Looking Forward

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

John 13:7 (New International Version)

Yeah, so I think you can easily summarize my 2008 with this particular verse from the bible. Just last week, a close friend reminded me of something I said at the end of 2007. I stated that I didn’t want 2008 to be like the previous year. I had a particularly rough year in 2007, and the thought of enduring another one like it was enough to cause me to examine my life very closely.

There is the saying that the definition of insanity is doing things the same way over and over, but expecting different results. There weren’t bad things in my life, but there weren’t things in my life which were inspiring or requiring growth. So when I made that statement to my friend, I was saying that I didn’t want to be exactly the same, only one year older in December 2008.

Little did I know what God had in mind for me.

Back on July 8, 2008, I wrote my first Crossing Paths post announcing that I was moving from my home of 11 years, San Jose, and relocating to Rocklin, CA. Maybe God misunderstood what I was saying a year ago. I didn’t mean geographically when I said I didn’t want to be in the same place a year later. But in all honesty, I am beginning to understand that it was necessary for me to physically move from where I was to where I am. I have tried to share with you, through this blog, the good and the difficult things which have transpired since July 8. Sometimes our lives seem to be in some kind of crock pot, slowly cooking the contents at a leisurely pace. For me, the second half of 2008 was a microwave. The past 5 months has seen more things happen in my life than the past 5 years combined.

As I look ahead to 2009, I stand upon God’s promise that He has plans and a purpose for my life. They’re for my good, and not to harm me. They are to give me hope for my future. I have arrived in Rocklin, but I have not arrived at some spiritual or life plateau from where I can just kick my feet up and admire the view.

I do not see any magical significance to the annual flipping of the calendar to a new year. Each day holds the potential of changing our lives one way or the other. But because we measure time by calendars and clocks, we tend to evaluate each year by looking back, and we either dread or eagerly anticipate the coming year. I’m choosing to do the latter. I don’t know what 2009 holds for me. I have hopes and dreams, but only God knows. All I know is that I am on a good path and upward climb. I do not intend to lose any of the momentum which has been built in the 5 months since I came to Rocklin. I expect there to be difficulties and surprises along the way. But in the things I plan, and the things which require my flexibility and endurance, I submit everything I am into God’s hands.

He’s taken great care of me so far, despite myself. I know I can count on Him to keep it going.

2008; The 49ers and I Had Similar Years

As you likely know, I’m a definite sports fan. More specifically, I’m a fan of my particular teams. Among my teams is the San Francisco 49ers. I grew up going to games when you could literally drive to the stadium the day of a game, buy your tickets minutes before kickoff, and still end up with pretty good seats. Then they went off and won some Super Bowls, and those days are ancient history.

But this year’s team had a season which seemed to parallel my own. Let me ‘splain.

The 49ers started off the season decently, going 2-1 in their first three weeks. But then they lost their next six games. Things got so bad, they fired their coach after seven games, roughly halfway into the season.

My year started off decently. I typically spend the first couple months of the year doing a little volunteer stuff for a local San Jose high school’s girls basketball team, which was a lot of fun. That was always the kick back, fun time of my year. Then I hit the months of March through June. These were difficult months for me. I was in a job which had no real future in it. I worked with some really great people, but at the same time, I felt like I was on a professional and financial treadmill. Meanwhile, things at church were going well, but it was pretty much a carbon copy, (I’ll bet people under the age of 30 have NO idea where that term comes from), of the past several years. Once again, I felt like I was on a treadmill. I reached a point in my life that I felt like if I wasn’t making tangible progress, I was actually losing ground.

So, like the 49ers, I made a change.

After the 49ers changed their coach, they went on to lose their next two games. The change didn’t bring about immediate success where it is most obvious, in wins. But there were signs of improvement. There were signs of hope.

For me, after I made my move to Rocklin, there were no immediate signs of success. I got laid off from my job, found another job, then got laid off from that job. However, I also found a great church in which I made some good friends and got involved in ministry. The tide was beginning to turn.

