Posts Tagged love

A Christmas story by Chip (age 49 1/2)

Christmas red gift box with gold ribbon and bow - top view vector illustration. Glitter glow on red background.

Glitter… the gift which keeps on giving.

Thus far, my 2016 Christmas season has been both joyful & triumphant. Joyful because I have yet to hear any version of ‘Last Christmas’ in any retail venue, and triumphant because I was able to find exactly what I wanted to give my sweet wife as a gift.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy Christmas music. You know, real Christmas music… the kind which features Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald. Problem is, it is almost impossible during this time of year not to be exposed to what other people think is Christmas music. And don’t even get me started on the multiple, painfully awful, covers of the Christmas song. Shopping centers are the worst for song selection with the exception of Hobby Lobby. I like Hobby Lobby. Generally speaking, they have cool stuff for people like me who still enjoy the large box of crayons which features the sharpener in the back. (Regularly priced at Hobby Lobby for $5.99 but if you use their weekly 40% off coupon you can snag them for $3.60 plus tax. What?!) It’s no secret, I have always loved Crayola crayons… especially the 64 count box. I have a very discriminating palate which appreciates the finer qualities of Crayola brand over those knock-off types. You know, the kind which substitute brick dust and hog fat for wax. Trust me, over the years of my childhood I have tasted several brands and find Crayola to be most enjoyable.

Now, Hobby Lobby has an interesting type of music featured in their stores which is designed to enhance the shopping experience. I think it is intended to get you to impulsively drop cash on a purchase but in a way which makes you think the Holy Spirit was leading you to that item. As you shop you suddenly find yourself humming to a catchy tune which you almost recognize as ‘Quiet, Lord, my froward heart‘ but you’ve never heard it played on synthesized keyboard. ‘Yup… that’s it.’ you say to yourself, smiling, as the irony of the moment is lost in the shuffle. For my non-Christian friends, this music is kind of the religious counter to hearing your favorite 80s rock ballad played on an obscure instrument over a cracked speaker. Kinda like hearing ‘Jump‘ played in Walmart on an accordion.

Music aside, Hobby Lobby is the ‘go to’ place for holiday decorative stuff for my wife and I enjoy it except for the ‘Borg‘ of Christmas. Yes, I am speaking of that bane of my existence and device of Satan against which I shall always stand and fight… glitter. It simply isn’t possible to go near a Hobby Lobby without being covered in glitter. As I type this, I can say with confidence, if I were to look in the mirror right now I would find at least one speck of glitter on me. This, in spite of the fact I have showered, shampooed & shaved many times since my last trip to the glitter fest. We have a decontamination chamber for glitter as you enter into our house which features special vacuum devices, multiple shower heads, decompression and an ultraviolet light inspection before you’re allowed to be robed in the paper jumpsuit for the mandatory 48 hr period which follows a trip to HL… aaaaaand, I still found glitter while eating a banana for breakfast this AM. Glitter and fruit is not natural.

Which brings me to the ‘triumphant’ portion of this saga. Since I was able to find exactly what I was looking for as a gift for my sweet wife, I envisioned the box sizes needed, and the theme I would employ as I wrapped her packages. Three boxes would be required and I already had two but needed to purchase one of those really cool craft paper colored boxes at the Lobby. Found it! Now, on to the theme. Rita’s tree is kind of a country elegant… Christmas country chic… with flowers and fancy stuff expertly placed. So, her packages had to have some bling-like qualities, but in an understated manner, in keeping with her tree theme. Like finding a diamond in a chicken coop… the finished product looks great but you never envisioned your wife hanging it from a tree in your house.

