Monday, December 26, 2011

Positive Buttresses and Helpful Elves

On a cold winter night once a year, the most wonderful visitor slips into the home at night.  As families sleep, exhausted, the Christmas elf flies in undetected.  It is the night after Christmas.  He creeps around the house and performs the task that all the good moms and dads have been wishing for all holiday season.  The Christmas elf picks up every scrap of wrapping paper.  He puts away all the decorations and boxes up the ornaments.  He takes the tree down and either magically vanished the pine needles, or even more remarkable, disassembles the artificial tree and returns it to its container in a most understandable order.  The lights are taken down and rolled up nicely.  The kitchen is tidied up and every crumb of Christmas cookie is taken away.  The cookies aren’t payment, and parents realize that it was also another kindness.  The family wakes up to a clean house the next day.  Thank you Christmas cleaning elf!

     Looking back at my blog posts they appear to be lame attempts to keep my head above the icy waters of December. I started out fretting about getting ambushed by the inevitable anxieties that happen every year.  As the month wore on I made a conscious effort to stay above the seasonal angst.  I tried to convince myself that it was working.  After the late Christmas Eve church service I was determined to get the church clean even if it took hours.  And it would be like me to refuse any help.  But as midnight passed and I was in the first minutes of Christmas morning there were people picking up candles, folding tablecloths and then asking me what they could do.  Soon people were moving tables and vacuuming.  It was less than an hour later that I walked home on that crystal clear night.  

     And when I was urged to get up what seemed like very early in the morning, (it was much later than I usually get up every day) I managed to hold it together.  The kids, even the older ones, bounced off the walls with Christmas morning excitement.  There was yelling and laughing and I kept my tired head quiet and didn’t get annoyed.  The buttresses of positive thoughts I had built all month held.  

And so the joy that comes with Christmas morning touched me too.  I don’t know who couldn’t have felt it watching Jamie eat his first toasted Pop-Tart®.  Sitting in church that morning, there was no Sunday School so all the kids sat with Prajna and me.  Our church choir closed the service with The Hallelujah Chorus.  We spent the evening with my side of the family and rejoiced at news from Prajna’s.  All around, it was a wonderful Christmas.

Now it’s the day after.  I got up this morning with a bellyache from all the rich food yesterday.  The house is still untidy.  The help I got cleaning the church from real people is better than any imaginary elf anyway.    

Friday, December 23, 2011

Comfort and Joy

I don’t remember why I had been sent to my room. I can say that I was probably five years old or so and that I was lying on my bed crying and furious. It’s hard to express strong feelings at that age. I was confused didn’t know what else to do except the say the worst possible thing I could imagine. I told The Lord I hated him. That would teach him a lesson about upsetting me. I wouldn’t like him anymore.

I had learned all about God at a young age. God was everywhere, Jesus loved me, and I prayed little bedtime and mealtime prayers every day. I had accepted Jesus as into my heart some time before that and even this outburst at God had been prayerful. But as the years went by I repeatedly asked for God for forgiveness for saying I hated him. I accepted Jesus into my heart more than once again. Sometimes I worried that that little hateful expression might have compromised my salvation forever. I knew the truth of our loving and forgiving God, but still, the youthful mind frets over things like that.

When I was 11 or 12 years old and living on Maui there was a missions group that lived close to our church. Youth With A Mission, or YWAM, is made up of people who have dedicated a year or more of their lives to the mission field for God. Singles, couples and even families with children would stay for a few months at this little house down the street. YWAM would be active in local churches including ours. They would help with VBS and sometimes I would see them out and about witnessing. And even though the idea of Maui being the mission field sounds appealing, I know that stepping out of your comfort zone and putting God fully in charge of your life is no easy thing.

One evening in December my family was over at the YWAM house for a little Christmas party. I don’t remember if there was food or who I talked to. But the memory of that night will never leave me. Everyone eventually gathered in the living room and starting singing. There may have been Christmas songs and there also could have been praise and worship songs. But as everyone lifted their voices up a tangible peace and joy radiated in the room. No one told me what I was feeling right then. But I knew it anyway. It was unmistakable. My mind, never certain of anything at that age, was able to be positive about this with no doubt. I was feeling the presence of God. God was there in that room and I knew it. I was almost surprised to realize this. I looked around and saw hands lifted up and eyes closed. One missionary met my eye and smiled as if she felt it too.

