A Way With Words

I write poems from time to time and, obviously (since you’re reading this), blog posts, too. I’ve been doing this for quite a while now and, while I’ve won no awards and don’t think I’m good enough or have enough passion to try to make a living through writing, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that I have “a way with words.”

I certainly appreciate the compliment and the affirmation that I feel each time somebody responds positively to something I write whether it be a notification that somebody clicked the “Like” link under something I posted or whether something I’ve written elicits a much more significant response (one example happening during my dad’s sixteen month battle that he eventually lost to brain cancer when I walked in on him as he was reading a post I’d written in tribute to him and he was wiping away tears – emotion that he rarely showed under any circumstance).

But, more and more, lately, I’ve become aware of just how worthless words can be. Even if I had the ability to phrase words in such a way that could inspire masses of people, if I don’t have the substance in my personal life to match the love and compassion that I claim to possess, my words are empty and could, quite possibly, do more harm than good.

Multiple scenarios have come to mind in my personal life, of late, in which I have completely dropped the ball. During the summer, a time when teachers such as myself have more free time (though, deservedly so I might add!) than at any other time of the year, I let my priorities fall out of order. I found many reasons, from one moment to the next and from one day to the next,  from the beginning of the summer to the end, to just continue doing whatever self-focused task I was involved in instead of getting up to go and visit someone who is struggling, instead of calling to see if I could come in for a shift at the local homeless shelter, or, sometimes even to get up and play with my own kids.

Undoubtedly, I have been blessed with a great deal of compassion and love from those around me and, certainly, from God above. But, the biblical principle that those who are blessed greatly should, in turn, bless others greatly has taken a hit in my personal life this summer and now it is time to start a new school year.

With the start of this new school year, my prayer and my mission – the focus area in my life where I need to step aside and let God’s grace shine – is clear: I need to live with humble integrity by recognizing my shortfalls, emptying my hands, and taking steps forward, one at a time, trusting that God will plant them in the direction He has planned. There is too much at stake in this life and our time here is too short to just exchange pleasantries and talk about doing what is right.

Unwrap Christmas

Perhaps more so than many, I am guilty of wrapping myself in the colorful nostalgic tradition of the holidays that I was born into

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

in 1976. With an ever-present nod to the visions of Clement Clark Moore and the sounds of Bing Crosby, I’ve reveled annually in the green, red, and shiny tinsel of the season. Christmas music, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, holiday lattes at Starbucks, and annual trips to the mountains of North Carolina for Christmas trees have all found their way into my family’s cannon of holiday traditions that make this season what it is for us year after year: a glowing, blinking, tinsel-strewn festival of merriment that, unfortunately, is as far away from the central, critical Christian focus of Christmas as it could possibly be.

In Reflections For Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning articulately described the crime that is so smoothly committed at this time each year:

The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can say exactly where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds. But in the weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.

Sadly, Christian piety down the centuries has petrified the Babe of Bethlehem. Christian art has trivialized divine scandal into gingerbread creches. Christian worship has sentimentalized the smells of the stable into dignified pagent….Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ child and quake at the inbreak of God almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees, and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that the happiness and warmth that is, in fact, shared by many during this season is bad. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m extremely thankful for the blessings that I experience on a daily basis and that come in the forms of a warm place to live, plenty of food to eat, a job, family, and friends and the holiday season is a time when such blessings can certainly be celebrated. But, what I need to focus on this year is carrying the same loving spirit that fills Christmas past December and into each and every day of the new year.

The notion seems simple enough to write about in a blog post like I’m doing here, but, what would that actually look like on a daily basis? For me it means filtering out the fat in my daily routine and replacing it with more time and interaction with my family. It will mean giving more of myself – my time, my creativity, my help – to others. My approach as a teacher has room for improvement, too, in terms of focusing more on the students that I teach and less on the content that I teach. It means spending less time reading sports articles and more time praying.

What would it actually look like in your daily life if you took the first steps in unwrapping the real meaning of Christmas and carried it into the new year?

To anyone kind enough to have given your time to read this. Thank you. I wish you a very merry Christmas in which you are able to fully, and happily enjoy your blessings. I also wish you, as I intend for myself, a leaner more giving New Year.

If you’d like to learn more about one of the major steps I’m taking in order to have a leaner new year, please peruse the posts that I’ve written focused on the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project. Then visit and ‘Like’ the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project Facebook page. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Cheating At Christmas

Misdirected emphasis on items that come home in a shopping bag
Lights stranded in the cold on a green plastic-encased wire
They don’t make it any easier to see to touch, to feel, and to believe what is true
The scent of nostalgia brought on by familiar songs and tales
Feelings of pseudo-community brought on by germinating seeds of anticipation
That are discreetly, indeed cleverly, rooted in selfishness
We’ve traded in a willingness to accept steadfast grace
In favor of an annual date with comfortable and fleeting greed