Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 2009 at

Welcome to our family Christmas...
Christmas with R.'s family ... then Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning (featuring the joint Birthday gift for Ab and AA - a restored go-kart)...and finally, closing out with a somewhat louder Christmas with my family....
Meanwhile we are enjoy some holiday downtime. Talk more later!!

Friday, December 25, 2009


It's not picture-perfect, there are probably countless little pieces left undone.

Maybe hundreds of little surprises I might have planned; Kind words and wished I have left unsaid.

But it's done.

Christmas - the only holiday with a built-in deadline - is here. It arrived just a few moments ago.

The cat and I are the only ones up, though I have two kids that have tossed and turned and fretted about going to sleep . . . Ab may still be awake at this moment.

The gifts are awaiting them under the tree which still stands as a twinkling sentinel in the corner.

And for this moment it is . . . still.

Before fatigue takes over, perhaps I will be able to contemplate the season.


Do you remember when you first brought that newborn baby home and they finally drifted off to sleep? How quietly they lay. How peaceful.
Do you remember that tiny smacking of lips?

If you were like me, you were mesmerized by that little miracle.

Now imagine the same situation in an entirely different setting than your bedroom or nursery.

Imagine the Christ Child asleep in tightly swaddled cloths, protected from the cool night breezes by the sides of the feed trough in which He sleeps.

While I believe Jesus was both man and God and therefore He presented the typical problems a newborn ... diapers, crying, etc. - I believe there was some point that first night in which He was. . .

. . . still . . .

And perhaps Mary used those small snatches of time to unpack those thoughts she "pondered in her heart".

Stillness: it is God's occasional gift to us that allows us to process the significance of all the events around us.

.... the message of a Christmas Eve service - to join the Song of Redemption and take the light of Jesus Christ that is within us, to a dark world . . .

...the stories that have been shared during recent gatherings - which ones should be passed on to our children....

....the quiet cries for help from people too proud to ask . . .

. . . the seemingly insignificant remarks of my children . . . remarks that may need to be explored as I get to know them better ...

...the love of God that is proclaimed in so many songs in so many places during this wonderful season. . .

...the question of how I will pursue the purpose God has determined for me; and how will I lead my family to boldly do likewise?....

These are things worth pondering as Christmas comes and I am ....

....still ....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christmas Train

I like trains.

I like Christmas.

For a number of years the idea of trains and Christmas seemed to go together.

It has often been tradition for a boy to receive a train for Christmas. I think I was the happy recipient of a couple during my childhood.

R. and I had a memorable dinner cruise on a train on or around our fifth wedding anniversary (which falls on December 10th). It was cold and rainy outside which made us feel all warm and cozy as we sat at our table onboard. The route took us around Atlanta and we were occasionally surprised by the sights of beautifully lit houses out the window.

That's why the illustration of a Christmas Train seemed quite appropriate this morning when a thought process was triggered by my Sunday School teacher. He had confessed that because his life's work is in education, there is a slow down during the holidays and it is - for him - a natural time to reflect on his spiritual state. This prompted some conversation from others in the class about their view of the Christmas season as it relates to their emotions and view of God.

As we moved into the morning worship service my mind began to wander a little as I searched for something to symbolize the season for me so far. I arrived at the thought of a Christmas Train.

This Christmas Season - and probably most of the recent ones for me - have been like standing near a railroad track and watching a train go past.

The seasons are always met with tremendous anticipation and it seems as if there is always plenty of time to prepare.

Then suddenly the huge locomotive roars by.

Then each event of the season flies past me like so many open rail cars. I try to enjoy each event while also anticipating and planning for those upcoming rail cars.

In some instances, the train slows down and I can walk along with the current rail car and earnestly drink in the significance of the event; at other times, I can scarcely take in all the contents of the rail car before it has sped past and another event is already occurring.

One rail car may be a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon spent by the fire and a well-lighted Christmas tree, sipping hot cider and singing carols or traveling down memory's path through the gateway of old photos.

