Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Woodsman

"The woodman comes with ax to chop, chop chop...."

That was a near-quote of a line from an Arbor day poem recited on one of the old Our Gang comedy shorts.

I am not a "woodsman" by any stretch of the imagination but I do love spending time in the woods and occasionally I will cut my own fire wood. Yesterday, after considering it for each of the days that I have been off since Christmas, I finally got outside with a determination to replenish my firewood supply.

I quickly hit upon the observation that cutting wood with a chainsaw consists of spending approximately 30 % of one's time actually cutting wood and the other 70% of the time is spent working on the chainsaw.

I have no idea if it is true, but I heard once that kudzu came to the United States as a gift from Nazi Germany; the "gift" became a curse indicative of the Nazi attempt at world domination. It is possible that chainsaws could fall into that category - alongside weedeaters - as instruments that provide the "gift" of great service, but also the curse of domineering aggravation.

There are few instances in which my patience are more severely tried than when I am attempting to deal with a stubborn weedeater.

Before my chainsaw met it's untimely demise yesterday, it had taken it's share of opportunities to torment me:

The Start Up - In what condition was the chainsaw put away after it's previous use? That's a question I have to ask myself before each use. This is because the beginning and ending of most of my woodcutting adventures have been centered on the chainsaw. I usually cut wood until it ceases to perform. When the saw breaks, I quit. So at the start up, I have to ask myself if I remember what condition the chainsaw was in when I last put it away.

The Repair - Once the condition of the chainsaw is determined, then repairs must be performed. It is better to assume that repairs will need to be performed. Repairs always need to be performed.

The Preparations - Once the state of the chainsaw is determined and the repairs have been completed, you're ready to clear the forest, right? Wrong.
A little excursion into the woods to cut a few trees requires about as much prep time as a debutante going to the prom.
You must have the necessities:
  • a supply of fuel, and the chain oil
  • a wrench to tighten the chain
  • a screwdriver the loosen and then pry off the casing of the chainsaw so you can investigate why that it has stopped and refused to restart halfway into your first tree
  • glasses - not for safety, but to help you find the one, vital missing screw that got lost in the pinestraw when you took the casing off the investigate why the chainsaw stopped and refused to halfway into your first tree
  • a manual saw to use so that you can actually work off some of your anxiety in a productive manner after you have spent an inordinate amount of time in vain, looking for that vital missing screw
  • gloves - these will help your fingers not to get burned when working on the chainsaw, they also provide some protection when you go into a fit of rage and start punching trees
  • a cap - this is particularly useful, because the time normally spent combing your hair can be devoted solely to repairing the chainsaw - also in a fit of frustration, it is recommended that you throw your cap - rather than a wrench, screwdriver, or the chainsaw
  • a snack and water - once your first tantrum has subsided, you will need sustenance
  • a dog - you need someone to bond with during this time of shared crises; also he won't tell on you if you behave poorly or use bad language. Incidentally, a dog can provide good "cover" if another person happens by and hears you pronouncing curses on the missing screw; some people find it more socially acceptable to yell at one's dog than just talking to no one.
  • a pencil and paper - this will allow you to properly document the condition in which you are leaving the chainsaw as you put it way this time.

While my attempt to cut wood yesterday, did yield a few sticks of firewood, it was far from successful. . . .

. . .and my chainsaw met it's demise.

We are saying that the clutch burned out on it.

If you ask my dog, he will tell you the same story.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

And Music Fills the House

Another Christmas Tale: Inside the Stable Installment five

As the noise of the crowd moved closer, Bert, Irma and Mabel backed away into the darkness near the back of the stable.

Just before the group entered - in bounced a playful little ram. He bounded about in such a way that his joy brought excitement to everyone.

“Scully!” Bert exclaimed. He turned to his cohorts, “It’s my nephew, Scully!”

“Scully, what are you doing here? – the Shepherd will be looking all over for you – now you just get back out there in the field where you belong!” he scolded.

“He’s coming,” the smaller ram interrupted “he’s right behind me – we’re all coming!”

Scully explained how that an angel had appeared to them in the fields and announced that God had come to earth to be born a Man-child!

At that moment Bert looked up and his eyes met those of his devoted shepherd. The man was visibly shaken.

The shepherd slowly approached the feeding trough where the Child lay. He lowered his head. Bert could see tears running down his face as he dropped to his knees.

And for one moment, a familiar look passed across the eyes of the shepherd.

Bert knew he had seen that look before.

It was the same look he saw in each and every sheep of his flock when their eyes met the eyes of the shepherd. Bert was sure the same look could be seen in his own eyes.

But why would his shepherd feel such devotion for another human – and a helpless baby at that?
He thought that perhaps he should get another look at the Child – maybe he missed something.

Bert moved to the feeding trough unafraid this time, since he knew his shepherd was near.

Then the realization came to Bert as well. And when he realized that this Baby was heavenly Royalty, he forgot all about his hunger; he forgot about how he was separated from his flock; he forgot about the conditions of sharing a stable with other animals and people.

He had come to earth.

Bert’s shepherd gently stroked the curls of his head, and gave an answer to his questioning eyes.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, little ram.” and with that, Bert understood why the shepherd had displayed such a look of devotion.

Bert’s shepherd was oldest and wisest of all the clan of shepherds, and he raised his eyes to heaven and spoke in something of a mix between a prayer and a proclamation:

“All we, like sheep have gone astray. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. . . surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows . . . for unto us is born this day – a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord! . . . yes, the Lord is my Shepherd!”

After some time with his shepherd, Bert returned to the dark recesses of the stable where Irma and Mabel watched. The shepherds were returning and he would be going with them.

“It’s Him!” Bert said to Mabel,

“Christ, the Lord – Christ, the Lord” Irma repeated.
And for a second time, Mabel stopped her chewing and her steady gaze melted into a smile.

The End.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another Christmas Tale: Inside the Stable Installment four

She knew that there was something special about this Child! Irma was too distracted to notice as she clucked and cackled about.

The man took some of the fresh hay he had brought in and formed some soft bedding in a feeding trough; he carefully laid the small Infant down.

About that time, Bert returned. He was complaining.

“It’s not enough that people have taken over the entire village – including our stable here – but they have sent their kids out to stomp down every single blade of grass in the land. A guy can’t even find a morsel to eat around here!”

That’s when he noticed the mound of fresh hay in the trough. The hope of food set his taste buds to dancing and pushed him toward the hay. Since the man was nearby, he moved cautiously toward the trough – remembering the bump on his nose earlier.

Mabel watched to see if Bert would notice the Child – would he be taken back by the presence of God in their stable? Irma hadn’t seemed to notice, and Mabel was beginning to doubt her own instincts.

Bert stood beside the man and peered into the manger; his jaw dropped as he saw the child.

He looked up at the man in disbelief.

“Great. A baby!” he said in a language only the other animals could understand, “He’s laying in my dinner!”

The man took note of Bert’s hungry look and perceiving his intentions, for a second time, gave a tap to the ram’s nose and Bert retreated to the corner.
He had been too busy complaining and grieving over his own troubles, to notice that the Creator was in their stable!

The Baby slept.
Irma was suddenly awakened by what she knew was the distant crowing of roosters.

“That’s crowing! That’s crowing!” “ It’s my cousin, Arnie! It’s Arnie!” she began to cackle as she recognized the crow of her cousin.

“What’s he saying?” Bert inquired, “And why is he yakking in the middle of the night?”

Irma explained that her cousin was crowing because he had seen a bright light and thought it was morning. His crowing was a code that only chickens could understand. The bright light had turned out to be some sort of men in shining robes.

“He said all that?” Bert continued, “It just sounded like cock-a-doodle-doo”.

The crowing continued. Other roosters joined in. Irma became agitated.
“Bright men! Bright men!” she begun to cluck and then went into a cackle “Bright men from Heaven! –Oh my stars! – they say they have seen bright men from heaven!”

“Angels.” Mabel surmised.

“Bright men from Heaven – singing! Bright men from Heaven – singing!”

“They sang Glory to God in the highest . . .” Irma slowed her chatter and lowered her volume, “and on earth – peace.”
And with that, Irma stopped.

“Peace.” She repeated calmly now. And she moved to a perch on Mabel’s back to get a better look at the Child, “…for unto you is born …a Savior!”

Mabel careened her head back to look at Irma as she, too came to the realization that this Child was God in human form. Irma looked back at Mabel, “It’s Him!”

Mabel slowly nodded.

