Category Archives: Amazing Tales

Just Having A Little Fun. Right…?

Rip Off Alert

JUST HAVING A LITTLE FUN. RIGHT…?

   Are people really trying to rip you off? Yes. Yes, they are. And you know what they say about a fool and his money, right?

   Take Beth, for example. She thought she’d save some money by shopping at the big department store’s “May Day” sale where she bought a cute sweater for a cool 50% off! Killer deal, right? Maybe—except that she still paid $100 for that sweater. Now, to hear Beth tell it, she would never have paid that much for a sweater but this one was on sale and it just would have been wrong to pass up a half-off sale!

   Now I know what you’re thinking: “But if it’s a brand name then…” Maybe. However, unless I’m wearing that brand-name tag on the outside of the sweater, I don’t normally move in circles where someone would come up to me and notice that that particular sweater deserves to cost $200. But maybe that’s just me.

The dirty little secret of the marketplace is that many stores mark up merchandise just so that they can then turn right around and mark it down for a “momentous, one-time-only sale that you can’t afford to miss!”

   (Yeah, I can. Really.) And ever notice how often these retail stores offer these “incredible, one-time-only events”? Let’s count ‘em.

   In January, there’s the “New Year’s Sale” and the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Sale,” not to mention the occasional “Big Snow Event Sale” or “Polar Vortex Sale”.

   In February, there are sales for Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Washington’s birthday (or a “Presidents’ Day Sale), and somewhere in the mix between February and March are the Marti-Gras’ sales.

   Come March, of course, are the HUGE St. Patrick’s Day sales—and being Irish is not a prerequisite to have a sale commemorating ‘ol St. Pat (although you do have to like collecting a little green). And these “Pot O’ Gold” sales continue for at least two weeks—or until followed by the “Spring Forward” sales (celebrating the dawn of daylight savings time). Of course, then the “Spring” sales immediately commence, regardless of whether Mother Nature has finished her infamous snow dumps or not. (“Not” seldom occurs .)

   In April, there may, in fact, be an “April Fool’s” sale (no joke)—unless Easter comes early, in which case those sales can run simultaneously for three weeks, overlapping the “Spring Break Sale,” and/or “End of Winter!” sales. And don’t forget all of the weight-loss companies “guaranteeing” that you can lose “UP TO” 15 pounds before summer!  (Realize that “up to” starts at a half pound…)

   Besides flowers, May brings the afore-mentioned May Day sales as well as Mother’s Day, college graduation sales, and Memorial Day sales.

   And on it goes—the big Madison Avenue conspiracy to separate you from your cash.

   Summer brings still more grad sales plus more “Big Savings” for Flag Day, Father’s Day, the 4th of July, and “Christmas in July”. (Really.) And that’s not all! Beginning in July are also “Back to School” and “Dog Days of Summer” sales—both of which continue ad nauseam till fall. And don’t forget—you can also lose UP TO 15 pounds before fall—if you call right now! (So exciting!!)

   Then it’s the “End of Summer” sales, followed immediately by Labor Day sales which continue until the Columbus Day sales (celebrated even by those who strongly disapprove of Christopher Columbus) and Grandparents’ Day sales. Somewhere in the mix begin the Halloween sales because that’s a huge cash cow with people in the U.S. spending $92 billion a year on costumes and candy. Of course, immediately following the nationwide candy chow-down, you can conveniently lose UP TO 15 pounds before the holiday parties—and save! (But only if you call in the next 15 seconds.)

November 1st kicks off the Veterans’ Day sales—merrily brought to you by corporations and companies who never give another thought or discount to veterans any other time of year.

   And somewhere in there fall the “Fall Back” sales (lamenting the end of daylight savings) and the pre-Thanksgiving sales. These are followed close on by Black Friday sales which now begin on Thanksgiving evening (not to be confused with the Thanksgiving Day sales), the Super-Saturday sales and the Cyber-Monday sales.

   Then, before we’ve barely had time to digest the pumpkin pie, it’s time for the “holiday” sales: Hanukah, Quanza, and Christmas—all the way till 11:59pm on Christmas Eve. The “After-Christmas” sales begin on December 26th (although the occasional “Christmas Night” sale has been spotted), and post-holiday sales continue till the New Year’s sales—followed closely by the “Lose the Holiday Weight” campaigns (up to 15 pounds). And all of these sales, naturally, drag on until the MLK sales… then rinse and repeat.

