Dizzy Thoughts for a New Year

The alarm jangled as it always does, too early.   Lying on my back, my eyes reluctantly slid open and focused on the ceiling.  What I mean to say is, they tried to focus on the ceiling.  “Why is the room going in circles?” I wondered aloud.  Almost instantly, I was nauseated.  I knew I had to stand up, but I couldn’t.  Even an attempt to sit up failed, as I almost toppled off the side of the bed.  After I made her understand what I needed, the pretty live-in nurse helped me to the facilities, where I promptly…well, I won’t go into the repulsive details.  My nurse helped me back to the bed, where I laid myself down and tried to stay absolutely motionless.  It didn’t help much.

The next twenty-four hours are a complete blank.  I know (because she told me she did) that the nice nurse ran the music store for me that day.  After a full day of complete inactivity and alternating sleep and nausea, the next morning brought a repeat performance of the spinning room and inability to stand.  The beautiful red-headed nurse took matters into her own hands.  Loosely translated, that means that she made an appointment with the doctor and drove me to see him.  The trip was torture.  Even with my eyes closed, the motion of the car increased the dizziness exponentially, with all the accompanying symptoms.  At the doctor’s office, I could not walk on my own, but had to to be rolled in a wheelchair from the waiting area to the examination room.  The good doctor was baffled about the cause, but he knew what to do.  “I’m going to give you prescriptions for the nausea and for the vertigo,” he said.  “The vertigo medication won’t actually fix the dizziness, but it will fool your brain into thinking that it’s gone and will let you function.”  I was helped back into the wheelchair and the nice lady started to push me out.  “Oh, one more thing!”  He cautioned.  “The medication has a tendency to cause mood swings.  You want to be careful to stay out of stressful situations.  Some patients tend to get a little combative.”  A prophetic statement, as it turned out…

I didn’t realize it, but as I was wheeled out, a friend who worked at the clinic, saw me and became very worried.  She called her husband and told him that he needed to check on me.  “He’s quite sick!  I think there’s something seriously wrong with him,”  were the words he reported to me later that week.  I was to remember those words a few months later, when ironically and quite sadly, my concerned friend was diagnosed with cancer and died within weeks of the diagnosis.  The incongruity of her concern for me with a passing, relatively minor illness, while a silent killer was at work in her own body, still gives me pause today.

The doctor’s prescriptions did their job.  I was on my feet within 24 hours and back to work soon thereafter.  I soon forgot about his warning about side-effects, though.  Until one Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks later.  My brother-in-law and I had to pick up a piano and bring it back to the music store.  Pulling the piano trailer behind my truck and stopped at a stop sign, I grew impatient with the oncoming traffic.  Muttering under my breath about “idiots who never should have been given a license,” I picked a gap a little bigger than the others (but still without enough distance to safely enter traffic) and pushed the nose of the truck into it, the trailer naturally following.  In the rearview mirror, I saw the dark green pickup truck (itself pulling a stock trailer) approaching at a rapid clip.  I didn’t care.  All that mattered to me was that I was in the lane and not waiting at the stop sign any longer.  Let him put on his brakes.  He did, but boy, was he angry!  I could see him gesturing and yelling as I looked in the mirror.  He was also tailgating me, so I tapped my brakes.  Do you begin to see a pattern here?  Can we say the words “road rage”?  I still didn’t care and, come to think of it, was getting a little enraged myself.

When I pulled into the parking lot at the music store, he was still on my bumper and he pulled in right behind me.  The strapping young farmer got out of his truck angrily and headed for my vehicle.  He was a lot bigger than I.  And, a lot stronger.  I didn’t care.  I shouted at him, just as loudly as he shouted at me.  My brother-in-law, in the truck with me, couldn’t believe what he was seeing (and hearing).  Every once in awhile, I could hear his voice saying quietly and apprehensively, “Paul…,” but I ignored him, continuing with my shouting match.  Finally, I yelled at the driver of the other truck to get off my property, which he did, after a few more choice words of his own.  When I turned to look at my brother-in-law, he was staring at me in disbelief, his mouth hanging open.  “That was stupid!  I thought you were going to try to fight him!  What if he pulled out a gun?”  I was dismissive, but realization of what I had done was beginning to dawn on me, and soon, embarrassment took the place of anger.

There is still one more chapter to this narrative.  A few months after these events, I had another episode of dizziness and my doctor, concerned because of the reoccurrence, sent me to a specialist.  After a few moments of examination, the specialist gave me his diagnosis.  “You’ve got rocks loose in your head.”  As we laughed together, he went on to explain the tongue-in-cheek statement, telling me that the little pieces of calcium which are present in the ear canal, normally moving in concert to keep the equilibrium of the body, had gotten “out of sync”.  A few of the pieces had shifted to a different part of the canal and were moving independently.  What I needed was some physical therapy and a regimen of exercises to move the little “rocks” back to their normal location.  Within two weeks, the problem was fixed.  No aggression-causing medication, no parking lot fights.  And, I know what to do the next time the symptoms come. 

This is not a conversation about the medical versus the holistic approach, so I would prefer not to have a bunch of proselytizing in response to this post.  Both of the doctors I visited were medical doctors.  The symptoms of my second bout of vertigo were more localized and easier to pin down than the first one, making the diagnosis possible.  My doctor did exactly what he should have in prescribing medication which eased the symptoms.  I had to have relief.  I mention these events simply to bring some other truths into focus.

Can I talk about the ways we approach life’s problems for a moment or two?   I’ve seen firsthand the ways that the issues of life are sometimes handled.  Similar to my staying in bed, the denial method has more than a few practitioners.  Sooner or later though, the issue has to be faced.  Closing our eyes and denying the truth won’t change facts.  I also know a number of folks who have decided that fooling the brain into believing the problem is gone will suffice.  Daily, I see people who drink to forget, or who take drugs to dull the pain.  They even succeed in their goal…for a few moments.  The problem with this method?  The side-effects are inevitable; the symptoms return.  Like my aggressive attitude, serious repercussions result and the latter disaster is as bad or worse than the reason for masking the problem in the first place.  Also, a word of caution to those of you who are on the outside looking in on someone who is going through this:  Like my friend at the medical center, it is easy to talk about the seriousness of other’s problems, to assume that we’re okay, when in reality we have a bigger, far more serious problem ourselves.

