Christmas for the lonely

 

He walked out to the get the newspaper, just like he does every morning. He still gets the paper out of habit. And for something to do. He used to look at the sports section, but now watches ESPN until late at night, the updated scores streaming in real time across the bottom scroll.

Heavy and messy, today’s paper is stuffed with ads. It’s just one more reminder that Christmas is coming, as if he could possibly get away from that fact. The grocery store has been playing Taylor Swift Christmas songs since Halloween. And the mailbox has been reminding him of the dreaded day for weeks. Everything is red and green, oblivious to the fact he is color blind.

He just doesn’t see the fuss.

One piece of mail last week struck him hard. “Make this the One Christmas You’ll Remember,” the headline screamed just above the glittering diamonds circling around a woman’s head like a flock of doves. He ran the ad through the shredder.

After his wife left seven years ago his only daughter quit talking to him, even though she lives in the same town. He retired early, thinking it would bring him bliss. Instead its only magnified the loneliness. And he certainly doesn’t need another reminder about the joyous holidays.

I hate this blasted season

***

She rolls the bed comforter down, glad she has the added level of warmth. It’s going to dip down into the 20’s tonight and the heater just won’t keep up with the cold. After the cat disappeared one day into the vast fields on the edge of the neighborhood, the bed has been especially lonely.

She fingers the cards that have come in the mail. The photos of happy couples and their children are potent reminders that she has neither . Never imaging life would be this way, it is. Relationships were never easy. It’s too easy to blame her father and his disapproving stare or her mother’s absence when life’s questions about boys and bodies and emotions just started forming.

She put a little fake Christmas tree on the table in her living room. Lost in the Hallmark movie of the night, she figures out the plot in the first five minutes, but still she perseveres to the end – and weeps at exactly the right moment just before the Macy’s commercial closes out the night.

Who ever started this stupid day?

***

Lonely, but not alone

The culture tries to remind us that Christmas is all about wishes come true. But  I don’t know how you got here – or why you read this far. Maybe you see yourself in the story – or are afraid that someday you could be that person.

I know loneliness and it doesn’t always come from solitude. I’ve felt the coldness in the room of someone who says they just don’t care anymore. I’ve sat with an older person on Christmas as they wondered why the kids don’t call – or come by. It’s another day by the window with all the others who are feeling the sinking sense that no one cares.

While I know loneliness, I don’t always understand it. It seems particularly cruel, affecting the kind and the godly and the giving. It’s not dispensed fairly with any sense of justice. I’ve pleaded with God for answers to questions and I don’t really care for the answers.

How to pierce the darkness

This world is full of darkness. You see it in the workplace, in the home, in halls of politics, and in every community. But here’s a truth – light is stronger than dark. It has always been the ultimate symbol of hope. A single star pierces through a billion miles of space. A lighthouse can call out to the mariner surrounded by the black sea. A flashlight can illuminate the hidden path.

Even though your situation may seem dire, I still think this Christmas can be the best you’ve ever had : Be the hope. Be a candle. Light a match. And if the wind snuffs it out, light it again.

Find another lonely person and make their day. Pick up the phone, and call a friend. Show up at a shelter and talk to man grizzled by time and foraging for survival. Volunteer to sit in the lunchroom at a nursing home and talk to the woman who has lost her words to the sands of time, but eyes and ears still witness life.

It’s not about finding someone more miserable than you. That’s a loser’s game that selfishly makes you out to be the superior.

But when the tug on your heart sneaks up in the midnight hour, or in the prime time of another Christmas special, or in the silence of the room, remember this is the day that can be light to another. If you want to make your day, make their day. I had someone tell me once, “If you are looking for a way out of the hole you are in, first climb out of yourself.”

I can’t give you any words that will heal the pain you have. People are cruel. Life is unfair. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t pretend to know your situation – I get it. But I do know the best way out of a dark place is find a little light. It doesn’t have to be beacon or a spotlight or a thousand watts of brilliance. All the darkness in the world can’t snuff out the light of a single, simple candle.

