Aug 24, 2018

Unexpected Feeling

I had an unexpected feeling recently and thought this would be a good way to work it out.

A couple of months ago, we were able to go home to Texas to see family for the first time in four years.

It's never a good idea to wait that long.

But we took full advantage of every minute we could while we were there. One of the things we did was to watch a home video we had made of the kids when they were really little after we had just moved to Georgia. We made it so we could send copies home to our parents so they could see their little grandchildren playing in the yard, doing school, and just living life at our little farmhouse.

It was a sweet time of reflection and caused a flood of memories that I loved reliving.

Once we got home, we found another VHS with a slideshow of pictures of the boys (the oldest two only) from the time they were born until they were each about 5 and 2. Oh my gosh. SWEET. LITTLE. BABIES.

Well the oldest (now 20) decided he wanted to convert the VHS into a digital format so we could watch it. He had to take our old VHS player apart to clean and tinker with to get it to play, but he did it while capturing the video using some little doo-hickey thing he plugged into my laptop. {Sidebar: it blows my mind that I used to be a computer science major and at one time knew all about the technology that was out at that I feel like an outdated floppy disk.}


After he converted the file, I finally sat and watched the whole thing. And bawled like a stinkin' baby.

Well don't get me wrong; I fought it, allowing only a couple of tears to actually fall down my face. As soon as it was over, I barrelled into the bathroom to ugly cry. It was bad.

What in the world was that?

I'm not sure if this makes me really selfish, but the best way I could describe what was going on inside was grief. As in loss. I really, really missed being able to scoop them up and hug their entire body at once. I missed their toothless kisses and baby shampoo hair. I missed their tiny, fat fingers barely closing around my index finger, not wanting to let go no matter what was going on. I missed reading them stories while they piled in my lap and pulled another book from the stack they brought me. I missed picking them up from the nursery on Sunday mornings and their faces lighting up when they made eye contact with me. I missed bath time and brushing their teeth and helping them put their pj's on.

It's been forever since I did these things, and like smelling playdough for the first time as an adult has that way of thrusting you back into your own childhood, watching this video and hearing this song threw me right back into their childhood.

And I was missing it. I was missing them.

Now, I have a precious friend who lost her son a few years ago. He was a Marine and was one of the Chattanooga Five who fell at the hands of a terrorist (I don't care what the news reporters say). When I use the word "grief," I am not using it in the same way my dear friend has had to experience grief. I pray I never EVER have to go through what she's gone through in her level of grief.

But this overwhelming feeling I had after watching that slideshow was a form of grief, I think. And I did not expect that at all.

Don't get me wrong. I love my boys now. I love listening to them tell stories, laugh at geeky memes, and sing in the car as loud as they can to TobyMac or KB. And my heart overflows with love when I watch them play the guitar or ukulele or lose their voices from encouraging their football teammates to overcome adversity. And I love listening to them share their creations with me...from video clips to artwork to lego creations. I love it all and wouldn't change a thing about them now.

It seems so cliche to say, but I just wonder where the time went. And those babies seem so distant to me now, like a lifetime ago. And I'm beginning to understand why people have said for so long that grandparenting is the's because you get a tangible glimpse of that bygone joy back in your lap for a new season. I'm a long way away from that, but it gives me hope of something to look forward to one day.

I'm not even 46 years old yet, so this was really the first time I've been overcome by these thoughts. As time goes on (and it will), I've a feeling I'll be experiencing more of this ride. This is my attempt at trying to embrace the ride, the unexpected feelings, and the white knuckles to show for it.

Jul 1, 2017

Mere Morality

As you may have already guessed, the title of this post is a play on one of the most influential and poignant books written in our day, Mere Christianity. I agree with C.S. Lewis when he said, "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." Hence, I am reading Mere Christianity yet again...because my simple mind just can't hold on to that which I've gained by reading it only once.

It's the same reason I continue to read the Holy Scriptures, too, but I digress.

