Tag Archives: christmas

when you least expect it

I’m not a “happy Christmas” person. It’s not my favorite season.

Some people at work yesterday asked me why.

I think it’s because of the expectation.

Not expectation in the advent sense, expectation as anticipation, as hope. That kind of expectation would be wonderful.

No, it’s more the “living up to expectations” kind of expectation. This season we are supposed to be happy, we are supposed to be warm, we are supposed to be giving.

I’m not very good at “supposed to be.” I would rather be happy when it is contrary to everyone else. I would rather provide calmness in the middle of chaos. I would rather lighten the mood.

And I am afraid that I won’t like the gifts or that someone won’t like my gift or that I won’t be creative enough or timely enough or thoughtful enough.

The whole point of what we call Christmas is the sheer unexpectedness.

There was a general sense of anticipation of a messiah in the culture. There was a very focused sense of expecting for Mary and Joseph. The hassle of a census. The unruly sheep. The discomfort of pregnancy. The questions of illegitimacy. The occupation. All of these shaped expectations of pain and frustration and wistful hope for deliverance.

But for all of them, this particular gift with this particular wrapping at this particular random time was completely unexpected.

Which is, of course, what you would expect…from someone saving the world from itself.

Happy Christmas.

a reflection on lights.

This morning, I didn’t know what DMX 512 was.

I mean, I knew it was part of stage lighting, but I had no idea how it worked.

Tonight, I still don’t know how it works.

I do know, however, how to work it.  I know how to assign numbers to each circle of color in some of our new stage lights. I know how to assign those same numbers to little switches and make them get brighter and dimmer. I know to connect four of the lights together and mix the colors. I know how to connect any of 512 sources of light to any of 48 of those switches. I know that there is a lot more capacity that I don’t understand and that we aren’t going to use for a long time. But we could.

I know that understanding the connection took a willingness to look at the instructions and a willingness to accept that there was the possibility of connections in an invisible digital world that I didn’t know anything about. I know that there are people who would have given up because it was just too abstract. I know that I understand that.

And I know that the lights look both like a LightBrite board and kind of like Christmas.

Which also takes a some understanding.

out of the box

I know it’s not a big thing, but decorating for Christmas is something we don’t look forward to. When it’s done, it’s fine. Getting to it is a challenge.

One of the pieces of dread is the Christmas tree.

For several years we cut our own or purchased a precut one. Every year, Nancy stayed away from the garage while I got the tree into the stand. It was always a challenge. I could never get it straight. I got frustrated with the imperfections of the branches, with the poor balance, with how hard it was to make a straight cut with cold hands and an unpracticed saw.

I dreaded that process, that feeling of powerlessness.

Eventually, we bought a fake tree. It works well. It looks nice. But it didn’t eliminate all of my dread.

We store our tree in the attic. The ladder is steep. The hole is narrow. The tree box is, shall we say, flexible.

Every year I have battled to get the box down and battled to get the box up. There are gouges in the sides of the box. There have been bruised knuckles. There have been expressions of frustration.

Saturday was the day. I needed to get the process of decorating started. I was on the ladder, handing things to Andrew. All the boxes were down. It was time to move the tree. I pulled the big box closer. I prepared to wrestle it down.

And then, I grabbed one of the three sections of the tree and handed it to Andrew. I realized that if I handed the pieces down one at a time, there would be no bruised knuckles, no frustration.

That’s what “out of the box” thinking looks like. Simple practical solutions to feelings of dread.

So what’s your example?


That ringing sound? It’s my virtual Red Kettle.  But it’s okay to give at the office.

Helen is being brave tonight

Tonight at Grabill Missionary Church a bunch of people are putting up trees. We’re putting up lights. We’re hanging wreaths. We’re putting poinsettias on the steps. We’re playing Christmas music. We’re eating pizza and drinking coffee.

Helen won’t be there. She does decorating all the time around here and this year, this Christmas, she’s not.

She made a commitment to NOT do it this year. She’s not quitting church. In fact, she is doing A. and B. and C. and D. Every Sunday she does E. But she committed to release the decorating this year.

It’s hard. Yesterday we walked around and she showed me where everything is stored and where it has gone in the past. Boxes are well labeled. Extension cords are even with the lights which are with the trees. She was kind of like Odysseus, lashed to the mast, listening to the Siren song of bells and balls and baubles.

I understand Helen. I understand what it is like to be committed to doing things, to feel a kind of failure when you don’t do them. But tonight, about 20 people are going to get together and figure it out.

