The Joy of 2017

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As 2017 started, I had no idea how difficult this year was going to be, but I also had no idea how much joy it was going to hold as well.  I began this last year just like many of you, making goals, but I also set the word of joy before me.  One thing I have learned about joy is that if you want it, you have to fight for it.  2017 was no exception to this rule.

My job is a fulfilling one, but over the last year it has been a struggle to find joy as I teach.  Many of my students live in severe poverty and their stories make my heart ache.  One students’ parents struggle with alcohol and drug addictions so bad that the student had to flee in the night with all their possessions in black plastic trash bags. Another student shared a story of having to, at the age of 12, drive herself to school because her parents were each working one of their three jobs.  Both of these students know the meaning of joy and their smiles have helped light up my classrooms.  As they fight through the struggle that their lives are, they do not stop.  So when my job became a struggle, I chose to be like them and to fight for joy.

Therefore in February, just as I was told my job was going to be cut, I flew out to California with April and proposed to her.  She said yes! What joy!

Ring 2 b_w

The disappointing school year ended and even though my job had been retained, I no longer felt wanted where I work.  But I entered the summer with a coming wedding and joy filled the air.  But we had to fight for that joy.  Just like many engagements, ours was filled with drama.  It seemed to pop out of nowhere, but it was hurtful and forced us to make a last minute change to our wedding party.  However, one person’s attempt to steal the joy of our upcoming wedding only made me love April more.  She never stopped caring for that person and it is that grace April shows to the people in her life that truly amazes me.

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My wedding day was a true adventure.  Not the type of adventure like my bachelor party where an 800 pound black bear showed up to end the party, but a crazy string of events that nearly caused me to miss my wedding.  April spent all day with her family and I stayed with mine.  I shared a calm morning with my niece and nephews, trying to stay present in the moment and not worry about my wedding.  About an hour before my groomsmen were to show up so we could meet Becky Rice, our photographer, I was packing my car with all that I would need for after the wedding.  As I walked out to my Civic with the last suitcase I was surprised to find that my car was locked.  I grabbed my keys and pressed the unlock button, but nothing happened. It was as if my car was dead, unlock-able with all of my wedding items trapped on the inside.

I ran inside to grab my spare key to see if it would work, but no luck.  Time started to slip away.  I tried calling Honda to see if they could help.  No luck!  As I was on the phone, Luke and Taylor, two of my groomsmen showed up.  I gave Luke my car keys and said, “See if you can fix it.”  Just as I was telling the Honda agent, “No I can’t have it towed into your shop today because I am getting married,” Luke came back downstairs and told me he had done a miracle.

With my dad, Michael, and Taylor as witnesses, Luke had walked up to my car, said a prayer to Saint Michael the archangel and then punched my car.  It immediately unlocked.  Joy returned! We were free to leave for my wedding, but then I couldn’t find my wallet.

We scrambled to search all of the locations I had touched only to give up thirty minutes later.  We were already late and our photography session with Becky was slipping away.  I hopped into my car, figuring I would just go wallet-less only to jump back out and run inside to find it in the last place I looked.  I had left it in the drawer with my spare car key.

My wedding was the most joyous day of the year if not of my life.  I know that God will grant me days just as joy-filled and maybe even more so, but dang my wedding was fun.  As I drove to my wedding after finding my wallet and having my car miraculously unlock so we were free to leave for Hudson Gardens, I choose to live in joy and not take on the stress that had attempted to ruin my afternoon.  April and I danced, we were able to eat our food, but the best part was the joy in knowing that April said, “I do,” to me.

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My wedding ended and as we left the reception, surrounded by friends and family who love us dearly I knew I would have to hold onto this joy.  I know that through sickness and health, through the good times and the bad times I will need to remember the light of that night and the love Christ has given me to be able to choose to love and serve April.  I will choose to fight for joy because I too said I do.

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Also, it turns out I needed my wallet.  April accidentally left hers in her car and we wouldn’t have been able to check into our hotel room without a credit card and a form of identification.  I laughed with joy as we made our way to our room.