“What are you two talking about!?” Bert threw in, “it’s just another human, before you know it, he’ll be stealing your eggs and taking your milk!”

Outside there was the low rumbling of movement, Bert stepped out to take a look. In the moonlight, he could just make out figures heading his way – a great group of people.

“ARGH!” he cried, “Didn’t I tell you they would take over! There’s a whole mob of these people out there and they’re coming this way!”

Another Christmas Tale: Inside the Stable Installment three

Bert sauntered back in and stared at all the activity with a look of disbelief.

“GREAT!” he yelled sarcastically “she’s calving!”

“Bert,” Mabel scolded softly “they don’t call it that – they call it giving birth.”

Bert’s volume just increased, “well call it what you want but she’s gonna’ be producing another smelly human – and the little kind are really smelly – and they scream!”

The commotion woke up Irma. When she realized what was happening, she went into her typical panic.

“A baby?! Do something, Mabel! Boil water! Do something!”

“They’re taking over the whole place!” Bert interjected amid Irma’s cackling, “The next thing you know, she’ll be putting curtains on the windows!” and with that he stomped out again.

The struggle went on for some time, Mabel remembered something of the times that she had given birth and felt what might be called compassion for the woman. Meanwhile Irma intermittently slept and awoke in a tizzy only to wear her self out with excitement then go back to sleep. And all through the ordeal, Mabel stared with that same unaffected gaze.

The man helped as much as he could and finally the Child was born.

Mabel called softly to Irma –“He’s here – it’s a male Child.”

Irma again went into action, fluttering about all over the little stable.

Now animals have been given what is called “instincts” by their Creator. These are fundamental abilities that just come natural. A fish, for instance, does not have to be taught to swim; he just does. A dog is not taught to crave meat, he just does.

There was something in Mabel’s instinctive nature that triggered a rare response from her.

She watched in characteristic fashion as the man gently wrapped the newborn in some of the soft cloths he had collected earlier. When she saw the face of the Child – she knew, instinctively – that it was the face of her Creator! Though she had never seen her Creator, something inside her told her – this was Him.

And for a brief moment, Mabel’s lower jaw stopped its constant chewing motion and her eyes – widened. For Mabel, this was a notable response.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another Christmas Tale: Inside the Stable Installment two

As Bert carried on with his rant, Mabel’s steady gaze picked up on something the others missed. The woman stiffened and sat up a bit and a look of pain or maybe –terror, crossed her face momentarily. Then she lay back again and seemed to return to her rest.

The air grew colder as night overtook the evening. Irma, Mabel and Bert huddled closely together. Irma found a perch on the beam of Mabel’s back, tucked her head under her wing and went to sleep. Bert muttered something and turned his head away from the couple and faced the back wall of the stable.

Mabel maintained her steady vigil. And for a second time she watched as the woman responded as if being stricken with a distinct and sudden pain. Again, she returned to her rest.
Mabel studied them. Their clothes were filled with the dust of heavy travels. The bottoms of their robes were caked with layer upon layer of mud and they were frayed severely. Their humble shoes had worn away to almost nothing. She could see the bruises and bumps on their feet that told the story of the rugged terrain they had traversed.

As the moonlight began to give everything a bluish cast, she could see that their faces were gaunt and weary.

The woman stirred. This time she grimaced in definite pain.

The man roused from his slumber as well. He produced from a small leather pouch a few dry beans, some berries and a meager morsel of bread. They shared the food.

Bert, who was too upset to sleep, turned back toward the couple. “Great! Everybody’s eating – everybody but ole’ Bert!”

“Bert,” Mabel said quietly, “why do you think these people are out here in this stable?”

Bert guaranteed her that it wasn’t by choice. Undoubtedly, there was just no other shelter left in the village.

“People wouldn’t dare spend the night with animals – it would be so beneath them,” he said in a mocking voice, “and these two will leave here on their first opportunity – mark my words!”

Then Bert softened, his eyes took on a noble tone and he lifted his chin, “now my shepherd – that’s a different story! He smells like me! And he smells normal because he stays with me, he eats with us sheep and he sleeps with us sheep. Why most nights, when it’s time to go into the sheep-fold he spends time with each one of us making sure we are alright – then he sleeps in the door of the sheep-fold so no one can get to us except through him.”

“Isn’t he one of those people you so despise?”

And Bert’s voice broke a little –“…no, he’s different. He’s above us – yet he’s one of us.”
“But all shepherds – they are like that?” Mabel pressed.

“Oh no – you may find this hard to believe but some sheep are a little difficult-”

“You’re kidding?!” Mabel interjected with mock surprise.

“Oh yeah, some sheep – present company excepted, of course – will just wander away from the flock”

“Like when they are hungry or aggravated.” Mabel said, and though her eyes never changed, the lilt of her voice gave Bert to know she was referring to him.

“Yeah sometimes, and sometimes for no particular reason at all; now not all shepherds will care enough to go out looking for the one that strayed, but a good shepherd - like my shepherd, he will go after that straying sheep; even though he doesn’t deserve it.”

Mabel pressed a little, “Did your shepherd ever have to come looking for you?”

“Okay so I’m not perfect – yeah he has come after me once . . .” and he thought a moment, “… okay a few times.

When you’re lost and the sun goes down and you start hearing night sounds, like growling and howling – it can get very lonesome and frightening – even for someone like me!

But my shepherd left the warm campfire and searched high and low until he found me and brought me back to safety.”

Bert was proud and didn’t want Mabel to see him with tears in his eyes, so he muttered something about being hungry again and went outside.

Mabel stared at the couple and chewed. She began to recognize a pattern: the woman would jerk to a sitting position and clutch her belly in pain every few moments. And the intervals between the terrible pains were growing shorter. She was going to have a baby.

The man and woman had talked a little in hushed tones and he had begun to scurry about. At first, he bore the look of sheer terror, but soon that looked melted away into a resolute determination. The look said he would do what had to be done. He found some fresh hay and brought it into the stable; he began to tear up some clean cloths he had found in another part of the stable. And each time the pain of the woman would become great, he would rush over to comfort her and speak tenderly.

Another Christmas Tale: Inside the Stable Installment one

For a couple of reasons I am sending out this year's Christmas story which I wrote for the kids: first of all the story was not completed until after Christmas because of some sort of bout with the crud which I experienced. Secondly, my printer has suddenly realized that it had exceeded the one year warranty by a few days and promptly malfunctioned. So in an effort to get the story down somewhere - I will place it here in five installments over the next few days.

Suddenly two figures were silhouetted by the moonlight that seeped into the opening of the meager stable; Mabel just kept on chewing her cud. She may have been quite startled but you would never know it to look at her. Her expression never changed come tragedy or triumph. She always displayed the same steady eyes and the constant working of her lower jaw.

It disturbed Irma that Mabel did not get excited. There were times that called for excitement and one should know how to greet those times with the sheer panic they deserved.

This was one of those times. The tranquility of their early evening had suddenly been disrupted by the intrusion of two humans into their domain!

Naturally, Irma got excited. And since she was a small hen, Irma did what excited hens do: she cackled and flapped and flitted about.

“Easy, girl” Mabel calmed, “it’s just two of them, and they appear to be about as afraid as you are . . . only without all the unnecessary noise.”

Soon, Irma settled down and they watched the two – a man and a woman – walk about as if they were searching for a safe and comfortable spot.

Finally, they decided on a soft little pile of hay and the man gently eased the woman down to the surface of the hay. He made certain that her robe was snug around her so she would be warm, and he tenderly caressed her hair for a moment.

That’s when Bert came into the stable. He entered a huff as usual. This time he was irritated about all the humans lumbering about. They were everywhere!

Bert was a sheep. Normally he would have been out in the fields with the rest of his flock – complaining about the state of things there. But as it was, Bert had to spend some time here in the stable. It seems that he had contracted some type of parasite and so he was set apart from the others until it was cleared up.

Bert was not happy about “being stuck” in that stable with all those “barn animals”, as he called them. Bert was seldom happy about anything. When he was in the open fields, he thought it would be much better to be inside; when he was inside, he felt that nothing would please him more than to get outdoors.

Before his recent return, he had left the stable because he was unhappy. Unhappy because he was hungry and no new hay had been placed in the trough. So he went out in search of a green snack.

Apparently the crowd of people in the village had trampled down any stubble of grass that might have previously been available for Bert. So he complained.