   Of course, there are also all of the national “Fill-in-the-blank Day” sales—like national Donut Day, Pizza Day, Hat Day, Library/Book Day, National “Smoke-Out” Day (not sure what’s on sale there…), and—drum roll, please… Coffee Day! Add to that gifts for the various “Teachers-Policemen-Nurses-Firemen-Administrative Assistants’” days and you have the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to save money dozens of times a year—and that’s not even counting all of the anniversary sales that most stores launch two or three times a year! Just think of all the cash you’re saving!! Especially at “up to” 50% off…

   So, grab your water bottles, shopping lists, and riot gear and hit the malls. And may the sales be with you!

   Oh, disclaimer.: Lest anyone become so bothered by this massive corporate conspiracy that sleep aids should become necessary, rest assured—none of this is really true; there is no Madison Avenue back-room think-tank, and no one’s really ripping you off.

   I made it all up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To Forge A Heart

#Love Hearat

TO FORGE A HEART

     This week, Valentines Day arrives—and for some in my family, it’s a week of sorrow and for others, a week of joy. There has been a death in the family—an exemplary man—a cherished husband, father, and grandfather who fought a long and brave fight and who, I have to believe, is now in a better place. Also this week is the wedding of a beloved niece, about to start a new life with the love of her life. And both of these events are occurring in the midst of a week symbolized by hearts everywhere we look—candy hearts, balloon hearts, card hearts, flower hearts, chocolate cake hearts…

     So I have to ask—what makes a heart?

     Is it the red paper, the white lace, the scissors and glue? Is it the once-a-year words written with ink that fades as the months go by? Is it the glitter, the sparkle, the shine? Or is it the 144,000 beats per day, day in, day out, month after month, year after year for, perhaps, eighty years or more? No time-outs, no vacations, no rest, one beat after another… Four billion, two hundred and four million, eight hundred thousand beats in a lifetime?

     Or—is it more?

     Is the heart the gasp you feel when he says, “Will you?” or when she says, “Yes!”? Or is it the chest-racking sobs the day your front door slams shut for the last time and taillights disappear down the road and into the dark night?

     Is it the single tear trickling down your cheek as you stand helplessly by as the quiet beep-beep-beep of the heart monitor fades into silence? Or is it the loss for words that comes when the doctor looks you in the eye and says—”benign”?

     Is it the moment you meet your newborn, ten little fingers, ten little toes, a vulnerable heartbeat ticking on your chest? Or is it the swelling in your throat as you walk your baby down the aisle and place her hand into the hand of her future happiness?

     Is it the scarlet sunset across the sparkling waves or the pelting rain upon your face?

     Is it the deep crimson roses delivered to your door on your birthday or anniversary? Or not delivered…?

     What makes a heart? 

     Is it the day you cut the bright ribbon and open the doors of your dream? Is it a piece of paper saying “Mr. and Mrs.” or “Class of 2018” or “I was thinking of you”?

   Is it the pink rage on your cheeks the day your child gets off the bus, head hung low, and whispers a word you prayed he’d never have to hear? Is it the green haze that clouds your eyes and pollutes your soul when she walks by, owning his hand instead of you?

            Is it the day you collapse hard onto your knees, unable to speak, slow tears pleading for someone to hear your heart splintering ?

     Is it the smile you give to a stranger, the last twenty dollars you give to a young man without a coat, or the time you give to read that same storybook, out loud, for the forty-third time?

     Is it the extra job you work long into the night so that you’ll see those shining eyes on Christmas morning or so you can pay that tuition bill for someone who could never dream of succeeding without you?

     What makes a heart?

     Not shiny cars or shimmering diamonds or crisp hundred dollar bills but laughter and tears, sorrow and joy, hope and fear, gratitude and friendship, love and loss.

     Life makes a heart. And life breaks a heart.

     But without all of life, there can never truly be a heart.

