Why I’m Still Celebrating Christmas

Christmas Morning

I know that it is January 9th and that my parents have taken down all of the Christmas decorations in the house.  They’ve piled up all the boxes in the basement and now the house looks drab, well as ordinary as a house looks after the most festive season.  But I am still celebrating Christmas.

Deliciousness

Christmas day is a special day in my house.  We wake up early, open our gifts, eat a spectacular breakfast that the woman of the house prepare and then enjoy each other’s presence.   Christmas in my house is a day for true joy and I love it so much that Christmas is no longer going to be a one day celebration in my life.

It’s not even just a 12 day celebration.  Did you know that traditionally the twelve days of Christmas actually mean something more than just whatever that silly song suggests?

All I know is we passed through each day of the twelve days of Christmas.  We’ve already celebrated day 6 of Christmas, where we received six geese a laying, which means we are to remember to give thanks to God because he is the creator and caretaker of our world.

I know that the Epiphany already happened.  The magi have already given their gifts to baby Jesus, and that even the most Orthodox Christians are already putting Christmas behind them.

But I am not done celebrating!

No, this does not mean that I am still listing to Christmas music.  I am not one of those people (Although my sister and her oldest kid are both as Christmas Crazy as it gets)!

Joy of Christmas

I’m still celebrating Christmas because it’s the only way I can make sense of the world.

2012 was a hard year for many people.  I have many friends who spent the year struggling with health issues.  Two of my friends had a year from hell.  They moved to Denver in early 2012 only to find out that their new apartment was infested with bedbugs.  Then the wife found that that she was allergic to the bug spray, so they had to move out, breaking their lease.  Their year got worse, and yet they weren’t alone.

Here in Denver, on July 20th, a madman entered a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” and killed 12 people.  That day, going to the movies lost their innocence.  Later that year things would get worse.  I remember going to bed on December 13th praying that God would keep all the people safe who were at the premier for the Hobbit, only to wake up to find out that another mad man had forced his way into a school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing innocent little kids and heroic teachers.

I’m still celebrating Christmas because Christ gives me hope.  I cannot make sense of why these tragic events took place this last year.  I do not know why my friends had such a hard year.  I do not know why people would want to kill, especially innocent little first graders.  All I know is that I can set out to be different.  To love the people around me and treat everyone with respect.

Not everyone tries to treat people with love and respect.  There seems to be plenty of hate in our world.  We might never know why those two tragedies occurred, but I think what may have been wrong with the killers is a microcosm of what is wrong with the world.  It’s a loss of love and hope.  Instead of loving our neighbors, we’ve decided to live selfishly.

We have become a me first society and so when people need help, they are more often than not, pushed away, which makes for a sad and lonely world.  I do not know why my friends had a year from hell, but I do know they experienced Christ’s love and provision throughout all of their struggles.  They weren’t alone.

See, I’m still celebrating Christmas because I have decided to live differently.  I don’t want my friends to feel alone.  I’m going to live in hope and I’m going to try to share that hope with my friends.

I can have hope because God is my provider.  He gave me, and the rest of this broken world, Jesus.  So even when everything seems to be crumbling around me, I can have hope because Jesus “heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.  He counts the stars and calls them all by name.  How great is our Lord!  His power is absolute!  His understanding is beyond comprehension.”

Christmas is not over because Christ is working in our lives.  So even when things get rough this year, remember that God is our provider and that Jesus has come to heal your broken heart.

Today the Christmas tree has been tossed out into the back yard, waiting to be mulched, the boxes of Christmas decorations are piled up in the basement, but those seasonal reminders of Christs grace and God’s provision, do not have to fade away.

What if we all lived a little differently and celebrated Christ year round?  Would we then start to see all that Christ is doing in our lives.  Would we see Christ’s love during the joyful times as well as the sorrowful times?

Let’s find out together!

Join me this year in living differently, living completely engaged in all that God has for us.  Living Spiritually.

