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12 days until Christmas…

I’m at the hospital this morning.  My friend Elizabeth is having her final surgery this morning.  E has been battling breast cancer, and is fully expected to beat it.  I’m at Medical City Hospital, and this is one crazy place.  The cute little old man at the information booth sent me to the wrong floor.  After visiting a few restricted areas, I talked to a friend that gave me the correct info.  I found her and got to spend some time with her before her surgery prep.

Last night was the Chateau Cinema showing of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Block parties in my neighborhood are always a blast!  We had to wait for some warmer weather to do this one, so it was a last minute thing.  I borrowed the extra projector from work, yes, the one that says ‘replace bulb’ which always makes me nervous that it will choose to die when I have 20+ people watching it.

I like getting together like this, however organizing events is not my gift.  I have to do things spontaneously, not planned.  Jay has the best plan, just do something and invite people on your Facebook status.  Now that’s my kind of inviting people!  I did print small invites for everyone on the street and the boys and I taped them on every door.

Every neighborhood has a creepy house that everyone avoids and ours is no exception.  The boys were taking turns going from house to house, and we were quickly nearing the dark angel house.  I had every intention of skipping this house and thought if I distract my kids, we could walk past it without them knowing.  As I tried to execute my plan, Cole noticed we were skipping a house, and as he proceeded to the door, he made no secret that he was irritated about me even considering the possibility of excluding someone.

They just rolled E down the hall.  She’s ready for surgery, well, as ready as anyone can be.  We lined up on both sides of the hall and did the sporting event hand slaps as they rolled her toward the restricted area.  We love you E and we’ll see you in a few hours!

Everything was set up in the front yard for the outdoor theater.  Movie screen, check.  Projector and speakers, check.  Patio furniture and fire pit, check.  Inflatable Santa, check.  No, not really, but my next door neighbor has one.  Yes, we’re ready for sunset and an awesome time with friends, drinking hot chocolate and toasting the giant pillow-sized marshmallows I brought back from Mexico.

We started the movie and many people showed up, not only from our street, but from the Facebook invite.  The kids had fun playing while the adults watched the movie.  Toward the end of the movie, the temperature dropped significantly, then the kids came to snuggle with their parents.

The hospital just moved us to the pediatric waiting room, although I’m not sure why.  Maybe because E, like me, is a kid at heart.  Or maybe it’s because all of us, her friends, act like children in the waiting room and they don’t want us disturbing the grown-ups.  Well, either one makes sense.  We’re going to go downstairs and grab a bite to eat before heading to our new location.

The movie ended and everyone helped me do a quick clean up, then they headed home.  I went inside to my warm, cozy house and was immediately overcome with sadness.  I thought about all the homeless people that endure this bitter cold every single night.  I want to help them.  I don’t know what that means yet, but it’s on my heart.  Maybe I need to start the ‘shares‘ program here like they have in Chicago.  Maybe I need to go downtown and experience the homeless situation in my own area, meaning Frisco and Dallas.  This feeling won’t go away, maybe it’s part of that Christmas spirit I’m so desperate to find, although it’s not what I expected.

I’ve had this feeling for a long time, but it’s been getting stronger lately.  I was hoping to cross paths with some homeless or impoverished people on my trip to downtown Dallas last week, and as I said in an earlier blog post, I was ready to help.  I’m glad I didn’t see any of them, as it was very cold that night and I was hoping they all found warm shelters somewhere.  But more than that, I wanted an education that night.  I want to know their stories and how they got there.  This photo is staged, but makes me think this might be a likely scenario one night when we are at home in our suburban palaces.

We just got word via a small scalpel icon on the large FamilyVue plasma screen that they’ve started E’s surgery.  A little impersonal, but it’s good to know what’s going on.  They have a little icon that looks like stitches when they start sewing people up too.  Again, this seems a little odd, but again it’s nice to know what’s happening.  I suppose that keeps people from pacing and wearing out the carpet like they did in the olden days.

