lessons from the holidays

I determined this year to pay attention during the holidays.  Here are 9 lessons I learned…or re-learned.

Surprises happen.  As a gift was given and received, the gift itself is usually a surprise to the recipient and reactions are sometimes a surprise to the giver.

Generous people always surprise and bless others.  Take opportunities this year to regularly give of yourself or your stuff and bathe yourself in joy as you observe the reactions you get.  It’s the activity during which you act most like God.

Expectations have a bearing on experience.  Our younger grandkids had very high expectations on Christmas.  They don’t really understand, yet, how much of the world subsists without what we consider necessities.

If we construct high expectations about what other people should do for us and they do not meet our expectations, we are disappointed and risk being disillusioned, even angry. 

If we lower our expectations, however, we can be satisfied, even happy, with what we receive.

Everyone is the same…but different.  Presents received had similarities in categories.  Clothes, toys, candy…but different.  Color, style, size, function, texture, flavor.  But socks are not toy cars are not electronics are not books are not cookies.

Although it varies from country to country and area to area, all of us are the same…we are people created in God’s image and we have a common desire for shelter, companionship and meaning. But we are all different…build, color of skin, hair and eyes.  Personality, knowledge, skills and strengths.

We’re privileged to be a part of each other’s experience and have the opportunity to be enriched, both individuals and leaders, by those within our circle of influence who have skills and strengths who compliment and strengthen us like a soccer goalie strengthens the whole team.

Life happens.  My #3 grandson was opening a wrapped present.  Unknown to him, #2 grandson was right behind him, looking over his shoulder.  When #3 pulled on a piece of tape, it suddenly gave way and #2 got an elbow in the nose.

It wasn’t hard and it wasn’t done on purpose.  But #2 took personal offense and wanted to make sure everyone knew he had been attacked and wounded.

It takes the grace of God to let the wounds go, intended or not.  It’s the only way to be free and happy.

Life is a process.  Mostly, things don’t happen at the time and in the order we would have ideally chosen.

My #2 son received a gift…one slipper.  One!  He looked kind of silly walking around in one slipper.  I know…you’re already ahead of me.  He later opened another present.  The other slipper. 

The first Christmas didn’t happen until it was time.  Most people didn’t understand it then, but Scripture says Jesus was born “in the fullness of time.”

That’s how life is.  We have experiences we don’t understand or appreciate.  We don’t see how it fits with anything.  The “fit” happens later.  Like someone said, “Patience is a virtue.”

Everyone can’t be first.  If you need to get through the buffet line, walk the graduation stage, or check out at the grocery store, there’s usually someone ahead of you.  It’s no problem…you’re ahead of somebody else.  Be generous. Don’t take everything so seriously.  Elbert Hubbard said, “Do not take life too seriously.  You will never get out of it alive.”

Not everything that glitters is gold.  My daughter and son-in-law found a bargain on an expensive CD for a gift.  20% of the original price!  When the case was opened on Christmas morning, however, it was empty.  No CD.  They had both missed the written message on the outside of the case:  “Empty box.  Do not sell.”

For most worthwhile endeavors, it takes hard work, a keen eye and an honest appreciation of other people.  No shortcuts.

It’s fun to be around people you like.  There’s a real difference in the “feel” of a gathering; whether a family, a congregation or a company group; when difficult relationships are present.  If you don’t want to be part of a problem, avoid two things.  Don’t try to control someone else and don’t be selfish or self-serving.

There is always hope.  What a cliché!  Yet possibilities for something different always exist.  It’s a new year…a new month…a new day.  All it takes is a new vision…a new decision…a new commitment.

Watch the movie “Annie”.  Read about Mary, daughter of Glenn Beck.

The greatest source of hope is found in Someone who can create a new “me”, to free me to be what “me” was supposed to be.  He’s waiting for your discovery.  His name is Jesus.


