Let the Xmas Celebrations Begin!

Joshwendy122306  Yesterday, Wendy and I headed to Iowa City to join the Hall siblings at Jesse & Heidi’s place.

Over the past two years I’ve watched as the Hall family has plowed through the agonizing process of trying to figure out what to do about Christmas gifts. Now that all but two of the siblings are adults (Josh is an adult, isn’t he?) what do we do about Christmas gifts? There are seven sibs and three spouses. That’s a lot of gifts for anyone. The phone calls and e-mails start in late summer and the intense exchanges continue for months unabated. It’s as if we’re trying to find an answer to nuclear proliferation.

Do we get small gifts for everyone?
Do we get larger gifts for the younger sibs and nothing for the older sibs?
Look, why don’t we just let everyone do what they want to do and be happy about it.
Hey I know, how about pulling a name out of a hat and let everyone get one gift!
Yes, but no one needs anything. Let’s have fun and do a white elephant exchange!
But…
Let’s…
Hey, how about this…

Finally, in the Spirit of the season and with an eye toward diplomatic detente we decided to pool our gift money this year and get gifts for some kids who really need it. Yesterday the sibs all gathered in Hawkeye country and went shopping together for a local youth and homeless shelter. The ladies went shopping for "practical" things while the guys went looking for cool toys and sporting goods ("No, Josh – No, Jesse – we can’t get them a b.b. handgun!").

We retired back at Jesse & Heidi’s for some spaghetti and typical brother-sister laughter, wrestling, and mayhem. What a blast. It was a great way to kick off the season! I think we may have found an answer.

Now about this nuclear proliferation situation…

Photo: Josh and Wendy

Chapter-a-Day Luke 13

A bystander said, "Master, will only a few be saved?"

He
said, "Whether few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on
your life with God. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires
your total attention. A lot of you are going to assume that you’ll sit
down to God’s salvation banquet just because you’ve been hanging around
the neighborhood all your lives. Well, one day you’re going to be
banging on the door, wanting to get in, but you’ll find the door locked
and the Master saying, ‘Sorry, you’re not on my guest list.’
Luke 13:23-25 (TM)

The best Christmas gift is waiting for any who have been ‘hanging around’ Jesus’ neighborhood but have never stepped past the threshold into a real relationship with Him. In the neighborhood of Bethlehem there were shepherds hanging around, but when they found out that Jesus had been born they left their flocks and said "Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us."

Chapter-a-Day Luke 12

What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied
with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know
God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God
and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative,
God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be
met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The
Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself
. Luke 12:29-32 (TM)

As I enter Christmas weekend, this is a great passage for me to keep close. In a season when our consumerist culture becomes so obsessed with "stuff" that I easily get sucked into forgetting the Message of Christmas. God sent His Son that He might give me His Kingdom, so why do I get enamored with "stuff" that only clutters my life and offers no satisfaction to my soul?

Chapter-a-Day Luke 12

What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied
with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know
God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God
and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative,
God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be
met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The
Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself
. Luke 12:29-32 (TM)

As I enter Christmas weekend, this is a great passage for me to keep close. In a season when our consumerist culture becomes so obsessed with "stuff" that I easily get sucked into forgetting the Message of Christmas. God sent His Son that He might give me His Kingdom, so why do I get enamored with "stuff" that only clutters my life and offers no satisfaction to my soul?

Chapter-a-Day Luke 11

One of the religion scholars spoke up: "Teacher, do you realize that in saying these things you’re insulting us?"

[Jesus]
said, "Yes, and I can be even more explicit. You’re hopeless, you
religion scholars! You load people down with rules and regulations,
nearly breaking their backs, but never lift even a finger to help
. Luke 11:45-46 (TM)

I’ve found it a short road from sinner saved by grace to religious hypocrite ruled by regulations. I feel like I’ve run the circuit. I came to Jesus – just another bozo on the bus trying to find my way home. Then somewhere along the line I became a self-righteous Pharisee keeping "meticulous account books" and spiritual spreadsheets checking off lists of "do’s" and "don’ts" and "rights" and "wrongs". I made the journey from grateful penitent to religious inquisitor in the blink of an eye. I climbed upon the Judgement seat that was never meant for me – wearing my polished medals of religious merit and the coveted Junior Holy Spirit badge.

I’m not sure how I wound up there. God, forgive me.

I’ve taken off the Junior Holy Spirit badge. I’ve put away my medals of religious merit. They’ve profited me nothing in the eternal scheme of things. Those medals and a buck fifty will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Somehow, I’ve found myself back at the bus stop. Here comes the next load of bozos just like me. I think I’ll join them for the ride…introduce myself…offer to buy someone a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Maybe, just maybe, I can help give someone the directions home. Heck, maybe I’ll just offer to walk along and keep them company.

2nd Place

It was a strange weekend – strange for its’ roller coaster of emotions. Friday night we hosted our 2nd "Starving Artists’ Dinner". We invited some Theatre students from Central over for dinner as well as our good friend Ann who teaches Theatre at  Central. We had a wonderful dinner before going over to the Pella Community Center for the announcement of USP’s playwriting contest winners. I was really excited to have Taylor and Madison there. Afterwards, we had a big group of friends come back to our house for a party. It was a blast. What wonderful people.

My play was awarded 2nd prize in the contest, which is great. The staged reading of the first few minutes of my script went really well and the audience loved it. As I read the judges comments it became clear that I was hosed by one of the three judges who didn’t like it and dismissed it with terrible ratings that were neither explained or justified. I won’t lie to you – I was disappointed. I wanted to win. C’est la vie.

To add insult to injury, Wendy and I went out to rake leaves on Saturday morning to find that someone had written "LOSERS" in bright pink chalk across our driveway. Great.

I know that 2nd place is something to be proud of. I know that everyone in the audience liked my play. I know I won $300 for 2nd and it’s better than nothing. I know that USP still wants to produce the play sometime in the future. I know that this is a great learning and character building experience – yada, yada, yada – blah, blah, blah. I know all that.

Sometimes character building sucks.