Today I am watching them be beaten like a rented donkey. I must say that it's a little sad to see. I must also say that I am so very glad no one is paying me a million dollars a year and expecting me to actually earn my money. I know that guys like Tony Romo get paid bucket fulls of money to play a game that has no eternal value. I know that I get paid slightly less to do something of eternal value.
But I don't have angry fans. Or media folk. Or the hopes of millions upon my shoulders. And I mean, they are imploding today for all to see. Whew. I know it's these guys jobs and they take it very seriously. And I will watch the entire game because I won't see them play for a lone time. But today I am glad I'm just a guy that is not famous. And does not have to answer questions like, "How can you make that many mistakes?"
I hope I don't write a similar post during the Cotton Bowl.
Cultural discovery is a splendid thing.
Here in Guatemala, very clearly I know understand, at Midnight on Christmas the ENTIRE COUNTRY shoots off fireworks. I mean it was shock and awe. We've never seen anything like it. It's pretty well died down but our whole valley is smoky and we smell gunpowder thick in the air. It was like we were London or Berlin or Tokyo during WWII. Utterly relentless bombardment. What looks like the inside of a super nova, sounds like inside thunder, and smells like the bowels of a canon? A Guatemalan Christmas! Boomingly, blazingly, blastastic.
So, Happy Birthday, Jesus! Guatemala just blew off enough ordinance level the Rockies.
Thank you Lord for keeping our kids asleep through that. Utterly amazing.
So I'm sitting here with my family in our PJ's watching A Christmas Carol (the one with Mickey Mouse) and Gladys just came in and told us that today is called "Good Night" (buena noche) instead of Christmas Eve. And since I've been thinking about what in the world Christmas Spirit is all about I thought I'd use that as an intro. Subtlety is an art.
I'm certain that the reason most people want to have Christmas Spirit is because it makes us feel good. It makes other people feel good. As far as I can tell, it is good. It has something to do with giving being better than receiving, with kindness, with joy. Good things. The opposite of Christmas Spirit is Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch. Green, petty, selfish.
But what is it? People tell me to have this nebulous thing and since it is a good thing I'd like to have it.
And yesterday I read this article (a brief, beautiful read) about two high school football teams near Dallas playing a game. One of the teams a well off private school. A Christian one, given their name (Grapevine Faith) but more due to their behavior. Novel concept that, demonstrating faith in Christ through our behavior. Anyway, the other team was the Gainesville State School. They were 0-9, having scored 2 touchdowns all year. Those from the DFW area may recognize another institution in Gainesville - a maximum security correctional facility, formerly known as prison. The coach from Faith set the game up. Had the parents and cheerleaders cheer for the opposing team, made them goody bags, a banner to run through. Gave them a football game.
Because delinquents don't have fans.
Want to know his reason? The coach wanted to tell those kids , ""You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth."
So the delinquents lost the game. But before they were handcuffed and lead away to their bus, both teams gathered on the field to pray. Isaiah (what a name for a kid criminal!) asked if he could pray. He said, "Lord, I don't know how this happened, so I don't know how to say thank You, but I never would've known there was so many people in the world that cared about us."
I would have never known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.
Is it novel that people need to know they are cared for? That they matter? If anything, the impossible mystery of the Incarnation - God in Flesh - Immanuel - God With Us - is that God knows we are here and that we are completely overwhelmed by our own sin and He cares enough to do something about it. The Bible calls that love.
And this Christmas Spirit, as much as it has been marketed and movieized (I get to make up a word every Christmas) has as its kernel the very love of the Very God who came to us who were in darkness and showed us His great light. It is no less than to value people because they are. God did not create us by accident. We are not a cosmic mistake, an evolutionary anomaly. We are, every human, created by God in His image and we are each one devastated by our own sin and in desperate need of someone to crash through the wall and redeem us from ourselves.
God did that through an impossible birth. Christ became a baby, which is impossible, to save those He loved. Only God fixes the impossible. For nothing is impossible with God. It cannot be that God became one of us. And yet He did! And IS one of us today! For that baby became a man who died so that we could live. Just because He loves us. Impossible!
It is that very thing - impossible love - which God desires us to demonstrate. And O, woe my soul, I do it poorly. And yet it is this which is the Christmas Spirit. To love an impossible love. To look at another person and simply due to their being, love them and treat them as if they are indeed far greater than we.
Amazing. Wonderful. Impossible.
Happy Good Night! And enjoy, no, demonstrate, the impossible love which saved us from ourselves.
BoyD's birthday party was a hoot. Jenny will post some pics. A dinosaur pinata bigger than him. What a hoot. We took yesterday to get a little shopping and resting in. Sunday's are great.
