Friday, December 14, 2007

Recovering Holiday-holic

In the last few years, I have made an about face when it comes to Christmas. Once upon a time, Christmas was my absolute, hands-down favorite time of year. And my absolute, hands-down favorite place to be at Christmas time? The mall. Any mall would do. I relished the decorations, the music, the crowds, the sales, the Santa photo-ops. I would bump through the crowded stores with a smile on my face, wishing my fellow bumpees a Merry Christmas.

Yes, I know. I was a little annoying.

Like one of those dancing Christmas elves, with the hat and the pointed shoes.

I tinseled the tree, festooned the windows, played holiday music on the hi-fi, baked Christmas goodies, attended Christmas parties and concerts. I was a bona-fide Christmas junkie.

My name is Renae, and I am a holiday-holic. Or at least I was.

Somewhere along the line, Christmas has lost some of its wonder for me. At some point I began to view the mall not as a holiday Mecca, but as a dark and menacing Christmas jungle. Somewhere along the line, the word "Christmas" began to bring stress and anxiety instead of joy and peace.

Perhaps it was the fact that I usually waited until December 15 to start making my homemade gifts. Perhaps it was that I couldn't say no to any party, any program, any volunteer position. Perhaps it was that I felt each gift had to be gift-wrapped, not gift-bagged. But whatever the reason, the pendulum has swung to the opposite side. Now, toss a little tinsel on the tree, and I'm good. Period.

But not really. The whole Scrooge thing doesn't fit me well, as hard as I may try. Like any recovering junkie, when I get a little taste, I crave more, and more, and more. And then, things get out of control, and the pendulum swings back to the other side again. So, what's a girl to do? There's got to be some kind of balance, some kind of middle ground between the dancing elf and the Grinch, right?

I suppose it is my own fault. If Christmas doesn't bring me peace and joy any more, perhaps it is because I have forgotten the source of that peace and joy. Somehow, He has gotten lost in all the tinsel and wrapping paper and parties. I have forgotten that the beauty of Christmas isn't in the presents and bright lights and festive music. The wonder of Christmas lies not in the chaos, but in the calm.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Christmas is a celebration! Just as I spend great time and effort planning each of my children's birthday parties, the birth of God's son should be the greatest, grandest, most elaborate celebration of them all! But I wonder if I've placed too much focus on the celebration itself, and not on the reason for that celebration? Hmmmmm . . . I'll just bet if I can somehow find a way to keep my focus on God's gift to us, instead of on my gifts to everyone else, I'll rediscover the joy and peace of Christmas. After all, it is only through that gift, given so simply in a manger with a single star as a decoration, that true peace and joy can be found.

So, I guess I'll pull on my elf shoes once again and head to the mall. After all, I have a birthday party to plan!

Luke 2:10-11 “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Let me know! How do you keep your focus in the right place during the Christmas season?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Trophy Buck

My husband, Mark, is quite proud of all the dead animals hanging on the walls of his study. He is an avid hunter, and during this time of year, he seems to eat, sleep, and breathe hunting. He was rather surprised the other day when I pointed out to him that I, too, am gearing up for my own hunting season. We actually have a lot in common when it comes to this particular sport.

You see, Mark does his hunting in the woods, and I do mine at the mall. He sits in a stand, and I stand in a line. He has special clothes for hunting, and I hunt for special clothes. He hunts with a bow, and I wrap up my purchases with a bow.

He comes home from his hunt and tells me, “I bagged a deer.”

I come home from my hunt and say, “I have lots of bags, dear.”

I was quick to point out to him that I am much better at hunting than he is. When he hunts, he often comes home with nothing. I, on the other hand, come home with a trophy every single time.

He wasted no time in reminding me that, while I may come home with a trophy every time, my trophies are easier to find than an actual twelve-point buck. And, he usually does end up with a nice trophy buck, which is why his walls are covered with them. So, we both win. He gets what he hunts for, I get what I hunt for, and everybody’s happy.