A little backdrop - the book Mere Christianity is divided up into three separate books, which were previously published as separate pamphlets. Prior to that, the contents in these books had been delivered by C.S. Lewis in a series of radio shows produced during World War II while Lewis resided at Oxford.

The first book inside the collection deals with the concepts of "right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe." It is broken down as such: "The Law of Human Nature", "Some Objections," "The Reality of the Law," "What Lies Behind the Law," and "We Have Cause to Be Uneasy."

Book II addresses what Christians believe. Lewis is very intent on (and does an excellent job) keeping to the fundamental beliefs of all Christians...never chasing rabbit trails that define denominations. He sticks to the core beliefs held by (or should be held by) anyone claiming the Name of Christ as his or her Savior.

The final portion, and I would say the last half of the entire book, is spent on "Christian Behavior." Now, I realize we all think we know what constitutes "Christian behavior," but Lewis again wisely avoids attempting to sort out human differences here.

And this is where I want this post to settle in. The first part of this section is entitled, "The Three Parts of Morality." And I believe that many people in this world are simply oblivious to this reality. Most, Lewis would say, are stuck in the first part and never realize the second or third. This is key to understanding why we see what we're seeing in the world that causes an incessant wagging of our heads. We can't understand how humanity got here.

Morality, Lewis points out, is something that, in many people's minds, seems to interfere with one's desire to have a good time. "Don't do this; you MUST do that." We've all had that juvenile mindset at one point or another that says, "I don't want to be religious because I don't want some dude in a dress telling me what to do."

Fair. If that's where it ends, I'm there too. But that's not where it ends.

Battleship Formation Analogy

Lewis explains that "[t]here are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage, by cheating or bullying." In this first instance, Lewis refers to social relations - how we relate to one other. We either hurt one another or drift away from each other, thereby damaging the relationship. He goes on: "The other is when things go wrong inside the individual - when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another." Here he is referring to personal integrity. Damage is incurred when a person does something that he knows is wrong and thwarts his own sense of right. His sense of right is dumbed down, so to speak.

He then goes on to paint the picture of a fleet of ships sailing in formation. "The voyage will be a success," he adds, "if the ships do not collide...and secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order." He points out that these two things necessarily go hand in hand. One cannot remain seaworthy if he keeps running into other ships, and if one's internal life is not working properly, he cannot avoid collisions.

He then notes a third part to this analogy, which is the idea that there is no fleet of ships without a destination and purpose. The fleet wouldn't be a fleet if they weren't all going in the same direction, so there must be a particular destination in mind as well as a Commander to direct the fleet and give the orders. If the fleet had no direction (and thus man has no purpose), then we are all scattered about with no particular place to go.

We don't even see that at the molecular level. An atom has purpose and order. Cells have information and direction. Body parts function under their own set of directions but for the exact same purpose: life. This is something we see at every level of science we have the capacity to study.

Morality, then, follows suit and is involved with three things: harmony between individuals, harmony within the individual, and the general purpose of human life (what man was made for).

Many people, Lewis goes on to point out, get hung up on the first thing (avoiding collisions with others) but neglect the other two. For example, when a man says about something he wants to do, "It can't be wrong because it doesn't do harm to anyone else," he is only thinking of the first thing. It doesn't matter to that man the condition of his personal integrity so long as no one else is hurt by his actions. But this, Lewis says, is a fallacy.

Jesus told the hyper-religious person to clean the inside of the cup first, and the outside would be clean also (see Matthew 23:26). Behavior doesn't dictate character; integrity does. Interestingly, it also dictates behavior.

One of my favorite applications of this that Lewis makes is when he says, "You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual." Truth.

It seems like we could stop there. In fact, over what else could we have any control over our morality? But he does take it a step further, because our thinking about morality must also. The third consideration regarding human morality involves the general purpose of human life (the fleet of ships). Why would this matter in a morality argument?

Let's go back to the man who said that something isn't wrong if it doesn't hurt anyone else. This man believes that as long as he's not damaging other people, what he does to his own ship (personal integrity) is his own business. But doesn't it matter whether or not the ship is his own property or not?