Ok. This is our first opportunity to do Christmas shopping without the kiddos so we're off. It's surprisingly similar here - crowed malls, too much stuff, Santa and even Christmas music in English. It's amazing to see what the USA exports unintentionally.
I love you my Little Man! You can't read this yet, but you make me laugh every day. You are so smart and wonderful and fun and tough. Thank you for telling me you love me and for jumping on me whenever I lay down. Thank you for asking people if they are hungry or thirsty. I love you more than you will ever know. Until you have kids. Then you'll get it.
Jenny - how could God have given me a better helper? I love you and I am so happy you were born. I though I was alive before I knew you but now I feel I was just wandering until the Lord brought me you. Thank you for living so much grace in my direction. You are the person who enables me to do what God wants me to do. You will always be my better half.
I'm a huge fan of hymns - those oft deep wells of poetry sung from country churches to concert halls. They are a wonderful form of worship. I have this old hymn book, "Hymns of the Spirit" that I keep nearby from which I sing hymns sometimes. I don't have the best voice so I try to do it while the washer is running - my office is right by the laundry room. But I love to sing those old hymns.
I sang, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day this morning and saw the author is Henry Longfellow. I did a little research about the history behind it. A poem he wrote during the Civil War is the basis for the song. He penned it after hearing his eldest son had been shot and crippled. This grief was heaped upon him but 2 years after the horrible death of his wife, Fanny, who had caught fire in his home. He, unable to extinguish her, suffered severe burns to his face and lost her the next day.
A website stated, "The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year later after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."
Not all of you have joy this Christmas. Many of you have lost people you love or are fighting terrible circumstances. Many of you are suffering financial collapse or battling unending illness or agonizing through watching a loved one battle all too wearily.
Read for me (or sing if you know the tune) Longfellow's poem, "Christmas Bells", by a man who suffered the losses of this age. If they look unfamiliar, the 4th and 5th stanzas are not in the song and refer to the Civil War.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
Jenny's mom is coming for 2 weeks this Wednesday. She'll be here for BoyD and Jenny's birthdays, Christmas and our anniversary. We're so excited to have her here in Guatemala with our family. It will just be fun.
But I'm taking that time off which means the days before are crammed. I need to do a weeks worth of work on Monday and Tuesday. That doesn't count the honey-do list (which I have neglected to my doom!)
But it's fun and life is busy so I either roll with it or get buried.
Vacations are always sort of strange. I know we need to take them, but it always seems like they are sandwiched between times of frantic work. Before, you have to get ready to be gone. After you get back, you have to catch up. This is a little different because I'll actually be home so I can do some things.
Then there are the heroes of our work force - small business owners like my brother Ian. Who work 70-80 hours every week just to pay taxes and payroll. My dad, uncle, Jenny's mom, Jenny's brother, half the elders at CBC and many of the people I hold in highest regard all owned small businesses at one time and I have seen how much work you people put in.
So here's to you who own a small business! You are what makes our economy run. Thank you for all the hard work you put in. Do you get vacations? HA! Sometimes. Maybe. At least I hope you get a few days off for Christmas. You of all folks deserve it.
One of the things they asked was, "who will teach the courses?" and we told them, "Well, we'll start, but YOU will teach them. There's only 5 of us. We need you to do it." They were surprised and I think excited about that.
But, wheew, there are a lot of problems. I'll get into that later.
For now, I have to go to the doctor. I ate some sausage and tortillas the ladies made for us and was sick last night so it's off to the gastrointestinologist for some prodding and uncomfortable questions and hopefully some relief!
Please pray for safety for those traveling and that the Holy Spirit would help us enjoy a time of fellowship. And that the pastors would he honest and transparent in their answers. And for Jenny and the kids.
I'm really excited! God is so much fun.
Pollo Campero (Guatemala's fried chicken king) hosts a festival of lights every Christmas with a big fireworks show. They set up a stage, block off the main street and shoot off a bunch of fireworks way too close to large groups of people. It was great. And free.
I mean, they really did a show. I don't know if fireworks are cheaper here but they used a bunch of 'em. And probably not far enough away. While we were just outside of the fall out zone there had to have been some singed Guatemalans. In the states some one would have written letters to the newspaper or yelled at someone ala July 4th in Flower Mound this year. Here folks just roll with things a little better. They also can't believe we spayed our dog when there are hundreds of rogue dogs running around. Shrug.
Anyway, it was a hoot.
