Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Conundrum

Merry Christmas to you all!

I sat glued to the edge of my seat that Christmas morning. We were gathered in the living room around the tree -- our family along with some friends. Sean was 7; Beth and Becki (yes, twins) were 4.

It was the typical joyous, chaotic ritual of opening Christmas gifts. Everyone was excited. The smell of wassail came in from the kitchen. Oooo's, Ahhhh's and laughter permeated. Becki had adopted a new phrase she learned from her mom, the consummate pastor's wife. "Oh, how nice!" was an expression Cathy used often then. We heard those words multiple times that day from our 4-year-old. In fact, she said the phrase every time she opened a gift!

The problem we had that morning lay with one of the twins. We didn't know which one. I was on the edge of my seat.

Christmas with identical twins is fun, but you can get double vision watching them open their gifts. So many of the presents -- especially the small ones -- are exactly alike. This is heightened by the fact that, when one girl opens a certain size box wrapped in a unique paper, the other one knows what's in her box. Edge of my seat.

Cathy's mom (Mamma to S,B & B), has sold Avon since the year after Hannibal came across the Alps. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration -- it was the next year. Christmas at our house always includes Avon. That year, the girls were receiving Avon necklaces. Identical. Identical boxes. Identical wrapping. But labeled. One Beth. One Becki. Edge of my seat.

Our conundrum was that one of the necklaces had fallen out of its box. Mamma found it after the packages were wrapped and sent. In horror she stuck the little necklace in an envelope and mailed it to us. We weren't sure which one, but we would have a VERY disappointed daughter when she discovered that her sister received a necklace and she got an empty box. NOW you know why I was on the edge of my seat. Necklace tucked away. Ready to produce it at the right moment.

Then, Beth opened a little gift. Throwing aside the wrapping paper, she took the lid from the tiny box. Inside, on a small bed of cotton, lay a beautiful little necklace. The drama was set. It was Becki's turn.

For some reason, Becki was so caught up in the moment that she didn't take in what her sister had just opened. She tore off the paper, opened her box, found the cotton nee jewelry inside and exclaimed, "Oh, how nice; cotton balls!"

I fell off the edge of my seat -- laughing!

We gave her the necklace, but the moment stuck. The next year, Cathy wrapped up a special package for Becki's Christmas that contained -- you guessed it! When she opened it that year, she got a frown on her face and asked, "Why did you do this to me?" Totally spoiled the fun. After an explanation, though, she saw how special a little tradition can be. From then on, it stuck.

Becki, this is 27 Christmases later. You are a continent away from us today! Have you discovered anything special for you? Anything soft and white?

Dear Reader, I am deeply honored that you are joining me on this journey. Getting to know some of you over the last couple of months is a high privilege and I thank you all for your kind input. My hope and prayer for you is God's best in your life this Christmas and throughout your days.

I will be rather sporadic at this post over the next few days. Cathy and I are spending time with some family. We will be back at our regular schedule soon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Final Preparations

I am on the final approach to Christmas, including three services tonight and lunch with the two guys who help me walk my talk.

One of the people who has been mostly in the background in relation to this blog is very much in the foreground of my life. Jose is not only one of our key leaders at church, but is my main interpreter in the Dominican Republic. Finally, and of utmost importance, he is as close to me as a brother.

I mention this because Jose has begun a blog. Please take a few minutes to read his first posts. He is a great storyteller and will touch something deep within you.

I wish you the very best of Christmases. May these days be merry and bright for you and may you come to know the One whose birth we celebrate.

If you can, please join me here on Christmas morning for a story I can't wait to tell you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Story

It all began with the mystery of the dropped thermostat control.

We had our Small Group Christmas party at Ox and TJ's house over the weekend. Cathy remembered to bring our electric skillet home, but forgot the cord.

Needed the cord.

Sam, the good guy errand runner stopped to retrieve the thing. (So far, I like this story -- I'm the hero!) Brought the cord home to banners unfurling and blaring trumpets. Cathy placed a wreath around my head. (Okay, all that last part is an exaggeration. Sorta.)

About 10 minutes after I got back home, Ox pulled up and jumped out of his pickup. I met him at the door and he showed me a strange looking gizmo. He said, "I looked down on my lawn and saw this thing. Picking it up, it hit me: it's the thermostat control dial from your cord."

I checked the cord. Ox saved the day! I have now become Han Solo in Return of the Jedi. Luke is the main hero, but I get the girl (Princess Cathy). Swash your light saber, Ox!

