesterday.  The kind that you know must be there, but you never actually see them.  The kind that make life, well … interesting.

I was hard at work at my desk.  The Christmas Eve service loomed over my preparation time, as did my usual preparation for the next Sunday’s teaching.  I had agreed to officiate two weddings as well, both simple affairs, but each having its own unique spin for preparation, and for time.  

Our almost-six year old granddaughter Cailyn was over as well.  She was out of school for a few weeks, but not so for Mom and Dad.  For some reason they were keeping the operating room and the fire stations staffed over the Christmas holidays.

So … moving on to the mysterious visitors.  From my location, safely perched at my desk and trying desperately to focus on the task at hand, I began to hear the voices, eerily similar, yet … could I be really sure?  I recognized Cailyn and on occasion my lovely wife, Chris.  Oh, and there was the new stuffed reindeer friend named Elsa.  Elsa Sevela Vaughan, as I was summarily informed when I suggested she add Fred as a middle name.  So those were solid.  I could continue working with that in the background.  It was the others that began to give me creeps. 

Suddenly there was a Clareese (or however you would spell it).  Never heard that one before.  After a few minutes of pondering I decided it must be an imaginary friend … of the reindeer.  Strange, right?  Now I’m all for imaginary friends.  I have housed several over the years, the most significant, of course being “Boy,” who played often with Kel, disappeared for four or five years, and then miraculously showed back up, none the worse for wear, to spend time with Josh.  And we had never mentioned his prior appearances to Josh, either.  Gotta wonder …  So now there were four.  But then came the distinct call for Abby to “pay attention.”  Wait.  Abby is the name of Cailyn’s boxer, and I knew she wasn’t part of the babysitting deal.  We had another imaginary friend.  Didn’t sound like Abby was playing well with her fellow students, either.  See, another character rose up, calling herself “Teacher.”  And Teacher didn’t take any misbehavior lightly.  I guess it got so bad that Teacher had to call home, because even though the voice I heard sounded like Chris, the obvious personage was someone called “Mom.”  And that’s where it got really confusing.  The narrator (who sounded a lot like Cailyn) for some reason stopped all the action every so often to explain what was going on, and who was who.  That was quite helpful.  Except that sometimes she identified herself as Cailyn.  Sometimes she was Mom.  Sometimes she was Teacher.  And somewhere in there was an elusive “Sarah.”  Guess she must have been the quiet one of the class, because she never said much. 

Now that you have all the players straight (OK.  I don’t have them straight, either, but work with me here), there was an elaborate scenario that was being created.  Sadly I couldn’t hear all of it.  Something about a reindeer school and a trial run flight and helping Santa deliver toys.  Beyond that I missed the details.  But … I think I feel a story coming on …

Kelley Vaughan, 12-24-2014


Something’s Not Right with Blitzen

A Christmas Story

 Even though it was Christmas Eve, it was just another day as usual at the SSRT (Santa’s School for Reindeer Training).  A brand new young reindeer was being introduced to the class.  And a small class it was this year, by the way.  Only three students, now that this new one had arrived.  Her name was Clareese.  Now Clareese had no idea how to control her powers.  Why, she had only just begun to realize that she could fly.  Her best friend Elsa, however, had started the class a few weeks earlier, so she was feeling pretty proud of her abilities.  Perhaps a bit too proud, if you know what I mean.  And the third student was Quiet Sarah.  No one knew much about her.

This particular day Santa’s elves, Cailyn and Abby and Chris, had been assigned Reindeer School duty, not exactly the most exciting place for an elf to be on Christmas Eve.  Who could concentrate on holding an out of control young reindeer in check when there were toys to be made, and a sleigh to be loaded?  The elves wondered aloud to each other, “Are we being punished?”  “How many cookies did you eat last night after supper?”  “I just had my usual seven.  Or maybe it was eight.  Ooh.  I knew I should have counted more carefully.”  But nothing they came up with seemed worthy of such a terrible job placement on this, the most important day of the year.