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Deception

Angel of Light II   Humans are pathetic. They think they are so superior to Adam and Eve. They carry on ad nauseam about how, if not for that miscreant pair, life would be paradise; there would never have been sin or death or pain or suffering . . . I don’t know whether to laugh or throw up when I hear about it. And I hear about it incessantly. Humans complaining about sin as they spin their self-righteous threads of gossip, weave their diaphanous cloth of lies, and stitch together their deceptively sleazy plots. Not that I don’t appreciate a truly well-done and damning conspiracy, but humans are such amateurs.

   Hypocrisy, you know, was the second sin in that illustrious garden – or was it third? Yes, it must’ve been third – the man’s lie came after the Apple itself.

   Ah, never has there ever been such an apple, before or since. Red, ripe and dripping with the poison of the Knowledge of Evil . . . how could they resist? No one could. I made certain of it.

   Or, I thought I did. I didn’t understand, until much later, that He had allowed me to tempt them; I thought I had done it. And in destroying them – His pets – I was certain I’d destroy Him. But He had a “plan” – which I had no way of knowing. Many millions think – have always thought – that I am omniscient, some kind of fortune teller – and I let them think that. What harm does it do?  None to me. But He had a plan which I did not know and which (I detest having to admit this) I would not have been able to fathom had I known. It simply makes no sense!

   All of that “lose to win” and “die to live” nonsense He came up with – how does one even comprehend that? How many times through the ages have I thought I had won when I had lost? The Garden – I thought I had won there. I had so thoroughly deceived the pair of them that they were put out and left to fend for themselves. Not that deceiving them was all that difficult; He’d made other creatures so much more intelligent than the both of them together. (In general, I find most dogs to be more intelligent than humans.) But what a magnificent victory for me! It was like the glory of the first moment of freedom from the slavitude of interminable and forced worship – only to discover that it was not a victory at all – not then and not later.

   But surely, when they died – that was a victory for me. Except that He put them somewhere where I could not reach them, some holding tank or other. But therein lies the good news and the bad news. The bad news for humans is that the age of the holding tank is over; my hellish domain is now populated with hundreds of thousands of millions who chose, through the ages, to see things my way instead of His. Oh, wait – that’s the good news.

   For me.

   “Choice” is such a marvelously delightful word. I have obtained more mileage and souls from that one word alone than from most other words combined. What humans have done in the name of choice! “Choice,” to them, is their god – everything must be a choice, and so reality is conceived, sketched, created, and adorned according to one’s own ambition.

   But what humans do not know is that “choice” is the most powerful principle in the universe. For a human being to give his or her consent is the most precious gift He could have given them.

   But consent to follow, to obey, to serve, to worship – whom?

   They do not know, most of them. They do not know that they have the power to choose – except for the piddling things they waste their time debating: what to eat, what to wear, what to watch on their silly devices, where to vacation, where to work, whom to marry? And their tragic choices – my forté, of course: disobedience and destruction and death – of one kind or another. Choices all, great and small, but each one a stroke of a pen in a contract sealing their eternal fates. The myth of the “pact with the devil” – merely the lore of tale and legend and song, is it not? Of course, there are many who now wish it were so.

   You doubt me?   

   Let me demonstrate: Each human is vulnerable to his or her own individual and unique Tree of the Knowledge of Evil; each has a luscious fruit glittering with temptation, and all have a price willingly paid to glut their insatiable lust for that piece of fruit. Each, of his or her own free will, chooses to pay dearly for just one bite. That the price is eternity is not well understood by many who indulge themselves. And I make certain that they never do. It’s so simple.

   The Art of Deception.                                                                      

                                                                  2017 – Cynthia Noble

 

Money Just Appears – But How?

Cash 4

   How would you like for money to just show up in your bank account from time to time – and for no apparent reason? Have I ever mentioned that that’s happened to me several times? No lie.

   The first time it happened was perhaps fifteen years ago. It all began when I balanced my checkbook and ended up showing $700 dollars more than I should have had. Now you wouldn’t know this but I love running numbers and balancing checkbooks and accounting – especially when I’m in the black. And since it’s not every day (or even ever) that I find an extra $700 in my bank account, I went over the statement and checkbook again – and again. I figured I must’ve either forgotten to write in a deposit or I’d made a math mistake somewhere along the way. However, I found no errors in the statement or in the checkbook. And I was still showing an extra $700 which, by the way, hadn’t been there the prior month. So I did the next thing it made sense to do: I went back further – months – and checked and re-checked those bank statements and check registers. Still nothing. No errors whatsoever.

