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.

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Place After Falling From the List

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A local Las Vegas magazine publishes each year The List.  The List identifies celebrities, entertainers and other influencers whose contributions to the city or to charitable works made an impact for the previous year-it is quite the honor to be selected.  In 2013, as an up and coming business owner who donated much free print to charitable causes, I was one of the year’s honorees.  As shown in the image, I was listed just above the likes of Carrie Underwood and further down on the list, Eddie Griffin.  Admittedly it was quite a shock.  And of course the cover and the list are framed and hang proudly in my office as a reminder of something and someone I used to be, past tense. Perhaps if I had been a bit less charitable, my business would still be in existence, who knows.

There is an old cliché, and hit song, “What Have You Done for me Lately”.  We tend to be defined not so much by past achievements or contribution as much as what we did last week.  While The List or any other designation recognizes deeds, it also implies status, and sadly status is relative and ever changing.  Many people who were once touted now find themselves in obscurity, having gone through challenges that most certainly knocked them off the mountain, but more importantly, left them lost and struggling to find their place when everything familiar has been removed.  It is a tough place to be.

Those of us who are a bit older will recall road trips when a paper map or Atlas was needed to navigate the course.  We didn’t have google maps or GPS, and if we didn’t know how to navigate a map, or if the map was outdated, it would be easy to get lost and end up way off course.  There is nothing more frustrating than being miles from anywhere at night, low on gas, hungry from the trip and having no idea where you are at or where you are going.  It is a lonely isolating feeling to not know your surroundings or recognize and markers. Such is life for those who fall from status through their own bad choices or as innocent bystanders who are blindsided by life.

When jobs change, relationships end, family ties are unexpectedly severed, the fall from status is hard and impactful.  Those who suffer from depression face each day trying to find their place, their role, their purpose.  The current number of suicides each year by celebrities, business moguls and even clergy illustrate this fact.  It doesn’t matter sometimes how the world sees you-if you feel you have lost your way you are in a vacuum of despair trying to fit in like a game of musical chairs in the dark.  And even we as believers can lose our way or sense of purpose or worth when faced with some of life’s toughest challenges, especially when God leaves us to our own devices as an unwelcomed test.  No one welcomes this kind of testing.

Truth be known, each of us have our own version of The List, a group of people who are held in high esteem in our lives because of their genuine love, concern and guidance.  A list of celebrities may be framed and forgotten but a list comprised in the heart is a living document that endures.  And while each of us have such a list, each of us would also be found on someone else’s list.  We all matter to someone, even on days when we don’t believe it.  Our lives are always under a microscope, especially when you profess a Christian faith.  Our sphere of influence may not be obvious to us during darker times but is exists all the same.  The approach we take to hardship, our response to loss or change, are always being reviewed, and those reviews determine whose lists we end up on, and our consistency determines if we stay on those lists or are easily blocked or removed like social media connections as in Unfriended, Unfollowed or Unlisted.  Our goal should be to constantly have positive influence on someone daily, even if it is as simple as mentioning someone in prayer. A published list distributed by the world may be a cool honor, but a heart-created list of influence by friends and family is enduring.  My prayer would be that each of us find our place, our purpose, our worth in our circle of friends and family, and our name on their list.

 

An Epidemic of Loneliness

Social Media with it’s new and ever emerging platforms has presented an opportunity for endless virtual connections.  Through Facebook and others, we can now reconnect with old school friends, people from the old neighborhood and many others that we lost contact with and may never have looked up if not given virtual technology.  While at the same time, these “friendship” connections many times are very superficial and give a façade of relationships that don’t truly exist.  It may be true and quite rare that new friendships have been made through initial social media connections, the truth is, however, that your connections know very little about you, and you about them-there is no life-sharing taking place, just an exchange of ideas, jokes, memes and an occasional Check-in.

The same platforms that allow so many of us to connect also aid in the onset of real loneliness.  We can easily get caught up in comparisons.  We see our Friends who have 3000-4000 followers and compare that number to our list of a relative few (thanks to all 350 of mine!). We wonder why we aren’t as popular as others we know.  We become envious when others find that perfect someone and post loving images of the new discovery while we are still seeking love.  We are reminded through shared photos of better times and family ties that ended when the marriage failed and the families parted to opposite sides.  We become jealous when one of our friends post something trivial and receives several hundred comments or Likes, while we pour our heart out over an issue important to us and get crickets and a few emojis.

