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This Year I Resolve to… Oh, Never Mind…

Thoughts From the Porch

New Year’s Eve is usually a big party. I prefer to save celebration for New Year’s Day itself. Maybe I’m simply getting older, but I tend to leave the New Year’s Eve celebrations to younger folks. I don’t do the big crowds and the midnight countdowns anymore. Besides, it’ll be 2020 when I wake up right?

I greet the New Year with a group of great men who get together for an annual 8:00 AM breakfast meeting. Later, I get to enjoy some home cooking at Ms. Opal’s house with a multitude of friends. I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.

The breakfast was great. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to participate in the lunch portion of the day. We opted for an emergency room visit instead. Margaret was getting out of the car at Ms. Opal’s and turned the wrong way causing a loud click and immediate swelling on the leg still healing from October’s break.

Prior to running off to the ER we were able to eat a bowl of black-eyed peas. I’m not sure any medical emergency supersedes eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. They must’ve brought good luck right away. The ER visit found only a sprain rather than a break (the whole “good news, bad news” thing). Please keep Margaret in your thoughts and prayers. Sprains are still painful…

An aside… Did you know that sprains involve ligaments while strains involve muscles? I never knew that… Anyway…

New Year’s Day always felt like the opportunity for a “do-over”. Each year I would resolve to change the negative thoughts and behaviors of the past year. I’d quit smoking, I’d make better use of my time, I’d start going to the gym, etc. You know the routine. January 1st was a restart date, a reinvention of myself. In my younger days, my resolutions would last at least a couple of weeks. Later, they were lucky to last until lunch.

I’m not big on resolutions anymore. I’m not saying I’ve given up or life changes don’t need to be made. I still set goals – targets to aim for. I’ve also learned I tend set some goals as if I still had a twenty-somethings body instead of an older slower version of myself. Although I find that, more often than not, I set my targets far too low. About the time I think I’ve achieved my goal God steps in and reminds me how short-sighted I can be.

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I’m reminded of a story my friend Edgar passed on to me many years ago. There was a man who died and went to heaven. Saint Peter was conducting the new arrival’s orientation and showing all the great things there were to see. It truly was heavenly. Towards the end of the tour, the man noticed a fenced in lot containing all kinds of fancy cars, yachts, and expensive ‘toys’.

“What’s that over there?” he asked.

Saint Peter looked where he was pointing. “Oh, that. That’s God’s junkyard”.

“Junkyard! What do mean? That stuff is incredible”.

Saint Peter shrugged nonchalantly. “That’s just unused junk. It’s stuff people prayed for and didn’t want.”

“Didn’t want?” the man asked incredulously. “Who wouldn’t want things like that?”

Saint Peter pointed to a beautiful Mercedes Benz sedan. “See that. That one was yours, but you didn’t want it”.

“What do you mean I didn’t want it? I would’ve loved it”.

Saint Peter smiled and said, “Do you remember back in 1982, when you had just started a new job after being unemployed for so long. The unemployment checks had run out and they were going to turn off your utilities when you found that job, but then our car blew up after just a couple of weeks. You thought you’d lose the new job since you had no way to get there. It was looking awfully hopeless”.

“Yea. I remember that. I sure didn’t get a Mercedes though”.

“Well, that was the car God picked out to replace it until you prayed “even a ’73 Pinto is okay if I can get to work…”

I think of that story every time I begin to pray for specifics or start thinking I know what’s best for me: the goals I’ve set; resolutions I’ve made.

Instead of making resolutions this year I’m going to let go of my small-minded thinking and allow God to take me where He wants me to be.

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. (Psalm 37.4)

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“Either we see Christ in everyone, or we hardly see Christ in anyone.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Powering Down: The Future of Institutions,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 46-47.

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"Because of our inherent dignity as children of God, we are empowered and called, like Jesus was, to create a more loving and compassionate world. Responding to this divine invitation might be the ultimate gift we could offer back to God this Christmas season."

– Father Richard Rohr

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"God's Spirit is on me…"

Sunrise was pretty awesome this morning. The wisps of clouds reflected incredibly bright orange streaks against the budding blue sky. Maybe it’s simply because it’s Christmas, but everything seemed brighter and full of joyful praise for creation. God seemed to call everything to celebrate His presence, His son…

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I want to wish each of you a fantastic, joyful Christmas Day. On this day that many in the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, please remember that the Christ-child was to be called “Emmanuel”, God with us”.

I found this prayer today. I thought I’d share it with you in a year of uncertainty and division.