   At this point, I have to confess, I was completely baffled. How does any extra money – much less hundreds of dollars – just show up into a bank account, leaving absolutely no trace as to how it got there? I didn’t have a clue. But I was positive the bank would be able to find the error. Because certainly there had to be one. However, when I got to the bank, the conversation went something like this:

   BANK GUY: “So you found a mistake in your bank statement?”

   ME: “Well, there is a mistake – I just haven’t found it.”

   “What?”

   “I’m showing an extra $700 in my account and I have no idea why.”

   “Seven hundred dollars?”

   “Correct.”

   “You must’ve forgotten to write in a deposit.”

   “No, checked that. Which is why I’m here.”

   “Well, let’s go over it. I’ve pulled your bank statements for the past several months.”

   Minutes tick by. Radio silence. Finally the bank guy looks up and says, “I can’t find any errors.” He shrugged. “I have no idea where the money came from. Just write it into your checkbook. It’s yours.”

   I was not unhappy about that. As to where it came from, I simply chalked it up to the only reasonable explanation: God did it. How else would an extra $700 just be there? It’s not even as though a mysterious deposit appeared; it was just there – and no one can explain why or how.

   Fast forward a few years later and it happened again. This time my account was suddenly showing an additional $300. But I didn’t assume it was God this time; I did figure that I had made an accounting error so I re-examined my statements and checkbook registers for missing deposits and/or math errors. But again – I found nothing. This time, I didn’t bother going to bank. I was beginning to understand that sometimes God provides in miraculous ways.

   Nevertheless, I’d never heard of money just mysteriously appearing in bank accounts until I encountered a couple who’d had many financial miracles in their time and who explained that we can, if we are faithful in our tithing and giving to the Lord, “call” money into our accounts. Now I didn’t know that and had certainly never done it, but I have been a tither and giver for a long time. (I don’t normally mention that because I’m not looking for a pat on the back about it.) Still, it did shed some light as to why God would put money into my account.

As my father used to say, “You can’t out-give God.”

   Evidently not.

   My father and mother had been exceptional givers in all the time I’d known them; my sister and I had grown up watching them give, even in their early years of marriage when, being in the military, dad made close to nothing. At one point, dad brought home $400 a month as an Air Force NCO, and yet every Sunday for as long as I can remember, I’d see mom drop a ten or twenty dollar bill into the offering plate at church.

   I know now how much that cost them.

   Dad always used to tell a story to illustrate God’s faithfulness to provide. One time, back when credit-debit cards didn’t exist and everyone carried cash, dad described how the day came when he and mom were literally down to a nickel between them – no cash, no savings and no food or gas. But that very day, dad’s paycheck arrived in the mail. And it was always that way. As the old saying goes, “God is not often early, but He’s never late.”

   As the years passed and my parents’ income grew, so did their giving. They gave, not only to their church, but to several ministries and charitable organizations. Later, when I found out how much they gave every month, I was stunned. For example, they sent $500 a month to a little old nun who ran a ministry all by herself and depended on people’s giving as her sole support. Even after mom died and dad retired, he still continued sending that money. I used to wonder how he could afford to do that – being retired and all, but after he died, I found out. In retirement, he was earning over $60,000 a year. While it’s not millions, it’s a lot more than many make in retirement and so dad had no worries about money.

   You can’t out-give God.

   As for me, two months ago, I noticed that I again seemed to have several hundred dollars more in my account than I should have had. Thinking initially that some checks I’d written for bills simply hadn’t cleared yet, I took some cash from my account and used that until all my checks and debit purchases had paid out. After a week, I checked my bank statement and everything had cleared. But still – there was over $600 more in the account than I should have had. So I re-did the math. Still, zero mistakes. None. However, since this particular amount of cash was too big to risk writing in without verification, I decided to take it to the bank and have them double-check it. (Different bank, by the way.)

   ME: “I have an extra $630 in my checking account that shouldn’t be there and I can’t account for it. I’ve double-checked the whole thing: statements, checkbook – I found no mistakes.”

   BANK LADY: “You have no idea how it got there?”

