Friday, December 31, 2010

Bringing an End to 2010

Before he retired, Dad was in the life insurance sales business; for about five years, I worked under his management in the same industry.
Motivation was key in the business of sales and while I never really "fit" into that industry - I loved the motivation part ... still do.

A new year was always a time for goal setting and a great opportunity to "motivate the troops".  Dad always liked to add a motivational "hook" to the new year:  "We need to sell MORE in 1984!" .... "Let's COME ALIVE in '85!" ...and such.

Hence the title to this post ...

As I compose this, we are spending a rather quiet evening at home - R. is setting up her new Ipad and AA and is standing over her shoulder ... asking a myriad of questions and offering a plethora of suggestions.
Ab is working on a project - she is our family's requisite project manager - I'm not sure what she is doing, but I think it is some sort of New Year's Celebration.

The plan was that we would play a year-end, ultimate Foosball/Air Hockey Tournament.
We watched our latest Netflix movie "Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper during and after dinner.  So the tournament's fate remains in question.

In some ways, it will be good to bid a fond farewell to 2010.  I stay entrenched in politics and in that realm, this year has been ugly.  The rise of the "Tea Party" and a renewed interest in the Constitution and America's heritage have been among the few bright spots.

Economically, things are tough.  We count ourselves as doubly blessed to still be among the employed - and are at the same time, sensitive to those who have found themselves displaced this year.
As prices continue to rise and businesses are forced to tighten up or close, it is disappointing.

The year end finds the church-life of our family, still in transition.  A couple of years ago, we made a decision to not only leave the church we had attended for over twenty years; but also to move to one with some doctrinal differences and some very different worship style (we moved from a Charismatic- Pentecostal congregation to a Reformed Presbyterian church).  
It is a very welcoming fellowship but we have spent this period listening, learning - and therefore still feel a little like outsiders at times.

Finally, I think R. and I are physically and mentally tired  We realize the disadvantages of having children a little later in life - especially when it comes to the energy required to taxi said kids to various activities in diverse parts of town.  I think both of us find ourselves sacrificing the things we would like to do for the things we have to do.  Maybe that's just part of being a parent - if so, I wouldn't trade it!

Wow! From the foregoing assessment - it appears this year has been a real downer!

It actually is not all that negative - it's just different. . . and change is part of growing.

Back in his insurance days ... my assessment would probably have prompted my Dad to say something like ...

"Don't tell me about the labor pains ... just show me the BABY!"

See ya' 2010 ... it was nice knowing ya'

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Putting Away Christmas

"Christmas is OVER!"

That's a catch-phrase that -though harsh sounding- has been cast around often in my family. When I was little, Dad would say that kind of thing just to get a rise out of the kids as they mounted their protest.

I always did hate to see the holiday end.

Still do.

But, now there is something refreshing about putting away all the decorations and getting back to something-like-normal.  As a family, we try to hold Christmas at bay until Thanksgiving - then we plunge into the celebrating headlong.  We watch practically nothing but Christmas movies, we listen only to Christmas music, we observe advent, and numerous other things related exclusively to Christmas.

After that month of frenzied rejoicing and revelling, the return to the mundane is okay.

I remember though, how sad I could get as a boy when we had to take down the decorations.  I saw that sadness recently in my own son, as we discussed the fact that we would be using one of my off-days to do just that.  Our daughter doesn't seem to have as much difficulty with that - she is very involved and active - she can't wait to get back to school with her friends.

As I returned to work yesterday, I thought about putting away Christmas.

Perhaps we do need to put away the "trappings" of Christmas - but not the spirit.  It would do us good to keep the focus of Christmas - God's Gift of His only Son for our redemption - always on display before our thoughts.

Jesus, Himself, along with the Christmas Couple had to "move on" after that first Christmas . . . and as I recall, rather abruptly.  "Normal" came knocking at their door rather quickly as they fled from a squad of soldiers dispatched for destruction.

They got about the business of putting the Gift of that first Christmas to work.  A work that would not be completed until Jesus uttered the words... "it is finished."

His subsequent death and resurrection sealed the deal and our adoption into God's family became a reality.

What a dysfunctions story it would have been, had that family said "let's just stay here in the stable - drinking spiced cider with the shepherds and singing Chrismas Carols!".

No, they moved on to the REAL work of Christmas.

So, like Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge we must decide to always "keep Christmas in our hearts" and get about the work of providing evidence to the world around us that God's original Christmas Gift really does make a difference.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass - Epilogue

We all stayed with the Preacher and his wife that night and heard a retelling of the true Christmas story.

Later, we boys and Dillweed bedded down on the floor in the warm glow of the wood heater.

Ever since that Christmas, things have been a little different for me. I stopped worrying about superstitions and scary stories. Instead I just remember the angel’s words to the shepherds.

“Do not be afraid, for I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people!”

Even now, when I hear a certain Christmas Carol, it reminds me of that night and how the Christmas story taught me to live free of fear’s chains; the song goes . . .

God rest you merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay;

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day ….

O tidings of comfort and joy….

The End

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass - Part 6

Realizing that our time may be short before the Ghost made another pass up the ridge – we scrambled, dragging “Mudcat” who was still carrying on incoherently.

We arrived at Preacher and Mrs. Weems little room in the back of the community church about ten minutes later. “Patch and I were out of breath from having dragged his big brother most of the way. So as we caught our breath, “Mudcat” began to tell our tale:

“Bee dank bee daw duh kissmuddose! Bee dank bee daw duh kissmuddose! EE dried doh keebee!...”

Preacher Weems looked befuddled.

“Patch” and I set in to telling him the story in English.

When we finished, the Preacher looked at us sadly.

“Fear takes on a life of its own, boys. When you deal in fear, your mind will provide the evidence of what you are afraid of” he said.

We looked at each other. We thought he would want to contact the Slightville Newspaper to tell our story. Instead he was talking gibberish about fear.

“You don’t believe we saw the Christmas Ghost?!” I asked.

“Son, I believe you think you saw it. When you get all wrapped up in fear, your imagination runs away with you” the Preacher countered.

“-Oh and I duess dis busted lip I dot dust happened aye!?” added “Mudcat” the swelling beginning to diminish.

“If you are afraid of something, your mind makes it become bigger and scarier than it really is!”

Mrs. Weems entered the room with some hot cocoa and some dry blankets.

“Boys,” Preacher Weems began again, “yours is the second story I have heard about this so-called Christmas Ghost tonight. And tomorrow the whole mountainside will likely be buzzing with these tales. That’s why I aim to put a stop to this here and now!”

“Did you boys ever hear of Charles Dickens?”

We stared blankly.

“-Ever hear of ‘A Christmas Carol’?”

More blank stares.

“What about you Dillweed?” and with that, Preacher Weems turned to the door where we saw none other than Dillweed Cloves entering from the other room.

