Monthly Archives: November 2010

A Christmas Poem

This is a busy time of year for churches and for clergy—often an unexpectedly heavy time as well. In light of that, we’ll be keeping it light here at the Blue Room for the next few weeks.

Here’s something I wrote for Caroline for Christmas a few years back. Every single one of my kids is or was afraid of Santa Claus. One thing that the previous church I served does well is connect Santa with the story of Saint Nicholas, which is a religious story. This poem grows out of all of that.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The family was sleeping, the daddies and mamas,
And three little children in footy pajamas.
Caroline was the older of the two little girls,
She was dreaming of MaDear and cute flying squirrels.*

She woke up at twelve, and said, yawning, “I think
I’d better get up and get something to drink.”
She crept down the hall, turned on the night light,
Heard noises downstairs and thought “Something’s not right.”

The sound was a tinkling of bells and a boot
So she tiptoed downstairs in careful pursuit,
Her first clue was there on the table she passed:
A small empty plate and an empty milk glass!

And that’s when she saw him, right there in the room
Though it was quite hard to see in the darkness and gloom.
He turned and smiled brightly, and that’s when she froze:
Too frightened to move, from her head to her toes.

“Well hello,” Santa smiled, “my sweet Caroline,
Are you enjoying Christmas? Having a good time?”
But Caroline just stared. She couldn’t quite speak—
She tried to respond but her voice just went “Squeak!”

Then she cleared her throat, coughed, and tried speaking once more,
“You scare me,” she whispered, her eyes toward the floor.
He nodded and sighed, stroked his beard with his hand,
And said, “Don’t you worry; I quite understand.

“Just look at me! Why, with this beard long and hairy
And giant red suit, well I’m sure I look scary.
But listen, there’s something I need you to hear:
I work for somebody who loves you, my dear!

“I work for Jesus, sharing God’s peace
I give so the spirit of Christmas will increase!
For seventeen centuries I’ve been spreading joy
To kids through the ages, to girls and to boys.

“Before there were airplanes, or light bulbs, shampoo,
Before there were bicycles, cupcakes, or YOU!
I’ve been hard at work, heeding Christ’s call
To do what I can to spread goodness to all.

“But that’s it!” said St. Nick. “I’ve scared my last kid!
I’m ditching this suit. Of this beard I’ll be rid!”
And he marched to the bathroom and shaved off that beard,
And changed his clothes also, and then reappeared.

In a T-shirt and blue jeans he looked pretty plain
Just like any old guy you might meet down the lane.
And Caroline thought, “There’s no reason for fright;
I guess that this Santa guy must be all right!”

Then Santa Claus said with a smile, “Here’s a thought!
Will you help me this evening? I still have a lot
Of people to help, of kids to make smile,
I’d sure like your company with me a while.”

And Caroline said “Sure!” and slipped on some shoes,
And zipped with St. Nick up the fireplace flue.
Nestled down in the sleigh with a quilt on her lap
With the reindeers in charge they took off in a snap!

They rose o’er the trees, to a sparkling sky
And a view of the world that delighted her eye:
Just look at this beautiful, wonderful earth
Just waiting to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

They spent the whole evening delivering toys
Making sure to give things that each person enjoys.
But they didn’t stop there, they gave help to the poor
(The very best part of their long midnight tour.)

At the end of the night, Santa brought her back down
To her house in the midst of the just-waking town,
And she gave him a hug and said “God bless St. Nick,
Who gives help to the needy and lonely and sick.”

Her family found her asleep in the den,
And she said, “I helped Santa! I’d do it again!
We all should love others, give comfort and aid;
It’s what God really wants for this world that God made!”

Then Caroline thought, “Was it all just a dream?
Maybe it was… but how real it did seem!”
The parents, they doubt her, the family disputes,
‘Til they see in the corner: a pair of black boots.

