Grandma’s Shiny Christmas Pin

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When I was but a boy I delivered flyers for a local grocery store in Indianapolis-I was paid a penny per flyer.  I made about $3.00 per week and loved doing it. On most weeks I would take some of my money to Long’s Bakery where I could buy second day donuts for half price as my reward.  The grocer is long gone but the bakery remains. However, whenever Christmas rolled around I looked forward to taking my two or three dollars to the local G. C. Murphy or Kresge store to buy my grandmother a shiny colored pin for Christmas.  She loved her collection of costume pins and wore them to church each Sunday. These stores would have tables of little white boxes each containing a different pin they brought in just for Christmas.  I would be in there for hours picking out just the right pin for her.  The funny thing, it didn’t really matter which one I selected-she would love it just the same.

At age fifty-five this remains one of my favorite Christmas memories.  It was a simplistic time, the pride of buying a gift for my grandma with money I earned, the thrill of the search for the perfect pin, the joy of giving it to her on Christmas Eve and the love she showed when opening it.  I could have given her a purple hippo pin with orange ears-she would have never said a word but would have loved it and worn it proudly.  In my grandmother’s eyes, I could do no wrong.  Simple, loving, cherished, pure!  How times have changed.

I’m all grown up now.  I live in a world where acceptance and approval is sometime difficult to acquire. It’s almost as if our lives are lived as an obstacle course full of hazards and opportunities for failure, lined along the way with our share of naysayers telling us we didn’t study hard enough, we didn’t work hard enough, we haven’t earned enough, we haven’t given enough, we haven’t loved enough. And all along the course we are looking for grandma in the crowd to give her unconditional approval but she’s long since gone to her reward and no one really cares for our shiny pins anymore.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at Christmas time.  The intensity of the season serves as a natural amplifier for all emotions and feelings, good or bad.  For the lucky ones whose lives are balanced and in order Christmas is a magical time where love and hope abounds in volume. But for those who have been beaten down by failure, by rejection, by battles unknown to others, Christmas can be a lonely, dark and empty time that only reveals to us the desperation of our current state.

It is during this season that we are compelled to look beyond what Christmas may have become and instead consider the divine purpose of the Holy Incarnation of that special night when God became flesh to show us an unconditional Grandma type love that would lead to us being called children of God. The arrival of that baby Christ-child was not trumpeted in the courts of kings or revealed to the religious leaders and holy men.  It was instead heralded to the lowliest of the low, the shepherds, society’s outcast, those whose lives were expendable, unwanted, invisible. Christ came to give all men equal status and acceptance into a new kingdom where worth and value are not placed on income levels, educational degrees or corporate titles, but rather on who you know, specifically, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. When we come before Christ and lay down our lives in surrender and sacrifice with all our sins, our failures, our bad decisions, our regrets He doesn’t look upon the darkness of our status or see the obvious soil on our robes.  He sees shiny Christmas pins, full of color, sparkling in the light as if they were Lennox or Swarovski crystal. We are received and set at the same table next to kings and royalty as VIP guests of the highest honor with full access and privilege to the King of all kings, the Christ, now wearing our shiny pins as His badges of honor.

My grandmother has been gone almost twenty years now and I still miss her at Christmas.

An update; in September I wrote a post entitled A Tale of Two Brothers about the differences  and lessons to be learned from our two beagles, Peyton and Romo, emphasizing Peyton’s carefree approach to everyday life even though he had terminal cancer.  Sadly, we said goodbye to Peyton a week ago but know he has gone to that place where our furry kids go on the Rainbow Ridge. He will be missed terribly.

 

 

 

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Recapturing the Lost Wonder of Christmas

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The tree and its collection of unique ornaments that would rival a Macy’s window creation remains packed away in boxes.  The lights and animated reindeer that was part of a Griswold-esque lawn display is hibernating in storage. Except for a Hallmark movie or a rerun of an old holiday classic on TV, there is little evidence that Christmas is just a couple weeks away.

There is an unexplainable magic and wonder that ushers in the Christmas holiday. It takes us back in time to when things were simpler, more genuine-where Peace on Earth seemed attainable and the very best of human nature surfaced ever so briefly so that all the world was better because of it.  For many this annual euphoria still exists and is eagerly anticipated and welcomed like an old friend you only see once each year. But sadly for others the season is anything but joyful.  Silent Night becomes just that, silent. Old carols become seasonal haunts leftover from Halloween like the Ghost of Christmas Past except unlike the Dickens story there is little hope of redemption given to its chosen victims. While there is no real evidence that the rate of suicides is elevated during the holidays, it can’t be denied that depression is all the more apparent and intense when you are alone or coming off a particularly cruel year of trials. The hope is that like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life we can find our way through the muck and mire of mental games just in time to celebrate but many will carry their depression on into the new year. Just like the Grinch, someone snuck in during the night and stole our Christmas.