A Naval Commander feels some ownership of his vessel in that he is responsible for its safety and its actions. But does it really belong to him? Of course not; he's a steward. Does this not make a difference? Aren't there certain duties that are required of the Commander simply because he is a steward of the ship that belongs to the Navy rather than it being his own personal cruiser?

This is what is wrong with the thinking in so much of America today. Our culture teaches that "good" really just means being good socially, but it neglects the idea that it involves the inside of the person and the purpose of the person. Seems to me this is a single-dimension view of morality, and it has created a single-dimension view of what is "good."

It's a view that is

Not to mention ineffective.

It creates a morally confused culture that is directionless, pointless, addled even. An aimless, purposeless culture raises children to grow up thinking the world revolves around them, and it owes them big-time because there is nothing to temper the worship of SELF. A single-dimension morality never leads a person to be "good" when no one is watching or to do "right" for the sake of doing what is right.

"Christianity asserts that every human being is going to live forever, and this must either be true or false," Lewis reminds us. If it is true, then there are some things that we had better take seriously that wouldn't be a concern if we were to only live seven decades and that's that. If it doesn't make sense to think that we're simply drifting purposelessly with no destination in view, then we should realize that we're a part of a greater plan, and to be a good steward, we need to do our part.

This includes much more than just steering clear of hurting anyone else. In order to effectively do that, it first necessitates living rightly within your own self. How do we understand what that looks like? By understanding who we are in the midst of a purpose outside of ourselves. This is what should drive the outside behaviors that avoid hurting others, not the other way around. Apart from purpose and integrity, we're just cleaning up the outside of the cup while the inside remains unclean, unhealthy, unproductive. 

"But seek first His kingdom {purpose} and His righteousness {integrity} and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33.

Sep 27, 2016

Sore Loser: Hewlett Packard (HP)

An Open Letter to Hewlett Packard (HP) 

I have been buying HP printers for years. I have also been buying after-market ink cartridges for years. They work great, they are one-fourth the ridiculous cost of HP products, and the companies (the ones I’ve used) stand by their product.

A couple of weeks ago, my HP OfficeJet Pro 8610 with completely FULL ink cartridges (bought from HP competitors) suddenly quit working. My printer insisted that my cartridges had failed. Every single one of them. At the same time. 

This seemed pretty fishy to me, but I contacted the company from which I bought them a few months ago. They informed me that HP had discreetly updated certain printers (I never authorized this update) and the only purpose of this “update” was to render my after-market ink cartridges useless. Thanks for looking out for your customers, HP.

The ink company is sending me brand new cartridges that will work with this unnecessary update. They are choosing to show they WANT my business.

But now, we’ve been without a printer for almost two weeks. We have to run to the library with documents on a flash drive so my kids can print things for school. Yesterday, my high schooler accidentally put the wrong history document on the flash drive and didn’t realize he printed the incorrect one at the library until late last night. The assignment is due today. 

Too bad he couldn’t print the correct one after realizing his mistake, like normal families. Apparently, it’s more important that HP make their customers think their ink cartridges are a bad product so we’ll all bow down to a corporate giant and shell out $50 for ONE BLACK INK CARTRIDGE. 

One out of four necessary to the machine. That’s some profit margin, HP.

If you want my business for ink cartridges as well as the printer, then compete for it. Give me a reason to buy yours instead of after-market. But do NOT covertly tell my printer, that I paid my money for, to not use the carts I paid to put in there. That is not the way to earn business. That is manipulation and deception, and I can only hope that it will bite you in the rear. I also hope this letter will serve as an instrument to help it along.

I hope to see a public apology to the customers of HP for being sore losers in the ink cartridge industry. I will say that if this happens again, this is the very last HP printer I will ever own. And I’ll make sure every person I know is aware of the disturbing tactics of this company.

***UPDATE: HP has retracted its pervasive update and allowed my printer to work again with my cartridges. At least for now. They even (sort of) apologized for not communicating well (ya think?) The wording they used about how they were "protecting" me from "cloned" cartridges was absurd as an excuse for what they did, but the VERY positive side is they heard from enough customers (like me) who said "NO" to a corporate giant trying to squelch competition. Bravo, HP customers! 

