Prov 17:22

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

Friday, December 27, 2019

Humble Pie, Anyone?

Amid all the treats we’ve been eating too much of all month, I did not see a single offering of humble pie. It’s a dessert we find easy to refuse. Yet when I reflect on 2019, it seems God has been walking me through a season of humbling in big and little ways. How about you? Turning it down, apparently, is not an option.

Last year at this time, I really thought I’d have another book contract by now. After releasing my third novel in 2017, I naively thought of myself as having it made as an author. That although my publisher had discontinued its fiction line, another would eagerly snap up my new manuscripts as fast I could write them. But two years have passed. I’ve completed three more novels that, so far, no publisher is prepared to take a risk on. It’s humbling to know so many people write better than I can.

A misunderstanding with my agent reminded me that if she chose to, she could drop me from her client list today and fill the slot with any number of eager writers immediately. It’s humbling to be a small fish in a big sea.

Diminishing sales and no promise of another contract leave me wondering if I’m going to be looking for another “real” job. It’s humbling to know I don’t have the energy for that.

With joy, I retired from my city hall job at the end of March. While training my replacement, I told her to feel free to call or email me if she became stuck. It’s been nine months with not one call or email. City hall still stands and the world still turns. Go figure. It’s humbling to know I’m replaceable.

A conversation with one of my children left me feeling like a complete failure as a mother. Although I’m thankful this hasn’t happened yet, it’s humbling to realize my adult kids hold the power to cut me out of their lives should they so choose.

My body reminds me daily that it’s been performing for sixty years. Parts are wearing out. Hurting. Drooping. Clothes don’t fit right. Unless I plan to live for a hundred and twenty years, I can no longer consider myself middle-aged. It’s humbling—and scary—to grow old.

I continue to blow it with my spouse on a regular basis. Even after forty-two years, which tells me I will never get this right. It’s humbling to admit.

Can you relate to any of these? Being humbled does not feel good. I think that’s why God tells us to humble ourselves. (I Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”) Humbling yourself is far less—well, humiliating—than being humbled by circumstances or by other people.

Though it’s not enjoyable, humbling is good for us. Why? For one, it keeps us from the sin of pride. The wrong kind of pride can be deadly.

Secondly, being humbled teaches us to rely on God. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my writing career, my income, my agent, my family relationships, my health. I can do my best, but ultimately, I need to trust God with the outcome, lean hard on him and know he has my best interest at heart. He knows what is best for you, too.

And sometimes that best comes with a tasteless but healthy dose of humble pie—no ice cream on the side.

Friday, December 20, 2019

And the best dad award goes to...

Nearly every Christmas Eve, when we return home from the candlelight carol service at church, I pop in our DVD of the 2006 movie, The Nativity Story. Like any Hollywood production of a biblical story, this depiction of Christ’s birth comes with plenty for critics to hiss at in terms of accuracy. Probably the most glaring is the visit of the wisemen to the stable, arriving at the same time as the shepherds almost immediately after his birth. Historians know the visit came many months later.

It doesn’t bother me, because the key elements are all present (including Mary’s virginity and the angelic visits.) I love the music and wasn’t surprised to learn the score was made into an album and nominated for a Dove award. The way the wisemen are portrayed offers bits of comic relief. The plots of Herod and the Romans’ taxation practices give a glimpse into history and the oppression under which the Judeans lived. Elizabeth’s delivery of John the Baptist provides realistic insight into what life might have been like. The scenery, the costumes, the animals—all of it works together to bring you much more than your standard Sunday School lesson.

Though I know how it ends, I’m always brought to tears at the tender moment when Mary’s baby arrives and the expressions on his parents’ faces say it all. Which brings me to what I love best.

Instead of the impossibly sweet and serene Madonna usually portrayed when an actor is brave enough to tackle the role of Mary, we see someone more human. Keisha Castle-Hughes (a New Zealander who was sixteen at the time) played Mary as a headstrong, thoughtful adolescent transformed by an unimaginable responsibility. I think she demonstrates a beautiful balance of surrender to God’s plan, confident independence, and strength of character.