I want you also to understand that the cure for my problem was not enjoyable.  First, as I lay on the specialist’s examining table, he forced me to move into a position which made the full effect of the dizziness overwhelm me, so he could observe the physical symptoms of my problem.  It was terrifying.  It was also necessary, so that the diagnosis could be made and the process of healing be started.  The subsequent sessions with the therapist and the exercises done at home were also extremely unpleasant, with the symptoms reoccuring several times in the process.  I didn’t want to continue, but I knew that the only path to the goal of healing was through the unpleasantness.  Avoiding it would bring temporary respite from the torturous treatment, but I would still have the ongoing dizziness.

Have I preached enough?  I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m remembering that this will likely be my last post of this year and the preaching is mostly aimed at myself.  The new year approaches rapidly, alongside the ramifications with which we imbue it…namely a new start and a time for resolutions.  As usual, I am not making much of a resolution list, simply because at this point in my life, I know the futility of such lists.  The old joke about resolutions going in one year and out the other is more truth than otherwise.  So, I am going to determine to do this one thing next year, as difficult at it may be.  My hope for 2012 is that I will face what lies ahead openly and honestly.  My goal is to approach problems with the intent to solve them, not to mask them or to deny them.

I hope that some of you will hold my feet to the fire to achieve this goal.  If you do that, I also hope that you will give me the benefit of your help when I need it. And, I will need it.  Without it, I might even get into a fist fight or two in the parking lot.  That wouldn’t be a good thing, would it?

“Ring out the old; ring in the new.
Ring happy bells across the snow.
The year is going; let him go.
Ring out the false; ring in the true.”
(Alfred Lord Tennyson~Victorian poet~1809-1892)

“Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye, when you have a log in your own?  First, take the log out of your own eye and then you can see to help your friend get the speck out of his.”
(Matthew 7:3,5

A Real Original

We had wandered miles that afternoon.  Okay, maybe not miles.  It certainly seemed like miles.  As we are prone to do now and again, the Lovely Lady and I had taken an afternoon away from the mundane world of  lawn-mowing and assorted yard chores (for me), and laundry and music preparation (for her).  We headed for a few of the exotic, glamorous destinations we like to call flea markets.  Okay, again, maybe not so glamorous.  For us though, it is always possible to lose ourselves in the unusual and the vintage…sometimes the just plain ludicrous…offerings to be found in the aisles of these modern day bazaars.  We don’t really look for anything in particular.  We just pick up items we find interesting and exclaim things like, “I had one of these, growing up.”  We love books and tools, furniture and dishes, even the odd musical instrument or toy.  It is relaxing and stress-free, and we still enjoy each other’s company.  Strange, huh?

On this particular day, we had just looked hopefully at a set of century-old books and then decided that the price was a little steep, so we kept moving down the row of neat (and some not-so-neat) booths, giving each a chance to snag our attention with its hidden treasures.  All of the sudden, there it was!  The beautiful little painting hung on the wall in a cheap frame, matted with paper sure to be leaching acid into the artwork, and the back covered in brown kraft paper.  The price was affordable…fifteen dollars.  Examining the little painting of the Tower Bridge in London, England, we decided (erroneously, it turned out) that it was probably a water color, fairly well done, by an artist who was not familiar to us.  The price wasn’t much of a gamble, so we purchased it, along with a few dishes that had caught the Lovely Lady’s fancy.

Later that evening, I started doing a little detective work.  The artist, I found, was actually well-known for his limited edition prints, with most of them drawing a price of over thirty times what we had paid.  I should have been ecstatic, but I had a problem.  Like my strange fixation with books, I just can’t bring myself to sell an art item I have purchased.  I buy art.  I don’t sell it.  It was pleasant to discover that the little object was worth more than we paid, but I would never make a profit from it.  I also had another problem.  I don’t hang prints on my wall.  Yep, another strange foible.  I want original pieces of art on the wall, not copies that someone else has on their wall, too.  Upon removing the kraft paper from the back of this pretty little piece, I found an original label that substantiated my suspicion that it was indeed a limited edition print, valuable to be sure, but not an item I was likely to hang on my wall.

I hear you muttering.  “What a nut!  It’s a beautiful picture!  It might even be worth quite a bit of money!  How stupid can you be?”  You’re probably right.  It’s just that, there on the hand-written label on the back of this picture, I’m told that this is number fifty-seven of a printing of ninety-nine copies of this pretty little picture.  Ninety-eight other people in the world have this same picture hanging on their walls!  Ninety-eight!  Right or wrong, I decided long ago that I like original artwork, not copies.  The originals I possess may not have as much monetary value; they may even be uglier than most, but one thing is certain:  No one else has the same thing hanging on their wall.

Is there a point to this rambling post, you ask?  I hope so.  You see, I’m pretty sure that, if we can extend the analogy of paintings and prints to people, we were all intended to be originals.  Not one of us bears a label which declares us to be number fifty-seven out of ninety-nine copies produced.  Just yesterday, I had a conversation with the Lovely Lady about how strange each of us is in someone’s eyes.  I have no doubt that I have been labeled strange, or odd, or even weird, more times than I could imagine.  I gladly take ownership of those labels.  It means that I’m an original and I think that’s greatly to be preferred to the numbered copy label.

Why then, do we spend our whole lives trying to fit in?  We shove and squeeze and contort ourselves to become whatever is “normal”, never realizing that who we really are is much more important than who we can pretend to be.  We buy the “in” clothes, drive the “in” cars, and live in the “in” neighborhoods, all to meet someone else’s expectations.  I used to think that it was just those of us who grew up in church who “wanted to be clones”, as a contemporary Christian song put it a number of years ago.  I’m confident now that making ourselves into copies is a universal problem, often with serious consequences.  The masks we wear and the facades we construct hide individuals, originals who were never intended to take on the different identities they are forced into.  Sometimes, we force our children, our friends, and even our spouses into the molds we have constructed, simply because we have our own goals and aspirations for them. We never stop to realize that the individual inside of the mold is sure to break out sooner or later, frequently in a way which causes damage to all involved.  Original is good.  It’s not always comfortable, but it’s how our Creator designed us.

Every single one of us is an original piece of art, intended by our Creator to be individuals and to achieve our own purpose in life.  We won’t all be an oil painting, or a wood-carving, or even a pen-and-ink abstract drawing.  Like snow-flakes, or fingerprints, not one of us is the same as anyone else.  Instead of putting down the odd, the “different”, why don’t we celebrate them?  I know I fit into those categories. I’ll let you in on another secret…I’m pretty sure you do, too.