Sep 25, 2016

An Open Letter

To the nice black man with the sweet little family in the grocery store parking lot today:

I just want you to know that I softly wept on the way home.

When I walked out to my car, you were helping your family get out of yours. You had parked just to the left of me, and as I approached my trunk with my groceries, I was smiling when I saw you.

I saw what you did next.

You had already started to turn to help your young son, but then you stopped, changed direction, and intentionally set your attention squarely on me. You met my smile with your own and then a kind, "Hey! How you doin'?"

This really is a fairly common exchange between decent people. But for some reason, the obnoxious touts of racism that are thrust on decent people via the media these days have really been very suffocating.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that racism is still alive and well in the hearts of some people in this country - and that's true on both sides.  But the level to which the problem is elevated for political and propaganda purposes is about as nauseating as it gets. Half the time people are afraid to even use the COLORS black or white (as in fabric or paint) for fear of offending someone.

Now, Sir, I would not say that I have ever actually believed what I'm about to say. I've known many people, black and white, who absolutely do not fit this. But I will admit that there are times when I wonder...times when I've listened too much to the perpetual droning on about how much hate is on both sides. There have been times when I've wondered if every black person that sees me despises me because of my skin color. I've wondered, "What do they think of me? Do they think I hate them because of their skin?" Do you think those thoughts, too?

You know, when you're told "they hate you" enough, you start to wonder.

And then I see someone like you. Someone who went out of his way to greet another person just as an equal, as a fellow human being. Because we are exactly that.

And then I realize that the propaganda machine has succeeded only in making stories that are so sparse and infrequent into these major headlines to get us to click on that link. And if we're not careful, we believe the problem is bigger than it really is.

Again, not saying there aren't changes that should be made. But I think most of the problems are with the political and propaganda engines more than within the hearts of most people.

Thank you, Sir, for reminding me of that.

My encounter with you and your family today was like a cool drink of water to me.

Cleansing. Healing. Refreshing.

Apr 5, 2016

Bird's-Eye View

I've been watching  a neighbor's tree all winter long.

It's not incredibly large, but when it fills out in the late Spring, its leaves are a brilliant, glowing red from which I cannot look away. Throughout the winter months, I snag a glance at this tree every time I drive by, hoping to see the red buds sprouting from the tips of the seemingly dead branches. I love this tree. If I drive by at a certain time of the late afternoon, I find myself hoping that the sun will hit it from behind and ignite the fire of color.

Note: this isn't the tree I'm watching, but it looks like this one. I wanted to avoid having to explain to a police officer that I really wasn't being a creep by photographing my neighbor's house.

Living in North Georgia, I have really begun to appreciate having four distinct seasons. I marvelled at them at first, since I really had only known two seasons in South Texas: hot and hotter. We moved here at the end of October almost 14 years ago, and the leaves were changing, the air was crisp, and it lasted for months!

Then was ushered in the longest, coldest, iciest winter I had ever experienced. I was used to two-week-long cold fronts that, although cold because of the wind coming off the Gulf of Mexico and usually rainy, which made for a more complete misery, their short duration made them bearable. Then we would have relief, get close to 80, thaw out, and maybe do it again. I even have memories of a balmy 85 degree Christmas Day in shorts!

But this particular winter, I remember marking two whole weeks where we didn't get above 32 degrees, day or night. When our thermometer read -3 degrees early one dark morning, I knew the DH had moved me to Alaska by mistake.

And now, after having gone several months of cold, mostly gray winter, I begin to notice yellow sunshine pouring through the woods at certain times of the day. Daffodils and irises have begun to make their grand entries into the landscape, and the birds have begun chirping is Spring!  I notice the contrast of the white dogwoods against the darkness of the surrounding pines. The dogwoods have been there all along, but they seem to have just appeared overnight, like a maiden in a fairy tale's forest, weaving through the towering timber.

Spring is upon us - promising warmth, longer days, and new life at every turn.