* an inside joke

Sometimes It Just Comes to You

One of my father’s favorite expressions was “nature abhors a vacuum.” Apparently this comes from Aristotle, and I am not scientifically literate enough to know whether that categorical statement is still correct. But it’s a useful idea spiritually, that things often come to us more effortlessly if we create space for them. Or perhaps the corollary is more helpful for me: that when I fill my life up with too much activity, too much distraction, too much stuff, then there is no space to receive the unexpected gift, the bit of grace, or even the opportunity to serve.

I was reminded of my dad’s expression last year when my brother quit his job without another one lined up. That’s a risky thing to do in any economy, and sensible people will say you should look while you’re still drawing a paycheck. But in Luke’s case, it worked—the empty space that was created by his resigning was filled up, and quite quickly, by another great opportunity.

Would that have happened anyway if he’d looked before he resigned? Sure, perhaps—but that empty space gave him a sense of urgency and, I would say, a MacGyver-ish creativity to use everything he had to fashion a new career opportunity for himself. Don’t we all know people who do jobs they hate for months and years, all the while dreaming of something else? Don’t you wonder what would happen if they just up and quit?

[Please note that I am not giving employment advice.]

Some time ago I read a book about simplicity and getting by with less. The author suggested that when you find yourself in need of something, to wait and see if it might come to you another way before going out and buying it. The person even suggested telling folks, “Hey, I’m really in need of this—do you have one to spare, or do you have any ideas?”

Something about the way the author presented this smacked of begging, so I dismissed it at the time. On the other hand, if it’s done in the right way, why not put a need out there in the universe and see what happens?

Several times in the last three weeks, something I needed or wanted has come to me without my having to go out and buy it. In no case did I ask someone for the item, but in every case, I made a decision to wait before buying it… just to see. Just to open up some space for… who knows?

One of them was small. After our trip to NYC we really needed some groceries, but I was procrastinating, mainly because I hate shopping, but also to see how far we could get on freezer and pantry miscellany. Two days later a friend gave me two quarts of fresh berries that were being thrown out by the high-end chocolate shop where her daughter works. The berries were no longer pristine but still perfectly good. They lasted for several meals.

I have wanted some additional winter clothes for James, but I’ve been putting off buying any, because again, I hate shopping. While doing yet another quick load of laundry so he’d have long pants to wear the next day I thought, “I would love to be the recipient of someone’s hand-me-downs… but I have no idea who to ask.”

Several days later my friend L offered to give us her son’s clothes after he outgrows them. I’ve gotten several bags full so far, and she’s thrilled to have a destination for this stuff.

The third happened just this morning. Both girls want American Girl dolls, and that’s just not something we’re going to do. But thanks to a Facebook post about gift ideas for eight year olds, we have not one, but two hand-me-down AG dolls coming our way for Christmas. Compliments of a friend and her college-age daughter.

As I ponder Thanksgiving and gratitude, this is what I am thinking about. Gratitude is about appreciating what one has, but maybe it’s also about trusting that things can come unexpectedly from others, not just our own resources, time, and money.

I wonder what needs or desires you have that you could put out into the world… just to see what happens. Or how this idea has worked for you.

Follow-Up: But What I *Really* Wanted to Say…

Yesterday’s post about gifts wasn’t really at the crux of it, but it’s the stuff I needed to think about in order to get to the crux.

Two things:

1. Most everyone loves giving the right gift to someone. The whole process is very satisfying—the inspiration of the idea, choosing the gift, anticipating the person’s reaction, watching him or her receive it. I have had these experiences and they are wonderful. And only the most curmudgeonly person would say that we should forgo that experience to remain somehow pure in this overconsumptive, acquisitive world we live in.

But what do you do when you don’t have the right gift? That’s really the heart of the matter. Do you just buy whatever? Do you get a gift card? Do you write a beautiful letter? Do you make a thoughtful donation in the person’s honor? That place—when inspiration doesn’t come—is when the calculations start to figure in—dollar amounts and expectations and appearances. And that to me is the place of discernment, the interesting spiritual place of self-awareness.

