Santa looked a lot like Daddy

I’ve decided to switch gears a bit from the serious tone of recent life lessons, and instead, focus on some fun Christmas memories. One incredible memory, which was a generational tradition on my dad’s side of the family, was dad dressing up and playing Santa for kids. Now I’m not talking about the department store Santas you see all the time. Dad did this, like he does everything, above and beyond what you would expect.

The process of getting dressed, with the wigs and makeup, (gotta have those rosy cheeks), took him hours. Of course, Mom was essential in this metamorphosis. Dad’s suit wasn’t that bright Christmas red you’re used to seeing on Santa. Instead, it was a deeper, richer red. Like a dark burgundy. This added to the uniqueness of his presentation. He had a professional wig for his hair, and the beard was amazing. They’d touch up his eyebrows to make them nice and white.
One of my favorite unique details he came up with was his way of capturing that very first moment at the front door. After getting out of the car, usually a couple blocks from the house, Mom would cover his shoulders with a dusting of shaved ice. He would arrange it with the families that when he arrived, the child or children would be right at the door when it opened. As the door swung open, there was Santa on their porch brushing “North Pole snow” from his shoulders. In fact, he even would get a little on the kids so they could have that added thrill of being sprinkled with snow. Hey, we lived in the Bay Area of California. Most kids have never even seen snow in person.

I could go into more details, but this would take you an hour to read it if I did.

One of the things I appreciate about my dad, and of my parents as a unit, is that they have always done things above and beyond what others would do, and what others would be satisfied with. That attitude has been a tremendous influence to me. This is one reason why just about everyone they’ve ever known has gotten attached to them. They have always loved and given so freely. And I mean freely literally. People would ask my dad how much he would charge or accept for his Santa appearances. With as much seriousness and conviction as one could imagine, he would adamantly refuse to accept money or anything in exchange for what he did. My parents understood the unmatchable reward in just making people, and especially children, happy. Dad did his Santa in prisons, children’s hospitals, for the elderly, churches, living rooms…you name it.

He simply loves blessing people. All people.

Christmas is known as the season of giving. I hope that never goes away. But I’m proud to have had parents who simply lived their lives this way, year in and year out, no matter what the calendar said. I’m thankful that I was raised by people who were not satisfied by the status quo. Why stop at the place where everyone else does? Why stop at “that’ll do”? With a little imagination, and with a huge heart, you can do so much more.

Mom is gone now, but I’m so grateful my dad is still with us. He is truly a legend in my eyes. There just aren’t many like him in this world anymore.

Dousing or fanning the flames of bitterness

Maybe it’s the soothing piano Christmas music playing in the background as I write this, or maybe it’s just last night’s pizza getting the best of me. Either way, I think some of the mysteries of forgiveness are coming clearer to me.

I don’t write drafts to my blog posts or anything. I don’t rehearse what I’m going to say. I’m not even sure I know how to put into words what I’m sensing in my heart. But we’ll see what happens together.

If you read any or all of my posts from last week, you’ll know that this year has been one in which I’ve received a real education on dealing with the most difficult of people. I haven’t learned this by having to deal directly with one or more difficult people, but by simply observing. I won’t go over all the details, but if you go back and read some of my more recent posts, you might be able to get a tiny glimpse of how it all works together.

I ended Friday’s post by admitting that while learning the difference between revenge and justice, I didn’t understand where forgiveness fits in. I struggle with what the definition of forgiveness is. In grade school we were taught that we were to “forgive and forget”. I’ve grown to realize that forgetting is not really part of the equation. If we were to forget, we might easily get duped into repeating the steps which put us in a position to get burned in the first place. You know the saying. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.

When you’re dealing with someone who seems to spend hours of their day devising ways to mess up your life, forgiveness is a real challenge. Do we keep absolving them for all their misdeeds?

I’m learning that it is not always in our ability to pardon someone. Forgiveness in the active sense, meaning every single day, is the act of not dwelling on the things they’ve done. Sure, we may have to run around and put out all the fires we come across that they set in our lives. But if we spend our time not only putting out today’s fires, but getting all worked up over the fires they set last week, the week before that, last month, and that one time that every time we think about it, we get chest pains, we are harboring resentment.

This is where forgiveness comes in.

Keep in mind, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. You won’t find anywhere in the bible that it says to forgive and forget. We are not called to be suckers. This is especially true when the offending party has not asked for forgiveness or changed their behavior. In this context, we need to be mindful of the wrongdoings, but not let them stockpile in our heart so we become bitter and resentful. It’s been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison hoping the other person will die. The other person is just merrily going through life, while we’re spewing our emotions like Mount Vesuvius.

It’s one thing to keep a record of the things someone else has done to you. It’s another to relive the agony of those things over and over again. When this happens, they win, you lose. When you get all twisted up over something they did in the past, they get more bang for their buck.

The reason people delight in doing evil to you is because it ruins your day. Why they’re like that, I’ll never know. But they are. When you can get to the point that their deeds can’t penetrate you, that will completely turn them inside out. More importantly, you rid yourself of the poison.

I know, I know…easier said than done. True. But it can be done. Start now. When you find yourself stewing on something from the past, choose to let go of your feelings. Don’t forget the wrong, but don’t harbor the feelings. When you’re putting out the fire they set for you today, put it out. Deal with it. But don’t give them the victory by letting it consume you.

I pity the person who has nothing more important in their life than to scheme to ruin the lives of others. Maybe you’ve heard the saying that the best revenge is living well (George Herbert). Not to re-open the revenge thing, but I do agree that by brushing off the soot of those fires, and continuing to live a fulfilling life will do two things. It will give you a sense of purpose beyond “firefighting”, and it will minimize the influence of the “arsonist”.