I once again find myself in a Spring season of my life right now...things are changing, some more drastically than others. My little boys are becoming young men right before my eyes. It is a mystery to me how something can be so welcomed and so terrifying at the exact same time. How does one reconcile this?

There was a Spring season when I had nothing but diapered babies and preschoolers in my care. Everything about all the life was new to me then. Burp cloths and sippy cups and pacis, oh my! Parenting was as much learning as it was doing. Everything from figuring out what to do when they got sick to how to help them sleep to when and how to discipline took a learning curve. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but there was definitely a newness to life that was both exhilarating and exhausting.

It was then a summer season of life when I had all elementary-aged kids to teach and love on. Life was slower, more intentional. The days were long, but it was much easier than when they were younger. They were filling out - developing their skills, their minds, as well as their physique. Instead of diapers and nurseries, it was baseball fields and crawdads in the creek. Discipline was all about consistency rather than finding what works. They understood what was expected by then, and that made all the difference.

Then we moved into a winter of teenage boys. This wasn't as difficult as I had previously feared it might be (thankful to a merciful God in heaven above for that!) but it was a phase I was ready to move through quickly. Hormones are difficult for females (this I knew all too well), but it's just as hard for boys - just in different ways. We were managing aggression rather than drama.

But now, I feel like we have seen the next season begin to emerge from its cocoon.

After this school year is over, I will no longer have an elementary student in my home. They will all be college, high school, and middle school. So bizarre. I can remember feeling so numb at the thought of having one child (excuse me - "student") at the middle school building at our church. This fall, we will not have any at the elementary building at all.

My spiritual life has followed much the same pattern, actually. There was a Spring of new ministry and exploring new and uncharted spiritual lands. Then a summer when much development and rapid growth took place in so many ways. Oh, how I look back on those years with the deepest fondness and gratitude. The last several years have been a fall and winter time for me spiritually. Not that I haven't grown at all or that I've been in the dark the entire time, but the lessons I've learned there were harder. Many of the difficult things I learned of but felt completely unable to do anything about. I felt dormant. These were lessons of waiting. How I have longed to move out of them...into the bright sunshine and fresh, warm air.

Now, I feel I am entering a new spiritual Springtime. My eyes have been opened to a daily, consistent, and impactful ministry that I can do from home that hits every single area of hurt in which I had been broken in the winter. This endeavor is called Trades of Hope. The excitement and anticipation of what God will do with this effort has me on the edge of my seat right now! Newness of life after a somewhat darker spell of longing for it.

The other day, we had our first feels-like-Spring day. On my way home, I noticed a bird on a wire overhead. The image of a bird on a wire has always spoken to something deep inside me, but I never could put my finger on why...until that day. Others might have a different interpretation of the idea, but here's what I discovered it means to me.

The wire is a place of rest. The bird needs neither shelter from inclement weather nor a tree for a nest. It's not caged, it's just enjoying a place of peaceful repose. She feels safe there and catches her breath.

When I get to write, it's the wire for me. I'm passing through; I have places to go and things to do, but I just get to perch here for a bit, enjoy the bird's-eye view, notice things that I otherwise would fly over, and I get to rest. I can even now picture myself on that wire...warm breeze, clear sounds, motions are all beneath me, nothing close. Wide-open view.

I've enjoyed taking a few moments to notice this bird's-eye view of my life. It causes me to appreciate where I've been and where I'm headed. Thanks for taking a rest with me. Time to fly.

Mar 6, 2016

Trades of Hope

For much of my adult life, God has afforded me a love of words and a strong desire to communicate particularly through the written word. Sometimes He blesses me with the spoken word too, but those allowances seem to require special occasions. Nevertheless, God has given me a voice, and I have wanted to use it for a long time - I just didn't know how. Or for whom.

About four years ago, God opened my eyes to the issues of human trafficking in this country. I was appalled to learn that the city of Atlanta had become the national hub for child exploitation because we have the busiest international airport in the country. I learned alarming statistics to which I had been previously oblivious, but they shattered my heart into a million pieces. I shared with our Sunday School class at the time in an effort to make others aware, and then wrote this piece to share with my facebook friends.

