Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Grinchiest Grinch

I was delighted to discover How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Netflix. The one with Jim Carrey. It’s pretty much my all-time favorite Christmas movie. I laughed all over again at parts I’d forgotten or maybe never noticed.

My favorite bit is when the Grinch sets up his dog, Max, to play Santa’s reindeer and goes into his Ron Howard impersonation, complete with ball cap. (Ron Howard is the movie’s director—any wonder it was such a success? I’ll watch anything that guy creates.)

Anyway. The story unfolds. The Grinch’s history is explained, making him a sympathetic character in spite of his contemptible behavior. Cindy-Lou sings the sweetest song ever. The compassion and courage of a little girl raise the bar for all of Who-ville. The Grinch is welcomed into their circle. The mayor is duly penalized for his meanness. The audience is left with the appropriate warm fuzzies. One might say the lesson here is that we need to be kind and accepting toward someone who is different. And that’s not a bad lesson.
But there’s so much more. 

I think the lesson is that Christmas comes. Regardless. Ready or not.

I don’t know whether Dr. Seuss intended his story as an allegory, but it works. You see, the very first Grinch was none other than King Herod, the evil ruler who felt threatened by the Jew’s promise of a coming king. He tried to trick the wisemen into disclosing the whereabouts of the Christ child in order to destroy him. When that failed, he had all the baby boys in Bethlehem under the age of two killed. (See Matthew 2 for the full story.) Talk about contemptible behavior.

Try to imagine this occurring in your home town. I’ve got a grandson in that category. Unthinkable, right? Not a family would go unaffected. Not to mention the soldiers who were ordered to carry out this mass murder. I’m sure no one called it “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” back then, but I’m certain it existed just the same.

But even that evil scheme didn’t work. Christmas came anyway.

Christmas came because Jesus gave up everything to come here and live and teach and do miracles and then, ultimately, to die for us. He knew what he was in for. He did it anyway. Out of love.

So I suppose one reason I like this movie so much is because when I see all the Whos in Who-ville gathered around the tree singing—I know I’m one of them. I stand in church on Sunday mornings with my fellow believers and sing about the one who brought us Christmas. And I know one day we’ll be gathered around his throne, relishing eternal life, peace, and freedom. Because he came. Anyway.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

But where does the pig go?

This year, with little energy to spare, I’ve scaled back on Christmas festivities. I skipped my work Christmas party and will gladly stay home while my hubby attends his. Our big tree still sits in its box. The six Rubbermaid tubs of ornaments downstairs remain mostly full. Our house is not lit up outside. Gift shopping was done online from our living room. I plan to bake only one treat. (Lest I look like a complete Grinch, I did manage to set up an 18-inch tree, hang a wreath on each door, and dig out a Christmas tablecloth for the dining table.)

I’m fine with scaling back. I wanted to keep the focus on Jesus this year anyway. But how exactly does one do that? 

This might sound weird coming from someone who claims to follow Jesus Christ, but I’ve never owned an actual nativity scene. When our kids were little, they had a Fisher-Price farm set. We’d set it up like a nativity scene, dress the little people in scraps of fabric, and the “baby” in some fuzzy felt. The horse transformed into a donkey. We never felt sure where the pig might fit in, but the dog, chicken, and rooster? Why not? We added an angel candle who behaved perfectly. The children could tell the story and play with the characters as much as they wanted. While we read the story aloud from Luke 2 on Christmas morning, the kids took turns moving the people and animals into place.

Once the kids outgrew the farm set, we gave it away. Now I wish I’d found somewhere to store it. At the time, having grandchildren seemed a lifetime away. It’s crazy how fast that happens, though, isn’t it?

And until now, I’ve never invested in a “proper” nativity scene. Most of them look too religiousy and fancy for my liking, with their bright colors, gilded edges, and halos. I wanted something a little more down-to-earth.

So, this was the year. Yesterday I took myself to Heritage Book and Gift Shoppe and purchased this basic six-piece Willow Tree nativity set (I already had the two little angels you see here). I love it! And I think this old German wine crate makes a fine stable, don’t you? The set can be expanded many times over (hint, hint family!) with additional shepherds, animals, wise men, and angels. There is no pig.