Christmas is the ultimate time for sharing-a dance to a familiar carol, a gift to someone not expecting it, your love with that special someone, memories of past years with old friends, the celebration of an Incarnate baby savior. However when those opportunities to share are removed due to loss of income, loss of health, the death of a spouse or loved one, divorce or separation, the vehicle used to share the holiday is rendered useless, out of order, incapacitated, leaving one feeling lonely and nothing resembling Merry. It is during these times that we as believers in Christ, the Christmas miracle, have to rely on the true focus of the Christmas celebration and recreate our own miracles. It is only through our ability to see and recall the Babe in the manger that we have a chance of recapturing the wonder we so long for at this special and holy time of year.

I have always believed in my heart that the reason Christmas is so wondrous is that God opens up Heaven and releases just a little bit of the holy residue that covered the earth those two thousand years ago on that special night when Christ the Son became flesh and stepped into the world He Himself created. It was the ultimate gift, the epitome of love that the Son of the Most High would enter this world through extraordinary means on a journey He knew would end on a cross. He didn’t come here to turn water to wine, to feed thousands with a few fish or to leave behind quotes that make for good wall plaques. Christ the Christmas miracle came with the objective and divine plan to willingly lay down His life as a once and for all sacrifice that afforded us redemption, reconciliation to the Father and a blessed hope of eternal Christmases in an everlasting Kingdom where sadness, loneliness and depression are forever banished. It is a kingdom according to Revelation where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for these things will have passed away-forever!”  It is a miracle beyond our human comprehension or explanation. It is the truest essence of Christmas! It remains the wonder of Christmas, if we can but set our sights above the trials and despair of this troubled world.

It would be a bit cruel to identify the problem without offering suggestions on where to go from here.  Lest I be like the TV commercial where I just monitor a problem (“there’s a problem”) here are some things that work for me. I love holiday lights.  There is something about colored lights glowing in the dark that just make you feel good inside.  I recall as kids my brother and I counting light displays on our way to church-a great memory. So now, I go out of my way to take in light displays.  And instead of the same old TV fare I switch over to an old Christmas show or a Hallmark Movie.  Yes, I still watch Frosty, Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It takes me back 50 years to an innocence I cherish, even if there are those days when I resemble Bergermeister or the Grinch. And who doesn’t enjoy the classic holiday songs that accompany Christmas.  Whether it is taking in a concert by Trans Siberian or a local church production, you can’t possibly walk away without at least a tinge of Christmas spirit. One more great remedy for holiday blues is to find a cause, a charity, a need you can adopt to help bring a little Christmas wonder to others who may be feeling just as left out.  It is amazing the healing properties of adopting a family at Christmas or providing a tree or a dinner or a few unexpected toys.  Their joy is infectious and you can’t help but catch the bug if anywhere near. But perhaps the greatest therapy of all is to seek out Church services billed as Christmas celebrations so that the heart, the meaning and the purpose of our celebration is driven home into our depleted spirit so our focus can be redirected to the source of all wonder, the Christ Child, The Prince of our Peace, God with us, the perfect gift for all occasions that like the Jelly of the Month Club from Christmas Vacation, just keeps on giving.  Let the peace of God, which according to Philippians 4 “transcends all understanding”, all hurt, all depression, all loneliness, guard your hearts and minds in the Christ Child.

If you are hurting and not looking forward to the holidays this year, I encourage you with these words and the sincerest of prayers to kneel before the manger and ask for the peace, the comfort, the healing from the source of all celebration and the subject of our reverence, Jesus. Christmas this year may look a little different than in years past but our Father Who is the same yesterday, today and for all Christmases to come will rekindle the holiday flame that may be extinguished so that you can once again warm up to that lost wonder that is Christmas.