Thermostat placed back on the cord, Ox and I (with Princess C looking on) started talking about all sorts of stuff. He tells us he's headed into town to find a Christmas present for TJ. He checked on the internet and can't find one the right color.

I asked him what stores he's gonna check. He went down the short list, ending with "Sports Authority." He said he was saving it until last because he was afraid they would be more expensive. Princess C asked him how much one of those things (hush -- TJ might be reading this) would cost. "I've been seeing them for $39 bucks," replies Ox.

Knowing that Ox and TJ don't take the paper (I'm still old-fashioned; er, just old.), I asked Ox if he would like the take the Sports Authority ad which has a $10 off $50 coupon. Just in case. If the gift cost a bit more there, he could redeem the coupon. The Princess added, "And, if you find one for $39, you can spend about $10 on something else and get the $10 back!"

A short while later, my phone rang. Ox was excited! "Sam, this all happened because you dropped your thermostat control on my lawn! If you hadn't, I wouldn't have stopped by your house to return it and you wouldn't have given me the Sports Authority ad!"

"What happened, Ox?"

"I came straight to Sports Authority and they had the exact one I wanted to get. They even had ONE LEFT in the color I wanted!"

"Wow, Ox, that's great! How much is it?"

"$39 bucks!"

"All right, Ox, find something else to bring you over the $50 and get it for free with your coupon! Merry Christmas!"

Monday, December 22, 2008

In Sickness And In Health

Sorrow. We notice it more this time of year. Sandra's post yesterday was a beautiful reminder of how some walk the sad road with hope.

Part of my job is to see both the pain and the joy that make up the human experience. Just yesterday at church...

...I talked to a young mom who was all smiles -- she and her husband are celebrating the season with their first -- a beautiful baby girl.
...I talked with a family whose 3-year-old boy is full of life even though he has to daily take his meds for leukemia.
...I noticed two young couples that were away for the day, but each are spending their first Christmas together as husband and wife.
...I saw widows who are facing the season alone -- some for the first time.
...I noticed a lady whose brother has left his wife for another. The betrayal of his marriage is especially bitter at this time of year.
...On the other hand, I saw couples who will have their happiest Christmas ever -- even though their marriage was on the brink of disaster a year or two ago.

All of those things were just yesterday at one tiny point on the map in Yuma, AZ.

Sandra's nephew David and his wife Tiffany are bravely facing the loss of their tiny twins. I pray that same spirit for a family I know whose son -- and brother, husband, dad -- took his own life a few months back.

Looking into those faces and knowing that they represent but a small fraction of the stories that surround me, I wanted to share some verses that give me hope. In the first one, Christ Himself is speaking. The second is a prophecy spoken by Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus fulfilled it.

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:10 MSG)

He was despised and rejected by people. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was despised like one from whom people turn their faces, and we didn't consider him to be worth anything. He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows... (Isaiah 53:3-4 GW)

What offers you hope and comfort this Christmas?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hi, Pastor Sam!

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent; the focus is the shepherds and joy. While that's the subject of my sermon at church today, I want to tell you about something that brought Cathy and me great joy this week.

For me, the story began on Thursday. I was on my way home for lunch. Approaching a red light near our home, I decided to turn right (legal to do that on red here). I got into the right turn lane, noticing a group of high school kids crossing the side street. Slowing for them to cross, I noticed that they were all walking behind me and allowing me to proceed. In the midst of the group was a girl I know from church. Ashleigh is 14.

Ashleigh is a nice girl from a great family, but she was in the middle of 7 or 8 friends. That's hardly the time for most teens to acknowledge that the old guy in the car is their pastor. I made the turn with the group now behind me and never saw Ashleigh look my way. All of a sudden I heard a shout. Looking in my mirror I saw Ashleigh yelling, "Hi, Pastor Sam!" as she waved enthusiastically. I turned, grinned and waved back.

On Friday afternoon, I stepped outside the house to get our mail. On my way back, I saw a high school boy walking down the street toward me. As he looked up and made eye contact, I said "Hi" even though I didn't recognize him. Upon his, "Hi, Pastor Sam!" response, I realized it was Beaudy. He's 15 and also a member of our Student Ministry. We stopped and talked for a minute.

I told Cathy what had just happened and added in the story about Ashleigh the day before. She then told me that she had seen Beaudy in the neighborhood while she was driving a day or so earlier. He had waved and smiled.

Our Student Ministry is vibrant and growing. We have a great team working there and I have little personal involvement in what they do. Still, some of them saw fit to share a friendly greeting with me this week.

They brought me good tidings of great joy.

Have you enjoyed any "aha" moments recently?