   ME: “Well, I do have some idea, but you’re going to think I’m crazy.” (deep breath) “God put it there.”

   BL: “God?”

   ME: “Yeah. He’s done it before. Two other times.”

   BL: “I see.”

   I don’t think she did see.

   BL: “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find the error.”

   ME: “Great!”

   Ten minutes tick by. Fifteen. Twenty.

   BL: “Well, I can’t find an error, but I’ll send all of your paperwork to my supervisor. She’s really good at this – she will find the error.” She smiled – sort of. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

   ME: (chuckling): “Okay, you let me know.”

   Two days later, Bank Lady called. “We went back a few months to when your account was not showing a surplus balance and rechecked all of the statements after that.” (pause) “We, uhm, can’t find any trace of how that surplus got there – it’s just there. You have an extra $632 in your account.”

   God did it – again.

   Chasing a dream takes money – no matter what that dream is. I tell this story to make the point that the best thing you can do to make certain that you have the money to finance your plans is to finance God’s plans. Someday I’ll share how God supernaturally provided my house after I’d given the house money I’d saved to a church-building fund. In the big scheme of things, it was only a tiny bit of money but it was all I had. As I said to God back then, “If you help me to get my house, I’ll help you to get yours.”

   But that’s a story for another time.

   Need cash to fulfill your destiny? Begin to give. It can be scary sometimes, especially when God asks you to give big – even all you have. Of course, you can always say “no”. But I don’t recommend it.

  

 

From the Ashes.

   Sunset Tree   Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.

   The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

   The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”

   The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

   Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain. The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.

   “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.

   The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell.

   “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

   The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.

   The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

   The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail on an ocean or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake.

   The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God.”

   Many, many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

   But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.

   “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.

   The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said.

   In that moment, the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

   One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and rain.

   The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. 

   Suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

   One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry, jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

   But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.             (Source unknown)

  Whether you know it or not, you’re where you’re supposed to be.

   You’re in God’s plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Forge A Heart

heart-revised

   “Who could refrain that had a heart to love and in that heart, courage to make love known?” (Shakespeare)

   Hearts. This  week has been all about them: red hearts, pink hearts, gold and silver hearts, candy hearts, balloon hearts, card hearts, flower hearts, chocolate cake hearts. Hearts as far as the eye can see.

   But what makes a heart?

   Is it the red paper, the white lace, the scissors and glue? Is it the once-a-year words written with ink that fades as the months go by? Is it the glitter, the sparkle, the shine?

   Is it the 144,000 beats per day, day in, day out, month after month, year after year for, perhaps, eighty years or more? No time-outs, no vacations, no rest, one beat after another: thump-thump, thump-thump, thump… Four billion, four hundred and forty-four million, eight hundred thousand beats in a lifetime?

   Or – is it more?

   Is the heart the leap you feel the day he says, “Will you?” or the day she says, “Yes!”? Is it the chest-racking sobs the night your door slams shut for the last time and taillights disappear down the road and fade to black?

   Is it the single tear trickling down your cheek when you stand helplessly by as the quiet beep-beep-beep of the heart monitor withers to silence? Is it the choking loss for words that comes when the doctor looks you in the eye and says, “benign”?

   Is it the moment you meet your newborn, ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes, a vulnerable heartbeat ticking against your pounding chest? Is it the swelling in your throat as you walk your baby down the aisle and place her hand into the hand of her future happiness?

   Is it the huge white moon hanging above the glittering waves or the pelting rain upon your face? Is it the squish of wet sand between your toes on a solitary beach or the giggling swish of arms and legs in the fresh, cold white at the birth of a snow angel? Is it the deep crimson roses delivered to your door on your birthday, your anniversary? Or not delivered…?

  What makes a heart?

   Is it the day you cut the bright ribbon and open the doors of your dream? Is it a piece of paper saying “Mr. and Mrs.” or “Class of 2017” or “I was thinking of you.”?

   Is it the pink rage on your cheeks the day your child gets off the bus, head bowed low, and whispers a word you prayed he’d never have to hear? Is it the green haze that clouds your eyes and pollutes your soul when she walks by, owning his hand instead of you?

   Is it the smile you give to a stranger, the last dollars in your pocket  you give to a penniless man, or the time you give to read that same storybook, out loud, over and over,  for the forty-third time?