2. Evidence suggests that experiences make us happier than stuff does. Spending money on the trip of a lifetime brings more satisfaction than an extravagant purchase, because our estimation of the value of the experience goes up over time while our assessment of the worth of the object goes down.

There are many reasons for this, but I have to think that gifts we receive have a similar effect over time as do purchases we make ourselves. Would you agree? And if so, how does that impact what kind of gifts we give? I certainly want to give people things that will have the most impact.

Advent Conspiracy, Week One

Yesterday our church began a four-week study of the book and DVD Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? It was a good discussion with a lot of back and forth. The ideas in the study aren’t new—the DVD is your basic “put Christ back in Christmas” message, this time with hipper graphics and more goatees.

It’s a good study, and a powerful message—one we need to hear again and again. It is so easy to get sucked in. I don’t have the numbers on hand in terms of how much debt people take on as a result of Christmas, but it’s sizable. However, as I’ve written before, this is not an easy issue. Receiving gifts is pleasurable. Giving gifts is too. And some people’s jobs depend on us buying stuff. (One person heard an “it’s evil to be wealthy” message in the study, which I did not hear, but studies on this topic often sacrifice nuance to make their point.)

Side note: I had to chuckle—the topic was “worship fully” and the DVD talked about the shepherds, who were the underclass of the society, and yet they were the first to receive the message. And they went immediately to Bethlehem to check out the story and worship the child. Several dear folks wanted to know what happened to the sheep these shepherds left behind. That wasn’t very responsible of those shepherds!

Someone suggested that perhaps one of the shepherds stayed behind so the others could go to “worship Christ the newborn king,” and if that’s true, that person was definitely a Presbyterian.

Anyway.

For me this Christmas stuff is all about intentionality. (It always is.) This morning I am making our gift list. Once again I am thinking about the Five Love Languages and how this holiday is set up for a default love language—giving and receiving gifts—and not for the others. To what extent can one buck that?

We received an Uncommon Goods catalog yesterday, and the kids and I oohed and aahed over each page. There are some lovely things in there. But that catalog represents everything I struggle with during this season. Lots of beautiful, intriguing, but not-needful things. Don’t get me wrong, not every gift needs to have a utilitarian purpose. But that catalog fits well into the niche of Yet More Stuff for the Person Who Already Has Everything. (See also: Signals and Wireless) I am reminded of a friend who has an aversion to getting stuff she has to dust…

I am also thinking about the people who will give us gifts unexpectedly. Can I receive them without feeling guilt at not reciprocating? Can I assume that they have given to us because they genuinely want to? Or if they haven’t—if they are giving out of obligation or expectations of something in return—then can I just let that be their issue and not mine?

And am I about 10 minutes away from overthinking this? (Don’t answer that—what would blogging be without overthinking?)

Image: Season’s Greetings “Postcarden” from UncommonGoods.

A Poem for iPhone Users in Cold Weather

I wrote this two winters ago… was reminded of it again this morning when it was chilly enough to put on gloves:

I was curled up by the Christmas tree with Oprah’s magazine
When there among her Favorite Stuff was a thing I’d never seen.
A pair of gloves for iPhone users—featuring a dot
Of rubber on the index finger… I cried, “They must be bought!”

But in my haste I threw that ‘zine on the recycle pile
And when I went to find those gloves, it took me quite a while.
I never did locate the things, despite some time with Google,
I searched and searched, and then gave up on that whole sad bon-doogle.

Until last night, when running errands, driving in the cold
I slipped my gloves on and discovered a gigantic hole.
I stared down at my pasty thumb, its wiggliness poked through,
And thought, “Aha! I’ve finally got my iPhone gloves! Woo-hoo!”

———

I also received some knit gloves last year from Mom that are kinda like this.