“People! They think they own the whole world! And do you think they would show one bit of courtesy to the likes of me – no way!” Bert grumbled loudly, “They seem to forget who supplied the wool for those clothes they smell up! I’ve had it with the whole lot of them!”

“All of them, Bert?” Mabel calmly inquired.

“Well all accept him.”
“Him? Who is he talking about?” Irma asked.

“You know - his shepherd.”

Irma remembered “oh yeah, that’s about the only human I have ever heard him speak of in a kindly fashion.”

While this conversation was going on, the man and woman had both nestled down into the pile of hay and were resting. Bert – who was unaware of their presence – decided he might enjoy nibbling on some of the hay in the same pile. Even though the hay was not fresh, perhaps it would “keep him from starving”.

Bert began to nuzzle into the hay, munching away. But he was quite surprised when he munched down on the ear of the man!

The man, who had just fallen into a fatigued sleep, was awakened suddenly by a sharp pain in his ear.

“OW!” he yelped and he turned to look the culprit right in the eyes – eyes that were equally as startled as his. The man instinctively responded with a sharp rap on Bert’s nose.

Bert fled into the corner with Mabel and Irma and plopped down in disgust, covering his throbbing nose with his paws.

Dee bwhut I bean?” he said “day dink day owed da bworld!”

Mabel and Irma shared a grin and watched to see what would happen next.

Bert began to recover and raised his head as if sniffing the air.
“There, do you smell that? - that’s people! I’m telling you they stink up everything! Why I wouldn’t eat that hay now if you paid me . . . it’s all ruined!”

He went on to growl about how that man had no right to strike him when it was the man’s ear that got in the way of his snack!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The "Angel" Candle

This past Sunday night - right on time, mind you - we lit the fourth Advent Candle.

This was a special time because we got to share our Advent Candle lighting with some special friends. They have corresponding kids - the daughters of each family are 2 months and 2 days apart in age; the sons are 1 month and 1 day apart. So we've shared a lot of common experiences.

With this week's candle, we remembered the angels that God used to deliver His messages about that first Christmas. They brought good news.

The people in the story, were found in a variety of endeavors: Zacharias was just doing his job, serving in ministry. Mary was in a solitary place, maybe sitting in her humble home when Gabriel appeared to her. Joseph was asleep when Gabriel came his way. The shepherds were just putting in another weary night on the job.

With the exception of the shepherds, all were in solitude. And the point could be argued that even though the shepherds were around their colleagues and their charges, they were still alone.

We talked about how God speaks to people: in prayer, through His Word, in visions, through other people.

We remembered that God can speak to us in a variety of ways and at a variety of times. We have but to be listening and then obeying.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Boy that Zach Built

Despite the whirlwind grind of activity over the past couple of weeks, I have been able to manage some focused reading on the Christmas story. I began reading Luke's account from the first chapter and have stayed there up until this morning when I finally moved on to the second chapter.

The Christmas story is so wonderful to me because it is made up of minor characters, doing mundane things when God suddenly chooses to involve them in History.

One such character is Zacharias.

This year, I think Zacharias is my hero. In case his name doesn't ring a bell - he is the father of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin.

Sadly, the thing that most of us remember about him is that he was struck dumb - literally - when he didn't believe the angel's message to him about his having a son in his old age.

Why do we focus so much on the unbelief of others - "doubting Thomas", "sinking Peter" and the rest - is it because it takes some of the pressure off of us?

But after Zacharias' faith came around, I think he performed quite admirably.

Did you know he was a prophet?

Here is what he prophesied that Messiah would do:
  1. He would deliver us from our enemies and those that hate us
  2. He would perform the promise of God's mercy
  3. He would remember His holy covenant

Zacharias expanded on how those three precepts would look:

being delivered, we would be able to "serve Him without fear" in holiness and righteousness.

That tells me that because Jesus came, I can be delivered from the enemy of my soul; and God's mercy will be real as I enjoy a covenant relationship with Him. This relationship allows me to serve Him without being fearful of His judgement or condemnation. Because Jesus came, I can walk in righteousness and holiness - not my own, but His in me.

That's a good Word, Zach.

But this former mute-doubter did something else: He paved the way for his son to become what God had called him to become.

You see in that original conversation that Zach had with the angel, he heard a lot more than just - " you want a sign, I'll give you a sign... how about you can't speak!... how about that?"

The angel also told him that this boy was an answer to his prayers ... you see, Zacharias had already been praying for the very thing that God wanted to do in History.

The angel also described the lifestyle this boy would adopt - one like the Prophet Elijah. That chapter ends with the fact that John the Baptist was "in the desert" until he was revealed to Israel.

Whose idea do you think it was for him to live in the desert?

I figure it was ole dad's idea. I figure he was pretty familiar with the lifestyle of Elijah and probably helped to shape that boy's ideas around that destiny of being in the "spirit of Elijah".

So this minor character played a pretty big role in God's story. He reared the last Messianic Prophet. His praying was on the same page as God's - he desired the same things ("delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart" - the Psalmist said), and having received God's answer and His direction... he firmly implanted that destiny into his child. He shaped his future.

What is God calling your children to?

I think He wants us to be something of a detective, noticing the details-the strengths and gifts-that He has placed in our children. Then we should lead them to develop those gifts.

Every year Christmas seems to remind me that the little regular things I do everyday may have eternal implications. It also reminds me that Heaven visits our mundane moments at times and makes the ordinary, extraordinary!

Zacharius' story can be found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter one.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Precious Christmas

I don't really like to be thought of as one that works the word "precious" into my vocabulary on a consistent basis.

"Precious" is not a guy word.

You never hear guys say - "Oh William just got the most precious pickup truck - you simply must see it!"

But that word best describes this presentation of the Christmas story. I am linking to it because I did not realize until lately that it was not open to wide distribution, so perhaps not many folks have heard.

Because of copyright issues, we were asked to only link instead of embedding the presentation.

So take a few minutes and visit this site:


Scroll down to the Christmas Music section and at the bottom you will see the little player for the WMBW Kid's Christmas Reading.

We first heard this a couple years ago on the Chattanooga Moody Radio affiliate.
I think you will enjoy it and find it...well...


A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe-Sam - Installment Seven

Chapter Seven

Oh what joy! Poe-Sam could not believe his eyes! But it was TRUE – Cedric was still alive!

They spent the early hours of that Christmas Day laughing and dancing and chasing each other through the trees as they once did!

That afternoon as they snacked on acorns, Cedric told his story: The accident had left him slightly injured and confused. He had wandered around for quite some time. Finally, he had found a little den in which he could rest and get better.

He had never given up hope that one day he would find his brother.

From his treetop perch, old K. Row had seen everything that day, but told no one. He was satisfied to see the two brothers separated and unhappy. However, Poe-Sam’s act of kindness had touched his heart.

Christmas Day at McLean’s home was a joyous occasion. There were gifts and singing and visitors and telephone calls. And every conversation would somehow work its way around to the story of Mr. Poe-Sam’s Christmas dinner.
That night as the roaring fire in the fireplace settled down to a few glowing embers, McLean kissed Mom and Dad good night. They talked warmly about the blessed day they had enjoyed.

And just as McLean rounded the staircase to make her way to bed, she glanced out the large picture window at the back of the house. There in the soft light sat – not one but two - happy little silver opossums.

It was Mr. Poe-Sam and Cedric, his brother. This time the little girl with loving eyes and the two opossums gazed at one another for a silent moment.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Poe-Sam… to you and your friend.” McLean said.

Merry Christmas indeed!

The End

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe-Sam - Installment Six

Chapter Six
As night began to hint of morning, K.Row said a strange thing

There was one animal that was not invited. In fact he sat and sadly watched all the activity going on. It was K. Row.

Now Poe-Sam was a little afraid of K. Row and not without cause. But somehow he knew that the old bird just needed someone to be nice to him. So the silver little opossum nervously worked his way to the tree in which K. Row was quietly perched.

“What do you want?!” K. Row snapped.
“I-I just wanted you to know that there is a large slice of ham on the back porch of that people house there. It’s yours… you can have it.” Poe-Sam said meekly.

“What do I want with any old h- …well, come to think of it… I am a bit partial to pork…uh- thank you, Poe-Sam”

The other animals were all a little frightened of K. Row so they stepped away as he and Poe-Sam arrived at the plate. After some time though, many ventured out to join the two. K. Row was so moved by the kindness of Poe-Sam that he asked for forgiveness for his cruelty. Poe-Sam gladly forgave and the animals all lingered for several hours.