Another fast moving rail car may be filled with preparations for a Christmas party - there are babysitters to confirm, dishes to prepare, gifts to purchase, last minute phone calls, schedules to rearrange, quick trips back to the grocery store to pick that "one forgotten ingredient" and then directions to follow, smiles and pleasantries to exchange.

One rail car for us was a perfectly Christmassy morning during the week, when R. and I took some time off from work to attend the Winter Arts Festival at our kids' school. Despite the politically-correct-sounding name it was a wonderful experience and helped to bring the Reason for our celebration back into clear focus.

Other rail cars passed us by leaving very little of the impression we had hoped for: rushed lightings of the Advent Candles after getting started too late for a school night; events in which we tried to be too many places within too short an expanse of time; even some home events that were forced and filled with manufactured sentimentality ... mostly because this dad adopted the Griswaldian attitude of "we'll enjoy this Christmas family tradition if it kills us!"

This weekend the train slowed to the point that a person could actually jump aboard and ride for awhile, soaking in the sights, sounds, tastes and joys of Christmas, as we enjoyed family time with R.'s family.

There was music and singing, eating, laughter, more eating, clearing away of dishes and talk of still more eating, presents, and a very special few moments when R.'s dad talked about his family.

On that night, after supper we had a small program with Ab and AA playing a piece or two on the piano and guitar, R. played a Jim Brickman number on the piano, our sister-in-law and two nieces sang, Grandmother and the two boys played the ukulele and guitars (AA and I joined, trying to keep up). Then I read the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke.

Papa then talked from his heart. Explaining about his family and how he was raised, he talked about his parents and how no one seemed to know how they met or became a couple.

He went on to say he wanted to be sure that those questions were settled for his family. Then he told the story of how that relationship of 57 years came to be... how the 16 year old boy driving an ice truck was smitten by the sight of that auburn-haired girl on the corner of Maple and 15th street. He went on to talk about their humble beginnings and how they were married at the tender ages of 17 and 16.

It was a special rail car and one I did not hasten to leave.

In the blur of cars speeding past me, I hope I have given sufficient attention to the things that matter most.

As we go into this last week before Christmas we expect something of a lull to ensue and perhaps we will be able to truly evaluate our spiritual state as it relates to this season.

In the meantime, I am conscious of the fact that the caboose is rounding the bend just ahead of us and the season will soon be a distant memory with only some cold iron tracks and a mournful whistle-blow to remind me of what has been.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rustic Christmas 2009 at

It began as a comprise between the very practical R. and Ab - who felt that "buying" a tree and then throwing it away would be unwise; and AA and I who felt that Christmas should be celebrated with extreme zest!
R. suggested we get one like my Granny and Pop's trees - scrub cedars decorated with the big lights. I jumped at the idea.

We found it in the woods near our house. It truly was a "Charlie Brown Tree" ... and still is.
I had 3 Christmas tree stands and went through all three and about 2 additional feet of tree before I was able to get the tree to stand in the house.
Then a day or so later - it fell.

More repairs were performed (don't ask) and eventually we had the old fashioned tree I have often told the kids about.

I think there are some things we will remember about the experience - but I don't think it is one I will be quick to repeat.

Enjoy the pics and Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Rude Awakening at an Office Party

I was taken aback! I dare say I was appalled!

Tonight I attended an office Christmas party after work. We gathered at a restaurant and someone had a game for us to play.

Now I need to remind you that having grown up in the Bible-belt and being firmly ensconced in a church setting most of my life - most of my acquaintance with party games were in that "church" setting. I don't really regret that, it's just that most of my experience with party games has been that type that worked more like a practical joke with one person being the "brunt" of the joke.

Therefore I approach party-games with a very healthy sense of caution.

This game was fairly benign. It was one of those ice-breakers that forces you into "safe" conversations. We were to each find people in the room whose life experiences matched the ones described on a paper we were given. It was things like "Never saw a white Christmas" or "Re-gifted a Christmas gift last year".