These 20 people need this kind of event. It will help them to work together, to laugh together, to argue together (politely, I’m sure) about what color goes where.

By Helen’s commitment to release this piece for this year, she will laugh at Christmas and 20 other people will own Christmas. I don’t want to sound patronizing, but I am so proud of Helen.

It’s making me think as I write. What are the projects that I need to release so others can delight in the struggle?

What about you?

Anticipate anticipation

I thought about calling this post “advent is coming.” And then I realized the humor of that statement. Hence the current title.

Last year for the 25 days before Christmas, the period known as advent, I wrote a daily blog, sort of a digital advent calendar. That blog is now available as a downloadable pdf, advent2008, and as a digital book on yudu.

Feel free to download it and share it and read it.

(Oh yes. To download, put the arrow on this underlined text and right click. Then save the file to your computer)

Let me know if it helps you during this advent season, starting December 1 (I know. The first Sunday of advent is November 30. But that’s not when the book starts).

If you want a paper copy, let me know.

8 ways to waste the month

This morning, CC Chapman terrified me. He wrote

top of the morning and month full of opportunities ahead

A simple greeting for the first day of the month, but only a month left in the year? Hence, a timely place for this post.

1. Decide that a hairnet is sufficient reason to refuse to help your wife work in the kitchen for your daughter’s Madrigal Dinner. (lesson? dignity is over-rated.)

2. Panic because the year is done and you have accomplished nothing of your goals for the year.

2a. (Bonus item) Completely ignore everything else that you DID get done because of the crises, unpredictable crises, which  happened this year.

3. Grumble because you forget that the point is relationships rather than money or brownie points or whatever use to keep track.
4. Grouch (grinch?) at all the commercialism of Christmas so much that no one wants to spend any time with you. (Of course, that could save you a bunch on gifts.)

5. Fantasize that 2008 will be ever so much better if you can just hang on for the next 30 days. (Like you can’t wake up tomorrow morning and decide that the new year (and life) starts now?)

6. Decide that you don’t have to think about being thankful for another 11 months.

7. Ignore the opportunities the cold weather (in the northern hemisphere) gives you to build fires (in the fireplace), to make hot chocolate, to pile on extra blankets, to see the houses that the leaves have been hiding, to avoid mowing, and to not have to face the sun for long stretches.

8. Make endless lists of how many things you have to do rather than doing one at a time and rejoicing in the strength and time and skills and friends that you do have.


For more a day-by-day journey through anticipation during Advent, join me at advent2007.wordpress.com

For more 8 ways…

To waste your blogging time
To ruin your day
To be thanked
To increase your stress

To explain 2.0 friends to 0.0 parents
To lose your faith
To make yourself angry
To make yourself jealous
To make yourself depressed
To ruin your marriage

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Last Christmas I wrote a sketch for the services at our church. It was called, “Maybe next year.” A guy talked about growing up as a Cubs fan, living with expectant resignation (or resigned expectation). There was always the hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the year.

We were done with the morning, and everyone had done incredibly well with their parts. It was the time for the last of us to walk across the parking lot.  My boss got to his car and turned and thanked me for my work. My immediate response was to start talking about Easter, to begin the planning for the next big thing in the church calendar.

He told me to stop.

We live, some of us, with a sense of desperation. There is a hole in our hearts that needs to be filled with … something. We have a dream that will change everything, we are sure. If we pull this thing off, all will be well. If we can just….

And then we ache, right after our greatest success.  “The adrenaline is wearing off,” we tell ourselves. “Lack of sleep,” we assure others of the reason for our sudden crankiness. After leaning into the wind, it is hard to stand up when it stops.

When I find myself looking for the next thing to do, when I find it impossible to wind down from being constantly connected, when I am looking for a list of things that I have completed to prove that I’m really not taking time off, I’m really not being unproductive…I realize that I am getting my value from my busyness, from my ability to impress people with my ability.

And that runs contrary to everything I believe to be true about God and His work.

I am constantly telling people that God wants to heal us and help us. That He made us and loves us. That He cares for and about us. I constantly talk about grace and peace. Is there a place for obedience? Absolutely, but not to a cop or a crackpot. Obedience to someone who loves me.

And then, in the midst of this teaching others about grace, I find myself wasting immense energy trying to do just the right thing. When the right thing is, at time, just sitting and waiting.

I don’t want to end this Christmas like last year, experiencing an event that serves as a the new record which must be beaten in the next holiday competition. More than presents, I want to know the Presence.

Maybe…this year.


For more on a journey through anticipation, join me at advent2007.wordpress.com