Since then, a cloak has been pulled back which has revealed the severity of worldwide slavery of all kinds. Bonded slavery. Child slavery. Forced labor. Trafficking. Domestic servitude. It really is overwhelming.

Additionally, my heart has been massaged to the point of bruising over orphans all over the Russia, Ukraine, Haiti, and Africa. Many times (more than I ever imagined before) orphans are made not because both parents die, but because neither parent can feed their children. So they are forced to give them up for their children's survival. Imagine how difficult that would be to love your child, but know if you raise her yourself, she will starve to death.

"Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." James 1:27

So I was always left with the same thing I imagine a lot of people feel...what can I do about it?

In my quiet times with the Lord, I have been asking Him for a while to open my eyes now to what He wants me to do with this information. Surely He was not breaking my heart without reason. What was a homeschool stay-at-home mom (with kids still at home) supposed to do to end slavery and worldwide poverty?

Turns out He did have something in mind. Go figure.

Trades of Hope is an organization that was started in Florida about five years ago by two friends and their grown daughters. It is a missional company, meaning they are a for-profit company with a mission-minded heart. The founders' philosophy is that a sustainable business is a better long-term solution over charity. It's the "give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime" mentality. I happen to agree with that.

What this company has done is to make connections with multiple ministries that are already in place in 16 different countries around the world. These ministries are on-the-ground, full-time organizations that are committed to Fair Trade principles. Depending on the need in that particular area, they provide skills-training for a livelihood for women (and some men) who would otherwise be in the pit of extreme poverty and all the living hells that can come along with that. Many of these organizations also provide for education for the artisans' children, medical supplies, etc.

Fair trade organizations work to:

- pay a fair wage in the local context
- support safe, healthy, participatory workplaces
- provide 50% pre-payment for orders placed
- build long-term relationships
- provide ongoing education and training
- ensure environmental sustainability
- provide equal opportunities for all people, particularly the most 

- respect cultural identity
- build long-term, direct relationships

Trades of Hope has come alongside these organizations and provided a market for the artisans' handmade items. In a country like Haiti, with 90% unemployment, there are not many people able to buy a beautifully made beaded necklace or bracelet like this one:

See the painted, smooth beads? Those are made from the clay dirt in the Haitian mountains. This same clay is made into cookies and baked in the sun to feed their children when there is no real food to give them. The striped-looking beads? Those are recycled cereal boxes cut into strips with a paper cutter. Then they roll them up into beads, some are painted, glued, baked, and strung into beautiful jewelry.

Because of the devastating economic situation in Haiti, you can imagine there aren't many buyers for these beauties. So Trades of Hope came along and said, we'll order several thousand of those; here's half the money up front so your artisans can get their supplies. When the order is fulfilled, we'll pay the other half and have them shipped to the United States, where women buy jewelry EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. without even thinking twice about it.

Now, this kind of order is placed every single month because people in the United States are buying the product!

The lady that started this particular ministry I just described started out with just four women building beads and necklaces. Today, she has over 300 employees in Haiti, mostly women who were determined to keep their own children rather than handing them over to an orphanage. I heard her tell the story of one woman who followed her daily for weeks asking for a job because she didn't want to give up her daughter. There wasn't a place for her for a while, but eventually, Shelly was able to hire her! Trades of Hope and those selling and buying these gorgeous pieces of workmanship helped her business grow. And lives have been changed forever.

Have you ever thought about why some of the jewelry we buy is so cheap? I'm not talking about the gold and diamonds we buy; I'm talking about the everyday jewelry we get at the mall or a department store. It's because many of these things are made in countries and through businesses that employ sweatshops. You would be surprised if you did a search of all the companies and countries who use them. A sweatshop is defined as a factory that pays woefully low wages (think $2 per day), requires their employees to work ridiculous hours (I read about one sweatshop that allowed the women to leave every two days to spend a day at home) and provides unsafe work conditions.

