Monthly Archives: December 2017
by Sean Dietrich
It’s the day before my birthday and it’s cold in Coosa County, Alabama. Lake Martin never looked so good.
You won’t care about this, but fifteen years ago I didn’t know my purpose on this planet. Today, I’m middle-aged, and I still don’t know—only, now I have a bad back.
This morning, I ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel, it should be noted, doesn’t have the greatest biscuits, but in a pinch they’ll keep you alive.
An old woman and her daughter sat at the table beside mine. The woman was in a wheelchair, with messy hair. And talkative.
“That man needs to shave!” she hollered.
Several people in the room giggled.
Cute, I was thinking, looking around for an abominable snowman.
“He needs to SHAVE!” she shouted again, this time in my general direction.
“Mama,” gasped her daughter. “Be nice.”
I smiled at the old woman. And that’s when it hit me. This lady was yelling about me.
I am the Bigfoot.
And I became a middle-schooler again. It was like a bad dream, only without the corduroy pants and the Barry Manilow music.
The woman’s daughter apologized. But I told her it wasn’t necessary.
The old lady went on, “Your face looks like a big, fat bear!”
Precious memories. How they linger.
Eventually, she calmed and I finished breakfast in peace. She, more or less, forgot about me—until I stood to leave. Then, she noticed me again.
Her old passions reignited.
“Go shave your dumb face!” she hollered.
The daughter whispered to me, “I’m SO sorry, my mother has no filter.”
I got into my truck and took a few breaths. I looked into the rearview mirror.
I don’t know what that woman might be going through. Maybe she’s not in control of her mind. Maybe she’s had a traumatic experience involving too much hair.
Either way, all I could see in my mirror was a chubby middle-schooler who looked like Cousin It. I saw a boy I’d almost forgotten. A mediocre athlete, a redhead, a C-student, a face like a Pilsbury ad.
My birthday is on the horizon, I’m thinking, and some woman just called me ugly. In public. Repeatedly.
It started in my belly and went to my throat. I laughed. Hard. I don’t know why. The universe has a sense of humor, I guess.
Funny, what words can do to a man. Simple, little words. They can make you feel good. Or bad. Or they can make you feel like the mascot for U.S. forest fire prevention.
So my purpose in life. I still don’t know what it is. But I can tell you my aspiration: to be nice.
I don’t have any grand plan. No big ideas. I just want to be the fella who smiles more than he doesn’t.
If you ask me—which you didn’t—the world has enough people who have figured life out. They’re smart, prudent, with four-car garages.
That’s not me. I can’t even remember how to play Bingo. But I do know the person I want to be. I want to be the man who hugs strangers, pets stray dogs, and uses nice words. A man you might pass on the street, then say to yourself:
“Look, there goes a nice guy…
“Who just happens to look like Sasquatch.”
(I get Sean Dietrich’s posts on face book. They are all right out of his life and ours, simple, touching, funny, and inspiring. Not sure how to re blog so you can follow him also. I copied this. Hope you can find his site from his name. Believe me, I know my day is going to get better when I see a post of his show up on my face book.)
by Henri Nouwen
It is hard for me to forgive someone who has really offended me, especially when it happens more than once. I begin to doubt the sincerity of the one who asks forgiveness for a second, third, or fourth time. But God does not keep count. God just waits for our return, without resentment or desire for revenge. God wants us home. ‘The love of the Lord is everlasting.’
Maybe the reason it seems so hard for me to forgive others is that I do not fully believe that I am a forgiven person. If I could fully accept the truth that I am forgiven and do not have to live in guilt or shame, I would really be free. My freedom would allow me to forgive others seventy times seven times. By not forgiving, I chain myself to a desire to get even, thereby losing my freedom. A forgiven person forgives. This is what we proclaim when we pray, ‘and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.’
This lifelong struggle lies at the heart of the Christian life.”
#HenriNouwen THE ROAD TO DAYBREAK
Joy to the world for Love has come. Let us rejoice and open our hearts to receive it. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your love so that we can pass it on.
The Transforming Joy of Christmas is the perfect Love for all of us, that came as a vulnerable human baby. A life that not only offers us the unconditional love that can set us free to grow from needing to loving, but also gives us illustrated instructions on how to do it.