Gravestones and God

10 Things I Will Do In 2013

2012 was a banner year for me.  I did some things I said I wouldn’t do (Against my will I used American Airlines), but I also did a lot of things I wanted to do.  In August I kick started my masters program at Regis University. I’m now well on my way to holding a masters degree in teaching.  While restarting school made my year feel busy, I was able to have a lot of fun in 2012.  So much so, that I have a few adventures that I want to repeat.

The Ride To Pine

1. I will Bike to Pine, Colorado! On October 12, 2012, I rode my bike mountain bike up the Colorado trail from Waterton Canyon to Pine Colorado.  After months of training the ride was almost ruined by a violent flat tire, which exploded on me, bending my wheel and shooting me like a cannon ball into the air.  With a new wheel and better tires I pedaled my way through the rain to end of the trek, just in time to see a bull elk boss around his harem.  Interested in doing this ride?  Join me this summer and we can make the trek together.

Bull Elk

2.  I will visit Guatemala! Last March I spent a week in Guatemala helping lead the Spiritual Emphasis retreat for my old school.  Sharing Christ’s love with my former students was the highlight of my year.  I don’t know when I’ll fly back down to my second favorite country, but there are several people who want me to be there for their graduation.

3.  I will continue to live my life like a Hobbit!  Okay, I’ll wear shoes, but Hobbits tend to live with a unique sense of excitement and hope ; they never give up.   I don’t know what is in store for me this year, but I want to be like the Hobbit, Sam, who doesn’t lose hope when he is facing mount doom and sure death!  You’re right, if you guessed that I’m already excited for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to come out later this year, but I want to live with excitement and hope in all things in my life.

4.  I will run another half-marathon!  I plan on running the Pikes Peak  Half Marathon this year with a couple guys from my small group.  Running halves has taught me a lot about life.  To run a half you need to know how to be committed.  Training takes months and once you start the race, if you want to finish, you’ve got to know how to keep the feet moving.  I know that running up to the top of Pikes Peak will be hard, but it will make a great adventure.

The Cook Book

5.  I will continue to learn how to cook!  On New Years Eve I baked my first cake, an oatmeal brown sugar cake that turned out very sweet.  I also learned how to make the marinade for my family’s Christmas dinner.  We had Tacos al Pastor.  The pork meat turned out so tender my sister thought it was Chicken!  I want to try to cook a meal for my family at least once a month, so send me some recipes.

6.  I will finish my short story!  I have been working on this particular story for a little over a year and a half.  I want to submit it for publishing by next September.  Keep me accountable, so that I keep writing.

7.  I will finish my masters in teaching!  The masters in teaching program at Regis Jesuit University has really been a great challenge.  I’ve been learning a lot, and even though I’d rather be teaching the information, than writing papers on it, I’m excited to complete my education.  This time next year I’ll be looking for jobs!

The Colorado Trail

8.  I will continue to study Spanish!  Acquiring a second language has slowed down over the last two years, especially since I started back to school.  I’ve been listening to Spanish music and trying to start up conversations in Spanish (This is the hardest part).  This means I need to actively look for people to speak Spanish with, let me know if you know anyone.

9.  I will spend more than a month without sugar!  Last year I spent July and a little bit of August without sugar.  I was amazed by how much better I felt when I subtracted sugar from my life.  I was going to live 2013 without sugar, but I still have leftover cake and so I’ll have to eat that first.

10.  I will continue to live spiritually! In 2012 I challenged myself and all the people in my life to look for God in all aspects of our lives.  My goal, to engage with life and God every day, meant I continued to read my bible each day.  Daily, I started looking for things I was thankful for, things I found joy in, and blessings I felt God let me be a part of.  Last year was a true adventure and I am looking forward to engaging with all that God has for me this year.

A Storms Coming

What To Do On The Last Day Of The World

Little Doomsday Preppers

If you haven’t heard, then let me tell you, December 21, 2012, was prophesied to be the day the world ends.  Of course if you haven’t heard about the end of the world, and you’re sitting around reading blogs, then well, you are the perfect audience for this message!