It’s a good thing.

“Everyone in the world is strange but me and thee.  And sometimes, I’m not too sure about thee.”
(Anonymous quotation, probably of Welsh origin)

“Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken.”
(Oscar Wilde~Irish poet~1854-1900)

Why Don’t I Feel Better?

It has come and gone.  I’m still waiting.  What am I waiting for?  I’m not really sure.  A friend reported that her son called last Thursday “Christmas Groundhog Day”.  When she inquired about what he meant, he replied, “Well, if you go outside today and don’t see the Christmas Spirit, you’re not going to find it.”  Well, on that day, I looked.  Not there.  I figured it was still early and it would come.  But, I didn’t find what I expected.  No warm fuzzies to be found anywhere.

We spent time on Christmas Eve with our children and grandchildren and then later, with the Lovely Lady’s family, opening presents and enjoying each other’s company.  It was nice.  I don’t remember finding it there either.  On Christmas day, we went to church and I had the privilege of leading worship.  We sang a lot of traditional Christmas carols.  People smiled and told me they enjoyed the service.  More family time for Christmas dinner and then music making with my long-time brass companions.  It wasn’t unpleasant.  But, there were still no refreshing, emotionally satisfying feelings that all was right with the world.  I kept looking, but what I’ve always thought of as the “Christmas Spirit” never showed even so much as its nose.  The feelings just never came this year.

I’ve spent a good bit of time puzzling about this phenomenon over the last few days.  Then tonight, I had a conversation with some friends and I think I understand a little better.  I’m not so disappointed as I was, nor am I wondering any longer if I’m just experiencing an episode of seasonal distress, which I’ve mentioned before.  This evening, my friends and I spoke of family matters and as we talked I realized that they, like many of my friends, are facing difficult circumstances.  Although I have had a glimmer of this idea before, it was as if a light had been uncovered!  My somber mood comes from an abundance of trouble for folks I know and love.  More than one friend has been diagnosed with cancer, another with a serious heart condition, and aging parents are becoming a constant issue for many, while several others have lost their parents this past year.  I wrote earlier of a loved one in trouble with the law and am also reminded of some who are having marital problems.  Financial burdens threaten to overwhelm several I know.  The murder/suicide in our town just over a week ago weighs heavily, and the feelings of concern for the families involved cannot be denied.

It is difficult to celebrate, to rejoice, when faced with the formidable reminders of suffering all around.  To do so seems a bit like Nero fiddling as Rome burns around him (although it couldn’t have been a fiddle he played, and was more likely a lyre.  And he sang, too).  But then, I am reminded that this madman rejoiced because of the destruction, so maybe it’s not a good parallel.  I do find myself asking, along with little Gretl Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”, even after forcing out a verse of a song which reminds of her favorite things, “Why don’t I feel bettah?”  I’ve done everything I know to achieve the Christmas spirit, I’ve been with loved ones and friends; I’ve sung the carols; I’ve laughed and told stories of years past.  And, still I feel a sense of sorrow, of sympathy…yes, even of sadness.

But, because of the season it is, because we celebrate the appearance of a Savior at this time of year, I begin to realize that perhaps this is actually the real Christmas Spirit.  This sense of concern for people who are hurting – could it be more what the season should really inspire, instead of the touch-feely, warm-fuzzy feeling we’ve been led to expect as the proper spirit in which to approach the season?  The Baby came to heal, and to bring life, and joy; but He came in the midst of deep darkness and He brought real light.   The selfish part of me wants it to be about happiness, and parties, and laughter.  I am starting to think that those are false and empty promises, which supplant joy, and sympathy, and love.

Through the tears, we see a time when all tears will be wiped away.  Through the pain, a time when these bodies will be afflicted no longer.  Through the bearing of other’s burdens, we are certain of a time when all burdens will be removed completely and we will be truly free.

When that happens, it will be always Christmas, and never winter.  I’m thinking that we may have to trudge a mile or two more in the snow before that time comes.  I can manage it, if you’ll come along…

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:2)

“Selfishness makes Christmas a burden; love makes it a delight.”

Christmas Tamales (Take Two)

The Lovely Lady and my sister have promised a repeat performance of last year’s culinary extravagance in the next few days, so I hope you’ll forgive me for the recapitulation of the post which accompanied the memories evoked.  My mouth is watering in anticipation of the food, but my heart is already full with the memory of good friends and their generosity. An original post or two will follow soon, I assure you.  You may take that as a promise or a threat, whichever seems appropriate…

Supper was a feast of memories tonight.  It seems like that happens more often these days, especially during the holiday season.  Tonight was different because the Lovely Lady and my sister spent yesterday evening and this morning making tamales.  And no, you don’t say that word the way the lady in the old commercial did years ago, “Look Harold, Mexican Tah-mails!”  The word is in three syllables, pronounced “ta-ma-les”, with the “a” sound being “ah” (as in father) and the “e” sound being “eh” (as in egg).  Okay, so much for the Spanish lesson, but I don’t want to hear any more mutilation of the name of this manna from heaven.

I’m not going to go into the recipe for this wonderful self-contained dish, primarily because I wasn’t around for any part of the process, but I’m told that tamales are made in several steps, with each taking a good bit of time and some taking a good bit of effort.  The meat is cooked and prepared with spices; the doughy covering, called “masa”, is mixed with more spices, and then all of it is put inside of dried cornhusks (which have been soaked to make them pliable again) and steamed for 2 or 3 hours.  The result is a wonderful meal that you can hold in your hand and savor to your heart’s delight.  Although I think I could have eaten more, 4 of them were adequate to satisfy my hoggish appetite this evening.  As I ate them, I was transported to Christmastime many years ago in south Texas.

The Gonzalez family lived a block from us and Christmas was a special time for them.  All year long, they had raised the pig, fattening him up for just this day of the year.  Christmas Eve day found the men slaughtering the hapless animal and dressing the carcass.  During the evening, they built a wood fire outside to cook the meat, including the amazingly good chicharrones, which are the pork rinds.  The odor while cooking wasn’t pleasant, but oh, the finished product!   I’m sure it was a heart attack waiting to happen, but the fresh crispy pork skins, cooked over the wood fire were simply incredible.  Those plastic bags of pork rinds you can buy in the grocery store don’t even come close to the flavor and consistency, nor the ambiance of eating them while standing around the fire with friends.

