Monday, December 31, 2007

Key to a GREAT 2008!

Okay, here's what the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says about the word RESOLUTION:

Main Entry:

Middle English resolucioun, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French resolucion, from Latin resolution-, resolutio, from resolvere
14th century
1: the act or process of resolving: as a: the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones b: the act of answering :
solving c: the act of determining d: the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance e: the separating of a chemical compound or mixture into its constituents f (1): the division of a prosodic element into its component parts (2): the substitution in Greek or Latin prosody of two short syllables for a long syllable g: the analysis of a vector into two or more vectors of which it is the sum2: the subsidence of a pathological state (as inflammation)3 a: something that is resolved b: firmness of resolve4: a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group5: the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out6 a: the process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object, closely adjacent optical images, or sources of light b: a measure of the sharpness of an image or of the fineness with which a device (as a video display, printer, or scanner) can produce or record such an image usually expressed as the total number or density of pixels in the image

I know most of the resolutions made by most people will be associated with things like diet, exercise, and other personal improvements that are needed. I would recommend for folks like me that we start with the spiritual needs we have and then seek to allow God to work on those rough edges that need to be improved. Things like our devotion to Him first in all things and then how we relate to others, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, our fellow Church members, and the world at large. Instead of making it really hard with a lot of lists, I know Jesus boiled it down into two major areas: Love God with all your being and then demonstrate that love for God in how you show love towards others.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It's About Faith, Family, & Fellowship

Enjoying the special Christmas holiday season for me has to do with knowing the Christ of Christmas in a special way. That comes only when we accept the truth regarding His Person and His Passion on our behalf. How do we respond to this great salvation? We become like a small child, confess our guilt before God, and receive His finished work by faith. That's the number one way to experience Christmas for all it is worth.

Another way is to appreciate the blessings of family. Back in 1979, the Pittsburg Pirates adopted the Sister Sledge song "We Are Family" as their own. This became their theme as they won the national league pennant and went on to win the world series. I can see images in my mind of big Dave Parker and the aging Willie Stargell who were leaders on the team and hear the crowd going wild as sang that famous tune, We Are Family. They were, and you are blessed indeed if you are a part of a close and loving family. We have our own immediate family including our children, their wives, and their children. We have mom and dad and brothers and sisters and their children and their children. We have aunts and uncles and cousins galore. We also have our Church family who we spend much time with and they are an ever present reminder of support and love, one for another.

I didn't blog yesterday because my wife and I were up early and on a journey to visit my mom and dad. What a day to be able to visit with those who have contributed so much to our lives and to laugh, remember old times, and express once again our love and appreciation. After leaving there we went by my wife's brother's place and saw him and his wife, one of his boys, and his wife, his two children, and his mother-in-law. Then on to my wife's sister's house where we visited with her and her husband who had just come in from deer hunting. Later, their daughter-in-law and two of their grand sons dropped in. Yes, we enjoyed our ever so brief times with these we don't see so often but we left knowing that we had experienced wonderful fellowship in being a part of a loving family.

We were tired when we finished our 16 hour, 400 mile round trip but it was a blessed tiredness because we could lay our head down on our pillows knowing that God had been so good to allow us these times together. That's what makes this time of year so very special to me. It is about faith. It is about family. And, it is about enjoying our times of fellowship. May God help us all to make those visits and to cherish our loved ones while we still have time. And, as you probably guessed, ........there will be more later.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Blessed We Are!

We had a most wonderful Christmas day! My wife and I had plenty to do to put the final touches on our special preparation for our time together with our boys, their wives, and children. We missed our Tiffany over in London but she had called in and reported they were busily touring the sites there and having a good time. As we worked to get the finger foods ready and I prepared the grill for cooking we had the DVD of the musical 'Scrooge' going on the TV in the family room. Later, we put on 'It's A Wonderful Life', and as we would pass through we couldn't help but stop even though we had seen every scene dozens of times. Some call it too 'all American pie' but the underlying theme is that God does have a purpose for life and we can accomplish something when we seek to serve Him and the purpose He has given to us.

In our celebrity crazed world it would seem that even in religious circles we have become obsessed with the largest ministries, the most famous preachers, or the ones who have the biggest television outreach. In the movie George Bailey was a little guy who gave his life to serving others, quietly, and without much notice or recognition. The Bible says much about those who give of themselves but only God knows what they have done. They will be the ones recognized on that day when the rewards are handed out. They are the ones who get up in the middle of the night to pray for someone in need. They are the ones who sacrifice a need of their own in order that someone else can be helped and they do it without even being named. They are the ones who meet the test of feeding, clothing, and tending to the needs of our Savior. Remember what Jesus said when they asked Him how they had done this for Him. He told them when they had done it for one of the least among them they had in truth done it for Him.