Have you ever noticed that life is that way? We almost always find what we search for. If we look for a beautiful sunset, we will find it. If we look for the telephone poles that get in the way of our beautiful sunset, that is what we’ll see.

If we look for the good in other people, we’ll find good, kind, intelligent people everywhere! But if we look for things to criticize, we will have no shortage of materials to work with.

We all like to display our trophies, too. Mark loves to show people his deer mounts, and can tell a detailed story of how each one was killed. In the same way, I love to show off my purchases, and brag about the bargains I found. It makes me wonder . . . what kinds of trophies am I displaying in my life? What things am I looking for, finding, and showing off?

We each have a choice. We can look for the good, the true, the pure, the lovely, the right, the noble things around us, and we will probably find them. Then, those will be the things we talk about, dwell on, and exhibit in our lives. Or, we can look for the bad, the negative, the wrong, the disappointing, the impure, the dishonest, the ugly things in this world, and we’ll find those things. And of course, that is what others will see displayed on the walls of our lives.

In a couple of weeks, Mark will head to Kansas, where he’ll spend a week hunting for that enormous, off-the chart buck. If he’s successful, we will be eating venison for many, many weeks. At first, I thought it not quite fair that he gets to go to his hunting Mecca, while I have to stay right here at home. But then I realized, I have a credit card. And I have the internet.

Proverbs 11:27 “He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sweeter than Honey

I recently took Charis and Foster to see “The Bee Movie.” In it, Barry Bee tries to rid the world of injustice by putting a stop to all the stealing of honey. According to Barry, honey is made by the bees and belongs to the bees. Humans have no right to it. Don’t worry, though. I don’t want to give away the ending, but by the end of the movie, all is well. Both humankind and bee kind have come to an understanding. The bees keep making their honey, and are glad to share it with the rest of us.

I love honey. And after watching that movie, I had a craving for a big glob of it poured over a fresh, hot biscuit. Mmmmmm . . . my mouth waters just thinking about it.

I decided that as long as the kids were still thinking about honey, I’d try to do a little home-study. We went to the store to buy a big jar of it. For the kids. For educational purposes.

Believe it or not, honey is a diet-friendly alternative to sugar! Although it has a high calorie count, honey is processed differently by our bodies than white sugar. Processed sugar has already been . . . processed, and our bodies don’t have to do anything to it. So, it just sits there, or turns straight to fat, or whatever it does. Honey, on the other hand, has to be processed after it is in our bodies. So, eating honey burns more calories than eating sugar.

Honey is also an excellent antibiotic! According to some sources, honey applied to a wound will promote healing better than an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. It also helps calm the body at night, promoting better sleep. A tablespoon given to children ages three and up at bedtime will soak up liquid in the body, thus aiding in the prevention of bed-wetting. Honey can serve as a cough suppressant, and even as a laxative! The benefits of honey are countless.

Honey does for our bodies what kind words can do for our spirits. Have you ever noticed how a well-placed, pleasant comment can add sunshine to even the cloudiest of days? Words filled with encouragement and compassion can calm the anxious person, uplift the depressed person, and soothe the angry person. Sweet words are like honey for the soul. The benefits are countless.

And, they are free. It costs us nothing to share the gift of a kind word, and the return on such a gift is beyond measure! When we offer gentle, thoughtful, benevolent speech to those around us, the goodwill we deliver will always come back to us many times over. Low cost. High return. You just can’t go wrong with that kind of investment.

As the kids and I stood in the grocery aisle, I felt a headache coming on. The kids had been sick the previous week, and I hadn’t slept much. I couldn’t find the honey, and I was getting a little grumpy. I just wanted to go home and pour that honey thickly over a flaky biscuit, maybe even stir some into my tea. That would help my headache.

Then, a man who could have been my grandfather walked by and smiled. “You’ve got a pretty little girl there,” he said, referring to my daughter. “She looks like her mama.” Talk about pouring it on thick! What a flirt! Funny, though. My headache was gone.

