When The Elephant In The Room Is Laughing

With all the different parties happening this time of year, one of my favorites includes those where white elephant gifts are exchanged. That delightful time when you can hunt through your home for those wonderful treasures you hated to pitch but would thoroughly enjoy gifting as a joke.

The term “white elephant” has morphed in meaning over the years. It began as a costly burden that hadn’t met up to expectations. Something perceived to be more than it was. The term has since been used to recognize profit from the thinking that one man’s trash could actually be another’s treasure. What’s outdated and under-performing to one person could be exactly what someone else is looking for.

It’s a light-hearted way to share in gift-giving without feeling the pressure of meeting someone’s high expectations of a present nor the strain of spending more than I feel comfortable doing.

Seventy of us participated in this exchange. We saw everything from mugs filled with chocolates to Las Vegas coasters to funky salt and pepper shakers. We drew numbers to determine order, and then, one by one, we’d grab a gift from the middle and open it. Unless we’d seen something someone else had chosen that we wanted. We had the option of stealing something they had instead of taking the risk of opening a new gift.

The laughter was contagious. Watching the expressions on people’s faces was priceless. What was surprising was what some valued and others tried to steal.

The lighthearted teasing and and lack of competition was refreshing, especially for those who’d never participated in anything like this before. We have quite a few countries represented with our group who’ve never experienced this.

People often like to give and get gifts. Retailers, commercials, billboards make me feel that if I’m not giving the big ticket items, the longed-for dream items on the wish list, I’ve failed in my gifting. Thats a stress booster.

In the simple sharing of fun gifts, relationships become the focal point. People enjoyed one another without having to prove themselves through what they gave.

Gifts aren’t always appreciated. I work hard at buying the absolute right thing only to sometimes realize when it’s received, I missed the mark.

Giving gifts isn’t easy.

Jesus knew that. He came offering Himself as the greatest gift we could ever receive–grace we can never deserve to free us from the harsh penalty for all the wrongs we’ve committed. He offers to pay the price we can’t. An incredible gift of love and forgiveness.

There’ve been times when I’ve looked at that gift and have thought it too simple. There must be something else I should do to at least show I deserve such a gift.

That’s just it. What Jesus gives is a pure gift. No strings attached. I just need to choose to receive it.

Some of our folks gave away their white elephant gift rather than take it home. Others traded. Still others will regift.

What Jesus offers is something I want to keep. My treasure.

That’s nothing to laugh at.

 

The Harmony Of Community

So many great activities. So little time.

Because of serious FOMO issues, I hate missing out on anything fun. But at a time of year when there are more gatherings and fun folks to be with, choosing what I attend or participate in is necessary.

John and I chose to attend a concert Friday night in which a dear friend was singing. We skipped a big-time party to do it–and I was grateful we did.

Central Florida Community Arts brought together 300 folks from all walks of life to make a choir. Another hundred joined for an orchestra of volunteers. The idea of working together for the single purpose of encouraging the local community with the sounds of the season was something that had to be heard to be appreciated.

It appealed to all people. A mix of sacred and secular music, with outstanding soloists, it was a chance to sit back and listen. To enjoy the efforts of a group of people volunteering their time to make something happen.

A group of friends gathered to support Holly. To cheer her as she added her voice to the harmony.

A community of encouragement.

I was pleasantly surprised at the commitment this took for people to participate. Every Monday night for most of the fall the choir has come together to practice a huge list of songs. Taking time from already busy schedules to enjoy a musical camaraderie that was way bigger than any single person.

I, on the other hand, have been running around with my laser focus on what I need to get done. Preparations and plans that need to be completed. The must-happens of my life that grow my to-do list like a teenager who’s hit their growth spurt.

I’m a rather independent soul, so asking for help doesn’t always come to mind. Besides, trying to explain what I need to get done takes longer than doing it myself.

Yet this is the time of year when coming together is expected. When we gather for the sake of enjoying one another’s company and working for common goals. When we pause to remember we’re not the only ones on this planet.

