In Thanksgiving for life…

(Dictated into my cell phone on the evening of January 19, 2016)

I’m driving through Travelers Rest, watching the gas gauge because I am just about out of gas. I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans.

There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas.

I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.

All of my life I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth. I have to admit that I have very often thought that they somehow deserved to live this way,  either because they were wasteful and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality; by that, I mean they were so used to social programs that there was no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.

God was I wrong. There is no dignity in this.  Yes, I have been stupid and wasteful.  But, I believe it takes more strength to hold your head up, survive this, and ask for help than it does to work a hard, paying job.

I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing.

To identify with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.

God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, or not offering to help.

And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…I can’t think of a curse strong enough for them.

Well, I did it.  I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas.  He deferred to the manager/owner. First, she calculates how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going, and how many miles I get to a gallon.  She then tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.”  I wait.  She waits back.  So I leave, with no gas.

I drove 40 to 50 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.

I’m now at my daughter’s apartment where it’s warm.  It’s 19 degrees outside and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters.  I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one.  And, please, if they sleep, may they know in their dreams that someone is sorry, very sorry, that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.

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Let Them Talk

I’m all about ‘teachable moments,’ those special moments in time when we are given the opportunity to alter life.  I miss probably 95% of them so when I realize I have walked away from one of the 5% that I am aware of, I lament.

I was late in making the water bill payment and drove to the facility on Saturday morning to put the check in the night deposit box.   As I was looking around the front door for anything that might resemble a deposit box, a white SUV drove past the side of the building to a covered drive-through.  As I walked around the side of the building, I noticed that the driver of the SUV had his window down.

“Is that the night deposit box?” I asked.

“Yes, it is,” he replied.  He opened his door a bit and said, “I can’t reach it.”

I hurried into the space between us and offered, “Here, let me help.  You told me where to find it so I’ll put both of our checks in.”

“Thank you,” he said, handing me his envelope.  As I slipped both beneath the protective cover, he added,  “I’ve had a stroke and I’ve lost a lot of strength in my left arm.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…”

“…but I’m getting better,” he quickly added.

Seeing an opportunity, I prayed, “Thank you, Jesus.”

“You bet.  I’ll tell you, this stroke really saved my life.”

“Bless you, dear.”  I touched his arm; “You have a good Thanksgiving.”

“You, too.”

But I knew as soon as I turned to go that I had blown it.  That man had a story to tell and I cut him off.

 

Everyone has a story to tell.

Some stories are outrageous tales of abuse, neglect, and unbelievable mistreatment…or they start out that way.  Some stories don’t sound like stories at all, but rather as general complaints about politics, family members, illness, or the weather.  However, if given the opportunity, the complaints can morph into a sharing of the story teller’s  circumstances and experiences…often as an explanation of why the story teller thinks the way he does.

If handled properly (and if trust is built) the story teller may then be empowered to shift his position just a bit, less toward rancor and rage, and more toward patience and forgiveness…even toward a willingness to admit his own failings.  In, “What do people do, who don’t have Jesus?” I describe a day of meeting people, listening to their stories, and..in time…getting to the crux of life.

The gentleman at the water department wanted to share his story of how suffering a  stroke had saved his life.  It is probably a wonderful story; his stroke probably forced a change of life priorities or a re-connection to God.  By gifting him with the opportunity to tell his story, I could have strengthened the power of the transforming event in his life; I could have encouraged his willingness to share his story and life with more people; I could even have been blessing, myself, with wisdom from the Holy Spirit.

There are enumerable, but only positive, reasons for listening to another person’s story.  Truth be told, I would also be obeying Christ in doing so because several times a day He whispers to me, “Let her talk.”

Bah! Humbug!?

So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be.  Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.

First of all…and least of all…there is nothing wrong with having a dual-focused celebration; it is done all the time.  My daughter was born on Thanksgiving and we have often celebrated her birthday on that fourth Thursday when the family is together.  My beloved but departed friend Irene celebrated her birthday (December 29th) on New Year’s Eve…again when family are close together and spirits are high.

“But Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”

Well, actually, yes it is.  My second point is that during the Christmas season, many symbols are brought out and displayed because of their meaning and significance to a Christian’s life.  The Christmas tree, for example, has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).”  (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)

“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”

It most certainly is.  My third point is that while the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving:  Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.

(Who is our neighbor?  Every one else.  EVERY ONE ELSE.  But that’s another post on another web site.)

No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day.  They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us, if not the world, from harm.  Having a designated day is a good thing.

By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.

It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one.  I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts to those one appreciates.  Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.”

Furthermore, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command:  Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law.  Were there no Christmas tradition of giving gifts, you could live out your entire life without having to face that fact.  As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT.

Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic?  You bet it has…and we have.   But that’s easy enough for each of us to avoid and over-come.  Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.

Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing.  It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love.   Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.

So, Christmas:  Bah! Humbug?

No.  Baa…as in a little lamb.  The Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world.  God’s gift to the world.  Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas.  Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift.  Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that you are giving them a gift because you are loved by Jesus and feel moved to share your joy.

The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment.  Celebrating His birthday is not.  Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.

By the way, even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments!  If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for such ‘God sends’ because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do a good turn…many in one day.  Looking for opportunities to practice patience and kindness?  Go shopping!

(God, forgive us for being so focused on defending Your honor and not recognizing Your-given opportunities to love one another, particularly on the designated day.)

 

 

If you would like to find out more about the Christian origins of Christmas symbols like wreaths, mistletoe, and lights, go to the web site about Traditional Christmas Symbols.