Then as the night began to hint of morning, K. Row said a strange thing.

“Now, Mr. Poe-Sam, I have a gift for you… but you must follow me. The journey will take some time, but I think we can arrive by daybreak. I think you will find it worth the trip.”

Now Poe-Sam had forgiven K. Row, but he wondered if he should trust him. He decided to give it a try, besides he almost enjoyed the old bird’s company.

The journey was long and quite difficult. K. Row would fly ahead apiece and then land and call out directions to Poe-Sam from the treetops. They traveled through several groups of people houses and finally into a forest the little opossum had never seen before.

Just before they topped a small ridge, the old crow looked at Poe-Sam, “Can you find your way back?” he smiled as he said it, but somehow his old black gums just did not seem as threatening as they once had.

“I think so.” answered Poe-Sam.

“Then I will leave you… your gift is just over this hill…Merry Christmas.” And with that, K. Row gave a laughing HawHAW CAW! and flew away.

The night sky was warming to the amber glow of sunrise as Poe-Sam peeked over the rise. There sleepily crawling out of a den at the base of an oak… was his brother, Cedric.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe-Sam - Installment Five

Chapter Five
Mr. Poe Sam is just like the shepherds...

As they sipped hot cocoa, Dad reminded McLean that before the Jesus was born on that first Christmas, the whole world had watched and waited for an arrival –the arrival of the promised Savior.

It has been said that God will at times give animals a special sense about things. Farm animals have been noted to act strangely just before a storm or an earthquake. Well on this night, Mr. Poe-Sam sensed that there was something special in the air. It was that season he had heard about. There was just something different.

Not only did Mr. Poe-Sam sense a special feeling in the air – he also sensed a special scent in the air. A scent unique to people…the scent of COOKED FOOD!

Poe-Sam wasted no time in arriving at McLean’s house. He was happy to see the lights on the tree – but even more happy to see the colorful plate of food on the back porch!

Mr. Poe-Sam squealed gleefully as he plunged headlong into the potatoes and green beans! After much serious munching, he came up for air, just long enough to roll over into the macaroni and cheese. From a distance, the family watched contently as Mr. Poe-Sam reveled in his gift.

But then he suddenly stopped.

He found himself arrested by that other special feeling in the air. This was a wonderful gift and he knew he had McLean and her family to thank. But somehow he knew that this night was not about receiving – but giving!

He must share his gift!

With stark determination, Mr. Poe-Sam packed away some samplings of the food and scampered away.

He first went to Shank, the sleepy old cat.
Shank snorted as Poe-Sam pushed some macaroni and cheese under his nose. “You like cheese don’t you?” Poe-Sam asked shyly, “-then come on! There’s a great deal more on the back porch.”

He then made his way to the den of some sleepy field mice. The children were all asleep but the father would go to the back porch and bring back enough for the children’s breakfast.

Mr. Poe-Sam scratched his knuckles climbing the huge pine tree to the nest in which the gray squirrel family lived. But it was worth it to see their eyes light up when he told them about the green beans! Squirrels are quite industrious and usually well set for the winter, but green beans would be a wonderful break from the daily rations of acorns.

The sparrows are a fearful lot, so rather than disturb them, Mr. Poe-Sam just spread bread crumbs on the ground beneath their nest. They would find a wonderful Christmas gift the next morning.

McLean and her family watched as small animals of all sorts would arrive on the back porch, help themselves to a few portions and quickly flee to their homes.

“What do you know, McLean,” Dad remarked as they continued to watch the adventure unfold,

“Mr. Poe-Sam is just like those shepherds in the Christmas story.”

“They found out about God’s special Gift to the world, then they wasted no time telling everyone about this Savior that was born in Bethlehem. Mr. Poe-Sam found our Christmas gift and then apparently told every animal on the block!”

There was one animal that was not invited. In fact he sat and sadly watched all the activity going on. It was K. Row.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe-Sam - Installment Four

Chapter Four
A forgotten plate

Christmas was only a few days away and there was much to do and many people to visit.

On that first night that Poe-Sam had found McLean’s home empty, he did not know that shortly after he returned to the thick wood, McLean and her Mom and Dad had come home.
Though it was very late, everyone was excited. For the family had spent the entire evening delivering dinners and Christmas greetings to a number of elderly people that had no family nearby.

The entire family had worked to prepare the dinners with slices of ham, green beans potatoes and bread. There was also macaroni-and-cheese that McLean prepared herself.

Though exhausted McLean could not stop talking about how each face had brightened with joy when they arrived with the dinners.

After everyone finally settled down to sleep and the home grew quiet there sat on the kitchen counter one forgotten plate of ham, potatoes, green beans, bread and macaroni and cheese. The dish was left over and Dad was planning to place it in the refrigerator so he could take it to work for his lunch on the next day. But with all the excitement, the plate had been overlooked.

On the two days that followed there was a blur of activity: Last minute shopping, gift-giving, long distance phone calls and visits. In fact, things were so busy that no one noticed the lone plate of ham, potatoes, green beans, bread and macaroni and cheese until Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve

McLean and her family loved the busy-ness of the Christmas season, but they also enjoyed spending some quiet times together, thinking about the true meaning of Christmas and talking about how the season had been special down through the years.

On this Christmas Eve, the McLean, Mom and Dad all worked together to clear the dishes after supper. Soon they would drink hot cocoa and snack on cookies with red and green sprinkles.

That was when they discovered the forgotten plate of food.

“Uh-oh” Dad grimaced, “ I think I forgot something…” McLean and Mom turned to see the plate.

“You know McLean,” Dad said, “I sure hate to see this food go to waste, but it has been sitting out too long and it would not be healthy for any of us to eat it.”

Just then, Mom came up with a glorious idea.

“You know, there might just be one more lonely soul that would sure appreciate this Christmas dinner…”
“You don’t mean ole’ Poe-Sam, do you?” Dad grinned.
“That’s a great idea!!” McLean exclaimed.

So for the next few moments, they all worked together to arrange the food just so on a colorful Christmas paper plate.

McLean had the honor of placing the plate on the back porch.
Then they all sat in the glow of only the Christmas tree lights – and watched for Mr. Poe-Sam.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

While Shepherds Watched....

I have been sharing our Advent Candle devotions and I have felt pretty good about them. . . until now.

In the interest of integrity and transparency, I feel it necessary to also share with you when things do not go so swimmingly.

I think about this point each year, the pace of packing in all the celebrations preceding the real celebration of Christmas pushes me to a breaking point.

I just get irritable.

I think I'm there.

Also, about this time when we are acting as if school is out and it is not - the kids get tired and irritable.

I think they were there - or close last night as we observed the lighting of the third candle in the Advent Candle Wreath....

What's that you say?
We were supposed to do that on Sunday, not Monday?

Well you are absolutely right. As a tradition - we like to completely goof up at least one week of Advent Candle ceremonies each year.

It was actually good that we got it in only a day late. Some years have been far worse.

I had something of what I thought was inspiration: In order to walk in the shoes of the shepherds, we would go outside and peer up at the sky to get a feel for how it was on THAT night.

It was damp, cloudy and late . . . but I pressed on, determined to have a creative Christmas experience if it killed us!

I pointed the little family's attention to the skies as my children huddled close to their Mom and eyed me curiously. I tried to describe how I thought the moment might have felt when the angels burst into the sky. . . but my tale seemed to fall on deaf ears.

We moved out from under the stars -er clouds - to the front porch for the devotion.
Here are the pictures:

The Shepherd's Candle

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe Sam - Installment Three

Chapter Three
For an opossum it is always a good idea to keep humans at a safe distance

Poe-Sam was startled from his thoughts by a large shadow in the window… it was the little girl, McLean! Then her father and then her mother! They were looking at him! He had been discovered!

Mr. Poe-Sam darted underneath a hedge then worked his way back to the safety of the thick woods traveling in the shadows.

“Daddy,” McLean remarked “wasn’t that the cutest little opossum! Did you see how he was staring at the Christmas tree?”

“It was almost as if he wanted to join us.” Mom said softly.

For opossums, it is always a good idea to keep people at a safe distance. So after that incident Mr. Poe-Sam did not venture out of the thick wood for several days. But eventually he found himself drawn back to the munchy morsels of cat food and the warmth of a little girl and her family.

McLean and Mr. Poe-Sam would soon have another encounter.

It was an especially cold night. In the fireplace was a blazing fire, the Christmas tree glowed with soft red and green lights.
McLean and her family sat drinking cups of hot cocoa as Dad read a story aloud.