And if you would like to try a taste of Guatemalan's finest export, click the link above or head to:
POLLO CAMPERO 121 & GLADE
2830 State Highway 121
Euless, TX 76034
Ph: (817) 283-4454
And order the traditional, not extra crispy. If they have the green sauce, try it!
We had a pee-pee poopy party day yesterday. Rugs rolled up. Heaters on. NO PANTS! We had some amazing victories. BoyD twice went in his little mini john without needing help. Just went! He also had a few accidents. How we deal with those is huge.
See, I could say, "Oh, no! What did you do? You were playing with your train and just pooped on the floor? Who cares if you ran in saying, "daddy I need to poop in the potty?" You pooped on the floor. Idiot! Now you have poop on you. Poop on your blanket. Poop on the floor. Stupid kid. Who's going to clean you up? Grow up you little..."
If I heard someone saying that to my son I would kick his...well, I'd be very angry.
Or I could say, "Oops! Quick, let's sit on the potty. It's ok. Accidents happen. Remember the song? Don't worry baby. I love you. I'll clean it all up. I love you."
The Bible tells me "let no unwholesome words proceed from your mouth but only such a word as is good for edification, accourding to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear."
I can give grace to people by what I say. Or I can take it. I can give mercilessness to people.
I don't want to do that.
Remember the phrase, "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me"? I'm thinking I'd rather have somebody smack me around a little. Or a lot. Flesh wounds are easy to fix.
But I utterly hate seeing hurting people. Or people who have been crapped on by life again and again. And sometimes again. Certainly some people are victims of their own stupidity and arrogance. But some people just have harder lives than others. My language teacher, for instance, Edna, has had a much harder life than me. Most Guatemalans have had a much harder life than me. Most people in the world. Actually, if I added in the populace of history I would be in the most wealthy, well educated, healthy and peace guarded group. Top .01% for sure. Take the bed I sleep in every night - just a normal bed - is more luxurious than what anyone slept in up until a few decades ago.
And yet I cannot fix things.
I cannot take hurt away. I cannot look at people I love and make everything ok. I can point them to Jesus who makes everything ok. And, of course, that's far better than anything I could do. I can point but I can't make them go. And so I remain frustrated in my impotence. I'm not sure if I would be less frustrated were I potent nor am I even sure what that means. Maybe impotence is the wrong word. Limited is better. Bounded, finite, restricted.
Can you imagine what Christ felt like? Fully God and Fully Man. Self-limited to demonstrate His love for us. And yet I dont' think He was frustrated. God is never impotent. Does He get frustrated? Surely not like I do. I get frustrted because I cannot do something. God would never get frustrated like that. My limitations are not self-imposed. They are God imposed. One of the chief tenants of life is that I am not God. It's like saying, "this is water" to a fish. It's my environment.
And I'm not saying I want to be God or like God either. I really don't. I would do a crappy job. My frustration lies on longing for what should be and what will be but not resting in what is. Jesus said, "behold I will be with you, even to the end of the age." That means now. In what is. In frustration and discouragement. Even though I cannot fix hurting people. Christ has enabled me to love them. I reckon that will have to do for now.
If not, you can sit down and in less time than it takes to sit through the commercials in a sitcom you can read the longest chapter in the Bible.
I know they're all good, but some of the Psalms are like seeing an old friend every time I revisit them. 119 is an acrostic (like SPCA or SEALS) and it's the product of hours upon hours of loving labor at the hands of a poet who loves God deeply and out of that love flows a love for God's word. And when I come to it again, there is always a comfort, a familiarity. Like with an old friend, you just pick up the relationship where it left off.
Something I started doing, oh, I don't know, a few years back, is praying through the psalm. Not at once, I just take it in 24 verse hunks (3 groups of 8 verses, once for each letter of the acrostic) and I read it and talk to the Lord according to what's in the verses.
See, it's a Psalm about God's word, about His commandments and statutes and ordinances. All stuffy, lifeless words. But God doesn't do anything with me outside of the context of His relationship with me. And so as I love the Author I love His words. Only He can take stuffy and make it life giving and refreshing. And I need refreshing! Good grief, I need it. Every day.
God's word is so. . .well it's incredible. I can't think of a word with enough emotion that isn't a cuss word, but it's so fantastic that He has given us His word and I have it in English where there are WAY more translations than we need. Other people in the world don't even have one translation of the Bible in their language. Most only have a few. And yet we have more than we could ever need and still don't read it! How silly for us to have to much of everything and still find ourselves bored.
Anyway, my favorite verse remains 68,
"You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees."
I love this because I hang my hat on the fact that God is good. If he's not good, we're screwed. In a really bad way. But He IS good. No matter what. And He wants to teach us about Himself. Whew. What a wonderful way to be.