Using companies that are committed to Fair Trade avoids perpetuating these issues and instead supports a living wage, hope for a future, and dignity for women who would otherwise never experience these things.

Trades of Hope helps to employ over 6,000 artisans in 16 different countries. Talk about making an impact!

By golly, I think this is something I can do that will actually, physically, monetarily, and spiritually attack these problems at their root. I can do something, by selling these products for her, that will afford her the opportunity to thrive rather than just try to survive.

I'm all about that.

If you are too, or just want more information, you can visit my website, read about the artisans, drool over their beautiful creations, and purchase them for yourself.

Talk about a win-win! You get to wear beautiful things, and she gets a fair wage she and her family can live on. Together, we can use our voice to speak for her. For all of them.

Dec 14, 2015

Peace on Earth

It's early in the morning. The lights are glowing on the tree and on the fireplace mantle, a warm and tender reminder of Christmases past. It's quiet in the house now as my three not-so-small boys are still in their slumber. It's Christmas time, a time for joy and peace on earth. I'm attempting to capture the sugar plum fairies dancing around in my head...because something seems a little "off" this year.

Every year is a struggle to scrape and dig past the commercialism and consumerism that has become synonymous with the Christmas season. Somewhere between the green and red plastic trees and the "Santa, Baby" songs is a point. A very fine point that the vast majority misses. Every. Single. Year.

We tend to miss it because it is easy to miss. 

There is nothing in Scripture that commands we honor this Holy Night. There is no instruction to follow that even suggests it. A Christian will truly celebrate Christmas out of the overflow of the heart...out of the love that pours from a swell of the heart that was born in a stable 2,000 years ago. 

But somehow the truth of this story has been buried beneath a mountain of boxes covered in pretty paper and debt to the ceiling. Even Hallmark movies tell us we want Christmas to be about the heart and relationship, but we have to dig it out of the pile first.

This has been an ongoing issue for the believer in this country for decades. But recently, there has been another darker, more suffocating cloud hovering over this time of year. We seek joy and peace on earth, yet we are bombarded by the media of our day. We are immediately made aware of instances of adversity, hostility, lunacy, political failures, et cetera ad nauseam. Rarely do we see thrust before us for our viewing pleasure the soup kitchens serving Christmas dinner to the homeless, families by the hundreds supplying coats, boots, blankets, diapers, and toys for those who have nothing, or food pantries doling out canned goods to those fallen on hard times. Stories of prisoners kneeling by their bedside holding a Bible and a sliver of hope for redemption seldom make the cut for our news sources. These things happen all the time, but their stories are scarce compared to the shocking tales that "sell". We are inundated with the negative and anemic when it comes to anything positive.

There is a song that was released several years ago by Casting Crowns (one of my most favorite groups) and the song is entitled "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." It speaks to the dissonance we experience this time of year in a way that for years now has deeply stirred my heart. If we don't quiet our souls from the noise of our consumerism, we'll never hear the bells.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet, their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

The author is recounting the surface sights and sounds of the season. It looks good and sounds good - we enjoy the decorations and Christmas carols during the last weeks of the year (or most of us do). But in the next verse, we see his conflict - one that, if we will look introspectively, we can all identify with:

And in despair, I bowed my head
"There is no peace on earth," I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

If anything, peace on earth is a treasured, but terribly deficient thing. A cursory glance at the Middle East (particularly in and around Israel) and north Africa, as well as cities like Paris, Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino will bring home the point. A skim of any major news outlet's headlines will help to solidify the point: men bring almost anything but peace to earth.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth is not meant to be brought by mere men. We are incapable. Peace on earth and good will toward men...comes from above. Good will toward men is initiated by God in heaven and exemplified by a Baby born from heaven. Peace personified has walked on the earth, and it currently resides in the hearts of those who bend the knee and bow their hearts to the King of kings born humbly in a manger.

Then ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we'll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

The bells of Christmas are singing that Peace on earth has indeed come, and until He comes again, we'll hear it only in our hearts. But this also has the desired result for the individual who opens their heart to the song: good will toward his fellow men.

Do you hear the bells they're ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men