Minnesota Vacation, 2015

It’s that time of year again… time for the annual vacation post! You know what that means: you can ignore this site for the better part of another year.

This year’s travels involved a “Tour de Minnesota,” from the shores of Lake Superior to the malls of the Twin Cities. Trigger warning: may contain brief imagery of me shirtless.

20th Anniversary Colorado Trip, 2014

How about another video? Another one? Sure!

The wifey and I celebrated 20 years of wedded something-or-other (mostly bliss for me, mostly endurance for her) by foisting the children off on whomever would take them, then high-tailing it to Colorado to enjoy awesome scenery and incredible craft brews. Take a look, won’t you?!

(Want to know how we met? Check it.)

Chicago Vacation, 2014

Hey, it turns out we have a blog. I guess I had kind of forgotten about it? Do you realize I haven’t written a single thing on this blog for over a year? Well, that streak ends today (and another streak starts tomorrow).

Anyway, hey, look, we took a trip to a place that is not the place where we live, and we stayed there for several days and did a bunch of stuff. It’s called a vacation, and here are a few highlights. Watch it, and then forget this blog exists for another year or so. It’s what I would do.

Washington, DC Vacation 2013

There was a time, long ago, when I used to update this blog all the danged time. That time is long since past. But at least I can do my yearly post of a vacation highlight reel that will be watched by about a dozen people and enjoyed by a small fraction of that number.

To that end: highlights of our trip to Washington, DC, where we naively and unsuccessfully attempted to see every possible thing ever. After a while, all the giant columns and old-president statues started to run together, but nonetheless it was wicked enjoyable. (We also took a brief side trip to the Branson of the Eastern Seaboard: Ocean City, Maryland. Despite encountering much drunken douchebaggery from other tourist-types, we still had a great time, thanks to the three S’s of sun, sea, and soft-shelled crabs.)

Watch and enjoy, won’t you? WON’T YOU.

It’s Over Too Soon

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

December 26 is the most depressing day of the year. For that matter, the afternoon of December 25 doesn’t have much going for it, either.

If Christmas stinks so much, then why am I so sorry to see it go? Well, I have to admit… it does kind of grow on me. Yeah, a lot of it makes me nuts—Congress could outlaw that song about the Christmas Shoes and I wouldn’t shed a single tear—but some of it hooks my heart and I find myself putting away the cynicism and just soaking in the ambience of the season despite myself. For all its petty annoyances, the good parts of Christmas are really good. I may hate shopping and spending tons of cash, but I love giving gifts. Family quirks may irritate, but I love my family. And, for at least a few weeks, people are thinking about how the Son of God came to earth. It’s irresistible.

That’s why the real world feels a little grayer, colder, and emptier when it all wraps up and the ornaments and garland are packed away for another year. The neighborhood seems less friendly without lights hanging from eaves (except, of course, for that one family that always leaves them up until Memorial Day). Maybe it’s harder to get motivated to search for God when plastic replicas of his infant son aren’t in every yard?

God is as real, and as present, in January as he is in December. I can’t depend on a page of the calendar to fill my heart with good tidings of great joy, but time spent with the one who create time itself? That I can do anytime, and he longs for me to do so. Don’t let Christ slip away when Christmas is gone. Seek him, and find him, every day.

I need to feel your presence all year round, God. Make yourself real to me every day.

It Costs Too Much

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Luke 12:15 (NLT)

Every year we set a “Christmas List Freeze” date of Thanksgiving Day. By the end of that day, as we all lie around in a torpid, turkey-stuffed state, the kids’ Christmas lists must be complete. No more changes. The Christmas List is set in stone, thus saith the father. I tend to relax those restrictions after I read said Christmas lists and discover I’m going to have to cash out my 401(k) just to pay for the stocking stuffers. I’ll say this for my kids: they may not ask for a lot, but the few precious items they request still make my wallet clench.

It’s a struggle. I really, really would love to give my kids everything they want, regardless of the cost. Money was tight when I was a kid, so we rarely got the latest and greatest must-have toy of the season. Don’t get me wrong, my parents made sure we had good Christmases, but still… a part of me always looked with not a little envy on those kids who seemed like they could just open up the Sears Wish Book, point to something, and be assured it would be under the tree Christmas morning. It’s only natural that I would want to spare my kids that experience.

But just because it’s “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for the best, because while stuff is cool, and plentiful Christmas gifts are awesome, they will all ultimately turn to dust. We are not made to put our faith and our hope in video game systems and mechanical hamsters; we’re made to find joy in a relationship with our Creator. That’s not to say Playstations and Zhu Zhu Pets are wrong! It’s just that I would be doing my kids a disservice if I didn’t teach them that there are more important things than Jeeps and big-screen plasma TVs and high-end audio equipment, even though those things are so cool and it certainly couldn’t hurt if I had those things, right?

This is going to be harder than I thought.

Lord, I need self-control. Help me to lead by example, to demonstrate with my life that contentment comes from you, not from material things.

It Forces Me to Spend Time with Family

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
John 15:12 (NLT)

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need…
Colossians 1:11 (NLT)

If all those Hallmark commercials are to be believed, Christmas is all about family… sitting around an elegant tree, in front of a fireplace, singing “Good King Wenceslas” in pitch-perfect four-part harmony. Which is news to me. Based on my experience, I thought it involved screaming cousins breaking china and parents teasing you about humiliating things that happened 27 years ago. Oh, and heated arguments about casseroles.

But maybe that’s just me.

