Tag Archives: Holidays

“Ten Bucks”

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)

About 20 years ago there was a television show called Ed. It was a rom-com series about a young man who moves back to the small town where he was raised after his life falls apart. He reconnects with old friends and tries to get his life back together. It was an endearing show and ran for four seasons.

There’s a running gag in the show in which Ed and his best friend Mike have an on-going series of dares that they compete to win “ten bucks.” These guys do the craziest things to win “ten bucks” from each other. I still can’t hear the term “ten bucks” without thinking of Ed and Mike (kind of like I can’t hear “two dollars” without thinking of the paperboy in Better Off Dead).

I never enter pools. It doesn’t matter if it’s March Madness or when the ice will melt off the local pond and dump the old clunker to a watery grave. I don’t have anything against pools and lottery type games. I think I’m just a pessimist at heart and assume I’m going to lose my money. I just never do it. It is, therefore, somewhat strange that before the holidays began I entered a simple pool at my local CrossFit box.  You put in $10 and weigh in. After New Year’s there is another weigh in and those who maintained or lost weight during the holidays get their $10 back and split the money of all those who gained weight.

It’s been interesting as we’ve journeyed through the holidays that I can’t get that “ten bucks” out of my head. At every meal, at every Christmas gathering, and when I’m reaching for that second piece of Wendy’s peanut butter chocolate chunk cheesecake I keep thinking about my “ten bucks” hanging out there in the balance.

Along my journey I’ve come to realize that a lot of individual life problems I see in myself and those all around me boil down to some type of appetite indulgence. We indulge our appetites for all sorts of things like power, control, greed, rest, food, sex, adrenaline, vanity, accomplishment, applause, “Likes,” and pleasure. We indulge these normal appetites for all sorts of insidious reasons and the results of our out-of-control indulgence are generally not healthy.

The holidays are a great excuse for most everyone to indulge our appetites. Enjoying good food, good drink, rest, and relaxation with family and friends is a good thing. At the same time, too much of a good thing easily becomes an unhealthy thing. There’s a reason why New Year’s resolutions come annually after five weeks of holiday indulgence.

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul continues to address a simmering conflict between two factions. Some on the legalistic killjoy end of the spectrum were against eating any meat that had been sacrificed at a pagan temple. Those on the open-minded, permissive end of the spectrum saw no issue with the practice. The latter were quick to say “I am free to eat whatever I want!

Paul’s response is a great example of choosing the “both, and” rather than the “either, or.” He makes the point that while everything may “permissible”  (i.e. a little holiday indulgence), not all things are “beneficial” (i.e. I gained so much weight I need to make a New Year’s resolution). In the case of the bickering factions in Corinth, Paul reminds them that the beneficial thing for the good of the community is to consider your friend’s conscience a higher priority than either my personal freedom or my personal convictions.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about my own appetites. I’m thinking about the holidays (still at least four gatherings to go), and I’m thinking about how a silly “ten bucks” has changed my thinking and behavior this holiday season. The question I’m asking myself this morning is: Is a friend’s conscience worth more to me than ten bucks?

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time
Once upon a time (Photo credit: steveczajka)

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
Psalm 107:2a (NIV)

This past Friday night a group of friends gathered at our house to read that latest draft of a play I wrote, which is entitled Ham Buns and Potato Salad. The play is slated to be produced by our local community theatre in April and I’ve been scrambling to make a couple of major revisions to the script. Friday night was an opportunity to hear the script, and my changes, read by other voices and to get a feel for what is working, and what is not.

The play is about the stories of a small group of people in a small Iowa town. It is rooted in my experiences of living for three years in a very small town along with bits and pieces of many real stories people have shared with me over the years. In particular, the play revolves around one young woman’s story, which she herself has refused to share with anyone in the town for over a decade. Her refusal to tell her story has become a legendary piece of town gossip and the source of endless speculation. The play deals with the unforeseen circumstances which bring the young woman to share her story and her secret.

I find it interesting that the psalmist didn’t write “Let the redeemed of the Lord:”

  • …tell others what to do.”
  • …make a lot of rules.”
  • …appear perfect.”
  • …act like they’ve got it all together.”
  • …hide their faults.”
  • …judge others.”