I miss doing photo shoots with E.  She and I are the ones that started the ‘photo safari’ group.  We’ve had some great times scoping out small towns, looking for abandoned houses or any other interesteing places we can trespass.  Just for the record, if “keep out” or “no trespassing” is posted, then we don’t go in.  But that doesn’t mean we stay out of trouble.

I keep thinking about these feelings I have, the ones of concern and love.  I’m aware of worrying about my close friend and also thinking about homeless people I don’t even know.  These feelings are very similar, although very different.  I realized today, whether it’s my closest friend or someone I don’t even know, all of these people mean a lot to me.  Life is the greatest gift and we should cherish it.  The Christmas spirit feels closer today.  It really is a wonderful life.


15 days until Christmas…

I was listening to talk radio on my way to work yesterday.  It was so incredibly cold I didn’t want to let go of my warm coffee mug to steer the car, much less turn on the radio.  The news guy was reporting on the experiences of the fake mall Santas this year, disclosing the newest Christmas lists they’re receiving.  Many of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap are not asking for the typical toys and electronics, they’re asking for basic necessities.  “Mommy really needs a job” or “Could we just have our house back?”  Some others are asking for food and clothing.  You know the economy is bad when kids are happy to get socks and underwear for Christmas.

Santa Claus.  The historical Saint and the modern day icon of commercialized Christmas.  Who is Santa?  Santa has many roots in history spanning the globe, roots also ranging from Christianity to paganism.  The early Christian Santa was Saint Nicholas.  He was a Saint that gave generous gifts to the poor, especially to daughters of poor parents so they did not have to become prostitutes.  I could go on for days here about the history of Santa, but he did have his start as a good guy that helped people.

 

Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the whole Santa thing.  I did not want my kids believing that some overweight guy in a furry red suit is going to give them anything they want for Christmas.  Their dad said that was wrong and I was awful for even thinking it.  Choose your battles, right?  I chose not to fight this one.

My earliest recollection of Santa is asking my parents if Santa was real.  I was in kindergarten, five or six years old, and already wondering how one guy could go around the planet in one night, bringing lots of stuff to kids.  And don’t get me started on the flying reindeer and sleigh.  I suppose my over-analyzing of everything started at an early age.  My parents told me the truth and quickly proceeded to tell me that my knowledge was a secret.  I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets back then.  Even with my secret knowledge, Santa continued to bring me lots of toys and stuff, and much more than he brought anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a Scrooge, and if anyone understands fantasy and imagination, it’s me.  Christmas is a magical time for little ones, filled with excitement and fun, that is, in our American culture.  What does the whole idea of Santa say to our children?  We tell our kids at the dinner table that there are starving kids in other countries and they had better eat everything on their plate, and yet if they behave, Santa will bring them everything they want at the end of the year.  I simply can’t feel good about this.  If Santa has enough resources to give us anything we want, then why doesn’t he help out with poverty?

My kids learned the truth very early this year.  Santa is not real, it’s your parents giving you the Christmas stuff.  Now my boys are very close in age, but polar opposites.  Cole sees everything in black and white, whereas Joe’s world is all delightful shades of gray.  When they learned of this news, my youngest Joe, pretended to not listen and carefully responded, not committing to this concept.  Maybe if he doesn’t accept it, then he’ll still get all the presents.  Cole, on the other hand, was extremely upset.  He said, “So, let me get this straight.  You’ve been lying to me this whole time?”  We had at least a half hour talk about why evil parents lie to their children about Santa.

After this very long and depressing conversation, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my kids about Santa.  Not the look-alike mall Santa, but the conceptual Santa.  It’s time to go from believing in Santa to being Santa.  Helping people in need is being Santa.  When my kids see Santa, the look-alikes or the flat wood cutouts in the neighbors yard, I want them to think of doing a random act of kindness or helping impoverished people.

Here’s the daily photo collection, yes, a collection of Santas.  I have to highlight one of these.