My favorite Christmas Picture with permission of the artist, Morgan Weistling
Licensed by the Greenwich Workshop, Inc.
I spent the morning remembering the excitement of our many past Christmases with five children, then even more grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This Christmas morning Julian, trying to recover some strength after a debilitating week, was still asleep at 11:30 AM, so I went on line and saw photos of our son Tommy’s four daughters sitting around still half asleep, so looking less than thrilled, while Tommy worked hard to make a happy Christmas for them. He even thought to call and get them to chorus, “Merry Christmas” to me.
Life changes big time doesn’t it?
Then after Julian woke up and I fixed brunch, I began to try to be thankful. I found more things than I could write.
Our Tommy has matured into a loving person and wonderful father even for sleepy teen-aged daughters.
Julian’s blood pressure isn’t scary high today.
His breathing is much better than two days ago.
His cancer has not returned. His pulmonary fibrosis hasn’t progressed in the last six months.
Obviously at least some of his 19 medicines, that are sitting next to the Christmas decorations on the dinner table, are working.
I have a lot more stamina and energy than I’ve had in a long long time.
The couch we bought last year turned out to be good for sleeping with the wedges that keep Julian’s swollen feet elevated.
I can see the cheerful lights of our charming Dickens Village, which our son Steve constructed under the direction of his architect father, displayed now on five levels across the far end of the living room. They are still pretty through the crowded mix of humidifier and air purifier, across the rolling tray table with CPAP machine and blood pressure machine, past the stacked wedge leg supports on the couch, and even over the chair with pillows I piled against the wedges to keep him from pushing them off in his sleep 🙂
I got to have a rare visit with Carmen, our dearly loved first grandchild, last week.
Our newborn great-grandson, Raphael, who had a scary difficult time at birth, is flourishing.
There is a beautiful cardinal at the feeder on the porch.
Our son Chris is bringing a delicious dinner that our daughter-in-law Molly fixed to us tonight.
Julian felt well enough on last week’s family Christmas Weekend to play card games with the grands and great-grands.
Our daughter Julie and all our family and in-laws did everything, so we could have our family Christmas gathering again this year. They came from Memphis and Atlanta and Nashville, and one grandchild, Jordan, made it in on Saturday night from Bolivia. And we got to face time our sons in Cambodia.
Our children and in-laws, grands and great-grands are simply awesome.
Thanks be for all our family and for our many blessings.
Things change, but we keep on learning how to love. And that really is the point of Christmas.
Yesterday, I realized that I don’t distinguish between God and Jesus except when I need to deal with the downside of my own or others’ humanity. Then I reflect on the Jesus of the Scriptures and see how open he was to growing in understanding and wholeness. When I see the overview of how drastically Jesus changed his ideas and choices through interaction with people different from him and then going apart to pray, reflect, and listen to what God was saying through those life challenges, it gives me hope for myself and humanity. And it motivates me to stop and listen to God through my everyday life experiences. If I struggle with the same thing over and over, obviously I am not paying attention. The rough spots, the challenges, unfamiliar ideas, the people that make me uncomfortable are God calling.
Sometimes, I just HATE knowing that!
And sometimes I even have to mentally put my fingers in my ears and sing to myself, “Jesus loves me…………..” until that assurance of love gives me the courage to recognize that when something about another person pushes my emotional buttons, it’s because of something related that I don’t want to know about myself.
On the positive side, I realize that I also have God eyes. I experience not only pleasure, but the sheer joy of seeing God in the beauty in nature, momentary kindness in people, laughter of children, and my own humor at my weirdness, silliness and even brokenness.
Wow! That has been such a life affirming and empowering gift.
I’m pretty sure those two different aspects of openness are wholeness.
And wholeness is the path of the journey to holiness.
Strangely, what triggered this awareness yesterday was a friend mentioning sadly that none of the Christmas cards she received had anything about Jesus on them. They had birds and animals and lovely landscapes, but no nativity scenes. I realized that I used to feel the same lack of spirituality when cards only had beautiful nature or just happy people on them, but now I feel God in all those things everyday, so I see God in pictures of them too.
And I am really beginning to see this as not only progress, but as what Jesus is all about. Jesus is our main clue to the immanence of God, not just God’s transcendence. Jesus gives us God eyes. God in the natural, God in the limited, God in human incompleteness. God in our funky little unfinished selves.