After this, the men could go to bed and sleep soundly, to arise well-rested on Christmas morning, but not Mrs. Gonzalez, nor her daughters.  The entire night was spent cooking, mixing, wrapping, and steaming tamales.  The recipe my Lovely Lady used today specifies that the finished product is to be placed in freezer-proof bags and frozen to be eaten later, but that was not to be the fate of this all-night labor of love from the Gonzalez ladies.  First thing in the morning on Christmas day, the packages of finished tamales, with the wonderful aroma emanating from the wrappings, were delivered to families in the neighborhood.  From the year-long task of raising the pig, to the day-long task of slaughtering, preparing, and cooking, right down to the night-long task of preparation and steaming the assembled products,  it was all done to be given away!

Their Christmas gift to the neighborhood was not just a wonderful dish to be enjoyed by all, but it was actually themselves.  To this day, it’s very difficult for me to taste a great Mexican tamale (and, yes, there are many variations on the theme, but only one that tastes right to me) without remembering and admiring this once-poor immigrant family, first generation Americans who worked tirelessly to make a life for their offspring.  They spent several years as migrant agricultural workers, then started a construction business, turning it into a thriving, profitable means of income for the entire family.  Throughout this, they never forgot their friends, sharing whatever they had, and always enjoying the people in their lives.  It was a privilege to grow up as neighbors and friends to these fine folks and a joy to have them brought to mind by such a simple, but tasty dish.

We spend our lives following the antics of the rich and famous, the rude and depraved elites, and striving to be close to them.  What we really need to understand is that those people are to be pitied rather than emulated.  The very real people who we meet in our neighborhoods, talk to in the grocery stores, and sit beside at the sports events, these are the folks who matter.  I’m not talking about helping those less fortunate, although that’s an important thing for us to do.  I’m talking about what our Lord reminded us of when He was asked what was most essential to God.  In it’s most simple form, He answered that number one, we are to love God and, coming in a close second, we are to love our neighbors.  In taking care of the second part, it seems that we could certainly take a lesson from my old neighbors.  I know many who do, but there is still room for improvement.

I know I still need a little practice.  I’ll get on that, right after I finish this one last tamale…

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.  For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.”
(Audrey Hepburn)

It Comes Around

“If you want to know how a man will treat his wife, watch how he treats his mother.”  Wise words, spoken many years ago by my father.  I’ve wondered if they might have been delivered as a ruse, to induce the four brothers who lived in my house to treat their mother with respect and love.  Regardless, it had the desired effect.  Oh, we stepped out of line a time or two, but we loved our mom and besides, we knew that there was retribution coming if Dad caught wind of any mistreatment.  It was a good lesson, which is still bearing fruit today.

I thought of my father’s words the other day.  A customer, who had the distinct odor of alcohol consumption emanating from his general vicinity, was visiting my business establishment.  It was past closing time, but the young man had asked me to wait while his wife brought down some money for an instrument he wanted.  It seemed to me that she might not be all that keen on spending the cash, but he assured me that there was no problem, so I waited.  I stood at my work bench and fiddled with a different instrument as he took a call on his cell phone.  “Oh, hey Mom. I’m glad you called.”  The words came from his mouth glibly enough, but it was obvious that he would rather she hadn’t.  There was some small talk and then he explained where he was and what was going on.  “I’m not drinking at all, Mom.”  I almost had to grab my eyebrows, as they began to rise dangerously.  Maybe I was wrong, though.  That odor could have come from someone else.  “No, she’s okay with me buying the guitar.”  I wasn’t so sure about that one, either, but it seemed like he had a story he was sticking to, so I kept working.  As he talked, a vehicle bearing his wife rolled up in front of the store, so he ended his conversation abruptly with the caller on his phone.

The young lady stalked into the store.  Yes, stalked.  There is no other word to describe it.  She didn’t say a word; not a single word.  Her hand reached out and nearly threw the bills at him and she spun around, snapped the door open, and was gone, just like that.  He looked at me, laughed nervously, and handed the cash over.  As I wrote up the ticket, he rationalized….I mean, explained to me.  “I had been drinking quite a bit, but I haven’t had a drink for seventy days. I really need this guitar to help me keep sober.”  This time, I was sure.  As he said the word “seventy”, the puff of air from his mouth bore the strong odor of whiskey to me again.  Maybe it had been seventy days before today, but he was definitely off the wagon on this day.  I said nothing, but finished the transaction as quickly as I could and locked the door after him.

I am sad.  The words my father spoke forty years ago came back to me in a rush.  As the Lovely Lady and I drove to get a quick bite to eat, I talked with her.  We agreed that the marriage has absolutely no chance of success.  I am sorry for the young lady, but I also find myself in sympathy with her mother-in-law.  The man lied to his own mother as she asked him the question point blank, wishing only to help him be a better person.  “Have you been drinking?”  And, again as she inquired about his relationship with his wife, attempting to help him understand that it would only work as a partnership, “Have you talked with her about buying the instrument?”  Both times, he brushed her off with a blatant lie.  My contention is that if he will lie to his mother, he is, without question, lying to his wife.  He even blew his alcohol fumes in my face as he lied to me!  I am sad…sad for his wife, sad for his mother, sad for his friends,  and yes…sad for him.  I am sorry that he didn’t have a father who taught him to respect the women in his life, either by instructing him or by modeling it for him. 

There is something to be said for being a people-watcher, though.  Yes, I experience some mood swings as I see the horrible way some folks can treat others, but it also leaves indelible images stamped on my brain which cement my resolve to act honorably and respectfully to the people who are placed in my life.  Some people watch others and learn ways to be more devious; I find myself sympathizing with the victims of their depravity and undertaking to avoid their error at all costs.

So…good old Dad was right!  Of course, when I was a teen, those words would never have passed my lips.  Wisdom, it seems, comes with age, although it would have been nice to understand a few of these concepts a lot earlier.

If I think of any more wise things to share with you, I’ll pass them on.  Don’t count on too many of those any time soon.  Slow learner, you remember?