The people who have stockpiled their attics or basements with food, bought five generators, filled their bathtubs with water, sharpened their Katanas, and have been watching reruns of Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Chanel already know they have plenty to do today (whatever day this happens to be as the end of the world always seems to be coming).

Tikal

The Mayan calendar ends on the 21 of 2012, which is today, or if by chance the world doesn’t end, yesterday, or depending on when you get around to reading this, last year.

Two years ago on the winter’s solstice I was hiking around the ruins of Tikal, which was once one of the wealthiest Mayan kingdoms.  Sadly, their violent culture ended centuries ago.

We’re all going to end up like the Mayans!  If not today, or tomorrow, it will happen someday.  So, what do we do about this horrible news?

Good news!  I’ve got a few ideas.  However, this blog might not be the best for the people who have already hunkered down in their Zombie proof shelters.

First: Show your Neighbor some Love!  It’s the end of the world and I think now might be the time to knock on their door and invite them over for dinner.  This could be a great time to start a new friendship, everyone needs a friend at the end of the world.  But heck, if the night’s real bad just remember you wont have to see them tomorrow!

Second: Go play in the snow with some little kids, or puppies, or anything that brings you Joy.  Kids seem to be able to find an enormous amount of joy in the smallest things.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the last day of the world than hearing the laughter of a little kid.

Zombies!!

Third: Find a time during the day to relax.  I’ll go on a hike up through the mountains.  I know I can’t bring about world peace, but if I find a little peace for myself, maybe I’ll be able to find love and joy a little easier.  Besides nothing says Peace to me like the aspens that grow in the Colorado Rockies.

Aspens

Fourth: When the Zombies are pounding down your door and you’re at your whits end, be Patient.  You’ll be fine, their lack of fine motor skills will protect you, but you might need to wait a little for them to stumble out of your house.  You really will need patience when hanging out with the little kids (they ask millions of questions and wont hesitate to point out any of your flaws, like the gap you have in your teeth).

Fifth: Go to Walmart and look for the person with the shopping cart that screams “It’s the end of the world and I’m hoarding all of the supplies“, and and surprise them by paying for their stuff.  Don’t smirk or laugh at them either.  Be Kind, who knows they could share some of their Twinkies with you, oh wait . . . I guess the world is ending.

Sixth: When your neighbors come over for dinner and insist on showing you all of their Amway stuff, find real interest.  Show interest in them because that’s what Good people do.  Even take the next step and buy a little bit of what they are selling.  What could it hurt, the world is ending anyway.

Seventh: You know that friend who you think about every day, don’t give up on them, give them a call.  Yes, it’s the end of the world, but that’s the best time to tell someone you still love them.  Plus, you might be able to invite them in on some great Amway products.  In all honesty, be Faithful to your friends.  Tell them you’re thankful for them, even if they haven’t called in ages and sometimes you wish the Zombies would get them first.

Eighth: When you’re scared out of your mind because the Zombies have now broken down your front door and you’re wishing you’d watched Doomsday Preppers, remember that those Zombies have already lost their minds, so be Gentle with them.  In their thirst for brains, their wanton hunger has driven out their ability to love.  Yes, they want to eat your brain, but just maybe they really need is someone to gently hold their hand and show them compassion.

Ninth and Last: When all of the world has thrown itself into chaos, with looting and killing, drunkenness, partying with no sense of real joy, but of lust and carnal desire, and jealous hatred drives all their actions, show some Self-control.  As the world goes to hell, hold back and don’t go with them.  Continue to live life differently.  It will be worth it in the end.

Because when our world ends or just seems to be falling apart, into evilness, with senseless shootings, there can never be enough people who practice love and joyfulness, find peace, act patiently, show kindness, goodness and gentleness to others, and lastly act with self-control.

The Good LIfe

The First Snow

I spent the last two weeks pounding away on my computer.  It’s getting a little old and the delete key isn’t working all the time, but for now, it is helping me get through grad school.  Funny enough, two weeks ago, when I was celebrating Hobbit Day, I did something very stupid.

