Finding Minimalism

Minimalism: the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”  — Joshua Becker

My journey toward minimalism began – quite by accident – on a spring day nine years ago. At that time the term “minimalism” had not entered our mainstream vocabulary like it has today. So I did not set out to become a minimalist. I simply had a sudden burst of energy and decided to deep-clean my bedroom. Plus I had read an inspiring article about how any room could be cleaned efficiently in 30 minutes if you had all the right supplies (arranged in a cute and tidy cleaning bucket, of course). So after a trip to Target to get just such a cute and tidy cleaning bucket -and a few fun cleaning tools – I was ready to tackle the job. Or so I thought.

Having written down the basic instructions on a 3×5  card, I read Step 1:  Remove knickknacks from all surfaces. Are you kidding me? As I glanced around the room, I suddenly saw all my stuff- pictures in frames,  souvenirs, clay candle holders made by my children in first grade – in a whole new light. Determined to push through, I piled all the knickknacks on my bed, ready for Step 2: dust all surfaces, top to bottom and left to right.

Step 2 proved as daunting as Step 1. Who knew that much dust could fit on top of a ceiling fan blade? And of course the ceiling fan is directly over the bed, so all the dust fell on top of the knickknacks I had just placed there. Needless to say, things continued to go downhill as my dream of an efficient 30-minute cleaning plan disappeared. Three hours later, I was finally done – and done in.

I had known for years that I was an inefficient house cleaner. I could make the surface look good, but I knew what was hiding everywhere. What I didn’t know was WHY I was such a bad house cleaner. I had attributed it to lack of a plan, lack of self-discipline, a too-busy schedule, not making my kids help enough…all kinds of reasons. But on that particular day, I saw my house – and myself – in a new light.  My not-so-clean house wasn’t entirely due to lack of discipline. It was due to too much stuff. I had to clean before I cleaned. I couldn’t dust until I moved stuff. I couldn’t vacuum until I had picked up stuff. It was exhausting.

On that first day of my journey toward minimalism, I took my initial step to freedom:  I looked long and hard at my knickknacks, kept a few significant pictures to put on my dresser, and got rid of the rest. In fact, I took down two shelves on the wall that held those knickknacks so I wouldn’t have to dust those anymore. By the end of the afternoon, my room looked bigger, brighter and more organized. And I felt a greater sense of accomplishment than any dusting job could have given me.  I had truly made a difference- small though it seemed at the time – in my room and in my life.

Since that day I have maintained a slow but steady determination to understand and embrace a perspective of minimalism. I continue to learn more about myself and my relationship to things. Some of it has been easy, some of it has been hard. Sometimes I  laugh, sometimes I cry. Sometimes I have a plan and sometimes I am caught by surprise, unsure of the right thing to do. But still I press on.

Joshua Becker, on his blog Becoming Minimalist, once shared this quote from Henry David Thoreau: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  Now when I face a decision related to the more-or-less of my life, this quote reminds me there is more to consider than just the actual price tag.

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A Tale of Three Cities

On Saturday, April 28th, in Washington, DC, the White House correspondents’ dinner became the talk of the town after comedian Michelle Wolf’s jaw-dropping diatribe left even the most desensitized media members in the room squirming in their seats. In attendance was Chris Cillizza, CNN’s editor-at-large, who recorded his personal real-time responses to the scenario in his Sunday article. One of his takeaways regarded Wolf’s blast of Vice President Pence’s stance on abortion, in which she stated, “He thinks abortion is murder which, first of all, don’t knock it ’til you try it — and when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.”  Cillizza responds in his article, “You can hate abortion and think it is murder. You can feel as though it’s not the government’s business what you do with your body and how you handle your own life. But, does anyone celebrate abortion — even jokingly?”  Cillizza’s rhetorical question can have only one answer: No.  Respect life.

On this same Saturday, April 28th, in Liverpool, England, a 23-month old boy named Alfie breathed his last breath, his parents by his side. A chest infection brought Alfie to the hospital in December of 2016. Further medical complications followed, leading to a diagnosis of a degenerative brain condition which was considered incurable. Much controversy surrounded this situation as Alfie’s parents first sought permission to take him to another hospital for treatment and then sought permission to take him home. Both requests were denied. As reported by the Washington Post, Alfie’s father appealed to Pope Francis for assistance, which was granted by the Pope but denied by the British court system. Pope Francis responded with these words: “Let us pray that every sick person might always be respected in their dignity and cared for in a manner adapted to their condition, with the concordant input of their families and loved ones, of the doctors and of other health care workers, with great respect for life.” Later, the Pope shared these comments to a general audience: “The only author of life, from its beginning to its natural end, is God,” he said. “It is our duty to do all that is possible to safeguard life.”  Safeguard life.