“Men are respectable only as they respect.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet and essayist~1803-1882)

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…”
(Otis Redding~American songwriter~1941-1967)

Temper, Temper

“Well-Tempered Clavier.”  I like the sound of that!  It is the title of a series of piano pieces written almost three hundred years ago by Johann Sebastian Bach.  You’ve heard them…well, at least one or two of them.  This time of year, you can’t miss hearing at least one version of “Ave Maria” if you listen to most radio stations playing Christmas tunes.  In the mid-1800’s, Charles Gounod incorporated his own melody with the, by then, famous “Prelude No. 1 in C Major” from the little book of piano solos.  The result is a haunting, ethereal vocal solo with a wonderful arpeggiated counter-melody which flows around and over and under the melody, adding a depth and power to the song that even Mr. Gounod probably couldn’t have anticipated.  But, it was not my intent to make this a music history lesson, or even a music appreciation class.  I will simply repeat…I like the sound of the words, “The Well-Tempered Clavier.”  I can’t help but have the image in my head of a piano that behaves itself, all the time.

I like the phrase simply because it implies order, things moving ahead on an even keel.  You know, I’m sorry…I can’t go further without at least a small amount more on the theory of pianos and their tuning.  The point of Mr. Bach’s composition was to demonstrate that a keyboard could be played in all the major and minor keys possible, twenty-four of them, without the need to stop and re-tune the clavier/piano at any time.  This had not been possible before some brilliant technician had concluded a few years prior that it was ineffective to use tunings which worked for some keys, but not for others.  The “equal temperament” was developed, a system which took an average of the correct number of vibrations per second for each pitch, based on the standard frequency in use.  In our day, we base all tunings on 440 vibrations per second (or A440) as our standard pitch.

Tuning theory lesson over, we’ll move to my real point (finally).  I’m wondering why we humans don’t very often have an “equal temperament”.  We are, all of us, mercurial to a certain extent…hot one moment; cold the next…in short, unpredictable.  Those of us who are easy going when faced with one emergency will be the ones who fall apart with the next crisis, especially if the context is different.  I watched a small girl this afternoon stretched out on the floor, kicking her feet and screaming into the hardwood surface, because a toy she desired wasn’t being shared as quickly as she wanted.  I realized, as I observed her with some amusement, that I frequently throw my own little tantrums when situations don’t go as I anticipate.  It’s just that my tantrums are a bit more sophisticated, and a little harder to detect.  The Lovely Lady can spot them a mile away.  “Why are you upset?”  comes the question, as I sit and fume.  “I’m not upset, I just don’t want to talk right now.”  It never works.  I’m sulking and she knows it.  I’m not well-tempered.  I want to be, but I’m not.  I’m just not tuned correctly for that, it seems.

The piano tuner is coming to our house tomorrow.  The old Steinway has gone a few months without his attention and it’s time.  The changes in temperature and humidity have taken their toll.  There has been some movement in the materials that make the piano function, which results from those environmental changes. It is evident in the pitches I hear when the Lovely Lady strikes the normally beautiful chords as she prepares her Christmas music.  The bronze-wound and nickle-plated strings have contracted at a different rate than the huge spruce soundboard, and the steel plate isn’t very cooperative either, causing more than one note to set the teeth on edge.  The technician will work his magic, adjusting the tuning pins, changing the tension on the strings, bringing them into an equal temperament once more.  We will sit and listen to the sound of the piano, regardless of the key selected for a song, and think about the beauty of the music, rather than the corrupted notes which are audible now.  What a joy!

I only wish there were a technician who could make those adjustments for my personal tuning.  An equal temperament would be as helpful for me as it is for the piano.  What’s that you say?  You see where this is headed?  Okay, I’ll not state the obvious then.  I do know that I am due for an attitude adjustment and I think I know just the place to get tuned up.  I’m pretty sure you do, too.

Maybe the next time you see me, you notice that I’m becoming more “well-tempered”.  Let’s hope so.

“Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.”
(“Rescue the Perishing~Fanny Crosby~American hymn writer~1820-1915)

I’m Bored!

“Mom, I’m bored.  What is there to do?”  The words hang in the air like a slow moving softball, just waiting for the tired red-haired mother of five to smack it back at me.  She does not disappoint.  “Bored?  With all the work there is to do around here?  I’m sure there are a few books in the house that you haven’t read more than five times.  How can you be bored already?  Vacation just started 2 days ago!”

I’m bored.  The words are prelude to some of my worst memories.  Bored was what we were immediately before we spent an hour or two pelting passing cars with sour oranges.  Bored was what we were before the evening of throwing water balloons at the trick-or-treaters who were trucked into the neighborhood from the “colonias”, the outlying areas where makeshift homes had sprung up almost overnight, housing mostly poor migrant workers.  We didn’t participate in the “beggar’s night”, but we weren’t going to sit and be bored while they came and took what should have been ours if we had participated. 

I’m bored.  I’m pretty sure that at least the feeling of boredom, if not those actual words, preceded that fateful evening when a companion and I trashed the construction machinery which was sitting idle after a day of destruction of the habitat.  Not that we were conservationists.  It was just our habitat!  I’ve told you about the visit with the local officers of the law after that incident.  For some reason, our search for excitement and interesting activities almost always led to misbehavior and punishment.  The boredom was dispelled all right, but not in the way we hoped for!

Why am I writing about this tonight?  It’s certainly not because I am bored.  But, I have spent the last several days, first stunned, and then heartbroken, because someone I love is entering the punishment phase after that exciting and eventful misbehavior stage.  The only problem is that the repercussions are going to continue for quite some time for this person and for all the people who love this person.  There is a sweet child in the world this week who has two parents in jail, two parents who are smart, and young, and who had their lives ahead of them.  It’s still ahead of them, but it’s not such a bright picture now.

I can just imagine this young pair a few years ago, as they sat on the sofa, watching television.  “I’m bored,” the young man might have groused.  “Let’s get wasted.”  The words sound so innocuous, so banal.  We hear them on television and in the movies all the time.  “Yeah, I got wasted over the weekend,” just as if it was nothing, which would lead to nothing more.  The problem with thrill-seeking is that it usually leads to more exciting thrill-seeking, and eventually the bored person cannot live without the excitement, cannot abide any amount of boredom.  They attempt to fill any silence with noise, any leisure time with frantic activity, any empty space with useless things.  They even become addicted to the substances they ingest to fight the boredom.  Wasted is the right word!  Time…wasted, money…wasted, perfectly good children…wasted, whole lives…wasted!