Beyond social media, the lonely attempt to fill their days with activities and surround themselves with the few friends they do have hoping that staying busy will keep their minds from the reality of living in solitude.  But no matter how busy one stays or how many drinks they have with friends, at the end of the day, literally, they each go home to empty homes of large rooms void of life or activity.  They go to bed alone and wake up the same way.  No number of virtual friends can replace the existence of just a single mate or close human bond that so many miss and long for.  And these lonely people are everywhere-on public transit, in restaurants, in the work place, at bars and yes, even in our churches. They may never let you in on their facade, but they are all around us.

When God created the first man, He was immediately aware that it was not a good idea for man to exist alone.  He understood the need for closeness, for companionship, for relationship.  Granted, there are many who prefer a life of freedom from the responsibility and accountability required to be in a relationship.  The Apostle Paul was one who preferred the life of bachelorhood because for him, a relationship would have been too much to tend to given his vocation of ministry.  He asserts that a select few are given the “gift” of living a single life.  While I am not one to challenge sound Biblical teaching, this one is a head-scratcher for me.  I would call living life without a significant partner to share it with, anything but a gift.  Those who lose spouses to death or seperation do not feel gifted.  Children who grow up not knowing a parent that turned their back on them do not feel gifted.  Orphans or those in nursing homes waiting for visitors do not feel gifted.

So where do we turn when the feelings of emotional isolation become overwhelming?  I can only offer some things I have learned or tried to incorporate.  The most important thing to convince yourself is that your situation does not define your value!  This is of great impact for believers.  Being called children of God hardly implies worthlessness!  The fact that God has our name tattooed in his palm should give us a sense of eternal value.  Another trick I’ve employed is to find activities wherein you can give something of yourself to those who need what you have to offer, e.g. volunteering with under-privileged youth or donating time to organizations who feed the hungry or homeless-things that are vitally needed that can give you a sense or accomplishment and purpose. Making efforts to spend time with your adult children or just hanging with those with whom you share things in common serves to soften the reality of loneliness.  Another tool is to use social media to find groups who share common interests so that you virtual activity is not limited to I.Q reducing banter with no purpose or substance.  There are groups for just about any interest imagineable. And if your loneliness centers around not being in a relationship, continue to be out there, willing to be vulnerable, bold enough to risk being hurt, and by all means not judging would-be suitors based on past experiences of which they played no part.

God does not desire that any of us should feel worthless due to loneliness.  We need to look for ways to reduce the pain of isolation and increase our sense or purpose and value.  We can’t sell something we don’t buy into!  If we don’t believe it, no one else will either.  Ask God to open up your heart and mind to all opportinities and possibilities as you work your way out of the epidemic of loneliness.

There’s a Little Mary in All Of Us

Each Christmas I attempt to find something in Luke’s Christmas story that is meaningful and sometimes glossed over.  This year I am drawn to the verse in Luke 2:19 that reads “…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart“. I would guess that many who read this simply believe that Mary was content and peaceful with all that has happened, having reconciled it all and found it to be good.  I might suggest that is not at all what this passage means.

Ponder, from the Greek word ponderare means to weigh.  Defined it means to carefully consider, to examine, specifically, something that is not completely understood or determined.  Remember, the passage records that everyone around her was rejoicing over the good news, but Mary was pondering, contemplating, perhaps partly in personal reverence but also partially in great confusion.  Her first words upon hearing from the angel gives us a clue, when she replied, “why me?”  We refer to her as bless nd she is depicted as this Holy, saintly mother of God, when in fact she was a teenager at best, never married, never sexually active, and now the mother of someone being hailed as the Messiah.  I personally feel she pondered because she was perplexed and a bit less than confident.

How many of us actively seek God’s will or purpose in our lives but become confused at the events He causes or allows to invade our world?  Even for the rare few who can say they heard God’s voice, there is still trepidation when it comes to being obedient to something when we don’t fully understand the purpose or know where it will lead us.  When Mary was told by the angel that she would soon be pregnant, she must have pondered how Joseph and her family would receive her. When she and Joseph hear the words from Simeon that “a sword will pierce your soul too“, she must have pondered those words as well.  When she and Joseph had to flee to Egypt with full knowledge that all infants under the age of two years  were about to be slaughtered because of her son, she must have pondered these things.  When Mary witnessed the brutal beatings and stripes her son bore she must have been pondering.  When she wept at the foot of the cross she surly pondered all these things.  In fact she may have spent thirty-three years “pondering these things in her heart” until the time her son was resurrected from the grave and she finally understood!