Dillweed looked awful – more awful than usual. He looked like he had seen a ghost. He looked like he had been beaten up by a ghost!

Dillweed joined us as the Preacher continued.

“Dillweed, that story you tell about the Christmas Ghost: what is the man’s name – his full name?”

Dillweed replied “Ben – Ben Rooge. Oh his full name… lessee it’s EBONY …. um … something like a Bible name…. um Xer.. Xerx-that’s it! EBONY- Xerx-Rooge!”

The Preacher corrected him, “Not Ebony Xerx Rooge – it’s Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s the character in Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the point of that story is not the ghosts; it’s a story about redemption!”

“That story didn’t occur around here – it was in England. Someone heard that story long ago and retold and it became a legend around here. But it simply isn’t true.”

“Folks around here are so quick to believe every little scary tale or superstition that they lose touch with the beauty of things like art and literature. Instead they quickly turn them into something foreboding and fearful.”

You boys are just like most folks along this Pass who live in more chains that Scrooge or his partner ever had – that’s what fear does to people – it ties them up. It’s like running around in the dark.

The old Prophet said ‘the people that lived in darkness – have seen a great Light!’ when he foretold about the first Christmas.

The angels came to those shepherds on a lonely hillside, in the dark and the shepherds were so afraid . . . but the angel said ‘fear not, for I bring you good news!”

Christmas is not about ghosts – it’s about good news! God’s gift to us; His only Son came as a Baby to live like us and then die for our sins and rise again.

Isn’t that a better story for Christmas time?”

“Patch” spoke up “Yeah, but what about the Ghost – we saw him!”

“That’s what fear does “Patch”, it makes you see things that aren’t there and causes you to miss things that are there. The Christmas story’s message is “do not be afraid’” Preacher Weems continued “you didn’t see the Christmas Ghost – you saw . . . Dillweed.”

Dillweed hung his head sheepishly.

Not five minutes before the boys had burst into the Preachers quarters, Dillweed had arrived with a similar story of seeing the Christmas Ghost.

Dillweed had been coming down the Pass late in the evening when he heard all the commotion with “Mudcat’s” caper and the blazing barrel. Dillweed only heard the screams and saw the blazing fireball rolling down the mountain.

Too scared to move, Dillweed huddled down beside a tree, afraid to approach the path of the Christmas Ghost. It happened that the tree he was hiding beside was the same tree that “Mudcat’s” buddies had tied the rope and bucket of coals to. The rain of fire and the exploding bucket was all Dillweed could stand and in a panic he had grabbed his lantern and took off across the mountain crying for dear life.

When “Mudcat’s” friends heard Dillweed, they got scared and took off. Their cries frightened Dillweed even further and he got confused. He ran right into a bed sheet Mrs. Garrett had left hanging on the clothesline.

Then Mrs. Garrett mistook him for a prowler and clubbed him with a stick of stove wood.

It was that bed sheet with Dillweed and his lantern inside that the boys thought was the Christmas Ghost with its eerie glow.

The boys looked at each other and smiled in disbelief.

“Mudcat” piped up: “Dat dost was Dillbeed duh whole tibe!”

“You said it!” Dillweed added.

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass - Part 5

From far off to our left, the scream and the light made a turn and started coming down the Pass in our direction. There was a loud crash and the sound of a cat whose tail had been suddenly stomped!

The sound was coming from old Mrs. Garrett’s house. We heard another shriek – probably Mrs. Garrett. That was followed by a dancing light and the mournful cry moving ever closer to us.

That’s when it came into view! By the time we saw it, it was too late to run.

I don’t know how to describe the apparition. At times it had a human shape but then it would undulate and change to a round shape and then back to a human form.

In the lantern light, I could see that all of “Mudcat’s” color had drained from his face.

The visage seemed to float and fly about three feet above the ground as it soared toward us – it was white and had an eerie glow emanating from its center.

This was no trick and the shriek of the Ghost was suddenly joined by a trio of screams – one coming from me!

“Patch” waxed heroic! He was determined he would not go down without a fight! He reached frantically for the first thing his hand could find to fling at the phantom and all the time it was bearing down, screaming, crying, bellowing – closer … closer!

“Patch” remembered the apples in his basket and reached down but saw two baskets – finally in his frustration, he used both hands to thrust them into to both baskets. His fingers found their purchase and he produced an apple!

“Patch” - despite his affliction – had always been a good one for chunking things. He could fling a rock from a good fifty feet away and knock a squirrel out of a tree. Unfortunately, he wasn’t that good at close range – and without one eye covered.

I found myself on the ground, clawing scratching and kicking – desperately trying to get out of the path of what was clearly the Christmas Ghost!

“Mudcat” and “Patch” were on either side of the trail just ahead of me, the ghost was going to pass between them! “Patch” reared back and let the apple fly!

It seemed to pass right through him – amazing!

It seemed to pass right through him!

Meanwhile, the apple having missed its intended target, instead landed smack on the spot where hair doesn’t grow on “Mudcat’s” top lip! The apple shattered into a thousand shards and “Mudcat” dropped to his knees in agony.

Not having seen his smaller brother load up the apple and fire away, “Mudcat” assumed that the blow to his upper lip was the impact of the Christmas Ghost beginning to wreak havoc on his once youthful and promising life!

“Mudcat” commenced to pleading for his life:

“Plee-ase! Plee-ase don’t kill me!!! Plee-ase don’t kill me!”

Then as the swelling began to set in on his lip, it impaired his speech somewhat:

“Beeze dode keebee!! Bee-eeze dodekeeBee!!”

Were we not in danger of instant and terrific death, we might have found it quite comical.

As “Patch’s” eyes began to uncross, we looked at each other and realized that we had cheated death one more time. It was likely that we three were the only people that ever survived a visit from the Christmas Ghost! That is – if we could get out of those woods!

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass - Part 4

Everything seemed to spin for a moment and “Patch” and I sat there on the ground shaking our heads.

Then from the other side of the door, we heard the loudest cackling we had ever heard. You’d think someone had started up a tickle factory right in “Patch’s” kitchen. The door flew open and inside we could see “Patch’s” older brother, “Mudcat” rolling on the floor, red-faced with tears streaming down his face. He was the source of all the wild laughter.

“Mudcat” Evans was an older brother to “Patch”, people called him “Mudcat” because he had to farm a piece of ground that was flat and often held water, so “Mudcat” spent a lot of time in the mud and his complexion bore a continual ruddy appearance. Also because he wore a mustache that had a bare spot right in the middle of his upper lip, but grew thick on the sides, that resembled the whiskers on a catfish.

“Mudcat” was full of mischief and liked to pour that mischief in generous helpings onto his vulnerable little brother.

“Mudcat” was in attendance at school that day (being about sixteen) and had seen the effect that Dillweed Cloves’ story had had on “Patch”. So when he got home and found that he had caught a baby raccoon in one of his rabbit traps, he hatched a wicked plan.