 

 

 

 

The Hope That Heals All Christmas Pain

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Its almost time for Christmas, one of the holiest days of the year

The world for a moment stops spinning to send tidings of love and cheer

But for some this day’s a challenge as they try to find some gladness

For each one has a story that for them gives way to sadness

Seems everywhere they cast their glance they’re reminded of the reasons

Why they just can’t find the simple joy of this yearly Holy season

For some a dated ornament, the first Christmas spent together

A love to last the storms of life the two of them would weather

But one storm showed no mercy as it tore the two apart

Leaving nothing good of Christmas and instead, a broken heart

For others there’s and empty chair a loved one used to fill

Though gone, they’re not forgotten and their seat is empty still

They spent their lives united, gave their all to one another

But failing health and extended years claimed one but left the other

Some approach the season just a few weeks unemployed

And find it hard to celebrate being robbed of all their joy

They can’t afford the usual gifts that bring their children laughter

Feeling like they’ve failed again with no prospect of work hereafter

While for some there sits a present wrapped in true anticipation

Of the joy when finally opened at the family’s celebration

But something unexpected, a life so quickly taken

Leaves a family asking questions and the day completely shaken

There’s bitterness and anger as we wrestle with God’s purpose

Trying hard to hide the obvious pain that lies beneath the surface

Why now, why me, what good can come from allowing us these tests

And how do we now reconcile that God still knows what’s best

Yet, in the corner, hardly noticed, a nativity scene displayed

In the center lies the Child of peace, born that Christmas day

His entrance ushered hope and peace for all who would believe

A hope that heals the deepest wounds when to Him we humbly cleave

He understands how hard it is for some to find their cheer

And offers us eternal hope that will last beyond our tears

The cure for all that ails us entered earth that Christmas night

It’s His hope that brings a lasting peace and His love that sets things right

It heals all wounds, fills all voids, brings comfort to ease our pain

And chases tears and sorrows so that love alone remains

We all have things we’d wish to change to make our lives more pleasant

And questions we would pose to God if He stood within our presence

But He knew our pains before our birth and addressed them from above

When He sent His Son to heal all hurts in the ultimate show of love

So we’ll gather on this Christmas day to commemorate His birth

The Christ child come to soothe our pain, the greatest cure on earth

It comforts loss and covers scars if we’ll but humbly kneel

To worship Him who heals our hearts with a peace we each can feel.

 

He Stepped Into Our Globe

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The young woman stared intently at the scene in the globe. Ravished by the scars of recent events in her life and desperate for some solace and relief, she found comfort in the simplicity and safety of the images depicted and encapsulated within the safety of the globe.  As she rotated the globe she watched as the winter scene unfolded. The homes were all lit up and looked warm and inviting, their chimneys showing evidence of logs on the fire.  She could almost smell the aroma escaping their kitchens as they prepared their holiday meals.  The children were playing outside in the snow in a safe and protected environment. The church doors were open and she could imagine hearing the hymns as the old organ bellowed out sweet melodies of traditional seasonal music. There was no traffic, no rush, no sirens-just a fresh falling snow that covered the village in a security blanket of white. Everything she held as ideal was captured in the globe she held in her hands, and just for a moment she longed for the ability to step into the world she was viewing and find refuge within the confines of this artificial creation.

I would imagine we have all done this at least once-perhaps like this young woman, it was a snow globe that captured our attention, or maybe a peaceful Thomas Kincade painting or even a man-made Hollywood setting depicted in a favorite Christmas movie.  The thought of stepping out of our world into a different one is not a concept foreign to many of us.  We long to escape the burdens and cares of a crime riddled, hateful, unloving planet in favor of a peaceful euphoric existence, even if within the limited dimensions of a painting or a plastic figurine within a snow globe.

Christmas is upon us, a time of joy, nostalgia and charity. Yet each year so many get caught up in the hustle and busyness of the holiday that we forget that it is for believers, a Holy day. It is best signified with the limited realization that 2000 or so years ago, God the Son, held His creation, his Earth globe if you will, in His hands.  However it wasn’t a Kincade scene He was viewing but rather one of brokenness, of sin and despair, in need of healing and reconciliation through means only He could deliver. It wasn’t a man-made world He beheld-He was the creator, but the world had turned away from Him and all the simplicity, the tranquility, the beauty He originally intended. The globe He held in His hands was neither peaceful nor inviting.

So, He did what only He could do-He stepped out of His heavenly kingdom and entered the globe He created. He entered not through some easy means but through the painful delivery of human birth that first Christmas. It was vital to the plan that He become the very flesh He had created and experience the frailty of humanity in every way. John 1:1 says that the Word became human and moved into His globe (my paraphrase) and we witnessed His beauty and unique glory.  Romans 8:3 explains it this way:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did. By sending His own Son in the form of humanity, He condemned sin by being incarnate (flesh).

