The Second Sunday of Advent: Preparation

They wrote, The King is coming, a thousand years before,
He’ll bear the weight of government, royalty, and more;

He said, Your Offspring will crush head, of serpent and of sin,
And though times will be a-trying, the Offspring, He will win.

They heard the Ruler would be born in Bethlehem the small,
Arriving in a tiny town, He’d still be known by all;

Appearing to her one fine day, the angel spoke a word,
He said, Your baby will be holy, note, from God you’ve heard.

But the people were not ready, in Bethlehem that night,
For though they’d grown up hearing tales, they weren’t looking for the Light.

Packing streets, filling inns, eating all the food;
A stable full was all there was to set the birthing mood.

And when the Baby came along, just sheep beheld his face,
Asleep had gone the city, this Bethlehem-town place;

But full of glee, delight, and mirth at all that He had done,
God emptied heaven’s cities full, to herald newborn Son.

He sent the angels, one and all, to shepherds in the sand—
All preparing’s ended now, the King is in this land.

And just like that He came on in, after years of word and warning,
To signal night’s ending now, Him the beginning of the morning.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Eight Classic Office Personalities

There’s a lot of high drama in an office environment. Combining a small space with tight deadlines is bound to bring out people’s real personalities fairly quickly.

What personalities, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked.

Social butterfly
Things you’ll often hear from the social butterfly:
My computer broke so I’m just wandering around talking to people.
What did you think about the new movie? I went to see it with three different groups.
I invited 270 people to my wife’s birthday party—wanna come?

Prickly nice guy
Though it’s a label with an identity crisis, there are people in the world who can grumble about projects or people in one breath and check to see if you’re doing okay in the next.

But I didn’t do it
If I’m walking with my eyes closed and you’ve got your back to me, and I walk into you and you drop hot coffee on my foot, it wasn’t me. No one listens to me, I’m misunderstood, and I didn’t break it.

Fashion connoisseur
A lot of people (okay, me. I’ll admit it) have 10 or 15 outfits that they cycle through week after week. But there are some people with special fashion taste that dive into their closet, dig out some clothes, and make new combinations every day. And they somehow always look straight-from-a-magazine good.

Endlessly consistent
Signs that you work with one of these:

  • Every time you schedule an event or plan something, it’s the exact same as the last one, and the one before that, and the one . . .

  • Whenever you see something they’ve done, you get déjà vu

  • Deviating from the norm is simply not an option

Staunch introverts
If there’s one thing that can really give ulcers to 80 percent of a crowd, it’s putting four staunch introverts in a room with one social butterfly. Side note: though they say opposites attract, in this case it’s not true.

Information bank
Everyone prides themselves for different talents, but these people have a special talent for nosing into information, keeping it all in their heads, and pulling it out whenever needed.

Who you know
Somewhere along the way, someone said it’s not what you know, it’s who you know—and really, what better excuse is there for missing a deadline: I was having coffee and crumpets with the boss.

A lot of life is spent learning how to work with people.

The process often lives on a sliding scale that can move from ‘miserable’ to ‘frustrating’ to ‘rewarding’ to ‘delightful’ in a manner of moments (words, really), depending on how an interaction is going.

When you’re working through something with someone who’s different from you—social butterfly and staunch introvert go on eight-hour car trip to a sales conference—remember that you have as many idiosyncrasies as they do. Remember that you both need bountiful grace, and at times, neither of you will deserve it.

And remember that one of the great joys in life is overcoming relational difficulties and learning how to get along. Maybe even becoming friends, if you’re feeling crazy.

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Advent: a season of prayer, fasting, and hope to prepare for the coming of Christ Jesus (from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival, appearance”)

Birds cry, sunshine shouts, the wind whistles exuberance;
but I, dredged down from sin,
shame, scorn, guilt,
cannot raise my weary head.

Morning brings joy, again and again, but I have no room;
instead it’s a daily reminder of my pain,
insufficiency, heartbreak, failures,
1,000 reasons over not to try again.

And when I thought that all was lost, and the tunnel had no end;
suddenly, with most inconvenient clangor—
light in the darkness, shouts in the hills, cries of a mother—
Something more appears.

Something foreign:
constant, holy, kind.
And it seems He just might be
the answer to all our pain.

It seems He just might bring

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. . . . And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.

Lolita and The Fur: A Vignette

This week as I was walking to the store to buy groceries, a tall woman ambled along in front of me. Her deep brown fur coat reached from shoulder to calf. Six inches of her purple pants showed, and the shade of her brown fur cap matched the coat perfectly. When she turned to cut across the street, I was surprised to see that she was wearing enormous sunglasses. It wasn’t sunny.