That was July and the rest of our year has had ups and downs, but through it all God has taught me about His joy.  If you want it, you have to fight for it.  If you fight for it, it will be like having Christmas with a three year old.  It will light your dark night and shine light into your day with a smile that will last for days.

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April and I shared our second Christmas together and we were awoken, okay I had been up since 3:30 because I love Christmas too much to be able to sleep, by Addi, Linc, and Breck.  Their cries of joy and delight were so much fun to share in.  Breck couldn’t stop running around in excitement.  Who knew 6:30 in the morning could be so much fun, even Treagan was all smiles.

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What a blessing of joy it was to share Christmas with my entire family.  2017 has been a year of joy for me, but I hope my readers understand that it was also a very difficult year.  But there is a joy in my life that even in the darkest of nights, I will continue to fight for and I hope you do to.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and peace and joy be with you!

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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

Christmas Music: 12 Days of Horrible Christmas Music

Joy of Christmas

What’s the worst Christmas song? The one you dread hearing every Christmas season?

Well, On the first day of Christmas my true love . . .

I don’t think I need to say any more. Maybe it’s cause I’ve never had a true love or maybe it’s because most Christmas music is just so old and over done, I’ve always hated Christmas music. I’m the complete opposite of my sisters, who could start listening to the stuff on December 26th. I just find it repetitive and, well, a little cheesy.

I do love Christmas, so don’t judge me a Grinch!

Typically I spend Christmas season as far away from the radio as possible. When I shop (something I’m not big on either) I try to rush in and out, just to avoid the bad music and the crowds. I know I’m not alone.

But, please don’t call me Scrooge just yet!

Christmas music typically grinds on my ear drums because it seems so sappy. Christmas is about so much more than Santa and Rudolf. It’s not about finding love under the mistletoe. (Who wants to kiss under a parasitic plant?)

Christmas is about giving love, being patient, and spending time with the family. Christmas is a joyful time. It’s about Jesus. How he came to live with us. He is a reason for hope and joy. So, it bugs me when the real reason for the season is trivialized.

Which seems to happen every December. All of a sudden the radios start playing Bing Crosby, and asking me to buy the right gift so I will feel happy. And before I know it, a season meant for joy has gotten me down. Johnny Marks and Bing Crosby’s songs just don’t speak to me. One’s too somber and the just rubs me the wrong way.

However, as hypocritical as it may sound, I love Christmas movies. Maybe it’s because they aren’t all up in your ears all the time, being super obnoxious. Singing things like “Have a Holly, Jolly, Christmas,” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rudolph, and one of my favorite Christmas memories is singing “Run, run, Rudolph” into the long telephone cord (it was my makeshift microphone), but Christmas isn’t a time to be somber, no matter what’s hapend during the year. It’s a time for real joy and so most Christmas music has always got me irked.

So, I typically get into the Christmas spirit by watching classic Christmas movies or drinking gallons of eggnog.

Until this year.

Just as Scrooge changed. Just as the Grinch’s heart grew. I underwent a transformation.

On December 4th I started liking . . . no, loving . . . Christmas Music. I’m not sure what happened, but I’ve been listening to it non-stop for over a week.

Maybe, like Scrooge and the Grinch my heart just needed a little push to grow.

My push was bluegrass Christmas Music. I’ll be honest, I still can’t take the Bing Crosby stuff, but the Pandora bluegrass Christmas station has really set me in a joyful mood for Christmas.

No, that does not mean love and romance, but peace and giving. Spending time with my family. Not worrying about how much I spend on presents, but who I am spending my presence with.

The bluegrass music I’ve been listening to isn’t shy about Christ being the reason for our celebrations. Maybe that’s the difference. Each song seems to bring the sounds of true joy, and I’ve needed that.