There was nothing picturesque about His mission. We celebrate and depict a peaceful entry with shepherds, livestock and a star, and I’m quite certain the entire earth stopped spinning at the moment of His birth, but the objective was clear and anything but tranquil. He entered His globe that first Christmas morning on a path that would lead to Easter-the lamb that was born would be the eternal lamb to be slain so that through grace and forgiveness we could be reconciled to our original relationship with Him.

The songs, the spirit, the love and if you will, the magic of Christmas, comes alive each year in a very supernatural way to the believer who takes the time to ponder the great mystery of the incarnation of God to His people, His creation, His globe. So the next time you hold one in your hand and imagine what it would be like to insert yourself as a figure in the glass dome, remember God already did, and we call it Christmas.

For These and All Thy Blessings…

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It is sad to me that the traditions and celebrations of Thanksgiving have been folded into the Christmas holiday and has lost its uniqueness in many aspects. We are all guilty.  Each year I debate over whether or not to have the Christmas tree up and the house decorated in time for the Thanksgiving gathering.  We use the occasion to discuss the details of Christmas, who’s hosting, who’s buying gifts for who, what the menu should be, etc. Don’t get me wrong-I absolutely LOVE Christmas and all it means to me, and am an advocate of making Christmas last all year.  But the beauty of Christmas begins with an appreciation and an understanding of the incarnation of Christ, and that epiphany should be ushered in with great Thanksgiving and rejoicing rather than Black Thursday shopping deals.

Perhaps the older I get the more reflective I become. Or maybe it’s a maturity of faith that sheds a greater light on just how blessed we are as a people and as a church, that with all our faults we can be referred to as Children of God. In the midst of all our struggles, in view of all our differences, in spite of the divisions and barriers of our own making, we still have more to be grateful for than we could ever express in the short time allotted us here on earth. This is the week we look back on where we’ve been, what we’ve endured and what we are left with, and raise our voices to say Thanks God. So in the spirit of the day, I have a list of my own. I trust you do as well.

*I don’t have perfect health-I’m out of shape and maybe just a little overweight, yet God has granted  my fifty three years of a good life. 

*I experienced a painful divorce long ago but God blessed me with an angel that I’ve been with now  for eighteen years.

*Our kids aren’t perfect-they are all alive and doing well and a blessing to our family.

*Our grand kids are perfect! They can’t comprehend how precious they and their love is to us. 

*I lost a business this year-painful, but ended up in a perfect situation orchestrated by God alone. 

*Our house needs repair and updating but our home is strong and blessed and welcoming.

*We have to drive twenty miles to and from work. In twenty two years in Las Vegas we’ve never been      involved in any serious accidents. 

*Our church isn’t perfect because we attend there. But we found a home where we can mature and be a  blessing as we grow up in our faith and salvation.

*Our country is not what it used to be but we are still free to disagree, free to pursue happiness, free  to worship as we please, free to peacefully demonstrate and free to move about in relative safety.

*I’m not wealthy by the world’s standards, but I couldn’t ask for anything more than I have. What price  can a man give in exchange for his soul?

I love  Psalm 103 taken from the Message Bible.  It drives home the point, lest we forget, of just how truly blessed we are by God.

 O my soul, bless God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!

 He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
    he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children,
    God feels for those who fear him.

What can anyone add to that?  What more can we ask for in order to be grateful-we already have it all!

There is just one more thing I’m grateful for this year. Since I was a young kid in school I’ve always loved to write.  Now through the technology of social media I am a blogger, writing each week about my experiences as a man striving, sometimes unsuccessfully, to live the Christian faith. The greatest praise one can receive is for another to want to hear what you have to say.  I am but one of countless millions of internet bloggers contributing to the ever growing blogosphere each week. If five of you wanted to follow me and my posts, I’d be truly blessed and would feel like I was making a positive contribution to your state. However I have a few more than five.  To have your posts read by those in countries like the UK and Italy and the Netherlands is humbling beyond words. I am thankful for each of you who have chosen to follow papaswords.com since its onset, and for those who have shared the posts and offered comments and critique. My prayer is that you find commonality in our struggles, our doubts, our fears and our victories as we live out our faith in a world unfriendly and sometimes even hostile toward the Gospel. You are among my greatest blessings-a heartfelt Thank You. May God bless you and your family with joy, laughter, memories and a revelation of these and all thy blessings!

Papa Joe