On her, the fur coat was serving pure functionality, blocking the cutting wind on a 20 degree day.

But in one of my stories . . .

Lolita Franks, 55 and unhappily wed to Ted, had wanted just one thing her adult whole life: a fox fur coat. Unfortunately, year after year Ted paid no attention to her longing sighs and the magazine articles strategically left by the TV remote, in the cabinet near the chips, and on the back of the toilet.

Christmas Eve repeatedly found Lolita casting curious glances at the often large parcels under the tree—and the early morning light of December 25 caught her wearily trying to smile as she pulled yet another set of pillows or a potted plant from a poorly wrapped box.

Ted tried to be a good husband, really, he did. He didn’t cause any trouble—where other men came home late and fought with their wives, Ted came home early and spent the rest of the daylight in the garage with his tools. He loved tools. Often he just sat with them. After dinner, he watched TV quietly without making any commotion, except when his favorite team lost a game. Then he moped and grumbled for two days.

Lolita had long since given up on trying to make her marriage successful. Ted provided for her, she cooked for him, and they coexisted peacefully—not happily.

Her friends always asked Lolita why she didn’t just buy herself a fur coat. She’d sigh wistfully and say,

“It just doesn’t seem right.”

But she never cited the guilt and the real reason. It came up in the only fight they had, just once every few years. Things would go from tense to terrible, each would become furious, and finally Ted would shout,

“You NEVER gave me children, so I’ll NEVER give you that DUMB coat you always hint about.”

And so Lolita became more wistful, and Ted more withdrawn, and their unhappy peacekeeping routine continued.

I wish Ted repented of his vindictiveness and forgave his wife’s inability to conceive. I wish Lolita grew the backbone to stick up for herself.

But neither did. And the cycle followed them into their late 70s. Finally, one November, the main window at Macy’s featured a beautiful fox fur floor length coat. And after Thanksgiving and a particularly nasty brawl, Lolita stormed out of the house and squealed the tires out of the driveway—which calmed her down a little because she was so surprised—and marched into Macy’s.

White wispy hair sticking straight out from her head, wrinkled cheeks burning red, untrimmed bushy eyebrows set stiffly pointing down—Lolita stalked to the front counter. The cashier took one look at her and edged his hand toward the panic button, but before he could press it she demanded the coat in the window. She plunked $7,000 cash firmly on the counter.

Ten minutes later the security officers followed at a distance as Lolita flounced proudly out of the store in her new purchase. Then she tripped over the curb and fell to the ground.

Even the new coat couldn’t save her from a broken hip. Ted came to get her, and his anger melted into compassion when he saw his wife, helpless. She got a hip replacement and never walked much again. But she kept the fur coat hanging in sight, and she wore it whenever she did out in any season and temperature.

She died ten years later, and Ted died three months after she did.

At their estate sale, one Bert Jamison bought the coat as a present for his niece, a spunky girl who had odd style.

She hated it, though, and never wore it. After she left for college, her mother donated it to Salvation Army.

And that’s where Mary Jones, the fur enthusiast shuffling down a Chicago street that cold November day, bought it for $25.99.

Winter in Chicago

Just like that—with the subtlety of a charging rhino, and pomp of the rich and famous—winter arrives in Chicago.

Every year it make a difference appearance. But it always brings a variety of behaviors, wardrobes, and sniffling noses.

And it always showcases a certain urban beauty.


Sunday Thank-Yous—Pt. 5, conclusion

Sunday naps
Brisk (cold and fast) walks
New baby snuggles
Breakfast for dinner
Chocolate milkshakes
Christmas jazz
Snow in the forecast

Conclude this week of thankfulness with a list of things you’re thankful for—maybe make it a habit for every Sunday. Gratitude isn’t the answer to all life’s problems, but it’s a good reminder that we’re not in control and that God is good.

The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.

Late Thank-Yous—Pt. 4

Sometimes the doctor calls with the awful news, your car breaks down on the side of the road for the fifth time in a month, or life just doesn’t go as planned. When that happens, gratitude is never your (my) first response.

One of life’s common complexities is the expectation that you show gratitude when you don’t feel it because life feels unfair.

If appreciation has a scale and thankfulness—showing and expressing gratitude—is on one end, the other end is being unthankful (through apathy and silence). So when you hang up from the call with bad news from a loved one or the mechanic, what do you do?