I like this one a lot because I took this photograph in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico… in May.  Santa must be hot in his winter clothing, but he still looks happy to be there.  If we think of Santa in a new way, then he is not just a Christmas figure, but a visual representation of goodwill, unity and inspiration.  I think the people in Mexico understand this concept already and we can learn a lot from them, as we always do on our trips to Casa Hogar Elim.

The rest of the photos?  I think they speak for themselves.  Oh, and remember, the ‘dead Santas’ were featured a few days ago.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t include this photo since I was people watching and secretly snapped this, but I just can’t help myself.  What was she thinking when she got dressed this morning?

Merry Christmas and enjoy it with a new vision.  No, I don’t mean this last photograph that is burned into your brain, I mean get outside yourself and your comfort zone.  Help others, not only this Christmas, but all year round.


17 days until Christmas…

It was clear to me this morning at 5:30am what I needed to write about, a new and unexpected Christmas cheer.  Yesterday’s schedule was filled with ‘tinselectomy‘ opportunities and I had an expectation of how each of them would play out.  I was so off base, but it made me understand how I and other people are experiencing a transformation to humble altruism.

Amy had a wonderful idea, to feed the guys in downtown Frisco, the men that are desperately looking for any available work to feed their families.  They stand outside the Exxon, rain or shine, and I know that because it was raining yesterday.  Amy posted this lunch idea on Facebook last week.  Nancy saw it, and loved the idea so much, she planned to do this.  It ended up that all three of us got together and prepared 30 lunches to take to these guys.

Our everyday beaten paths lead us down Main street regularly, enough to know that we would have enough lunches, but not enough to know if these guys would be outside in the very cold rain.   As we approached, they were there, all of them, scanning the passing cars with a hopeful look that someone would have a paid task for them.  As I drove into the parking lot, I didn’t even come to a stop before there were at least 12 men swarming around the car.  We had to wait for them to step away from the doors so we could get out to give them the lunch bags we had prepared.

As we passed out the lunch sacks, all of them were very polite and said “gracias”, Amy and I responded with “de nada”, one of the ten Spanish words we know.  Then Nancy starts having a conversation with them in Spanish.  Who knew?  Oh, she is SO going to Casa Hogar Elim soon!  Nancy was asking if they had any friends that were out on jobs or if anyone was inside, because we would leave lunches for them.  They were so happy to get the lunches and so polite, we had to persuade them to take extras or take some for their friends.  Most of them were well into their sandwiches before we drove out of the parking lot.

As it turns out, we had 5 lunch bags left over.  We drove over to the laundromat to see if there were any people over there that needed lunch.  We gave away a couple more, and as we walking out the door, we ran into another lady.  Nancy asked her if she would like a lunch.  She asked “¿Cuánto dinero?”  Of course, Nancy said it was free and explained what we were doing.  The conversation slowly transitioned from Spanish to English.  We only spoke with her briefly, but we got a chance to talk about church.  She is another one of those people I would have loved to have sat down and talked with.  I think at some point I’m going to go to the laundromat and do my laundry so I will have that opportunity.

Another Facebook thing, Jody (not me), who posted on the PTCC wall that she wanted to donate her hair to Pantene, a place making free wigs for women going through cancer treatments, got her hair cut yesterday.  Since I had done Locks of Love a while back, I wanted to go with her for support.  She was looking for other people to do this with her, and I would do this again, but my hair will have to grow for a long time before I have enough.  I was there while she got her hair cut.  She had the same look on her face that I did.  the ‘oh, crap, I’m really doing this’ look, with the undertone of ‘this is a great cause and so worth it’ look.  This is such an awesome thing to do.  If you’re interested in donating your hair, I will come support you too!  Steve Hodges is our resident expert on hair donation if you need someone to do it.

Finally, I had a photo shoot in downtown Dallas last night.  My expectation?  It’s downtown Dallas and surely I will run into some impoverished or homeless people.  I went down there with some envelopes with money in them, inside the envelopes, a message that God loves them.  I typically don’t like to give cash, because if they do have a drug problem or something like that, I don’t want to enable them.  I realized I have changed my view on that a little bit.  Even though I still believe the statement I just made, I also don’t want to be judgmental.  The cash might help someone get a much needed meal or get them closer to a shelter.  It’s been on my heart to start a program in Dallas, much like the Chicago Shares program, a voucher-based way to give, redeemable only for food and toiletries.