Now the Teacher of reindeer school was a taskmaster.  She allowed no mooseplay in her classroom.  Moose were known for being quite disruptive and had in fact been barred from helping Santa with his sleigh after that “grand experiment” incident a few hundred years ago.  Santa wanted to see if a moose could be a part of the sleigh-pulling team.  Now, I heard they were just having some fun, but it resulted in disaster when their horns became entangled with the tinsel and pulled over Teacher’s favorite snow globe.  She became so flustered that she had to call in the parents of all the students.  Moose Mom understood the situation, though, and agreed that it would be best for all concerned if her children found a less tinsel-y position around the North Pole.  (That’s how all the coal hauling became the responsibility of the moose.  But that’s another story).  Nevertheless, Teacher remained stern.  And her stringent classroom requirements held for her elf assistants as well.  All business.  No fun.  Hence the sadness in Cailyn and Abby’s hearts on hearing of their assignment.

There seemed to be a stronger sense of urgency in the classroom that week.  A “do it one more time just to make sure” kind of thoroughness.  For the three elves, that meant one more time of hanging on for “deer life” as their charges took off and landed over and over.  Practice flights pulling a sled were arranged.  Now it wasn’t so hard for Chris.  She and Elsa had worked together for quite some time, so they were beginning to really click.  And it looked pretty good for Abby as well.  She had been entrusted with the strong young reindeer named Sarah.  Sarah was quiet, but paid close attention to everything Teacher said.  And she was quite good at practical application as well.  (That means she could do what Teacher explained.  Really well).  Cailyn, on the other hand, had to deal with the newest reindeer of them all, Clareese.  Clareese was excited about her newfound ability to bounce higher and leap farther than she ever thought she could.  She could hardly keep her feet on the ground long enough to hear things like, “Take off involves a process.  You must follow the process.  No exceptions.  Everything must be just so or the sleigh will tip and toys will spill and Santa will be … well, you don’t want to know how he will react.”  Now, come on, how many youngsters do you know who can stand at attention for that long?  They have to move.  They have to fidget.  They have to fly!

And so Cailyn struggled and Clareese tugged.  Cailyn tried whispering through clenched teeth, “You have to be quiet.  This part is really important.”  It didn’t work.  Cailyn tried her angry voice, “Clareese, you better do this, right now!” No effect.  Why she even got down on her hands and knees and went through the motions herself, thinking maybe that would inspire the young one.  Nothing.  Clareese was just being so … so … mooselike.  If this kept up, she would end up on the moose line, towing the coal, and then back for more.  And if that happened, Cailyn would be the laughing stock of all elfdom.  Well, at least of all the elves at the North Pole.  What could she do?  How could she make sure that Clareese was getting the lessons? 

Meanwhile, Christmas was approaching.  Rapidly.  Toys were flying into boxes.  Wrapper Elves with tiny little bandages on their fingers were busily sticking on the finishing strips of tape so the Bow Elves could whip their ribbon around and around and then produce the most amazing bows you have ever seen.  Only the best.  After all, it was Christmas!  Santa was doing his stretching exercises.  He has to be as nimble as he can.  Even with his Christmas magic, there is still a bit of twisting and turning involved in some of those tiny little chimneys.  And the reindeer were warming up as well.  Practice jumps and landings.  Final tugs on their harnesses.  Business as usual, right?  Well, that’s when it happened.  But more about that in a moment.  First …

Back over at the SSRT (Santa’s School for Reindeer Training, in case you forgot), things were getting more and more tense and intense.  Elsa was mysteriously called away and never returned.  More and more, Teacher’s attention was drawn to Sarah, and soon she, too, disappeared from the practice field.  And that left only Clareese … and Cailyn.  The weary elf was embarrassed.  And frustrated.  Ok, and she was a little bit angry as well.  “Why me?” she wondered.  “Why did I have to be assigned to this little reindeer who doesn’t want to do anything but play around?”  Doesn’t she understand what could eventually be at stake here?  Doesn’t she see that pulling Santa’s sleigh is one of the most important honors any reindeer could ever hope to achieve?  Doesn’t she …” 