I’m fifty-six year old and I ponder things and events all the time.  Why would God allow this event to shatter my world?  What purpose is there in going through this particular situation?  What can possibly be worked out for my good from this impossible situation? If we are to be honest, we all have seasons where just like Mary, we ponder these things.  And guess what?  It doesn’t upset or Father in the slightest that we have honest questions, so long as at the end of the day, like Mary, we have a servant’s heart and can honestly say, just as she did, “very well, let it be unto me just as you have spoken“.

This Christmas many are in an unfamiliar situation, missing loved ones, suffering diseases, enduring trials unknown to others, and may be pondering, weighing, contemplating things for which there are no apparent answers.  My prayer is that you find peace, hope, joy and love in the Christ Child we celebrate with full knowledge that His purpose in our lives is clear and perfect, even when we are left pondering.

To all my followers, let me say again how humbled I am that you read and subscribe to papaswords.com. I wish all of you, from the bottom of my heart, a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

book cover 3    my soul cries out  Available on Amazon Kindle.

 

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

One is the Loneliest Number…

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When God created Adam and placed him in paradise, He is recorded as saying that it was not a good thing for man to be alone.  Up until that 6th day everything He had created, He called Good. Loneliness was the very first thing God labeled as Not so good.  This was not an oversight on God’s part, or heaven forbid a divine epiphany-we’re talking about God here.  It was always the plant to create a mate for Adam to share life with, and for the most part it has remained thus through the ages. Maybe God knew that Adam needed someone to press his fig leaves or dress the wild catch of the day for dinner.  Or perhaps, He simply knew that human connection was an integral part of the grand design.

We live in a society of lonely people.  They are all around us in plain sight yet hidden from us.  They may hide behind smiles and activity, bar-hopping, social media and yes, even church involvement.  But truth be known at the end of the day these go home to a cold and lonely dwelling where the only voices are heard over their airwaves of the television.  Because of the stigma of admitting loneliness, especially among men, they choose to remain silent and battle solitude while those closest to them are completely unaware.  Loneliness is a major factor in depression.  Feelings of irrelevance, isolation, despair, worthlessness-all symptoms and results of one who suddenly finds themselves alone.

Many in bad relationships long for the day they could have total freedom without answering to anyone-the ultimate bachelor.  But even those who relish the thought and through unexpected circumstances get their wish, find that the novelty wears off when they go to bed night after night by themselves and wake to mornings the same way.  It can be a vicious cycle and get old very quickly.

I find it ironic that in an age of social media where people are connecting with friends they haven’t seen in years, social media plays such a large role in loneliness.  Even with FaceTime and Skype, personal interaction is becoming a lost art.  Business calls are replaced with emails.  Sales meetings have been replaced with much cheaper video conferences.  Even dating clubs for singles have fallen to sites like Match, Christian Mingle or OurTime.  Land lines are now obsolete-greeting cards requiring thought and postage are slowly being phased out by e-cards. I even have to check  my own groceries at most stores where clerks are now computer kiosks. And dare I even suggest that church attendance is now a choice of getting up and going to a gathering place or watching a live stream from the convenience of your own living room. We are being systematically screwed by a technical age that is turning us all into mindless loners with no social skills or personal interaction.  I may have introverted tendencies but being alone is not my preferred way to live life.

Right about here is where I would normally list scriptures that give us hope and encouragement for the topic of the post, and with this topic there is certainly much the Bible has to offer. But sometimes a Bible verse is not the best remedy.  Yes, I know, Amy Grant caught hell for saying that back in the day, but she was right.  Even the Word asks us what good it does to tell a person to be well without meeting their need.  I must have ten different versions of Bibles at my disposal but the human element is not present.

When I was younger the news of a house fire had little impact on me.  However in 1994 I learned first hand the meaning of empathy when I lost everything in a fire.  Now when I see news of a fire my heart goes out because I’ve been there.  If you’ve ever been alone you know how others feel, the despondency and everything associated with isolation. It is through empathy that we connect and offer healing to those who travel where our feet have been previously.  You don’t have to look far to find lonely people-bars, nursing homes, orphanages, even Facebook. A visit, a beer, a baseball game, a phone call goes a long way in helping others who would otherwise have little or no connection to a real person.  Yes, in Christ we have “a friend who sticks closer to us than a brother“, but flesh and bones are preferred. Ask God to allow you to see others as He does so that you can be aware of those you can help.

my soul cries out

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.