We did all our preparation ahead of time which I am a nut about. I always believe in having it all together. When you do, things always go better. Around 3 p.m. everyone was ready and we began by having one of our twins, Amanda, read the birth narrative from Luke's Gospel. What a thrill it is to hear our little ones read the story of Christmas because it is not only history but more importantly it is HIS-story. After that, let the presents begin! For the next 90 minutes it was wild and crazy and fun and exciting. Everyone had a great time and then we got ready for our Christmas traditional meal.

I cooked the steaks, chicken, and sausage and when it came time for us to begin we had our Christmas prayer. This year instead of me praying we did the children's 'God is good, God is great' prayer as all around the room we together recited this special tribute to the goodness and greatness of God. As I looked around the room all our grandchildren and their parents had their hands clasped together in the way they were taught to pray as little children. What a fitting way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas! Then the food consumption began. We discovered that our little Bray-Bray does love grilled beef sausage. We again were able to witness our eldest eat another one of those huge rare steaks. This year we added another teenager granddaughter who said she wanted to eat her own steak. She had always had chicken before. Our Lil Jimmy wanted steak also. This is not good news for the cows!

Okay, there you have it, we had a most wonderful day. My wife and I used to sing a song together which had this line in it, "If it keeps getter better and better oh Lord, I don't know what I'm going to do!" That's how we felt at the end of the day. Tired, you better believe it! A sense that God had been good to us, even more so. Now, on to the next challenge ahead and that is to prepare for a GREAT 2008! ....More later.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Morning Traditions

When I was growing up we always got up early on Christmas morning and when we walked into the living room, there in and around the Christmas tree had been transformed into a wonderland of toys and presents. Ours were always unwrapped and ready to go. We picked up on this in our family and did it this way for as many years as the boys were still able to experience the wonderful joy of a Christmas morning!

Many wrap all the toys and enjoy seeing the little ones open each one. We typically allowed the boys to have one present on Christmas eve and I think they still do the same with their families. These traditions do tend to stick around, don't they? Whatever it is that your family does, I do pray that today will be a most wonderful time of enjoying the sights, sounds, and the wonders that come from knowing the Christ of Christmas.

I was up at 5:30 a.m. and watching the news where I was reminded that not everyone will have a merry Christmas this year. Locally, there were several fires that took all the possessions of families including their Christmas gifts, there was an accidental shooting at a Christmas party where some teenagers were playing in a back room and a fourteen year old lost his life, a number of auto accidents also claimed lives over night. This tells us that life is very fragile and we have the time we have TODAY! Use it for good and take the time to embrace those near and dear to you, make those phone calls, and remember to thank God for all His blessings. Have a great one! Amen and Merry Christmas. More later.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!

I had the privilege of teaching from John chapter 20 yesterday where we read about the facts of our faith, as it pertains to the death, burial, and glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a most wonderful time of celebrating the reality of why He was born of a virgin, why He lived a perfect life, and why He who knew no sin became sin for fallen humanity.

In announcing the greatest of all births, the Angel of the Lord told those shepherds who might well have been tending the very sheep that were destined to be sacrificed at the Temple that this Birth of God the Son, the very God, in human flesh, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world ushered in a message of good tidings and great joy. And so it was to them and to all those who hear and respond up to and including any and all today who put their faith and trust in Him and His finished work on our behalf.

This is Christmas eve and we are still busily preparing for the festivities that we have planned. At the same time we are determined to keep The Christ in our Christmas and we do hope you will do the same. For many years we have read the account of the birth of Christ at our Christmas family gathering. Once the grand children began to be able to read, one of them practices and then reads that story to our group. In the midst of all the gift exchanges and the wonderful fellowship, this reading helps us all to remember it is only because of God's grace and His gift that we can have peace with Him.

May God bless you and your families as you contemplate the coming of our Savior into this world. Have a wonderful time of building up to a great day of celebrating His goodness with family and friends. I still have a full day of busy activities ahead of me but I will do so with full appreciation for the Why behind this special day! Amen. .....More later.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I'm Already B-A-A-A-Ck!!!!!!!!

That's right! I was at the Super Duper Center at 7 a.m., this morning and back home by 9:30 a.m. I had my list and I had my shopping game face on and I got in, got it done, and got back out, with little to no interference or trouble. That's not to say I didn't see quite a few people there walking around like they were in a daze. They must have not gotten the memo about making sure I had the place to myself.

