December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

When I was growing up, Christmas was a big deal.  Mom would decorate everything from head to toe.  There was always a Christmas scene spread out in the china cabinet, complete with a mirror made ice pond where people were skating and fake snow.  Other places, like the top of the stereo, held the manger scene.  Bows went up on the doors.  Charlie Pride, the Chipmunks, or Eddie Arnold were spinning on the record player.  My brother and I would always be tormented by our sister in picking out the tree from the neighbor's tree farm.  She always had to find the "right" one, which translated into walking around for hours in the cold.  Once the tree was inside, we would decorate it with the old school strings of lights complete with metal reflectors to keep the heat from the bulbs from catching the tree on fire.  Each ornament we hung on the tree had some story and history attached to it, along with the angel on the top.  Then, to cap off the tree, fresh boxes of aluminum/plastic tinsel were draped on each branch.  It was quite a sight.   It was quite a fire hazard.

Christmas Eve was our Christmas Day.  That night we would open gifts, get a long distance phone call from Aunt Sandy, and then hop in the car and go to my Aunt Kay and Uncle Claude's house.  There we would watch them open their gifts and then roast marshmallows in the fireplace.  Santa visited a few times before the cat was out of the bag.  I can remember my parents sending my brother, my sister, and me to one of their rooms in the basement so that Santa could show up.  Then, they would stomp around a little and our presents would appear.  The sad thing is that I never really questioned why they were able to see Santa and we weren't.  With that in mind, its not surprising that we didn't believe in Santa that much.

My worst Christmas Eve memory is this.  I received one year the best present ever...cris-cross-crash.  It was a matchbox racer set where the cars went around on a figure 8 track and hopefully crashed in much carnage in the middle.  It was awesome!  Unfortunately, it didn't last but an hour or so.  I can't remember if I broke it out of the box or if I broke it putting it away.  Nonetheless, it broke.  We tried to return it, but of course they were sold out.  

As I sit here and type, all of these memories come rushing back.  Family parties, the smells of food, and so much more are invading my mind.  Its a great thing.  Its the thing that I want to create for my daughter.  I want her to have the rush of great memories when she is 40.  I want her to have the desire to create memories for her family.  

What memories do you have?  How are you writing memories for the next generation to come?  

December 20, 2012

The End?

I guess if the Mayan people are right and in the EST, I've only got a few more minutes of life.  I figured I'd make a post on my blog to show that I did keep it up till the end.

If not, I have some thoughts rolling around in my head.  Lots of them.  Some that scare me.  Some that frustrate me.  Some that I might actually let out one day.  We will see.

Until then, keep your eyes and ears open to the moving of our God and His Kingdom - His ADVENT into this world and His promise to return again.  May we be the Light to the world while we wait.

December 7, 2012

A Prayer

I've been doing some reading out of an app for my iPad called, Breviary.  It contains the daily prayerbook of the Catholic church.  I use it to help me supplement my prayer life once in awhile--I grew an appreciation for the hours of prayer and liturgy in seminary.  That idea of continual praying was furthered in me by Ed Dobson and his book, The Year of Living Like Jesus.

I understand that many faithful people have come and gone before me.  I want to hear how they prayed and engaged in God.  I want to learn from others how I can engage God and my faith more.  The different prayer books have helped me to do that.  And, I've found it to be a great place to connect to old hymn texts and written prayers that I've never even seen.  The depth of words sometimes is amazing.

In my perusing last night, I came across this simple prayer that came at the close of one of the daily offices of prayer.
we need your help.
Free us from sin and bring us to life.
Support us by your power.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.
May that encourage you today, to know that in this Advent season, God is our only hope and our full peace.  He brings us love and grace, and in turn gives us an immense joy!