During the final seven weeks of the football season, the 49ers won 5 and lost only 2. What an amazing turnaround! Their final record ended up being 7-9, but no one is focusing on the first nine weeks in which they were 2-7. People are fired up about the last seven games. There is a saying in sports which is so true, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The 49ers finished their season on an up note. This momentum was so inspiring to the players and management, the owners of the organization met the players and coaches in the locker room immediately after the final game of the season. They took this opportunity to announce that they had offered the permanent coaching position to the wildly popular man they hired after week six on an interim basis, and who led them to the new culture and attitude.

For me, the last couple of months have had their challenges, but those challenges paved the way to some genuine excitement. I am exiting 2008 on an up note. I’ve got a job which is challenging and motivating. Through this job, I am also getting very involved with the leadership of the church and making some wonderful relationships. The momentum in my life as I finish 2008 makes the prospect of the coming year very exciting for me. I am not lamenting the rough start to my year, but riding the wave of what has transpired over the past five months.

It’s how you finish.

Notice I didn’t say “end”. This is not an end. There really is no end. Not yet. It’s simply the finish of one season which will carry over into a new one. The potential is great. Expectations are high. There will be challenges. There will be victories, and there will be defeats. But all the preparation and determination are leading to such a time as this.

I’m looking forward to the new season!

Dinner and Discussions of Spleens

My parents are each 73 years old, but there can be varying degrees of 73ness. You know what I mean. Whatever age you are, there are people who share your chronological age, but some make it appear older or younger than the number may suggest based on their appearance and/or behaviors.

My parents are beginning to show more and more signs that their 73 is really catching up to them. For instance, during meals, my mom enjoys sharing stories of old friends and relatives. Now this isn’t really a problem, except that when you hit a certain age, the only updates you get from your similarly aged friends and relatives are medical in nature. Therefore, while eating my meal, my mom wants to tell me about her cousin in Bakersfield who had her spleen removed. Then I hear about her friend’s failed back surgery. Then my cousin’s post-operation infection. It’s taking everything within me to keep my food, well…within me.

My poor mom is afflicted with two men. This is most evident when she is sharing memories of days gone by. As a woman, my mom’s stories involve a lot of details which my dad and I perceive as red traffic lights on the road toward the point. As men, we just want to sail down the road and arrive at our destination as quickly as possible. As a woman, my mom takes a casual cruise, taking in every detail along the way. Dad and I see these details as stop lights because we have to sit there and wait for them before we can continue toward the destination; the point. Sometimes, we even have to take the occasional turn on to a side street of thought and roam through that neighborhood of (to us) meaningless information before we can return to the course. This maneuver is always keyed on the word, “anyway.”

For example, “remember? I had prime rib, mashed potatoes and broccoli. You don’t remember? Anyway, that was the night we flew in and stayed in San Jose for a week.”

On one hand, the fact that she remembers exactly what she had for dinner at The Hungry Hunter the night I picked them up at the airport ten years ago is an encouraging sign. Her mind is very sharp. On the other hand…what does that have to do with anything?

Later, my dad took some time to parade his collection of items he ordered from catalogs. Then, he brought out the catalogs for me to browse through. Sometimes he gets things that are actually kind of cool. Other times, he ends up getting something that is supposed to be slightly better than a thing he already has. That means he has no need for the old one, so guess who he wants to give it to. I love my dad very much, so I have to walk a very thin political tightrope when balancing whether to accept or turn it down. Sometimes I just need to take the battery operated floor sweeper, though my Swiffer does the job quite nicely. It makes him feel good.

My parents are the sweetest people ever. My dad gets people to fall in love with him wherever he goes. He’s just being himself, and people love to come up and give him hugs. He’s a good and gentle man. This Christmas, he got me four different sweaters and shirts. Three of the four, I’ll definitely wear. The fact that he hit on 75% this year is a nice improvement on previous years. Sometimes he’s still guilty of buying me something he would wear. But that’s part of the charm, and one thing I know I’ll fondly remember for the rest of my life.