Like a moth to a flame, Poe-Sam was drawn to the scene. As Dad read, Mommy and McLean sat captivated, staring off at the pictures in their minds.

Mr. Poe-Sam had to get closer. He quietly climbed onto the windowsill where he could feel the heat of the fire and could hear Dad speak in muffled tones…

“…for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ, the Lord!”

Poe-Sam sat through the entire story until Dad said, “…and that is the real story of Christmas! God gave His only Son, Jesus as a gift to us – that’s why we share gifts to celebrate the Christmas season.”

By then, McLean had noticed the visitor on the window ledge. She quietly made her way toward him.
Poe-Sam – again deep in thought – gasped as he looked up right into the eyes of a human!

For opossums, it is always a good idea to keep humans at a safe distance and never to look them in the eyes! But this human’s eyes were soft, even loving. For a moment, Poe-Sam had that “belonging” feeling; the kind he felt when Cedric was around. Poe-Sam lingered as long as he would dare then rushed to the safety of the hedge. But before he made his way back to the thick wood, he turned for one last look at the little girl with the loving eyes.

Poe-Sam headed for the woods feeling all wonderful inside. He thought about how good he would rest in his bed of moss. But his happy thoughts were interrupted by a shrieking - “CAW!”.

In the trees above him and hidden in the darkness was old K. Row. “Where are you going in such a hurry, you little – “Caw! Hey! What’s that noise? …. Hey-Hey Poe-Sam! I think I heard something!”

“ It sounds like… “
“Yeah! It sounds like a –a OPOSSUM crying!…” “Caw! – I think it’s little Cedric. “

Caw!”… “Wha - nope… just the wind whistling…Caw-HAW-HAW!”
Poe-Sam could see the flash of the raggedy bird’s black eyes as he laughed brutally.
Poe-Sam wandered to his den to cry himself to sleep.

For several nights after that, Mr. Poe-Sam returned to the people house where McLean lived. He hoped to hear the story again and maybe to see McLean, but each night he found the house was dark and silent.

Poe-Sam began to worry for the little family. But what Mr. Poe-Sam didn’t know was that McLean and her family had suddenly become very busy!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe-Sam -Installment Two

Chapter Two
A quiet cat named, Shank and the people house

A little girl named McLean lived in this house.
It was a fine home, with large picture windows and a warm rock fireplace.
On many occasions, Mr. Poe-Sam would eat his fill of cat food as the quiet cat named “Shank” would watch.

It should be noted here that ordinarily, cats are not very friendly to opossums and can do great damage with their sharp teeth and claws.

Shank, however, was different. He was not particularly friendly, but he wasn’t naughty to Mr. Poe-Sam either. In fact, Shank couldn’t quite seem to figure out this strange animal, so he would just sit and watch as Poe-Sam sampled his dinner.

After a few moments, Poe-Sam would nod a “thank-you” to the soft, black and white cat and work his way to one of the picture windows to watch the people inside.

At times, when the weather was very cold, the people in McLean’s house would not only have a fire in the fireplace, but also a beautiful green tree filled with colorful lights. The people always seemed especially joyful on those occasions. They would sing and laugh. McLean’s mother and father always seemed to be focused intently on her. How bright and warm everything appeared.

Talk in the thick woods was that this season was called Christmas. It was a special time for all people. They celebrated as they remembered that God had come to earth to share His love and give His life for them. Because of the great love of the season, the people often gave gifts to one another. In fact, it was said that sometimes even the animals could feel the difference of the season.

The Christmastime was approaching. Poe-Sam knew, because the nights came so early now and the air grew so cold.

The silver opossum gingerly made his way toward the people house where McLean and Shank lived. Along the way he found the corner of a wonderful cookie with green sugar sprinkles on it.
“What a treasure!” he thought. So he stopped a few moments to enjoy the snack.

Next, he sniffed around the people house until he found Shank’s bowl of cat food. Shank was enjoying supper but he stepped aside to let Poe-Sam nibble a few moments.

Just then something caught Poe-Sam’s eye.

A flash of light? No, more like a glare or something glistening!

It had come from the large window at the back of McLean’s house. Poe-Sam peered inside.

It was the tree!
“I knew it!” he said, “I knew it must be that time again!”

Shank had turned his attention back to his unoccupied bowl of cat food. Mr. Poe-Sam just watched the warm smiles of the little family as they gently placed the precious shiny objects on the tree.

Mr. Poe-Sam was mesmerized. For quite some time, he stared at the shimmering gold and silver tinsel and decorations. He thought of the happy family, just inside the house and he remembered his little brother. He remembered how they played together, laughingly chasing one another through the trees of the thick wood. Around and around they would go, stopping only long enough to munch on a few acorns.

How he missed Cedric.

Poe-Sam was startled from his thoughts by a large shadow in the window… it was McLean! Then her father and then her mother! They were looking at him! He had been discovered!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Any Ideas?

Okay I am working on an idea for a story for our kids for Christmas and I need your help.

I am trying to come up with a 21st century, Southeastern United States of America - version of a shepherd.

Any ideas?

I thought about using over-the-road tractor-trailer drivers:

"And there were in the same country - at a nearby rest area - over-the-road drivers, lying in their sleeper cabs, keeping watch over their freight by night...."

How's that?

I also thought of using deer-hunters in the place of shepherds:

"And there were in the woods nearby, deer hunters sitting in their tree stands, keeping watch over the woods by night - with a spotlight -oops, I think that's illegal!. . . "

No the whole thing just breaks down when you have them working at night.

I could use coon-hunters instead:

"...and suddenly there was with the Angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and yelling WHOOO-WEEEEEEEEEEE! Sic-em!..."

My only experience with working the graveyard shift for any extended period of time was during my stint as a short-order cook at the now defunct, Sambo's. Somehow 'keeping watch by night, over one's burgers, bacon, cakes and hash browns on the grill' - just doesn't seem to hold with the nurturing responsibility of shepherding.

Well, I am sure by now you have come up with something to grease the proverbial wheels of my twisted sense of creativity.

Please feel free to comment with the assurance that your ideas will be considered in the most non-judgmental ways.

While none of my ideas seem to quite measure up to the shadow cast by middle-eastern shepherds, they were just simple, common folks.

Isn't it amazing that God sought them out first to tell them the story of His Son's birth?
King Herod didn't find out for months and then he got his news from some distant travelers, not from personal couriers.

Perhaps He told the shepherds first because He always knew where He could find them. No matter what: day or night, rain or shine - they'd be out there with their sheep, watching over them.

Or maybe it was because this loyal fraternity had as their iconoclast - the noble shepherd king, King David - the "man after God's own heart"! Surely they would listen.

He may have just known the dedication of their hearts - that they were not men capable of just rolling over and going back to sleep when heaven spoke.

For whatever reason, God chose these "salt of the earth" types to be in on the secret and to be the first ambassadors for Christ.

He still musters those types into His service today - folks just doing their jobs day in and day out. Guys who don't throw up their hands and quit when things get mundane. Mom's who, when awakened in the night, don't wait around to see who will get up first to check on that calling child.

At times, I believe that in the middle of what seems to be absolutely unimportant. Heaven can come near and God can speak that which is eternally important.

No wonder it's hard to find the equivalent of a shepherd today.

A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe-Sam - Installment One

Chapter One
The fateful night
The harsh December wind blew the limbs of the trees back and forth casting strange shadows in the twilight. Soon the darkness of night would ascend. The small fuzzy opossum lumbered down the tree in which he had spent the better part of the day and scurried about to make his nightly rounds.
Each night he would leave the thick wood and climb up the hill, to the narrow road. Crossing the road with great caution, he would then wander around the people houses in search of food.
On this particular night, upon reaching the top of the hill he was startled by a screeching “Caw!Caw!”.
It was K. Row, the wiry old crow that acted as a lookout for this section of the thick wood.

Caw! Where are you going, little Poe-Sam? Are you looking for your brother? Caw –Ha-Ha Haw Haw!”.

The little opossum acted as if he did not hear him. K.Row was a mischievous sort and Poe-Sam had learned long ago that it was better to just ignore him. The ugly old bird loved to make fun of other animals. When Poe-Sam would pay him no mind, he would seem to quickly tire of his games.