This is how I get to spend the most wonderful time of the year? With people that make me feel like an awkward 14-year-old again? Yep. They’re family. Whaddaya gonna do? You love ‘em… in the abstract. That love is a little harder to show once you’re in the midst of all the real-world drama and crises and everything else wrapped up in the concept of “family.”

So is family time something to be endured, a grueling experience to just muddle through until you can race home and forget about for another 364 days? That’s not how God sees it. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity. He can use the time with family—or, for that matter, with anyone that tried your patience—to grow you. To make you stronger. To develop traits in you that make the world see less of you and more of him. Lean on him. Love him, and love people.

(Yes, your family counts as “people.”)

Thank you, God, for my family. Pour out your love on me so that I can pour it out on them.

It Brings Out the Worst in People

Greed causes fighting; trusting the Lord leads to prosperity.
Proverbs 28:25 (NLT)

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

My wife, the consummate bargain-hunter, loves diving headfirst every year into the riotous mess that is Black Friday. She is welcome to it. The crowds, the noise, the chaos, the tempers flaring… it’s more stress than I need at Christmas. Of course, anymore it’s looking like she’ll need to pack heat if I want her to actually make it home with that $4 foot massager.

Seriously, we’ve all seen the stories on the news. A worker is trampled to death as crazed shoppers stampede a discount store on Black Friday. Fists fly when one of them tries to snatch a bargain out of another shopper’s cart. Harried parents trade insults and threats of violence over a place in line… the line to visit Santa.

I mean, Christmas is about peace on earth, right? Good will toward men, and all that? Not anymore. These stories are the stuff of daily headlines during a typical Christmas season in 21st-century America. And if that’s how men are going to behave, then frankly, they don’t deserve good will. I guess it used to go without saying, but it’s worth repeating since it’s apparently been forgotten: it’s not supposed to be like this. Busted lips and black eyes over Elmo dolls are just a symptom. The real problem is sin, sin that has managed to corrupt everyone and everything in this world—Christmas included.

That’s where we come in. We don’t have to fall prey to this seasonal madness. If sin is the symptom, the peace of Christ within us is the cure. Tune out the Muzak carols while you shop this year, and listen to the Holy Spirit guide you toward real, practical actions that spread peace instead of consternation.

Help me to find peace in this chaotic season, Lord. Where peace cannot be found, work within me to spread it.

It’s a Huge Hassle

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2 (NLT)

It’s become a tradition in our household… the weekend before Thanksgiving, we decorate the house for Christmas. (I know what you’re thinking: why so late?) It should be a gleeful time of family togetherness but in reality, I dread the whole affair. I have to lug innumerable dusty boxes of tinsel and snow globes up from the basement. I have to rearrange the living room to accommodate the tree, which I then have to painstakingly assemble, trying to remember which branch is mislabeled (if you’d think I’d just label it correctly so I wouldn’t have to go through that every year, you don’t know me very well). I have to dust the entertainment center so there’s a nice place to put the Nativity scene. And most importantly, I have to yell at the kids for putting 37 ornaments in a one-square-foot section of the tree.

All this, so I can take it down a few weeks later.

Sure, it’s pretty, and it does lend a festive air to the house, but by the end of it all I’m just exhausted. In fact, it’s not just the decorating that wears me down. It’s the constant Christmas activity. It seems like the whole season is a whirlwind of parties, visits to and from family, cooking, buying presents, wrapping presents, stressing out over whether or not they will like the presents… who needs it? Filling up every spare minute with pointless seasonal hustle-and-bustle means I have no time left to spend with the God who made the season possible. The constant ringing of jingle bells drowns out the still, small voice of my Creator. Not that it matters; I’m too exhausted to hear it anyway.

I’m not going to get out of putting up the Christmas tree. I may have to spending an entire afternoon baking Christmas cookies for the neighborhood. But those things can’t be the center of my life during the Christmas season; that place is taken. It’s up to me to make the time to remember that.

Help me find the time, Father, to slow down this Christmas season and to hear your voice. Help me to find rest in you.

Christmas Stinks

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)

It’s the season of year we celebrate the day human history changed forever, when the divine intersected with the mundane. God came to man, the fulfillment of a promise millennia in the making. It’s Christmas, the time of the year that by all rights should fill us with the most joy, glory, humility, and warmth… and yet some just want it to be over. As. Soon. As. Possible. That’s right… hard as it may be to believe, some people think Christmas just plain stinks.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m guilty of sometimes thinking that Christmas is more trouble than it’s worth. Depends on the year, really. One year I’ll revel in the hot-cocoa-and-evergreens-and-jingle-bell joy of it all, and the next, I’ll be tearing down the tinsel by noon on December 25. And to be fair, it’s not the Little Baby Jesus part of Christmas that tightens my jaw and leaves me cold. It’s all the other stuff that this world has piled on top of it—the constant rush, the endless pleas to buy buy BUY, the radio stations that start playing carols on Labor Day. Let’s just be honest: all that stuff? It stinks.

Deep down in your heart of hearts, whether or not you’ll openly admit it, you know you can relate. When you watch A Christmas Carol and you find yourself sympathizing with Ebenezer Scrooge—the scowling, “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge, not the grinning, Tiny-Tim-on-his-shoulder Scrooge—you know Christmas is starting to get to you. So for those of you who cringe at the sound of children’s choirs and get migraines from blinking lights, I offer this week of scriptural antidotes to the seasonal poison coursing through your veins.

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