“Mudcat” – knowing his brothers penchant for baby raccoons – had tied and tangled the coon up in butcher’s twine as bait to hold the boy’s attention. Then on a steep incline above, he placed an old wooden barrel he had found in the woods – probably left behind by moonshiners. He had soaked the barrel in kerosene and waited for his brother’s return. When the boys freed the coon from the strings, he struck a match and fired off the barrel and gave it a kick to roll it down the hill.

The ”fireball” the boys had envisioned as the Christmas Ghost, was that very barrel rolling down Snagbottom Pass.

Over and over, “Mudcat” haw-hawed as he railed on the boys for their cowardice – “yew screamed like a little ole’ gal!” hew would say as he told the story over and over.

By now night had fully set in and I began to realize that - fresh on the heels of this shocking event – I was going to have to make that walk back again to my own home through those dark woods.

“Patch’s” Pa – noticed my discomfort and volunteered his two sons – “Patch” and “Mudcat” to walk me home. I deeply admired him for that and I looked at “Mudcat” to see if that news had removed his grin, but he smiled evermore as if he was quite satisfied.

But first Mr. Evans had an errand for us. The General Store in Slightville had sent three baskets of apples to be given to the children along Snagbottom Pass for Christmas. When he was in town earlier that day the store’s owner had asked him to see that the apples got to the community church down the Pass a ways. There Preacher Weems would take them and hand them out at the Christmas Eve service.

Mrs. Evans handed us each a piece of streaked meat and a cold biscuit; Mr. Evans gave us one lantern and we headed out.

We quickly finished off our biscuits and we had not traveled far before “Mudcat” started acting strangely: he kept stepping away from the light of the lantern and making bird calls up in the woods.

It wasn’t long before we realized the reason for all this strange activity. “Mudcat” had another trick up his sleeve. Knowing that he and “Patch” would have to take the apples to Preacher Weems, he had dispatched a couple of his buddies to go up the ridge about a mile. There they had tied a long rope to a tall oak tree and took the other end of the rope up the ridge to a point higher than the tree. Then the boys attached a bucket of fresh, red-hot coals from the stove to that rope.

The plan was that on “Mudcat’s” signal, they were to fire off a shotgun and then swing that bucket down the Pass. He figured it would be enough to send his little brother into fits.

It happened just as they planned only “Patch” and me were not taken in by the trick. The shotgun startled us only a little and then we watched as the fiery coals rained down through the Pass and exploded into a small fireworks display when the bucket smashed into that old oak tree.

We clapped with glee as if we had seen a good musical show.

“Mudcat” was a little put off by our reception and muttered something about us not being so brave if the real Christmas Ghost came trotting through.

Suddenly we heard a horrendous scream.

“Patch” and me looked at “Mudcat” – he was visibly shaken and obviously did not know what the scream was all about.

We heard it again. It was a long, mournful bellowing that unsettled us right down to our socks.

Way up the ridge, we could see a faint flickering light passing through the trees across the mountain; then we heard another ruckus and saw more flickering lights passing across the mountain in the other direction.

“Mudcat” gulped and I thought I saw sweat glistening on his partly bare top lip.

“Patch” gulped and covered one eye.

The scream continued its screeching call – it was moving in the direction of the first light we saw.

From far off to our left, the scream and the light made a turn and started coming down the Pass in our direction. There was a loud crash and the sound of a cat whose tail had been suddenly stomped!

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass Part 3

Continued from Part 2 ... Dillweed, the substitute teacher is telling the story of "Ben Rooge and the Christmas Ghost ....

Then finally Ben Rooge got HIS!

On a Christmas Eve ole’ Ben worked into the night and then made the trip from Slightville up Snagbottom Pass to his cold damp house. On the way, his old mule what was carrying him slipped a time or two and ole’ Ben just hit her with his old crookedy stick!

With that Dillweed slapped “Patch’s” desk with his ruler and he must’ve jumped two feet high!

‘At’s when it happunned . . . the old mule stopped and tried to get a drink out of a half-frozen puddle. Ben reared back like he was goin’ to whup the fire outta’ that mule but she shifted a little and Ben went a crashing to the ground breaking the ice that was beginning to form with his very head!

The old mule went back to drinking from the puddle and Ben just stared at her reflection in the water – when all of a sudden hit changed! The old mule face turned into the face of Ben’s old partner!!

Only his eyes was a glowing like two hot cinders and his teeth was bared like a mad dog!

That night when Ben was home in his bed, his old partner crept into his room only he was all wrapped in chains and he said when Ben died he would be a-wearin’ even more chains on account of he was so stingy and mean.

He said three Christmas Ghostes would haunt him that night…

And the story goes that the last one was a fiery ghost with empty eyes that rode on a flaming horse. His scream was like the howl of a thousand lost souls! And He chased Ben Rooge all the way down Snagbottom Pass.

And they say that right around Christmas. . . .

I heard “Patch” gulp.

If you ain’t been good…

The Christmas Ghostes will come for YOU!!

With that he put his sharp nose right up against “Patch’s” squinting face. “Patch” having removed his hand from his eye felt double the shock with two noses coming right at him and thus he bolted out of the desk and right into the floor.

“Patch” came to my house after school – mainly because he was afraid to go into the woods by himself – and he even stayed and helped me with my chores. Dillweed had been so enthralled with his story that he forgot to assign us any homework for the Christmas Holiday so by evening, we had nothing to do.

“Patch” looked up and the churning grey clouds in the sky above and realized that dark would come early. I knew what he was up to. He didn’t want to make that trip through the woods across the Pass by himself.

“Jeremiah, why don’t you come with me to my house. We could look for baby raccoons.” He said.

“Patch” was forever talking about catching a few baby raccoons and starting himself a coon farm so he cold sell the pelts for hats, coats and mittens for the city-folks. I wasn’t nearly as interested in the idea as he was.

I knew he really just didn’t want to go alone so I agreed to go.

By the time we neared his house, the sun had set and it was getting colder by the minute. “Patch” who was walking ahead of me stopped cold, I nearly bumped into him.

Before I could yell at him, I noticed why he had stopped: there at his feet, tangled in some butcher’s twine, was a baby raccoon.

“Patch” was ecstatic! He immediately began to try and untangle the little animal but in his excitement, his vision went double and he could not figure out which raccoon to grab. When he covered his eye, he didn’t have a free hand to untie the knots and tangles in the string.

I realized his dilemma and pulled out my Barlow pocket-knife and soon we had our first member of the Coon Ranch herd. “Patch” held him close and stroked him kindly.

That’s when it happened.

We heard it before we saw it.

It began with an unearthly bellowing that raised the hairs on the backs of our necks! Then we heard what sounded like an army on horseback on the craggy hill above us…ready to ride down right on top of us!