On the arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary comes to recognize and appreciate Joseph’s integrity—and therein lies my second-favorite thing. We know little from the Bible about Joseph, other than that he was a “devout man.” This rendition shows several examples of Joseph being generous, kind, and considerate. In her positive review of the movie, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post concluded “…[perhaps] Jesus became Who He was not only because He was the Son of God, but because He was raised by a good man.”

Oscar Isaac as Joseph
The Bible tells us Joseph was a carpenter, and the assumption is Jesus learned this trade from him. My heart has a soft spot for carpenters because my grandfather was one. He always smelled of sawdust—one of the happiest smells I know, because it reminds me of him and because it generally means some sort of progress is in the works.

I wish we knew more about Joseph. Wouldn’t he be a huge encouragement to fathers? Think about the self-sacrifice involved in accepting as your own a child you did not father and then giving him all the love, protection, guidance, and care you’d give your own. Add the fact that this child was like no other before or since—the son of God himself. A little daunting, wouldn’t you say?

Watch the movie if you can. Reflect on the good example set by Joseph. And if you have men of real integrity in your life, men with servants’ hearts and courageous spirits, be grateful. Let them know they’re appreciated.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Technically, I don’t know if you can call this brilliant piece of work a movie because it’s only twenty-five minutes long—thirty with commercials inserted. Nowadays, you can watch it any time, in full color, without commercials, simply by finding it on You Tube. But when I was a kid, it aired once a year with plenty of fanfare leading to the big event so you could be sure to catch it—provided the winter weather didn’t mess with your antenna and turn your TV screen to snow. Even in black and white, it was worth waiting for.

A Charlie Brown Christmas was created in only six months in 1965, on a shoestring budget. The producers broke from common practice by hiring children to do the voice work, by using a jazz soundtrack (performed by pianist Vince Guaraldi), and by not using a laugh track. Experts predicted it would be a huge flop. Fifty-four years later, this classic remains a must-see in many homes every Christmas.

The story begins with a typically depressed Charlie Brown, who visits Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth to share his dismay over the commercialization of Christmas. His sister Sally writes to Santa saying she wants cash—particularly tens and twenties. Lucy complains about always getting toys instead of what she wants: real estate. Even Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy succumbs, turning his doghouse into a gaudy display in hopes of winning a neighborhood contest.

Upon receiving Lucy’s five-cent advice, Charlie takes on the project of directing the Christmas play, which only leads to more frustration as the entire cast remains distracted by the glitz and glitter of Christmas. When Charlie picks out a Christmas tree, he chooses a spindly one—symbolically, the only real tree on the lot—recognizing that it just needs a little love. For this too, Charlie Brown becomes a laughingstock. In desperation, he cries out, “Can’t anyone out there tell me what Christmas is all about?”

To which a tiny voice responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you.”

Thus begins the pivotal moment when little Linus, blanket in hand, takes the spotlight. He quotes Luke 2:8-14 verbatim from the King James Bible. At the end, in his sweet little lisp, Linus says, “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

The simple but brilliant message reflects the heart of Peanuts creator Charles Shultz. One subtle but important element of Linus’s big scene goes unnoticed by most of us. At the exact moment when the angel says, “Fear not!”, Linus drops his security blanket to the stage floor.

When our daughter and son-in-law named their son Linus, I knew I wanted to give him something significant for his first Christmas. It took some hunting, but I found a little figurine of Linus van Pelt as he appears on stage for his recitation. When you press a button on the bottom, you hear the story from Luke in Linus’s voice. I hope it keeps working until our Linus matures enough to appreciate the full meaning of it.

How are your Christmas preparations coming along? Are you becoming caught up in the lights, the food, the shopping, the presents? Are you enjoying freedom from security blankets because God’s gift at Christmas taught us that perfect love casts out fear? I hope you’ll take some time this season to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas with fresh eyes and an open heart. Enjoy the nostalgia. Reflect on Linus’s recital. Notice the blanket drop. Read the passage for yourself. And join the children when they sing, “Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners, reconciled.”