As it turns out, we ran into no impoverished or homeless people, but it did turn out to be a fun evening of photography and hanging out with some of my crazy friends.  If you think this picture is weird, then you probably don’t want to join our photography group.  If you like it, we do go out and play with our cameras on a regular basis.

My reality?  I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t run into anyone I could help.  The disappointment was based on the knowledge that there are so many people that need help and I had a way to help, but no opportunity to do so.

The unexpected Christmas cheer, or we’ll call it another piece of the Christmas spirit, is encouragement.  I feel like God is leading me to get outside myself.  That’s not the easiest thing for me to do, or for anyone to do.  Well, maybe Mama Lupita, and we can all learn a lot from her.  I could blog all day long about this, but I have to go to work.  I do have one closing thought.  As I was walking home from taking my kids to school this morning, in the 24 degrees of bitter cold, I couldn’t help but think of all the homeless people that are out in this awful cold, all the people I didn’t run into last night.  I can’t even comprehend not having a warm house to go to or not having any other options than to be out in the piercing arctic cold.  I take my house for granted, but I walked into it this morning with a whole new appreciation.  How do I find these people in need and how can I help them?  I hope to answer that within my 25 days of Christmas blogging.


21 days until Christmas…

Anyone following my blog knows that I have an offbeat sense of humor.  I enjoy being what Jerod calls cantankerous, however, that’s not fitting for today.  Yesterday, I attended my cousin’s funeral.

My cousin Jim and I got along well.  He and I had some things in common: we spoke our minds and enjoyed a good debate.  Jim was opinionated, and that was a quality I very much appreciated.  Why did I appreciate it?  Because people that are opinionated are passionate about their beliefs.  They like to not only share it with others, but they like to explain their reasoning and give people something to think about.  Beyond that, they love to hear opposing views and debate them.  Jim did this, and did it well.

Our last conversation on the phone was about God.  Jim was talking about why bad things happen to good people, and he was stating his views when I blurted out, “…it’s because God gave us the gift of free will.”  He said, “That’s the point I’m trying to make here!  Don’t steal my thunder!”  We had the same view, but he was prepared for the debate.  I miss him.

I’m going to say this publicly, I was not the best cousin.  I didn’t call him very often.  I had a call from him, a call I never got the chance to return.  I’m struggling with that now.  I was too busy to pause in all of my busyness and make a phone call.

My two hour trip to Gladewater to attend the memorial service was an unexpected blessing.  I stopped at Wendy’s to grab a bite to eat.  As I was driving back onto the highway, I saw a man with a sign asking for help.  My first thought was to call him homeless, but I really have no way of knowing if that was the case, so I’m going to go with ‘impoverished’.  He was sitting so close to the highway, it would have been difficult for anyone to make a spontaneous stop.  I merged into traffic wishing I had stopped.  I thought back to when I lived in downtown Chicago, passing homeless and impoverished people all the time.  It was easy to help, because I saw so many of them on a daily basis.  Now I live in the untroubled suburbs, a place where being impoverished is frowned upon and being homeless is not allowed.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  I drove about ten miles, turned the car around and headed back.  I wanted to not only buy him lunch and give him the few dollars I had, but I had a strong desire to talk with him.

I returned to Wendy’s, bought him a meal and drove across the street where he was sitting.  As I got out of the car, he started to approach me.  I gave him the lunch and the few dollars cash I had.  He was very appreciative, although he declined the Coke because he can’t have sugar.  I was so anxious to talk with him.  I never had any lengthy conversations with an impoverished person, but I was eager to know more about him.