And that might be just enough to change your Christmas.

And theirs.

Share with me one commitment you will make this Christmas to be a candle to the lonely?

“Merry Happy Something Day!” A Sensible Guide to Religious Holidays in the Workplace

A few years ago, the kooky characters on the TV-show Seinfeld tried their best to promote a new holiday – Festivus, “for the rest of us.” It was a non-traditional, non-religious holiday in December that began with an “airing of grievances.” For many reasons, it never really gained traction beyond its original farcical intent.

So today, just like centuries before us, we have a plethora of traditional and religious holidays this month. In Western culture, Christmas dominates not so much as a dominant Christian holiday, but a cultural and commercial event.

There’s no doubt that the U.S. has deeply Christian roots. Some will take the writings of ancient fathers and try to dispel the claim, but the facts speak differently. And for much of our history, Christianity has been the majority religion. Even today, despite the loud noise of diversity, more than 83 percent of U.S. Citizens claim a Christian faith.

And to further the argument for holiday celebrations in the workplace, 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas according to Gallup.

Joining in the celebration, employers in the past have given workers latitude with Christmas trees, card exchanges, potluck lunches and bonus money. For many workplaces, it’s the one time of year when the emphasis on production goals, the profit/loss statement, and the deadlines seems to slow down – slightly. And occasionally, you can even find a little holiday cheer.

Office christmas partStopping the Party

But lurking in nearly every workplace is the shadow of political correctness. Crumbling like snowmen in Spring, holiday expression is coming to an end in many workplaces. It started with the scrubbing of words like Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza, replacing them with the more generic  — and terribly bland —  “holidays.”  Unfortunately, out of fear of someone being offended, many celebrations and expressions of any kind have simply stopped.

In most cases, no one really objected. No lawsuit was threatened by the People Against Any Religious Expression or the Freedom from Happy Religious People Front. The parties were eliminated by over-thinking executives who contemplated the mere possibility of someone’s objection.

Here’s a modern-day truth that we need to embrace. Everyone loves a party. Retirement cakes, birthday burritos, and baby celebrations are all part of what binds a workplace. The people who play together, stay together.

We like tradition – even those who buck “old school,” still count on Bagel Monday or the annual St. Patrick’s day crock-pot corned beef brought in by Patrick O’Malley in Transportation. Celebrating Christmas can be done in a way that doesn’t offend those who don’t believe, and still include those who do.

I worked with a deeply Jewish man who was routinely greeted with “Merry Christmas” by many of his customers. He simply smiled and was never offended. He told me that he would rather have a religious expression sent his way than a complaint or a foul word.  And he loved the fact that he got the day off. Yes, he would go to the movies and order Chinese food. That was his Christmas celebration.

In all but a few service-oriented workplaces, Christmas is a day off. If you don’t celebrate the birth of Christ, I’m guessing you’ll still take the day off – with pay. There’s no one I know of who will traipse off to work on Dec. 25, just to make a point that they “don’t do Christmas.”

We can all benefit from a little good cheer this time year, regardless of the source.

Extending Grace to Those Who Don’t Believe

We don’t need to be ashamed if we want to gather with coworkers and exchange Christmas presents, put up a Christmas tree, or hang Christmas lights. If you’re a Jewish,  Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or an atheist you’ll very likely not be offended by simple holiday expressions by others.

And when those who believe differently from me want to take a holy day off or want to celebrate their traditions, hopefully I’m extending the same measure of tolerance.

We should all be mindful that not everyone believes like we do, but that concern shouldn’t turn into a monster. Our workplaces are often dreadful on their own, and when we expend endless energy on finding offense, our labors are performed without any joy.

And conversely, there’s nothing Christian (or Hindu, or Muslim, or Atheist) about pushing our beliefs on those who find it offensive. There are ways to do life without needlessly putting others on defense and still not compromise your convictions.