I love that the are encouraged to share our stories. We all have stories, and I love to hear other people’s stories. I find them fascinating. Once I have heard a person’s story I understand them better, appreciate them more, and have a greater capacity to love them. The world would be a better place if we all took the time to share and listen to one another’s stories. I love the fact that Jesus wrapped His teaching in stories, and I enjoy being a storyteller, which is why I wrote Ham Buns and Potato Salad.

This week we will all gather with family and friends to share meals, open gifts, worship, play games, and watch football. Today, I am challenging myself and all who read this blogpost to intentionally take the time to ask for, and listen to, another person’s story:

  • Grandma, how did you and grandpa meet? Tell me about falling in love with him.
  • Dad, what was your favorite toy when you were a kid?
  • Tell me mom, what was a typical Christmas when you were young?
  • Tell me, nephew, what is it you are passionate about?
  • What was the high point and low point of this past year for you?
  • What was the naughtiest thing you did as a kid?
  • How did you end up in your career? Are you glad? What did you want to do?
  • Nobody talks about Uncle Sid. What’s his story?
  • Where’s the most exotic place you’ve traveled? What was it like?
  • What is your biggest regret in life thus far?

Trust me, the holidays will be much more enjoyable if people share their stories.

What Really Matters

Crazy Family LR

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
Philippians 1:10 (NLT)

This Fourth of July holiday weekend was spent with a good number of our family members at the lake. As children grow and spread out on their own path, it becomes more and more rare for many of us to gather together. Even during high holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas our gatherings become more and more limited. We share a meal. We have an hour or two together before various members begin to scatter to their own personal schedules and priorities. Such is life.

So, Wendy and I headed to the lake last Wednesday recognizing the rare opportunity for family members to have three full days and four nights cloistered together. My parents, my sister, her husband and two of her three kids, our two daughters, our son-in-law, along with Wendy’s youngest sister enjoyed eating, playing, talking, resting, and laughing together. We celebrated Taylor’s 23rd birthday on the Fourth. We celebrated Scott and Jody’s 25th wedding anniversary. We celebrated life together.

On Saturday night the entire crew gathered around the dining room table to play a game of Quelf. It’s a little known game with no real objective other than to inspire and motivate corporate silliness. I have a great photograph of Wendy with tears of laughter streaking down her face as she attempted to quell her laughter long enough to read one of the game cards. Someone at the table remarked that what we were experiencing together that night would become family legend. Twenty years from now when we gather together for a meal with children and grandchildren out will come the stories of the Fourth of July weekend at the lake when Taylor and Clayton made masks out of paper plates, when Grandpa acted like a woman, and when Grandma introduced us to Wendy the sock puppet. Long forgotten will be the work deadlines that stressed me out so much over the past few weeks.

The further I progress in my life journey, the more capably I believe that I am able to discern and refine my understanding of what really matters. So much of that with which we concern our daily time and energy does not really matter in any significant, eternal sense. We rather become entangled and distracted. We pour time, energy and resources into those things which drain our lives without providing any worthwhile return on the investment.

Today, I am thinking about what matters, and what does not. God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the two and the grace to concern myself with the former as I increasingly divest myself of the latter.

Cravings and Appetites

Christmas GoodiesChapter-a-Day Genesis 3

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. Genesis 3:6 (NLT)

It is early January and we’re just coming out of the holiday season. The holidays are a time of feasting and I while I am happy to feast as much as the next bloke, I entered the holidays with a different mind set this year. Over the past year I’ve worked hard to drop a little weight and develop some healthy habits. One of the things that has changed for me in the past year is my appetite for food. Over time I’ve found contentment with much smaller portions and far fewer sweets.

Entering the Christmas and New Year’s holiday this year, I was mindful of how quickly the feasting could derail the good habits I’ve tried to establish. On top of Christmas and New Years we celebrate Wendy’s birthday (Dec 21) and our wedding anniversary (Dec 31). So along with all the Christmas gatherings with family and New Year’s parties with friends was the celebratory dinners out to celebrate Wendy and our wedding.

The food looks so delicious. The plates full of colorful cookies and handmade candies. The huge spreads of food at family gatherings. Look at all the goodies that you get only once or twice a year. Live a little. Have a little nibble. Take a little taste. It’s amazing how quickly the heart, mind and body can react to the cravings of our natural appetites. Once you start pushing the boundary markers, it’s hard to pull them back in.