I guess it is something about it being so early in the morning or maybe only morning people (which I am!) were there because everyone seemed to be in a really good mood. The goods were in disarray and there were the normal area supervisors barking out orders like someone had died and left them in charge, but on the whole, it wasn't that bad. My approach was to cruise up and down the aisles forth and back before choosing anything. I did this for about thirty minutes in the toy department so I could get an idea of exactly what was still on the shelves. I hate it when you are always finding something more to your liking and then having to take the item in your basket back to where you originally found it. Okay, I know most people just throw it out wherever they happen to be but I only do that when I can't find the place where I picked it up. That's happened a few times but I usually try to be a shopper with integrity.

I would have liked to have avoided anything with a 'Made in China' label on it but to tell the truth I don't think my grandchildren are ready for wooden clothing. I was able to diversify some by finding stuff made in India and Pakistan. I still remember when the founder of this huge conglomerate once had a 'Made in the USA' campaign, but things haven't been the same since he passed away a number of years ago.

This concludes this phase of the 2007 Christmas Celebration Project. On Monday I will be visiting the grocery store to prepare for our annual steak cookout for Christmas Day. Yeah, that's what we've been doing over the past twenty five years and we all look forward to it. There will be huge thick beef steaks for our three sons and one of the daughters-in-law, and I reckon this year I will have a small one, and a few medium ones for others and we will do charbroiled chicken for those who enjoy that better. We'll also have a garden salad, baked potatoes with all the stuffings, lightly seasoned mushrooms, some pinto beans, and fresh baked bread. Of course there will be all kinds of desserts appropriate for the holiday and we are so looking forward to having our bunch together next Tuesday.

I may be sixty plus but I still get excited as we anticipate family, food, and fellowship. We also know that God has provided all that we have and it is because of Him that we are able to put together this special gathering. I do hope as well that you are making plans to enjoy this special time! ......More later.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Time To Put On My Shopping Game Face!

This year, as most years, I think, my wife has done most of the Christmas shopping. Although I did spend quality time ordering up three gift cards online, therefore, it's not as if I haven't contributed anything! I'll have you know I had much trouble with the American Express online system and even had to have a technician assist me. It was a very trying experience but I persisted because I wanted to do my part. Now, because of it being the 21st and because of her schedule, she informed me that we still have several items to finish our list and that she was officially passing the shopping baton to me.

This means tomorrow will be a day where I am off and running, or perhaps off to push and shove my way through the local retail outlets. We've all heard the stories about why men and women shop differently. Men are basically hunters and gatherers, not prone to browse and enjoy the experience. We go where we think the quarry might be located. We see it, acquire it, and return to our cave or home. This year I've decided to go with a game plan. First, I need to find out exactly which stores are open 24 hours a day because I don't mind doing my thing at 5 a.m., in the morning.

I remember taking several of my grandchildren one year to the mall on one of the busiest Christmas shopping days of the year. My wife thought I had lost my mind but we had a ball! Of course I wasn't looking to purchase anything because we went and saw all the animals at the pet store and enjoyed some snacks at the food court and generally had fun! Maybe it was the fact that I wasn't actually shopping that made it a fun time. I do know that part of my preparation will be to get ready to be happy before I get to the actual shopping business.

Yes, I'll spend some time practicing my best Merry Christmas, and will get ready to let the other person always go first ahead of me, and to smile whenever the store workers are rude or inept, and to generally prepare myself to make it an adventure. Yeah, that's it! It will be like a treasure hunt. I did hear some ladies talking about how that everything had been picked over and the choices were now very limited. Maybe that's a good thing! Less stuff means less that I have to choose from which should lead to a faster and more satisfying shopping experience.

As you can tell I'm already beginning to look forward to this challenging assignment. It reminds me of that opening from the old Mission Impossible series where once they have heard their new challenge, the tape self destructs. Well, say a prayer for me and those who will be working with me to make this a most wonderful time of the year. I believe that's what Andy Williams sings in that song and everybody knows he is the king of Christmas music! Have a great weekend and if you never hear from me again, you will know that I was taken out during the great Christmas shopping stampede of 2007! .....More later.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"It's A Wonderful Life"

This past Tuesday evening my wife and I celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary by going to see the live stage performance of a musical adaptation of the famous Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”. My wife had purchased the tickets earlier because she knew this was one of my all-time favorite movies. The show followed the same basic storyline from the movie but was presented through a song and dance format. The movie has nothing to fear from the live presentation but what a wonderful tribute to see something done so well with a live orchestra, a wonderful cast, in an outstanding theatre setting.

