Monday, November 22, 2010

Reasons for Seasons

The food pantry patrons filed into the church sanctuary and settled into chairs to wait for their turn to shop the shelves in the basement below. As their initial greetings and early morning conversations died down, the music coming from the small radio in the corner was finally audible. Soon it was lost again in the loud protests coming from the workers and the waiting alike.

Christmas music? Really?” Most of us agreed it seemed out of place to hear carols on the day before children dress as ghosts and goblins and grab candy from outstretched hands.

I understand the motive behind the retail industry’s desire to jump into the each holiday merchandising program months before the season itself actually arrives. But in many of us there’s something that cringes at the sight of Christmas displays on shelves that seemed to hold school supplies just a day or two earlier! And I still recall the horror of walking into a store on New Year’s Day only to find Cadbury Easter Eggs for sale by the registers! I hadn’t yet watched the Super Bowl, received a Valentine, or dressed in green on March seventeenth, and yet the Easter bunny was already hopping in my direction! And on the particular fall day described above I felt sure I wasn’t going to get a minute to enjoy my pumpkin pie before being passed a plate of fruitcake!

I’m not a grinch. Born on December 25th, I’m a lover of all things Christmas. You might think it’s because I associate the yuletide season with aging that I’m not in a hurry to rush into the holidays each year. But I think there’s more to it than that.

Despite what we do with our holiday celebrations, we can’t rush the physical seasons of the year. Flowers and shrubs bloom in sequence as we flip the calendar pages, and all the wishing in the world won’t change the order of their appearance or speed the opening of their petals. Perhaps God planned it that way to teach us to drink every drop from the cup of the current season, be it bitter or sweet, before tasting what the next has to offer. Some stages of life are so enjoyable that we are reluctant to leave them, but perhaps it’s the boundaries on either end of them that make them precious, the knowledge that change is inevitable and our todays have to be embraced before they’re swallowed by our tomorrows and lost to us except in our memories. And yet it’s those same boundaries that make difficult days bearable, the knowledge that there will be an end to them as we pass through a particularly dark period into brighter days soon to come.

In the instant gratification of today’s society we have lost something valuable – the wonder of waiting. Due to technological advancements and the fast pace of life today we are intolerant of delay of any type, be it on the highway, the internet, the news, or the speed at which our food is prepared. Yet even fast food comes at a price that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. There’s something to be said for a meal prepared in a slow cooker that fills the house with its aroma and the family with anticipation as it simmers slowly away throughout the day.

Similarly, part of the joy of every holiday is the waiting period for it beforehand, remembering the fun of seasons past as we look ahead with excitement to what lies ahead. In fact, the Advent season itself is a time of waiting and preparation for the arrival of the promised Christ child, not just physically in a manger in Bethlehem long ago, but born anew in our hearts today, as well.

A tour through the produce section of the local grocery store proves that we don’t even want to wait for our fruit to ripen! Due to advancements in science and the speed at which goods are transported today, items which used to be available in only certain months are now available year round, simply flown in from other hemispheres where foods ripen at different times of the year.

At first delighted, my enthusiasm soon waned. The grapefruit I ate with joy in December I was tired of by March and April. When lured by their brilliant orange color into buying Minneola tangelos for sale in summer that I usually expect to eat only in late winter, I found that they just didn’t taste the same. Something was missing. I found that I’d lost the anticipation of their arrival. The same thing happens with the holidays we celebrate, when we remove seasonal boundaries and try to enjoy them all at the same time.

So how do we get that anticipation back? Personally, I’m putting myself back on schedule, waiting to enjoy seasonal foods in the months they normally appear here as a reminder to put all the energy and enjoyment I can muster into my current season while I wait with excitement for the joy of whatever lies just ahead.

As for Christmas? Everybody celebrates the holidays in their own particular way, and that’s fine. But you can bet I’m going to set my Thanksgiving drumstick down before I invite the Little Drummer Boy to pick his up and begin to play.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Middle Matters

Acronyms abound in our high-speed society that has little time or patience for full word phrasing. Caught up as I am in the whirlwind pace of life in today’s world, I’ve succumbed to inventing several of my own to use when communicating with those I love. Thus most messages to my sons end with the four-letter “YMLY”, which stands for Your Mother Loves You and is a fitting end to anything I happen to say.

Lately I’ve noticed that this habit has caught on with other family members, and its use is continually expanding. Messages written on the white board in the kitchen now end with a series of capital letters that identify the author, and more attention is usually given to deciphering the code at the end of the note than is directed to the message itself. A recent posting to my son was written in handwriting that clearly belonged to my husband, Jim. But did the “YFPFF” sign-off at the end stand for Your Forgetful Parent Feels Foolish?… Yesterday’s Frisbee Players Fling Farther?… or maybe Young Freeloaders must Pay For Food? Wrong on all counts, it was eventually translated into Your Father Plays Fantasy Football…with a healthy “DUH!” at the end for emphasis. It’s simply become a game we play amongst ourselves to add a little laughter to the day.

But communication is not always a laughing matter, especially when the message comes from God. Suddenly it’s important that we get it right. God is the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last… and suddenly I remembered an email that circulated on the internet a few years ago that claimed that words with rearranged spelling were legible as long as the first and the last letters were in the correct position. It read as follows:

Aoccdrnig to rescheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by ilstef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

(Do you smell smoke? The spell-checker on this computer just went into overdrive!)

There are some who would suggest that the same is true of our spiritual experience in this world, that if we have a beginning with God somewhere in life (our salvation experience) and end our physical existence here on earth in a right relationship with Him, that the intervening years are of little importance in the grand scope of things. Yet I’m a firm believer that the middle of our spiritual lives matters to God.

It’s in those middle years that God speaks through us and our testimony is written on His behalf. Therefore we need to live our lives in those years in a way that leaves no doubt about God’s message of love, salvation, and His desire to walk with us hand in hand. How exactly that message is spelled out will vary with the individual, according to the gifts and talents each has been given, but it’s imperative that we don’t leave its meaning to chance or confuse those reading it with actions that inconsistent with the thoughts we are trying to convey. We don’t want people to have to guess at what God is trying to say.

It’s interesting that further analysis of the way we interpret misspelled words revealed that people had a more difficult time recognizing a word when letters were moved several positions out of place, instead of just one or two. Multi-syllable words were harder to read with misspellings than shorter ones and readers were slower to get the meaning of a sentence under these conditions.

Isn’t it interesting that the same can be said of us? The farther we move away from our spiritual center, the more difficult it is for others to read our message. Likewise we risk losing it altogether when we make it too complicated. The love of God is easiest to understand when simply expressed and underlined with a consistent lifestyle.

My messages to my kids always end with my signature sign-off, but it turns out that God’s messages to His could be signed in a 4-letter acronym, as well…simply “LOVE“.

It doesn’t get any easier to understand that that.

“For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,”

(1 John 3:11 NKJV)

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hudek
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