Acting on little, to no sleep, I decided to go check out the new iPhone 5, it had just been released that day.  As I had expected, the Apple store was packed with people trying to upgrade their phones.  I didn’t really want a new phone, just wanted to look at it.

The iPhone 5 is sleek and remarkably light weight.  It was very compelling, but what really caught my eye was the new Macbook Pro.  My old Macbook only has 80 gigs and the battery has a life of about 30 minutes, though it still works.

Now, let me explain myself a little bit.  On Friday September 21st, I was still feeling the after-effects of completing my first masters level class the day before.  I’d been up since 5:30, already hard to work on the reading for my next class.

Still, NEVER go shopping when you are super tired.  Or you might walk out with a 2,000 dollar computer that you can’t afford.  That’s just what I did.

Fortunately Apple has a gracious return policy, which is what I took advantage of after I went to the gym and thought things over.

Now back to the present.

I spent all day yesterday typing away on my old computer, being very careful not to make any mistakes, as the delete key is being very tricky.  Kind of funny that I was able to delete my big mistake when I bought a new computer, but my old computer wont let me delete the wrong words I type.  Anyway, around 4:00 pm yesterday, I turned in my second big paper, which interestingly enough focused on the importance of sleep and how it correlates to learning.

I should have talked about sleep and how it can stop you from buying expensive Apple products.  But that wouldn’t have been scholarly, just realistic.

If you can’t tell I’ve learned I need more sleep!  So I decided to take this morning off, which was very nice.  When I woke up around 9 am, I was surprised.  A fresh coat of snow on the ground.

I love snow, especially the kind that only sticks on the grass.  So in celebration of the first snow I am going to share the pictures of my yard with a fresh dusting on it.

I think it’s awesome that it snowed today.  It reminded me that sometimes we make mistakes, but we can’t do anything bad enough that God will not take it back.  He covers over our sin and makes our lives as white as the fresh snow on my lawn this morning.

I hope you enjoy the pictures of the first snow in Denver. And remember, it’s not bad to sleep in every once and a while.

The Hobbit: A Second Breakfast Adventure

I would never have made for a good Hobbit, other than the fact I can’t grow much facial hair and I don’t like wearing shoes and would love to live in a hole in the ground.  Anyway, I am not round in the belly, at least not any more, and I love to go on adventures.  Adventures are very un-hobbit-esque.

It’s funny though, I love adventures because of The Hobbit.

I read The Hobbit for the first time back in middle school.  The dark, but funny tale captured me.  I wanted to follow the path through Mirkwood, ride the barrels to the edge of the Lonely Mountain, and find myself in the battle against Smaug.

I wanted to go on an Adventure.

I’ve longed for Gandalf to show up at my house and throw me into a grand story.  Yeah, it would mess up my life, and when I would return I wouldn’t be the same.  But a life well lived is a life where you embrace change, even if it is a little scary.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen Gandalf’s fireworks, and he’s never marked my door with an invitation for a party of dwarves.

But not all adventures start like that.  Some start by opening a book.  Today, that book, The Hobbit, turned 75.  I hope you go out and read it and let it challenge you to live adventurously.  Who knows you might end up in a third world country.

Today, to celebrate the book, I joined the worldwide Second Breakfast Celebration.  I really didn’t do too much, besides watch The Hobbit trailer a billion times and post a bunch about The Hobbit on my Facebook page and listen to the LOTR soundtrack today.  Other than that I just ate my first breakfast at 6:30 and then made myself an omelet (which was the true adventure for the day, I’m not really a chef, but I cut my own onions and diced some peppers, threw them into the frying pan with some eggs) at 11 for elevensies, or as it’s known better, second breakfast and started reading The Hobbit for the first time in four years.