December 5, 2012

Emotional Torment

It's Christmas time.  It's a time for family, food, and all things holiday oriented.  That includes advent calendars.  Hannah has a couple.  One filled with chocolates that she will not share, the other filled with Legos...a Lego chain saw, a Lego tree and so on.  Who knows what will come out of the box by December 25th.  Steph and I have one, too.  It is a couples advent calendar from North Point, a church in Atlanta.  One of our guys at church snagged some of the leftover calendars they had.  It's been cool so far.  One day's challenge was to talk about your favorite Christmas memory.  One day you were supposed to have a picnic in front of the tree.  We are a little behind, go figure.  So, tonight we combined two to catch up.  We had a take out pizza dinner in the living room in front of the tree while watching a Christmas movie.  Now, that sounds like a great night to me.  Some pizza and breadsticks with some garlic butter dip paired with a movie and my girls!  What could go wrong?

As we were getting settled into the picnic, we started discussing whether to watch Home Alone, the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or A Muppet Christmas Carol.  The Muppets won the discussion.  In went the DVD and on to the movie we went.  I should have known better.  Let me explain.

My daughter, Hannah, will turn 9 years old next month.  She is very mature for her age.  And that's not just a proud dad talking.  She is a smart, well adjusted kid...except when it comes to movies.  When she was growing up, we watched lots of cartoons.  She watched Dora and the Backyardigans and all those great shows.  But, not movies.  Movies had too much angst and emotion.  One of the first movies she ever saw was Cinderella.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  That's a great movie for kids.  Its a classic!  Not for my kid.  When the wicked sisters came in and tore up Cinderella's dress before the ball, my daughter screamed and cried.  When she watched Lilo and Stitch, she did the same thing, in addition to standing on the couch while shouting "Get away from her!" at the bad guys at the top of her lungs.  At The Lorax, she sobbed for awhile when the Lorax went up into the sky.  Steph says she cried the entire way through Happy Feet

As I said, she is almost 9 now.  I figured she had adjusted to society and the angst of cinema.  We watch Cops all the time.  A Muppet Christmas Carol should be no problem at all.  Was I wrong.  By the end of the movie, my daughter is a sobbing mess.  She couldn't stop crying.  Even though the story resolved and all was well, the emotions of my little 9 year old had been shaken and the floodgates were open.  Needless to say, it took awhile for her to settle down.  It took her even longer to fall asleep, though the hot chocolate I made her after the movie probably didn't help.

I love the fact that my little girl has such a big emotion.  Soon after Tiny Tim was introduced in the movie last night, she was asking questions.  "Why does he walk with a cane?  Is he going to get better?"  She's like that with most things.  I think it is a good thing.  There is much compassion that runs through her.  I want that to stay alive in her.  Yet, I wonder how she is going to handle the world as she grows up and realizes that its a worse place with much more pain and anguish than Cinderella or Scrooge.  Should I desensitize her with more Christmas movies like Home Alone (the old man is scary) and cause her controlled emotional anguish or should I simply let her grow up in the harsh world one day at a time?

Beyond her, I wonder about myself.  How much emotion have I lost because of the environment I'm in?  Ministry is a place where you get to see people at their worst sometimes.  You grow calloused to what you see over time.  If you didn't, you would never be able to cope with the heart break.  What is the healthy balance?  Is there even a balance?  Should there be?  How are we to embody compassion and care through all the ugliness?

Maybe I'm simply seeing it wrong.  Maybe the challenge is to continually engage with the emotion of such things as movies and reality so we are continually feeling the emotions of hurt, compassion, and love so we can be the best we can through them.

God, give me the wisdom to know how to help my little girl grow up in a way that allows her heart to grow as big as it can with as few scars as necessary.

November 28, 2012

Powerball Fever

The dichotomy that we live in intrigues me.  Our country's finances are in dire straits.  We are on the edge of the fiscal cliff.  The economy has been in the tank for more than five years now.  Gas is still at $3.50 a gallon.  Twinkies have disappeared because of bankruptcy.  Yet, over the weekend, Americans spent almost $60,000,000,000 on stuff for the holidays.  Yes, that is 60 with a B for billion.  The following Monday they spent another $150,000,000.  And, now, because of powerball fever, they will probably spend another $100,000,000 today in hopes of picking the right numbers to win it big.