On this night, however, he was especially persistent.
“Poe-Sam, I think I saw your little brother yesterday…”

Poe-Sam’s ears perked up and for the first time he acknowledged the old crow. “Y-you did?” he meekly inquired.
“Sure, he was hanging around in a tree!” K.Row gave a rye smile, “he seemed so peaceful, I thought he was sleeping.”

“Where? What tree? When was that?! Is he still there – ” Poe-Sam was getting hopeful so K. Row cut in. “-Yeah but I was mistaken…it was just an old wasp nest…hee-hee... haw!HAW!Caw!Caw!”

The greasy black bird was still laughing as he flew away. Poe-Sam’s eyes got blurry as they filled with tears. How he missed his little brother.

It was here, near the road that he had lost him long ago.

Sadly, Poe-Sam called to mind that fateful night:

It had been a blustery night and so dark… there was hardly any moonlight. Poe-Sam and his brother, Cedric were going up to the people houses to find food and to watch in the windows as the people sang and laughed around their warm fireplaces. Cedric was very excited and full of questions. “Do you think the people will sing tonight, Poe-Sam?”... “Why do they laugh so?”... “What do you think they will sing?”.

On that particular night, Poe-Sam had not been listening instead he was watching the dark gray clouds churning above him. It looked like a storm was brewing.

As they climbed the hill a soft slush began to fall from the sky. It grew colder and ice began to form on Poe-Sam’s whiskers. The situation became more desperate, as they carefully crossed the road. Cedric’s questions stopped. They both were very concerned about the situation. “Poe-Sam… I’m frightened,” he said, “let’s go back.”

Poe-Sam agreed but as they turned back, the slush and snow had accumulated on the ground and hampered their travels. In fact, a couple of times, little Cedric completely disappeared in the drifts of snow.

Then it happened. Poe-Sam would never forget.

As they finally reached the road, they were so concerned with their struggles that they never heard the roar of the oncoming car – that is not until they found themselves momentarily blinded by the bright headlights.

In their confusion, the two fuzzy little animals scurried in opposite directions. The huge machine tried to stop but only skidded on the solid ice that now encrusted the road.
The automobile lurched sideways and barreled toward them! Poe-Sam tried to reach out to his frightened little brother but he was too far away!
He saw the huge shining wheel as it passed between he and his brother. Then he heard the deafening thunder of the engine as the automobile slid over the top of him.

And he was unhurt.
Fortunately, he had been so near the ground that the machine had not hit him.

Cedric, however, was nowhere to be found.

The automobile had rumbled off the road and down the hill. The people emerged, excited but unharmed.

Poe-Sam had quickly scurried away to hide under some dry leaves until the people finally went away. Then he searched all night for his brother.

He never found him.

That is the reason K. Row’s little trick had seemed so cruel.

Mr. Poe-Sam swallowed back his tears and pressed on.

He lumbered across the road and up the path to his favorite people-house.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Christmas Story

Over the next week or so, I will be publishing a Christmas story on this blog in seven installments.

On Ab's second Christmas, I wrote a little story about an opossum (around here we call them "Possums" and sometimes we call them "dinner") named Poe-Sam.

After feeling particularly inspired on Ab's first and second Christmases to write children's stories, I had ambitions of writing stories for each holiday. When the inspiration did not seem to keep up with my aspirations, I decided to try and write a story each Christmas.

When AA came along the next Christmas, my energy and inspiration - and quiet time were all dissipating fast! Since then, my stories have been on a "hit and miss" basis.

I believe God allowed me (and blessed me)to write the good ones. I can define them as "good" when I read them later and think - "how did I come up with that?"

Anyway, I hope you like A Christmas Dinner for Mister Poe Sam. If you want to let your kids read it, I think it will be okay - one objective of mine is to never include anything here I wouldn't want my kids to read.

Installment One begins tomorrow, the others will follow over the next week or so.

Merry Christmas.

Do Ya' Like Her?


In this post, I will take a brief break from my holiday musings to go "personal".

As I was saying ... "Comfortable."

That was one of the benchmarks of our relationship in its early days. We were comfortable together. I have a scene, permanently engraved in my mind. . .

It was a Friday evening in the Fall, and she was coming home for the weekend, but I don't think we had exactly made plans together.

My older brother and I were in our paint store - no customers, of course - just us. We were doing what we did a lot in those days of little success and burgeoning hopes - we were entertaining one another.

Suddenly she seemed to just appear at the front window of the store.

I still remember the thrill of just seeing her. She really looked good in sweats ... she still does... and she made me feel comfortable.

I had so hoped she would "just happen by" that day and there she was - doing just what I had hoped she would do. She did that a lot in those days.

"I don't wanna' know if you love her..." Jimmy Stewart said to his daughter's suitor in the movie, Shenandoah, ... "I wanna' know if you like her!"

I can tell you that I liked her in those early days.

Now the first few times we met, she was quiet and reserved, uninterested it seemed and she had a boy-haircut. . . even then, I liked her okay. But several years later on a Sunday night with a bunch of church folks in a Chinese restaurant - a spark began in me. And I liked her!

I believe letters are the preferred means of communication between young people in love (and those on their way). Our relationship began in earnest, with letters. She sent a birthday card. I responded with another card and soon we were writing constantly.

For the better part of that summer, we communicated by letters; she was in school about an hour or so away. There were a few friendly phone calls and we got together a few times, but always with other people around.

Somehow we worked around to our first official date by September.
In the wee hours of the morning, following a Thanksgiving Day with my family, as we stood in the cold, in her parents' driveway - I confessed my love.

It was in a letter the next week, that she confirmed her love.

As I write this, I honestly still get butterflies.
By the next Holiday season we were planning for a big event.
Today we enter our third decade of marriage. I can truly say that I am most comfortable when she is near. There is no one that I had rather just spend time with than her (and our children).

I could go on and tell you how much I admire her. I could talk about the way she encourages me (and others). I could tell you how consistent and diligent she is. I could describe her ageless beauty that still makes me wonder how I snagged such a catch! I could point out her tireless pursuit of order in our home. I could tell you how she is just one of those people you want on your team, no matter what you're doing.

Let me just sum up with this; in contemplating the event of our 20th wedding anniversary, I asked myself the question: If I had it all to do over again, would I still want to be married to her?


I wouldn't change a thing. Sure there were pits, valleys, skirmishes and some real shaky moments - but even those somehow brought us to places of redemption.

R. - I would still choose you.

I like you.

I love you.

Happy anniversary!


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pulling for the Underdog

What is it about ole' Bob Crachet that just tugs at our hearts during the Christmas season?

You remember the miserable little fawning clerk in the sadistic employ of Ebenezer Scrooge, don't you?

It's possibly the same emotion that draws us to George Bailey as he tells off old man Potter in It's a Wonderful Life!

We tend to pull for the underdog.

I think that is why we like Bethlehem so much. It was apparently a town without much going for it, a small town that was destined to stay that way. They were so tiny and ill-equipped that you let one Roman Tax Convention come to town and every Motel 6 in the land is booked to the gills.
This week's Advent Candle focuses on that little town. As we talked about that candle tonight, we read Micah 5:2 (NKJV)...But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel ....
We began our devotion with a few clues, a map, and a magnifying glass and a challenge to find Bethlehem, Georgia on the map in three minutes...

With Mom's help, they achieved their goal with about 10 seconds to spare.
Bethlehem seemed small and insignificant, but there is history there:
  • In a "revival move" of sorts, Jacob and his clan were on their way back to Bethel - a place where he had had an experience with God. En route, Rachel - the true love of his heart - gave birth a second time to a son whom Jacob would call Benjamin - "the son of my right hand". And it happened in mid-journey, right there in Bethlehem. Much in the same way that God's own "Son of His right hand" would be born on the road there centuries later.

  • Rachel also died there while giving birth (all this can be found in Genesis 35).

  • Much later, Naomi returned to her hometown, Bethlehem, after she had lost her husband and two sons in Moab. Naomi had nothing left ... except for Ruth, her faithful daughter-in-law. Ruth would later catch the eye of an eligible bachelor named Boaz. They would fall in love and marry. Out of their marriage would come children and grand-children - one of which would be David... a little shepherd boy.

  • It was to Bethlehem that a nervous Judge by the name of Samuel would be dispatched by God to anoint and appoint a replacement for King Saul. . . the replacement was that little grandchild - the shepherd, David.

  • David would give us some timeless lessons on underdogs.

