Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent Reflections: Grace and Bling

Unfortunately, Nordstrom has sold out
of their sandals. But if you think the man
 in your life would LOVE a little bling,
 these can be purchased at Neiman- Marcus.
I’ve long considered laughter one of God’s best gifts to people. In my Advent reading, I discovered Ann Voskamp feels much the same way. In fact, she calls laughter “oxygenated grace,” and I agree it's exactly that. How else could we survive all this Earth-generated insanity without moments of  belly-holding, tears-flowing exuberance? 

For about a week, I’d been planning this post, thinking about what poignant and insightful thoughts I could share on the subject. I fear I was headed toward a post that was more likely to evoke tears of boredom than tears of laughter, but then my daughter Kristin called. Fortunately for you, my plans changed. While I hope you see this as more of an offering of “oxygenated grace” than an opportunity for Grammy Dee to tell about her precious grandsons, in reality it might be a bit of both.

Kristin called to tell me about going Christmas shopping with seven-year-old Brooks. (Yes, Master Brooks is seven now!) On a mission to pick out a present for his dad, she and Brooks somehow ended up in the high-dollar section of Nordstrom—the section with designer clothes bearing designer price tags. Before Kristin figured out her mistake, Brooks had already zeroed in on the perfect gift for his dad. “Oh, wow, Dad will LOVE these!” (Brooks hardly ever lacks for enthusiasm.) He picked up a black leather sandal, all blinged out with gold studs.

Kristin could only stare, struck speechless by the disconnect between her son’s perception of his dad’s fashion sense and the actual thing. Among the statements she could make with certainty about Brad, “Bling is not his thing,” would be a near the top. How could she explain that his dad would appreciate a pair of black leather, gold-studded sandals about as much as he would a new pony? Fortunately, the problem solved itself when Brooks turned the shoe over and saw the price tag, for while he might be enthusiastic he is also practical. 

“FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A PAIR OF SANDALS?!!!” His astonishment resonated throughout the entire first floor. But not easily daunted, he moved on to another pair of shoes he was sure his dad would “LOVE!!!” A pair of designer red suede sneakers. 

Kristin determined that this store was clearly not going to fulfill their shopping requirements, so she ushered Brooks down the mall to Dillard’s where—his enthusiasm in no way daunted—he wasted no time picking out some more perfect gifts: a snow globe or a shiny gold cocktail plate. Once again, he assured Kristin his dad would “LOVE!!!” them. 

At that point, Kristin saw this shopping expedition was going nowhere and suggested they meet up with Brad and Bennett, who were happily ensconced outside the Hickory Farms store scarfing down popcorn. Five-year-old Bennet had finished his Christmas shopping many days before at his preschool, where he and his classmates had purchased minimally-priced gifts from among items donated by parents. (Think white elephant sale.) 

Brooks was not happy about this halt to his endeavors. I mean, a guy’s enthusiasm can stretch only so far. He’d made several wonderful suggestions only to have his picky mother veto them for no good reason. 

Back at their house, the Christmas tree is still lacking a gift from Brooks to his dad, but thanks to Bennett, Brad is not giftl-ess. Nor is he bling-less. Kristin has it on good word—from Bennett—that come Christmas morning, Brad will be the proud owner of a shiny gold chain.

I’m sure he’s going LOVE it! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reflections on Advent: A New Connection

At my church’s annual Christmas brunch, the question was raised: “Are you ready for Christmas?” It seems we hear it everywhere this time of the year, and it has been known to throw more than one person into a yuletide panic. Please don’t hate me, but since I’m not hosting Christmas at my house this year, I haven’t shifted into panic mode. Yet. I still  need to do some shopping and card-mailing and baking, but at least I don’t have to do a lot of decorating. And I don’t have to search for an Advent devotional book because this year I’m re-reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.
I’m a fan of Voskamp not only for what she writes but also for how she writes it. Admittedly, her style is sometimes a bit confusing, but I’ve found if I linger over her words long enough, I realize she has actually used the just the right words in just the right order. 

While reading the first devotional in her book, I lingered long over this: “The mattering part is never what isn’t.” Confusing at first, but it makes so much sense in the context of her focus on Isaiah 11:1-2, 10. “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot …” 

I don’t claim to be a theologian or Bible scholar, and I’m not presuming to rewrite Voskamp’s devotional. This is just my personal takeaway, my reflection, on her words. In these verses, the prophet Isaiah is saying that what has been cut down and cast away—the what isn’t—no longer matters. In the midst of its upheaval and destruction, God promises the nation of Judah a new shoot, a new way to connect to him through a Messiah. A new what is

What a wonderful thought with which to begin Advent! In spite of our past disappointments and failures—our own personal upheavals—God has provided us a new what is in Jesus. We can go forward, clinging to the new shoot of Jesse's tree, connecting with God through him. Praying that during this season of Advent, you will find the time and desire to make or strengthen that connection.