Now wait a minute.  Right in the middle of her complaining and lamenting, something caught Cailyn’s eye just over that snow drift, kind of to the right a little.  No, over there, in the direction of the workshop.  There was a movement of some kind.  She was sure of it.  And for some reason Teacher had stopped in mid-sentence.  Now that never happened.  Puzzled, Cailyn tightened her grip on Clareese’s reins and stared toward the North.  Was that?  Could it be?  But why?  What?

Now Cailyn was not just seeing things.  Sure enough, over the snow at a very slow and unsteady pace, came … Santa’s sleigh!  It was not flying, and that confused Cailyn, for one thing.  And as it drew closer a few other things confused her as well. 

Now let me return to that part of the story I left out.  Do you remember where that was?  Here. I’ll help you.  It was going something like this:

“And the reindeer were warming up as well.  Practice jumps and landings.  Final tugs on their harnesses.  Business as usual, right?  Well, that’s when it happened.” 

Now do you remember?  Well, here’s what happened next.  Comet and Blitzen were going through their usual routine of flips and skips, when suddenly (No one knows for sure the reason why), Prancer reared on her hind legs in a stretch that placed her just high enough to be in the flight path of the performance-focused Comet and Blitzen.  They never saw her.  She never saw them.  The result was a horrifying crash of epic proportions.  Elves came scurrying from the workshop.  Santa, himself, and even Mrs. Claus rushed to the scene, concern etched on their faces.  Prancer attempted to rise first.  But she was in obvious pain.  Her right front paw was already swelling.  It turned out to be a really bad sprain.  No break.  Comet had a similar problem with his left front paw.  Now you have to understand.  A reindeer without the full use of both front paws is … well, useless on the sleigh line.  There is so much pressure with all the takeoffs and landings on rooftops that both feet have to be able to stop on a dime.  Two key reindeer were definitely out for this run.  Not a good thing.  Not a good thing at all.

As their attention turned to Blitzen however, Santa was a bit more hopeful.  All four paws checked out A-OK.  No obvious bruises.  Antlers all intact.  Tail still standing.  He looked good.  And that was a good thing, too.  See, replacing two reindeer would be difficult, but the replacements could be strapped into position behind more experienced ones, and all would be well.  But if a third one went down, all sense of stability would be at risk.  So it was very important for Blitzen to check out normal here. 

Elf doctors were called in immediately.  The injured flyers were carted off to the infirmary to be cared for there.  Blitzen was cleared for duty at first.  But then.  Well, then he started acting a bit strangely.  He pranced a few steps toward his position on the sleigh.  And then stumbled backwards and nearly fell.  Shaking his head and grunting loudly, he squared his shoulders and moved forward, not in a prance this time, however.  This time he cocked his head to the side, put on his most determined face, and began to walk.  One firm step at a time.  Right into the storage shed.  Now wait a minute.  Something was going on here.  Something’s not right with Blitzen. 

Oh, he tried several more times, and with help from several of the elves, he was even strapped into place on the sleigh.  But the other reindeer knew.  The elves knew.  Santa knew.  Something was not right with Blitzen.  Oh, he seemed cordial enough.  Almost too cordial, though.  He gave his line partner a lick when he was being strapped in.  Not that unusual.  But then he licked the two elves adjusting his reins (and everyone knows elves hate to be licked).  Something was not right with Blitzen. 

