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Archive for December, 2013

Anniversary Cards

(This can also be viewed at our new site: http://www.belovedblogger.com)

Maybe they should have a Human Resources Department for the greeting card section of a store. There should be someone I could go to, review the resumes of the card-writers I’m previewing, determine the mush factor, decide if it’s cute or vulgar, investigate if the writer is hedging on his message so it doesn’t tilt the sentimental scale too much or just give me an idea of appropriateness and taste.

I’ve actually seen shoppers pick up one card read it and speed off to through the self-check-out before I got to the price on the back of the card. I really admire those bottom-liners. They are the ones that get the closest parking space.

But I’m left standing there having the dangdest time trying to select just one anniversary card.

My quandary is simple. If I go with sudsy, sloppy or sentimental, it’s too much. I really want to get to the heart of love. But then I get to these hedge-writers:

“While we are not young anymore, we still have our companionship.”

“The kids have grown and so has our love.”

“You STILL look pretty in the moonlight.” (Inferring something about the daylight here?)

Notice there isn’t any juicy stuff in these cards. I mean, I’m not in my coffin yet.

Unfortunately, the hedgers are accurate. There’s a lot to be said for rationalization in aging relationships. In this case, they literally write-off the romantic in favor of a message that’s honestly…honest. But it’s also sad.

Romance should grow. And it’s not out-of-bounds if there’s a bit of the sappy thrown in for good measure. I know it’s not tasteful to be sexy-over-seventy, or over-sixty or over-fifty or even for the dried-out thirty-somethings.

But there’s something mournful about the honest-hedgers.

Hmmm, I think I might have just found a new writing career.

Let’s see now, just rambling at this point…

“The hallmark of love is that embers should never die. As long as there is that, a roaring fire can be re-flamed.”

BELOW: SPEAKING OF FLAMES, MAYBE THIS SHOULD BE USED TO GET THE FIRE GOING:

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(This blog may also be read on our new site, belovedblogger.com)

I don’t think any of us like the idea of looking at the holidays as the time of year when we must make a determined, arduous and often, communal, trip up “The Christmas Mountain.” However, this resolve may be the best gift we can give one another.

I just received an email from a good friend who understated that her Christmas was “dampened” by her brother’s death on Christmas eve.

I had often heard that “death comes in threes.” This season, it has come in waves. I know that my own aging has something to do with that and I will see more and more familiar obituaries as I progress toward my own.

A phone call just brought news that my trusted friend had been reunited after sixteen years with his sibling who resides in the same city. While that was a cheery Christmas story, the climb spanned two decades.

My own stepfamily situation brings on some notable roller coaster feelings and I was never good on those rides whether real or in the emotional sense.

Even the weather brought my psyche up and down. We had the most beautiful snowstorm just a week before Christmas only to find out it was going to skyrocket into the 60’s with showers. Needless to say, our snowman family was diminished in a too-realistic metaphor. (See photo below.)

I sit in front of the best Christmas tree I’ve ever had. The ornaments climb up to the angel and they all have stories to tell such as “Baby’s First Christmas” or the one that used to hang on my parent’s tree when I was a young boy or the beauties that shouldn’t, but do, bring up some harder memories. I put them up anyway. They are a microcosm of my life which has certainly seen the good, the bad and the ugly.

My friend came to the conclusion that Christmas is really a painful season from which we pull out joy. I countered with suggesting that we create needy-and-noble-but-unrealistic expectations and then wonder why the anguish hits us like our heating bill.

Whatever the true explanation for this seasonal paradox, the best that I can offer at this point is that the holidays are like a mountain we must climb. No road crew is going to go ahead and pave the path. It requires an almost dogged effort to hike the steep and challenging stages of relationships and the mourning of relationships-gone-by, pass through the thickets of financial and physical setbacks, turn our flashlights on the fear of time walking too fast in front of us in the dark and focus our binoculars squarely on the illusions of our Hallmark-movie endings. Maybe that’s why this whole regiment is tagged “getting into” the spirit.

I made the climb this Christmas. It was worth it. Mountains were made high for a reason. As I sit in front of my tree and look up, I can see from the angel’s vantage point that the view is from the top. I don’t have wings. But I have feet.

[Perhaps everything is going right for you and this all seems a bit melodramatic. Please be aware that you may be on one of the flatter, easier parts of the mountain right now. If that is the case, use your time-of-ease wisely and compassionately to lighten the load of some other pilgrim. You may be surprised at the weight they are carrying if they take you up on your offer. They may even need a place to bed down and you don’t ever want to be known as the guy who didn’t let them “inn.”]

SHE CLIMBED THE MOUNTAIN: MY MOTHER-IN-LAW, “MOTHER THERESA” AT THE RESCUE MISSION ON CHRISTMAS DAY, EVEN AS SHE FACED HER FIRST HOLIDAY WITHOUT HER BELOVED HUSBAND OF SIX DECADES.