Grace – like love – is a universal language that sweeps nearly every religious tradition. It’s the unmitigated favor that God shows to us, and in turn, we extend to others. Grace is the great equalizer, allowing people to be people without having to look over their shoulder.

I think this Workplace Grace is a better way to go. And that way, I won’t have to learn how to pronounce “Merry Christmahanakwanzika.”

What’s Christmas like in your workplace?

Don’t be Grumpy and Old: 3 Ways Christians Can Prepare for Happiness

A good friend of mine has a father who is sinking into dementia. As his mind slips away, so are his “brakes.”  The graceful restraints of social morays concerning foul language, anger, and human interaction are gone. He’s a handful, battling nurses, cussing out family members, and berating visitors. His final days are stress on everyone around him.

It makes me wonder, what will I be like when I’m old?

Frustration, Fear, Loneliness

I saw my father angry one time in his life – yes, just once. He was irritated with the cannula hanging from his nostrils and his hand became entangled in the tubing in a fishing line-like mess. I reached over to help and he pulled away in frustration. “Damn thing,” he grumbled.

He was angry because he was helpless, his body broken but his mind still functioning. And it works the other way too, as the body is intact but the mind drifts. I’m 52, and the decline in function of both body and mind is frustrating – even frightening.

The elderly are often filled with anxiety. The pages of the calendar remind them that the days are marching forward. Their friends are dying or losing contact, one by one. Their family members are involved in their own lives. No one wants to be alone. And they are scared.

But the truth is that  older people are generally the happiest. An article in Psychology Today says that  people over 60 were the happiest age group, with happiness starting to rise after age 50. In fact, another  survey reported people  in their 70s being as happy and mentally healthy as 20-year-olds.

happy and old

Choose Your Rut Carefully

Dr. Mary A. Languirand, PhD is a clinical psychologist who wrote, ““An irritable person may become cantankerous, an impatient person demanding and impossible to please. Age and illness can intensify longstanding personality traits in some unpleasant ways. Unfortunately, the person taking care of the elderly parents is oftent the target of this bad behavior.”

There’s an anecdotal story told by Ray Stedman about the Al-Can highway that ran through  northern British Columbia and the Yukon to Alaska. Well into the 1960s it was all gravel, and a challenge only a bold driver with a tough truck would want to face. While crossing the final border into Alaska, and a sign read, “Choose your rut carefully—you’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.”

What’s my path?

So this goes to my question? Are elderly Christians happier because they have an entire lifetime of choosing better paths? Do decades of positive thinking, prayerful living, and good words pay off when you are old?

Or does mental illness, dementia and other mind and body robbing illness actually operate independently of the spirit? Can I be a grumpy old man?

Rutted Road

I want to be gentle grandfather who smiles. I want to give words of praise and to be generous with whatever good deeds I have left. I want to reflect God’s glory, right up to the end.

I propose that elderly Christians should tilt the happiness scales even farther. And if we begin preparing our minds and hearts right now, we’ll stay cheerful even as our bodies age. We need to remember these truths.

1. Our bodies are temporal. We are promised new bodies in a new heaven. “The old will pass away.” The pains of today are not forever.

2. Our fears are unfounded. The fears that many older people have about death and dying are lessened. As Christians, we are told to not fear death, even embracing it. “We are confident,I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

3. Our future is set. Some elderly are faced with uncertain days. Nursing homes, loss of friends and family, and catastrophic medical and financial conditions. But Christians who age are admonished to not be concerned. do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Daily Choices

Every choice I make today takes me deeper into the dark future of despair, fear and insecurity…or into the bright and glorious of a life in the light.

I’m choosing my rut carefully. I’ll be in it a long time.

Enjoy this! I hope I’m happy and old…

Gratitude – Words that express our thanks

I am thrilled to be part of a fantastic writer’s group, Writers on the Rock. They aren’t concerned about being famous or writing the next best seller. They are just good people who want to make a difference with their words.