According to God’s Message, it was our human appetites that got us into trouble in the first place and the human condition hasn’t changed. I talked about it a month or so ago in a message I gave. We are told that there are three core cravings. Our other appetites flow out of them.

  • Lust of the eyes (“She saw that the tree was beautiful…”)
  • Lust of the flesh (“…its fruit looked delicious…”)
  • Pride of life (“…she wanted the wisdom it would give her [to be like God].”)

In retrospect, I didn’t fall completely off the wagon during the holidays. I did, however, let my appetites get the best of me on more than one occasion. I think about the past few days, I think about my choices, and I realize how slowly and subtly I can give in to my cravings until my appetites are once again controlling me.

A Proper Challenge for a Go With the Flow Guy

2012 11 Decorations1But be sure that everything is done properly and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40 (NLT)

Wendy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve. It was a wonderful occasion and celebration that makes the holiday extra special for us. On New Year’s Day we celebrated by taking down our Christmas decorations and returning Vander Well Manor back to it’s normal daily appearance. The holidays, the celebration of our anniversary, and the extra time we have to be together during the holidays always gives me opportunity to think about our relationship.

Wendy and I have a lot in common when it comes to our interests, but those who know us well will tell you that we are opposites in temperament. I am laid back and tend to go with the flow while Wendy is very particular and highly organized. After seven years of marriage, I realized yesterday that our annual taking down of the decorations was as efficient and stress free as we’d ever experienced. I believe that this was due in a large part to an unspoken understanding of one another and how best to attack the process in a way that played to our strengths.

No matter what our individual bent, the strength of our personal temperament always comes with a corollary weakness. Being laid back and able to go with the flow helps me to weather change and to bring flexibility and stability to rapidly changing circumstances. At the same time, I tend not to sweat certain details and give little thought to the long term implications of my momentary decisions. The result can often create frustration since Wendy’s bent is to give careful thought to each decision in order to anticipate the future chain of events to where it will lead.

Today’s chapter is all about similar differences in the way the followers of Jesus in Corinth were going about their meetings together. Conflict arose because the meetings had become a bit of a laid back free-for-all and Paul was trying to address some of the specific issues the local group of believers were experiencing. I thought Paul’s bullet at the end of the discussion summed things up nicely: Do things properly and in order. I can hear Wendy’s voice in my head lending a hearty “Amen.”.

I’m not one for formal New Year’s resolutions, but as we put away decorations yesterday and cleaned up the house I told myself to make 2013 a year of “getting my house in order.” I find it interesting to wake up this morning and, in a little moment of synchronicity, read Paul’s succinct directive. We don’t make much progress in our personal journey unless we consciously choose to address areas of needed improvement. For a easy going person like me, that means consciously doing a better job of sweating the details, doing things properly, and going about my day in a more orderly fashion.

(Which means I need to end this post and get ready for my day. Happy New Year.)

Pursuit of Happiness #29

Happy St. Patrick's Day - St. James Gate, Dublin, Ireland

There is nothing like good memories to bring a smile to your face when you need it. So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I have to pull some old photos out of the archive. In 1998, I had a rare opportunity to go to Ireland for a long weekend with my friends Eric, Justin, Drew, Tracy, and Jason. Long evenings drinking Guinness and having great conversations in the pubs of Dublin became one of the best memories of my life. In the photo below, we were camped out at the Brazen Head, a pub which had been in continuous operation longer than the United States had been a country.

At the Brazen Head, Dublin, Ireland November 1998

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

I’m looking forward to making some more best memories of my life this weekend, but more about that in the days to come.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 2

SLOW two
Image by -= Bruce Berrien =- via Flickr

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry?
   Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? Jeremiah 2:25a (MSG)

Slow down. Take a deep breath.

I needed to read those words this morning. Despite the fact that the holidays are supposed to be a time of rest and peace, I feel stretched out. Sometimes the holidays feel like a flurry of activity that empty the tank instead of fill it.

Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?

That’s really the question, isn’t it? What am I after? I put life on auto-pilot. I set the cruise control. I go through the same motions the same way with the same results.

The eve of a new year approaches and I find my spirit looking forward, looking back. I find myself asking what I am after.

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