But it was Christmas Eve, and time was growing short.  The two new reindeer (who we know now were Elsa and Sarah) were strapped in behind Dasher and Dancer, and were nervous, but eager to go.  Santa decided to give it a trial run and see what happened.  Without the load of toys Santa climbed into his seat.  He looked ahead at his dear friends and the two new recruits.  He made eye contact with Rudolph up at the front of the team.  Both slowly shook their heads side to side.  Slowly, cautiously, Santa took a deep breath.  And as he exhaled he whistled the “Go” command.  Rudolph instantly strained at his bindings, as did his other charges.  The two new ones were a bit slower on their response, but in but a moment they, too, were at full awareness, tugging with all their might.  Memories of Teacher and her commands came back to them, and they smiled.  They were ready.  They were on the team.  They were pulling Santa’s sleigh.

And then there was Blitzen.  Oh, he pulled the sleigh all right.  Always one of the strongest of the reindeer, he pulled … first, to the right just a hair.  Then he tried to compensate, but went too far to the left.  None of the others could keep their bearing, much less their balance.  They did the best they could, but they just were not able to get the sleigh off the ground.  It careened first one way then the other, narrowly missing a group of elves who were drinking a hot chocolate and enjoying a cookie.  Oh, this was not good.  Something was not right, no, something was dreadfully wrong with Blitzen.

As they cleared the top of the snowbank near the SSRT (Santa’s School for Reindeer Training.  I know.  Those letters are hard to remember), Santa tugged and pulled at the reins, but to no avail.  They just could not get enough bounce, enough lift to get airbound.  What would Santa do?

That’s when Santa looked over at the practice field.  And guess who he saw?  That’s right!  There was young Clareese, leaping and prancing excitedly at the sight of the sleigh, and Santa himself.  And as she frolicked, she dragged her poor elf Cailyn through the snow, right toward the sleigh and the frazzled team of reindeer.  Just before she crashed into the middle of them, Cailyn managed to spit enough snow out of her mouth to holler a very loud, “Clareese!”  Now I’m not sure what it was about that particular command.  Was it just a bit louder, just a bit more urgent than ever before?  But whatever it was … it worked.  Clareese heard it and instantly stuck a perfect four-point landing right in front of the sleigh … and Santa. 

To say that Santa was impressed would be putting it lightly.  His eyes widened as he gazed at the young reindeer and her snow-covered elf.  A grin spread across his face.  And suddenly, in that booming voice that only Santa can produce … he laughed.  Not a cute little chuckle, “ho.  ho.  ho.”  Oh, no.  This was a Santa quality, “HO!  HO!  HO!” 

I bet you can guess what happened next.  The elf sleigh team came running up about that time, out of breath from following the grounded sleigh.  They quickly untethered poor Blitzen and led him off to the infirmary to be cared for.  With Cailyn’s help, Clareese was tethered into his place.  Proudly, Cailyn stepped back and beamed as her charge shuffled and tugged excitedly.  This was it.  The moment of truth.  Could she pull her part?  Would she be in tandem with the rest of the team?  Would Santa make his deliveries on time?

Well, of course you know the answer to that one, don’t you?  Clareese did a fantastic job that night.  Well, not that she did anything spectacular like Rudolph did on his special night so long ago.  No, Clareese did nothing that humans would consider outstanding.  But she did what she could do.  She held her place in line.  With her added prance and youthful leaps, the team’s task was successful.  The toys were delivered.  Christmas was saved.

Oh, and did I forget to mention?  As a special reward for her hard work with Clareese, Cailyn was presented with the most special reward ever for one of Santa’s elves.  She was invited to ride with Santa on his delivery run.  It just doesn’t get any better than that. 

Unless of course you are Teacher.  Santa remembered her, too, and when she checked her stocking that next morning, there was a brand new snow globe.  Oh, and I heard that he was considering giving the moose another chance at pulling the sleigh. 

Do you think he should?