Before I go any further here, I need to tell you why I’m writing this.  I’m not writing this to get praise for being a good person or for doing a random act of kindness for a stranger.  I’m writing this to tell of how God can take a selfish person and change them.  Yes, me, a very selfish person.  I was convicted to go back to this man, not because I needed to do a good Christmas time deed, but because I wanted to genuinely do something that might make his day a little better.  More than that, I wanted to get to know him, I wanted to know what we had in common.

This is Tom.  Tom is an amazingly friendly man, a man who has fallen on some hard times.  We talked about travel, abandoned houses, photography, art, the Bible and God.  Tom has seen the Mona Lisa in person!  The coolest thing about it was listening to him explain how he takes in a piece of art, the astounding details and just listening to him describe the experience.  I wanted to take him and go find the closest art gallery and spend the day there with him.  Reality check!  I’m in Tyler, Texas.  Art gallery?  Probably not.  And yes, I know, don’t talk to strangers and don’t pick up hitchhikers.  Tom was not a stranger and what am I teaching my kids about people?

Tom is a leather artist and has also dabbled in woodworking.  Tom has an NIV study Bible.  He’s had it for about 5 years and he loves to take notes, write stories and draw pictures in it, just like I do.  I, of course, made sure he was stocked with art supplies for the necessary creative scrawls.

As I spoke with Tom, I felt this beautiful warmth.  I typically don’t look into people’s eyes too much because they look back.  I avoid it.  But his eyes were intriguing.  His soul was glowing and you could see it through his eyes.

We talked for a while before I realized I was going to be late if I didn’t get back on the road.  We said goodbye, shook hands and I climbed into my car.  All of a sudden, I realized how cold I was.  The temperature outside was 38 degrees and Tom was dressed for it.  I was not.

My encounter with him really got me thinking about life and the way I live it.  I could go on here for days talking about Tom.  I wanted to stay there and talk to him.  Having a ‘tinselectomy‘ is a permanent thing and a good thing.  I’m going to get out of Frisco more often, get out of my comfort zone and go help homeless and impoverished people.  There are plenty of them around, but they will never be sitting in my front yard.  I don’t want to be selfish.  I’m going to go find them and do what I can to help.  I am so blessed in so many ways.  Talking to Tom yesterday was a blessing.  His sign said he was broke and hungry.  Aren’t we all?

Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “`You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: `Love your neighbor as yourself.  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”


23 days until Christmas…

This photograph, by far, disturbs me more than any of the others we took last Sunday.  Study it for a moment.  What do you see?

The most obvious thing?  It’s inflatable, and the biggest ‘residential’ one I’ve ever seen.  I’m surprised the Frisco Sign Nazi hasn’t found a ‘clause’ to ban these yet.  Hmmm, that does give me some good marketing ideas.  This inflatable, when crashing to its daily morning death, could possibly cover the house.  I guess it could be used during the summer as an exterminator tent.  I’m all about the mutli-purpose purchases.

My first thought when I saw this?  I wonder if the reindeer butts are sticking out the back.  Yes, E drove around behind it so I could look.  No butts.  Where’s the artistic detail here?

Now for the disturbing part.  There are eight reindeer, not counting Rudolph because he has a condo in Florida and he only helps when the weather is bad.  Where do Dasher and Donner live?  I checked the back, and there were no more stable doors.  I also looked around in the neighboring yards, just to be sure they didn’t have a separate stable.  Nope, they’re just simply not there.  I guess the recession has hit the North Pole, just like everywhere else.

So what do out of work reindeer do?  Play reindeer games?  There’s no money in that.  Update their reindeer resume?  The only experience they have is working for Santa flying a sleigh once a year.  Both are probably thinking they should have gone to college and gotten their degrees.  But they both know that with the economy the way it is, even that is no guarantee of a good job, or any job for that matter.

With two less reindeer, Santa will be carrying a lighter load this year.  I hope Santa has a tinselectomy and bypasses all the kids that have no needs and delivers some basic necessities to those in need.  Some of the elves should become farmers and make food, while others become carpenters and make prefab houses.  If they restructured Santa Enterprises, Dasher and Donner could have their jobs back and needy families all over the world could have food and shelter.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good… morning.


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