Rejoice and be glad in it! If God is in the beauty of the cardinal who pushes the little birds off the feeders, if God is in the beauty of the daffodil that goes through cycles of ugly withering and beautiful blooming, God is in us and our cycles of dying and becoming new.
Jesus loves us because he has God eyes too.
Young, tender, vulnerable.
Funny and fun loving.
A crooked boyish smile.
Blue eyes with a Christmas morning sparkle.
Slow dancing, holding me gently, like I was fragile and precious.
Love poems before we ever even kissed.
Dozens of roses and one time a black orchid.
Cutting in at dances when I went with someone else.
Dancing, I only come up to his chin. I often ask: “Are you still up there?”
And every time he answers: “Always.”
And he meant it.
Some of the comments on this led to a lot of learning about ministry to the homeless. Still feel God is calling me to some sort of connection to this ministry, but it’s pretty limited now with Julian so sick.
Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise. Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you. Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his…
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My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
When my father died and she passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I even spent weeks happily making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom had set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
So, pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yelling at my family that I hated Christmas and slamming my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after once again crankily retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning realizing that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk on The Spirit of Christmas to the Women’s Group of another denomination.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but I figured that was risky. God might have ways to keep me from being a liar.
As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it:
Christmas was about being open to receive our much needed Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings.
So, I ended up simply telling the women the whole story of my pattern of Christmas breakdowns, my panic over giving the talk, and what I thought God was saying to me in all this. It actually seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”
Now, really! Dirty socks under the Christmas tree?
Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school and Christmas Eve arrived with the stress building and with me once again tensely rushing around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to our great room, I heard my mother ask,
“Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could almost feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder, gently shaking His head. I dropped the laundry on the bed and hurried to stop my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, leave it there. Let’s get a cup of coffee and sit down, right now, to read the Christmas scriptures to remind us of what we’re celebrating.”
Now, each year all through the Christmas Season, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and watch expectantly for Him to come some way, perhaps even in a dirty sock under the Christmas tree.
Only when we have experienced humanity in its range and complexity is our humor at its deepest and truest. Redemptive humor is more than the ability to enjoy the isolated humorous situation. It is an attitude toward all of life. Not only is humor a gift of the later years; it is indispensable to hope and healing during that time. Humor recognizes that limitations and failures are not final and unredeemable tragedies. Like a ray of sunshine piercing a dark and overcast sky, humor suggests God’s abiding presence and brightens our human prospects. Humor recognizes the tragedy of the human condition, the finitude which in one way imprisons us. But by laughing at this condition, we declare that it is not final. It can be overcome. Humor is a gentle reminder of the reality of redemption……..Humor is social because the joke is finally on all of us……We are laughing not simply at our own condition but at the shared human condition…………………..A mixture of good and evil is inevitable in this life. Our successes are mixed with failures, our joys contain sadness, love can coexist with hate, health is marred by illness, and possessions are threatened by loss. Excerpt from Winter Grace by Kathleen Fischer.
The rest are my reflections:
Often midlife is the crisis time of recognizing that we have used up as much time as we are likely to have left. So often, it is a time of admitting we have not achieved all we had expected and that there not only may be too little time left, but we may also have to recognize that we do not have all the attributes or resources needed to accomplish our dreams.
There are four roads out of mid-life. 1: Become obsessed and abandon everything and everyone that doesn’t contribute to your goals. 2: Become disillusioned, cynical and angry at life. 3: Choose an addiction to dull the pain. 4: Or adjust our goals to fit a more realistic assessment of our chances to reach them.
Only when we have survived enough of life’s contradictions and made some adjustments to our assumptions can we laugh in the middle of the mix. By then we know that the only thing permanent in this life is change. Often there is a greater freedom to live by our own values and priorities, rather than for an image that pleases others. Hope becomes open ended. We gain a wider perspective for all our limited hopes. And as our lives narrow, we can begin to find true joy in the small things. Happily there are many more small things than large.
Sometimes, as we age we find fulfillment in passing on our hopes and dreams to the next generation, who may be able to take the next step in working toward them. But often, we find more than enough meaning in simple kindness or creating pockets of beauty to be shared with others. Either way, the focus becomes others, instead of our “self.”