My heart aches tonight for parents who cry for their wasted adult children, for young children who cry for their parents, for friends and loved ones who look on, helpless to do anything for any of them.  I don’t have any easy answer, as you’ve become accustomed to seeing in these posts, no glib explanation, no “don’t worry, be happy” slogan.  I know that boredom can be overcome, that rewarding tasks are available for those who seek them, that it is possible to live a life without wasting time being “wasted”.  I just don’t know how to help these folks, nor exactly how to make this fist in my stomach go away.

I do know Someone who is available for consultations; who designed the product and wrote the owner’s manual (so to speak) and who cares about the broken, wasted people who blanket His creation.  And that brings me to another activity that I’ve found helps me tremendously any time I find the boredom (or sadness) taking over, whether it be in the middle of the darkest night or in the light of the longest, most tiring day…I talk to Him.  I’m doing a lot of that recently. 

Once again, I wonder if that’s too simplistic a way to leave this issue.  And, once again, I realize that it’s all I’ve got.  But, it seems to me that it will be enough. 

“Throw all your worries on Him, because He cares for you.”
(1 Peter 5:7 International Standard Version)

“Do something, so that the devil may always find you busy.”
(St Jerome~Roman priest~347-420)

Idle hands…

Important Stuff

The old 1957 Ford Custom was a rust-bucket, but it was his!  No more driving the old family station wagon and seeing the smirks on the faces of his buddies as he drove past where they sat waiting for the first bell at school.  The tired old station wagon was finally parked in the tall grass of the vacant lot across the street, visited only once in awhile when spare parts were needed for the real car.  This beauty was going to be the envy of all the guys in the gang, if he could only get it legal to run on the street.

Lots of hours went into my big brother’s first real car.  It wasn’t all that much to look at; none of the old cars available in my hometown down on the Mexican border were.  The big problem was that we lived within an hour or two from the Gulf of Mexico and the humid air which blew constantly inland carried with it lots of saline.  Growing up, I don’t think I ever saw a car older than five years old which didn’t have “cancer” around the windshield or back glass, or on the quarter-panels.  Everything just rusted and that was that.  So, big brother had to make choices about the essential repairs to make and what parts of the car to “pretty up”, while resigning himself to a few telltale spots of the brown iron oxide.  As he worked on the automobile, I hung around for a few of the jobs, disappearing adeptly when it appeared that an unappetizing task would be foisted off on the baby brother.  I’m fairly sure that my “help” was pretty useless to my wanna-be hot-rodder sibling.

Still, I was happy to ride with him the day he decided the old flivver was finally ready to pass the state safety inspection.  I had stood behind the car, watching the lights flash, as he stepped on the brakes and flipped the turn signal lever to the left and then to the right, moving to the front to be sure that they were functioning there too.  The headlights both came on and even changed as he stepped on the bright switch on the floor (yeah, it was built in the fifties, you know).  The horn honked, which was required as well.  Satisfied that it was ready, we jumped in and headed to the Sears service department.  He was confident that the car would be legal to drive to school the next Monday!  Finally, his hard work would pay off!  Never mind that he was almost out of money and couldn’t really buy any more gas for it.  He did have fifteen dollars dollars in his pocket today, knowing that the inspection would cost twelve.  Nothing could stop him from impressing the crowd after this weekend!

An hour later, I stood with him as the mechanic explained that there was no way this car was passing the inspection.  He was incredulous as the man showed him how the headlights were aimed incorrectly, one going downward and to the left, the other pointing slightly upward and straight ahead.  It would cost another fifteen dollars to adjust them.  No, he couldn’t pass the car today if my brother would promise to bring it back for the adjustment next week.  He also spent a moment talking about a slight exhaust leak which should probably be fixed too, opening the hood to show where the fumes were escaping.  My brother was thoroughly disgusted, and he made sure the mechanic knew it.  He pushed the hood closed carelessly, and hurried me into the car, leaving a cloud of smoky exhaust and a layer of rubber on the concrete floor of the shop as we left.  We got on the expressway and headed the six or seven miles for home, flying along the highway at seventy or seventy-five miles per hour as he continued to vent his anger.

All was well for a moment or two, but then suddenly we felt a solid “bump” toward the front of the vehicle.  He ceased in mid-sentence of his harangue against the mechanic and had just time to ask, “What was that?”  when the hood of the car flew up in front of us. Caught in the wind our great speed caused, the hood reached the end of its normal travel path and continued on, blocking the windshield and smashing into the top of the car, caving it in with a crash, right above our heads.  Fortunately, stepping on the brake and sticking his head out of the side window, he got the car stopped safely by the side of the freeway, with the passing motorists staring and laughing as they realized what had happened.  My brother wasn’t laughing.  Muttering under his breath (and over it, a time or two), he grabbed his tool box and with a little help from me, removed the bolts which held the ruined hood to the hinges.  Once free, we simply heaved the battered and twisted piece of rusty metal into the grass beside the car and drove home.  Inside the car, it was as quiet as a funeral home; my brother, fuming and angry at himself now as well as at the mechanic; me, just wanting to avoid becoming the target of another outburst, knowing better than to open my mouth.

Sometimes, I think trouble follows us, not because we are jinxed, nor even because we deserve it, but simply because we are so easily distracted from the important tasks which should have our attention.  My brother, in his exasperation at not getting what he wanted, forgot to make sure the car was ready to go back out onto the highway.  It wasn’t the mechanic’s fault and I will assert that it wasn’t even the little brother’s fault.  Anger colored the young man’s thought processes and left no room for normal precautions.  Obviously, it was a lot longer than just the time it took to get the money saved up for the headlight adjustment before that car saw the road again.  All for a moment’s stupidity, a second of taking his eyes off the fundamentals. 

A friend reminded me today (in so many words), that most of what we deem important is simply peripheral.  We are so preoccupied with the little unimportant details of our lives, sometimes depressed by them and at other times delighted with them, that we forget our priorities.  We get angry when things don’t go as planned, or, if you’re like me, get so engrossed in the trivial aspects of the daily schedule that the absolutely crucial needs go wanting and unfulfilled.  Then, at the end of the day, as the roof is caving in on me, I realize that I’ve once again forgotten to do the absolutely necessary, the critical tasks.