Proverbs 16:24 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'm Sorry

Of course we weren’t arguing. Mark and I never argue. We discuss. (Sometimes heatedly.) And this discussion happened to be about whether or not I had misplaced the remote control. Can you believe that? Me. Mrs. Responsibility. I always put the remote back on the coffee table as soon as I’ve used it.

“Honey, you’re the last one who had it. I know you are, because HGTV is on. You’re the only one who watches that.”

“No I’m . . . well, okay, maybe I am. But I didn’t lose the remote!”

The entire family had been searching for that dad-blamed remote for twenty minutes. We had taken all the pillows off the sofa. We had moved the sofa. We had looked on top of, underneath, inside of, beside every possible location. The remote was gone. And the football game had already started.

We finally gave up the search. Why doesn’t anyone ever use the manual controls anymore, anyway? Irritated, Mark settled into his recliner, and I decided to vent some of my frustration pounding away at this keyboard. As I sat down at my trusty computer and moved some papers around, what do you think I found?

I quickly covered the remote with some papers, and tried to figure a way out of this mess. Maybe I could sneak it in somehow. I know! I’ll fix him a glass of tea, and as I hand it to him, I will just happen to see the remote under his recliner! But I knew it was no use. I’d been caught. Now, I needed to ’fess up.

Don’t you just hate to admit when you are wrong? I know I do. Sometimes, saying “I’m sorry” can be almost impossible! Our pride tries to convince us that no matter how wrong we have been, we were justified in our behavior. We tell ourselves that the other person should apologize to us. We leave the burden for making things right on the other guy’s doorstep.

But when we refuse to make right something that is wrong, we are foolish. And our foolish pride will not bring us the peaceful, happy lives we all desire! We can only be at peace if we live good, upright lives. One way to be good and upright is to make things right, or make amends.

We need to focus more on doing right than on being right. And it is always right to try to live peacefully with others. If someone has hurt our feelings, chances are pretty good that we have hurt them as well. If we are involved in a petty dispute that is causing stress and anger in our lives, the other person probably feels that stress and anger, too. We need to swallow our pride and make the decision to spread goodwill, keep the peace, and when necessary, admit we are wrong.

So, I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, picked up the remote, and marched bravely into the living room. Mark’s eyes lit with humor and just a touch of that “I knew it!” expression.

But before he could speak, I told him, “This was next to my computer. I was wrong. I’m sorry!” He placed the remote control on the side table and pulled me into his lap. Well, alrightey then. Saying “I’m sorry” might not be such a bad thing after all!

Proverbs 14:9 “Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Family Circle

Thanksgiving at Memaw’s house was always special. With enough food to feed the entire state of Texas, enough aunts, uncles and cousins to form our own state, and enough love to last a year, we never went away feeling hungry.

Nobody ever ate at the dining room table. There wasn’t enough room! The table was filled to overflowing with turkey, ham, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, casseroles, cornbread, banana bread and more!

The wide deep-freeze served as a dessert table, with every mouth-watering delicacy imaginable. Each dish was made by the skillful, loving hands of my East Texas relatives. Wrinkled aluminum foil was bent back and replaced time and again, as we nibbled cakes, pies and cookies throughout the day.

Every year was the same. We all gathered around the big table and held hands. Usually the “circle” spilled into the kitchen and living room. My dad would say a prayer, thanking God for His bountiful blessings, and then we’d dig in!

There were always a few seconds of “You go first!”

“No, you go on ahead.”

Until finally Uncle Maurice would growl, “Move out of my way! I’ll go first!”

We would all laugh and file in line. The last person in line never had to worry, either. There was more than enough of everything to feed our crew for days!

Memaw would sit in queenly quest as children and grandchildren scrambled to serve her. She didn’t say much, but the twinkle in her eye said it all. This was the one day of the year when all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were together under one roof. She treasured every moment, and we treasured her.

