My “Jingle All the Way” Morning

I’ve watched a lot of Christmas movies.  A LOT!  And this morning, I got to live a made-for-Christmas-movie moment, and I had to share. If anyone from Hallmark is reading this, shoot me an email and let’s do lunch.

Image result for gonzo dickens

But first, in the words of Gonzo from “Muppets Christmas Carol”, “…one thing you must remember, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.”  This all took place as part of my children’s request every year to take part in Operation Christmas Child. This is the program that brings shoeboxes full of Christmas gifts to children in need all around the world, and the national collection week for these started last Monday, and ended today.

And now, back to my “Jingle All the Way” morning… Several days ago, our children packed their shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  With the shoeboxes assembled, we looked at our local collection times, knowing there was a window to drop them off today. However, there is a big difference between 6-8 p.m. and 6-8 a.m.

I was uncharacteristically reading my newspaper (that’s this cool thing that you hold in your hands, and it has lots of stories of what’s happening in the world) in the morning, rather than at night.  And there the words screamed at me – 6-8 a.m.  It was 7:45 a.m. So I jumped up, yelling “Sara!” as I ran, and the flurry began – children throwing shoes and hoodies on, me grabbing the car keys, throwing final labels on the shoeboxes full of gifts, and rushing out the door.

As we pulled out of the driveway, we found the perfect song playing on the radio – “Wizards in Winter” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. In case you haven’t heard it, I’ll pause for a moment so you can go listen to it.  Done? Cool. I learned this morning that this song is the perfect ‘racing the clock to meet a Christmas deadline to brighten a child’s Christmas’ tune.

With the soundtrack set, I drove. Maybe fast. The clock ticked – 7:57, 7:58, 7:59…with my time conscious daughter asking, “Are we going to make it?”. And then 8:00. As we were one block away, the chimes started to play on the clock tower in our quaint small town square. We pulled into the drop off location with the chimes still ringing out.

There was a young man at the door, ready to close up, saying, “You got boxes?”, to which my words rang out, “You know those people who like waiting until the last minute? That’s us.” Literally, the last minute. As we dropped off the boxes, they walked the sign to the door saying, “This collection site is now closed.”

We made it! The boxes made it! And now, I wait for the call to make this into the next Christmas classic. Merry Christmas to all, and now, my morning coffee.img_1660

 

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Rubbing the Lipstick In

Mom went to be with Jesus almost a year ago.  This is my first Mother’s Day without her here.  Emotions are already a little close to the surface, and then the other night hit. This might sound like the start to a sad blog, but stick with me.

For Christmas, my sister took on an amazing labor of love, and made pillows out of some of my mom’s shirts for her siblings, nieces and nephews.  We all love these, including my youngest, who has gone to bed hugging it many nights.  He also likes to smell the pillow, as it reminds him of my mom – his “NaliMa”.

The other night, as Sara was about to leave his room, I heard him start crying, and the tears just kept on coming.  Through his tears, I heard him say, “Her smell is gone.” Yeah, those “close to the surface” emotions broke through – for Joshua, and for his daddy.

During this stretch – Mother’s Day and then Mom’s one-year anniversary of meeting Jesus face-to-face (on May 16th) – I think all of us who love Mom have our own ways of remembering her.  Whether it’s smell, pictures, videos, or just thinking back on countless memories, there is much to remind us of how amazing she was.

For me, one of the biggest memories is what she told me back when I was in Junior High. Mom often wore this striking red lipstick.  She made a bit of a sport out of planting a kiss on our cheek, and there remained the mark of the red lipstick.  One time, she did that when I was about to see some friends.  If you’ve known a 13-year-old boy, you can imagine my reaction.

I started rubbing off that lipstick as fast as I could.  And then came those words from Mom – “Brad, you don’t rub off your MamIMG_3398a’s kisses.  You rub them IN!

So that’s what I started doing.  I wouldn’t swipe at my cheek, but I would gently rub those kisses in.

And as I grew, I learned in even greater ways how important that idea was – not just with the red lipstick, but with the life lessons my mom was teaching me.  These weren’t just lessons when I was young.  These were lessons being taught until the very day she left this earth.  And even incredibly valuable lessons since.

My mom taught me so many things.  She modeled generosity, she exemplified unconditional love, and she taught me how to treat others like Jesus would.  She taught me integrity, the importance of looking at issues from all angles, and the essential of standing for what is right, even if others don’t love when you do.

The things Mom taught me could honestly fill many books, as I know is true with many who were blessed to know her.  But when it’s all said and done, I am forever grateful that this young, immature boy learned early on to not rub off Mom’s lessons, but to rubMoms kiss them in.  Sure, some took longer to sink in, and some I’m still learning, but her life-well-lived has made me a better husband, father, servant, leader and friend.