Somewhere on that page, among those "safe" conversation starters lurked a hideous truth that I was not prepared to face.

It was a small group - less that twenty people. People that I work with every day - people I thought I knew pretty well.

One of the items on the page was the statement: "Has never seen 'It's a Wonderful Life!'"

As we were going over the responses as a group - someone polled the entire group...

Probably over one-third of that group had never seen "It's a Wonderful Life!". I could not believe it! And I couldn't believe they were so freely admitting it in that public forum.

No wonder our country is in the shape it's in when 33%+ of a random sample of fairly intelligent people had never seen the icon of holiday sentimentalism.

When I protested and expressed my disappointment in blustering terms - they just blew off my words as if it were no large concern.

"It's a Wonderful Life!" is - in my opinion - THE best holiday movie ever made. And it is right up there with "Casablanca" as possibly the best movie of all time.

The watching of this movie is almost a sacred rite that is observed with great care in our home each Christmas season.

It is typically the movie that I reserve for the week of Christmas to watch. I like to build up to it. We may start the season with "National Lampoon's: Christmas Vacation" or "A Christmas Story" or some other newer movie of little significance. As the season progresses we move to more solid Christmas fare like "Christmas in Connecticut", "White Christmas" and "Holiday Inn". Cary Grant's "The Bishop's Wife" and even it's less-than-two-decades-old counterpart - "The Preacher's Wife" might follow.

Finally, it is time for the main event. Some years, R. and I have saved it until Christmas Eve.

I do not believe I have missed a viewing of this movie more that two or three Christmases in the past 25 years.

When I first discovered this Frank Capra classic, I would catch bits and pieces of the movie - usually on Christmas Day.

I remember when I was struggling in the field of sales and felt the weight and pressure of poor performance - I could relate to George Bailey as he came home late night after night, trying to bear up under the pressure "Potter" was putting on him.

As I waived good-bye to my teenage years and moved fully into adulthood ... being a hopeless romantic ... I longed for love. I envied George Bailey whose heart was smitten by the faithful and loving Mary.

When I had finally broken free from the bondage of misspent career choices and had moved into the "bliss" of entrepreneurial enterprise - I empathized with George again as it looked like his business and all he had worked for was going away.
This movie has always had something for me.

Jimmy Stewart may not have been that great of an actor - but because of his "everyman" style - he always moves me; and he's my favorite.

Frank Capra, the movies' director, had a life changing experience in which he felt that God had challenged him to really say something worthwhile with his movies. So his movie trademarks are things like humor, large groups of family and friends, patriotism, a love for one's fellow man, and always a hopeful and happy ending.

That's why despite what many will call cheesy sentimentalism, this movie has a message. It's one of redemption, one of hope and an encouragement to those who have held fast to the challenge before them.

It is great wisdom couched in innocence.

You owe it to yourself to really stop for a couple of hours and soak in this movie.

And like George Bailey, you might find yourself looking back over this gift of adventure your life has been so far... and you could walk away thinking that it really has been a wonderful life.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Troubled Times: Two Responses

Startled and Gripped with Fear

How about you - is that what the holidays mean to you?

A reading of the original Christmas story reveals that there was a whole lotta' shakin' goin' on.

In fact one of the characters was said to have been "startled and gripped with fear".

We are pretty comfortable with angels. We see them everywhere, especially this time of year. And not too long ago, angels were sort of a fad: there were television shows and movies centered around angels, stickers, mugs, posters, greeting cards ... you could find angels most anywhere and they were generally considered to be a "good thing".

Apparently the angels of the first Christmas story were quite different from those floating around on your Christmas tree right now. The accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tend to leave us with the impression that angels were - well - scary.

Each time they appeared folks were afraid, or "troubled" or "sore afraid!"

I am learning that oftentimes as people are about to launch into something big, they start out by being afraid. I don't know that it always happens that way - but at least it does sometimes.

