David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “The true meaning of Christmas”

K.I.S.S. (2016-01-20 Daily)

              Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

—Confucius

 

“Dad,” Hannah called excitedly. “There are fourteen gifts under the tree for me! Fourteen!

“Yes, love,” I acknowledged, crossing my arms and eying the pile of wrapped packages hugging the base of the tree. After all, this was two weeks before Christmas, and every gift lying there had been purchased by Mary and me, my parents, or my in-laws. Santa hadn’t even stopped by yet. Had we gone overboard this year? I wondered. Had we diluted—or, God forbid, distorted—the true meaning of Christmas? Had we crossed the line and succumbed to the rampant commercialism oft lamented by Christians trying to hang on to the hope, joy, peace, and love that Christmas represents? Had we set a new precedent in expectation? Had we made the celebration of Christ’s incarnation confusing? Or worse, meaningless? I pushed away the nagging thoughts. “Remember, sweet pea, it’s not about the number of presents you get but about the birth of Jesus.” I sounded like a cheesy Christmas card.

Christmas morning Hannah dived into the trove with relish, unwrapping package after package while Mary and I juggled the camera and the iPad, hoping to capture the moment in way too many formats we’ll never consolidate. “Yay!” Hannah squealed. “A Q-BA-Maze!” Glad she knew what it was. I hadn’t even heard of it ‘til we ordered it on Amazon. “Wow!” she shouted. “Another robot!” Grandma and Grandpa had loaded her up with four robot kits. The kid loves technology and she’s all about the science. “Dad! It’s Simon!” she yelled, holding up a gift from Santa Claus. That and Battleship and Spirograph stirred up memories of Christmases past. Finally she gutted her stocking. “Just what I wanted!” she laughed. “Nano Bugs!”

Hannah opening Christmas gifts 2015

Without a moment’s pause to consider the morning’s haul, Hannah and I jumped right into figuring out what the Q-BA-Maze thing was all about. Then we built a domino run with her two domino sets. Next, she constructed a Lego Space Needle. Then we sat down to watch Inside Out. “Why don’t we play with your Nano Bugs?” I suggested after the movie finished.

“I didn’t get a track,” Hannah said.

“We can play with them without a track, right? I mean, we can just let them loose on the floor and see what they do. Right?”

“I guess,” she relented. She peeled a Nano Bug out of the package, switched it on, and placed it on the floor. Immediately it bee lined for the oven and disappeared into the netherworld underneath. When we finally fished it out, we discovered, much to Hannah’s disgust, that it had captured a rather large clump of dog hair complete with a mummified wolf spider embedded in it.

“Eww!” she screamed. “See, Dad, this is why we need a track.” Or rather, this is why Daddy needs to pull the stove out from the wall more often to let Mommy clean behind it.

Three weeks passed. One afternoon Hannah interrupted me as I passed through the house on my way from the attic to the bathroom. We were taking advantage of the cool weather and a string of unfettered days to declutter the space above the garage and improve its storage capability (and prevent me from stepping through the drywall again).

Winter 2015 Attic Project

“Dad, can I play with the boxes on the back porch?” Hannah asked. I’d piled dozens of boxes we’d cleared out of the attic onto the back patio to be burned.

I shrugged. Several robots sat on her craft table, unopened and untouched. A kitchen science kit, a gift from at least a year ago, mingled with the stack of new presents, still wrapped in clear plastic. I hadn’t seen the Q-BA-Maze since Christmas day, and most of the other gifts she’d been so excited about had disappeared altogether. I’m sure most of them ended up on the Island of Misfit Toys.

“That’s fine,” I answered. “Just be sure to put the boxes up when you’re done.”

Excitedly she ran out the back door and spent the next hour or two building what looked like an elaborate Habitrail fashioned from discarded cardboard and masking tape. A few days later, Hannah transformed a large cookie sheet and several boxes into a functioning Nano Bug habitat. I watched, fascinated, as the cockroach-like toys scuttled around the track, dodging in and out of an inverted box’s rough-hewn hidey holes.

