Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas on the bottom shelf


I stopped by Target yesterday for a few things, including the Fisher Price Little People nativity set for our grandchildren.  The toy department was daunting, to say the least.  After looking up and down the aisles for a few minutes, I spotted an employee wearing the familiar red Target shirt.  I told her what I was looking for.  She looked quizzically at me.  “Fisher Price,” I repeated.  She started to lead me down an aisle.  “What was it again you were looking for?” she asked.  “The Fisher Price nativity set,” I told her.  “What is a nativity?” she asked me.  “You know, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus,” I explained.   I could tell by her face that my explanation meant nothing to her at all.  “The Christmas story,” I emphasized.    “Is it a Christmas toy?” she asked.  We were surrounded literally by a canyon of toys, threatening to bury us alive.

At that point, I saw it, in the middle of an aisle, down on the bottom shelf, by itself.  

And I was hit broadside by two things:

1.  This clerk had NO idea that Christmas had anything at all to do with Jesus.

2.  In the entire store, including a whole section devoted to holiday decorations, this plastic nativity set was the only thing I saw that represented what Christmas is really about.

When our oldest daughter was just a toddler, we had some friends nearby who recognized even then what was happening to Christmas.  And so, as soon as you walked in their door, there was a nativity set, front and center, situated so that it could never be overlooked.  I have never forgotten that.  Make it the first thing you notice.

Christmas can be fun.  But it is also a time of great joy and hope in a world that has no idea that joy and hope even exist.  Never assume that someone you meet or someone you love knows that Jesus has everything to do with Christmas and everything to do with the cries of the human heart.  “He is here!” the angels shouted with glee.

For you with young children, read them the Christmas story over and over, until they can recite every word.  Let them play-act the story, over and over, costumes and all, yes, even if they make a huge mess.  Invite the neighbor children to join them.  Let them play out the story with a nativity set, so that they physically see what happened.   Memorize with them the account from Luke 2.  You would be amazed how quickly they can do that, verse by verse, even at an early age.  It will be engraved in their memory forever.  One of our girls memorized it at age five, and twenty years later, she can still recite it.

And above all, make sure that your children KNOW the difference between what is pretend and what is real.  The Christmas story is not just another “story.”   It is unlike any other made-up tale like Dora and Curious George.  Because Jesus is REAL.  This is Truth. 

For unto us a Child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be upon His shoulder,

and His name will be called

Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God,

Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace.

                       Isaiah 9. 6

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Gentle Reminder


My grandmother could grow anything in any type of soil or container.  Anything.  She came to live with my family before I was born.  When I was very young, she staked out the entire length of windows in our family room and planted a huge indoor garden three feet deep.  After all, as a Texan, she was used to a long growing season.  We lived in Chicago.  So even when the permafrost had set in and we didn’t see the ground from the beginning of November until the end of March, we had an indoor jungle.  Wherever we moved, she planted and transplanted, no matter the climate, no matter the soil, whether sand or clay or rock.  Nothing stopped her.  She had a green thumb, a large dose of stubbornness, and she delighted in God’s creation.

But of all the traits that she passed on to me, her green thumb was not included in my DNA.  Plants do not thrive under my care.  Actually, most of them do not even survive under my care – or lack thereof.  (Did I water that plant sometime this month?)

So much to my surprise this week was an actual bloom on my African violet that has been in need of life support for some time now.  I take no pride in what has happened.  Actually, I chuckled when I saw it.  This is seriously something that only God could do.  And I give Him all the credit.

There are times when God sends me a gentle reminder of Who He is and this is one of them.

Let them know that this is Your hand;

You, O LORD, have done it.

                       Psalm 109.27

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Make It Work, People

The commuter train system in Japan is known for its accurate schedules and efficiency, despite transporting about 21 million people daily with more than 12,000 trains running.  In reality, its infrastructure is considered so overtaxed that logistically the system should not work at all.  But it does brilliantly, in spite of disruptions.  Trains arrive on schedule every two minutes.  Its success, however, is not based on perfection, but the opposite.  To make this system work, a recent article in The University of Chicago magazine reports that “unpredictability must be a part of the transit equation.”

It is the recognition of that unpredictability, the acknowledgement that the system is not perfect, that actually allows the Japanese train system to work so well and so efficiently.

How do the Japanese engineers do it?  By “…creating an environment where technology incorporates irregularity rather than trying to eliminate it,” according to Chicago anthropologist Michael Fisch in his book about the Japanese commuter train network. 

I think about how much energy, effort, and frustration that we invest in trying to make our lives at work or at home “perfect,” as if that is an attainable goal.  What if we approached difficult situations not from a perspective of perfection, but from the lack of it? 

There will be difficulties.  Count on it.  We live in a fallen world, not a perfect one. So as Fisch says, incorporate the reality that there WILL be problems rather than trying to pretend that they either do not exist or hope beyond hope that everything will go smoothly THIS time.  The trick is having a system within the system so that glitches are expected and already accounted for.  As I have told many young moms, “From now on, flexibility is your middle name.”

Ask God to help you see these road blocks and variables, not as obstacles but as opportunities in disguise.  Make it work with what you have before you.  The biggest problem may be that we have stopped trying to do just that. 

And I will lead the blind

in a way that they know not,

in paths that they have not known

I will guide them.

I will turn the darkness before them into light,

the rough places into level ground.

These are the things I will do,

and I will not forsake them.

                         Isaiah 42. 16-17