  • One day after he was firmly in place as the King. He found himself outside of his little hometown, Bethlehem. Only this time he couldn't go into town. The Philistines - chief enemies to the Israelites- had taken the city and were firmly ensconced. As David languished outside the gates with his men, he mused about a longing for the sweet water from the well inside the gates of Bethlehem (there is nothing like the water of your hometown). Almost instantly, three devoted "men of valor" burst through the line risking it all. They grabbed a bucket of water from that well and rushed back to safety. David was smitten. He could not bring himself to drink this water which his men had risked their lives to bring to him. He could only offer it to God - so he poured it on the ground.
You see, there was a lot of history in that little insignificant town.
A great deal of people are that way. They seem small - not very valuable.
Yet significant events have happened all along their journey. People of influence have crossed their path.
God has been working over their entire lifetime to bring them to the point that Christ will be born in their hearts.

Just like that little town, Bethlehem.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.You can read more details on these stories in the Bible: Ruth, 1 Samuel 16, 2 Samuel 23 and Luke 2

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Before 9-11....

Before the Kennedy assassination ...

Everyone remembered where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941.

At times I think about those young men and women that gave the last full measure of their devotion at Pearl and in the resulting battles of WWII. Many of them were kids.

Laying down one's life, seems like an act that we would more expect from a person of maturity. These were kids - they went down and enlisted after hearing about the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor.

When I was eighteen, I was making important decisions like whether to go to Wendy's or McDonald's for dinner.

These kids had the sobriety and courage to make decisions that -for some- would mean they would never return home.

I am humbled each time I remember their sacrifice.
It saddens me to think about what they missed.

But, when my mind travels down those avenues, I tend to end up remembering that we were all created as eternal beings. This lifetime is just like a pre-game show. The BIG DEAL is what comes after this life.

Those who gave their lives are still alive ... somewhere.

Now, in this jaded 21st century there are still young men and women with the same patriotic devotion. Many have already made the supreme sacrifice... others are risking it everyday.

All for people they don't even know.

That is amazing; and it is even more remarkable when you consider that their predecessors that signed up after the Pearl Harbor attack, were already tempered by the Great Depression. They knew harshness and privation.

Most of these patriots (I dare not call them kids) today, have not known the want of that former generation; which makes their offering that much more honorable.

So today we remember. . . and are grateful.

Hanging of the Greens

I hope you enjoy these decorating moments . . . (watch for the one flashback to a Christmas long ago) . . .

Saturday, December 6, 2008

For Christmas I Would Like ... a "Do-Over" Button, Please

Some people do a good job of hiding their dirty laundry; some people do a good job of displaying the dirty laundry of others; sometimes I tend to wear my dirty laundry - Madonna-style - on the outside....

Yesterday was typical of the rushed pace that often ensues in this season - it is my chief complaint with the holidays - we try to cram too much in and enjoy hardly any of it. We had a Christmas recital to attend immediately after work, R. was on the road back and forth across our little berg handling details most of the day (she IS the detail person in this household) - so I was feeling some sympathetic stress as well ("sympathetic stress" is a term I just made up - it refers to the times in which you are not particularly stressed about a situation, but because others are stressed you go ahead and take on some of their anxiety out of guilt).

I had learned at the last minute that I needed to travel a little in order to take part in a recruiting event at a college in Alabama. Usually, when I have such events to attend, I will work from home a little and not try and go by the office, but yesterday I thought I needed to go in after the event.

So I arrived in time to work for an hour and one-half before I needed to leave in order to attend the recital.
Then I got a phone call - someone was panicky over a little "forest fire" someone else had suddenly gotten concerned about, and they felt that I should join them in their anxiety.

So I did.

I jumped into trying to put in some activity on their issue.

As many of you know, part of my duties include recruiting for a healthcare system and we use an on-line applicant tracking system. One of the advantages to this system is that I can get applications and information in front of a hiring manager almost instantly. I address a particular applicant with a hiring manager just by highlighting that manager's name on a list and when I have added my communication, with one click the information is emailed to that manager.

I believe that it is a modern maxim that the higher the level of technology one employs - the less forgiving is that technology. In other words, technology means no take-backs.

For instance, with a handwritten letter, one can take all the time they need to edit and to be sure the letter says what they really mean.
With the telephone, there is a higher level of technology. If you actually reach the party you are calling, your communication is instant. That means that sometimes, we might say something that is taken the wrong way. But if that occurs and we are sensitive to it, we can clear things up fairly quickly.

Voice mail, on the other hand, is much less forgiving. Once you have left a voice mail - there are no take-backs. I know this first hand, because in contacting applicants, employees and references, I often leave detailed messages - sometimes my voice mails tend to go on and on. I often say that is my only opportunity to talk without getting interrupted so I take advantage of it. Once I was calling someones' previous employer for reference information, I left a long and droning voice mail about the information I needed... and when I finished, I closed with ... "Amen."
I have no idea why - unless, my voice mail seemed to closely resemble a long and monotonous prayer. Anyway, despite my efforts to lunge into the phone lines and physically grab my words in order to take them back - I could not.

That gentleman never called me back ... I wonder why?

Email is a higher brand of technology and the least forgiving.

In my effort to react to the anxiety of others, I began making some additional contacts and sent over information about an upcoming interview to the hiring manager. I highlighted their name on the Applicant Tracking System page and prepared to send a note. But then I remembered that another manager should see that information as well, so I decided to include them.

With this system, you can click a name on a list, hold down the CTRL button and click another name and both will be highlighted and both will receive your note. HOWEVER, if you accidentally hold down the SHIFT key instead of the CTRL button, every name between the two is highlighted and they all get the email message!

That is what I did.

So in one click, everyone on that list from early in the "D's" to somewhere in the "S's" got the same email, telling them that an interview had been arranged for them next Tuesday with a particular applicant.

About the moment that I realized my mistake, my phone began to ring. Shortly after picking up the phone, my emails began to ping with all the responses!

It was amazing how many managers and directors were sitting at their desk at 4:30 on Friday! It restored my confidence in the good ole American Work Ethic!

30 to 40 people received this errant email - with my name clearly attached - including one Vice President and the CEO (oh when I goof - I do it up BIG!).

People that I report to began, contacting me - they were getting emails and calls as well.
I was attempting to clear up the mistake but was having to do it one email at a time, and every interruption cost me more reaction time.

This all happened in a matter of minutes, but about 45 minutes of my one and one-half hours of work was spent attempting to take back this error.

For the most part, people were nice - with the exception of one manager who called me up to ask if I was smoking crack. Most of them just wanted to let me know that they thought they had received the message in error. Most probably thought they were the only ones that received the incorrect email and didn't realize that I was fielding calls like a radio station receptionist during a $10,000.00 give-a-way!

So I finally left the office - only about fifteen minutes later than I had planned, but with very little to show for my time and effort.

I like to share this kind of thing because if you can laugh at me and I can laugh at me - well then, we have something in common. And that can be the foundation of a meaningful relationship.

Tidings of Comfort

In my humble opinion, the deleterious effect of comfort has been overstated.

Comfort seems to be a goal or objective we have left behind.

In Christendom, we urge one another to “step out of our comfort zones” and we feel guilty when we don’t. Now I fully understand and agree with the fact that God calls us to “walk across the room” in order to reach out to others and compel them into the kingdom. But I don’t believe that implies that we should leave comfort behind.

Christmas reminds me that comfort is not a bad thing. And it is actually a great gift from heaven; it is the consolation that the Promised Messiah brought with Him.

Handel broached the subject early in his Messiah which we hear a lot this time of year. “Comfort ye … Comfort ye … Comfort ye my people…” the song says; it’s a quote from Isaiah 40. That chapter begins a section in the book of Isaiah that is focused on bringing comfort to the nation of Israel. There are numerous references to Christ’s Advent in that section of the book.

Jesus came to bring comfort.

When the angels first appeared to that labor-wearied band of shepherds working the graveyard shift, they first attempted to comfort them. All of the excitement of heaven coming near the earth made them afraid; the angels essentially said… “chill 'bro' – it’s all good!” (okay that’s not exactly “King James’ Version”).

We can truly know comfort because He came to earth and then He went a step better and moved into our hearts – if we welcomed Him.

Just like those haggard sheepherders- when we bring heaven near to people outside the kingdom today… it can scare them. Perhaps that is why we are reluctant to share the kingdom - we don't want to be thought of as scary.

At the time of Christ's incarnation -it was comfort that people longed for. Isaiah said they were like people living under the shadow of death... a "sword of Damocles" was constantly hanging over their heads.