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WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON CHRISTMAS DAY:

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BUT BY CHRISTMAS EVE, “HONEY I SHRUNK THE…”:

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THE ANGEL’S VIEW IS FROM THE TOP,BUT GETTING THERE TAKES SOME FEET AND FLIGHT:

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NEVER PICTURE-PERFECT, BUT SOME GOOD-LOOKIN’ “SPLENDID BLENDEDS:”

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Heal My Christmas Broken Heart

© 2013, No Reputation Communications, LLC  •  Words & Music by Robert J. LaCosta

Christmas shouldn’t be the time when eulogies are fresh in mind

and troubled souls are all around me like presents surround the tree

PRE-CHORUS:

Even over the passion of the carols we sing, sometimes we can’t drown out so much suffering

CHORUS:

Heal my Christmas broken heart, that’s what I want this year

How do you dry the eyes  from the weight of these cares?

Could the manger Baby’s wails clue us in that He feels

the pain behind all these Christmas tears?

Christmas shouldn’t be the time when old hurts are mined

And loneliness knocks down our wreath reminding us what’s beneath

BRIDGE:

Our anguish helps us hear The Baby’s cries

That’s how we learn how heaven harmonizes

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Thank God for Each Day?

I may have recorded a seismic shift in my spirit. 

I’ve been doctoring for a pinched nerve, a herniated disc. The pain scale for this has been worse, but it’s never fun when it returns. Keenly aware of this threshold and handing me a prescription for some serious pain management medication,  my P.A. looked me in the eye and said, “Take one day at a time.”

This trite saying became profound over the next weeks. 

I recently saw a friend who was going through a physical trial of the worst kind. I may never see him again on this earth.

I thought back to what my P.A. said. Then, my mind wandered to the plaque I recently saw, “Enjoy Every Day.”

I want to get to the point where I enjoy every thought.

 

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This blog will also appear at our new web address: belovedblogger.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the best holiday memories I’ll take with me to heaven is when Steve Smith was wheeled into Christmas Eve service. A wheelchair never looked so good. Below is a beautiful guest blog by Steve’s wife, Loriann, whose blog appears at thepilgrimroad.blogspot.com

                  The Hurricane, The Wind and The Anchor That Holds

(Brother Bob asked for a blog post as an update to the powerful storm that hit us as a family 4 years ago.  He was one of the many folks battening down the hatches and manning the ropes to keep us afloat during that wild time. He even wrote a song about it that you can play below.)

Often I’ve wished I could write the “perfect” testimony for that ongoing trial, all wrapped up with a bow, neat and clean, hallmark beautiful.  Something to say I understand all that God was and is doing in the mess…

It ain’t that way.

On November 8, 2009 a hurricane hit our family in the form of a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road. [See photo below.] It took 3 days to charge the offender, as police waited to see if my husband would die from the catastrophic injuries he sustained.  My then 14 year old daughter was forever changed by the bleeding on her brain, referred to in the vernacular as a traumatic brain injury.  In a single moment the words of the Holy One took on flesh and bone:   “They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.”  Psalm 18:18

It would be impossible to adequately describe the road we have taken lo these past 4 years.   Loving God certainly does not exempt any of us from the pain and trouble of “this present darkness”.   The word of God promises trials, separations and sufferings.  But as the great hymn says, “He giveth more grace…”

Folks have wondered if I’ve asked the cosmic question…WHY?  Why did God allow a drunk man to senselessly careen into my beautiful daughter’s head, making her life harder than we ever could have imagined? Why must Stephen continue to suffer the ripple effect of the world gone mad, with continued pain and surgeries?  Why would a God who loves us so, with the power to stop it all, take off the brakes of His permissive will and allow such a violent event in the lives of His own?

I don’t know.

But Joni Earikson Tada, rendered a quadriplegic in a diving accident at the age of 16, has helped me tremendously with her attitude, and I paraphrase:

“ I long ago stopped asking why.  The question now is always HOW?  How do I continue to love God in the midst of my own brokenness, and the mess of a fallen world?  How do I cheerfully and robustly love my fellow man on days I can’t go on.  How do I keep from becoming bitter, selfish and sorry for myself?”

And always the answer to these questions is found in the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, who cheers the troubled heart and gives power in great weakness.  I can’t explain the mystery of grace.  I can only attest to the truth that He holds on relentlessly in the worst of circumstances.  And remarkably, there can even be joy…

The magnificent grace of Jesus Christ proves itself in the storms.  God did not spare His own Son from the impact of the fall.  In fact, He laid the whole shooting match squarely on shoulders of the Perfect One, born in obscurity, killed in violence, raised in glory.  He stepped into the mystery with us.  And He stays there, all the days of our lives.

My daughter is still struggling, but attends the University of Buffalo, studying her beloved English, Shakespeare, Latin and Poetry.  There is multiplied grace.  One day she will be restored to the One who has never left her.

Stephen returned to work from his wheelchair a few months after the accident, and never went on disability.  He goes to the gym for an hour every morning, and works hard these 4 years later to care for his family.  There is gracious provision.

My boys have been forever shaped by both the sorrow of the fallout and the powerful example of the love and beauty of the church, who displayed relentless love…and were the hands and feet of Christ.

Whatever wind blows, friends, fear not.  The anchor holds.  You cannot plan for the day of trouble.  But you can trust in the Great One, who will take you through the messy business of life.