 

 

 

 

The Dark Side of Hearts Day

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December 26th-shelves filled with Christmas products just the day before have been reduced to a single 50% off Clearance aisle.  In their place, the newest assortment of red heart-shaped boxes, stuffed furry animals and oversized cards, the annual commercial tribute to Valentine’s Day. And although given almost two full months to select the perfect gift, most will wait until just days before, some out of true love and others mere obligation. The Valentine’s Day holiday is a thirteen billion dollar annual event (that’s $13,000,000,000.00). More than 180 million cards will be exchanged, 480 million roses and more chocolate than any of us need. Ironically, while it’s the best time for a man to buy that card once a year that says the things he can’t articulate, one study says 85%of these cards are actually purchased by women.

While many joke that the day was created by Hallmark, it’s romantic roots can be traced back to a 13th century poet named Chaucer who in essence wrote that all creation comes together in love and harmony, etc. etc. etc.  Simply stated, it is a dedicated day each year that gives most an opportunity to freely express or reaffirm their love for their significant other, accompanied by many passed down traditions and gestures.  In Europe for instance some still exchange Valentines Day keys that signify an invitation to unlock the heart of their lover. But sadly for just as many, this day only serves as a reminder that the locks to the hearts of their special love have been changed and their keys no longer work.  A day that brings joy to those in love brings severe pain and isolation to those who bear the scars of broken hearts.

Statistics may not prove that suicide rates are higher on Valentine’s Day than on others but many studies support that depression brought on by broken relationships is a leading trigger for suicide attempts. When asked of those who survived such attempts, they responded that they didn’t necessarily want to die, they just simply had no reason to live. I can speak from past experience-there is no greater pain than to love someone with all your heart only to know they no longer love you in return. The feelings of loss, hopelessness and loneliness resulting from a severed relationship are no different than those feelings of mourning the sudden death of a loved one.  All of us, if breathing, have experienced it at least once in our lives.  The brave dare to love again, some more than a few times, but others shy away from the vulnerability necessary to love again for fear of the possibility of yet another broken heart already scarred by past loves and the pain associated with it that can bring even the strongest to their knees and turn their world upside down.

I wish I could offer words of healing or a fix-all solution for a quick recovery for those who feel the sting of rejection while witnessing others exchange their flowers and chocolates on this day of love.  If I could I wouldn’t be writing a blog post but a multi-million copy best-seller.  The pain of rejected love can be found in the earliest recorded writings in existence. It is a timeless tragedy that all will eventually suffer.  Some may bring calamity upon their love due to their own indiscretions-some due to apathy or just being oblivious to symptoms of trouble, and others will simply be innocent victims of a heart gone astray. Whatever the reason, the euphoric feelings that many celebrate on Valentine’s Day are the daggers that re-wound broken hearts haunted by abandonment and rejection and lingering memories of past loves that play over in their minds like an old movie projector with no Off switch.

If there are words of hope to offer, they must be found in Holy scripture.  I know that curling up with your Bible on a lonely night may seem to offer little in the way of comfort or companionship but there are words that can serve as a salve to help ease pain until such time as the heart can begin to recover.  Here are but a few to consider;

Psalm 34:18; The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3; He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 73:26; My flesh and heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

1 Corinthians 13:7; …love endures all things

2 Corinthians 12:9; My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness.

Lamentations 3:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.

Til death do us part…”. Apparently some die more than once in their lifetime.

For better of for worse…”. And some must be beyond “worse”.

Time is the universal healer of brokenness and Christ is the accelerator of the healing process. The feelings of loneliness felt by widows, divorcees and others on Valentine’s Day are natural and can’t be avoided without crawling into a hole and coming out when the stores start stocking for Easter. But there is no reason to feel totally unloved or uncared for.  There is another simple verse that reminds us if we will take heed…

cast all your cares on Him for He truly cares for you..

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.