On March 4th, in Cleveland, Ohio, a disaster occurred at a renown medical facility. A storage tank at a fertility clinic malfunctioned, causing 4,000 frozen embryos from 950 patients to be no longer viable. This disaster created heartbreak for so many who had hopes of one day bringing their children into the world. It is not surprising that multiple lawsuits have followed, resulting in a judge ordering the cases be consolidated to expedite the process. One case has been granted an exception from the consolidation because it is an action for “declaratory judgment”.  In other words, this couple is not seeking any award for damages.

An April 24th article posted on cleveland.com explains: “Bruce Taubman, the Pennimans’ lawyer, filed a separate lawsuit with a different judge asking the court to determine whether their embryos were human lives. The Pennimans maintain that UH treated their embryos as chattel, or property, and has only offered to reimburse them for the production of the embryos, not for the loss of a potential son or daughter. The Pennimans ‘view the embryos as patients of UH who should have been protected as such,’ their lawsuit says. ‘They contend that life begins at conception, meaning the embryos have the legal status of a person,’ according to the lawsuit.”  The Pennimans have asked the judge to define life. The Ohio State Supreme Court ruled in a 1985 case that a viable fetus is a person and that a fetus begins at conception.  It seems that, at least in Ohio, the beginning of life has already been defined, and, as such, provides the underlying argument for the Penniman case. Protect Life.

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision may have been a benchmark moment in the cultural landscape of this century, but the issues go much deeper than that. If anything, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision moved us out of the relatively calm waters of casual considerations regarding life and catapulted us over a cavernous waterfall into a whirlpool of chaos with its rippling repercussions. And I think we are drowning. Only when we renew our commitment to protect life from conception to death, only when we choose to respect life and to safeguard life, will we find the anchor we need to survive this cultural storm.

 

 

 

 

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My Hobbit Hole

I have a little hobbit hole at my house. It is quite a nice hobbit hole, if I do say so myself. It is cozy and quiet, with just enough room for one person – me. Now this is not your average hobbit hole, for no one can see it but me. It might look like I am taking a nap under a warm blanket – but I am actually in my hobbit hole. Or you might find me sitting in a comfy chair in a room by myself, with a half-gallon of ice cream and a spoon in my hand — yep, in my hobbit hole again!

Bilbo Baggins lived alone in his neat and tidy hobbit hole, complete with pretty dishes and doilies. He enjoyed his quiet mornings sipping his tea and reading his books. Life was organized, ordinary and pleasant. No guests, no risks, no trouble – until the day the dwarves invaded and Gandolf challenged him to an adventure. Bilbo Baggins reluctantly accepted Gandolf’s challenge, left his hobbit hole behind and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Sometimes adventure calls my way and I run after it. Other times, I run away from it – right back into my hobbit hole. This has been true of my attempts to venture into the world of publishing. On brave days, I embrace the challenge of writing a story or article in response to a submission call posted on a website. I love the exhilaration of seeing words come together to create something new. But there are other days when it seems the words do not fall on the page with ease or a rejection of my submitted writing comes in an email. On those days, instead of running towards adventure, I retreat into my hobbit hole where it is safe and solitary. Sometimes I even grab a half-gallon of ice cream and a spoon on my way.

Now there is nothing wrong with having a hobbit hole, or spending a little time in it, for that matter.  The real challenge is this:  I can’t stay there. The next adventure is awaiting, the next challenge is around the corner. If I do not embrace it, I will not learn, I will not grow, I will not succeed. I will just spend the rest of my life arranging dishes and doilies in my hobbit hole.

So I have written this post as my own personal challenge to try again. To embrace another opportunity. To learn more. To pursue success.  Bilbo Baggins, I am right behind you, ready for another adventure!

 

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For the Love of Books

 

antique books 2c

Technology is usually my friend – except when it is not. My latest episode of Me Vs. Technology occurred at 1:30 a.m. this past Sunday, when I accidentally locked my laptop keyboard without a clue on how to unlock it.  What a frustrating end to a very long day!

 

I have learned to love the many benefits of technology. But there is one aspect of technology I have not successfully embraced:  The E-Reader.  Call it a Kindle, a Nook, whatever. I have not been able to set aside real books in exchange for digital ones. Something about the printed page draws me into a story in a way that a backlit screen never does.