In a sermon I heard last week, the Pastor pointed out that Isaiah's prophecy was divided into three sections: the first 30 some odd chapters dealt with judgment and God's anger at Israel's waywardness over the years; then there was a brief "current events" section which recorded
some things that were happening in King Hezekiah's reign; and finally, chapter 40 began a section of consolation and a reassurance of God's love.

I think when Jesus came, folks were pretty sure God was mad at them. They were under the direct oppression of a wicked (and frankly crazy) king who had no real heart for Israel - he served as a puppet under the even-more-oppressing Roman government. And apparently there had not been a fresh Word from God in nearly 400 years (talk about a "dry spell").

They needed comfort.

People today are no less in need of comfort.

Some time after 9-11-2001, someone produced an article about America returning to "comfort food". It seems that in troubled times, people quit watching carbs and fat grams and returned to the food grandma made - i.e. biscuits, streak-o-lean, and the like. Even today - in troubled times; people long for comfort.

That's where the message and the Spirit of Christmas can make a difference.

We will feel less un-comfortable when we step out of our comfort zones, if we bring the "tidings of comfort and joy" with us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Rough and Ready Gang

I believe "Rough and Ready" was a moniker that was born by the colorful Teddy Roosevelt - maybe I am thinking of his "Rough-Riders" ... anyway the title hearkens the image of that icon.
In the early Pentecostal (and later Charismatic) movement in the South during the early part of the last century, there was a preacher by the name of Buckalew that folks called "Rough and Ready" because of his unrefined character. He was once jailed when a little community in Alabama didn't like what he was preaching from his tent. They burned his tent and put him in jail. Soon after, people began to gather around the window of his cell, so he preached to them right through the bars.

We began the Advent season this week, and I have been thinking of the gang of "Rough and Ready" characters that made up the Prophets that gave the world a preview of the Messiah. The first candle in the Advent Wreath is the Prophet's Candle, we use it to remind us of the role God's Prophets played in foretelling the birth of Christ.

I must confess that "Advent" has been a mystery to me for a great deal of my life. We celebrated the Christmas season for its true meaning in our home growing up, but we never celebrated Advent.
A number of years ago, I became interested in this practice and when R. and I were blessed with children, we began trying to observe Advent with the lighting of Advent candles.

We visited a church last Sunday that observes Advent and I was thrilled by the fact that this congregation sets aside an entire month to focus on the first coming of Christ, the fact that He is still with us today, and the hope that He will come again.
I read an article that indicated that the practice of lighting candles in an Advent Wreath came into practice in many homes following World War I.
Sunday night we lit the first candle in our Advent Wreath.
Now this year we have a wreath; I should point out that, that is quite a jump from some of our previous years. Some years we used an assortment of scented candles of various shapes and sizes. At least on one occasion we set the candles up on a paper plate instead of a wreath.

But it is -for the most part - a sweet time. Although I do remember a time last year or the year before in which I got so aggravated with the kids that I either sent one to his room (AA) or I cut the ceremony short; mercifully, the memory is fading on that one.
Last Sunday, I asked the kids to present a little report on one of the prophets since were were lighting the "Prophet" candle. They both chose Isaiah but they brought interesting and diverse facts.

It stood out with me that Ab told us that because he spoke the truth, he didn't have many friends; AA pointed out that he gave details about Christ's birth that actually came about 700 years later.

The prophets are proof that God is in control, He has a big plan, and He's got all the time He needs.
So I have been thinking about these folks.
Some were very "rough"- Amos, for instance was a shepherd. Some were quite aristocratic - Isaiah for example, seemed to be at ease with the monarchy. Jeremiah was said to have come from a priestly family.

God used people then from all walks of life - the same way He does today.

Many of them lived miserable lives. . . consider the prophet Hosea whom God told to marry a woman from harlotry. And when she ran away and back to the gutter; he went down into slums and ghettos searching until he found her. He paid the price to those that had her bound and he took her away and spoke kindly to her. All this so that God could display His endless love for us.

In one instance Jeremiah sent a letter to the king, it contained important messages from God. The king took out his Barlow pocket knife (okay the Bible says it was a "pen-knife") and cut the letter to ribbons casting it in the fire.

Sometimes these special people suffered because they felt the heart of God and knew His sadness.

In a children's Christmas book by Gloria Gaither called, "Ordinary Baby: Extraordinary Gift", she refers to these prophets as "special listeners" who heard God speaking to the people. The story goes that they told the people that God wanted to get back the friendship He had enjoyed with people back in the garden. And some day God would send Someone to set things right and restore what had been lost.

I just wonder if these guys knew the gravity of the words they were saying? I feel sure that they knew God was urging them to say them... but did Isaiah know what he was talking about when he uttered, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given..."?

Micah just sort of adds a parenthetical statement to his prophecy as he turns to Bethlehem - "though you be little among the families of Judah, yet out of you shall come He that will rule over Israel..."

No, I am of the opinion that these guys (and gals for that matter, as in-Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna...) were just ordinary folks who obeyed God. Folks like us.
What about you (I'm asking myself these questions too):
What did you say today? Anything weighty? Anything people will talk about after you're gone? Was God leading what you said?

Did you stand for the truth - or proclaim it... maybe in a quiet way with one of your kids?

And what about your "place" ... do you feel as if others are just better equipped, or more strategically placed to do God's work in the earth?

Lord, can I learn from your "Special Listeners"?
Will You help me to be always ready;
In spite of being rough around the edges?
Will You help me to listen to You
and then speak the truth that I have heard?
And like that band of rough neck prophets.... will You help be always to be pointing people to the Messiah, Jesus Christ?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Traditions - Black Friday @ Waffle House

I do not like referring to the day after Thanksgiving Day as Black Friday. But I figured it communicated my point.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the "tradition" of sorts, we try to honor each year - going to breakfast at the Waffle House on Friday after Thanksgiving.

I like the hustle and bustle of the season and in the past I actually liked hanging out at malls and other retail establishments during the fury that is the Christmas shopping season. I thought the Waffle House would allow our kids to see some of that excitement ... and they always shout "Good Morning!" when you walk in... it's just festive!

One Christmas Day, my parents and I stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast en route to my Grandparents home and it was a memorable occasion, one wait-person was singing Christmas Carols, it was crowded because most other restaurants were closed... but it was a neat atmosphere.
So we went again this year; but I am rethinking the feasibility of this tradition.

In our town, we have three Waffle Houses and a multitude of them within a fifty mile radius.
We usually choose the newer one that is on the other side of town, but this year, I decided we would go to a smaller town nearby. They now boast a Walmart Supercenter AND a Waffle House so I thought we would go there since it was closer.

I was not impressed - and my expectations were not exactly lofty.

We like to sit at the counter so you can see all the action going on around the grill. Unfortunately, we didn't sit at the front counter but rather at the lower counter to the side... closer to the floor. We could see all the staff trudging through grease and bits of food that looked as if it had been there awhile. It was not very appealing.

I then looked down at the floor under my feet on the other side of the counter. I saw very little difference.

Apparently the restaurant was doing their part to conserve water because they never offered us any and they didn't appear to be wasting any water on dishtowels with which one might wipe down a counter!
Sometimes, restaurants will use a menu or place mat in case the surface doesn't appear to be -clean - not these folks, they were highly transparent... just piled the menus over in the corner.

Our first wait-person immediately evoked pity from me because I thought she must be in pain from the hardware hanging from her lip.

She called Ab by name and we all looked at her like the folks in George Bailey's dream on "It's a Wonderful Life!" when Clarence was showing him what it would be like if he'd never been born.

I looked down and saw that Ab's book bag had her name monogrammed on the front so I felt better. The "clever" wait-person had seen that.

When she walked away, Ab said, "I didn't think anybody with a pierced lip knew my name". I like to encourage open-mindedness and tolerance but honestly, I was cautious about this person in great part because of her appearance...

I thought she may be considering selling my daughter to the gypsies.

Wait, I'm not sure if I can say "selling her to the gypsies" - that may be considered insensitive.

Anyway, we got another wait-person - and not because we requested it. I think some of the other employees were correcting her in an insensitive manner because I heard one wait-person tell another that she was crying (they probably said something about gypsies).

Despite the atmosphere and the filthiness (by the way, I am of the opinion that "filthy" is a higher degree of unsanitary . . . it goes: dirty, nasty and then filthy), the food was pretty good and the kids scarfed it down quickly.

As I mentioned, I may be re-thinking this tradition in years to come - or at least I will try and do a better job of scouting our location before we visit.