On this day, Thanksgiving 2014, we have published a collaborative project, “Gratitude.” Please feel free to download it here — Gratitude

And we would  be honored if you would share it.

Thank you friends.

All of out excuses. How about you?

I was once a Bible-breathing-on-fire young man, ready to change the world.

I did my share of shaking things up. But then life got in the way — Marriage. Kids. Jobs. Career. A mortgage. Soon, I had every excuses, every reasons why I couldn’t change the world.

And I’m still using them.

Only now, I use my past as an excuse, littered with selfishness and broken relationships. I have proven inadequacies, personal chinks in my armor that I know leave me vulnerable. I have doubts and uncertainties about my abilities. “Pick someone else,” I pray.

excuse

Indeed, if you are like me, we are all beset by sins and failures, fears and temptations. I hope to get a grip on the ball, but it slips out of my grasp.

Paul had a similar conversation with some first-century believers. He acknowledged all the excuses in 1 Cor 1:26-29. “Not many of you were wise by human standards. Not many of you were influential. Not many were of noble birth”

Well, that sums up most of the Christians I know. We are a ragtag group of nobodies.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world…He chose the weak things of the world…He chose the lowly and despised things of the world…”
Basically, we are without excuse, because we didn’t choose God. He chose us.
Being a Red Letter Believer means that you take on the words of Christ and you begin to not just believe in them, but you begin to live them out. When we begin to embrace them and flesh them out, we will see the world around you change. Those precious Words can redeem our schools, our workplaces, our governments and our planet.

Things are pretty bleak out there. Wars. Weather. Terrorism. Anger. Despair. It’s all around us and there is urgency for God’s elect to redeem the culture – to change the world.

So what’s my excuse?

Just because I don’t agree with you, doesn’t mean I hate you

Of all the words flung around carelessly these days – like love, sex, marriage, and selfie — perhaps none is more thoughtless than the modern use of “hate.”

Suddenly, any opposition to any idea or principle, regardless of the argument is deemed “hateful.”

For example, my friend Jack said he couldn’t make a wedding cake for two men. He would sell them anything else in his store, but his principles would not allow him to participate in something he felt was morally wrong. Jack the Baker became Jack the Hater. Those of us who know Jack know him to be honest, pure and most of all, loving.

I sat with someone I admire and we were talking about the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder.  He said, “The haters have won.” Regardless of policy decision, political moves, and controversy, any disagreement with the man was thrown into the “hate pile.” I tilted my head. Do I hate him?

It’s on both sides of the aisle. Christians who feel slighted are using the “Don’t hate me bro” defense. I’ve heard people accuse others of hating Hobby Lobby – or Chik Fil A, because they oppose their stands on issues.

Can we stop the hate talk?

Taking a position on policy, or lifestyle, or decisions doesn’t mean that I am coming after your character. It’s quite probable that I can disagree with you and still like you  — even love you. Reasonable humans can do this .

Dumb decision. But I still love him

I love my sons with unshakable fortitude. Yet, I don’t agree with all they do. In fact, I shake my head sometimes and wonder what they are thinking! (even as my father wondered the same.) When I was angry at of one of him for driving my car off road while towing a canoe across the ice, I was completely justified as a parent and as a human. That was just plain dumb. Looking back, we all laugh at it now. But not once did I hate him for his bad decision.

If I think that a country should be able to define and enforce its border, it doesn’t mean I hate immigrants. If I think God defines marriage and not a court, I don’t hate same sex couples. If I think schools shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the concept of God in history, doesn’t mean I hate atheists. Candidates don’t hate children, old people, or women. Well, maybe a couple.

When the Bible tells me to love, it’s a matter of the heart and the soul.  It doesn’t mean that I need to make excuses for behavior or overlook a fallen nature. I love their person, their being regardless of how they act. We love because by doing so it might help them into a right relationship with God.