As I have grown older and learned more about God it is a comfort and joy to know that He is with me always, even when I don’t feel aware of it. But like blinking or breathing that you only need to think about it to be conscious of it, being aware of God helps me feel him with me. In that little house on a warm night in December when I felt the presence of God for the first time, it wasn’t God drawing closer as much as my heart opening up more.

My blogs this month have often been grasping in the cold December at something encouraging. But I’ve mostly been proselytizing which is something I fixed not to do when I started blogging.

No preaching here. This was real. On that night I knew that my angry words meant nothing compared to the surrounding love that is far from confusing. In that presence, I felt forgiven. My feelings and beliefs have been all over the place for a lot of my life including this month. But even if I don’t feel it He is there. His love stays the same.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Cool Rock of Truth

I don’t know if this year it’s more than ever. It probably grows every year and my being out of touch with mainstream media makes it seem to grow in long strides. Maybe it’s the little things on Facebook that I have stumbled across that have added to this. What I can say for certain is that this year I feel more nettled than I can remember with the secular humanist views on Christmas and my Christian faith. Things are up stating how the early church hijacked the date from the pagan winter holiday. Christian faith becomes an excuse to laugh or even a punchline when talking about some people. Advertisements tell us forget about The Bible’s moral code and to be good for goodness’s sake. And this year, progressive thinking groups in Santa Monica have exercised their free speech to take up what was traditionally nativity scene space to denounce Christianity. I could go on. But it gets me in even higher dudgeon.

I know some people who would say that the enemy is gaining ground. Statements like that can stir up trouble and panic. Well now, isn’t chaos, panic and disorder the norm in December?  I wish it wasn’t. If I’m going to mention the enemy I think I should say I think one of its tools is confusion, disarray, and distraction from what God wants.

But I wonder what Jesus would do if he was in Santa Monica. He might blend right in with the Bohemian culture there. But I think that he would blend in wherever he went. What would be his reaction to signs saying he isn’t real? Would he have some righteous indignation like at the temple in Jerusalem? I don’t know. It’s a beach walk being tainted, not His Father’s house. But I can say this: The coolest people I know don’t feel like they have anything to prove. They are unaffected by little attacks because they are secure in their knowledge of who they are. I wonder if Jesus would be too cool to get all bent out of shape. He might look a little disappointed. Then maybe he would go to one of the abundant soup kitchens in the area, regardless of who was running it and help out.

When Jesus was humbly born, probably on a summer night, the plan was to show us God in Him. I am not showing what Jesus is like to anyone if I’m blustering on about waves of infuriating dogma. I’m showing my human condition there, not my Lord. The attacks on our faith happened yes, but The Truth still stands like The Rock that He is. No amount of contradiction can take away that He is not only the reason for the season, but for all the truth in the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Walls have stopped, can you step out?

The first time I saw the movie Star Wars, (it didn’t have the subtitle of A New Hope in 1977) my favorite scene was one that had made me laugh. After their harrowing ordeal in the trash compactor with well placed camera angles and the musical score compelling the viewer to hold their breath, the little droid R2D2 manages to stop the converging walls from killing them all. The heroes realize this and start shouting and whooping for joy. C-3PO, hearing this exultation thinks they’re screaming in pain and dying. I thought this mistake on 3PO’s part was hilarious. And maybe when I laughed out loud in the theatre part of that was relief also.

The way the intrepid heroes were able to laugh while still in the bowels of the universe’s most evil battle station also amazed me. In fact it reminded me of Gilligan’s Island. The castaways not only had to put up with being stranded on an uncharted island, but often times they were in mortal danger. Once they thought the island was sinking. Another time they were the target of a ballistic missile. Always in the end they learned that they would not be killed off and live for yet another week of wacky adventures. As the show closed the cast would cheer and shout for joy that they were not going to die after all. And as a young child watching them I considered something: They should be like that all the time.

I thought about how an escape from death shouldn’t be the only reason to be happy that you’re going to live. You should always be happy that you’re going to live. That’s what I thought anyway. I had not experienced life’s harsh realities like having an admired mentor sliced in half or a series cancelation. My youthful simplicity couldn’t comprehend that there ever would be a reason not to be happy to be alive another day. Maybe there is a lot to say for that child-like innocence. Maybe that’s why we’re supposed to be like little children to the kingdom of God.