So, as we deal with the sadness of not having Mom here, and as I help walk my children through the days of her ‘smell’ being gone, I am so grateful that I have what truly matters.  I can now share with the next generation the countless things Mom taught me, and can love them like she loved me…like Jesus.

“Her children arise and call her blessed…” (Proverbs 31:28)

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)

“The faithful love of the LORD never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

The Easter String

There’s something our parents never told us directly, but as I look back at Easter memories, all the signs were there.  Evidently, we weren’t the sharpest bulbs or the brightest tools in the shed.  Sure, we got good grades and seemed to be holding our own in the ‘smarts’ department, but then it happened.  The Easter string.

We were staying at the Jersey shore one Easter, in the home of a family friend.  We woke up on Saturday morninimage1g to hunt for candy, and my sister, brother and I each found our Easter string.  It was a piece of yarn that started near our beds, and continued throughout the house all the way into the back yard.  Along the way, we found our baskets, then candy and plastic eggs filled with goodies, until we reached the end of the string.

It was a fun time, but as I think back, well, what was that all about?!  I had searched for and found candy many times before…and not just on Easter.  I mean, I could have taught a college level course on “The Willy Wonka Journey: How to find the candy that doesn’t want to be found”.  Sure, I could ask my dad why they did the string, but there’s that lurking fear of what the answer might be.  I’ll just choose to believe it was more for my siblings than for me 😉

Whatever the reason, we’ll never forget the Easter string.  We’ve had lots of laughs about it.  I’m just glad the result remains the same – that Easter string led me where I needed to be.

This is one of many incredible Easter memories, but in the midst of it, my parents always made sure we knew what it was all about.

Easter has a point beyond eggs and candy and a bunny.  Multiple big words are used to talk about Jesus at Easter, but it’s pretty simple to me.  Easter is about the greatest love story ever!  Jesus took my punishment on the cross, and rose again so that I can have eternal life with Him.  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, The Bible).  Greatest love story…ever!

As I was thinking back on this story yesterday of that candy hunt (and smiling big!), I realized that I have a similar goal as a dad, too.  I want to lead my children to the greatest prize there is.  I want to show them Jesus.  Not just on Easter weekend, but each and every day.

I want to show my children what real love is.  I want to train them in the way they Brad and kiddos - 2015should go (Proverbs 22:6).  I want them to know that Jesus isn’t someone who came to give a set of rules, to squash their fun, or to keep them from loving life.  No way!  I want them to know that Jesus came so they can “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  I want them to know that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  And I want them to know that in a world confused about who God is, .

Let’s face it…this world has become pretty complex.  May I be an “Easter string” that shows my children – and many others – the simple truth of Jesus.

Hidden Daffodils

I was taking “the walk”. It’s that time where you walk around the yard, typically with one arm crossed and one hand slightly rubbing the chin, coming up with the plan of attack. Weeds are starting to fight for space, and a smattering of brittle leaves are hiding in corners. Yet, I hear the grass crying out, “Here I come! Brad, please make room.” And if you say you’ve never heard your yard talk to you, well, you’re not listening closely enough.

But then I saw it. Nestled between one of the bigger trees in my yard and the fence, a handful of daffodils had sprung forth. I was a bit surprised, as this is an area where there isn’t much sunlight or space. It’s an area where I wouldn’t expect to find this hidden beauty.image1

Now, I don’t know if you’re much of a daffodil person, and the more I write that word, the more I’m wondering when someone might come take one of my ‘man cards’, but I like them. Because of Mom. She loved daffodils. These early harbingers of spring would typically bloom right around her birthday, and Dad would always pick some and put them in a vase for her on her special day.

Next week is Mom’s birthday. This is the first since she went to be with Jesus last May. I don’t know what emotions to expect, but I know God will be there for us then as He has faithfully been all along.  But I know I was thinking about her when I saw those flowers.

Hidden daffodils. There were so many of those from Mom, and I’m still discovering them. Beautiful nuggets of love and wisdom that she planted in so many – in me – over the years. She was an amazingly wise woman. Many saw that, but I am privileged because I got to live learning from it my whole life. I can’t say that my younger self always appreciated this, but I can tell you that my older self definitely does.

And those hidden daffodils keep springing up. I keep hearing Mom’s words of wisdom as I walk through each day. She taught me more than I knew, and I count it a privilege and honor to be able to share those things with my children and anyone the Lord allows me to.

But why wouldn’t Mom have a life filled with these hidden daffodils?! She spent her life intimately drawing near to Jesus, and to His Word, the Bible. That’s the same ‘life instruction book’ I seek to dive into daily. And it is filled with more than most people know. It has so many ‘hidden daffodils’ that spring up in my life when I need them the most.

I still find it odd to write about Mom in the past tense, but I think that’s because so much of her love, her wisdom and her legacy is still so alive and active. Her birthday will be different, but she has left so many reasons to keep celebrating her, and the love of Christ that showed through her.