You see, it’s the world that has love and hate all messed up, not the church.  When the woman was ready to be stoned, Jesus by his persuasive logic of love caused the accusers to melt away. Out of compassion, out of love, he saved her life. But then he said, “Go and sin no more.”  He didn’t hate her, but he still told her change her ways. His love changed the conversation, and so can ours.

I know there are some — and you may be quick to point them out — that have blurred the lines between disagreement and hate. Yup. They are there. But they are not me. They are not my Lord.

Winter PeaceThis quote by Rick Warren just about sums it up:

 “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Six Flags. Seven Principles. One Love.

Can a company in today’s cutthroat world actually run on biblical principles – and prosper? Can an organization be guided by faith and still be sensitive to a diverse world? Can you take the words of Jesus and put them in a corporate setting?

There is a company that’s doing precisely that– Herschend Family Entertainment, which runs 26 theme parks such as Dollywood and Stone Mountain.

Joel Manby is the CEO and cheerleader for a relationship-based organization that makes a difference in it’s employees lives, resulting in a better experience for its customers.

Manby appeared last year on CBS’ Undercover Boss where he wowed audiences with his personable, relatable style of servant-leadership.

He also wrote the book, Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders

Notice – it doesn’t say, “Love Work.”  Love is not the verb. Love is the noun. Works is the verb. Can love really work at your organization?

How odd to use this word in the corporate environment. But after reading the book and seeing the examples, I think this could really revolutionize any business – big or small. It could even change an entire society.

Jesus’ primary command to his followers was to love God. The second command was to love others, even as he loved us.

Love is good in church and in home and with interpersonal lives, but it doesn’t always transfer to the organization level. This book shows you how.

“The way I lead shows that God is at work in my life,” writes Manby.

Manby’s previous corporate experience included stints at GM, Saturn and Saab. There it was all about metrics, numbers, productivity and output. There was very little talk about love – except to keep it out of the workroom.

In the book, he reveals that Hershend still has  need to be responsible to the investors – they still need to measure popcorn sales and make sure the workhours match the workload. But love permeates every number and every employee interaction.

“Treating someone with love regardless of how you feel about that person is a very powerful principle. . .It can make us great spouses, great parents, and great friends. Great leaders too.”

Manby says this. “I define personal success as being consistent to my own personal mission statement:  to love God and love others.”

The company has seven principles for success, and you’ll see the gospel infused in every one of them:

  1. Be patient—demonstrate self-control in difficult situations.
  2. Be kind—show encouragement and enthusiasm.
  3. Be trusting—place confidence in those around you.
  4. Be unselfish—think of yourself less.
  5. Be truthful—define reality corporately and individually.
  6. Be forgiving—release the grip of the grudge.
  7. Be dedicated—stick to your values in all circumstances.

 Manby emphasizes that employees don’t have to people of faith or Christians. But they do have to exhibit loving behavior as displayed in the seven principles.

“The rest takes care of itself,” he writes.

Every day, Manby writes a personal note to an employee, thanking them. “They have powerful impact. They reinforce good behavior.”

The company has a Share it Forward fund. Employee donations are matched by the company and those pooled monies are used to take care of employee needs. Last year more than 800 families received assistance from vehicles to funds for medical care to bereavement travel.

Not a CEO or in a leadership role? Manby doesn’t let you off the hook. His last chapter has a challenge. “It’s up to you.”

“Any employee at any level has the power to make a difference with love.”

“Dedication to leading with love isn’t just a theory; it’s living out organization-wide processes that identify and measure the necessary behaviors.  It’s one thing to talk about values like leading with love, but it’s another thing to deliver on those values, especially in tough times.  That is what dedication is all about.  Leaders who are dedicated to the attributes of love outlined in this book while getting strong financial results will certainly place themselves in a unique but very successful minority in business, government, and the nonprofit world.  Dedication is the fuel we need to drive toward our goal: to lead with love today, tomorrow, and forever.”