Romans 5:6-8 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Father, thank you for loving us in spite of ourselves.  Help us to do what we can do.  Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 27 – “The Box”

Well yesterday was a flurry of activity that started the minute Josh and his family walked through the door and didn’t stop until sometime after midnight when I finally quit and went to bed. Zakary and Caleb were very excited to tell us all about the fun gifts they had received in their “first two Christmases.”  Seems an email to Santa resulted in the jolly guy showing up a day or two earlier.  Thanks for hat, O Bearded One, for it made possible their trip to the southlands to visit the grandparents and … perhaps the strongest reason for any trip down here … the cousins.  I enjoyed the banter, though.  It was a little easier to follow just two excited kids than the four the day before.  One of my favorite interchanges went like this:
Caleb: “You know what, DadDad?  When we wrestle, we always end up with serious injuries.”

Um.  Not sure where that came from or why, but I suppose I needed to know it.

Me: “Really?  That sounds like some powerful wrestling.”

Caleb: “Yeah.  But Zak-ry is usually the weak link compared to me.”

OK.  I’ll have to check with Zak on that evaluation.  Maybe set up a grudge match.  Or better yet … Rock-em-soc-em robots (Yep.  I got a set of ‘em for Christmas).

I also got one of the most unusual gifts of the day.  What was inside was tremendous.  A giant Nestles’ Crunch bar and a pair of Houston Astros sandals.  But it was the box they came in.  Gotta say I have never seen one like it.  It was printed to house a Crib Dribbler.  The entire thing was just like the actual product was inside.  It was touted to be something you put in your child’s crib so he can get a drink any time he wants one.  Picture a hamster’s cage and one of those upside down drink tubes with water in it that is activated when the creature drinks from it.  There was even a coupon on the back for a child’s energy drink.  Lime and bubble gum flavors were featured.  And I was especially drawn to the announcement of the adult BedDribbler.  Had a picture of two old timers in bed, and each had a personal feeding tube right next to him.  Wonder if you could get those personalized?  Absolutely hilarious.  As wonderful as the sandals and candy bar were, they were kind of an anticlimax to … The Box. 

Speaking of old-timers, I had to leave the bedlam briefly to meet with an older couple (in their 60’s) who are getting married today.  I walked through the San Luis Hotel front entryway array of elf-inhabited Christmas trees looking for the couple I had never met.  As I strolled past I heard a call from my right asking if I was Pastor Vaughan.  As I turned, the first thing I saw was a baby, about four months old at most, in the arms of an old timer.  The lady who called out was standing near the packed to the gills stroller.  I have to say I was briefly taken aback.  That was some kind of miracle baby for sure.  Were they the parents?  Hats off to them if they were, that’s for sure.  My look of incredulity must have shown, because the old dude with the kid hastened to assure me that it was his grandchild.  Somewhat relieved for them, we talked for a few minutes about the ceremony and about them.  The little one got quite fussy, so the grandma did what any self-respecting grandparent would have done … she called his mother.  And when Mommy and Daddy arrived, I had to talk to them as well.  Dad was wearing a Wolverine t-shirt, so we had a conversation about the merits of the DC universe over the obviously made-up Marvel one.  I mentioned that Kel had been to Comic-con and had seen Stan Lee.  He replied with the comment that Lee makes a cameo appearance in each of his movies.  The whole thing went quite rapidly, and I noticed that the wedding couple was kind of lost in the discussion.  So I used that comment as an attempt to draw them in.  I looked around and said, “It’s like Alfred Hitchcock …”  That’s all it took.  They were in the conversation and stayed with us the rest of the way.  I encouraged the Daddy to wear something Spiderman to the wedding.  Wonder if Kel’s new Spiderman hoodie would fit over my suit …

John 1:29 says, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”

Father, thank you for bubbly children, goofy boxes filled with great treats, and common ground.  Amen.

Friday, December 26, 2014

December 26 – “The Day After”

We awoke to a very quiet Christmas Day.  Just the two of us, we shared breakfast together and a leisurely look through the newspaper (that was in our driveway the night before when we got home from the Stone’s Christmas Eve party.  Guess no breaking news was expected for the evening except maybe Santa’s impending arrival).  I worked some more on my Christmas Story for this year.  Finally we stopped kidding ourselves and sauntered into the room where the Christmas tree stood, lights glowing and calling for us to check out what had somehow appeared beneath.  Headlines or not, Santa had indeed arrived.

