Finding Peace in a Frenzied World

In these weeks of Advent we are encouraged to “prepare the way of the Lord”.

However, like most of us, I am in a fevered frenzy to ‘prepare the way of Christmas’. The gifts, the decorating, the planning, the gatherings, the family, etc., etc, etc. Oh, and just in case I wasn’t feeling pressured enough, let’s add the additional (burden/guilt?) of countless charities asking for some of my already-stretched-too-thin budget!

I’m sure somewhere in this mountain of shopping lists, Christmas cocktail recipes, gift wrap, garland, Christmas cards, tangled lights, cookie ingredients, and other ABSOLUTE CHRISTMAS NECESSITIES, Baby Jesus is buried under there somewhere. Surely that old Nativity Set is in one of these boxes. Maybe I’ll find Him tomorrow. But first I’ve got to get that tree decorated and put those lights up. Then I’ll clean the house, wrap some gifts, plan some meals and have one of those much-deserved Christmas cocktails. I’ll definitely look for Baby Jesus tomorrow. Surely He didn’t get tossed out with the trash last year. I’ll make a new list and add ‘look for Baby Jesus’.

On-The-Second-Sunday-In-Advent-The-Peace-Candles-Is-LitEach year my Advent is about the same. Frenzy followed by peace. Blissful peace. Some years it sneaks up on me (like when a grandchild crawls up on my lap and gives me an undeserved hug or when my cousin’s Christmas card arrives in the mail and I can relive all those joyful memories of Christmases long ago). Most years it kind of hits me right between the eyes (like reuniting with a friend with whom too much time has passed and realizing immediately that time hasn’t diminished the love we share). The thing is, I never find peace on my own. Someone always brings it to me.

So I needn’t spend anymore time searching for Baby Jesus in that box somewhere in the basement. Real Christmas is here in my soul. It’s in the hearts of those that I love. It’s in the laughter of children. It’s in the kindness of strangers. Without fail, it comes to me by way of a messenger each year.

I hope that you will open your door and your heart when your messenger arrives this Advent season.

Peace,

Denis

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.” Mark 1:2

 

 

Be Watchful!

In Advent we’re reminded to be watchful. That’s more challenging for some of us than others.

I’ve heard it said that there are three kinds of people: Those that make things happen. Those that watch things happen. And those that say, “What happened?” I mostly fall into that third category. I’m not exactly what you’d call ‘watchful’. I often step into someone else’s way (accidentally of course). I’ve been known to step on someone’s toes (literally and figuratively). Or I stumble over things. Or I speak over someone (sorry – I thought you were done talking). I usually don’t listen to warnings. And I NEVER read instructions (until AFTER I can’t get some stupid thing to work right).

So how can I be watchful? Am I hopeless? Maybe not.

Capture

I can pay better attention to those around me. I can SLOW DOWN and listen (really listen) to someone who needs to be heard. I can stop putting myself first – give a little more; take a little less. I can open my eyes to the heartache, suffering, injustice and cruelty in my world, neighborhood, and family. Conversely, I can see the goodness in others; look for joy in simple things; cherish blessings of peace and love in my midst. I can make myself available to those in need. I can allow myself to be vulnerable and acknowledge that I am also needy.

Basically, I could just stop being such an asshole.

Of course I know that this is not a beautiful, sacred image of preparing myself for Jesus’ coming at Christmas. In Advent we look at the coming of Christ in three distinct ways: His coming as an infant; His coming in our lives today; His final coming. I need help with the coming in my life today part. I can’t really embrace Jesus if I can’t embrace my fellow humans. And I can’t exactly blame the folks who aren’t standing in line to embrace me. So being watchful this Advent Season will require that I look in the mirror a time or two. And that I thank God for the patience of others.

Peace,

Denis

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” Mark 13:36-37

Thankful on Thanksgiving and Beyond

Gratitude anchors us to the present moment. What I’m thankful for today may not be what I was thankful for yesterday or what I may be thankful for tomorrow. Still for me, thankfulness requires that I slow down and think about my blessings.

thankfulRecently my spirituality group was encouraged to list our blessings and to reflect on what matters most to us and what matters least. I was the only one who didn’t mention God. Not that I don’t think that God is important, I just didn’t single him (her) out. Instead I chose to list experiences for which I was and am and will always be thankful.

In retrospect, I see God in each of these experiences. That’s kind of how God and I operate. We tend to sneak up on one another. I’m not a “God is my co-pilot” kind of guy. I’m more of a “Hey God, you still out there?” “Remember me?” kind of guy.

Because I have been blessed with being accepted as part of a group of prayerful and spiritual believers, I was given the opportunity to acknowledge my blessings and was reminded once again to be eternally grateful for this life of mine. My friends cover me with their faith when my doubt is hanging out!