My family’s love of the printed page is evident in the two 6-ft tall bookshelves that surround our fireplace. You can find everything there- from cookbooks to the Hardy Boys, history books to theology books, and more. Today as I was searching for a particular book, my eye caught a corner of the bookshelf that holds a special collection: our antique books. I haven’t looked at them in a while. We never set out to collect antique books. They have come to us randomly, from grandparents’ collections, a parent’s library, and other sources. But our mini-collection fits us perfectly.

antique books 3cMy husband loves history, especially Lincoln history.  One antique book, written by Tribune correspondent Albert Richardson and published in 1865, is titled, The Secret Service:The Field, The Dungeon, and The Escape.  Its 500+ string-bound pages tell vivid tales of a reporter traveling among the troops, fields and towns of the Civil War. A second string-bound book, The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln, also published in 1865, includes a detailed record of Lincoln’s life, rise to leadership, and untimely death. Holding these books in my hands feels like I know someone who was actually there.

My love of Literature and English are well-represented in the 1892 edition of The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, accompanied by a book titled Child Life, an 1872 collection of poems by John Greenleaf Whittier.  These reside next to Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, copyright 1924, and The Elements of English Grammar, first owned by Sarah Grimmer who signed and dated the front page in 1857.

My husband, as a pastor, has great admiration for the life and work of Charles H. Spurgeon, so The Life and Labors of C.H. Spurgeon is meaningful to him. The front page  contains a beautiful hand-written message, “To our dear pastor, wishing him a Merry Christmas” – signed, Mr. and Mrs. F.H. Tyler, 1885.  An 1882 printing of The Treasury of David, Volume I,  also by Spurgeon, complements this well.

antique books 5cMy favorite one is a small Bible printed in 1840. It is signed by Henry Tram, April 9th, 1845 – 173 years ago today. The message written below the date reads, “Search the Scriptures”, with a notation of St. John 5:39 and Psalm 107. I wonder what occasion brought about the gift of a Bible on this day 173 years ago?  The gift of a book – this book – having been passed down for several generations, resides on our bookshelf today.

antique books 4cThere is something valuable, an unstated preciousness, in the history that comes with a book.  The finest hand-held devices, the fastest literary technology, will never replace this.  I doubt we will be passing down our Kindles for our children and grandchildren to read. There is no personal history in an e-book.  No handwritten note, no beautifully-scribed signature. No worn pages from re-reading a favorite passage.  Maybe Henry Tram had it right, 173 years ago, when he gave this book, a Bible, as a gift. Perhaps a book is one of the best gifts of all!antique books 6c

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The Price of Fake Friends

BBC News recently posted a report regarding a New York state investigation into a company, Devumi, which sells quantities of Twitter followers for a price. They also sell “likes” and “retweets” and even offer their service to other platforms as well, including Pinterest and LinkedIn (see full article here). According to the report, Devumi may have a stock of “at least 35 million automated accounts, many of which are sold repeatedly.”  However, the real reason for the investigation are the allegations that Devumi has actually stolen the identities of real people in order to feed their business. Some estimates suggest at least “55,000 of the fake accounts use the names, profiles pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors.” And who has benefitted from this “follower factory”? Devumi itself states on its website it “has helped over 200,000 businesses, celebrities, musicians, YouTubers and other pros gain more exposure and make a big impact to their audience.”  In response, Eric Schneiderman tweeted that this means “real voices are too often drowned out…Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence.”

In other news: Did you know that in Japan you can pay an actor to impersonate a relative, spouse or other needed acquaintance to fill a need at a social event or on a personal level? The business, called “Family Romance”, boasts a staff of 800 actors ranging in age from infants to the elderly (see full article here). The CEO, Ishii Yuichi “believes that Family Romance helps people cope with unbearable absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives”. He goes on to say, “I always ask every client, ‘Are you prepared to sustain this lie?’ ”  Based on the success of his business, it is safe to say that most people enter into such a contract with full intent of doing just that – sustaining the lie.

I must admit, reading about the prevalence and profit of the fake-friend market was shocking to me. But after further reflection, I realized I should not be surprised. It was inevitable. It simply reflects an inverted value system we have already adopted wholesale in our society. What are these inverted values?