   Is it the extra job you work at night so you’ll see those shining eyes on Christmas morning, or so you’ll finally climb high into the clouds of that mountain you’ve dreamed of conquering since you were ten, or so you’ll watch that one walk across the stage who could never have walked there alone?

   Is it the day you collapse hard onto your knees with no words, slow tears pleading for someone to hear your heart splintering? Or is it the slow, red dawn that speaks that the bleak winter of your wandering has finally come to an end?

   What makes a heart?

   Not shiny black cars or shimmering diamonds or crisp hundred dollar bills but loud laughter and quiet tears, hidden sorrows and public joys, endless mornings of hope-filled prayers and as many nights of sleepless fears. It’s gratitude too deep ever to repay and forever friendship – pinky sworn, empty caverns of the soul carved by loss, and it’s mama-bear love.

   Life makes a heart. And life breaks a heart.

   But without all of life, there can never truly be a heart.

 

 

Birthdays Gone (Very) Wrong.

march-birthday-cake

     Once I had a birthday party and no one came. I was in third grade, and we had moved to Utah a short time earlier because dad had received orders for Hill Air Force Base. Mom thought it would be a nice idea to invite all of my classmates so that we could all get to know each other better. Nice idea – in theory. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Unbeknownst to me (and to my well-meaning mother), Kevin Morrissey and I had the exact same birthday. And Kevin Morrissey and I were having a birthday party on the exact same day. And since Kevin Morrissey had grown up with all of the other kids in our class . . . well, you can guess the rest. I remember sitting in my beautiful velvet party dress, the table all decorated with shiny green plates and cups and mint-colored balloons (the obligatory St. Patty’s day birthday décor), waiting for the doorbell to ring. Somewhere there was the donkey-without-a-tail game and a big, shamrock-shaped birthday cake. But the doorbell never rang.

     I think the most hurtful part was that no one I invited even thought to mention that there was another birthday party at the same time as mine.

     Or maybe they did.

     It’s okay. I’m over it. However, what happened last year to a friend of mine was even worse.

     It was early winter and my friend – we’ll call him Dave so as not to embarrass him – was about to have a birthday. All of his friends loved Dave so they decided to have a celebration and planned a big party. It was hosted at a friend’s house and anyone who wanted to come was invited. There was a ton of food, too – the friend and his wife provided a huge ham and a fat turkey and four different kinds of drinks. Everyone else brought their specialties: Kelly brought her mouth-watering mac and cheese, Mitch brought a croc full of killer chili, and Maria brought her famous home-made lasagna (which she only made on very special occasions for very special people). Others brought fresh spring salads and fruit salads, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes (not together, of course), and all kinds of desserts: pecan pies, strawberry cheesecakes, mint-frosted brownies, and a big chocolate fudge cake.

     And what birthday party would be complete without gifts? Every one of Dave’s guests brought a present, all carefully wrapped and ribboned and tagged. There were candles with fragrances of red cinnamon and green spruce and white peppermint; there were shiny boxes of dark chocolate and caramel, and enough golden gift cards to add up to a small fortune.

     In addition, there was music, including a fun song Dave’s buddy Joe had made up about Dave’s birth which, according to his mother, was quite the ordeal. (Apparently, she never made it to the hospital and ended up having Dave on the way there. Dave can’t even tell you where he was born on because mom wasn’t really paying attention to road signs at the time.)

     When all was said and done, everyone had a very merry time at Dave’s birthday party. The only sad thing was that no one had thought to invite Dave. So all of his friends gave their presents to one another, sang a song or two about Dave’s birthday, and took all the leftovers home. Everyone had such a wonderful time that they decided they couldn’t wait for Dave’s next birthday when they would have an even bigger party.

     I just hope that this year, someone remembers to invite Dave.

 

 

This Christmas – What If…?

christmas-car

“Many Christians have heard the Christmas story so many times it’s just a rote tale anymore.”