We have been trying to keep our gifts to each other as simple as possible, primarily so we can give more things to our kids and grandkids.  That’s the fun part of the season for us.  Not saying I didn’t appreciate the gifts I did receive, mind you.  Chris always has my best interests in mind.  As I type I am wearing some of the new black socks she got me.  See, I have some black socks that have become kind of dingy gray.  I didn’t think anyone noticed one way or the other, and I certainly don’t spend my day staring down at my socks, but Chris noticed.  She was especially concerned that I look sharp when I “suit up” to do things with the fire department.  She also gave me a new pair of black jeans.  She said that way I didn’t have to wear the same pair to church every Sunday.  Well, OK.  And the new belt will put my old one to shame as soon as I switch it out for a smaller size.  Are you sensing a theme here?  I never was good at dressing myself. 

I didn’t go as much the clothing route this year for her, although I did get her a hoodie to wear on her forays into seedy areas of town.  Nah, just kidding.  It for wearing back and forth to water exercise.  Besides, it’s pink.  With that and her white hair, there’s no way she could be incognito.  I did manage to find her a new novel by Ted Dekker that she hasn’t yet read.  Oh, and her desk calendar made its yearly appearance under the tree as well. 

OK.  On to the carving this year.  That is something I have done for her for years.  I have carved animals of all kinds, and several years ago I started a little nativity scene.  That’s where I went with this year’s carving.  See, I always wanted to have an angel in there, but I never could quite figure out how to make it work.  I wanted it to be … majestic.  Problem was, I have never been good at physics, or geometry or whatever it is that helps you figure out how to balance out the height and width and base so something won’t just tip over when you stand it up.  All too confusing for me.  But this year I was determined.  I experimented with  a few different tactics, and finally decided to just give it a go and hope for the best.  This way would involve some wood glue for the first time, but I figured that would just help with weight as far as the base piece was concerned.  If nothing else, those wings would be, well, majestic.  I think it turned out OK.  At least as far as I was concerned it met the two key criteria.  You won’t confuse it with Joseph or Mary or the donkey.  And it stands up on its own.  I’ll take that.  Chris seemed satisfied as well, so I guess it’s officially a keeper.

While we were opening our gifts Chris started texting our kids to wish them a Merry Christmas.  Happy responses from all.  And then a strange one came across both of our phones from Kel.  It was a link to a Youtube video.  Chris was hesitant to click on it, so I bravely took the challenge.  It was a video someone had put together to that goofy song, “Text Me a Merry Christmas.”  Perfect.  Sure added some chuckles to our quiet Christmas morning, Kel.  Thanks.

But that wasn’t the only Christmas morning message we received.  Later Chris came over beside me with her phone on speaker.  We listened as an out of breath, incredibly excited little girl did her best to invite us over to her new house to see what Santa had left her.  It was “the biggest gift ever,” she assured us.  So we grabbed a jacket (Hey, it was a blustery cold Christmas morning … at least 56 degrees) and drove over to the house Nathan and April are in the process of buying.  Seems Santa had put a key in Cailyn’s stocking, and it opened the front door of the new house. Now that was big enough, right?  Even Nana said, “I never heard of a little girl getting a new house for Christmas.”  (Um, Hey, Nana.  Can you say, Miracle on 34th Street?).  But that wasn’t at all what Cailyn wanted to show us.  She was in the back yard trying out … her new trampoline.  Wow.  What a gift that was.  And yes, I jumped.  How could I not when my granddaughter asked me so nicely?  I tried to do it while Chris was on the phone with Noa, but she saw me.  And she videoed.  I just hope she stopped before I was so worn out that I had to just lie there and catch my breath.  Whew.  It’s been a long time.