You might have missed out on the celebration today, but I challenge you to pick up the book and join the adventure.  Heck, you can have second breakfast tomorrow when you celebrate Hobbit Day (tomorrow happens to be Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, but you might not know them yet, so read up cause they’ed love to have you at their party).  But be careful you might end up in Middle Earth.

In The Wild

When 11,200 feet above sea-level, sleeping in a tent, living like the early man, fishing, cooking over a fire, it is easy to feel uncomfortable and a little challenged.  Unless you’re this guy:

If you have been following my blog, you know that I spent the first week of August up in the Pecos Wilderness.  I’ve talked about wandering around lost and how hard the hike was, but what about what happened in the wild?

I went into the wild on a search, for fish, a fresh night sleeping on my new sleeping mat, and friendship.  What I found might have been a little different.  Heck, I shared a tent with the older version of the man pictured above, so how could my adventure turn out the way I expected?

Life in the wild is therapeutic for me.  I love backpacking because it gives me a chance to leave my normal life and leave it all behind.  Computers. Smartphones. Jobs. Stress.  I love being off the grid.

Guatemala was off the grid, or at least I was off most everyone else’s grid.  Living off the grid can be a challenge, especially not knowing the language, something unexpected could always be expected to happen.  But now that I am living in Colorado, I feel the need to get away, go backpacking, so that I can be challenged and refocus on life.

And so, up in the Pecos Wilderness, off the grid, we were attacked by a hungry heard of chipmunks.  Those little rodents were aggressive.  We had to lock away our food, even so they unzipped my backpack and chewed through three layers of plastic bagging just to eat three raisins.  They were telling me that the Stewart Lake campground was their home turf and I better show some respect.  Maybe they’d grown too used to backpackers and I could see why.  As I packed my backpack a troop of 15 teenagers hiked into our area to set up camp.

After a little fishing we packed our tent and trekked up to Lake Johnson.  If Stewart Lake my first step into the wild, albeit a little crowded, Lake Johnson was truly off the grid.

Other than the Rices, our backpacking partners, we didn’t see another human for a couple days.  It was just me, my dad, and the wild.

The fishing up at the high mountain lake was great, but then again, not great.  But maybe that was part of the challenge.  When I can’t just walk up to the closest Chipotle for a burrito to feed my hunger.  Providing food for myself isn’t meant to be easy.  Sometimes the fish just don’t bite.  And when they don’t, what’s going to calm the hunger pains?

Fortunately, I packed in enough food and really, caught plenty of fish.  I spent most of my time out by the lake, casting my line.  It was a beautiful time, but also invigorating.  Each night on the backpacking trip, we lit our stoves, boiled water so we wouldn’t get sick, and then hoped our food would turn out edible.

In the wild you can’t rely on your own strength, just ask Aaron Ralston.  He got stuck and lost an arm.

In the wild it can rain or not rain.  Too much one way or the other and you could be dead.

But in the wild you can also find life.

In the wild, up at Lake Johnson, I reconnected with my best friend.  Philip and I grew up going to church together, but because we live in two different states, hadn’t been able to talk in several years.

At night around the camp fire, with no computers or iPhones, we were able to engage in each other’s lives again.

Philip is currently stepping out into the wild in his own life.  God has called him into the full time ministry.  He has left his job, just months after becoming a father, and is placing his trust in God to provide for him.

There is nothing wilder than living on the edge for God.

On our last night around the fire, Sid, Philip’s dad, asked us to talk about what we’d experienced on the trip.

We’d talked about fishing, joked about all the deer that’d wander through our campsite (they would wander through and nibble on our leftovers knowing they were safe as it wasn’t hunting season).

But my favorite part was was talking about faith and community.  I don’t think these conversations would’ve happened if we hadn’t gone into the wild.  I felt focused on life, as each morning and night, around the the camp stove, we shared our hearts.

As I packed up my tent to hike out of the wild, I knew I didn’t want to stop sharing my life with the people around me.   It took going into the wild to see that my life needs true community.