Hannah working on a Nano Bug habitat

Watching those bugs reminded me of Hannah’s fascination with paper wads and cardboard boxes when she was two or three. A simple ball of paper could keep her contented for hours. A playhouse I’d constructed out of an unwanted carton entertained her for months. Heck, it entertained me for months! As the Nano Bugs buzzed and dodged and hid and re-emerged, I was reminded that life is best enjoyed when lived simply, when intent is stripped down to nothing more than loving God, loving others, and delighting in the life He so graciously entrusted us with. “Our life is frittered away by detail,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “Simplify. Simplify.”

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” advised the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV®). When I first read that passage so long ago it shot straight to my heart and has been lodged there ever since. “Be content with what you have.” Yes . . . .  Be content with the roof over your head, the food on the table, the clothes on your back, the labor you’ve been given. Be happy with where you are in the moment, with the blessings God has already rained down on you, with the relationships He’s placed in your life, with the surprises He’s planned for you and is revealing even now. For what is life but the day-to-day triumph of simple moments lived fully?

By the end of this year I hope to have the attic organized and the junk occupying it pared down to what we actually use. I plan to clean out my garden shed, purge our closets, and, to Mary’s delight, downsize the sentimental detritus I’ve accumulated over the last 40 years. I plan to spend time more intentionally with my family, just enjoying who we are and who God made us to be. I want to live life with a more intentional simplicity to make room for what really matters, to cast off the “stuff”—all the stuff—that so easily entangles. And as for Christmas this year, well, I don’t know how easy a paper wad will be to wrap, but an old cardboard box should be a cinch.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by David C Hughes

The Memory Tree (Part 2 of 2)

Good or bad, joy-filled or tragic, we are all the sum total of our pasts, the product of our memories and experiences. As humans we can allow these memories to bind us with the straitjacket of guilt, shame and depression rather than free us with the lightness of joy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the Bible is very clear that, as believers, our past behaviors, habits and experiences no longer have to define us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV®).

Shedding the soiled garments of our past lives, no matter how restrictive or burdensome, is a requirement to serve effectively in the Kingdom: “‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God,’” Jesus warned in Luke 9:62 (NIV®). And through Isaiah, God clearly called each one of us to open our spiritual eyes to the wonders of moment-by-moment renewal.

 

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

—Isaiah 43:18-19a NIV®

 

Through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, each one of us can “forget the past,” be freed from sin and put on the robe of salvation. Like Lazarus, we can be shed of the burial cloths and allow God to clothe us in the garments of new life.

But what about the good memories, the memories that bring us gladness, faith and renewed hope in the path we’re walking? Must we shed even those to move closer to God? No, quite the opposite is true. As long as the memories don’t become a hindrance to moving forward in our faith, good memories can clarify our vision, empower us and reinforce our faith walk. “Finally, brothers and sisters,” the Apostle Paul urged in his letter to the Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV®). As Rosa Parks, the “first lady of civil rights,” once said, “Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” Goodness triumphs everything, and good memories can be the balm that soothes the weary soul, especially during this hectic time of year.

And memories, both joy-filled and tragic, can become a tool for the salvation of souls. We can bring the good, the bad and the ugly to the altar of the Most High God and sacrifice them to the One Who has the power to redeem those memories for the greater good. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV®). If we truly embrace God’s redemptive power and allow Him to restore us, to bring us into right standing by believing in the healing grace of His own Son’s sacrifice, we are renewed and made whole. By the sacrifice of faith we are freely given the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the glory of eternal life. That is the promise. That is the power of Jesus’ act of obedience. Through Him our lives can become a testimony—the good, the bad and the ugly can become a chapter in the greatest story ever told. “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –/” the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 107:2, “those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Psalm 107:2 NIV®).

As each ornament on our family’s Christmas tree tells its own story, so it is with each ornament adorning God’s tree of life: His children. Yes, we all are products of our past, but it’s what we choose to do with our past that creates a meaningful present and a hope-filled future for not only ourselves, but for others.  As Bob Hope once said, it’s the simplest things that give off the greatest glow of happiness. This Christmas, let your glow shine brightly in a world sorely in need of some good news.

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!

—Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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