Here are a few of the Christmas Albums I’ve fallen in love with over the last week, enjoy:

WindHam HIll: Holliday Guitar Collection

Windham Hill

Christmas Grass: A Celebration of Christmas, Bluegrass Style

Christmas Grass

Christmas Grass 2

Christmas Grass 2

Winter’s Solstice III

Winter's Solstice III

Christmas by Mannheim Steamroller

Christmas

Christmas In The Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountain Christmas

David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas

Acoustic Christmas

Putumayo Presents – A Jazz & Blues Christmas

A Jazz & Blues Christmas

And so as the standard bluegrass Christmas song says, “Christmas Time’s A Comin'” and I am loving every moment of it, including the joyous sounds!

How To Celebrate Christmas In Guatemala and the Meaning of Christmas

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Last year I learned the meaning of Christmas.  I spent Christmas 2010 in Guatemala, away from the snow of Colorado and more importantly away from my family.  Guatemala, or at least my home city of Xela, doesn’t celebrate Christmas the way most of the world celebrates the birth of Christ.  Sure at the Inter-American School, where I worked, we had a Christmas Play.  Last year the elementary performed the well known play Izzy Saves Christmas, where Izzy the mouse saves Christmas.  Haven’t heard of it?  Well, it’s a Guatemalan staple, or it is now.

I also taught my students what the best kind of Christmas party is; a White Elephant Party.  Who doesn’t want to go home with an alarm clock in a country where it is better to use your cellphone as an alarm at night, because anything plugged into the wall just might lose power.

But where Guatemala, and especially Xela, differs from Christmas in the United States is Christmas Eve.  Growing up as a Presbyterian Pastor’s kid in the United States, my family’s Christmas tradition centered around our church’s Christmas Eve service.  Every year, especially when I was younger, my mom would force me into my Christmas best, drive me and my sisters to church, and we would light the Christ Candle.  As I documented last year, in my blog I’ll Be Home For Christmas, my family always had the misfortune of lighting the Christ Candle, which never went smoothly.  I fought with my sister in front of 1,000 plus people who’d come to church expecting to hear how Christ came to bring peace on earth and goodwill to men.  The next year they expected something else, and I did not fail them.   I dropped a lit match on the carpet floor.  Fortunately the church didn’t burn down.

I did not have to light the Christ Candle for Christmas Eve in Xela.  I was a spectator, surrounded by friends and Guatemalan families who had come to celebrate Christ’s birth.  As much as I missed being with my family last year I enjoyed witnessing how the Latin culture celebrates Christmas.  My favorite part of the service at Saint Mark’s was the Posada.  A handful of kids marched into the church dressed as Guatemalan Marias and Joses with sumbreros and mustaches followed by a very Guatemalan baby Jesus Cristo.

Shortly after the service, after I had sung my share of Spanish Christmas Carols I headed back to my house with Skyy a fireworks crazed freshman , his mom Susan, whose house I lived at, Jen (co-worker), Blake and Amy (co-workers), Blake’s family, and Holland (another co-worker) and his boys to set off fireworks.  Ask anyone in Guatemala and they will tell you setting off fireworks is the real reason for the season.  I may have spent upwards of twenty dollars on fireworks, which didn’t even match all of the explosives Skyy brought to the table.  Us guys took the next couple of hours detonating our ammunition.  At midnight Xela sounded as if it were under attack, the entire city lit up like the large Christ Candle.

Christmas Eve has aways been family time for me, quiet and relaxing (after the Christmas Eve service at least).  This year I plan on watching “How Earnest Saved Christmas” with my two sisters.  I look forward to waking up on Christmas morning and being with my family.  But I will always remember how much fun I had lighting off fireworks and celebrating my savior’s birth with people my Guatemalan family.

Christmas is not about what you do, what you give or what you get, but in the end it is about enjoying the birth of Christ with those who are around you.  No matter where you are.  Last year on Christmas day Donna and Laurel McMarlin (Laurel was one of my co-workers) welcomed me into their family and shared their Christmas with me.  They helped make what could have been a lonely day, a day full of love and celebration, which made for a perfect Christmas.