The movie was made in 90 days in 1946, the year I was born. It was based on a short story entitled “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. After failing to find a publisher, Stern sent out 200 of his 4,000 word stories as Christmas cards in December, 1943. One of them fell into the hands of RKO Pictures who showed it to Cary Grant who was immediately interested in playing the lead role if it was turned into a movie. The motion picture rights were purchased and after several attempts to develop a screenplay it was sold off to Frank Capra in 1945. Mr. Capra did pick up the ball and ended up producing and directing the film.

It went into general release in January of 1947 and was not well received, finishing 26th overall in revenues that year. The movie itself garnered five academy award nominations but did not win any. In fact, the movie did not make back its six million dollar break-even target. Many believe that people coming out of WWII were not prepared to see the painful portrayal of the dark side of life without George Bailey. It was Mr. Capra’s all time favorite film including those he directed that did win five academy awards. It was also Jimmy Stewart’s favorite movie out of all those he headlined.

In the mid 1970’s there were issues regarding a lapse of the copyright, therefore, the television networks picked up the movie and showed it at Christmas time. Suddenly, the movie was discovered by an entire new generation and it now ranks as one of the greatest films ever made, and was recently ranked by experts as the number one inspirational film of all time. Our family picked up on it during the 70’s and watching it became a tradition as part of our family Christmas. Later we purchased the VHS version and now we have the DVD. Capra lived until 1991, therefore, he did live to see his great American classic finally vindicated.

It’s a great tale with a tremendous moral to the story. A life given in pursuit of helping others is a life worth living! I recently read a tribute where I was reminded of the importance of the ‘dash’. The memorial said this man had made the most of the dash between the birth date and his death date as listed on his tombstone. When you think about it, that’s what “It’s A Wonderful Life” is all about: Taking all that happens in life, the good, the bad, the ugly, disappointments, and all the challenges that occur in the ‘dash’ and making the most of the life you have been given.

Jesus was once asked about the greatest of all commandments and He responded by saying that loving God as our first priority is the greatest of all commands, but loving others is also essential if we are to fulfill the meaning behind God’s purpose for us. Therefore, let’s get to work on the ‘dash’ which will one day define our legacy. Amen. …….More later.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Confessions of A Miffed Myth!

I’ve had quite a few jobs in my lifetime. They have ranged from being physically labor intensive up to executive management. However, none were quite as interesting as the December back in 1973 when I worked in the evenings and on weekends as a department store Santa. Yes, that is the Christmas stamp from 1973, and yes, it did cost 8 cents! I was actually hired by a temporary agency that supplied Santas to a variety of stores. They conducted one mass training session where we were told about the outfits and how to do the make up, and then we were encouraged to read the poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, by Clement C. Moore, to give us the idea behind the kind of Santa they wanted. I was assigned to a Sears store located in one of the area malls.

The store had set up a Santa Shop area next to their furniture department, and it was decorated with a large chair for Santa, all types of props, and it had a Polaroid camera to make instant photos for those wishing to buy a picture of their child with Santa. There were several of us who played Santa and a number of young ladies who dressed up like elves. They worked the camera and operated the register. The Santa uniform, while uncomfortable and sweaty, was very nice and the beard very realistic. It was quite an ordeal to rush in and undergo the transformation from an office worker to the Jolly Old Saint, and I did have to use a pillow for my tummy back in those days. There have been a few times over the years when I wouldn’t have needed one because I could have supplied my own, but that’s another story. Just so you know, I would have to use one today!

Typically, I would work from 6 p.m. to store closing on weeknight s I was scheduled, and on Saturdays I could work as many as 12 hours. This job might look like loads of fun but I will tell you from actual experience, it can be very, very difficult. The children, of course, were wonderful. And, you can put up with those that cry, and those who spit up on you, or the occasional accident that soils your suit. But, when you are dealing with THE PARENTS, and especially, THE MOMS, there’s little to no hope for any kind of enjoyment.

I want to mention a word about the music. The Jackson Five came out with a Christmas album in 1970 with many standards recorded in their memorable style. The songs were: 1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 2. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town 3. The Christmas Song 4. Up On The House Top 5. Frosty The Snowman 6. The Little Drummer Boy 7. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer 8. Christmas Won't Be The Same This Year 9. Give Love On Christmas Day 10. Someday At Christmas 11. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. But there was only one huge problem: This was the only cassette our Santa Workshop had to play. I challenge anyone to listen to this music evening after evening and for 12 hours on Saturday without going postal! I guess the only thing worse I can think of is if it had been Alvin and the Chipmunks!