There will one day be a testimony all wrapped up in a bow.  Likely not til heaven. Then the winds will calm forever.  Until then, I remain…

Your friend on the pilgrim road,

Loriann

(Song Loriann referred to: “Don’t Give Up On Christmas,” © 2009, No Reputation Communications)

Don’t Give Up On Christmas

Music & Lyrics by Robert J. LaCosta

The days are shorter and darker now

The budget’s got you wondering how

The flu’s visited all over town

And some of your friends are down

TV news isn’t getting any better

Haven’t started your Christmas letter

CHORUS:

Don’t give up on Christmas,

just because you’re in a silent night

The carols are still playing now,

your radio isn’t set just right

Don’t give up on Christmas,

it’s been building for a year,

Don’t forget the child in you still,

who couldn’t wait for it to get here

 

There’s just one real solution here

To plastic pollution this year

There’s a guy in a hospital bed

And depression is messin’ with his head

go silence his silent night

Maybe you’ll be his only Christmas lights

1st Bridge:

Mary was filled with fright, but it’s darkest before the light

2nd Bridge:

He comes every year it’s true, but every day the babe’s in You

Don’t give up on Christmas, He never gives up on you

He’s going to ring the church bells through you

(sound of church bells ringing riotously)

THE “MIRACLE” BELOW: 1) UNDERSTANDABLY, DOCTORS PREPARED ALL OF US FOR THE WORST. 2) VICTIMS STEVE AND HANNAH. 3) BROTHERS DAVID AND JOSEPH, THANKSGIVING, 2013.

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Let’s see, Christmastime…

How is my life ever going to make sense? Met with my accountant about how we were doing. Meeting with some friends over a 2014 project. Beginning to get together with God over His plans for me for the New Year.  I guess I finally met with myself as well while I was in this holiday and year-end mode through the unlikely analogy of a disheveled living room.

Boxes all over the place, faux ivy growing out of those K-Mart-close-out plastic containers, strands of Christmas lights, some working, some not…a bit like life. Just when you think it’s getting brighter, some lousy little bulb takes out half the string. Do you spend the time searching every last one of those carefully-planned-obsolescent-never-find-the-right-replacement bulbs or do you take even more time and drive to the store where you find they are not on exactly on sale as your blood pressure rises because you feel like such a holiday sucker?

Where is that one ornament? I didn’t do the packing last year. Good luck.

Very, very, disheveled.

I’ve gone through this before. This daunting find-your-way-to-the-Christmas-spirit thing seems tougher this year. It’s later in December than I’m used to thanks to some ailments. My aching back whispers, “No one has your back.” I move another box anyway and inch my way toward some semblance of a tasteful living room.

It really is like life. It will eventually all make sense. Normalcy could be hidden somewhere in this next container. Yes! That’s where all the lights were.

The next day, the reinforcements arrive in the form of my mother-in-law. Her practical help, eye for tree-light balance and ornament savvy is like collecting two hundred bucks for passing “Go.”

Late that same evening, I return home and I can’t stand it anymore. I get a second wind and work until the clock strikes midnight. I feel like the conductor in Fantasia.  My orchestration of decorations makes me wonder how this living room ever seemed disheveled. When I open that last box, it all comes together with the unwrapping of a porcelain baby. I’ve been warp-driven into the Christmas spirit.

It reminds me of the recurring thought that my life’s end is like the deadline of the holiday, with all of the correct and collaborating necessities tucked away in some missing box.

Thank God for the last box.

 

 

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 1 Cor 13:12

CHRISTMAS UNWRAPPED: TAKING THAT BIG FIRST STEP DOWN, DOWN, DOWN INTO THE CREEPY CORNER OF THE BASEMENT WHENCE LURKS THE CACHE OF DECORATIONS; “WHERE IS THE BOTTOM OF THE BOX?” THEN, “WHERE IS THE TOP OF THAT BOX?”;  IT ALL MAKES SENSE WHEN THE TREE IS FINALLY DECORATED.

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“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 1 Cor 13:12

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

 

 

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There’s always been a little consternation in me over the way Zechariah and Mary are handled by the angel Gabriel. Both receive great news about their respective children, John the Baptist and Jesus. Both don’t quite understand how God is going to pull it off.

Let’s see the instant replay on Zechariah:

“While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.'”(Luke 1:13-18)

Let’s see the video on Mary:

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’ Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel  forever; his Kingdom will never end!’

Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.'” Luke 1:26-34

If I was presented with the same situation, I would have been a bit confused as well. But there is a difference between confusion and unbelief and this is where I was convicted of my own unbelief of late. A closer look at the instant replay reveals the differences.

To Zechariah:

“Then the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.'” Luke 1:19,20

Now, for a closer look at Mary by contrast:

Mary responded [to the angel], ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’….[Elizabeth said to Mary]:’You are blessed because you believed Luke 1:38, 45  [Brackets are mine]

The Lord has given me many desires and dreams that have been fulfilled. But lately, when some have seemed slow coming, I have questioned like Zechariah, “How can I be sure this will happen?”

WELL, SHUT MY MOUTH!

The Angel Gabriel (or something like this)

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