Harry Potter and Tebowing at the Climax

I love going to the movies.  I was that kid who stood in line to see all of the “Star Wars” movies when they were re-released back in the 90’s and when “The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring” came out ten years ago, I was the first person in line, not just for tickets, but to enter the theater.  And when theaters started releasing movies at midnight, I’m there at 10 pm.  Don’t even get me started on how early I had to get to the theater for “The Return of The King;” it was crazy.

I think the reason I love going to the movies is because I love good stories.  The atmosphere in a crowded theater on opening night is exhilarating.  When “The Sixth Sense” came the theater was packed.  With every twist and turn each of my friends began tucked their legs up on their seats.  We shared in the fear.  We pulled for Bruce Willis’s character to reconnect with his wife and for Haley Joel Osment’s character to receive the help he needed.  As the movie built toward its climax the hairs on my legs stood up and all I wanted to do was hug my knees like everyone else, but fear froze me.  The crowd made the climax of the movie completely captivating, but the well told story made the change the characters experienced even more meaningful and worth the level of fear I had to experience.

Good stories are filled with meaning.  Movie writer and teacher Robert McKee says, “If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: ‘Meaning Produces Emotion’ Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography.”  Meaning is what a good story is all about and the climax of a good movie will be filled with meaning.  McKee states that “The Climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap.  Without it, you have no story.  Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.”

When I’m in a packed theater, I’m suffering along with the main character for that positive or negative turn to occur in the movie.  I want Frodo to make it to Mount Doom and drop the ring into the fires of Mordor.  I want Harry Potter to live or die, maybe both, and so I wait for that turning moment, that meaningful climax.  As an audience, we share the ups and downs of the characters story.  Without the ups and downs that lead to the climax, the climax would be meaningless.

There are people out there that flip to the end of a book before they start just so they can see if it is a good ending or not.  They pick up “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” and flip to Harry’s battle with Voldamort.  They want to get the stories payoff without reading the entire book or, even worse, the other six books in the series.  By skipping to the end of the book they miss the reason why Harry had to do what he does.   But just like sharing a story with someone adds to the story’s meaning, the work it takes for character, as well as the reader, to make it to the climax is what makes it meaningful.

The people who want to skip to the climax of a book are the same people who sat down and watched the last episode of Lost with out watching the previous five seasons.  They didn’t want to see the story develop, to see the characters grow and change.  They wanted all of the payoff without watching for six seasons.  These are the same people who on December 5th want to fast forward to Christmas Day.  They want the meaning without any of the work.

More on Christmas in a moment.  Let’s not rush to the climax because right now we’re at the rising action of our story.  Sunday December 4th The Neighborhood Church celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season by sharing a sit down meal during the worship service.  People met together, ate, and shared stories about Christmas’ past.  It was very meaningful.  The only problem was the service didn’t finish until 12 pm.  An hour into the Denver Broncos game against the Vikings.  Co-blogger and Co-pastor of the Neighborhood Church, Mike Klassen comforted the congregation by reminding us all that “Tebow Time” (A term here meaning going beast mode and winning against all odds) isn’t until the fourth quarter anyway.  So if we missed the first half it would be just fine.

I tevoed Tebow anyway.  As I pressed play on the DVR, I knew I wanted to share a meaningful story with my fellow Bronco fans who’d gathered around the TV with me.  We knew we could just fast forward to the end.  But we wanted to experience the entire story.  If we had just skipped to the end, the win wouldn’t have been as meaningful.  The time we shared together watching the Broncos game was splattered with theological discussions.  Why is Tebow so loud about his faith?  Incomplete pass!  What if Tebow messes up (On the field and in his faith)?  Fumble, no way the ground can’t cause a fumble! What is perseverance of the Saints (No, I’m not talking about football here)? I can’t believe it, the Broncos Win!

And as Tebow rallied the Broncos from an 8 point deficit late in the fourth quarter we were discussing how God’s Grace works in our lives.  Life is like a good movie with many turns.  In “The Return of the King,” Frodo loses hope.  He turns away from his mission and decides he will keep the ring, but Grace steps in (In the form of Sam) and saves him.  Grace does what Frodo cannot do, destroy the ring and bring him back to the Shire.  Grace creates the meaningful change in Frodo’s life.  If Tebow fails on the field or in life, Grace will be there for him too.  Grace is there for all of us, offering a chance to make a meaningful change in our lives.  A chance to Tebow (Go beast mode/let God takeover), which brings us back to Christmas.