When Jesus came on that night so long ago, His arrival was heralded by angels who told a group of shepherds that they were bringing them news of great joy which would be for all people. Not just a chosen few. The Savior, the Messiah that had been promised so very long ago, had been born. His coming would be the hope for all who would receive His gift of grace and mercy.

Jesus came to build community. To bring people together, from every nation, tribe and tongue, to experience life in Him. No one would be excluded, unless they chose that. We determine if we want to belong.

Community is such a precious commodity. It takes differences and blends them together to create an even richer group of people and ideas. It celebrates uniqueness and unity with a sense of hope.

That’s the great joy for all people. Jesus came to allow us to live well in community.

That’s worth singing about.

 

 

 

Cheesy Is In The Eyes Of The Beholder

photo from Pigoff Photography on unsplash

There are times in life when I enjoy something really cheesy.

Nothing to do with dairy, mind you. That creates issues people don’t want to be around. Big time.

I’m talking about cheesy movies, stories that turn out exactly the way you think they should. Good wins the day. True love finds its way. Romance, good feelings and all of that.

I love the Hallmark Channel at Christmas. It has made an art form of cheesy movies.

These stories are predictable.

I get that. It’s what makes them so positive. It’s always a winter wonderland setting, like a beautiful Christmas card. Somewhere along the way, two people meet and fall in love. A problem appears that challenges a person, family or an entire town. And it all gets resolved in under two hours.

photo from Andrea Reggiana on unsplash

What’s not to love?

The problems are serious. A death that happens before the story begins. Relationships that have cratered. Loss and pain. Loneliness and heartache. Real world problems.

There’s always a way for the problems to be worked out. Many have a sense of redemption and resolution.

photo from Chris Dinoto on unsplash

Sounds like I’m binge watching. Not so much. I put them on when I’m alone in the house working. Background noise and all. I only have to look up every now and again to catch the gist of the story. I always watch the last fifteen minutes because that’s when the feel-good ending happens. And being an empathetic person, there are sometimes tears. Always grins. (Heck, I cry at our local grocery store commercials because of their family-oriented ads.)

The harshness of our world can overwhelm. More people killed senselessly. Wars raging. Natural disasters. Famine and refugees with no home. The suicide rate increasing during this time of year. We live in a messy world where people aren’t always thinking kindly of others.

Even in this time of celebration, where Christmas moves people to care a little more, many folks are in a dither about planning and preparations. Simple pleasures, simple joys, often escape us because we’re so busy doing we miss seeing and experiencing.

The first Christmas was a simple affair. The wise men with gifts didn’t show up till later. A few shepherds, who smelled of sheep and dirt with no time for baths. A stable where animals were sheltered that wasn’t clean or tidy. Two people weary from a long journey.

Yet this was the Promise that God had made from the beginning of time. A Savior who would pay the penalty for all our imperfections and misses. Born in obscurity to a people group hated then and not appreciated much now. As a Jew, He would know what discrimination and rejection was all about.

Some may call this cheesy. Or a crutch. Or ignore the reality of the birth of Jesus altogether.

Just because some people deny it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know our happy ending was real? That heaven was a guarantee?

With Jesus, it is.

Nothing cheesy about that.

 

 

 

ICE Is Nice–But It’s Oh So Cold!

Living in warmer climes, it’s easy to forget how cold winter can be. Choosing to pay to go somewhere really cold might seem a crazy to those living in consistently freezing temperatures.

Our small group decided to enjoy a little of what we don’t have by visiting ICE! at Gaylord Palms Hotel here in Orlando. An indoor winter wonderland with over two million pounds of ice sculpted to reflect Christmas around the world.

I do well in heat and humidity. I’ve lived in Florida for a good chunk of my life. Making a choice to get cold came with knowing it’s not my thing.

When we entered the exhibit, I was awed by the craftsmanship of these ice sculptures. No frozen wedding swans here. These were intricate sculptures of people and things with brilliant color. I wanted to touch them to make sure it was frozen water.

These beautiful pieces are handcrafted by artisans from Harbin, China. Halfway around the world, where it’s ridiculously cold for half the year, these sculptors have been creating ice villages and displays for years to the delight of the many who come to see them.