This afternoon, I ran an errand and came back to the music store to find two men who both “needed” to talk with me.  One started impatiently, before the other could get a word in.  “I really need to sell you that item we talked about a couple of weeks ago.  I bought a new sound system the other day on a whim and now I kind of need some money,” he said imperiously.   I knew the item he was speaking about (it is something I want), but I also knew that the other man had been waiting longer to see me, so I asked this first fellow if he could wait just a moment, while I spoke with the other guy.  The other man also wanted to sell me something, but there was a difference.  “We don’t have anything else to sell, and we need food.”  The words came almost timidly.  The instrument he offered was battered and of little value, but it was all he had.  I didn’t want it and don’t need it.

It was important that one of these men walk out of my store with money in his hand.  It was not so important that the other one do so.  The one man still had options, something the hungry man was out of.  I had a choice to make.  I could listen to the loud, insistent voice, the one asking me to buy the item I wanted.  I could listen to the quiet, timid voice, the one who had something I didn’t want, but who needed something I had.  I hope I made the right choice.

We’re faced with important decisions everyday.  The decisions don’t often come with captions which say, “Be Careful!  Don’t make a mistake!”  Most of the time, they come with no fanfare whatsoever, sneaking into our day stealthily, asking us to just do the right thing.  It’s not always easy to concentrate on the essential, the absolutely necessary, because the flashy and boisterous “urgent” activities make their demands with regularity and it’s difficult to ignore them.  Sometimes we can’t even recognize the “red herrings” which are thrown out to distract us from the important tasks until it’s too late.  By then, we can’t see where we’re going and the roof is caving in on us with a horrible din.

The old rust-bucket is a dim memory now, lost in the long distant past.  Its lesson lives on in my mind though, sounding its clarion-clear message even now, forty years later.  Distractions are unimportant, false scents which are meant to throw us off track.  A clear mind and a steady pace bring us closer to the finish line every day.  Press on, looking to the goal and the ultimate reward!

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
(Steven R Covey~Author and motivational speaker)

“…let us throw off every weight that hinders us and the sin that entangles us and let us run with perseverance the race laid out for us.”
(Hebrews 12:1)

A Fork In The Career Path?

“So…What are you going to be when you grow up?”  The question caught me by surprise tonight.  The Lovely Lady and I were sitting and relaxing after the usual tiring activities which go into making Sunday less of a day of rest than the Good Lord intended it.  I’m still trying to decide if I know the answer to her question, inspired by a television commercial.  One would think that after thirty some-odd years of doing a thing, you would realize that this is what you are going to be.  I still think it might be wise to keep my options open.

Not that I haven’t loved what I have done for the last few decades.  I can’t think of anything I would rather have worked at, of a better legacy to leave than one that influences folks to learn and enjoy music of all varieties.  The feeling of having a customer come into the store and remind me of “way back when” is hard to beat.  It happened again just a couple of days ago, as a familiar face came back through the door and the name popped into my brain at the sight of his features.  Roger was surprised when I called him by name (although he also called me by mine) upon seeing him for the first time in twenty years, and we spoke for awhile of things which were familiar in that era, but which are now lost in the blurry haze of progress and technology.  Eight track tapes, 45 RPM records, and Disco music topped the list.  Come to think of it, none of those would be worth bringing back anyway, especially the last item, so it may be a good thing we’ve moved on. 

I have enjoyed immensely, the experiences which I’ve lived through and the people who’ve gone through them with me, but as the Lovely Lady posed the question this evening, just for a moment I was tempted to explore the possibilities.  I’ve not ever been much of a “rolling stone”, having lived at only three addresses over the last 34 years (all within a mile of each other), so maybe a change is in order.  Truck driver?  Oil rig roughneck?  Maybe a deep sea diver?  Hmmm….  No, as I consider each of those, I’m reminded of the solitude, the isolation which each brings.  I don’t do well without other people to be with and with whom to talk.  Maybe, I could be a teacher!  That would be a job which has a positive influence on kids or even adults.  Nope…I am reminded of the short stint I spent teaching guitar students many years ago.  What a disaster, both for student and teacher!  “What?  I told you the fingering for that chord last week!  I’m not going to go through that again.  How could you not remember it after only a week?”  No, teaching wouldn’t be a good career path at this point in time.

My mind whirls through the possibilities…brain surgeon, astronaut, preacher, Secretary-of-State, sanitary engineer (garbage collector?)…the list plays on through my brain.  With each one comes a comparison to the person my past has actually made me into.  I find, the longer I consider the options, that I know the perfect job, the dream position I want to hold.  I would, first of all, like to be a husband, and a father, and a grandfather.  I would also like to work in a place where I could help people to do something I believe is really important; to facilitate a path of learning and growth.  No, I don’t want to teach, since that is a frustrating process for me, but I do want the people I serve to grow, and become more skilled, with the products I offer.  I’d like to offer products which span generations, not ones that are trendy and faddish.  I’ll be happy to find a profession which would allow me the freedom to spend time with people, talking and listening, maybe learning a little in the process myself.  I’m willing to get my hands dirty (once in awhile); willing to work a few more hours than the customary forty a week.  I wonder if that job exists?  Oh, I love music, too!  It would be nice if that could fit in somehow. 

Her question came out of the blue tonight.  It wasn’t a serious one.  Sometimes, though, you just have to stop and consider, “What if…?”  I’m really not done growing up yet.  And, I don’t want to mindlessly wander the path I’m on if changes need to be made.  Socrates said, many centuries ago, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Mind you, I know many people who never actually do anything because they are constantly examining and re-examining their choices, but I’m willing just once in awhile to stop and consider the alternatives.  That said, all the qualifications I mentioned above point me to one thing I should be doing right now.  Just what I am doing.  And, how great is that?  I get to go to work tomorrow, knowing that I’ll be doing something which is fulfilling and worthwhile.  At least at this point in my “grown-up” life, I’m where I need to be.

So, do I have a point to make for you readers?  I’m not sure.  All I really know is that the Lord has led me to do the thing which makes sense for who I am. I’m pretty sure He has a path for you to walk also.  It might just be right there in front of you.  Too simplistic?  I’ve been accused of that before.  I won’t argue.  It is how the path was laid out for me.  So far.

Next week, who can tell?  Perhaps the path will lead elsewhere.  Don’t worry.  I’ll let you know before I leave to be a jungle pilot in South America.