Anyway, I began my pursuit of the perfect wrapping paper. It needed to be a craft paper color/texture but feature a quality of uniqueness so as to catch her eye. Fortunately, although the Christmas paper selection did not fit the bill, I was able to find just what I needed in the birthday section. My selection featured an elegant Victorian styled print in black as a contrast to the craft paper upon which it was printed. Now, off to the flower section. As a substitute for the bow I wanted a crafty looking flower to match her tree. A burlap rose, paired with slightly lighter colored burlap flowers with little black dots… one set for each package… were placed in my basket as I began my pursuit for ribbon. With all items soon acquired, I rushed home to wrap before she arrived. Not to brag… but I can wrap a gift. My OCD kicks in and every pattern must perfectly align on the gift before it is neatly folded at the edges and taped… no slouch job here. As a foundation for the finish, I chose a wide silver ribbon, upon which a narrower black ribbon with rhinestone looking dots would be placed. When I opened the silver spool it happened. A glitter bomb exploded all over our dining room. The nice, silver ribbon was, in fact, glitter ribbon and I was standing in the epicenter of a glitterpocalypse. Having just come home from the funeral home, my black slacks looked like something Elvis, or Liberace, would wear and my good, black ostrich boots were likewise covered in the festive fungus. Too late to back out now! Christmas gift wrapping is not for the weak… so, I pressed onward.

Fashioning the ribbon in a cross like pattern over each package, I now proceeded to the task of putting the flowers together for the bow and fastening them to the ribbon on each package. At Hobby Lobby they sell a florist tape which is what I decided would work best for the task. As it happens, it comes in various colors and I chose silver because it would blend into the ribbon better. Upon opening the tape I realized it is also covered in glitter. Of course it is! Nevermind, I must complete the goal for the perfect package. By the way, apart from using industrial strength construction adhesive, there is no way to fasten burlap flowers onto glitter ribbon. In retrospect, I could have used duct tape but, to be honest, I panicked in the fray of glitter which encompassed my person, and it never even occurred to me as an option until I finished. To make it even fancier, I went with the old standby… curling ribbon. Not one color, mind you, but two… black and silver. Sure, I could have just purchased a couple of the pre-curled ribbon sets for each package in both colors but, truly, how hard is it to curl ribbon? Listen to me. I confidently speak to all you who can curl ribbon and make it look so easy anyone can do it when I say I hate your guts and livers. Everyone who can’t curl ribbon hates you but because we have to tolerate people now, and we need you to do our packages, and we have the gummy residue of glittery floral tape on our fingers we will allow you to stay but we aren’t taking any of your condescending ‘I can look the other way and talk to my friend while I curl ribbon all day long’ attitude so don’t push it. OK? Just curl the ribbon and slide it over to me without making eye contact and no one gets hurt.

So, here I am, finally, with three packages wrapped for my wife now placed neatly under the tree. In my mind they looked better than they turned out, which is more coop than diamond. Just before she arrived she called me to let me know she was on the road. When she called I was in the delusional condition of kidding myself into thinking glitter can be cleaned up. Sweeping, using a Swiffer broom, dust mop and steam mop only serve to relocate glitter, and make it wet. Our dining table is oak and has a lovely grain in the wood surface within which now reside bajillions of glitter. You can’t get rid of the stuff. I scrubbed, used Clorox wipes, wet dishcloths, and even Endust to no avail. At least the table looks festive. ‘Look honey, I decorated for Christmas!’

When she came home she was all sweet and excited about the packages and even asked if she could open them. That was the moment in the conversation where an awkward death threat which was supposed to just be in my head, somehow, slipped out of my mouth. I smiled, and distracted her with the glitter, and everything was OK but, trust me, it took me HOURS to wrap those things and they are NEVER getting opened now. NO! My wife is caught in that difficult place of being notoriously honest, yet sensitive to people in the truth. She is the type who lovingly offers you a breath mint, and urges you to try it because they taste really good and she doesn’t want to come right out and tell you your breath is the death. So, upon seeing the packages she was enthusiastic and told me how pretty they were. In her mind she had to have been saying ‘Bless his heart’ in that Southern kind of ‘he ate too many crayons as a child’ sort of kind way.