 

Unseen Pain

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On July 4th I was walking on the top floor of a local casino parking garage to get a panoramic view of the city’s fireworks displays. I noticed a strange pain in my left foot but kept walking. The pain intensified and by evening I was wrapped in a blanket with chills from the intense pain (it was 105 outside). The next day I could barely walk and by the third day I could put no weight on the foot. Reluctantly I went to the local Quick Care for treatment but multiple x-rays revealed no injury.  When offered pain medication I declined, thinking I could just live with it if it didn’t get any worse. It got worse. A couple days later I was back at the quick care begging for drugs.  It’s amazing what strong narcotics can do for pain relief. The pain had become so severe I could not think-I could barely communicate-I could not function normally-it was crippling!  Upon administering treatment I was back to some level of sanity and could focus on something other than the pain.

We live in a world full of hurting people. Their pain may not be obvious but the hurt is no less severe. We encounter them everywhere we go unaware-unaware because we seldom take the time to notice. The pain they endure may be from a broken relationship with a mate or close family member. They may be that teenager who just can’t seem to measure up to their parents’ expectations. Some suffer the pain of acute loneliness that could be relieved with a simple conversation or visit. Some carry the burden of failed marriages or businesses.  Psychologists agree that a man responds to a failed business much the same as he would to the loss of a loved one.  I know that to be true. The wife who gives her all to her husband and kids but never receives appreciation or affection from them walks in silent pain. The incarcerated serving time in a lonely cell for one bad and costly decision or act suffers a pain we can’t comprehend. The young girl who thought aborting or giving up her child was the right decision may now be carrying the pain of guilt and regret. The man who lost his family over indiscretions and now sees another care for what was once his suffers a dull pain that may never go away. These are the pains that left untreated can cause one not to think clearly-not to be able to communicate-to not be able to function normally-the unseen pains that are crippling.

How I wish I had the time-the capacity-the reach to embrace these who suffer silently. We all know how our hearts ache when our kids or grandkids cry. We don’t need to know why the tears-we just want to hold them until they stop flowing. How much more does our Savior react to our pain. How cool is it that we have someone to call out to who lived the human experience in the Earth He created so as to empathize with our hurts and our feelings.  Psalm 34 tells us that the Lord is always near to those with broken hearts and crushed spirits. Sometimes in the midst of our pain we can’t see or accept the relief that comes from calling out to God for mercy, so we go on through life thinking like I did, that we can live with the pain if it doesn’t get worse.

There are no quick fixes to deep emotional stress carried unseen by so many.  However that is no excuse to not be engaged or aware of those around us who may be hurting. It is surprising how many of these people worship with us each week in our churches!  I am always on someone’s schedule, running here or there, but I am trying to remember to ask God to help me see others who need a word, a hug or a meal. If you know of individuals who suffer in silence, get involved, go out of the way, send a card, make a phone call, buy them coffee-whatever it requires to just be a presence at a lonely time.  We don’t need answers-we don’t  need to bombard them with Bible verses. We just need to let them know we are aware of their hurts so some healing process can begin. It’s not about deeds and works and righteousness-it’s about love, about caring, about sharing the burden of pain that is too great or someone to carry alone.

Father, help us see the pains in others that you see and respond as you would with love, with empathy and with presence.

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

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If you are one of those who are always on top of your game, you wake up and kiss the sky and your kitchen sings to you while you make breakfast, this post isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us who don’t live in Disney World, those who strive to live a positive life but still battle the demons of failure, sin and worthlessness-real people.  I am one-I’m with you-those days when you wonder if you really matter, if you are really loved, if you would be missed if you were gone, if you are having any positive impact on those you love and pray for. Those small doubts become large gaping holes of opportunity for attack. Each day is a new war to wage against the dark, spiritual and tangible forces that are well trained at knocking us off course.  If you aren’t the target of such attacks, you aren’t fully engaged in life or your faith. The following are excerpts from a sermon I wrote years ago but still as relevant as it was then.  There are key weapons at our disposal to aid us in our daily battles against weariness, depression and discouragement.

“There are times in our faith walk when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk.  We are on a straight and narrow road, running this race-running like Forest Gump-running and running and running. There comes a time when I just want to stop running.  I see a little spot off the beaten path and I pull off the road just to stop running.  The place I find myself in here isn’t necessarily attractive-it’s isolated-it’s disconnected-it’s quiet.  It’s not lively, it’s not dead-it’s just hereHere is a place where my prayers don’t seem to travel far.  Here is a place that is under the radar from the dark forces of life.

Eph. 6:12 reads “For we fight not against people made of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in heavenly realms”.