“To be is to do.”  (Socrates)
“To do is to be.” (Sartre)
“Do be do be do.” (Sinatra)

Joy to All People!

Well, it’s that week again.  Yes, that week.  The week before final exams at the local university.  The week which annually brings the busloads of old people from the neighboring retirement Mecca to our little town.  Soon folks will be standing in the cold up to an hour early, waiting for the huge wooden doors of the Cathedral to open, just so they can stream into the beautiful sanctuary and sit on uncomfortable wooden benches for more than two hours.  What threats could induce them to endure the icy wait?  What punishment are they attempting to avoid by sitting on the hard seats for hours?  What penalty can be circumvented by squeezing into small spaces with people they don’t know, maybe even some with communicable diseases?  (I’ve heard the coughing and sneezing that goes on during these ordeals!)  Well…none, it would seem.  They appear to enjoy the process. They even thrive on the overcrowded, uncomfortable seating arrangement and they do it with smiles on their faces; singing as the hours pass.  I am, of course, speaking of the annual Candlelight Carol Service; an event in which I’ve participated for more years than I care to think about.

I thought my years of preparation for this musical introduction to the Christmas season were at an end.  I’ve actually missed the last two years, once due to the onset of my own annual event; cold-weather asthmatic bronchitis, which renders me incapable of playing the French Horn.  (This, of course, is my instrument of choice with which to torture the listeners.)  Then, last year, I was successful in rejecting all entreaties to join in, believing that I had succeeded in ending my years of being an active part of this event.  I’m not sure how it occurred, but, once again, I find myself in the days before the Service, which is repeated for three evenings, wondering if I’m prepared, worrying about my wardrobe (a subject seldom on my mind), and fighting off another impending attack of the unwanted asthma.  I expected to be dreading the upcoming ordeal, but I am actually looking forward to it, disappointed that I am not feeling as well as I was when I agreed to be a part of the ensemble.

What is it about this particular happening that makes a couple thousand folks want to come and be a part of the uncomfortable, but joyous, crowd?  Is it anticipation of something new and innovative every year?  Are they expecting to see a light show and hear unusual, avant-garde sounds from the instruments and choir?  No, they’re not, although there was a period of time some years ago when that was the case for this event.  The crowds thinned and dwindled, feeling that they had been cheated.  Then someone realized that this time of year is more about traditions and the same ancient story woven into the well-worn traditions.  The old carols returned, along with a few new ones, introduced tastefully, and the crowds grew again.  The preparation is staggering in its intensity; the choirs and ensembles putting in hours and hours of rehearsal time.  The choice of each selection is made carefully, to give a harmonious (non-musically speaking) message, all blending into a time of praise and joyful celebration of the greatest gift ever given to mankind.  I am humbled to be able to share a tiny part in the program.  I hope I fulfill my part successfully.  But, even if I don’t, the folks who come to cram into the hard,wooden benches will leave with full hearts and an intense sense of the immensity of God’s love for humankind.  I pray it will ever be so.

Even as I approach the slightly stressful evenings to follow this week, I’m looking past to the season which still stretches out in front of me.  I sat and groused as the Lovely Lady decorated the house for the season last night.  I don’t think the words, “Bah, Humbug!” crossed my lips, but they might as well have.  That such a joyous time of year should come in the midst of the season I dislike intensely is most contradictory.  Dreary days, cold temperatures, and this morning…snow on the ground!  What’s to be happy about?  I’m better now.  I’ve given myself a talking to; reminded myself of the meaning of the upcoming holiday, and opened my eyes (and heart) a little.  Oh.  The decorated house is beautiful too!  I make no promise for the weeks to come, but at least for tonight, I’ve got my blinders off, the “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” song (I love Linda Ronstadt’s vocals!) no longer playing in my head.

I’m still puzzled at how the celebration of such an intensely selfless act has turned into a season of selfishness.  All around me, I hear it.  “I hate Christmas carols!”  “How dare they tell me ‘Happy Holidays’?  I won’t shop here again!”  There were fights in WalMart on “Black Friday”.  Fights! Over Christmas gifts!  Gifts which are going to be given in celebration of the Greatest Gift.  How did we get here from there?  How is it acceptable for us to be unkind, to be rude, to be crude…all in the name of “Keeping Christ In Christmas”?  Was there ever such an incongruity?

The other day, I completed a phone conversation with a caller to the music store.  I thought before the words came, but I said it anyway.  “Happy Holidays!”  It seems to me to be a little early to say, “Merry Christmas!” and I’m still not quite sure what that means anyway, so I opted for the more time encompassing and slightly generic phrase.  But, all around me, friends are willing to be offensive in insisting that “Merry Christmas” be the standard greeting of the season.  Do they think that somehow, the heart of this joyous season is going to be ripped out if we don’t hear the words said over and over again, without, I might add, any intent on the part of the greeter to communicate any spiritual truth, whatsoever?  To avoid the travesty of losing an obscure greeting, we are willing to be hateful, to be rude, to refuse to do business with any store which uses the detestable replacement greeting.  I’m wondering how this communicates the message of the season, the message of unconditional love, of concern  for our enemies, of forgiveness for an entire planet full of sinful humans.  Don’t we rather, communicate hate, arrogance, and distaste for those who haven’t yet experienced the forgiveness and love of a Savior?  How can we go out armed with angry words and yet, be witnesses of the Savior’s birth and it’s intended impact on the human race?

Do you think it is time for me to get off of my soap box?  Okay, if someone will bring me a step-ladder, I’ll clamber down.  I’m guessing that you have opinions, too.  They probably don’t match mine, and that’s okay.  We’ll make it through anyway.  Hopefully, we can be loving in expressing our differences, especially with the heightened attention on who we are because of that amazing, selfless act of our God, and His Son, all those many Christmases ago.  I’m hoping that all of us are ambassadors of that love throughout the year, but this year I am making this season a time when I personally resolve to be doubly vigilant; to guard my tongue and to open my heart.  I hope that you’ll be right beside me, giving the real Gift of Christmas!

Oh!  Maybe you could find a little time to enjoy a local production of beautiful Christmas music, too.  It will improve your spirits, I promise.  Crowd right in there next to a stranger and share the season.  But, keep your cold to yourself!

“…Fear not.  For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
(Luke 2: 10, 11)

“…God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning~English poet~1806-1861)