So while my parents are showing their age in some funny ways, and some troubling ways, I hope to be able to hear about spleens and battery operated floor sweepers for a long time to come.

December 26

December 26 is the middle child of dates on the calendar. Well, at least in the United States. In Canada, they invented a holiday called “Boxing Day”, whatever that is. I thought it had something to do with the physical conflict between people out at the stores the day after, trying to make exchanges and returns of stuff they received the day before. Speaking of, does anything epitomize femininity more than pink boxing gloves and matching head gear?

I digress.

Do you ever get that weird let down feeling the day after Christmas? I mean, there’s all that build up in the weeks and months leading up to Christmas Eve and Day, then WHAM, it’s December 26th. I always feel that way. For the past I-don’t-know-how-many-years, I have been involved with Christmas shows. You have months of rehearsals leading up to several performances, then WHAM, it’s over. It’s the same feeling. That “now what?” feeling.

Fortunately, this year December 26 falls on a Friday. Next year will be even better because it will be a Saturday. I wonder how many will have to return to work on Friday, only to follow it with a weekend. How weird is that? You have to fire up the engines and put in an honest day of work, but on a day sandwiched between Christmas and a weekend. And to make matters even more interesting, you have to do it again next week when New Year’s Day does the same thing to our schedule.

Remember when we were in school? We had weeks away from school, so the calendar looked something like this: Sunday-Saturday-Saturday-Christmas Eve-Christmas Day-Saturday-Saturday-Sunday.

Ahhh, those were the days.

Now we’re all workin’ stiffs. Many of you had the foresight (and seniority) to take a week or two off with vacation time. That’s the way to do it.

But here’s to December 26th. The red-headed stepchild of days on the calendar. You’re under appreciated in this country, but today, we salute you!

Now hurry up and get over with so we can enjoy the weekend!

My Heart, A Manger

I love Christmas. I love the music, the lights, Christmas trees. But I’ve been careful not to miss what Christmas really is. I’ve been thinking of the humble beginnings of Jesus on that silent night. I never cease to be amazed that God would introduce His son to our world in such a humbling, downright inglorious setting.

A stable.

You see, there was no room in the hotel for them. So it was off to the barn for Joseph, his wife, and their soon-to-arrive son. God could have chosen so many more fitting ways to usher the Savior into the world He created. A palace would seem appropriate. But He chose a stable. Then, the indignity carried out even further. You see, there was no cushy bed in which to put the newborn Messiah. So they improvised.

A manger.

A manger is basically a trough in which animals would shove their dirty snouts in order to get a mouthful of sustenance. But on this night, it would be a cradle. Instead of holding the food for farm animals, this time it held the Bread of Life for all mankind.

And now Jesus abides in an equally humble place. A place which is every bit as flawed and inconsistent with a place you would imagine for the King of Kings. A place which is just as unfitting for royalty as can possibly be.

My heart.

Had Jesus been born as He deserved, how could He find my heart a suitable home? My heart is anything but a glamorous mansion befitting a King. Instead, my heart is a humble and unassuming place. But as Jesus made that stable and manger the center of His will and glory some two thousand years ago, He is working to do the same in my heart and life. By merely living in it, He raises its value and its potential.

Everything Jesus has ever touched, He changed from being ordinary. That is why His life started out in such a humble, unglamorous setting.

And maybe…just maybe, He’ll touch my life, and yours, and make it fit for a King.

Merry Christmas, from my heart to yours.

Christmas Eve

My fondest memories of Christmas relate to Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. Without going into a lot of lengthy details to distract from the upbeat theme of the occasion, suffice it to say that I was raised as an only child, despite the fact that I have one biological brother and two step brothers. Growing up, aside from the dog, there was no one else around within 30 years of my age. So Christmas Eve was very special because that was the one time all year long when my brothers would all come over and be there at the same time.