We first stared at one another – afraid to turn and see our impending doom.

Everything slowed down as I watched “Patch’s” eyes cross! That’s when we turned to see it a flaming fireball – as big as a house – racing down the Pass right at us!

I thought I heard the snort of the fiery horse! That is when I leaped out of the way skinning both of my elbows!

Upon landing, I checked all my parts to be sure the Christmas Ghost hadn’t bitten off an arm or a leg, then realizing I was still in one piece and fairly unharmed, I turned to see if “Patch” was still alive.

“Patch” was catatonic. He stood there in the face of mass destruction and held up the little raccoon toward the evil phantom – as if it’s cuteness my break his heart and turn him into a goody-goody. Apparently “Patch” was frozen in fear.

What had really happened was that “Patch’s” agony was doubled by his double vision; seeing two sinister, flaming goblins he thought his best defense was to stay put in hopes that each would pass on either side of him.

I don’t know why I did it – it certainly wasn’t courage – but I lunged toward “Patch” to knock him out of the way. I think I must have figured that I didn’t want to see what would be left of him after the Christmas Ghost made a barbecue out of him!

About the time I leaped toward “Patch”, he decided that he just couldn’t bear to watch all the devastation. So he closed his eyes and naturally assumed that the impact of my body knocking him out of the way- was actually the hammer of that Christmas Ghost.

We both rolled in between some trees and the fireball sped past us, at which point “Patch” let out the most fiendish, girlish scream I had ever heard. It made icicles form on the hairs that were already raised on the back of my neck! About that time, the baby raccoon took flight, and landing safely scampered home to his mother.

Just then we saw the blessed lights of “Patch’s” little woodland home and clawed the ground desperately to try and make it to safety.

“Patch”, still seeing double, ran squarely into a giant oak tree. Only slightly daunted by the blow, he jumped up and purpose to dive through his back door. However, having seen two doors – he selected the wrong one to jump through and soundly crashed into the wall of his house.

I watched all this take place and would have laughed had I not felt the hot breath of that villain on my neck! I also made a dive for the door but was equally turned back as the door did not give when I hit it!

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

As I mentioned earlier, folks around Snagbottom were fearful anyway – and superstitious. I had long heard the tale of my Pa’s uncle that was riding in a wagon with some other men. They were going out to walk some land on which they hoped to sow a crop. As they traveled on the narrow “S” shaped road, a black cat darted across the path.

Instantly all the men on the wagon – except Pa’s uncle – twisted their hats around faster than you could say “spindle-top”. Pa’s uncle just laughed at them for being so superstitious. The story goes though that Pa’s uncle got separated from the group and he fell in an unmarked well. He called and called but no one could hear him.

He’d be there today - Pa said - if he hadn’t had the good sense to take out his Barlow pocket-knife and dig some hand-holds in the slick sides of the well. With that he inched his way out.

Well, at Christmas time in Snagbottom there always floated a tale about the Christmas Ghost that haunted those hills and a man named Ben Rooge. I didn’t like those stories because the days were very short around Christmas and I was always having to go out to the woodshed at night … in the dark … to bring in more stove wood.

My best friend, “Patch” Evans sat right in front of me at school. “Patch” was a good friend but he was awful skiddish. We called him “Patch” because he had been kicked in the head by a mule when he was a little boy and every time he got excited or nervous he would start seeing double. That’s right – two of everything! To remedy the situation, he would cover one eye or sometimes he might tie a handkerchief around his head and drape one corner over his eye like a patch.

Dillweed announced that he would set the record straight about Ben Rooge and the Christmas Ghost. The room fell silent – I think I heard “Patch” gasp.

Dillweed told the story in a dialect we hill-folks would understand and when he described Ben Rooge, he would over-emphasize every adjective. He also portrayed a sort of disgust for the poor man by holding his mouth open when he talked – as if he had just bitten into a rotten egg and was afraid that if his mouth closed even slightly he would taste that awful bitterness.

This is Dillweed’s tale:

Not too many years ago, Ben Rooge lived right up here in Snagbottom and he was as tight as Dick’s-hatband with his money and as mean-as-a- striped-snake!

With that, he paused for affect and glared at us. I saw “Patch” reach up and cover one of his eyes.

Ben wasn’t his whole name, it was short for EBONY! EBONY means black and that just what his heart looked like . . . black as soot! His middle name was something like one o’them evil kings in scripture.

Everybody was skeered of Ben Rooge – everybody ‘cept his partner who folks said was just as stingy and cold hearted as Ben. Ever day they would figure on ways to get hold o’ more money and every night theyed count it out and bag it up and drag it up Snagbottom Pass.

They say his old partner died one Christmas Eve and Ben Rooge just got meaner and meaner – specially round Christmas… he’d go around growling “Bedbugs!” all the time and being cruel to the folks he bossed.

Then finally Ben Rooge got HIS!

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass - a Christmas Story - Part 1

Every year . . . or so, I try to create a Christmas Story for our kids.  I hoped this would be an annual tradition we could share and it worked well ... for two Christmases - then we had our second child.

I have managed to churn out a few stories - many are not especially memorable.  I did not get one together this year; I have an idea that's working around in my head but it's too big to pull together yet.

What follows is last year's story.  It is one of those less memorable stories - so don't over expect:

The Christmas Ghost of Snagbottom Pass

When I was in about the fourth grade at the President Andrew Johnson School the events of this story occurred. I suppose I should explain the President Andrew Johnson School: Though this was only a little one room school house, someone had traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, and learned that some big towns name their schools after Presidents. The people of Snagbottom were not to be outdone by any big city folks, so they named their school after the only President ever hailing from the Great Volunteer state of Tennessee.

As Christmas Holidays neared during the time I am going to tell you about, our teacher – Mrs. Pickle – was unable to teach due to a bout with the influenza. Mrs. Pickle was the only teacher at President Andrew Johnson School, she taught all grades. Well, all the folks along Snagbottom Pass began taking turns to try and nurse Mrs. Pickle back to health. One by one, families arrived with chicken soup and their own tried and true remedies. The neighbors also began to try and find a substitute teacher to fill in for Mrs. Pickle while she was out.

Eventually they settled on Dillweed Cloves. Dillweed was a gangly, oafish sort of a character; he seemed to always be hanging around but never really doing anything. He didn’t do much farming, like most folks on the Pass, and he never bothered to get married and have a family. Dillweed loved to talk. Anywhere a bunch of men were gathered around a fire, whittling sticks and talking – you’d find Dillweed standing around gawking and talking.

I think it was because he was the only one with nothing to do, that the folks decided to appoint him as the official substitute teacher for Mrs. Pickle. He did have a pretty good education, why he had graduated from the eighth grade right there at President Andrew Johnson School! Dillweed always bragged that they liked him so much at the school that they wouldn’t let him have his diploma until he agreed to come back to the eighth grade for a “repeat performance”.