What I really noticed this year as I began to focus on the Christmas story was the parallel between Mary and her uncle Zacharius.

Both were destined to be recipients of a miraculous birth - Mary, a virgin, would bear a child; Zacharius, an old man with an old wife, would father a child in his old age.

Both were visited by an angel (possibly the same angel, Gabriel) to be informed about their role in the upcoming saga.

And both were troubled.

But they each responded in a slightly different way: Zacharius' response was couched in doubt - "how can I be sure of this?". Granted his doubt was probably self-doubt - but doubt just the same.

Mary, on the other hand, gave a response that assumed that the angel's message was true ... " How will this be?". She never doubted that the Word sent from heaven was true - she just asked about the details.

As you may recall, Zacharius received a sign - probably not one that he would desire - he was struck "dumb" (incidentally, most parents of teenagers have suffered the same curse at least until their kids reach their mid-20's).

It is interesting to read the encounter, you can almost hear the clipped tones with which the angel tells him that he will be unable to speak until the child is born, because of his unbelief.

I find two applications here: One is that our initial response can make such a difference - may mine (and yours as well) always be like Mary's - a response couched in faith. Secondly, I notice that while Zacharius' unbelief buys him some difficulty for a time - it is not mentioned to him again.

You don't see the angel perching on his shoulder the rest of his life, whispering -"yeah - but do you remember that time you doubted?". The punishment was issued and the deed forgotten.

I love grace. I think I have misjudged it most of my life and underestimated it, but God gives it out so freely.

I hope you will thing a little differently about angels this season. I am going now to check out the countenance on some of the ones on my tree.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Boy

It was a day not unlike today - gray and blustery - eight years ago when R. and went to the hospital for our appointment.

We had waited for nature to take its course, but it appeared that nature needed some help. We were going to have a baby - our second, R. was to be induced.

We had deposited our other angel - not quite three years old yet - with my sister the night before.
It was 2001, we were still in the shock of the 9-11 attack and troops were already in action defending our nation. I brought along the book I was reading at the time - Stephen Ambrose's, Band of Brothers. I remember that as I read about the 101st Airborne Division in the European Theatre, there was a news story on television about the same division sending paratroopers into Afghanistan.

We had chosen not to be told whether this one was a boy or a girl, but I think we both were pretty sure it would be a boy.

Around two o'clock that afternoon, little AA was plopped down under the "french fry" heat lamps as he lay there lethargically waiting for the next events to occur in his short life.

He reminded me of a Sumo wrestler, he was big and seemed to be three-fourths cheeks.

I was a little worried about him in those early days because he didn't seem very active. But he did fine.

That seems so long ago and far away now. His leading characteristic - those chubby little cheeks - have all but disappeared now with last summer's growth spurt.

His hair has gone from bald to "Fauntleroy" curls, then back to really short (almost bald once when Mom slipped with the barber tools) and finally now he is back to a curly mop.

He has an innocence and vulnerability about him that just tugs at my heart ... and gets him anything he wants from Mom.

He is quickly vying for the role of "family comedian" and will go to most any length to get a laugh.

He used to call me his "buddy-friend". My heart warmed each time he did.

He is easy going and wants to please others. I know that's a trait that will need to be tempered with balance as he gets older. I feel the weight of responsibility in being sure this boy grows to understand what it means to be a man. And not just a man but a godly man.
This week, I thought about Joseph and the huge responsibility he bore.

Joseph had to protect God for a time. He was the one that had the burden of packing up the little family and fleeing in the night from Bethlehem to Egypt.

From our vantage point it is obvious that God was going to watch out for them and would fulfill the purposes He had set for the young Child - but I am sure it wasn't so obvious to Joseph.

I'll try and remember that when I start to worry about how our kids will turn out.

For now, my job is to watch over them and to teach them the things that matter most. I guess those important matters are revealed in little every day lessons.

Happy Birthday AA, you truly live up to your name as a "light-bringer" by bringing the light of laughter to our home.