There’s no formula for expressing gratitude when you’re too numb to respond, so I don’t have an answer here. The best idea I can give: tell your unedited feelings to the One who sees—and years down the road, if time has healed enough to show you any positive outcome from the situation, say thank you then.

Late thank-yous are better than none.

Lists and Thank You—Pt. 3

Thanksgiving is about gratitude (you’re welcome—call me Captain Obvious).

Many people go around the table before dinner, saying what they’re thankful for. Others write thank-you notes to the people who’ve given them things. Some serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need. All over the country, thankfulness is exuding from families who’ve gathered together to eat and relax.

Gratitude is a reminder to be humble, because we don’t deserve what we’ve been given. But gratitude isn’t just about humility and thankfulness, it’s about Who we’re thanking. Every immaterial and material thing we have is a gift from God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Happy Post-Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful to God for . . .

Curtis (he’s very wonderful)
My job
Both of my families
Nieces and nephews—the brand new ones, and the older ones
Pie and whole milk
Religious freedom

And lots and lots and lots of other things.

Water and Thank You—Pt. 2

Few of us live scripted lives.

For instance, tonight I spent approximately 20 minutes staring at my screen, thinking about what to write on thankfulness. In that time I eked out the short opening sentence you see above.

There was also pumpkin bread in the oven and laundry in the dryer. It was a busy week in the laundry room (three broken washers), so I’d been making lots of trips. At the end of my last laundry trip, I noticed a huge puddle of water seeping from under the door of the apartment across the hall and spreading rapidly (read: before my eyes). After dropping off my laundry and taking my bread out of the oven—I thought—I knocked on our neighbor’s door.

Polina is small woman with high cheekbones, a broad smile, and a red walker. Her knowledge of English is better than my knowledge of Russian, but not by much.

She opened her door, and I pointed at the water—saying something profound to the effect of,

You have water.

Exclaiming, she scurried back into her apartment. I entered in time to see water spilling from a sinkful of dirty dishes. It seemed she’d become distracted by her movie and forgotten to turn off the faucet.

I fetched some towels and helped her sop up water from all over her pale-wood laminate floors, moving carpets, reaching under furniture, and emptying the closet. She worked vigorously, rushing around with a towel larger than her, wringing it into a bucket, and hustling to move chairs and bags from one room to the next. I helped, but she worked hardest.

When we finished and everything was at least just damp and mostly drying, she straightened to her full 4’ 10”, looked up at me, and thanked me profusely.

“Sank you very much. Visout you I vould hef—how do you say in English? Dite in ze vater?”

Then she gave me three slices of coffee cake and sent me on my way, wet towels in one hand and plate of dessert in the other. I came home, thought I smelled something burning, and realized I never took my bread out of the oven.

Polina will probably soon forget my name, that I helped her, even this incident of her wet little apartment.

But I’m likely to remember her repeated thankfulness for a long time—sank you for helping me, as we bent side by side, dredging water from under the table. Sank you as I emptied her closet and she moved the small rugs into her bathtub, Sank you as we rang water from towels and filled bucket after bucket.

She thanked me for doing work she was doing alongside of me. Humbling.

Your thank-you’s may not mean much to you, but they will mean a lot to the recipient. Thank sincerely, profusely.

Please and Thank You—Pt. 1

When I was little, please and thank you were drilled into my mindset and vocabulary.

If you remember being a small child, or you have a small child, or you know a small child (covering all my bases here), chances are high that you’re familiar with this principle. Teaching children to say please and thank you makes them tolerable members of society, and more. ‘Please’ trains them to understand that they’re not entitled to things—’thank you’ reminds them of the same while affirming the sacrifice of the giver. Although most two-year-olds probably won’t grasp this complexity, it’s amazing what mindsets people absorb without understanding them.

As a child grows, the things they ask for often grow with them: please may I have . . . two cookies? Cool trendy jeans? Twenty bucks? The car keys? My college tuition? Your daughter’s hand in marriage?

And though we aren’t (at least I wasn’t) explicitly taught that the amount of gratitude should vary with the size of the gift—

thanks for the scarf mom



—it’s easy to get carried away when we get something we really want (cool new gadget) vs. something someone else wants us to have (nice new socks*).

Entering this Thanksgiving with a mindset of ‘please and thank you’ isn’t just spouting vague gratitude for the big things after a turkey dinner (though I do condone this exercise)—it’s using the specific words in everyday interactions with people who might not be please-ed or thanked by anyone else.

Your thankfulness gives you the right mindset this November, but it can also make someone else’s day (work, job, life) better.

* Never understood why socks get such a bad rap, though. I like them a lot.