Christmas memories of my childhood flood in as I approach the 2nd Christmas as a ‘Big Papa’ to my precious granddaughter. As for Christmas gifts, I remember a few from my childhood but I mostly remember the family gatherings. Mom’s chili, my Aunt’s fudge and my Grandi’s home made chocolate pudding while it cooled on the window sill… and her molasses cookies. I know, most of my memories involve food but they are also deeply tied to a lot of laughter, hugs and love which I cherish today. Nana & I have pink packages under the tree for our little princess but I don’t intend to allow the stuff, like glitter, to be the thing which sticks to her. My hope is we are able to show her the kind of security and love which can only be found in a loving family. Lipstick kisses from Nana and tickles from Big Papa, or playing princess tea time is what I will be doing over the days I have with my kids. All of which is tempered with the understanding of how very blessed I am to know The Messiah, and to experience the daily joy of celebrating the purpose of His arrival here and the hope which can only be found in Him. That is what I wish for you, and for my baby girl, this Christmas season… glitter and all.

Merry Christmas!

Small gift boxes wrapped in tan paper with a black victorian print. Each packages has a bow made of silver, glitter ribbon and features a bouquet of burlap flowers with a burlap rose in the center. The packages are neatly placed under a Christmas tree with lights twinkling.

Glitter Bomb wrapped gifts.

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Faith in the Bleachers

My father was exceptionally athletic. I remember the first time I saw him ice skating and I was amazed at his speed and dexterity on the ice, especially when I attempted the ice for the first time. Oldest of six boys raised in Newfoundland, Canada, my father cut his teeth on a hockey puck, and was no slouch with a baseball either. At one point, dad was even offered an opportunity to play professional hockey, which he turned down because his life plan to become a Catholic priest left no room for hockey. He hung up his skates and donned the habit, entering the monastery. (Obviously, he did not become a priest.)

As I said, my dad was a great athlete… I am not. I was always the kid who liked playing kickball, but loved shooting my bow or a .22 rifle more. In fact, if given an option, I’d rather hunt rabbits or crows than play baseball any day. For me, a quiet day with my bow was valued much higher than a day in a neighboring pasture playing baseball. Let me clarify, I’m not opposed to sports, and enjoy a live baseball or basketball game, and I love watching hockey, but I’m not a fanatic. I liked the idea of sports, but didn’t possess the desire, drive or ability to pursue sports with passion.

For the 2011 season thus far, I’ve watched a grand total of two UK basketball games, both post season tournament play, and one of which (UK -vs- UNC) I recorded on my DVR and missed the final 2 1/2 minutes due to improper programming. (And my life didn’t end for missing the final moments of the game.) I don’t know all the players, and cannot quote their stats, in fact I didn’t even know their standing going into the tournament. But, I would consider myself a UK fan, or at the least a fan of life in the bluegrass state. I confess my heightened interest with UK now in the Final Four, and I will probably be watching the game with UCONN on Saturday night… probably.

While enjoying the game Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I’ve already mentioned his athletic abilities, which were impressive, however this was not what immediately came to mind during the game. For whatever reason, what came to mind about my dad was his intense passion for the Gospel. My dad was one to jump in with both feet in whatever he did, he wasn’t just committed to something… he became what he was committing to. Nothing has ever made an impression upon me like my father’s conversion to Christianity, specifically (redundantly) his commitment to Jesus. When my dad was converted, it was full sail. In fact, mom & dad made their confession of faith together and that night my father was immersed, and in response he immersed my mother. He understood the call of Christ and for the first time, shedding the traditions he had known all his life and embracing Scripture alone, it made perfect sense to him. What he had earlier committed to (with regard to priesthood) left him empty and confused because he was told to teach tradition and not Bible. He told me of many occasions of discipline for reading to children from Scripture, rather than teaching tradition. This disillusionment caused him to leave Catholicism, but he just couldn’t abandon faith. When a young preacher encouraged him to study the Bible, my dad suddenly had a whole new world open up before him and his focus, priorities and purpose was restored.