We did manage to make a quick trip to LaMarque to check out the troops at Kel and Christina’s house.  They had to show us their video games and slippers and masks and books and transformers and doll strollers and underwear and spiderman hoodie and … well, everything new that had made its way into their abode.  And they did it all at once.  Four kids – four excited kids – all talking at once and vying for the best angle to catch Nana and DadDad’s eye so they could see … right now.  Jachin got so excited while he told me a story that this came out, Then Dad mascara’d my army.”  Mascara?  Thati would have loved to have seen, wouldn’t you?  We knew what he meant, though.  Dads and massacres go hand in hand when you’re playing battle games.  It was crazy.  Crazy wonderful.  Gotta love that Christmas morning excitement.  Can’t wait until Josh and his gang arrive later today so we can go through it all over again.

When we made it back home Chris finished up her readiness cooking: pudding pie, divinity, cookies.  We ended the day on the couch, watching some schmaltzy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel.  Ah, Christmas.

Matthew 2:1-2 says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’”

Father, thank you for uncontrollable excitement and out of breath explanations and Christmas craziness.  Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

December 25 – “Merry Christmas”

I promised I would post the Christmas story I was working on.  I really will do that, too.  I just felt like I ought to read it to Cailyn first, since she was the inspiration for it.  Well, she and Chris and Elsa and Clareese and the whole gang of imaginary friends.   As I said before, thank you for your inspiration.  I think I might just keep you around for another year … all of you. 

We had a really nice, calm Christmas Eve service last night out at Seaside.  About fifteen people were there, so the atmosphere was really intimate.  As usual we had several visitors and a few Seasiders we hadn’t seen in a while.  Here’s a special shout out to Bryan Holt for making the trip down to help with the computer.  He was a life saver, since virtually the entire service was media based. 

I used a compilation of clips from some of the old classic movies.  Good old Scrooge reminded us to look in the mirror and see what it is that really consumes us.  George Bailey reached a point where he felt like he was better off dead than alive, and many of us can relate to his feeling of drowning under circumstances.  Buddy the Elf showed a similar side to the same story.  He had plenty of big elf-dreams until he found out that he wasn’t an elf at all, but a human.  His response to shattered dreams was to pass out first, then go on an extended journey to seek out his real dad.  The reminder to Buddy and to us was that God has a way of working out things for the good of those who love him.  We did see a brief clip of a reenactment of the nativity. It was a good one except for the wise men showing up at the manger about two years earlier than they probably did.  But the idea was the same.  God did what we couldn’t do by becoming a man - at Christmas – living a perfect life, dying, and rising from the dead.  And that made it possible for us to have a love relationship with him.  George Bailey was back for the next segment in his crying out for help scene (my favorite one from the whole movie).  He has been through the sequence with Clarence and is ready to have his old life back no matter what happens to him.  He stands at the bridge pleading with Clarence to help him.  But then something changes.  He lowers his head to the bridge railing and cries out instead to God.  And suddenly it starts snowing and you hear bells in the background.  And Bert drives up (or was that Ernie) and he recognizes George again.  Whew.  Touching scene.  But  it shows what we need to do when we realize we have a sin problem.  Cry out to God.  Talk to him.  Ask for forgiveness and receive his gift of life and love.  The final clip came from the movie The Santa Clause.  Bernard the Elf was explaining to Scott Calvin that he was indeed the new Santa by virtue of the clause printed in fine print on the business card he had found.  The bottom line was, “You put on the suit, so you’re the big guy.”  Great picture of what it’s supposed to be like for us with Jesus.  When he put on the suit, Scott agreed to act like Santa, talk like Santa, eat like Santa, work like Santa.  And in the process he would actually become Santa.  When we put on the Jesus suit – become Christians – we are supposed to act like Jesus, talk like Jesus, work like Jesus … well, you get the picture … and in the process we will become “Little Christs.”  If you’re not going to act like a Christian, don’t tell anyone you are one.  You’ll just confuse him and lie to yourself.

Guess you can’t tell that I love Christmas movies, huh?  In fact, I may have one more saved on my tivo thing.  Hallmark Channel.  Great place to be during the Christmas season.  Merry Christmas!