Dillweed assumed office as our official substitute teacher three days before Christmas holidays.

By lunch time on the first day, he had pretty much taught us all he knew.

So Dillweed decided we all needed lots of fresh air and he declared recess for the rest of the afternoon.

That plan worked very well the first day, but on the second day of recess, the boys became tired of just playing and waxed mischievous and stole some of Ma’ O’Donnell’s blackberry pies she had cooling on the window sill.

When Ma’ O’Donnell caught them, she came after them with the business end of her sage broom.

On the third day, cold weather had moved in and some folks said a storm was brewing so the children all refused to go outside for recess that morning.

That’s when Dillweed took to doing what he did best – he weaved a yarn. And because he was feeling a little perturbed with the entire class body, he decided to make it as scary as possible.
...continued ...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Montage 12/25/10 at

The first "Official" White Christmas left us with less places to go and a beautiful memorable Christmas.

The video is a little long ... 'Hope you enjoy!!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

One Who Stands Among You

It's Christmas Morning but everyone in my household is in bed - except me.

There were only a few last minute preparations remaining for us and my wife took care of most of those details. 

I took the day off (not something I usually do Christmas Eve) and we managed to take in the early Christmas Eve service at our church.  It was a capacity crowd - as always a beautiful experience.

After dinner with R.'s family, we made it home.  The kids and I squeezed in a distracted "Martin Luther Walk" in the woods after nine o'clock. 

We read some stories, lit the Christ Candle and read Dr. Luke's account of Christ's birth.

As I look toward the day ahead (hopefully AFTER a long winter's nap) I am mindful of John Baptist.  I have thought about him a lot this Advent season.  Rough, straightforward and eccentric as he was - he was at heart, a teacher.

When his dad was proclaiming the mission of this boy he pointed out his calling as a teacher (Luke 1:77-79):

  1. To Prepare
  2. To Give Knowledge
  3. To Give Light
  4. To Guide
As John Baptist was getting ready to introduce Jesus Christ to the world, his description puts me in mind of the Emmanuel title for Christ that we remember at Christmas. 

John said, "...there stands One among you, whom you do not know..." (John 1:26)

Jesus was that One standing among them ... "God with us".
He came to be among us, the be like us ... and to liberate us with His very life.

With the Advent season, we celebrate that Someone is coming . . . John Baptist reminds us - He has already come ...

...   He stood among us.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Some Assembly Required! 12/23/10 at

This has been our year of "assembly" for Christmas! I can't really talk about it much at this point . . .

However, the kids received an early gift of a trampoline from Grandparents. Despite my best efforts to convince them that we would all enjoy it more in the Spring - they wanted the trampoline assembled right away.
Here's how the project came about...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I love mornings during the Christmas Season! There is something about the cold, the frost and the soft, warm glow of an awakening day that just inspires and excites me. Other times of the year, my response is different - cold and frost serve as a great incentive to roll over for a couple more minutes of blissful slumber.

It seems that mornings during the Christmas Season are a great time for listening.

This morning I discovered a blog I had not visited before. Apparently R. came upon it and added it to the list on her blog, God's Design Not Mine. Its called Getting Down With Jesus and the founder is Jennifer Dukes Lee. I embedded a video from her site because the song and the sights inspired me . . .

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Dad's Guide for How to Raise Kids - From the Christmas Story

There are at least two examples of proper fatherhood displayed prominently in the Christmas Story: 

Zacharias and Joseph

Both were handed the unexpected challenge of rearing a boy under less than normal conditions.  Zacharias' son - John Baptist - was born to a specific mission in life, he was born in Zach and Elizabeth's old age, and his calling would require a unique combination of toughness and humble character.

Joseph was called to raise the Son of God.  Need I say more?
In addition to preparing the proper education and example for this once-in-an eternity Child, he would also have to deal with the fact that the Child was not his own.

Both gentlemen leave us an extremely simple example of how to be a good father.

The secret to godly fatherhood can possibly be summed up in one hyphenated word:

Shut - up.

If you will recall, Zacharias found the response to his questioning disbelief of the angel's original proclamation to him to be - that he was stricken with silence.  A God-given period of introspective silence . . . to proper weigh the great task that lay before him.

Joseph seemed to live under a self-imposed silence.  The Biblical account records no quotes from Joseph. The closest we can get to seeing anything he said is to infer that he spoke when he "called the Baby, Jesus".

So Dad's, that's it - be quiet.

Because I have not yet mastered this concept.  I must chatter on just a bit and add to more clarifying steps that I have noticed in their examples:

Listen.  Obey.

Zacharias' declaration and praise that poured forth upon his release from the "dome of silence" reveals that he had been ruminating on the words the angel had spoken to him and he was one with the God's mission of J.B.

Joseph, while not heard, displayed his obedience through quick unquestioning action:  accepting Mary and believing her story, finding a place for them in Bethlehem, moving to rescue the Family when warned of Herod's plot in a dream.

So that's it:

1. Hush (that's nicer to say than "shut-up")
2. Listen
3. Obey

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wayfaring Strangers

In the South (USA), I have observed that there are a couple of hot-button topics for which nearly everyone has a story, and they will gladly tell it -when prompted - with passion and zeal:  snakes and snow.

If you don't believe it, the next time you are in Georgia, in any random conversation, find a way to insert a quick tale about a snake you encountered last summer.  They will in turn, tell you their own story of an incident involving a much larger, deadlier snake.

It's the same with snow.  Where I live in northwest Georgia, we may get one or two "dustings" of snow each year and a major snow (more than one inch) every two or three years.  So snow is a big deal. 

Big snow events affect everyone and serve as a benchmark for timing other events: one of my uncles on my Dad's side was born during the Ice storm of 19_?_ .  Nearly anyone can tell you about the Blizzard of '93 and when I moved back to Georgia after a whirlwind tour of Alabama and Tennessee back in the seventies, people had tales of the Ice storm of 1973.  In that particular instance, there were tales of transformers exploding and trees falling.

This past Wednesday, we had a brief cold weather snap that resulted in some icing. Since that time, I have already heard several stories.  Here's mine:

Knowing the weather forecaster's penchant for sensationalism, I was not overly concerned about the prospect of icing on the roads on my drive home.  I became a little concerned when I found my car coated with ice.

I noticed right away that cars were moving much slower than normal.  I made a few "test" stops when no one was near, jamming my brakes to see if there was any skidding - but experienced none.

I was redirected onto a different route down Dugdown Mountain - apparently there was trouble down the slope.  My typical trip home from the location I worked that day is less than one hour, the last twenty minutes takes me along secondary roads.  By the time I reached the less traveled secondary roads, it was dark and temperatures were dropping faster.

I noticed a few slick patches but I had not gone very far until I encountered an old truck stopped in the oncoming lane, the flashers were activated.