I was a bit younger than each of them. In fact, I was five years younger than the nearest chronological sibling. So they tended to hang together, and I was the little guy who was often the target of physical and psychological older brother torment. But I didn’t care. It was just great to have them around.

When it was time to open up the presents, paper was everywhere. We tore that place up! The joyous sound of “WHOA!” was heard several times during the course of the evening. It seemed like the opening of gifts lasted for hours.

It’s been several years since I’ve shared a Christmas with my brothers. They all have their own lives. I think the fact that we grew up separately, and were not exactly close in age has a lot to do with our distance today. Not to mention the geographic distance which stands between us. But I do have great memories.

On Christmas Eve 2008, I will participate in my church’s special one hour service. It will be nice to do this, since in years past, I always had to decline because I had a lengthy drive to be at my parents’ house, and I didn’t want to get there in the middle of the night after battling traffic out of the Bay Area. Now, about 30 miles separates us, so I can still do the service and get to their house by 8 pm.

There will be no kids tearing into presents. It will just be my parents and me. A little quiet time, reading the biblical account of the birth of Jesus out of Luke chapter 2. Christmas Eve now has a different energy level than it did all those years ago, but in a different way, it’s even more meaningful now. Not because of who isn’t there, but because of what my parents and I share. Each of our lives have been changed as a result of the life of Christ which started in that humble manger. Our relationships with each other are so different, so much better than it was all those years ago. We’ve each taken interesting paths to get to where we are today. None of us knows how many more Christmas Eves we’ll share together. Without anyone saying anything, we will enjoy this one knowing that Christmas Eve 2009 isn’t guaranteed to any of us.

As you experience your own Christmas Eve, I pray that you spend it surrounded by people you love, and more importantly, people who love you. I pray that it is somehow the most special yet. I hope you and they have many, many more Christmases together yet ahead. But I pray that you never take one moment of this Christmas for granted. I can think of many people I know who will experience this Christmas as the first one without a special someone in their lives who they lost this year. When you look around the room at them, when they’re not even aware of it…just look at them and thank God for them.

And remember to thank God for sending His son to us. This is, and always will be the greatest gift ever given.

Christmas Lights

One tradition of Christmas that I love to this day is driving around looking at homes decorated with festive Christmas lights. I’ve lived in a few cities throughout my life, and I have always found the neighborhoods which banded together to bring Christmas cheer to the community.

I’m thankful to say that Rocklin has at least one such neighborhood.

My good friends Jason and Heather live about a mile from me, and within a few blocks of some winding streets which apparently have quite a reputation for getting their Christmas on. Jason and Heather had family over this past Saturday, as tradition dictates, and then they all go for a stroll down to look at the lights. They invited me to join them, and I was eager to participate.

We got to the part of the neighborhood where the homes were lit up like the Vegas strip. It was awesome! Evidently, the homeowner’s association all but requires people to participate. And boy, do they! We saw houses with a variety of themes to them. Many featured Disney movie themes, some feature Charlie Brown and his pals. We saw several nativity scenes. We even saw one which had several wooden snowmen on the lawn which depicted them playing baseball. Many of them had Boston Red Sox hats or jerseys on them, so that particular family’s allegiance was not hard to discern.

There was one home that featured The Beatles on their front lawn. But to me, what took the cake was the home with Marilyn Monroe prominently placed at the top-center of the roof under bright lights and a rotating color light ball. As you can see, it was Marilyn’s classic pose from the movie The Seven Year Itch. I’m not sure that this particular image will crack into the top Christmas icons for the
ages, but I have to say, it was unique.

It was a great night. Many of the homeowners pull out their portable fire pits right on to their driveways, round up a bunch of chairs, and just watch the people walk and drive by. There were hundreds and hundreds of people walking through the neighborhoods. Everyone having a great time, everyone festive and behaving appropriately. No one was in a hurry. It wasn’t too cold. It really was a perfect night for this.