Laughter rang from every corner of the old farmhouse – the kitchen, the bedrooms, the porch – and Memaw just listened and smiled. When the weather permitted, many of us “young ‘uns” would take our Chinette plates onto the wooden porch steps, or sit with our legs dangling from one tailgate or another. The men would sit around and talk about the weather, or about hunting. The women would sit and talk about the men.

In January of 1994, Memaw went to be with our Lord. Uncle Maurice followed just four months later. Thanksgiving is different now. And yet, surprisingly the same.

Mark, the kids and I will join my brother Shelby and sister-in-law, Debbie, along with their three children. Mom will fix her famous dressing – the dressing for which there is no recipe. “Just a little of this, and a little of that . . . “ Dad will probably say the prayer, just like always. Countertops and tabletops will be full of more food than we will be able to consume in many meals.

After the meal, the kids will run around and whoop and holler, just like always. Mark, Dad and Shelby will sit around and talk about hunting. Mom, Debbie and I will sit around and talk about kids and husbands.

Our celebration is smaller now, but there is every bit as much love. I know if we listen closely enough, we will hear Uncle Maurice growl. And I know, somehow, that Memaw will be smiling with that twinkle in her eye as she, PaPa, and all our other loved ones who have gone on to glory look down on each of us who are left behind, all together under the same heaven.

Psalm 68:6 “God sets the lonely in families.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hot Lips!

It took all the self control I could muster, and then some, not to tell what I knew about Joe. It was such a funny story – hilarious, really! But I knew Joe probably didn’t see it that way. But he would never know. After all, what’s the harm in a little innocent gossip? My lips were just burning to share . . . as a matter of fact, I had to excuse myself from our table at Casa Ole just to keep from bursting into laughter! But, in spite of the fact that I missed my chance to be the life of the party, I’m glad I kept my mouth shut. I’ve been the victim of gossip. In a split-second decision, I decided not to be the perpetrator of the very crime that has brought me pain and embarrassment.

Let's be honest. Is there anyone reading this who has perfect control over his/her speech? Sometimes, those unkind words slip out before we even realize what has happened. But when we gossip and slander, we hurt those we talk about, and we hurt ourselves as well! For when we speak negatively about others, we send the message that we are not trustworthy. We announce to others that we can’t keep a secret, that we’re not loyal, that we have loose lips and unkind hearts. And though people may listen wholeheartedly to our unkind, unnecessary words, those same people will make mental notes to keep their distance from us.
But controlling our speech is difficult. Impossible, really. So how in the world are we supposed to stop ourselves? Here are some practical tips for controlling our “hot lips”:

1. When we start to say something negative about someone, we can force ourselves to say something positive instead! (And I don't mean sarcasm, either.)

2. We can change the subject. My mother once told me that classy people talk about things, not people. Try discussing sports, music, or under-water basket-weaving!

3. Finally, we can always choose to walk away from any conversation that is unkind, gossipy, slanderous . . . We each have a free will, and we don’t have to participate in negative, hurtful speech.

Others may think we’re odd when we choose not to join in with the latest juicy morsels of gossip. But those same people will respect us and trust us. And in the long run, the good names we will earn for ourselves will be much more rewarding than any brief moment of popularity gained by delivering gossip and slander.

So, I returned to the table determined not to spill the beans. Joe was still the topic of conversation, so I interjected, “You know, Joe makes the best home-made salsa I have ever tasted. Speaking of salsa, I think I’d like some more chips. Waitress!”

Proverbs 11:12 - 13 "A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret."

Friday, November 9, 2007

American Idol

Okay. It’s time for true confessions, here. I (blush . . .) am an American Idol wanna-be! More than once, (okay, more than twice, even . . .) I have been caught by my husband or my kids, hairbrush in hand, belting out the Star-Spangled Banner, imagining crowds of out-of-control fans holding up posters with my name on them. In my musings, even Simon Cowell is awed by my unmatched talent. But then, the amused and somewhat frightened expressions on the faces of my real-life audience always bring me back to earth. Right here, in front of my computer. Typing these words to you.