We don't have, yet we spend to make ourselves happy.  We don't have, yet we'll spend for the chance to have it all, no matter how bad the odds.  We are in debt, yet we continue to spend.  I realize that I'm in the middle of it, covered slightly in the mire.  While not being caught up in powerball fever, my soul still has a taste for more that I do not need.  I'm not as bad as others.  Not that that makes me any better. I am a mess.

We're all lost in something.  We have needs and wants that we think we are entitled to fill.  Maybe its not money for you.  Maybe its food, power, or sex.  There is a taste and a thirst for more.  We want more...we deserve more.  Do we?  Really?  How did we get to be this way?

Even more convoluted is how this mindset has worked its way into the good we want.  I want to be healthier.  I can do it, I know I can.  I have the capability of controlling what goes into my system, both quantity and quality.  I have the capability to get off of my butt and move my girth in an exercising fashion.  Yet, at the end of the day I find myself still in my sedentary position, filling my face with the comfort food of my choosing, because I am entitled.

In every way, shape, and form, we are a mess.  We are in need of saving.  We are in need of hope.  We need new hungers and new needs.  We need a new/renewed love.  In doing so, maybe we will exchange our entitlement and laziness for discipline and obedience. 

Lord, may we hunger and thirst more for you than we do for powerball fever.

September 17, 2012

Coffee With Jesus

I really enjoy this comic strip....Thank you, Radio Free Babylon.

September 12, 2012

The Clarence In Me...

My dad, Clarence, is a frugal and informed shopper.  If he were in the hunt for something specific, he would read, research, and call & question the local places that had what he wanted.  It would not be unheard of for him to drive all over northeast Ohio to test drive the latest musical keyboard or whatever he was after.

Once he knew exactly what he wanted, he would then turn to the mail order and discount catalogs, all of which he received regularly in the mail.  He would call one salesman and push for the lowest price.  Then, once he had his word, he would call the next salesman and play him against the first.  He always got what he wanted at the price he wanted, no matter how long it took him to acquire it.

I have much of this in my own being.  Maybe not to the degree that my father has it, but it is in me nonetheless.  When I want to purchase something, I'll research and look.  The amount of time this takes is shortened now because of the internet (who knows how tenacious my father would be now if he knew how to wield the power of Google and Amazon).  Yet, I'll still search, stew, decide to buy, search some more, him haw a little more, and then finally pull the trigger. . . which leads me to my current predicament.

A week ago tonight, someone broke into the church that I work at.  They made their way to our office wing and began their thievery by breaking out windows and having their way with the stuff in our offices.  When all was said and done, they left with many, many things, including computers, brand new televisions we were going to install the next day, my book bag full of wonderful things like my Lamy fountain pens, and my journal.  They even took my 32 ounce Nalgene bottle.

Now, one would think that with insurance money, replacing what was stolen would be a cinch.  This is not the case with the blood of Clarence running through my body.  It has been a huge struggle for me to decide what to buy on some of the purchases I have made.  Sure, some things were easy, replace my ipad with the ipad that is equal to what was stolen and available.  No brainer.  Laptop?  Buy what is comparable and new.  The challenge has come in extras.  Here is a little bit of the internal conversation in my head:
The new laptop needs a new case to go on it.  Which color should I buy?  A clear one?  An orange one?  I just don't know.  One of the fountain pens that was stolen was a limited edition.  I can't find it anywhere.  So, what should I replace it with?  Should I buy a pen that will be the color of the ink in the pen?  Maybe the pen should match the color of the laptop case.  I really liked the orange laptop case....but I can't find the pen in orange.  Ok, the orange one is out....
Its rather painful how much of a mess I am.  I think the worst I have been involves my new ipad case.  I loved my old ipad and the case it was in.  It was perfect.  I provided great protection for my ipad and made it easy to use it wherever I was at and no matter how I was sitting.  They don't make that ipad case for my new ipad.  Now I'm on a quest.  I started with the smart cover by Apple.  I really liked how cool it was and how it looked and acted.  Yet, when I laid in bed last night reading, it was awkward to hold and use.  It wasn't my old ipad case.  Needless to say, that case got returned and I purchased two more this evening.  They are going back tomorrow, probably accompanied by the computer backpack I bought yesterday.  Though, its growing on me, till tomorrow morning when I use it to carry my junk back to the office.

