Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas on the Farm

Playing Joseph in my church's "Christmas on the Farm" this weekend surprisingly had quite an effect on me. I know the Christmas story inside and out. Since I was a little guy, I've always seen Jesus as the focal point of Christmas – as He should be. Last night was something new though. No, there was nothing different about the setting. It was rather typical – stable, donkey, sheep, shepherds, straw bedding in a wooden manger, a beautiful Mary, a borrowed baby doll, and a chilling wind that ignored my multiple layers of tunic clothing and went straight for the marrow.

There was something new though.

Although much of the ten minute presentation became repetitive, one portion did not. Just as a gentle song began in the background, Mary gently handed me the baby Jesus, wrapped in soft white cloth. For the next few moments, I was no longer acting. I looked back into those incredibly lifelike eyes and an involuntary smile spread across my face. A lump formed in my throat as I held the Child who would soon die for my sins and the sins of the world. Fully God and fully man, Immanuel, God with us. The creator of the universe nestled against my chest. My heart exploded with awe and thankfulness. As the smell of the animals' dung filled my nostrils and the frigid air attacked my body's warmth, I thanked the Father for sending His Son to such a disgusting world. Jesus emptied Himself, became of no reputation, took the form of a lowly servant, and ultimately suffered for a world that rejected Him.

My mind doesn't comprehend such love but that's alright. I'll continue to be dumbfounded day after day, Christmas after Christmas, as the Lord continues to remind me how much He loves me and how much it cost to reconcile me back to Himself. The word Gospel means "good news." It's true. It's so very true.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One for the Books

One of my favorite assignments from high school was a simple English project in which I picked a painting and a quote and mounted them on professional matting. No rules on subject matter, just rules on dimension and material. Ms. Freedman said mine was her favorite in all her years teaching. Neat old Jewish woman. I never once heard her use my first name. It was always a grumbly Greenfield!. So anyways, my project was pretty cool. I let Ms. Freedman keep it upon her request. It consisted of a painting of an old man with a little boy sitting on his knee. Together, they were playing a guitar. Just under the painting were John Lennon's famous words "all you need is love."

Is it true? Is that really all we need? Usually, I would say no. On any other day, the logical side of me would explain that we need much more than love. We need air, food, water, clothes, warmth, security. Not tonight though. What good is air when my chest struggles to gasp for a single breath? What good is food and water when my stomach has some painful mass of dull steady emptiness? My closet reeks of memories that further intensify the heartache. The down comforter and numerous pillows adequately contain my body's warmth but yet I still sense an icy cold on the inside. The neighborhood may be safe tonight but I still feel robbed and vulnerable.

But it's not just that..

My old man is still chillin under the bathroom sink. After all those years of hearing him talk and talk and talk (freakin telemarketers), I'd love to hear his voice just once more.

I brought my mother dinner tonight. What a sweet woman. As she happily munched on the pizza with her favorite toppings that I know by heart, she rambled about something on TV. As usual, it was difficult for me to even make eye contact. The oxygen tube running just beneath her cheek bones, the walker adjacent to the recliner, and the constant slur of words were all just reminders of how much I miss my mom. I miss the mom that she used to be.

I also saw my puppy tonight. My 16 year old puppy. For a pet hater, I sure do love my Rascal. Sometimes I wonder if he'll actually out live my mom. They're both getting closer by the day. Rascal will likely get a more formal funeral with more tears shed than my pops. Funny how things work out.

Brian Nichols' life was spared tonight. After being found guilty on 54 counts of various crimes including four murders, we somehow had a hung jury: 9/3. Because three jurors didn't sentence Brian to die, he will live - by default. My heart has been broken and re-broken again and again over the past three months of this trial for the families that lost loved ones on March 11, 2005. How could we possibly have spared this man's life? Judge Barnes' wife won't have her husband for yet another Christmas. Same goes for Julie Bandeaux's daughter, Sergeant Teasley's mom, and Agent Wilhelm's mentally handicapped brother. Justice? 5+ million tax payer dollars for this trial and much more for a lifetime in prison. I don't know. I just don't know.

So what is my conclusion tonight? Hell, I don't know. The love around me is severely tainted. My family is a mess, my country is a mess, my life is a mess.

Tomorrow, I'm trading toiletries for toiletries. It's really just an excuse for one last moment together before we allow our broken hearts to start letting go and moving on. In time, we won't look at each other the same. How I wish I could just grab her up and run far away. Throw caution to the wind and go. My love, my companion, my inspiration, my comforter, the very object of my passion. A terror lurks deep within that I'm passing up my soul mate. Either way, we did have a great run and a beautiful romance. One for the books. I'm a better man and a deeper lover because of it. Even picked up a couple dance steps – whaddayaknow.

All you need is love, eh? Sounds rather plausible tonight. All I can do is encourage you and encourage myself to keep loving. Let's not grow cold and callused, serious and cynical: dreary old pessimists. Let's love people even though our love is sadly lacking in consistency and selflessness. Let's keep receiving love even though it sometimes comes with ulterior motives and strings attached. By all means, love until you're bruised and bloody and then love some more. Never forget that, when all else fails, you've got a Savior that loves you unconditionally and gave His life for you. If I know anything about anything, I know that's absolutely true. Although I'm feeling a crippling loneliness tonight, my Savior is closer to me than I realize. His love is perfect, complete, and unchanging.

If you do have someone to love during the holidays, don't get caught up in the hoopla of the shopping frenzies. Just love them. Figure out how to love them and then smother them in love. Be their hero and lavish them with your affections. Don't take them for granted. For many of us, this will be our last Christmas with certain folks. Even if the endings aren't perfect 10's, we can surely do our best to love with everything we've got. You have the ability to make each of your relationships "one for the books." Declare your love, display your love, act your love, commit your love. Life is too damn miserable any other way.