I love you, little man.

Tis the Season - for Music! 12/11/09 at

A vital factor in the Christmas Season mix is the presence of music. In our home, we have been regaled with Christmas songs for quite some time now in preparation for the kid's annual Christmas Recital. That is what you see at the beginning of this montage.
You will also see and hear some segments from the "Winter Arts Festival" at Unity Christian School. AA is in the first cut, Ab is in the other two.
Finally, Ab & AA were required to present a concert as part of their music training, so Grandmother, Papa and an easy-going cousin attended.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two - Blog Family

When you live in a two blog household and the original blogger's old clunky desktop computer has stopped recognizing it's own hard drive as well as the one the nice folks at Dell sent me-er-him ... the original blogger then has to wait in line for the laptop.

R. has been busy - shopping online, updating her own posts, and working on some Christmas creations that are sure to bring joy to several folks.

For me - the inspiration I sense on my drive in to work each morning has usually fizzled by the time I get to a computer in the evening.

I think we may have simplified our Christmas a little this year . . . we do not seem to be quite as scattered and frenetic as usual and the things we are doing seem to be enjoyable. But I have already had some "that's enough" moments.

I took an extra day off today and while I was busy most all day - I was with R. and with my kids most of the time so it was enjoyable.

I hope to post some pictures soon.

Thanks for sticking around.
I just thought I would let you know.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Seasonal Serendipity

Christmas is a season for serendipity - that state of finding something special when you are not even looking for it.

Meetings can provide a serendipitous moment when the group gels in their thinking and move as a unit toward a common goal; recently I went to lunch with someone and there was - for me - a sense serendipity - I found value in the conversation.

Christmas lends itself to serendipity. I mean, look at the original story: shepherds go about a "normal" night's work and suddenly something happens to make their world anything but normal! The whole thing - the way the story unfolds, the location for the event, the timing ... it all displays God's gift of serendipity.

In Christmas gatherings, serendipity can just occur (because of the Reason we are gathering) or they can be manufactured. The "manufactured" kind of serendipity doesn't necessarily have to mean that it is false or superficial - it just means someone PLANNED to throw some value into the mix.

This is what happened at a gathering I was involved in last week.

One of the smaller hospitals with which I am associated has an annual Senior Citizens Breakfast to sort of kick off the Christmas season each year. Physicians and hospital staff work extra hard to serve these local citizens with a great breakfast, some inspiring Christmas music and a visit from Santa.

I have been a participant in the event's choir from time to time and I had the opportunity to sing this week. No matter how much preparation has gone on ahead of time, the choir is always filled with last minute possibilities: this year, the musician phoned the night before to say they couldn't make it and about ten minutes before time to sing, there were only about five singers present.

Nurses were quickly recruited to sing as well as other people that just looked as if they might enjoy singing -or at least appearing to sing - Christmas Carols with a group.

The program is unapologetically Christmas - right down to the reading of the Christmas story from St. Luke's Gospel. Some of us really pasty white people even waxed a little soulful as we sang "Go Tell It On The Mountain!".

Finally it was time for Santa Claus. The deal is that Santa has always come in, done something funny and handed out gifts to all the attendees. This tradition has gone on for years and until recent years, Santa was portrayed by a local physician who was well known to all in the area. Since his retirement, a gentleman has taken over. This guy has also been associated with the hospital for many years and his own father was a professional Santa Claus (what a career!!).

This guy has a great "stand-up" delivery and he is always a hit with some Jerry Clower style stories and some inspiration.

This year he got me with a story about a 92 year old man who had recently died and how as an orphan in the early 1900's, he had been given his greatest Christmas gift - an orange.

That's a great story and left a lump in my throat that felt to be the size of that orange - but the real serendipity came as he begin to talk about "fears" people were facing this Christmas:
  • for some, they were fearful that guests would be disappointed somehow in the meals they would prepare for various gatherings
  • some would be fearful that gift selections would be incorrect
  • the discouragement of these economic times would leave many afraid
  • many are afraid about the future
  • some - he said - have friends or relatives that they are not speaking to . . . they would like to take a step to reconcile that relationship but they are afraid...afraid of rejection.

