Christmas can wait (a #TBT post)

Photograph taken by Michael Kappel

I had one of the coolest temp jobs ever in college. It was temp in every possible sense of the word, lasting only one night and paying pretty decently for the late 80s/early 90s.

The local mall contracted with the theater department at my college to put up the rather extravagant Christmas decorations. We would show up at the mall as the stores were closing and a mall employee would lead us through a maze of corridors behind the stores to a room that warehoused all the decorations.  A couple of pizzas and several hours later, the center stage area was transformed into a proper Santa wonderland with tall, tall trees and scads of faux snow.

Back then, we didn’t put them up before Halloween. It may not have been the week before Thanksgiving break, but it certainly wasn’t as early as election day. Of course, the commercial Christmas season was shorter back then. This year, I saw Christmas trees in the stores in mid-October when my nephew and I were looking for a new shirt for his high school homecoming. Twitter friends reported hearing Christmas music on the radio as early as Nov. 1.

The increasing length of the consume-athon that has become Advent in America is beginning to turn me from Bob Crachit into Ebenezer Scrooge.

I want to reclaim the wonder of Christmas.

I want Christmas decorations to magically appear in the stores after a proper Thanksgiving in which we have paused to remember all our blessings before we run out asking for more.

I want the Christmas music to start being played on the radio on Black Friday morning.

I want to see sparking lights adorning houses the weekend after Thanksgiving – not competing for space with the mums and carved pumpkins of Halloween.

I can only control so much of my exposure to the trappings of Christmas before the traditional start on Black Friday, but still I try, keeping my favorite scene from my favorite Christmas special firmly in mind.

This Throwback Thursday post originally appeared on a previous blog on November 16, 2010. Posting it before Christmas made it a bit more relevant, but the sentiment remains as we’re only a week into December.

To the cretin in the pick-up truck

English: A red bike lane on the side of a high...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m compelled to write this missive to you – an unknown, faceless figure who poked his head out of the window of a pick-up truck past its prime (but not its primer.)

You were driving down a main street in town. I was safely pedaling in the bike lane.

The you made this noise. I suspect it was meant to be a shout of some sort. I’m not naive enough to think it was pleasant.

But I’m fairly certain that physics was never your strong point.

The first clue was the condition of the smoke-billowing conveyance in which you were a passenger.

The second was your blatant disregard of the effect of said smoke-billowing conveyance’s motion on your voice. Simply put, the motion of the vehicle combined with the excessive decibels at which you attempted to communicate rendered your Neanderthal musings incoherent.

Please understand that this does not mean that I need or want you to repeat your message as I suspect it is one that I have heard before from similar people who directly correlate their manhood to the loudness of their muffler.

Just remember this … someday you’ll be standing at a gas station pumping precious fuel into your guzzling gas tank while I ride by thinking of all the money I am saving and the calories I am burning.

Maybe I’ll slow down and shout something at you.

Don’t worry. I’ll speak slowly so you can understand.

This post originally appeared on one of my earlier blogs, but I thought it would be fun to revisit it for #ThrowbackThursday.

Ten years later …

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My classmates and I before our bike ride at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center during our first week of class back in 2006.

 

A ten-year journey will be coming to a close at the moment I have scheduled this post to publish.

At 10:30 a.m., I will be lined up with my fellow graduates of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, waiting for the first notes of the processional to signal the start of the commencement ceremony. Though it comes six years later than I had anticipated, the timing is perfect. Ten years ago, I was where I needed to be, but not when I needed to be or who I needed to be.

I had been in youth ministry for nearly ten years at the time, and found my sweet spot in discussing life and Scriptures with students who were about to enter college. I had volunteered a few times with Passion conferences, and loved the one-to-one interaction with the students I served. So, when I embarked on my seminary journey, I had visions of a flourishing college ministry that would meet in the old movie theater downtown and draw in students from local colleges and maybe even high school seniors.

Nearly halfway into the seminary experience, my world was shattered when my mother died just a few days before Christmas. My seminary family prayed me through, and I vowed to continue on with my classwork. The reality, though, is that you just can’t concentrate on early Christological heresies and the thoughts of the ante-Nicene fathers when you are trying to move through the fog of loss.