It was nine degrees in there. That’s colder than my freezer. I wouldn’t walk around in my freezer.

Thirteen of us bundled up in the heavy blue coats provided for us (we looked like a group of Smurfs) and began our journey into the frozen fantasy.

With the world as a backdrop, there were displays of individuals dressed in their native garb with explanations of Christmas traditions from different locales. Christmas scenes, ornaments, animals all sculpted from ice and painted brilliant colors.

It was spectacular.

We were even able to go sliding using the slick covering of our coats as impromptu sleds. Made me feel like a kid again. 

Sliding and wandering–we were in there less than 45 minutes.

We might have tarried more than many, but sustaining that much cold for long periods is uncomfortable. I couldn’t feel my nose or hands when I got to the other side.

Such is the reality of experiences. They’re temporary.

As much as we anticipate Christmas, preparing for the big day, buying and baking and wrapping and partying, this, too, will pass. We’ll come to January, when everyone feels the after-Christmas slump, and look back to wonder how it went by so quickly.

I’ve spent too much time living from one experience to another. The hype of anticipation, the momentary thrill of the experience, the letdown of normal life and expectations.

The flip is having a Christmas experience every day. After awhile, it loses it’s value, and I’d need something more to excite me. More and new to anticipate.

Truth is I need to find contentment in what is true about my life, no matter my circumstances. No matter the highs or the lows, something that remains the same.

Jesus.

His presence, promises of hope, power to experience Him in the details of the good and bad is what I need. Not a temporary high. A permanent satisfaction.

Not seasonal. He won’t melt.

That’s worth anticipating.

And So It Begins

photo from Charlotte Coneybeer at unsplash

For all of who’ve been hiding under a rock–as I must have been doing–December 1 is tomorrow.

Less than four weeks till Christmas, and I’m being sucked into the vortex of hustle and bustle. Not by choice. But I feel it in my bones. I hear the whispers of “Get going. You’re not doing enough now. Get baking. Get buying. Get decorating.”

Get is a life.

We’ve been trying to finish decorating the tree for six days. Hopefully it will be by Christmas. That doesn’t bother me.

I’ve not begun buying gifts for anyone–no cyber deals, no Black Friday deals, no pre-buying because I knew what anyone wanted. That doesn’t bother me.

Baking? Not even a blip on the radar of my mind. That doesn’t bother me.

The homemade gifts I always expect to make each year because someone else did or I made the mistake of gazing at Pinterest for more than fifteen seconds? Nope. That doesn’t bother me.

Christmas cards may be finished sometime before the end of the year. That doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is the pressure I’m feeling to begin. To do something. To want to do something.

I’m in denial.

Don’t know how that’s possible. You can’t leave your home without reminders of the season. If your TV is on, every commercial is what you should buy for those you love.

Everyone knows better than I what I should be doing now. My inbox is full of ideas and recipes and gift possibilities I should consider. I see folks around me who’ve done their decorating and gift buying and already have their presents wrapped. Their organizational skills have given them bandwidth to schedule all the things they need to do.

Christmas is a reminder that I’m not a detail person. That I’ve operated too much of my life on the fly. Yes, I’m adaptable–and that has wonderful pluses that allows me to go with the flow. Planning? Not so much.

And then I hear the other whispers–no, I’m not nuts. These whispers remind me that none of this is what Christmas is really about. Not the hoopla or the presents. Not the decorations, cookies, parties or lights.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Hope. Hope that came in the form of a Baby. A Baby who’d grow to be the Savior.

Many would rather not think about this reason for celebration. They’d rather do away with any spiritual aspects of this holiday and make it a retail bonanza. Period. Many would rather not admit they need help. That they aren’t content with their lives, that they lack hope for tomorrow. No matter how much they have or don’t have.

Life is more than stuff and parties. Contentment is that wonder that comes from knowing I’m fully known, loved, and forgiven by the God who made me. Having an assurance that this life isn’t all there is. Heaven waits.

These other things? There’s a lot of fun in giving and decorating. Parties are enjoyable and gatherings are important to connect people.

What do I need?

I need Jesus.

Way more satisfying than a Christmas cookie.