Pretty cool. And scary.
It seems that missionaries are supposed to be good at transition. We move a lot, learn other languages and get the runs more than most. So I'm supposed to have this transition thing down pat.
Of course I don't. It seems like every time I have to go and do something new it's a little different and a little harder than the last time. When the Lord asks me to trust Him I don't think it matters too much if it's hard or not. I don't think trusting Him with the same thing over and over again is easy, mind you. We have 2 kids. But I am, finally, after a very strange road, getting to begin what that Lord called me here to do over 4 years ago.
And after all those years and all that has happened, I'm nervous. Good grief.
It's a little like hiking in the mountains and working your way through creeks and valleys and forest scrub to finally find yourself in a clearing at the crest of the peak and the panorama which should inspire awe, sort of makes you wobbly kneed. I know what I'd like to do and I know what some of the needs are ( at least I think I do) and I know the desires the Lord has put in my heart. But when it comes time to step out of the clearing reality gets pretty big and I look very much more like my 3 year old son nervous in a crowded room than a man who knows what he's doing.
And I have to wrestle again with the reality that what I do is less important than who I am. And who I am is less important than Who's I am. I don't think being a missionary is any more spiritual than being a mechanic. We both have to trust the Lord. Sure I live in a cool country and can see an active volcano from my bedroom but we both pay bills and struggle with temptation and love our wife and kids. We both have money only because God is good and people are unspeakably gracious and generous. We both get up every morning and commit what we do to the Lord. We read the same Bible, are filled with the same Spirit and tell people about the same Jesus.
The thing is - God has only called me to be faithful. To love Him. To love other people. To be His child. For absolute certain He guides me and has things for me to do. Different things than other people because, well, nobody's the same. I may be able to teach the book of James while the mechanic can replace the CV joint on a Honda, but neither of those things has less value than the other as long as both of us are living dependent lives on Christ.
I don't know. I'm rambling. And I just felt a little earthquake. That's still weird. So, I finish Spanish school Friday. And transition. Again. Into something I've waited 4 years to do. The older I get the more I feel like a little child holding my daddy's hand. A hand which gets bigger and stronger and surer each new day.
At least I know He knows where were going. That's enough for today.
Many of you know he had prostate cancer several years ago and has been in remission since. His PSA levels were up and it looked like things had returned. After a battery of tests, he's all clear. Just needs injections every few months.
I love good news. It's fun. It's. . .good.
And we prayed that he would be ok. That his cancer would not have returned. We asked the Lord for this and He granted it.
But God is not required to tell me "yes." He is not a yes man. He is God. And yet I have to tell you, bad news is still . . .bad. We prayed for years that the Lord would make Robert, Jenny's dad, walk again. He never did. Robert went home to glory last November. And he's walking now. But the Lord wasn't tricking us. He wasn't telling us, "Aha! I was going to make Rob walk in heaven but you wanted him to walk now. See who's bigger? See who's God? I answered your prayer. Just not how you wanted it."
God is not like that. Simply, though asked through tears of petition, He told us, "No, my child." and He did it over and over. I mean we begged Him to heal Robert here in this life. And God told us no.
How do I react when I ask God to take my father's cancer away and He doesn't? Is that news still fun? No. Of course not. How horrid to enjoy the suffering of the fall. But God is not simply the Lord of good news. He is the Author of the Good News. And that Good News makes all the difference. When the Lord took Rob home, the grief was bearable because we will indeed see him again. He had passed from life to eternal life. From agony to glory.
See, God's goodness is not dependent upon my perception of reality. He is good and He does good. My ability to understand Him is irrelevant to His being. He has invited me to walk with Him, to love Him and be loved by Him forever. He has invited me to join Him in His redemptive work. But that includes suffering. It includes pain and heartache and doubts.
Though impenetrable the mystery of the Incarnation, I have in it a picture of a man fully dependent upon God. I am to walk with Christ as He walked with His Father. His time here on earth was not an easy one. How silly that I expect mine to be. How evil of me to think that God would make life hard for me to tickle some perversion. Or to think that He wants merely to dominate me and make me small. If He wanted to do that I could not combat Him. If He desired slaves, slaves He would have.
But He created children in His image, not to rule but to love. Truly He rules us, but He does so in love. And in the context of a relationship. He is at once King and Shepherd. Warrior and Lover. Servant and Lord of all. And He has invited me - invited us all- to join Him in the journey he has for us. A journey filled with joy and sorrow, battle and peace, exhaustion and rest. He has invited us to share this journey. Oh, that I continue in it, no matter what news comes on the phone.