So here’s my list:

  • Our wedding day – As the sunlight pouring through the windows framed Deb as she walked down the aisle.
  • The birth of our son Tyson – and realizing how startlingly he looked like me.
  • The birth of our daughter Bess – when I said to Deb, “A girl!” “What’d we do now?” And the nurse chided me because she thought I didn’t want a daughter. I was thrilled, I just wasn’t prepared for a daughter. Everyone (including the doctor) had said it was another boy.
  • The birth of our son Blake – How the young nurse assumed that Blake was our first child because in her words, “You seem so happy!” And of course, we were! 
  • On Bess’ wedding day when she squeezed my arm and said, “Thanks Dad for everything, I feel like a princess today.”
  • The time that we toured Westminster Abbey for hours with our 3-year-old granddaughter Charlise, with all its beauty and amazing history, while she sat contentedly in her stroller and then as we left and we crossed the River Thames and she pointed excitedly and said “water”. That moment was pure unadulterated joy!
  • Conversations with my Uncle Ted (Deb’s uncle actually) and always hearing him say just before we hung up “Love you Bud!” I miss him every day.
  • Grandson Noah’s birth – While looking through the nursery window with Travis and 2-year-old Anna as an old man in a wheelchair approached and asked Anna if that was her brother. He asked her “Do you think I could get a baby brother?” She said, “Yes, but not this one!” She claimed him from day one.
  • Living in England for a year and feeling like at any moment someone might come up to us and call us out as frauds or impostors because we were just a couple of small town Midwesterners making it up as we went along.
  • Being with my Aunt Gene near her death. Watching as a sense of peacefulness came over her. I will never forget the gentleness and love given her by her nurse. It took the fear of death away.
  • Being kissed goodnight and told I’m loved every single day.

So God has been there all along in each of these moments and countless many more. This Thanksgiving I am thankful. I was thankful before and will be thankful again. And again.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

It’s A Rainy Day

“Save it for a rainy day”. We’ve all heard the expression. To put something aside to use in time of need or adversity. The maxim has been around since the 1500’s, when it was put as follows: ‘Wold he haue me kepe nothing against a raynye day?’ from “The Dictionary of Cliches” by James Rogers.

Today is a rainy day. And for me it’s time to let go of some of what I’ve been putting aside.

Another shooting. Another 26 lives lost. This time in a Baptist Church in a small town in Texas. The list of mass shootings in our country is exhaustive. The terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan which killed eight people was just last week. Our government is in a quagmire of allegations of corruption and misdeeds and deceit. Indictments will no doubt continue as this current administration appears to unravel. The Democratic National Committee is embroiled in its own alleged wrongdoings. Sexual harassment scandals have rocked the entertainment industry. Political parties are polarized and racial tensions seem at an all-time high. Natural disasters have taken immeasurable tolls in terms of lives and property in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Texas, California and Mexico.

Today is a rainy day. And I suppose that I have indeed been putting things away for this rainy day: Kindness. Caring. Generosity. Thoughtfulness. Humility. Love.

rainy dayI’ve been hording all the goodness in my life. Keeping it all to myself. Honestly I feel privileged because, in all this chaos, I have more happiness in my life than most others. I suppose I have been selfish. While grateful for my blessings, I often dismiss them as just a part of my good life. I sometimes forget how much I have been given. How truly blessed I am. I have a spouse that loves me and stands beside me through thick and thin. I have children and grandchildren who fill my heart with love beyond measure. And I have friends who walk this journey with me every day and carry me when I can’t go on.

My life is far from perfect but it is much more than I deserve.

I won’t bury my head in the sand and pretend that the world is not a dangerous place. But instead of griping about the latest political scandal or wringing my hands over my feeling of helplessness while so many suffer, I will try to remain positive. I will pray for those in need. I will lend a hand when and where I can.

I will be thankful, thoughtful, and kind. Because today is a rainy day and we all could use a little sunshine.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

Laffy Taffy

Kids are inherently selfish. It doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them kids. When you’re small, your world is small. And what you have is yours – your toy, your bike, your candy. Often sharing is mandated. Children will be admonished to “share with your brother” or “share with your sister”. Usually the little miscreant will oblige but not always cheerfully. As parents, we try to remind our youngsters that sharing is ‘the right thing to do’.

But in a world full of selfish and self-centered adults, teaching kids to share seems a daunting task. ‘ME FIRST’ is the mantra of so many in our society that giving or sharing seems to be an antiquated idea. After all, how can I get ahead if I’m busy taking care of someone else? Why should I sacrifice any of my time, talent, or treasure to someone who hasn’t worked as hard as I have to achieve it?