John 1:1, 14 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Father, the only really appropriate Christmas prayer is … Thank you.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December 24 – “A most unusual gift”

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone.  I know I said I would post the story I was writing, and I still intend to.  I still need to do some general editing, spell checking, and proof reading (not that I will catch all the mistakes or anything).  But it’ll be out on FaceBook before you know it.  I do have a working title, though.  “Something’s Not Right With Blitzen.”  Be thinking about that one.

I think we finally finished our Christmas shopping yesterday.  Last night to be exact.  We stopped in at Target on our way to Micah’s indoor soccer game and picked up the last two things.  Hey, we (read here, “Chris”) have even wrapped most of the gifts, and some of them are even under the tree.  Now I still have to do some wrapping of my special “DadGifts.”  Those are the ones that Chris refuses to have any connection with at all.  Can’t understand why though.  They are always selected after much agony of thought and came with a carefully worded explanation.  Oh, and that reminds me.  I have discovered a person of like mind.  But that requires a bit of background.

Our neighbors across the street, the ones who are renting the house I grew up in from whoever it was that bought it, are Mario and Carolyn.  Very sweet people even if they are Yankees through and through from New York.  Actually, I think he is more Italian than Yankee, if that makes any difference.  They have worked really hard since they have been there to get rid of stickerburs in the grass, which automatically makes them A-OK in my book.  They also have the house decorated for Christmas, which hasn’t really happened since Hurricane Ike. 

Now Mario is an incredible storyteller.  I have heard tales of his old-school Italian family that still make me chuckle just to think about.  This Fall he and I have had a continuing good-natured ribbing going on about the leaves from our sycamore tree blowing into his yard.  He keeps telling me he doesn’t want them, and I assure him that it is perfectly fine with me for him to keep them – as a special gift from me.  Well Mario presented me with a gift the other day.  We were investigating an unusual fungus growth in his flower bed.  A pink, spongey-looking thing with what looked like four legs and a mass of brown, slimy-looking stuff hanging down from each leg.  It stunk really bad, and as a result was attracting flies in droves. 

While we were discussing its possible origins (I accused him of tossing chicken livers into the mulch since that what the brown things reminded me of.  Carolyn thought maybe they were alien seed pods that were planning to take over our bodies and turn us into zombies.  I told you they were great neighbors), Carolyn disappeared into the house and returned with two gifts.  One was obviously a tin with edible goodies.  She gladly handed that one to me and said, “This one is from us to you and Chris.”  The other one, however, came with a disclaimer.  “This one I had nothing to do with.”  It was a pretty good sized box – one of those that mail-order items are shipped in.  Sure enough, the tag read, “To Kelley From The Grinch.”  This had to be good.  I couldn’t wait until Christmas for this one, so I opened it right then.  And inside was … drumroll here … stuffed completely full to the brim … sycamore tree leaves.  Now that’s a funny gift.  Carolyn was afraid that I would be offended.  I assured her that I was far from offended.  Instead I was inspired.  I said I couldn’t wait to give Mario his gift now.  Actually, we already had them some of Chris’s famous friendship bread, but I had something else entirely in mind. 

Which brings me back to our final day of shopping yesterday.  I had to get the last piece of my puzzle for Mario’s gift so I could present it to him today.  Here’s my plan.  I should be safe because I’m pretty sure he is not among the teeming hordes of fifteen or twenty who regularly read my blog.  I am going to use the same box.  I’ll fill it with some mulch we have in the garage, and nestled safely in the middle of the mulch?  A carton of chicken livers I finally found at Randall’s yesterday.  Just to give him a fresh start on his creative gardening.  Maybe we can have the whole neighborhood infested with pod-growing, people possessing alien life forms.  Sounds intriguing.

Luke 2:17-20 says, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Father, thank you that your gifts are good and perfect.  Especially your Christmas gift, the most perfect of all.  Amen.