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.”