I do not have much trouble talking to a perfect stranger.  I have a great deal of trouble carrying on a conversation of any depth or meaning with most anyone, but I can talk briefly with a stranger.

So I stopped and asked the fellow if he was alright.

"Yeah, I'm okay, how 'bout you, brother?" he replied.  See how this shared circumstance resulted in an unusual familiarity?

I soon sensed that he was experiencing some fear and was sort of paralyzed there. 

He asked me about the condition of the road ahead (where I had just come from).  Being the proverbial "Pollyanna" that I am, I answered with a particularly Rosy forecast of the prosperous road that lay before him - why to hear me tell it - you would have thought the road was a veritable tropical paradise (I exaggerate, but my opinion was at least cautiously optimistic)!

He, in turn, painted for me a grim picture of the road I would encounter ... I felt like Frodo Baggins about to take on Mount Doom and the fires of Isildur!

Then he said, "I'm sliding right now,man; I'm about to slide off the side of this cliff-"

I was a little puzzled, I sensed some panic in his voice.  The portion of the road on which we had stopped to have our little gleeful chat, was fairly level; there was an embankment on the side, but nothing near what I would call a cliff.  I looked at his tires - he was not moving - not sliding at all. 

I decided he was on drugs.

Since there were cars now behind me, I just rode on slowly; but some of that guy's fear climbed into the car with me and I found myself becoming much more cautious.

The roads were indeed getting worse.  Occasionally I was alerted to slick spots by cars in the ditch . . . someone else had gone before me and their trouble served as a warning to me.

At some point there was something of a pile up ahead of me with cars all but completely blocking my path.  As I approached with great caution, a young man - adolescent - walked to my car. 

"We got a bad patch of black ice up here!" he said and proceeded to tell me how to turn around.  When I began to explain that I didn't know an alternate route, he paused briefly to spit the juice from his tobacco product . . . the aroma caused me to hearken back to my high school days in Alabama - memory didn't serve me too well, I couldn't tell if it was Skoal or Copenhagen . . . at that point, the other fellows standing around the tie up began to try and push one of the vehicles out of the way.

I offered to help push -

"We (re) Yarborough's" he said " we can handle it!"

As I got out of my vehicle and took a step toward them, I discovered that my little slick-bottomed Bass dress shoes and me were definitely NOT Yarborough's  and I got back in my car.

The Yarborough boys directed me very slowly through the mess.  From that point on, I didn't exceed twenty miles per hour very much.

After a time of very slow progress I made it to the final leg of my journey.  A quick cell phone with my father-in-law, who had only recently made the trek convinced me to alter my route.  It was the last half mile that concerned me the most:  this route would take me on a road with undulating hills, just next to a large lake - I was pretty sure that would be treacherous.

I made it to the lake and found the roads indeed very dangerous.  At the first hill, there was a vehicle in front of me that was in the process of backing up - giving up on the prospects of surmounting the little knoll.  There was also a car behind me.

I pulled off to let the car behind me pass and to think (and pray) strategically. 
It appeared that the guy in the car that passed me was also backing out of the idea of attempting the hill.  So I got out and cautiously walked to his car.

He explained that the road was too icy and too narrow for him to attempt it - in his company vehicle.

We learned that we were neighbors- of sorts.  He said he would go back and try a different route (there are numerous little country back roads through that area.  He got my cell phone number and said he would let me know if he could make it.

I toyed with the idea of walking home, but thought better and decided to try another route as well.

Though my new-found neighbor and I ended up taking different roads, when he called to say he had made it through the worst part with little trouble - I had as well.

As we talked and I thanked him, we introduced ourselves.  I learned that his children go to the same school as mine - and my sister-in-law is a para-pro for one of them.

I soon made it home.  I did not say so - but prayer had been my constant practice on that trip and I was truly thankful to have made it without incident.  I was also thankful for the folks I met along the way and the folksy conversations I had had.

As we go through the "hard times" of economic recession or any other hardship that affects large groups of people - may we remember to look up in prayer, and then out to others that are in the same circumstance.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


On the day after Thanksgiving, the kids and I - along with other family members gathered at my Mom and Dad's house to  kick off their holiday house decorating.  Christmas decorations at Mom and Dad's have become simpler and more understated as they have gotten older; but it helps for some of the children and grandchildren to do some sorting and to bring them up from the basement.

This year, someone uncovered a renegade bronze baby shoe while digging through stuff. Some of you won't remember this but, bronzing baby shoes was a fad or trend years ago.  This errant shoe was -I think- a sample from the set of shoes (two boys' and one girls') that hung on our wall of our home, each on their own individual pedestal-plaques.

When a child, it was a big deal for me to see that bronze shoe with my name engraved beneath its' stand and to note how much my foot had grown!

I think holding on to keepsakes is a western tradition.  For us - being very sentimental - Christmas is always a great time to drag out our own family keepsakes.  Our tree is often decorated with them ... tiny shoes, magical pacifiers that once held the key to peaceful rest for both child and parents, and little handmade decorations - heavy with Elmer's Glue and glitter. 

For some reason I thought about this practice earlier this week when I read about the early visit of the "wise men from the East" to the Christmas Couple and Jesus, the Christ Child.  My thoughts led to this question:

If you interviewed Mary - years after Jesus had died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven - would she have taken you to a special place in her home where she kept the chunk of gold the wise men brought that night? 

Would she take you down to the cellar and with great care pull our the myrrh they gave her - still in it's original container?

What of the frankincense - could you catch a hint of it's exotic aroma as she displayed the yet unsealed container?

Of course not.

In fact, it seems to me that people of the Bible didn't hold much with keeping things for their memory's sake.  As a nation, Israel held onto a few tangible items:  the rod of Aaron that budded proving that he was God's chosen man for the high priesthood, the tablets of the commandments and a container of manna; but families did not seem to do this as much.  Instead, I think they passed on traditions - all observed deliberately so as to keep their history in tact.

Let's go back to Mary and her mantel void of Jesus memorabilia.  The reason that Mary would not show you those keepsakes from the magi visit was likely because she and Joseph had quickly liquidated those items and utilized the proceeds to fund their narrow escape into the exile of Egypt.

To a person like me, who secretly hopes that some day all these trivial items of the life of my children will be needed to stock some museum or to grace the corridors of the Presidential Library - the idea of so quickly releasing them seems foolish.

It seems that God, however, has a very practical side.  I don't think He wastes anything.
If you remember the parable Jesus told about the wealthy man that left portions of his wealth in the hands of three of his managers; the manager that was sharply rebuked was the one that had preserved the portion assigned to him.  In fact in one version of this story he talked about placing the items "on a shelf".

What Gifts has God granted to you that seem of too much value to spend?

I ask it of myself as well:  What am I hanging onto - afraid to spend it because I am fearful that I will let it go too cheaply?

Like the manna God provided in the wilderness - grace is daily; there may be costly consequences from trying to hoard it.