Quantity over quality: In many instances, the quantity of social media friends a person has matters more than the quality of those same relationships. When I attended a writer’s conference five years ago (an excellent conference, I might add),  I was disappointed to learn that publishing companies are initially more interested in the extent of your social media presence – your platform – than your writing. Building an audience is the key to opening the door to becoming a published writer. Personally, I struggle with this. I would rather invest in deeper relationships than work hard to enlarge my social media follower base. But that’s not how it works these days. And based on the “fake friends” that people are paying for, I don’t think we are better off for this.

Perception over reality: “Fake news” has become a staple of our society. It appeals to our emotions, our values, our struggles. In this post-truth age, objective facts seem irrelevant in comparison to a person’s everyday real lives and experiences. So it is not surprising that the perception of having a lot of friends has become more important than the truth. It is more important to rent a husband to join in on the family reunion than to face the reality of a divorce that happened.

Personal gain over mutual enrichment: Rather than friends being a source of mutual encouragement and support, people are seeking out friends – even fake ones – for their own personal gain. Fake friends don’t require anything from us. They don’t get mad at us or hurt our feelings. We don’t have to remember their birthdays or send a Christmas gift. We would rather write a check for fake friends than listen to a real friend’s problems.

I don’t know what the actual price tag is for a fake friend, or for 20,000 Twitter followers. I don’t want to know. I desire to fill my life with meaningful relationships characterized by mutual honesty, support and authenticity. And that, my friends, is priceless!

 

 

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The Scrooge in All of Us

From a storytelling perspective, the Christmas season offers a premium selection of fascinating characters. Depending on which story line you most enjoy, the main characters range from Santa Claus to Mary,Joseph and the Christ Child of the Nativity scene, from Ebenezer Scrooge to the infamous Grinch who stole Christmas.

But often there is “the story before the story”- events that take place prior to the main plots mentioned above -giving the story even greater meaning. For example, consider what the story of Ebenezer Scrooge would be like without the account of the previous miserly life and miserable death of his partner Jacob Marley, who came to warn Scrooge of the three spirits who were to appear to him. In the end, Scrooge is eternally grateful for the visit of this old partner he once doubted.

Well known to many, the Nativity story also has a “story before the story”. We learn of a surprised couple who discover they are going to have a baby in spite of their old age. Zechariah, a devout Jewish priest, is fulfilling his turn burning the incense in the inner sanctuary of the temple when an angel appears to him, announcing that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son in just a short time, whose name will be John.

Zacharias, who had been praying for this exact thing to happen, is stunned. He is troubled. He is afraid. In his fear and doubt, he utters seven fateful words – “How can I know this for sure?” The angel replies with two seemingly unrelated answers: First, the angel tells him who he is – Gabriel – and WHO sent him – God. Second, the angel tells Zacharias WHAT God’s message is: he will be unable to speak until his child is born, because of his doubt. Immediately Zacharias is struck mute and remains so until the birth of his son, when he writes down with a now-obedient and trusting heart what God had already told him – his son’s name will be John.

If I were to be struck mute every time I  doubted God’s power and ability to do what He has said He will do, I would have been unable to speak most of my life. It is embedded in human nature to doubt. There is a little bit of Scrooge in all of us. Consider Scrooge again – he doubted the reality of Marley’s ghostly appearance and message -“there was more of gravy than of grave about him”!  So Zacharias is not alone in his doubt. And we are not alone in our doubt either.

Zacharias just wanted to know for sure. Does that seem so bad? Why would he be issued such a dramatic rebuke for such a seemingly-innocent concern? The angel Gabriel’s response sheds some light on this. Zacharias wanted to know how God was going to fulfill His promise in spite of their old age. Gabriel’s answers point instead to WHO sent this message – God, and WHAT this glorious message is: their son will be great in the sight of the Lord and will turn many to the Lord their God. For Zacharias, his doubt resulted in over nine months of dealing with the inability to speak. What does my doubt result in?

As I watch the story of my life unfold, it is tempting to always be looking ahead and trying to figure out the HOWs of life – how everything is going to work out. This Christmas, I want to learn from the mute Zacharias and fix my eyes on the WHO of Christmas, the Almighty God of Heaven, and WHAT God did at Christmas when He sent his son Jesus as a Babe in the Manger who would later die on the cross to save His people from their sins. Much like Scrooge, who discovered that he had in fact NOT missed Christmas – it is not too late for you and me to set aside our doubt and embrace the faith found in the very heart of the Christmas story itself. May God bless us, everyone!