I’m deeply grateful Jesus didn’t “scale back” his grace and mercy, but came here to save us. I hope my little nativity set helps us focus on the real reason for Christmas for many years to come. When I look at it, one thought prevails: Emmanuel. God with us.

Friday, December 2, 2016

City Slide Walks and My Guardian Angel

When you live with the fear that one icy morning while crossing the bridge on your walk to work, you’ll get nailed by a sliding car and go flying over the railing and down to the tracks below—but you walk to work anyway—is that courage or stupidity?

It’s been that kind of week. And it prompted me to rewrite Silver Bells. Go ahead, sing along. You know you wanna.

City sidewalks, slippery slide walks
Iced in holiday style
On the streets there’s a feeling of danger.
Children sliding, people gliding
Meeting pavement and stone
And on every street corner you fear…

Slippery falls, slippery falls
It’s winter time in the city
Ouchy ouch
I’m a grouch
Soon I’ll be needing a cane.

Horns a-honking, cars a-skidding
Through lights bright red and green
As the shoppers slide home with their treasures
Feel the sleet punch, hear your bones crunch
For these hazards you’ll pay      
And above all these death-traps you fear…

(Repeat chorus if you dare)

I never did fall, thanks in part to my husband’s Yaktrax which may be ruining my boots. But at this stage of life, I figure a pair of boots is cheaper than a broken limb. I was surprised by how many people noticed my grippy fashion accessory and commented. What was far less noticeable, but I’m certain as effective, was my guardian angel. When I returned home on Tuesday, the slipperiest day of all, I received an email from Connie Inglis who serves as the spiritual advisor for Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship to which I belong. I’ve never met Connie, but she wrote to tell me she prayed Psalm 91 for me that day.

Of course I looked it up. Among several other promises about how God will keep his children safe from harm, are these words in verses 11 and 12:
“He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling.” (The Message)

Good work, guys!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fifty-seven going on Seventy-five

So tonight is opening night of the Prairie Players’ production of The Sound of Music on the stage of the William Glesby Centre. When I auditioned for one of the nuns way back last winter, I questioned my sanity. The argument in my head went something like this:

Killjoy Me: Are you nuts? You KNOW how tired you are.
Dreamer Me: Yeah, but it’s The Sound of Music! At 57, when will I ever get another chance to do this?
Killjoy Me: You KNOW if you’re not in bed by 10 pm you turn into a zombie! How are you going to stay at the theatre until 10:30 or later every night?
Dreamer Me: I’ll take vacation time from work so I can sleep in the next morning.
Killjoy Me:  You KNOW you need to sleep every afternoon or you can’t get through an evening.
Dreamer Me: But it’s just a little part!
Killjoy Me: There are no small parts, dummy, only small—
Dreamer Me: —Shut up! I’m going for it.

And so I did. And I won a nonspeaking role as one of the nuns. Perfect. 

I soon realized I was the weak link in the alto section and would not be missed if I got hit by a truck on opening night. But that only served to emphasize the privilege of participating in this classic production.

So I’ve done everything I can think of to conserve energy. Took a week's vacation from work and from writing—except for this post. Skipped church. Been sleeping late every morning and napping every afternoon. And I’m still exhausted. I console myself by the fact that I am the oldest of the nuns and nearly the oldest in the cast.

Then I find out some of my co-actors—with much bigger roles to play—are putting in full days at work or school plus evening rehearsals. Seriously? How is that humanly possible? And suddenly I feel like I must be a hundred and three. In the five years I’ve been fighting with lung issues and their associated energy drain, I forget this much fatigue is not necessarily normal. I’ve grown used to managing my schedule around the need to sleep, much like a parent of a toddler must do. How humiliating. Ridiculous. Discouraging. Frustrating. I decide this will have to be my last production.

And then I see this meme that says “Old is when you give up. Until then, you are spectacular.”

And then I hear this line from Psalm 121 that the Reverend Mother quotes in one of the play’s scenes. A modern translation puts it this way:

I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.

Feeling old and exhausted today? Look to your true Source of strength. Sleep if you must. And then go out and be spectacular.