From the time of my dad’s conversion forward, I cannot remember a single morning when he wasn’t seated at the kitchen table first thing in the morning reading his Bible. My father was consumed with a passion for the Word. At the time, I was not a Christian, although I considered myself a believer. For a number of months my dad faithfully and patiently led a life of faith and witnessed to me as much as was productive to do so. Our minister frequented our home and became a good friend to me and my family. Eventually I began attending services and listening a little closer as it became apparent my father was not participating in a passing fad, but undergoing a transformation of his life and a renewing of his mind.

The UK -vs- UNC game Sunday night, began at 5PM, and our evening services are at 6:00PM. For some congregations, and some Christians, this would pose a very real dilemma… which shall I choose, to stay home with the HD quality programming of NCAA tournament play or participate in the assembly? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with watching a ballgame per se, so long as it does not impose upon my ability to edify another Christian, or impede my availability to His Word. Some would argue attendance on a Sunday evening as unnecessary, especially if they faithfully attend morning services. Perhaps, but I do tend to believe such thinking reveals something about us. Allow me to illustrate my point.

My wife is my best friend and I enjoy her company, so much so that I am often distracted by thoughts of her through the day and truly long to be with her again. When we have to be apart, it is bearable only in the thought we will be together again and our commitment to one another remains strong in spite of the temporary separation. I cannot imagine “skipping out” on an opportunity to be with her, even if it should only be for a brief while. My wife trusts me and knows me better than any other person alive. Such trust strengthens our relationship through difficulties or challenges. Therefore, should I choose to go out with friends, or some other activity within the bounds of our vows, my wife would be OK and have no doubts or concerns. Concerns could creep in, however, should I choose to neglect her, or avoid her, show less passion or become apathetic toward being with her. Love for my wife constrains me to prioritize my activities and interests in such a manner as to build her up and strengthen our marriage. Again, so long as my priorities remain in cooperation with my vows to my wife, everything is good.

Similarly, Christian faith requires commitment and priority, it demands cooperation of action and words.

Empty stadium seats with a man alone

James mentions faith and action, a faith which transcends the lip service of shallow “belief only” and bears the grit of substance. Such faith is evidenced by action. Recently, I was referred to as “zealous”, a comment intended to be taken as a punch. In context, it was an argumentum ad hominem employed to silence my disagreement with a prospective change to a city ordinance. Its implication being I am limited in my view and “close minded”. I, however, have an advocate which speaks for me… my actions.

How does this relate to the NCAA tournament? I guess it just got me to thinking of an opportunity to share the Gospel. No doubt, Monday morning was filled with a number of conversations about the game. What a wonderful opportunity Christians have when asked about the game to “open the door” by sharing they didn’t watch the game on live TV because they were occupied by something more exciting… participation in worshiping God. I firmly believe our convictions bear out in our actions, and as a Christian I never want to fail in assembling with the body of Christ if at all possible.

As a preacher, I get teased quite a lot about the length of my sermons. There are always a few jokes about cancelling or shortening services when a big game is on, accompanied by a wink & laughter. Here at Union City, it is understood comments about sermon length which are intended to jibe me a little are not to be taken seriously. Our attendance Sunday night made me very proud of our congregation and my opportunity to serve such a spiritually focused group. Granted, most folks didn’t linger long following the service, however, they were active and present and would never have considered skipping out of the assembly for any reason short of illness or another serious family concern. They chose to participate in the assembly, enjoy opportunity to commune with one another and to increase their faith by studying Scripture. No wonder I thought about my father upon seeing such a strong attendance.

I love assembling with the saints!

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Intimacy Sermon Answers

“How often should a husband & wife have time for each other?”

One of the most challenging aspects of modern relationships is that of demanding schedules. Caring for children, work demands, commute times back & forth to work, children’s activities, Church, aging parents and so many other areas can pull couples in different directions. Upon arriving home, couples still have to help with homework, clothes, food, pay bills, do laundry & dishes, and sometimes even catch up on work brought home from the office. There can be no doubt… we are busy people.