The Clarence in me did win a little last night.  I ordered a lime green computer case, along with a Lamy lime green fountain pen.  How did I make the decision?  I've had both of the brands and styles before.  They were no brainers.  Help me Jesus!

July 18, 2012

The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress

Nineteen years ago this week, I was on a trip with some friends from my home church in Canton, Ohio.  We went to Toronto, Canada to see The Phantom of the Opera at Pantages Theatre.  On the way home, we stopped for the night in Niagara Falls to see the falls and to keep from going home for another day.  It was a great trip with many memories, especially how beautiful Stephanie was in her polka-dot dress!

The best memory came, though, when we got back.  I had planned to propose to Stephanie Jo at Niagara Falls.  If you know my wife, that would have been too much attention, too many eyes looking at her, too many strangers focused on her.  It would have been a great proposal, me down on one knee and the whole bit.  Instead, I proposed to her in the front seat of my powder blue Ford Escort under the car port at our home church the night we got back from the trip.  No people watching, no big scene - just me and her at the place where we grew up together.

Before that night, she had been part of my life.  We grew up at the same church together.  We were in the church plays together.  Her and her family were at some of the activities my family hosted for the church like sledding and ice skating at my grandmother's place.  Yet, after that night, she had committed to be mine, to be joined to me forever.  From that moment, life was going to be different - and it has been.  There have been good days.  There have been bad days.  There have been hardships, frustrations, and moments of brokenness.  There has been much joy.  There have been tears of sadness and tears from laughter.  Through it all, there has been endless love.
Every day that passes is a new day with her.  Its a new day to show her how much I love her.  Some days I do great.  Other days I totally fail.  No matter how I do, she still chooses to love me.  I do the same for her.

Stephanie Jo, I love you with all that I am.  I'd go back 19 years and do it all over in a heart beat!  Thank you for being willing to be mine all these years.

The Passing of Time

I can remember writing a post a year or so ago about wanting to blog every day and hone my writing.  That never came to fruition.  Shocker.

Then I posted at the beginning of this year wondering if things would be different.  Not so much.

So, here it is, the middle of July.  Time seems to move at such a rapid pace.  Hannah has already made it through 3 years of school.  She's only a year and a half from turning double digits.  Last month I worked by bazillionth week of church camp, marking at least 21 years in a row that I've done some sort of camp.  During the first week of camp I ever worked back in 1990, the students thought I was older than I was.  The students nowadays don't have that trouble.  I'm old.  I look old.  I walk like I'm old.  I sometimes act like I don't want to be old, but it is easily spotted.  Who knows, I probably even smell old.

While time is moving quickly, life is still good.  It seems to grow richer with each day.  I do miss the times of old where life was more simple.  I think of the simple life growing up, spending time at my grandmother's house mowing her yard, swimming in her lake, and enjoying the many, many good things she made to eat like lemon bars (this memory is here because I had a lemon bar today at the coffee shop.  Certainly not as good as Gram's, but at least it brought the memories back).  I think I cherish the now more than the past.  I'm in the creative spot making memories for my daughter, for us as a family, for those that I minister to.  Yes, it is good to enjoy.  But, it is even better to create for others and enjoy with them.

Seth Godin, in his book, Linchpin, would call this "making art".  Art is what your passion and soul need and want to create.  Its what wakes you in the morning and keeps you up at night.  Its the thing that makes your heart sing and your soul the fullest.  Its what you do whether you get paid for it or not.  Its not about money.  Its about making art and then giving it away as a gift to others.

I think he has it right.  Life isn't about me or about how fast time is moving.  Its about me making life more full for those around me.

January 17, 2012

A New Year

So much for trying to blog every day.  Maybe in this new year things will be different.  I won't set such audacious goals.  I will try and make time to write.  We will see what this year holds...