So, I bailed.

For the first time in an academic life characterized by a perfectionist streak and flat-out ambition, I quit. I not only quit, but also the transcript for that semester shows letters I had never seen before on any report card – “WF” – withdrew failing.

And, that was the greatest thing I have ever done in all my years of schooling.

But, that’s when Jesus grabbed on to me like he never had before. I didn’t consciously reach out to him like you read in great redemption stories. I continued doing what I had always done.  I prayed. I read the Bible. I continued serving in church. In those little faithful acts, taken one step at a time as I came out of the darkness of grief, Jesus held onto me until I gradually realized I was being held.

And I grabbed him back.

More than once, I toyed with the idea of returning to school, but there were reasons to not return. It was too busy at work. The family needed me. It was busy at church. There was always the burning question of why I had even started seminary in the first place. Was it my ambition or God’s calling?

Finally, in the fall of 2013, I sensed that it was time. As it turns out, it was just in the nick of time. I faced a deadline to finish everything so that the old credits I had earned back in 2006 wouldn’t expire. It wasn’t easy. There were far more tasks to complete each day than there had been, and far less time available to complete them. The challenge, however, made the work all the more precious.

It was only in this last semester that I realized the great work God had done in the seven years that passed between the end of the last class I successfully completed and the start of the first class in my return to seminary. This time, I know that God has called me to write, speak and teach his word to people of any age willing to hear. This time, it isn’t in my own ambition or talent. It is though the grace and guidance of God. Now, I sing with conviction – and will sing at the graduation ceremony – the words to my favorite hymn:

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

 

Borrowed hair, Insta-friends and letting your light shine

Close up of a fountain in downtown Greenville. Yes, I was holding my phone over water.

Close up of a fountain in downtown Greenville. Yes, I was holding my phone over water.

Today was so much more at Allume.

More laughter from Chrystal Evans Hurst as she told her story of having borrowed hair (a wig, to put things in context), borrowed clothes and borrowed jewelry as she went onstage at an event to proclaim “I am a kingdom woman.” When it comes right down to it, that’s the defining characteristic of a kingdom woman, isn’t it? All we have is borrowed from God. Our kingdom work is our attempt to offering back to Him.

More insight from Logan and her publishing team. I’ve always known there was more to writing a book that research and putting thoughts to page. The team showed just how much work it takes over a long period of time. Writing, it seems, is as much patience in the process as it is arranging words in lovely sentences.

More creativity from Rachel in her afternoon session on showing God’s glory in Instagram. I loved my third trip into downtown Greenville with a group of Insta-friends as we chased light, pattern and color down Main Street.

And, I can’t forget more flavor from Tupelo Honey Café. I had to miss dinner because I had to be at the airport to catch a flight home, but a Charleston chicken sandwich with a side of mac and cheese almost made up for it.

IMG_4014Soon, I settled into a window seat on a flight north, where I would land in the dark at a temperature about 20 degrees cooler than the place I had left. As the plane banked to the right while on its ascent, I could see a quarter-moon shining above the lights of the city below. Each light is a house, a business, a place of worship. Each light has a story. From my perspective in seat 20D on United 3753 to Dulles, I could only guess at the stories.

God’s perspective is much higher and much closer at the same time. He doesn’t have to guess. He already knows our stories, and He has given all who walk with him a light. Jesus himself called us the “light of the world.” Each of our lights have story to tell – a unique story of how the Lord met us in the mess and of the beauty that is continually emerging from the ashes.

Somewhere there is someone aching to hear that story – your story. Don’t hide it. Declare it for the world. Let your light shine.

This is the second post about my weekend at Allume. Catch up on the first one here
makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Sugared bacon, kindred spirits and Dust in the Wind

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It has been a full day. I’m sitting on an outdoor patio, having just returned from a quick walk of a block or two into downtown Greenville after dark. I couldn’t help myself. I loved North Main Street so much in the daytime I had to see the lights in the trees, hear the sounds of the musicians on the street and smell the temptation of an international array of foods coming from restaurants after the sun went down.