This post is in response to the High Calling’s quest for the Best Book’s for Business. What other books have influenced you? I encourage you to join the conversation here and at the High Calling.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN LOVE AT YOUR PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT?

Is Christianity a waste?

Sometimes I look at this life I’m living, trying to make righteous choices, and the doubts creep in. I wonder if it’s just a waste of time when I could be enjoying the full fruits of this world.

After all, the world looks like they are having fun. Unbridled by the tenants of faith and the threat of sin, shame, and punishment, they do what they want. Morality is what you define it to be.

And then there’s everyone else. Since the beginning of time, it’s estimated that more than 8 billion people have made a decision to follow Christ. Since 1934, the number of Christians increased by 1300 percent while the world’s population grew only 400 percent. Forsaking all, they have given up worldly pleasure, progress and modernism. Did they miss out too?

There are currently around 3.7 million churches around the world. They meet in schools, big cathedrals, strip malls, suburban campuses, and city parks. Multiply that number by the services last week. Sermons prepared. Songs sung. Bulletins printed. Nurseries staffed. Are we wasting real estate, time and effort? 

Worldwide, there a 320,000 full-time Christian workers in the mission field. We have another 5.4 million full-time Christian workers at home. Are we wasting resources? 

The current budget of all Christian ministries tops $163 billion a year. The total cost of outreach averages $330,000 for each and every newly baptized person. Are we wasting money? 

Approximately 83 million Bibles are distributed globally per year. There are six million books about Christianity in print today. Are we wasting paper and trees?  

Ever since the first century, Christians have been martyred for their faith. Some estimate more than 70 million have been killed for the sake of their belief in Christ. And in this supposedly enlightened age of tolerance, more than 100 million Christians around the globe are currently suffering persecution and 170,000 are killed each year. Are we wasting precious life? 

Jesus himself was a man of great attraction and persuasive power. He could have thrown the Romans out of Israel, ruled with peace and given the Jews back their land. Instead, he ended up tacked to a crude piece of wood. Was his time on earth wasted?

The Apostle Paul even suggested that all of this was futile, and that “we, of all people, would be pitied.” 

“If,” he says, “Christ were not raised from the dead.”  But he was and that changes everything.

That’s my one good reason.

Every life. Every sermon. Every book. Every dollar. Every prayer. Every moment.

It’s not a waste, because He lives.

English: A cross close to the church in Grense...

The cross

I can be great (But it’s not what you think)

I always had this belief that I would be successful.

This belief was instilled in by a mother who was a high school dropout, married at 17, and had lived a modest, yet decidedly meager life.

But in her sons, she saw greatness.

She pushed me to memorize the math tables that swirled in my head. She turned off the TV and stuck books in front of my square eyes. The B plus was a sign of failure. The second-place wasn’t good enough. She never relented in telling us that we weren’t like the other kids.

“You can do better.”

Doctor. Pilot.

"Greatness"

)

Scientist.

Any of those professions would be fine with her.

But there were the realities. And they were biggies. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I was color blind and could never fly. I couldn’t figure out physics.

I wasn’t ready to concede. After all, I wasn’t normal like the other kids, or so I thought. Let’s just say, I didn’t have self-esteem issues.  I swallowed a lot of that medicine, actually believing that I was above average, special, and skilled.

The great pretender

I depended on my ability and was frustrated when I was told I “couldn’t.” So I began to pretend I was all of those things. Confidence is one thing, but pride is another. And it’s a very thin line to walk.

Now, at this ripe middle age, I’m at the point where I’m comfortable in my own skin. I laugh about my inabilities. If my abilities aren’t so hot, that’s fine. But I still feel the fire to do something, to be somebody.But reading the red letters really tells me something.

If you want to be great,” He said. “Learn to the be servant of all.

Now, I wanna be great, but in a different way. And that will chase away the negative frustrations and usher in joy.