Live your life free of resentment and bitterness. Put out those fires. Do what you need to do. But don’t let the fire consume you!

Revenge vs. Justice, another afterthought

I’ve been thinking more about Tom’s email question from yesterday. I’ve been thinking about what mercy is. My personal definition of mercy is having the power, ability or authority to take harsh action, but choosing not to. When I consider what revenge is, not seeking it is, to me, an act of mercy. I’m not saying that there is anything wonderfully noble in not seeking revenge. But at it’s base, it is an act of mercy.

By definition, we do not deserve mercy. Mercy is a gift from those who are within their rights to punish us for our misdeeds.

There are times when we are to take action against those who have wronged us. Then there are times we show mercy and let it go. In all things, we are to have a forgiving spirit. It will take someone smarter and wiser than I to spell out how and when to do all that. All I know is that in my experience, I’ve just known in my heart when it’s time to fight back, and when it’s been time to simply let it go. That same smart person will also have to explain how to have a forgiving spirit when you’re in the process of fighting back.

I haven’t reached that level in my education just yet. If I figure it out, I’ll be sure to pass it along.

In the meantime, I’m at the revenge vs. justice chapter of the class. It’s been a revelation of sorts, and it’s been valuable to me. Thank God we’re never too old to learn like little children.

Revenge vs. Justice, part 2

I received a great email question today from my friend Tom. He read yesterday’s post about revenge and justice. I’d like to share his question with you.

isn’t mercy what we should seek? Justice, evenly applied, would ultimately mean the annihilation of the human race (…for all have fallen short…).”

This is a great question, and caused me to think deeper. Tom is correct that if justice were applied literally by God, we would be wiped out. The bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, since we all have sinned and fallen short, we are deserving of death. However, God’s grace and mercy, provided to us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, has been extended to us. Ultimately, God has extended to us mercy and grace for the wages of sin. That doesn’t mean, however, that all will escape the consequences for sin.

I watched a recent interview with former President George W. Bush. When he was questioned about what his feelings were in the wake of 9/11, he responded that he knew the United States needed to respond to this act of war. However, he made it clear that it was not revenge, but justice we were to seek. Revenge would have been wiping Afghanistan off the map. An eye for an eye. Justice meant targeting those who were directly responsible for the acts of war and terrorism against our country. For example, Saddam Hussein was apprehended and put through the legal process in Iraq. The consequences for his actions, according to their system, was death by hanging.

In yesterday’s post, I made the distinction that revenge is when we take action ourselves. In essence, taking justice into our own hands. True justice is in releasing the outcome to an authority beyond ourselves. That’s why we have law enforcement. That’s why we have courts. In this life, there is a system in place to enforce justice. It doesn’t always work out the way we think it should. Whether it’s a legal matter, or simply a moral or spiritual issue, God’s justice supersedes everything else. It’s up to God whether to show mercy, or to allow harsh consequences on us for wrongdoing.

For much of this year, I’ve had a front row seat to witness some of the most flagrant offenses one person could commit against another. It would be easy for the victim of these actions, or someone else on their behalf, to take matters into their own hands to seek revenge. I am getting a real education on the mercy and patience it takes to use the system in place in pursuit of justice. Whether the other party goes to jail, is stripped of some of, or all their earthly wealth, or gets away with it, will all be in the hands of a judge at some point.

Summarizing all this, as best I can, I come to this. Revenge is us acting as judge, jury and executioner. This is not our role, and it is inconsistent with God’s plan for us. Justice requires that we behave in a manner that is legal and consistent with the standard God has set for us. Justice is defined by an authority greater than ourselves.

I am learning that as frustrating and exhausting as it can be waiting for justice, there is a soothing peace we have in being true to God through it all. God is faithful to us when we are faithful to Him. Even if things don’t go as we would like, I trust that God’s plan will be done as we remain humble, obedient and open to seeing His hand in it all.

Revenge vs. Justice

I’ve never had a year quite like 2010. One of the most significant life lessons I’ve faced this year has been learning the significant difference between revenge and justice.

When I see someone treated with such cruelty by another person or entity, I deal with the human urge to see the other party not only make things right, but suffer consequences for their misdeeds. Hey, I’m not greedy about it. I think the punishment should fit the crime. What is so hard for me is when people seem to skate through life avoiding consequences for their destructive behavior.

I’m learning that revenge is very different from justice. Revenge is the act of myself focusing too much on what happens to the other person. Revenge is in my hands. Justice is not. Justice requires my focus to be on simply doing the right thing. It’s about me letting go of things which are out of my control.

There are times in this world when it seems that justice does not prevail. Things just don’t go the way we think they ought to go. However, we must find satisfaction in that we did right. We must find fulfillment in maintaining our integrity and not stooping to the level of those who have done us wrong.

There will be times when justice is meted out not in this world, but by God. Likewise, God is a giver of rewards when we demonstrate Christlike behavior.

I have made some major mistakes in my life. I have had consequences for many of them. However, more often than not, I have received God’s mercy in not getting what I deserved. Instead, I received what I didn’t deserve.

God’s grace.

I’m still learning to be a giver of grace to those who I feel don’t deserve it. In the course of writing this, I revisited the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Verses 2-14 speak most directly to the attitudes we should demonstrate. I don’t know if this particular topic is relevant to anyone else, or just myself. But it is something I’m working on. Something tells me that this will be a work in progress for the rest of my life. But I will certainly do my best.