I was rather shocked to see the number of limousines parading the streets, with people of all ages hanging out the windows to take in the sights. There were also countless cars with small children standing in cars and SUVs taking in the view through open sunroofs, a la Dino from The Flintstones. From what I understand, people drive from as much as 45 minutes away to come visit this neighborhood.

As a big kid, I love living in a community which celebrates the season. Many people I passed that night were not afraid to say, “Merry Christmas.” I have to admit, it almost catches me by surprise these days. I don’t expect everyone to celebrate the religious origins of Christmas, but I’m happy when I see people unafraid to use the term which has almost become controversial. It is Christmas, after all.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas traditions. You can bet that taking a stroll through this neighborhood will be part of my Christmas activities as long as I live here.

Nobody Is Bulletproof

You may look at that title and think to yourself, “duh!” Well, I know it’s true, but I realize that there are people in my life who I really think never have big problems. I forget that even those people you think have it all together, sometimes go through serious difficulties themselves.

I just found out recently that a friend of mine, (whose gender, name, location and any other remotely identifying information will be omitted), just lost their long-standing job. I don’t know to what degree my friend was stunned by the news, but I sure know it was a good thing I was seated when they told me.

This event was a shocking reality of just how serious things are in the world today. I hear all the statistics, and I’ve been part of them. But there are some people you just figure are somehow impervious to struggles. It’s not because they’re fake, simply pretending everything is hunky dory. I know things are not perfect in their lives, or in anyone’s for that matter. But for whatever reason, I simply assume that some people are insulated from some of the garbage I have to go through because they’re better, or they are living the “American Dream.”

Such reminders of how fragile things can be is frightening. None of us are bulletproof. Bad things happen to good people. Even the best of people. I expect such things of my life. I’m a big goober. But our goober quotient sometimes just doesn’t have anything to do with it.

This reminder is good for me because it has awakened in me the necessity to pray for those who I think are bulletproof. The fact is, especially these days, we just can’t assume that people are immune to extreme difficulties. The fact is, no matter what the economy is like, life can happen in the blink of an eye. Just last week, another friend of mine informed me that their mother, a very dear woman in my life, found a couple of lumps on her breast. She had to wait the better part of the week to get the results from the biopsy. Thankfully, they were benign.

But it was another reminder.

I’ve had my difficulties. I’m still going through them. Many around me are going through things. The lesson here is that we need to keep in touch with our friends and even people we meet throughout our journey. We need to pay attention to people’s stories. Some people you might not expect it from may be going through very difficult times. When you ask, “how are you doing”, mean it. Be willing to stop and listen to them just in case. Be willing, yourself, to be honest about the difficulties in your life. I’m learning there is no shame in going through troubles. People are more understanding, and less judgmental than we fear.

We’ll get through it…together.

Barbie Is For The Birds

From the “truth is stranger than fiction” file, I present to you this little gem. It seems Mattel toys is honoring the 45th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds, with a commemorative Barbie doll fashioned after the movie’s bedeviled target of the feathered menaces, Tippi Hedrin.

As you can see in the picture, Barbie is depicted in the throes of thwarting off the aerial onslaught of winged attackers. All the while, Barbie has a surprisingly serene expression on her face, unlike her motion picture counterpart. But I guess it stands to reason that Barbie in distress might not have been alluring to consumers.

It seems that the concept of honoring this particular horror film is not unprecedented from the world of iconic doll makers. Evidently, the cherub-faced Madame Alexander line has also released their version of the damsel in distress from birds with anger issues.

Personally, I have a particular movie I wouldn’t mind seeing Barbie honor. The 35th anniversary of this particular film is in 2010, so if it happens, remember you read it here first. Why not feature a half-eaten Barbie as a tribute to the movie Jaws?