Allume has been everything I had hoped it would be. If you could label places as makarios, this would be one of those places. It started with Alisha Gordon opening my eyes to the danger of a single story in a whole new way right after a breakfast featuring a strange delicacy known as “sugared bacon.” We up North need to adopt that tradition right there.

Then, I met a kindred spirit in a session with Gwen Smith. My Sunday school class would be pleased to know I am not the only teacher who so loves diving into the word of God that they chase tangents. Her words on making first things FIRST may well be the major takeaway of the conference for me, as drenched in Scripture as they were.

Then, two more sessions on writing. Write fearlessly. Write truth. Write from brokenness, but don’t leave people there.

On a slightly warm fall afternoon, I walked five blocks down Main Street to a Falls Park on the Reedy. It’s a downtown park complete with waterfalls and a suspension bridge. An older man was playing Dust in the Wind on an unplugged electric guitar in a plaza at the entrance of the park. It seems like such an unusual choice for a street musician.

The falls were beautiful and busy as families ignored the posted signs prohibiting climbing on the rocks. One adventurous photographer climbed out into rocks at the very point at which the falls spilled over the edge. I watched him from Liberty Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning the Reedy River, spellbound by his adventurous spirit almost as much as I was annoyed that someone would act so recklessly.

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Downtime with my roommates – two wonderful women who were strangers a week ago and are friends now. Dinner. Silken-voiced Reeve Coobs singing old hymns and new worship songs to take us to the throne. Sara Hagerty reminding us how God adores us.

And now.

Now, I am along on a plaza filled with tables on green chairs. I hear the people at the restaurant and bar behind me. I see the cars going down Main Street. I watch people walking in groups.

And I wonder if they have seen God today as I have.

This is the first post about my weekend at Allume. Check out part two here.

makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

A mother’s goodbye

 

Photo by Matthew Smith via Unsplash

Photo by Matthew Smith via Unsplash

She wore a red shirt that declared she was the proud mother of a Marine. With two smaller children in tow and a husband walking alongside, she trailed a step or two behind a young, muscular man. He might have been over 20, but probably not.

He walked to the security checkpoint to present his ID and boarding pass. She stood by the rope line, watching intently.

He turned to the trays to begin the tedious travel routine – unloading pockets, taking off his shoes, removing his belt. She stayed close talking quietly.

He nodded a few times before he moved to the conveyor belt. She watched as the security official waved him through. She craned her neck for a glimpse of him as he gathered his belongings. She stood on tiptoes as he walked out onto the busy concourse, watching intently as he turned first one direction then the other in an attempt to find his gate.

He strode away, full of confidence, disappearing into the crowd.

After a long moment, she turned away, a hint of sadness in her eyes as she looked at her husband.

The boys, by now, were already heading down the escalator, but she walked away slowly.

She was still very obviously, very openly, very beautifully the proud mother of a Marine.

 

An act of devotion

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Photo by jcarlosn on Flickr

They slowly followed the young man to the table. He walked well, but slowly. She walked slowly, but not as well with a slight tilt to her head and an arm in a permanent bend.

He smiled at them, handed them menus and helped them settle in — both of them on the same side of the table.

Curious, that. I turned my attention back to the conversation at the table. There is, after all, a delicate balance to people watching.

Their order came quickly. Two identical plates piled high with broccoli.

I feigned interest in the repeated scenes of an empty racetrack and the incessant scroll along the immense television screen mounted on the wall behind and above the elderly couple at the next table. My peripheral vision focused on the action.

An act of devotion. An act of love. An act of beauty.

He gently reached over and cut her meat. Picking up her fork, he jabbed a chunk of chicken and turned the fork, placing it in his wife’s hand so she could eat. Then, he turned to his own plate to have a bite for himself.

The process continued, their gray heads almost touching as the fork was passed back and forth in quiet conversation.

They smiled at the server when she came to deliver their bill and graciously declined dessert before they began the slow journey back out the door.

This. This is commitment.

This is devotion.

This is love.