This Christmas we are very mindful and careful about spending. In some ways though, perhaps God intends for us to become spendthrifts.

Burdensome experiences, chance encounters, odd and unplanned circumstances, costly delays . . . .  all of these - when examined more closely and in light of God's perspectives . . .

may indeed turn out to be your gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On Bethlehem Road Part III

I have never been too far away from home for any length of time - especially over the holidays.  I can't imagine the plight of our brave troops throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world during this time of year.  In his writings, Stephen Ambrose described the loneliest spot in the world, when he wrote about a new replacement trooper in a foxhole, in Bastogne on Christmas Day, 1944.

I am sure that Mary and Joseph must have felt some sort of connection to Bethlehem, it was after all, for Joseph, the birthplace of his family. I think we can safely assume that they longed for their arrival at Bethlehem.  If, for no other reason, they could finally complete the journey and rest.

Maybe they found solace in the story of a shepherd-king - the great-great-grandson of Naomi - who had a deep longing for that same little town - Bethlehem ... his home town.  David found himself cut off from his village and a band of Philistines-perennial nemesis to David and the Israelites- had apparently taken control of the burg.

David longed - I think - for some connection with his roots; if he could only somehow touch something of his past - his people.  He remembered the well just inside the gate, maybe he had stopped there often as a lad, when his father sent him into town.

He remembered the refreshing taste of its cool waters and he said something about that longing out loud.

Three of David's mighty men heard him.  Their devotion to David was so great that they didn't seem to bother to stop and calculate the risks; they simple bounded headlong toward Bethlehem. 

Apparently the audacity of their mission so shocked the Philistines that they were unable to mount a defense.  The brave warriors broke through the line and returned back through the line with a dipper full of Bethlehem well water.

David's loyalty to his men was such that he could not lightly partake of this gift for which they had hazarded their very lives.  Because he could offer the gift to none greater - he poured out the water as an offering to God Almighty.

Maybe all this noble devotion and heartfelt loyalty provided some courage to that Christmas Couple as they made their way along to Bethlehem Road.  At any rate, they stayed the course and made their destination - where many more hardships awaited them.

Just as all those other stories along the Road, fed into their story - their story feeds into ours.  For the Child Mary would bear and Joseph would help to rear, would make all of our stories possible.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bringing Out the Decorations 2010 at

Shortly after Thanksgiving, we always bring out the decorations at our house, this year we also had the privilege of helping with Grandmamma and Granddaddy's decorations.

On the Bethlehem Road Part II

Perhaps Mary found distraction from the difficulties of her journey as she and her new husband made their way along the Bethlehem Road, by reflecting on the stories that the surrounding rocks and occasional trees would tell if they could talk.

Many years passed since that first story of Jacob and Rachel along the road. Another couple - two women - trudged along possibly that same road. The younger, was there out of sheer love and dedication to the older. Naomi, the older of the two, was on a miserable journey back to her home in Bethlehem. As she would announce to her kins- people upon her arrival - she was returning empty and bitter.

Naomi, her husband and two boys had left there years before with high hopes, they were leaving the economic depression of Bethlehem for the prospective opportunity in Moab. Perhaps for a time, they did see the prosperity they hoped to find - the family grew as her two sons found wives. Then fortunes disappeared as Naomi lost her husband and eventually both her sons.  In that day, it was nearly impossible to survive as a single woman - especially in a foreign land.   So Naomi headed back down the Bethlehem Road . . . empty.

She was now returning without her husband or two sons, only Ruth - one of her daughters-in-law.  Both of the former wives of her sons had begun the journey with her, but Naomi convinced one to return; relentlessly, Ruth hung on.

As they walked the road in silence, everything must have mocked her: the hard surface of the road that resisted her steps and pained her feet, the howling wind that sang a jeering song and punished her with stinging sand.  Perhaps the old women would eye her with a knowing smirk - "we knew you'd be back".

Despite her shame there was one bright spot in the midst of her misery - Ruth.  Ruth would be her constant companion, her support - she was not alone.

Ruth held to hope in the same steadfast manner with which she clung to her mother-in-law. That hope was contagious, it encouraged Naomi and it caught the attention of Boaz, a great landowner.

Through a tender turn of events, Ruth captured the heart of Boaz and the sun rose afresh on Naomi.  Not only would her husband's lineage survive - but it would some day become part of the Royal bloodline that would precede Messiah.

Maybe Mary and Joseph found in that tale, the hope that their cold desert nights would sometime warm to the brightness of the day.

On Bethlehem Road Part I

Perhaps the night was especially dark and the arid desert wind blew cold as the Christmas Couple worked their way along the road to Bethlehem.  I suspect that their conversation was sparse; my guess is that the clatter that 21st century westerners' call conversation would not fit well among the early middle-easterners.

With the extreme conditions and the harshness of the journey, I suppose it would do one good to redirect their thoughts away from the surroundings.  Like the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales,  Mary and Joseph possibly focused on stories.

The road to Bethlehem certainly was a place of origin for many stories; in fact, it was likely along that very road, on just such a moonless night, another woman traveled with her husband - she too was in the throes of an imminent delivery.

Her story was somewhat different from Mary's, in that she had borne children . . . well she had one child . . . and many years of conflict stood between that boy and the one she hoped to soon deliver.  The woman had spent her days struggling for the attention and affection of the man with whom she traveled.  From the time that she had met him at a well near her home, he owned her heart.  When he learned they were distant relatives, this wayfaring stranger wept as he kissed her.

Jacob had loved her so much that in spite of the constant intrigue of her father, he patiently indentured himself for fourteen years of hard work - just to win her hand in marriage.

In a polygamist society, she found herself in constant competition with her sister -who was also married to Jacob - in a duel to bear children.  The feat had taken it's toll on her and though she felt triumphant in the fact that she was again pregnant, but the Bethlehem Road was revealing just how fragile her life was.

On just such a night, Rachel died at Bethlehem. As grace would have it, her child was born safely and Jacob named the boy Benjamin. . . a bittersweet night for Jacob along the Bethlehem Road.

What a poignant moment for Jacob, a man that was returning from a journey of renewal - rediscovering his bond with Almighty God - now he must embrace the shovel to dig a grave for the woman he truly loved, and also begin the responsibility of rearing a new baby boy.

An old prophet would bring the realization of a similar bitter sweetness to Mary as he foretold that her very soul that was enraptured at by this Child's birth, would be pierced through someday as He died.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Comfort and Joy - Mary's Gift

This second week of the Advent Season, I have been focusing my reading on Mary and Joseph and how they were brought into God's Christmas Story (Matthew 1 and Luke 1).

I noticed that God saw fit to build and edify Mary's faith through several confirming occurrences. 