Certainly, there are some of these external demands which can be removed, or at least reduced through proper management. Often, removing many of the demands is not a possibility, which means that we must learn to employ responsible management of time, as well as establishing & maintaining proper priorities in a relationship. Since it appears to me that this question poses two dimensions: Connection and a sense of intimacy in the relationship, and the sexual aspect of the relationship, I will address both dimensions. We can all agree that a strong marriage relationships helps to create harmony in the home, so, let’s consider a few things as we approach discovering the answer to this question.

Let’s first address the connection or intimacy dimension of the relationship by considering the order of priorities in a relationship. A proper order of relationship would be God, family (spouse & children), Church, others, and then self. When this order of priority is mixed up, or missing components, harmony cannot be maintained in the relationship or home. Many couples suffer from a lack of connection time due to the complicated schedules they attempt to maintain. There are some important points to keep in mind when it comes to maintaining connection in a marriage.

First, boundaries must be clearly established & consistently maintained. (This is especially important with children in the home.) Such boundaries would include preserving the bedroom by not having children sleeping in the parent’s bed, or even in the parent’s bedroom. For newborns, it is OK to allow a cradle until the parents have determined normal patterns for the child, however, the crib should be removed as soon as possible. When parents begin to allow children to sleep in their bed, or remain in their bedroom, it can often create long term issues for the couple. Both parents must be on the same page here because children need consistency and can quickly learn to play one parent against another. Understand that this is necessary to preserve your privacy & prevent a loss of intimacy or even sexual connection in the relationship.

Second, find a time that the two of you can read Scripture together. I’m not talking about a long time here, just a chapter a day & time to pray with one another. This is a must! It will not cost anything for you to do this, however, it may cost everything if you do not. I can testify personally to the difficulties of schedules & making time for Bible reading & prayer together… let’s face it, our enemy loves to create a sense of separation. If he can separate your from the Scripture, he has removed the only source for strengthening your faith. As a couple, when you spend time together reading & praying, you are sharing an intimate moment of connection which also helps you to grow spiritually. By doing this, you not only share time together, affirming that you share faith & values, but you also grow closer to the Lord. This is a win-win. Rita & I share our Scripture reading time first thing in the morning and I can say that it truly helps us to share a sense of connection, even though we are apart from one another throughout the day.

Third, do your best to create a dating interaction with your spouse. If possible, establish a date night for you & your spouse to have exclusively for the two of you. For the purpose of clarification, a date night would not include taking your children with you to Applebees or McDonalds. This date night should be consistent each week if at all possible, and it should be communicated to the children that Dad & Mom are on a date… big people only. Obviously, budgetary constraints and schedules don’t always allow for weekly date nights, so what do you do when you can’t afford such a night out? Carve out moments that are exclusive to you & your spouse… get creative, this does not require a great deal of money. My wife & I love to drive through DQ & get an ice cream, then drive to the lake & sit together watching the ducks. You’ll be surprised what even a few moments can do to energize & refresh your relationship.

Fourth, learn to flirt. Do you remember writing the name of your boyfriend or girlfriend on your notebook? Take the time to write a small note & leave it in their car, or in their shoes. Hide little notes in places only they will find that will make them smile. Give them reason to think of you during the day, when you are apart from one another. What a wonderful thing to leave a little love note, text message, email or voicemail for something other than the utility bill needing paid. Small efforts in this area will pay large dividends in maintaining connection because they show that you are thinking about your spouse throughout your hectic day. Show them that they make you smile, and tell them that you still appreciate them as your ‘steady’.

Fifth, begin each day with an affirmation of your love & commitment to one another. Many couples suffer for lack of verbally communicating their love for one another. The result of a lack of verbal affirmation is the potential of feeling taken for granted. Ladies don’t need a poet, but they appreciate being recognized and affirmed. In turn, it become easier for them to show affirmation to their husbands, which is interpreted as respect by men. Think about it… five little words can change the dynamic of your home… “Thank you” and “I love you”. in addition, upon seeing each other again for the first time later in the evening or day, employ the 4 minute rule. Don’t discuss negative events or how busy your day has been… for the first 4 minutes together, simply affirm your love. Now, affirmation is not just in a verbal form… back up your words with action.