 

 

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Grieving While Running

“Everything I’m seeing and experiencing is telling me that we’re moving together through stages of grief. The hard part is, we’re also moving together through stages of a marathon. So we’re grieving while running. And we started the marathon with a sprint.”

These raw yet deeply insightful words were shared by a Houston pastor who found himself sloshing through two feet of brown floodwater in their church building just two weeks after his installation service as the new pastor there. The celebration service, the excitement, the strategic planning meetings – all are now a distant memory drowned out by the deluge of destruction we now know simply as “Harvey”.  Reading his blog, I was struck by the simplistic heaviness of his words, “grieving while running.”

Now I am not accomplished at either of these, grieving or running. I cannot recall the last time I actually ran. Maybe it was in an elementary school gym class. At best, today I sprint for a few minutes while my leashed dog drags me behind her on a neighborhood walk. Regardless, one thing is for sure – I am a terrible runner. It requires a stamina I have not developed and unfortunately have no desire to develop.

Running is a work of the body and mind. Grieving is a work of the soul. It requires a stamina that cannot be developed in advance. We cannot learn the labor of grief until we are faced with the journey of grief. There is a physical exhaustion, an emotional rawness, a mental re-defining attached to grief. It requires an invisible work in us that sometimes cannot be explained and often leaves us feeling alone.

Perhaps you – like this pastor in Houston – find yourself in a marathon you never chose. Every day you pick up the weight of grief and try to take some small steps forward. But life has you running a marathon you cannot avoid. Care for the other parent who has outlived the spouse. Children to care for who themselves cannot understand this kind of loss. The loneliness of becoming a widow or widower. Or even the collective grief of hurricane devastation -neighbors helping neighbors when neither can live in their homes, church members teaming up to “form bucket brigades to pass putrid belongings out of a moldy home.”  For all of you who find yourself grieving while running, my heart goes out to you.

If you find yourself in the midst of the grieving process, I recommend a booklet shared with me some years ago by a friend whose two daughters had passed away due to cystic fibrosis. In Grieving: Your Path Back to Peace you will find valuable insights and words of encouragement on every page. If you have a friend going through the grieving process and you are not sure how to help, this booklet makes a thoughtful gift or discussion starter. There is hope. There is help. There is healing to be found.

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The Other Mary

“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”  Matthew 28:1

the other maryThe other Mary. In the many years I have celebrated Easter Sunday in a church service, hearing the Resurrection story told again, I don’t think I have ever thought about her – the other Mary. As this Scripture verse was read yesterday, she jolted my mind out of its lulled expectation of the familiar.

The other Mary? That’s it? That’s all the author could think to say about her? This Mary was up early, just like the other Mary, the Mary with a name – Mary Magdalene. This Mary was just as heartbroken, just as desperate to be at the tomb of her beloved Jesus. This Mary was also running to the tomb, spices in hand, to proceed with the burial traditions.

Another Gospel account of the resurrection gives indication that this Mary may have been the mother of James, an apostle of Jesus Christ. This Mary was also a witness to the crucifixion, a recipient of the angel’s announcement, and a herald of the resurrection news to the disciples. No doubt she was known and loved by Jesus as well as His many followers. It seems the author’s designation of this woman as the “other Mary” was simply a matter of clarification for the original readers who could have determined exactly who she was.

But for all of history, for every future re-telling of this glorious event, she would be known as the other Mary, the undesignated Mary. One of the many “Marys” people knew. I think there is a gentle reminder in this. Am I content to be the unknown one? Am I comfortable when attention is given to someone whose story is more interesting than mine? After all, everyone knew Mary Magdalene’s story.

The other Mary teaches me a lesson. There was only one important Person to Mary that morning – the Person she thought was still dead. The Person she came to express a grief-filled love to at a stone-covered tomb. The Person who came back to life after having died, the Person who gave her life everlasting after she died. This Person, Jesus Christ, has done the same for me – providing salvation from my sins and life eternal in Heaven through His death and resurrection.  And He should be the most important Person to me.

Jesus had a cousin, John, who knew what it was like to be the “other one”. And he summed up this lesson well when he said, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.”  I pray this will be true in my life, that Jesus will always have the first place.

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A Christmas Blessing

christmas-bibleThis will be our first Christmas without our Mom Ashley among us, since her passing some seven months ago.This morning I pulled a small blue leather book from our bookshelf, a book that Mom loved dearly and read often – The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  Rather randomly I landed on a prayer called “Blessings”.  At my first read-through, the old English wording sent me to the dictionary for a vocabulary review. Upon a second reading, and then a third, my mind was captivated with the depth of meaning and expression found in the poem’s lyrics. Having now returned to the prayer several times, I am compelled to share it with you as this day comes to a close.