In the United States the idea of the self-made man is iconic. Pulling one up by his (or her) own bootstraps is almost heroic. It is the quintessential American figure. But is any of us really able to do everything alone? Has no one else ever helped even the most successful (depending on what your definition of success might be) among us? I doubt it.

We all need one another. We all need to be helped from time to time. And we need to help others in return. Sharing is giving. Giving is helping.  So young parents, please keep reminding your kiddos. Make him share. Teach her to give. Model that same behavior.

laffy taffyI am encouraged because after school one day recently, my (almost) seven year-old grandson gave my wife a piece of Banana Laffy Taffy®.

Let me explain: In first grade if you’ve had a good week at school the teacher allows you to pick something from the candy jar. Noah loves candy but he also knows that his Nana loves Banana Laffy Taffy®.

So when it came time to choose, he chose unselfishly. He chose something for someone else. He ran excitedly up to her to present his treasure. He earned it. He deserved it. But he gave it up with love. And with tears brimming in her eyes she accepted his kindness.

I hope and pray that his small gesture is just the beginning of lifetime of sharing and giving to others. What an example he has given us. I remain humbled.

Peace,

Denis

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

 

 

 

Sweating the Small Stuff

How many times in my life have I heard someone say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” Usually it’s meant to comfort me when I feel anxious about something that appears to be trivial to another or offered as an excuse or permission to fail to meet some expectation not shared by the person offering the solace. And there are scores of books written about not sweating the small stuff. You can purchase wall plaques, pendants, caps, key fobs, T-shirts, etc., all emblazoned with the phrase.

There seems to be a universal assumption that little things don’t matter. That unless something has monetary or political or social significance, it is not worthy of our time. But I think that little things do matter. So I will continue to sweat the small stuff.Little things

After all, if the best things in life come in small packages then why not give them their proper attention and respect? The idiom, “The devil is in the details” implies that there is something hidden in the details; something that might seem simple at a first but will reveal itself to be more than expected.

I prefer the phrase “God is in the details”. The little things. Watching glimmering snowflakes cascading down from the sky. Taking a walk on a crisp fall day. The sweet smell of a summer rain. That first cup of coffee in the morning. A favorite book. Resting under a shady tree. Hearing a child’s laughter. Receiving a friendly smile. Or a soft touch. Or a kind word. Simple things perhaps but hidden inside each of these is comfort, joy and love. And I believe God is there, too.

So I’m sweating the small stuff. I will take the time to appreciate the details. I will hold the door for you. I will carry your load if you let me. I will set the table properly. I will use good penmanship. I will clean my house and mow my lawn. I will drive courteously. I will try to be a good citizen; a good neighbor; a good friend. I will say thank you and please and you’re welcome.

But more importantly I will say I love you. And I will say it again. And again. I want the gifts that I give to be wrapped literally and figuratively in all the beauty that I can muster. The gifts that I have to share may not be significant or of any financial value. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, my gifts are all just small stuff. But I will sweat them out. Anything less would have no meaning…

Peace,

Denis

 

Let Freedom Ring

I love my country. I’m proud to be an American. Other countries are wonderful and my life has been enriched by having visited many of them, but they are not home. Home for me is Midwestern, friendly, small town, hard-working, fun-loving, flag-waving, hand-holding, good-timing folks who care about their neighbors, love their families, and lend a hand to those in need. We pray for one another. We celebrate our joys and share our sorrows.

Yesterday in the United States we celebrated Independence Day. And so our great nation celebrated another birthday. That’s right! Our country is great. It has ALWAYS been great. It doesn’t need to be made “Great Again”. Once great; always great! Even with a Commander-in-Chief who seems to possess the intellectual maturity of a six year-old, we remain a great nation. I’m sorry. That statement is actually an insult to most of the six year-olds that I know. We need not define ourselves as a nation by the lowest common denominator. Trump and many of his key policies are very unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. However, America still wins praise from other nations for its people, culture and civil liberties. Therein lies our greatness.

Independence Day paradeI am a patriot. But sadly I’m afraid that patriotism has come to represent a pretty narrow political view by some. I don’t believe that God should bless America anymore than God should and does bless all nations. And yet I remain a patriot. To me this is the beauty of being an American. We are a pluralistic nation. We are richly diverse. We can disagree with one another. We can openly oppose the political views of elected officials and vote them out of office. We can peacefully assemble. We can protest. We have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of information.

So I even though I am a progressive and an avid supporter of civil rights and equality for all Americans I remain a patriot. I’ll keep waving my flag and honoring our great nation’s founders whose vision of liberty and justice for all remains with us today. And I will respect and embrace your unalienable right to think that I am completely wrong.

Because this is what we do in The Land of Liberty.

Peace,

Denis