Then he indicated that they needed the very first GIFT of the Christmas story and he began to quote from Luke's account....

. . . and the angel of the LORD appeared unto them and the GLORY of the LORD shone round about them - and they were sore afraid; but the angel said unto them


The first message of the first Christmas, and the first Christmas gift was when the angel said "do not be afraid".

That is something of great value to me this Christmas.

I hope that you will find that first gift valuable as well,

and may all your Christmas gatherings hold some possibility for serendipity!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Pause Continues

Contrary to my "best laid plans" - the Thanksgiving Day "Pause" has continued on into December!

It had crossed my mind that at this point, I might have already brought the Christmas decorations down out of the attic and that I might have already attached a number of colorful decorative nuances to this blog. I also thought I might have begun to pour forth a cornecopia of Christmas cheer on a daily basis by now.

But the "Christmas spirit" hasn't laid hold of me yet.
So let me tell you about how I have spent the "pause".

Ab, AA and I took part in our annual after-Thanksgiving Day-tradition of a Waffle House Breakfast!

What I had envisioned as an early frosty morning breakfast, turned into a late-morning brunch. R. chose to work the day after Thanksgiving and our start was a little sluggish. We got there in time to join the tail end of the "Black-Friday" red-eyed breakfast tour. The atmosphere was festive as we joined the masses of frenzied sleep-deprived consumers trying to slurp down enough caffeine and to scarf down enough maple syrup so as to stay awake for the drive home.

It was neat to see that the Waffle House we frequent for these occasions has a considerably low employee turnover rate since we saw a number of familiar faces that we remembered from our last visit and possibly even a time or two before that.

As usual, we took our seats at the counter so as to be near all the action!

The rest of my time off was something of a blur; I spent a considerable amount of time tinkering with my chainsaw and then a little while actually using it on Saturday. The kids got involved in a "hut" building project out in the woods. Our work site experienced exactly one day without an accident - then we had to start over after Ab had a little mishap with a handsaw (nothing serious - but enough to cause the hut building project to be shut down for a time - I think we are still awaiting our OSHA inspection).

I also participated in one of my annual exercises in futility as I attempted to blow a generous portion of the leaves and pinestraw discarded by our trees, off of my driveway and a portion of my yard and into some specific designated area.

The kids and I did get an opportunity to venture back into the woods since we were reasonably sure the poison ivy and most of the snakes had retreated to the their winter hideaways.

We did manage to accomplish a couple of yule tide activities: We officially broke out the Christmas movies and we lit our first Advent Candle of the season.

As mentioned before, I have a strictly enforced policy of "zero-tolerance" for Christmas movies until the week of Thanksgiving and -in a best case scenario- not until after Thanksgiving Day altogether.

Our first movie this year was the 1938 version of "A Christmas Carol". We all enjoyed this annual story of Christmas Redemption.

Since that time, R. and I have attempted two other Christmas movies - "The Preacher's Wife", which is one of the few newer holiday movies that I think is destined to be a classic. I really like this movie - mostly because of Whitney Houston and the gospel choir singing; but also because R. and I first went to see this movie about a couple struggling in their marriage, when our own marriage was in the throws of its own struggles. In the same vein, we purchased the video and grew to love the movie even more after God had worked out some really neat things in our marriage.

The other movie we attempted to watch was "White Christmas". Unfortunately, in both cases sleep seemed to call to me in such a compelling way that I had to bail.

We are trying to approach our family celebration of Advent by looking at the "coming" of Jesus in three ways: first, how He came to earth as a Babe destined to grow into a Man that would bear my sins. Second, how He is a Savior Who promised to return to earth and thirdly, how He came to each of us that knows Him as Savior and took residence in our hearts.