Author of all blessings I enjoy,
Of all I hope for,
Thou hast taught me
  that neither the experience of present evils,
  nor the remembrances of former sins,
  nor the remonstrances of friends,
  will or can affect a sinner’s heart,
  except thou vouchsafe to reveal thy grace
  and quicken the dead in sin
  by the effectual working of thy Spirit’s power.
Thou hast shown me
  that the sensible effusions of divine love
  in the soul are superior to and distinct from
  bodily health,
  and that oft-times spiritual comforts are
  at their highest when physical well-being is at its lowest.
Thou hast given me
  the ordinance of song as a means of grace;
  Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,
  which elect angels and saints made perfect
  now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.
I bless Thee for tempering every distress with joy;
  too much of the former might weigh me down,
  too much of the latter might puff me up;
 Thou art wise to give me a taste of both.

I love thee
for giving me clusters of grapes in the wilderness
and drops of heavenly wine
that set me longing to have my fill.
Apart from thee I quickly die,
bereft of thee I starve,
far from thee I thirst and droop;
But thou art all I need.
Let me continually grasp the promise,
“I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

mom-ashley-1Mom Ashley understood these truths in a very personal way. She knew the grace of God in her own life. She had learned that spiritual comforts are at their highest when physical well-being is at its lowest. She loved the gift of music, “the ordinance of song” and repeated beloved hymn lyrics often. She experienced the divine tempering of distress with joy. She had been the recipient of “clusters of grapes in the wilderness” and knew that God was all she needed. This Christmas, her longing for a taste of heaven has been satisfied, and she, with the “elect angels and saints made perfect”, now sings before the throne and before the Lamb. Our confidence in this eternal reality, made available through the work of the Son of God whose birth we celebrate, is indeed the greatest Christmas blessing.

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Threats and Promises

At this time of year, like no other, our culture rewards overload and rebukes margin.Whyelectronic-talking-battleship-picture only display one hundred lights on your house when you can display a thousand? We are quietly massaged into believing that exceeding our limits between Thanksgiving and Christmas is actually to be commended and that we will be better people for it – in everything from gift-giving to family schedules, from decorating our houses to consuming another holiday feast.

But behind this parade of must-haves is a subtle but fierce monster of threats and promises which often go unnoticed. How could Christmas be a season of threats when we are all singing “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” ?  Here is what a Christmas threat or promise may sound like:

“If I don’t go to my mother’s uncle’s holiday party, I will disappoint the family.”

“If I don’t give a gift of the same value as everyone else at the office party, I will be embarrassed.”

“If I get my child that toy, I will be able to make him/her happy.”

The challenging part is that the above threats/promises are not really about a toy, a party or a gift. No, they touch on much bigger issues – our security as parents, our standing in the family, our reputation at work. And here is the dangerous part: we slowly begin to believe that a certain toy will provide parental security, or attendance at the family gathering will secure approval, or an expensive gift will protect a reputation; therefore, we must accomplish these things even if it means going beyond financial, emotional, or physical limitations. Richard Swenson, in his book Restoring Margin to Overloaded Lives, states it this way:

“Chances are that if you are letting yourself be severely overloaded in some area, it is because you believe this overload offers you something you deeply long for, and you fear that cutting back in this area may cost you something you deeply value. The threats and promises work because they touch on your deep desires and fears.”

So while you are standing in line at midnight at Toys ‘R Us two days before Christmas (ah, yes — Christmas 1998), ask yourself why you are there. Yes, I know your sons want the “Electronic Talking Battleship” game more than anything else, but is that really why you are in line?  Perhaps yes – but perhaps you have believed a false promise that purchasing this gift will satisfy a deeper need you have – a need that will ultimately not be satisfied by a toy.

My friend, so many ways exist to meet our legitimate deeper needs without overloading ourselves with debt, lack of sleep, stress, and guilt. This Christmas season, choose to pursue what you value most, not the worldly “thing” that falsely represents your values.  Choose margin in your life. Choose space in your schedule. Choose time with people. Choose loving words. These are the priceless gifts of the holiday season. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about, as Linus so aptly expresses?  A baby born two thousand years ago – Jesus, the Son of God – came to meet our greatest need, which is to be saved from our sins that we might know God.  And that is the best gift of all!

 

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