Every Christmas, millions of folks engage in the sport of “Making Merry at Christmas.” Absolutely nothing wrong with that – I’ve even been known to indulge a time or two, myself. (Okay, every year.) And every year, for many of us, the season looks something like this:

  • Trekking through the stores shopping for that perfect gift for everyone on our “nice” list (and Uncle Hank);
  • Decorating the tree and the door and the windows and the lawn and the table and the bathroom (you know you have);
  • Baking the snowman cut-out Christmas cookies, gingerbread men, mint chocolate truffles, the . . . ;
  • Writing Christmas cards to people who probably don’t remember who we are;
  • Christmas party #1;
  • Returning one (or more) of the gifts you bought for family and friends because you found out: they already had one; wrong size; they don’t want one; it’s been recalled;
  • Doing the Secret Santa thing at work (and you had to pick the office-gift critic);
  • Christmas party #2;
  • Making grandma’s nut roll recipe, chocolate fudge, and wreath-shaped butter-spritz cookies – all in one day;
  • Wrapping, wrapping, wrapping;
  • Trying to find a parking space at the Destiny USA mall;
  • Taking kids or grandkids or total strangers’ kids to see Santa;
  • More shopping;
  • Christmas caroling around the neighborhood to the tune of “Santa Baby”;
  • Christmas parties 3, 4, and 5;
  • Stuff the stockings;
  • Stuff the turkey;
  • And, oh yeah, maybe hit a church service somewhere.

All of that’s great but what if this year, I could find something new in the Christmas story, something fresh, and not just check the “Yep, I read it” box. So I asked the Lord for that something, that new insight or lesson or encouragement. Funny thing about asking God for fresh revelation – He’ll give it to us.

So I began to think about the Christmas story. And I realized there’s something to how the whole story came about . . .

First: The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her, a poor, unknown Jewish girl, that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. That was unexpected.

Second: Three wise kings set out on a two-year journey to find one obscure little baby in order to give him expensive gifts of gold, frankincense , and myrrh . That was unexpected.

Third: That baby was born in a stable and laid in an animals’ food trough. (We tend to whitewash the humility of that whole experience.) That was really unexpected.

Fourth: The entire heavenly host appears to announce the birth of the Messiah. That was totally unexpected.

Fifth:  That heavenly host by-passes the rich and famous and declares the birth of the Messiah to a bunch of shepherds. Considering how poor and despised shepherds were in those days, that was most unexpected.

Sixth: The God of all the universe loved us so much that he limited his divine awareness and power to that of a tiny human baby. “Unexpected” is an understatement. Incomprehensible might be more accurate.

It’s a simple lesson but most of the Lord’s really good ones are: This Christmas season, look for God’s hand in the midst of the unexpected, the humble, and the holy. Look for it as you’re baking your family’s favorite cookies, shopping for that one gift that says how much you care, and taking the time to write a note in a card to that person whom you haven’t heard from in forever.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the unexpected hand of the Lord to someone who really needs to find it this Christmas season.

Do Not Eat the Rubber Cookies . . .

festival-of-trees-display  Last Thursday, I missed my regular mid-week post and many of you were sweet enough to wonder why. Good news – nothing is wrong. (There is no bad news.) The thing is that at one point in time, I agreed to be our district’s faculty association community relations’ person, which means I get to do all of the event planning for our teacher union. What was I thinking?? Some years, three of those events happen to fall in the same week. This was one of those years. So – it’s just been a really crazy week. And I have the pics to prove it. Here’s a sample.

Monday: Tagged and delivered 155 SPA gifts all around thehfa-mug school district. Since Tuesday was Support Professionals’ Appreciation Day, our teachers’ union (HFA) gives gifts to the district’s employees’ union. This year, I decided it might be a nice idea to order mugs so that (the idea being) every time our staff members use theirs, they remember (hopefully) how much we teachers appreciate everything they do for us. The fact is that those are the people who really run things and keep us all sane – no easy task. They actually all deserve Metals of Honor and combat pay. I wish I could make that happen. I will make sure they all end up on Santa’s “nice” list.

Tuesday: Finished shopping for the HFA gift basket and HFA Christmas tree that we donate to various fundraising events. Every year, our school district organizes a Christmas Bureau carnival where dozens of donated baskets are raffled off to raise money for a huge giveaway of food and Christmas presents to help families in our district. The carnival happens the weekend before Thanksgiving and that money is then used to buy the food and presents which we give away the week before Christmas. Last year, we gave food and gifts to over 170 families. In addition, the HFA Christmas tree is donated to the Festival of Trees which is a community Christmas fundraiser; at the festival, donated trees are auctioned off to raise money as well.hfa-basket-i

Wednesday: Packed and wrapped the (above-mentioned) basket. Of course, I couldn’t find a basket bag big enough so it was back to the stores I went.