People showed up in droves and they were paying $2.50 for a special card with an inst ant photo of their child with Santa. Okay, we were not a portrait studio. It was a Polaroid camera! Hello? This was something that was obviously lost on many of the mommies who brought their children. They wanted the picture to be perfect which led to retakes, and log jams, and anger on the part of those waiting in line, and stress, and confusion, and chaos. There were times when I thought some of the moms were going to come to blows as they argued about their photos or their position in line. Believe it or not, some showed up to have twenty-five pictures made so they could send them out as Christmas cards. Now I ask you, who would think you might be able to keep a squirming kid posed for even one photo? It’s called insanity!

There were times whenever it got so completely out of hand I had no choice but to announce a time out for Santa to go and feed his reindeer. (That’s what the sign said when I was on break.) If the children cried which many did, it was Santa’s fault. If the picture was bad, it was Santa’s fault. If the line was too long, it was Santa’s fault, and the list could go on and on and on. The last week before Christmas the store was open until 11 p.m. each night and I often pulled the entire Saturday shift by myself. Yes, we needed the extra money and we even have a photo of our boys taken with me, after we explained how I was only a helper because the real Santa was busy getting all the toys ready for them.

Despite these challenges, there were some moments that still stand out in my mind nearly 35 years later. I think about the little guy who wobbled up to me, trembling, as he brought all his old pacifiers in a bag to show Santa that he was kicking the habit. I remember the sad young ladies who came to make a photo for their boy friend or husband stationed overseas. Then, there was that look in the eyes of children with disabilities as they had their moment with Santa. One night an entire high school Christmas party crew showed up for photos. Having a football player and his date sit on your lap was not exactly what I had in mind when I signed up for this work. And, THE CHILDREN. Santa is about children. Their innocence and their exuberant joy helped make an otherwise miserable experience one that still causes a warm glow in my heart and brings a smile to my face. Here’s a final word straight from the old dude himself: "He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!" ……More later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Makes It Work? Working At It!

I well remember standing by the Ashley wood burning heater in their living room and asking my future father-in-law permission to marry his daughter. I was only 18 and he had to help me get through it by filling in a lot of the blanks and pauses, but he did, therefore, on December 18, 1964, we were married. It was a bitterly cold Friday night and we had sleet off and on. The ceremony was conducted in their home and we had a procession, a song, and the exchanging of vows as administered by a brand new 'preacher boy', her brother. If the lights had gone out we would have most likely been okay because my cheeks were glowing red. Rudolph would have been proud of me!

Some of my friends and the guys from their Church decided to really fix our car up good. In addition to all the cans tied onto the back bumper they used white shoe polish to scribble all kinds of messages including: ‘Watch Louisiana Grow”. (If today they could see our entire crew gathered together they would believe themselves to have been prophets.) These guys also stuffed some Limburger cheese up into our heating system and this proved to be very challenging as we attempted to make our way on our honeymoon trip. We eventually had to turn the heater on and roll down the window, and then turn it off until we were too cold and then repeat the process until we got to our destination.

They chased us and blew their horns for a few miles but finally we were on our own and headed for the big city of Alexandria, Louisiana. We had not been on the road for more than thirty minutes whenever we spotted a car on the side of the road. It was more or less out in the middle of nowhere and we saw people so we stopped to see if we could help. There we were with our car all decorated and with Limburger smell all over us, but the young couple did need help. We discovered the young lady had actually gone to school with my brand new wife so we carried them to the nearest store, woke the people up, and they were allowed to use their telephone and stay there until a wrecker came.

We finally made it to our hotel and the next day found someone to clean our car. That’s how it all began some forty-three years ago. We actually have a VHS of our wedding that was transferred from an original 8mm film. Every so often we put that tape on and our kids and grand kids howl with amusement. Yes, much has changed over these many years. The tape proves that we looked more like children playing dress up than adults ready for marriage. I’ll never forget the first time our eldest granddaughter saw that film. She must have been maybe six or seven and she just could not accept the fact that the people on that tape were her MiMi and Poppy. She became very agitated and kept saying over and over, “That's not my MiMi!” “That's not my MiMi!”

The journey has not always been smooth. The road we’ve traveled has had its fair share of potholes, detours, and slippery slopes. Therefore, we can only thank God for His grace and His provision in allowing us to arrive at this place so many years later. Somewhere along the way I came to realize the great treasure God had given to me. Since that time I have tried to make this understanding a reality in my life with her. All those in our family who have been with us for any length of time know I have co-opted Jackie Gleason’s famous line from the ‘Honeymooners TV Series’, when he summed up his good fortune in having his great wife by saying: ‘Baby, you’re the greatest!” And, that’s my thoughts exactly! Forty-three and counting! Amen. …More later.