A prayer for peace on this Christmas Day

Let us pray for the world in which the
Prince of Peace took flesh
and form, saying,
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks, Holy One,
for the light that has come into the
darkness of our world,
for the truth illuminated,
for the pathway that has opened,
for the rejoicing of your people.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for the feet of those
who bring good news, friendship, comfort,
food, shelter, and medicine for healing.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for the church of Christ Jesus
and for all people of faith
whose attention to the way of peace
tears down walls that keep us apart.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for this country
and for every nation where wisdom reigns,
where leaders work for the well-being of the poor,
so that no one is hungry or homeless,
and every child is valued and nourished.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We pray for the knowledge and courage
to be good stewards of all that you have given us:
ourselves, our neighbors, the strangers among us,
the oceans and rivers, the air and soil,
creatures large and small,
that we may continue to be blessed with health and life.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We pray for those whose flesh is harmed
by poverty, sickness, and cruelty of any kind,
that the Word-made-flesh may so fill your world
with the power to heal that all people
would be made strong and whole.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We commend all these things to you
and offer our thanksgiving,
trusting that what we have left unsaid,
your holy wisdom can unearth;
in the name of the One who came among us
in the power of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

– Adapted from: David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor & Kimberly Bracken Long. Feasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship (p. 125). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Emmanuel has come. Let us celebrate…

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of Good News to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, this God’s year to act.”

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Sorrow and a Few Regrets?

Thoughts From the Porch

Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…

A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.

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I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.

I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…

I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin

The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…

When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.

My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…

Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.

Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.

When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.

I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.

As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28

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“The purpose of the divine therapy is the healing of the roots of all our problems and to transform our attitudes and, indeed, the whole of our human nature into the mind and heart of Christ.” —Thomas Keating

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It Really is a Wonderful Life

Thoughts from the Porch

Dropping in at our local big box retailer this weekend reminded me the Christmas season has begun in earnest. Despite the media prophecies of retail’s slow, painful death it was readily apparent that not everyone has switched to online shopping.

I try to avoid such visits any time of year but especially at Christmas time. They’re a reminder of all things negative about the Holidays: crowded stores, pushy and frustrated shoppers, rampant consumerism – the list goes on. In a season of giving, faith, and family I have a difficult time with all the hurried rudeness, impatience, and meltdown tantrums by parents and children alike.

That being said…

I got cover crops in at Opal’s Farm before the cold front and accompanying rain passed through yesterday. The rain meant I would have all day to catch-up on emails, callbacks, and write. All was going according to plan when I made a grave mistake. I walked through the living room to go out to my truck for a moment my wife was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was at the point in the movie where Jimmy Stewart’s character, a suicidal George Bailey, jumps off the bridge only to be rescued by his guardian angel, Clarence.

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I won’t bore you with a retelling of the story. Who in the world hasn’t seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” anyway? It’s one of my all-time favorites. One can never see it too often. Suffice to say that all my plans immediately fell to the wayside. I sat down in the chair and didn’t get up until the end of the movie. I mentioned this mistake to my friend Charlie. He reminded me that it wasn’t a mistake, but time well spent…

In the movie, as in every good story, calamity strikes, and George Bailey is backed into a corner. He cries out, “I wish I’d never have been born”. I can relate. I’ve been there: that dark place where the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is a bullet train locomotive closing fast. Everything and everyone would be better off if I weren’t here. In George Bailey’s case (and mine) divine intervention says otherwise…

My favorite part of the film is when Clarence ends his “never been born” vision and an ecstatic George runs through town shouting Merry Christmas to people and buildings alike. He’s part of life once again and never has he been so grateful for his wonderful life. He knows that a warrant has been issued for his arrest. He doesn’t care. Sounds like surrender to me. All I want is to live. My life is incredible no matter what happens

His surrender is met by a myriad of friends and family who come together to save him from disaster and the arrest warrant. By the time the bell rings (and Clarence gets his wings) and everyone breaks out in a joyful rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” I’m bawling like a baby (at least on the inside – I still don’t like to cry in front of people. It’s that old “guy” thing…). As one whose been rescued from a life of desperation and degradation I am flooded with gratitude no matter how many times I’ve seen the movie.

The Never Ending Story

Maybe that’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a Christmas tradition for so many people. Like Christmas itself, it shines a ray of light, a ray of hope, into an oft dark world. It reminds us that, while the war may not be over, hang in there because good will ultimately triumph. That’s the general theme in any good story. God has been telling and retelling that story throughout human history. Every writer, every good storyteller, simply puts a different spin on the story He’s been writing for eternity. It makes since to me since we were created in His image.

Sometimes frustration with the consumer culture that surrounds Christmas gets in the way. Sometimes I simply to hear another retelling of the eternal story. I get back on track. I remember the “greatest story ever told”. Suddenly, Christmas becomes alive again. God came down to live with us. He loves us and sent a reminder that a new heaven and a new earth is not only possible, but certain. Love will win out, and, as the Apostle John reminds us, what is God but love?

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As I sit here at my trusty old roll top desk this morning I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude. The creator of the universe came down as one of us! He lived among us and showed us what it is to truly love one another. He showed us that a new way was possible. He reminded us that Abba hears our cries even when we think He doesn’t. Above all, He reminds us that the story has already been written so we can enjoy life and enjoy abundantly. It really is a wonderful life I have today.

I’m going back to the big box store later. I don’t know if the craziness has changed but my perspective has. Christmas has a way of doing that, especially when I remember what Christmas truly means.

“Emmanuel – God with us…”