American Idol is one of the biggest pop-culture shows of our time. One of the stars created through that show is the singer, Clay Aiken. He had tremendous talent, but then, so did everyone else who made it to the finals of that show. Clay was cute, but gangly, and a little nerdy. (Sorry, Clay! But you were.) While we all loved this nerdy guy, he needed some work. And one of his harshest critics during the show was - you guessed it – Simon.

While many of the contestants left the stage in anger or tears after Simon's harsh words, Clay seemed to lean forward, eagerly drinking in every mean, nasty word. And the next week, while many contestants continued making the same mistakes, Clay would have fixed whatever problem Simon had addressed. Clay used Simon's criticism to his advantage. He was wise. He made it to the top two in that show, and is now a huge pop star!

One of the main differences between a wise person and a foolish person is his/her ability to accept instruction and correction. None of us is perfect - not a single one of us. We all have times when we need to be rebuked, or corrected. The foolish person will take correction, scoff at it, and hate the one who delivered it. The wise person, on the other hand, will take the correction, examine it, apply it to his/her life, and will appreciate the one who delivered it. Even if the rebuke was given harshly, and was intended to bring hurt, the wise man will use it to his advantage, and will grow to be a better person because of it.

So maybe, the next time my real-life audience laughs at my passionate attempt at musical genius, I should ask them for an honest appraisal of my talent. After all, it is important to give the fans what they want. I may just learn something that will help me on my journey to fame!

Proverbs 9:7 – 9 “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.”

Friday, November 2, 2007

How to Avoid Getting Burned

We had everything we needed for a grand adventure. Or a disaster. I was six years old, Stephanie was seven, and Rudy was eight. We had a magnifying glass, a pile of dead leaves, and a sunny day.

“Let’s build a campfire!” I said.

Stephanie and Rudy looked at me skeptically.

“Oh, I know how to do it. It’ll be fun! My daddy’s a fireman, so I know all about stuff like this,” I boasted.

“Okay. If you’re sure,” they finally consented.

So, we scooted together our pile of leaves, and went searching for twigs, bark, tiny pieces of paper . . . anything that would contribute to our fire. Before long, we had a nice pile, hidden conveniently behind Rudy’s hedges, out of view of neighborhood adults.

Rudy was the first to hold the magnifying glass. After all, he was the oldest, and with age comes privilege. Before long, we saw smoke rising from our little pile. “It’s working!” we cheered.

“My turn,” said Stephanie. Older, yet inches shorter than I was. Smart as a whip, too. “I think if we hold it at this angle, it will . . . “

As she spoke, the smoke gave way to red, glowing embers.

“Look! It’s really working!” I cheered. But Stephanie and Rudy weren’t cheering. “It’s my turn!” I told Stephanie.

She handed me the magnifying glass, but her eyes showed concern. Doubt.

Rudy spoke up. “I don’t think this is such a good idea.”

“Oh, it’s fine. I know about fires, because my daddy is – “

“Does your daddy know you’re doing this?” Rudy stood his ground.

“He doesn’t care. He trusts me,” I lied angrily. “Besides, you’re doing it too.” Deep down, I knew Rudy was right. I was in over my head. But rather than admit it, I just kept going. I held up the magnifying glass, and suddenly, Poof! Up came the flames. We had a full-out fire on our hands.

Have you ever found yourself in a bad situation, and didn’t know how to get out of it? Perhaps you over committed yourself. Or perhaps you made a promise you couldn’t keep. All too often, when this happens, we avoid the issue. We lie. We find reasons to be angry at the people around us, blaming them for our situation. We do everything but the right thing. And before we know it, things are blazing out of control.