Some times you can't bring yourself to take joy even in much at all.  This deep and dark December is taking its toll as usual. We as a family are trying not to overschedule. I try to stay busy at whatever I’m doing at home or work. But like I wrote last week, the feelings can slowly ambush you. Even if the walls stopped closing in, you still are sitting there in the muck and darkness with only the prospect of more hurt once you’re out of this. You begin to think that you’re better off just staring the walls up again. Because there will never be a way out.

When you go out this month, you may be feeling joyful or you may be down at the other end. For the people on the high side, consider that person in line at the store with you. They could be sharing a bench with you somewhere, in the car next to you, behind the counter smiling though the pain, or in your own home. I have no specific suggestions for when you meet these folks. You can stop the walls and even open the doors. But the tractor beam. That invisible force field that gets stronger every moment it’s engaged must be shut down. But if you’re one of those who has escaped there is something you can do. I just can’t say what. Everyone has something they can do. Maybe it’s something extra in the tip jar, a thoughtful favor, a kind, patient word or just a smile. At the very least, they might see that someone is standing outside and there is a way out for them too.

I’m standing outside. I don’t feel quite like shouting for joy yet. I’m still covered in garbage and face obstacles ahead. But I’m pretty sure the tractor beam is off. It can be done.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shadows in Cold and Light

When I read my E-mail from I had less than 24 hours to prepare. Not that there is much to prepare for a lunar eclipse. I could have just ignored the message. But I told my just-turned-ten son Jamie about it. Jamie is fond of astronomy, like his dad was at that age and still is. I think I first learned about eclipses from a Bobbsey Twins book where the villain was planning on fooling some savages into believing he could extinguish the sun. I think Jamie just showed an interest.

So Friday afternoon I told the family that there would be a total lunar eclipse the next morning starting at 4:45 a.m. Jamie was down for it. I did a little research that evening to remind myself why the moon turns red during totality. I had seen eclipses before. One of the most unforgettable things is that when the moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow, the sunlight still shines through our atmosphere. Depending on the global air quality, the light turns red or orange, much for the same reasons our sunsets are that color. Jamie was thrilled to look forward to me waking him up early for it. He instructed me not to look at him and marvel at how cute he was sleeping and then leave him be. I told him it would be early, and it would be cold. He was still set to it.

That Friday night I stayed late at work to help facilitate an event. I suppose I could have left earlier and trusted others to lock and code the buildings. But that’s not what I do. Maybe it’s pride more than courtesy, but my help was appreciated. I’m usually done with work at 10 p.m. I was the last to leave and coded the last building at about midnight.

I set up the coffee pot and went to bed. The cat walked on me and kneaded me in the back. I fell right asleep, and woke up at 4:45. I quick check out the back door revealed a mostly clear sky. The top portion of the full moon was just a little shadowed. The air was cold.

Here was the part of the day where I could have hoped for Jamie to grumble and fall back asleep. Then I could too. But I gently shook him and whispered to him and he sat right up, smiled and nodded. I turned on the coffee pot and put on some warm clothes. We got some sleeping bags to wrap up in and I took our telescope outside.

Then Jamie and I spent about an hour and a half sitting in lawn chairs whispering to each other. I sipped coffee and Jamie didn’t complain about the cold. The shadow of the earth descended over the moon. (Proof of the earth’s roundness all you flat earth folks.) We checked the telescope periodically, but it is hard to adjust in the dark if you’re not used to it and the moon isn’t as stationary as stars. But even with the unaided eye we could see the disappearing portion of the moon turning a reddish hue already. By the time totality was near the sky was lightening up. The moon little more than a rust colored half-disc low in the east. But the sky around it was a brighter blue by the minute. I was hoping to see the brilliant sliver of white appear at the top. But Jamie was ready to go inside.

I stayed outside for a few more minutes. But the moon was almost faded into the sky. And I want to be at work at eight. But first a quick blog entry. I thought I would jot some notes and then revise and post this on Monday. But I’ve got it all here now. I had analogies about parenthood, faith, and creation in mind. But this will just be an account of watching a the eclipse on a cold December morning with my ten year old son. If you can think of a good faith analogy about God’s Earth and the perfect cosmos set in motion please feel free to imagine one now and even share it in the comments section.