This year, I’ll be celebrating the hidden daffodils…

“How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to get insight rather than silver!” Proverbs 16:16

“Bells Across the Snow”

This morning, I came across a poem in the devotional book ‘Streams in the Desert’.  It says a lot of what is on my heart this first Christmas without Mom, and I pray it is an encouragement for any who may be missing a loved one this Christmas.  Even in the midst of missing Mom and some ‘hidden tears’, it does my heart good that the “thrill of Hope” remains…because of Jesus!  We can still celebrate God showing up in the form of a baby, sent on a rescue mission for us.  What an amazing celebration Mom must be having!

BELLS ACROSS THE SNOW

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain!
church-bell-in-snow
There’s a minor in the carol
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath tonight.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
’Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing,
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow,
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee,
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good will,
With holy songs of glory
Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

—Frances Ridley Havergal

My Christmas Train

There are toys, and then there are trains. Toys are fun, but trains bring out something else. Maybe it’s the feeling of nostalgia, or maybe it’s the delusional thinking that I could just step on a locomotive and successfully operate it.  Either way, one of my favorite moments each Christmas is when we pull out the Lionel O-Gauge and set it up under the tree.

This isn’t anything new. Every Christmas back in New Jersey, my dad would set up his Lionel train, and it was always amazing. I remember early on just watching as he would operate it, making stops at the station or loading the plastic cows into the cattle car.

Then the big day came – he let me drive it! As I started lifting the orange lever that made it go faster, I noticed the black line that had been drawn about two-thirds of the way up the lever.  Dad had one rule: “Don’t push the speed past that line.”  “Okay, Dad.  No problem,” my prepubescent voice replied.

Of course, that didn’t last long.  As the days went by, I got mIMG_1772ore and more curious.  And the train started inching faster and faster. Then, as it was cruising at speeds I’d never attempted, the Lionel hit “Dead Man’s Curve”.  I call it that because I knew I was a dead man as the locomotive went careening off the track.

Dad and I talked after that. I believe I even got called to “his study” (let’s just say my brother was familiar with this place from bad grades he had received).

Did dad let me play with the train again?  Fortunately, yes. He believes in second chances (and third, and fourth, and…). But I knew not to push past the line the way I had.

I learned something important about Dad and his Lionel. He didn’t put the line on the controls to keep me from having fun. He put it there because he knew that pushing too far past the line would do damage to something valuable.

As I grew older, I pushed past the line too many times – in what I would watch, in relationships, in how I handled anger. And I wound up damaging something valuable – me.

My Heavenly Father has drawn out lines for me…for everyone. Some people just grumble and call these “rules”, and claim God doesn’t want them to have fun. But I have lived the reason for these lines. God didn’t put these in place to keep me from having fun. He put them there so that I can live a life without regret.  And “enjoy life to the full” (John 10:10). If I’ll live His way instead of mine.

I was pretty grateful that my dad helped me get the train going again, and gave me another shot to do it right. I’m eternally grateful that my Heavenly Father does the same.  Those mistakes I made growing up?  And the new ones I make? He has forgiven me and made me new. He’s right there to help me get back on track, to forgive me, and to help me get it right the next time.

The more I live, the more thankful I am for those lines.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

My DeLorean and me

There’s a part of me that still hopes to see a DeLorean in the sky someday. Sure, it didn’t happen on October 21, 2015, but maybe there’s still hope for a flux capacitor.

Like thousands of others in movie theaters and living rooms across the country, I sat and watched “Back to the Future II”. It was too surreal to not watch a movie from 1989 about the future on the actual day they traveled to in the future (sure, that makes sense) – October 21, 2015.

I expected to laugh, and have some “whoa, they got that right” moments, but I didn’t know what else was coming.

I found myself thinking back to the 16-year-old who first saw that movie in 1989. I don’t know how I felt when I saw “2015” on the screen, but I’m guessing it was something like, “Wow, that’s, like, forever from now.”

But forever came fast.

It seems like the blink of an eye since those days, yet so much has unfolded in my life. I went to college aimage1nd met the love of my life. I lived among incredible Native Americans for nearly 15 years. I’m the dad to three beautiful children.  I’ve seen my nephew need open-heart surgery at two days old, and my own son need abdominal surgery at three-days old. And, through it all, I’ve seen God do some absolutely amazing things.

Twenty-six years passed by. Just like that. It was filled with memories, challenges, and joys that I probably would have been freaked out by if Doc Brown had shown up and told the 16-year-old me all of it.

Finally, my thoughts turned to 2041 – another 26 years down the road. I don’t know what is on the road between now and then, but I can’t wait for the adventure.

And I’m so grateful that no matter what comes, I have a God who loves me, who has a  plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11), and who I get to spend forever with because of Jesus.

Who knows? Maybe there will be a DeLorean waiting for me in Heaven…