This is juxtaposed to the plight of Joseph and Zacharius, who both also received angelic visits.  Once the announcement of God's plan was made, it seems that God saw fit to provide nothing further to strengthen their faith.  Zacharius spent nearly a year in silence; Joseph received no other heavenly messages until after Jesus was born.

Mary, on the other hand, found grace and help all along the way.

After Gabriel rocked her world by making his remarkable announcement, he let her know that the miracle season was already well underway and her aunt - who was known for being childless - was six months pregnant.

Mary must have found immediate comfort in that revelation!  Someone else is in a similar predicament, someone is in on the secret.  Almost immediately she went to her.

Since I think Jesus birth was especially human - though He was also wholly God - I believe that the pregnancy bore resemblance to all other such plights.  I think Mary probably had "morning sickness".  If so, the trip to the hills of Judea must have been exceptionally harrowing.

It seems that while she was yet in the driveway at the home of Uncle Zach and Aunt Liz, she could hear the old woman calling out to her with more comforting confirmation! 

"Blessed is the Fruit of your womb!" 

"she knows!" Mary must have whispered!

Yet unborn, John Baptist began his work of preparing the way for the Savior (not a small task for what some would refer to as "randomly gathered protoplasm") by bounding within the confines of Elizabeth's womb.

All of these incidents served to support and build the faith of this timid girl with a daunting task ahead of her.  Her emotions erupted into a glorious praise song that is sometimes called the Magnificat...

 "My soul does magnify the LORD! And my spirit does rejoice in God, my Saviour!. . . "

At some point in time - either before her journey to Judea or just after - Joseph further added to her joy.  God had spoken to him and confirmed what Mary had told him:  this Child would be the Christ!

I marvel at God's kindness toward Mary, how He went out of His way to provide her with support and confirm her faith. 
While Mary's task was certainly monumental - God's love and kindness toward us is no different.  He lavishes His love upon us through the His Word and through our relationships with others.

O tidings Comfort and Joy!

What Do You WANT for Christmas?

Before I leave Zacharius and the preamble to the Christmas Story, I want to point out one more thing that was prominent to me in this story of the miraculous in the midst of the mundane. 

That first Christmas God gave Zacharius what he wanted.

I think Christians sometimes fall into the wrong-headed belief that God is all about us being denied the things we want.  As you may know, I grew up in a family that followed a fairly strict "holiness" pattern.  Many of my peers would describe what they believed by telling you what they did not believe in... "we don't believe in dancing... we don't believe in wearing jewelry ... we don't....".  With that lifestyle it is easy to think that if something is fun or desirable - it must be wrong.

I don't bear a grudge toward that teaching.  I don't think it warped my psyche to any great degree (although many might say that something warped it).  In fact I understand the motivation behind it and think that at it's foundation that kind of thinking was okay.

I do, however, have some difficulty at times with the idea that God would give us what we want - not just what we need but - what we want.

That's just what God did for Zacharius, the old priest that would sire John Baptist.  In Luke 1, the angel, Gabriel, told Zacharius that his "prayers have been heard"  and his wife would have a son.

A boy!

What a blessing for this old guy - he and his wife, Elizabeth, well past child-bearing years.

Now, hear is why I think God gave Zach exactly what he wanted and was praying for:  Zach had come to a place of being in sync with heaven.  God didn't alter His plan in order to fulfill Zacharius' request.  No, instead as Zach drew closer to God - he desired the things God desired.

God did not change His plan - He changed Zach.

"Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart"   - Psalm 37:4

It works for us too.  As we focus more and more on Him, His desires become our own. Then we began to seek after and desire the things God wants us to desire.

His plan becomes our delight, and that makes for a delightful situation of having what you want and knowing it is within God's Plan.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Two Christmas Questions

"What do you want for Christmas, young man?"

That's the question I used to get from the big guy in Red; that question, I was prepared for.

It was the follow up question that gave me great anxiety and probably kept my Santa Lap Visits to a bare minimum:

"Have you been a good boy?"

The question bothered me because I think that at an early age, I was well aware of my fallen nature.  I was also equipped with an overactive guilt-gland that could always provide an ample supply of contrition whether it was needed or not.

But those aren't the two questions I want to address in this post, instead, they are:

How can I know?
How can this be?

Here is how I am approaching the Christmas season this year - I am sticking to a molasses-style Bible study that I adopted a couple (3?) years ago.  That style is to move deliberately slow.  My hope is to read a passage or chapter, then read it again the next day, and the next; sometimes when taking this course, I will begin to notice items that I didn't notice the first time.  So this year, I am spending this first week of Advent with Zacharius and Elizabeth from the hills of Judea, as they learn of the miraculous coming of the last Messianic Prophet, John Baptist.

I like this older couple!  They are a perfect example of the "one-flesh" relationship God established through marriage to display His own relationship with His people.

They are always working in tandem and both are said to be "righteous", both had a consistent "walk" and both were "blameless".

Most folks familiar with the story in Luke 1 - the prequel to the Christmas Story - know that Zacharius was met by the angel Gabriel while performing his duties as a member of the priesthood.

The angel laid out the basic strategy for upcoming events to old Zach and prescribed the proper tenants for rearing this prophet.

That's when Zacharius asked the first question:

How shall I know this?

If you don't know what followed, stop right here and take a few moments to read it.

Because Mary's visit from the same angel is mingled inside the John Baptist story, I read that account this week as well.  I noticed that Mary also had a question for Gabriel:

How can this be?

Gabriel's responses to these two questions may appear on the surface to be a case for reverse discrimination. Zacharius gets what seems to be a punishing rebuke, while Mary received a "thank you for that wonderful question!" - teacher's pet- response.
While Zacharius was told that he would be unable to speak because of his unbelief; Gabriel used the opportunity of Mary's question to explain God's plan for the incarnation of Christ in more detail.  This dichotomy of reactions caught my eye this week.  I think the story has "marked" Zacharius -much like Thomas- as the consummate doubter.

I had jotted down some notes from my Pastor's sermon on this passage last year, he called the nine months of silence that Zacharius suffered - a gift! He pointed out how boldly Zacharius proclaimed praise to God when John Baptist was born and how staunchly he defended God's plan of action when the village people questioned the choice for the child's name.

Nine months of being unable to speak, had provided Zacharius with an excellent opportunity to listen

He emerged a different man.
What an apparent change!  Zacharius chattered like a school girl - okay probably not but I just wanted to say that - his words clearly revealed that God had developed in him an understanding of the mission for this bold new born prophet. 
So while we clearly see Zacharius as being rebuked and punished by God - Gabriel actually was providing an answer to the question. 

"How shall I know this?" 
Gabriel implied - "Here's how - God is granting you the gift of silence for a you can know."

This Christmas, a little more silence would seem to be desirable.  I arose a little early this morning and built a fire in the fireplace with just that in mind - a little time of quiet.  Conversely, it doesn't appear that Zach's surroundings grew any quieter - he did. 

He listened.

And God changed him.