The enemy is highly trained to target those who are engaged in their faith.  But as long as I’m here, no one cares.  As a Christian, I know all I need to do is call on Jesus for help and get back on the road.  I can even see the road from here, but it is just easier to stay here.  This is my spiritual funk.

Now that I’ve painted you a picture of spiritual funk, how many of you have been here too?  How can we get there from here?  I have come up with 5 easy but vital steps for Christians to follow to avoid these funks.

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

We are so easily led astray by our own thoughts.  We haven’t mastered the art of bringing every thought into captivity. I have struggles with reassurance issues.  In my mind, I tend to put myself up here more than I should.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much of a parting shot to knock me down to here-an unhappy customer, something the kids say, a series of unlucky events, any form of rejection.  If I believed in blind luck, I would be the one person he can’t see.  When things don’t go your way, or the people around you point fingers, you start to believe that maybe you are the problem. Job’s friends told him he was the reason for all the calamities God allowed in his life, and Job tended to believe them.  We completely disregard every positive thing scripture has to say about who we are in Christ. This is the ultimate trick of the deceiver-he wants to remind us of all our past mistakes, all our failed relationships, all our closet skeletons, and we buy right into this trick.  The result is a feeling of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness, all contrary to what Christ thinks of us.

Philippians 4:7 says this; “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he’s done.  If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  (Vs 8). Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. 

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

There are several good sources of Christian nourishment available to us.  One of my favorites is Christian music.  I’ve always loved music-it is the one medium that can completely change your attitude or actions.  For example, when the classic rock song “I can’t drive 55” comes on, amazingly, I really can’t drive 55.

Music can be uplifting-I’m always amazed how a piece of music that was recorded years ago on electronic media can still become a worship experience in your car.

Our brains are complex recorders-we can recall every good or bad thing we’ve seen or heard in the course of a day.  If that’s the case, we should expose ourselves to positive influence, whether music, or a good book or a good TV program.

Romans12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is a daily process if we are to avoid spiritual funk.

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

This one is interesting to me.  I don’t personally believe that as Christians we are only supposed to hang with other Christians.  That’s not the model Christ gave us.  In fact Jesus, according to scripture, was quite a party animal. But his closest friends were believers.  When we socialize it is important to spend time with those who share your faith-they will become a great help and support to you when you’re in trouble.  And be very careful about those you hang with who are not Christian-they can easily lead you down a different path.  Our non-believing friends need our influence, but we must not yield to theirs.  It is too easy in the course of having a good time to let your guard down or compromise your core values after prolonged exposure.  The friends you confide in will ultimately be advising you.

Psalm 1:1 reads “Oh the joy of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.”

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

I have weaknesses.  I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian, we all have kinks in our armor.  The enemy always knows your weakness.  For some maybe it’s lust, for others maybe pornography.  Some may have a substance addiction-maybe you gossip-maybe you eat too much-maybe you have a gambling problem-maybe you’re just plain crazy.  Having a weakness is not necessarily the problem, especially if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself and to God. However yielding to your weakness over God’s strength  can put you in your own spiritual funk.  Putting yourselves in situations where you could stumble is just not responsible as a Christian.

1 Peter 2:11 says “Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here.  So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very soul”.

What does this mean?  It’s simple really-if you can’t hold your liquor, you should stay out of bars.  If you have an eating disorder, the Carnival Buffet is not for you.  If you can’t get on the internet without migrating to a porn site, stay off the computer.  If you’re down to your last $3, don’t spend it on Megabucks.  If you like spreading rumors, don’t listen to any new ones.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Don’t give our enemy any advantages against you.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be Careful. Watch out for attacks from the devil, your enemy.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some victim to devour”.

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re in a spiritual funk is to spend time alone with God.  Part of being in this place is the feeling of disconnection you feel.  When you cry out to God, it’s as if you hear the echoes of the canyons, but when you pray, you almost feel the prayers bouncing back off the ceiling.  It is in these times that it is most imperative that you habitually seek God out, remembering he hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we don’t feel his closeness.

James 4:7 says “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.  (vs. 10).  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.”

Sometimes our path is dark and cold and each step is just another step of faith into the unknown. But God promised to be with us in the valley of shadows and death, not to take us around it as some might suggest but to be our guide and companion until we can navigate through the density and the turns. Our yellow brick road to Oz may seem more like a muddy trail through an endless swamp but in Christ, we can be sure that our final destination will be worth the hazards of the journey.