Leadership Observations For Christmas

Joseph had the whole Christmas thing goin’…even during the very first Advent season.
He and his pregnant (not by him) wife were traveling to see family.
They had very little space for luggage.
Traffic was terrible.
No reservations were available.

Family didn’t have room for them and Joseph couldn’t find accommodations that were up to his normal standards: the windows had no curtains, the mattress was substandard, there were bugs and other animals everywhere, the water pressure was lousy, and the electricity was off.

Add to that, Mary (his wife) was due any second.

There is an old adage that says something to the effect that the most difficult leadership to exercise is leading oneself. That being said, I wondered if Joseph might have some lessons to teach us by example. As I’ve thought about it, here’s some.

1. Don’t make quick, life-altering decisions based on things that you have no control over and do not understand.

2. Don’t be quick to judge or accuse others simply because they don’t appear to measure up to your standards.

3. Be committed to and responsible for your family, team or company, no matter how difficult the circumstances may seem.

4. Be patient…no one is perfect…not even you.

5. Be kind to others during your travels. They are on a journey, too.

6. Keep in mind…lack of preparation (regardless of the reason) on your part does not
constitute an emergency for the one from whom you’re asking help.

7. Wonderful things can happen, even when you’re knee-deep in the muck!

8. There is a God Who orchestrated and led the first Christmas Pageant. He knows you, knows where you live, knows your circumstances. Trust Him.

If you want to look at the story yourself, find a Bible and look up Matthew, chapter 1, verses 18-25 and Luke, chapter 2, verses 1-20.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I hope it is made even more so because you know the One who made it all possible.

family gatherings

Thanksgiving is upon us once again. I wrote this blog several years ago during the summer, but I thought it was appropriate right before the holiday.

I love getting together with extended family. I have four brothers, each of us with children and grandchildren. To the degree feasible, we all (we lost Mom and Dad not long ago) get together somewhere once a year. Not just for a meal, but for two or three days of conversation, games, laughter and general acknowledgement of the fact we belong together.
I think one reason I treasure it is I see so many families who have such significant problems they have no real interest in being in the same place. Don’t get me wrong, our family is not even close to being ideal, whatever that is. There are some of my extended family with whom I do not see eye to eye. Most of them have opinions that differ from mine, although I demand that my own grown children give tacit support for their Dad’s pronouncements.
Another reason is it gives me a sense of history…a context for my life and who I have become. I know this is something that some people don’t even want to consider because of horrible things that happened in the name of family. But those things are never healed by ignoring them. I’m not a psychologist, but my impression is we have to acknowledge and face the issues of our past for our future to be truly free.

If, on occasion, you sense some sort of loss due to damaged or inactive relationships and wish there could be more, don’t ignore it any longer. It can change. You can change it. Here are some things you can do.

1. Value your family members, whether immediate or extended. You may have been hurt, ignored, put down, spat on, cursed at, thrown out…need I go on? They are still your family. There will never be any replacements. There may be other people who are close to you, who serve as surrogates, but you’ll never replace the real thing. Besides, there was Someone else who suffered all those things, and more. He kept on reaching out…in love. And He changed the world.

2. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. There’s always lots of reasons why things are the way they are. But, you have the choice to use those reasons as an excuse to maintain or you can view them as challenges to be overcome. Value your family members as human beings that share common history with you, even if it’s not all golden.

3. Find ways of getting together. Have a strategy…a regular plan. If you try with integrity and fail…at least you will have been changed in positive ways. If there have been wrongs, forgiveness will have to find its way into your heart, even if you must maintain appropriate limits. When you do get together try these things.

4. Play together. Find reasons to laugh. If you are people of faith, worship together. Don’t be satisfied with surface talk of weather and ball games…talk deeply about things that matter. Ask questions that begin with “who”, “what”, “why”, “where”, and “how”. Allow grace to infuse major differences.
Try it…you’ll like it…or, at least, you’ll be satisfied with the process. And be the richer for it.

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