I will say however, that hearing Jamie’s exhalations of amazement were worth every cold moment of sleep lost. God’s creation is always more spectacular when you can share it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

'Tis the season. Is it worth it?

I’ve heard December called a month of Mondays. December does make me edgy. It seems like the month comes in like a freight train made of ice, complete with the blast of a whistle.

There is fretful anticipation of anxieties to come. One might make resolutions to not give in to the fear, to stay sane, to not spend too much or not eat a whole pan of fudge. But December has a power of its own that it’s hard not to bend to.

Each December brings the anniversary of the passing away of my daughter, Naomi. For a few Decembers after I would write a dirge about the night we lost her. It may have been therapeutic and even a good piece of writing. But it wasn’t necessary to share it with the world. What was worse was that I accompanied it with this attitude I felt entitled too. Depression and anger are an easy and even comfortable state of mind to slip into. At least in December, it takes more effort to hold my head up. Sometimes it’s very tempting to just relax and submit to the default down. I finally had a good friend tell me how I wasn’t doing anyone any good with that attitude, including Naomi. So last year I raised up my head and told myself that I was going to sail smoothly through this time. I was moving on. I would not indulge in the whole pan of the fudge of grief, where the first bite may make me feel better but after that I’m just abusing myself.

But my attitude was not one of triumph but denial. I had a better December than before, but it was still difficult. The feelings of grief come even if you don’t’ call on them. And so this year I am just going to be on my guard and accept the feelings as they come. It will be nine years this Wednesday the 7th since Naomi died in my arms on that cold night. As much as I like to think that I’m over it, it still hurts at this time of year. I don’t mean for it to, but it just does.

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t get at least a little stressed at this time of year. So it’s a good thing that we have Christmas to make the month of December the most wonderful time of the year right? Right? Oh wait. Is it really Christmas that is causing most of this stress? I can honestly say that if December 7th came and went then I would be okay a few days after. But the 25th draws it all out.

So the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus is the source of all this anxiety and stress? Looks like. But what would December be without Christmas or the holiday season at all? We might just have an awfully cold and dark month with no joy at all. But no holiday advertisements either. No untangling strings of lights, shopping lines, spending worries, and all the other pains of the Season to be Jolly. Would it be worth it to skip Christmas?

Each person must decide for themselves. But let me just remind you that imbedded in the memory of losing Naomi will always be the memory of people who make great efforts to take care of our family. Aside from prayers and words of love and support, we had someone knocking on our door leaving gifts for 12 days leading up to Christmas. Someone had added to their Christmas schedule more shopping, planning, driving to our house in the dark sneaking up and leaving the presents, knocking and escaping. They added holiday stress to their lives in order to bring a sliver of brilliant joy into a dark and hurting home. And the dark and the hurt eased away. To this day I don’t know who it was, but they were successful. They shared the joy of the season. And in doing that, they made the month of December worth it to them and to us.

Joy despite the pain and stress. Anticipation and thankfulness. Feeling God’s love expressed through others. And that’s what Christmas is all about.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Always Sarah

Sarah Marie Faux. Born in an emergency delivery at our home in Kihei, Maui. She brought joy to our family right away. Sweet and amiable, Sarah was a ray of sunshine in our little family. And even when her sister, Naomi, got sick with cancer Sarah peaceably endured the turbulence. Staying at the hospital, being weaned early, moving, and an absence of her mom and dad for days at a time all before she was one year old.

But through it all she patiently stayed that sweet little girl Sarah was.

Sarah lived in the shadow of her boisterous sister. Childcare workers remarked how quiet she was, as if they expected another Naomi. But she wasn’t another Naomi. She was always Sarah.

When we lost Naomi Sarah opened up a little more. She was a big sister now. Her quiet confidence showed in what she did. Whether it was dance, teaching her little brothers to read, or just being herself, she was always Sarah.

Now Sarah is a teenager. Her sly sense of humor and creativity shine in her daily habits and of course in her artwork. We are proud to see her growing into the young woman that God intends her to be. And it warms our hearts to see her today energetic in church and youth activities. Different from the passive baby girl not so long ago. But still, always Sarah.