Christmas is not about what you get or even about what you give.  It is about experiencing the season with the people you love.  It is about sharing special moments with those around you.  Most of all it’s about God sending the Incarnation of Grace down to the world as the baby Christ.  If we fast forwarded to Christmas Day it would be like reading the last page of a book, only watching the Broncos during the fourth quarter, and fast forwarding all our favorite movies to the climax: empty and meaningless.  So slow down and know that no matter how long it seems until Christmas, that God is working in your life.  Christmas is more than just the climax of Christmas day.  It is about the Grace we have been given and the work it does in our life.  Let Grace make a meaningful change in your life this season.

I am an avid Bronco fan and movie enthusiast who believes in Tebowing every night because the best way to live a meaningful story is to stay connected to the author.

I’ll be home for Christmas

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which is used in the song above, while he was grieving the fact that his nation was at war.  He was lonely on Christmas because his son had left to fight in the Civil War.  Loneliness around Christmas time is a pain that mocks the song, peace on earth and good will to men.  Christmas would have been extremely difficult for me if I hadn’t been able to see my dad open his Tim Tebow jersey or my mom unwrap her new cook wear.  It’s nice to think about peace on earth and good will to men, but my selfish desire was to be home.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it home.  I decided to stay in Guatemala so I could go to Hawaii this summer with my family, but it meant my first Christmas away from my family.  But Christmas Eve, as the old familiar carols played, it was very difficult.  Mostly because those carols were in spanish, but also because they made me think of home.

Every year of my life, as far as I know, I’ve spent every Christmas Eve helping my dad out at church.  If you define the word help by fighting with Katie, my older sister, in front of 1,000 people, or dropping the lighter as I tried to light the Christ candle, setting the sanctuary carpet on fire.  But this year I celebrated Christmas Eve Spanish style, with the sermon and carols in Spanish.  I know all of the Christmas carols by heart, but it was dang near impossible to sing in English while everyone else was singing in Spanish.  I forced myself to try to sing with them, but wild and sweet the words repeated with more of a fra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra! (At least I wasn’t being forced to eat Chinese food like Ralphie) Yet as I heard the bells on Christmas Eve I thought how, as the night had come, there were fireworks to be lit.  The blasts were strong and the colors bright.  Then peeled the bombs more loud and clear.  It was midnight and the birth of Christ had come.

As weird as it may seem, I woke up on Christmas morning with the lyrics I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams in my head.  Maybe in my dreams I had been able to make it home for Christmas.  Instead I woke up in my bed in Guatemala.  At 7:30 am on Christmas morning, I’ve never been one to sleep in on Christmas day, a cold fog still weighed itself over Xela.  It made it seem a little like a white Christmas.  It was cold so I hopped back in bed and waited for my parents to Skype me.

8 came and went and as great of an invention as Skype is, it still takes two to tango.  Fortunately gmail has a nifty little call function that allows me to make free calls to the states.  I called up my dad on his cellphone.  He answered with a sound of shock in his voice and immediately hopped on Skype.  I was able to be home for Christmas via modern technology.  I enjoyed watching Emmy, my sister, open up my gift for her.  While we were shopping in Antigua, she eyed a coffee bag purse.  I knew she wanted to buy it for herself so I had to convince her it was hideous.  It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  Try convincing a fashionista something they think is cool is fopa. Ha! What do I really know about style.  But she listened to me and was pleasantly surprised when she unwrapped her gift.  It was very special.  It’s beautiful how something as simple as giving a gift can bring to mind peace on earth.

I was blessed to Skype with my family and spend the day with friends that I have made down here.  If everyone can spend Christmas being reminded they are loved, the wrong shall fail and the right prevail and we’ll all be home for Christmas.