This year, while I pursue my masters in teaching, I don’t want to forget what I learned in the wild.  I know that my studies will be challenging, but I’ll get comfortable. I know I’ll be connected to the grid.  But I hope that I stay connected to the community around me and not stop living in God’s wild creation.

All Who Wander

 

“Dad, you know the Tolkien quote,” I started hesitantly.  My dad and I were about 45 minutes into our hike up to Lake Johnson and the trail had just vanished in an open meadow.

“Yeah, the one where Frodo sings, ‘The Road Goes Ever on and on, Down from the door where it began.  Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with weary feet, Until it joins some larger way, Where man paths and errands meet.  And wither then?  I cannot say.'”

Fortunately my dad did not sing, but unfortunately he’d said the wrong quote.  “No, Tolkien says, ‘not all who wander are lost.'”

“Yeah,” answered my dad.

“We’re wandering and we’re lost.”  Roads might go ever on, but ours was dead in the grass, consumed in the wild.  And if we wandered much longer, my 40 pound pack was going to be the death of me.

Can You Find Your Way To Lake Johnson?

My dad pulled out his map and I plopped off my backpack.  It looked like the trail was supposed to be leading to the West, but the fire road we’d tried after the original trail petered out was going East.  But neither of us are expert map readers and each time I tried to decipher the counter lines and trail dots my head spun. After a brief discussion about what we should do, I walked ahead, sans my pack, to check and see what was ahead.  The path vanished again, only to reappear a little higher up the hill.  After five minutes I knew this was no good.

We turned around and tried a trail that cut a sharp edge up the mountain.  Sadly, as promising as this trail seemed, it was the wrong one.  An hour and a-half in to what was supposed to be a 12 mile hike, my dad turned us back around and walked us back to the trailhead.

It was annoying to be back at the start, but I didn’t want to wander around and not reach Lake Johnson, so I followed.

Tolkien’s words repeating in my head, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.”  There are things unseen in the seen world, which I believe is a key part of Living Spiritually.  If I take everything for face value, I’ll miss the grand adventure God has for me.  Unfortunately, I didn’t want to see the deeper meaning of wandering.  I just wanted to be on the correct trail and to see my friends.

Maybe what the quote is really saying is, the point of life is in the journey, not just the destination.  Maybe we can wander if our goal isn’t the destination, but loving the moments we are in while we are wandering and feeling lost.

I took a deep breath and placed one foot in front of the other.  Quickly the trailhead slid behind us.  The sun was hot and my mood was still low.  We turned left at the fork in the trail, which meant taking the trail up to Stewart Lake instead of Lake Johnson.  We knew the trails should meet up, but that hadn’t been our plan.

As I moved mindlessly over the ground, passing Aspen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers, a quote from Jack Kerouac sprang to mind.  “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by . . . Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean Arden paradise and expect to see nymphs and fluteboys, then suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of hell in dust and nettles and poison oak . . . just like life.”

Keep your head down and just keep going, I thought.

With my eyes glued to the trail I smacked head first into my dad’s pack.  He’d stopped for some reason.  “Hey!” said a familiar voice.  It was Philip, my friend we were hiking up to see.  He was on his way down the trail to pick up his brother from the airport.  He’s no nymph, but seeing him was very other worldly.  I’d felt lost and dejected as I hauled my pack up the trail, but he confirmed that we were going the correct way and that we’d see him the next day at camp.

Kerouac is dead wrong, I countered.  I can’t live life with my eyes closed to the magical world around me.  I don’t want to glide along until the trail ends or my life is over.  I want to keep my eyes open, even if what I see let’s me down.  Even if I get lost along the way.  After running in to Philip the trail opened up and the hike became easier.  And definitely prettier.

And so the road went ever on, to Stewart Lake and then to Lake Johnson.  My dad was right, though we were lost, we were still on the same road that led out of our front door, we were connected to the greater adventure along the way.  And while we hiked, I kept my eyes open and saw covey of grouse, Indian Paintbrushes, and a friend who I hadn’t seen in several years.

Tolkien is right, not all who wander are lost.