Sixth, show your love in a tangible manner. Ephesians refers to the husband loving his wife as his own body… an aspect of the ‘one flesh’ relationship. What task can you do for your spouse which would make things easier on them, or prevent them from doing a task that they truly detest? What special expression can be used to convey to your spouse that you are thinking of them? Household management is an effort which requires both partners, and there are few household tasks singularly assigned.

Lastly, do not be afraid to be affectionate. Some couples do not require, or even particularly enjoy physical touch, however, this is typically a small number. Holding hands, hugs and even kisses are appropriate expressions of affection and I submit that they are healthy components to any marriage. Children need to see that daddy loves mommy, and this will create a sense of security for them. When my son was a little guy, he would try to squeeze in between Rita & I when I hugged her and would always say ‘my mommy’, but I not only continued to hug his mommy, but I also reaffirmed him as well. Maybe a hug or hand holding is not essential, but there is nothing wrong with opening a door, holding a chair or other ways of physically expressing love.

Now, to the sexual dimension of the question. It should be noted that the physical appetite of couples vary, so, I’ll be speaking in general terms, since situations vary from couple to couple.

The best way to answer this question is to simply encourage you & your spouse to engage in an open conversation about your sexual needs. Each couple needs to become comfortable enough (intimate enough) in their relationship to approach the topic maturely and openly. Building such open communication will strengthen your marriage relationship, and will create greater confidence in your partner. Let’s be honest here… the first few conversations may be awkward, and you may have a sense of vulnerability, however, not communicating about this significant area in your relationship will only cause distance and a lack of security in your marriage. You may find that there are few differences in your needs, and open communication will allow you to recognize those areas of common ground, and the areas which differ. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about the conversation, because you & your partner have the common goal of pleasing one another.

When approaching this topic with your spouse, it is best to keep the following communications skills or techniques in mind:
1. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements in your conversation. This allows you to focus on your feelings, thoughts and desires, rather than appearing to be condemning your partner. For example, “I feel taken for granted when this occurs.” is much better than “You take me for granted.” These statements must be specific, rather than general, and non-condemning.

2. Employ reflective listening. As we have already discovered, men & women approach topics differently. Thus, the potential for confusion or misunderstanding is great. To avoid, or reduce misunderstanding, you can use reflective listening skills. An example would be “If I understand what you’re saying, you like it when I do this ______________. Am I correct in understanding you this way?” By using this skill, your partner can confirm, clarify or restate their point which will increase understanding between you.

3. Create an environment which is private and conducive to having this conversation. Talking about it over the phone, via email, with children in the room or in a public environment would not be a good idea. Keep in mind, especially for ladies, privacy is essential in creating a sense of security in your relationship. Talking about this area with others outside of the marriage may only further complicate things… privacy creates a sense of trust & security.

4. Be honest. Nothing good can be achieved if one or both of you is not honest in their expectations.

5. Set goals. Just because you communicate openly on the topic, and understand one another’s needs, does not mean that everything will automatically be just perfect. Sometimes these conversations can seem a little overwhelming, and it helps to set small goals which can be tracked for achievement, then create a new goal to work toward.

6. Set aside a specific time for you & your spouse. Again, the frequency of sexual activity will vary from couple to couple and is influenced by numerous factors. My point here is to talk about this openly & prioritize a time for physical intimacy.

The area of physical intimacy in your relationship is very significant and should not be ignored, nor should it be inhibited by other areas of your life. If you are experiencing difficulty in talking about this with your spouse, or in finding common ground as a couple, I would welcome meeting with you to counsel you in strengthening your relationship. Please know that any such counseling is confidential and designed to help build your marriage up.

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