When we find ourselves in bad situations, we should just admit it! Rather than lying, or cheating, or acting irresponsibly, or getting angry, we should just seek out the people who can help us, and tell them the truth. A little humility goes a long way, and very often the person we are dealing with has found him/herself in a similar situation. Perhaps they’ll understand, and will try to help us. While we should always try to honor our commitments and be true to our word, we need to be honest with ourselves and others, and admit when we’re in over our heads. In so doing, we’ll keep ourselves, and others, from getting burned.

Rudy took off running toward my house. Stephanie and I stood speechlessly watching the fire grow larger and larger. Within moments, my daddy was there, stepping on the flames with his big boots, and soon all was safe. He sent Rudy and Stephanie home. As for me . . . well, let’s just say it didn’t take long for him to get to the bottom of things. And my bottom was sore for a long, long time.

Proverbs 6:2 - 3 “If you have been trapped by what you said . . . go and humble yourself.”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My Mother-in-law, the Superhero

My mother-in-law is a superhero. She rarely wears a cape, although she should. She doesn’t have x-ray vision, or leap tall buildings in a single bound. But she has proven herself to possess super-human bravery, and powers which defy all logic. The story I am about to tell you is one hundred percent true – no exaggerations, no embellishments. Just cold, hard facts.

Nana is an animal lover. She is the proud owner of Belle, a Miniature Schnauzer, and Abby, a Shih Tzu. She is also the proud grand-owner of Shamgar, our Lhasa Apso. Shamgar loves to visit Nana’s house, for she doesn’t treat her dogs like animals. Instead, she showers them with love and affection, spoils them with puppy treats, and treats them as honored guests.

Every once in a while (like when we are going on vacation,) Shamgar goes to Nana’s house for a week or two. All by himself. Just for fun. On one such visit, Nana let Shamgar, Abby and Belle into her backyard for their morning routine. She returned to her kitchen and was preparing her morning cup of tea when she heard a ruckus coming from the backyard. She peered out the window, and before her eyes was the neighbor’s large Blue Heeler. His jaws were clamped around Shamgar’s neck, and he was slinging our little Lhasa around as if he were a chew toy.

Now, a mere mortal would have stood at a safe distance, yelling at the dog, perhaps throwing shoes or rocks. A mere mortal would have called 9-1-1. But we are not talking about your average, run-of-the-mill person, remember? Nana is a superhero. And with the grit that is only present in true superheroes, Nana ran into the backyard, straddled the Blue Heeler, sat on him, and pried his jaws open. Shamgar escaped into a corner, and Nana stood up, ready to send the Blue Heeler packing. But apparently, this Blue Heeler wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box. Apparently, he didn’t know who he was dealing with.

Monster Dog (as we affectionately call him, rest his soul,) chased Shamgar down again, and began to repeat the grueling scene. This dog was bloodthirsty. He wanted to kill Shamgar. But never fear, Nana was there!

Once again, she straddled Monster Dog, pried his jaws open, and set Shamgar free. This time, she held the dog by its collar and ordered Shamgar, Abby, and Belle into the house. When they were safely inside, she let go of the bully.

But remember, this dog wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. Again, he chased after Shamgar, and went right into Nana’s living room! Fortunately, our little Shamgar is one smart fellow. What he lacks in brute strength, he makes up for in intelligence. He was nowhere to be found.

For the third time, Nana pursued Monster Dog. This time, she got him out of her house and locked the door. Shamgar was taken to the animal hospital, and received many, many stitches. But . . . you should see the other guy. Rest his soul.

Apparently, this wasn’t Monster Dog’s first offense. As sad as it may seem, measures had to be taken to prevent future attacks on animals and children. As for Nana, she hasn’t needed to use her superhero powers since that day last summer. But if you ever look up in the sky and see a sixty-something woman with a red cape zooming by, just wave. You can rest easy, knowing that all is safe. Nana is on patrol.

Proverbs 12:10 “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal.”