Everything always takes longer than I think it will. (Must be a time-warp law or something.)

This year, I did a “Country Christmas” theme, imagining that I could find tickets to some December country music concert somewhere. Know what I found out? There aren’t any. That’s how Blake Shelton and a bunch of his CD buddies ended up in the basket.

Thursday: Got home from parent-teacher conferences at 7pm (somewhat dazed) and then finished decorating the Christmas tree. Every year the organization sponsoring the Festival of Trees designates a theme for the trees and this year the theme was gingerbread men (and women). I decided it might be fun, along with the gingerbread people, to decorate the tree in all kinds of candy. At least, it sounded fun. Things I learned: gingerbread marshmallow peeps don’t really look good with a hook through them. And since I refused to bake gingerbread cookies (I don’t have the cookie-baking gene), I found out that you can buy fake rubber gingerbread cookie ornaments at the Christmas Tree Shoppe. Where else, right? (Although I probably should’ve posted a “Do Not Eat” warning on them.) The other thing I found out is how long it takes to hook candy onto a tree. “How long could it take?” I asked myself, planning to be done in time for a little Thursday night NFL action. I found out it takes over three hours. Turns out the ornament hooks like to tear the delicate little candy wrappers.hfa-tree

Did I mention the parent-teacher conferences till 6pm? These are the conferences where generally the parents who show up aren’t the ones you really need to see. Except for a couple of them. Two moms arrived with their sons who had, it turns out, a totally different version of how they behave in my class than I have. And the moms had never heard my version. That was fun.

Friday: Delivered the basket to the Carnival and the tree to the Festival of Trees. Since I have a 45-minute commute to school, I gave up trying to keep the tree vertical after five minutes. Luckily, I had it wrapped in plastic. Fast-forward to later that evening – I was happily on my way to a friend’s birthday party when I learned something else: never, never try to drive anywhere in Syracuse a half hour before a Syracuse University basketball game at the Dome. Unless you have a tank full of gas and three books on tape. You’re going to need them.

hfa-gingerbread-manSaturday: After a fun event at church, and then running up to school to visit the Christmas Carnival and the Festival of Trees, I decided to stop at the store and pick up a few things….

Now by this time, rumors were swirling like snowflakes around Central New York of a major Lake Effect event to hit most of upstate New York on Sunday afternoon and lasting through Monday evening. (For those of you south of the Mason-Dixon, that means lots of snow, lots of wind, lots of white-out conditions.) Now, I’m for anything causing a snow day (short of nuclear winter) but usually such rumors don’t pan out. Anything less than a foot of snow usually gets us nothing – unless accompanied by lots of wind and whiteouts. So – given that the temp had been 65 degrees when I left in the morning (wearing flip-flops) and had dropped twenty-five degrees between 2 and 4pm, we began to think that perhaps the Forecasters had gotten it right this time. This meant that, between turkey shopping and the impending Snowpocalyse, the stores were jammed with crazy people. Just what I needed. However, noting the rapid, minute-by-minute decline in frozen Butterballs, I decided I’d better grab one while there was still one to be had. Who knew when they’d shoot more?

Eventually, I made it home and the week ended. Mugs, baskets, trees, and birthday presents had all been delivered, and the after-school tutoring had gotten done. (Did I mention that that goes on for two hours every night?) And I am happy to report that no one was injured, maimed or (accidently) killed in the process. Even the gingerbread men survived. This morning was church (where I might have repented for anything I may or may not have said or done this week), and now here I sit, watching the radar and calculating the odds of a snow day. 

Just a break in the action before the real fun begins….

Uncommon Sense

         common-sense-rip         Whatever happened to Common Sense?  Unfortunately, it’s not so common anymore. While Common Sense used to be everywhere – courtrooms, Congress, cable, and classic movies and literature – now not so much. Common Sense is rarely found these days in newspapers, judicial decisions, social policies or any kind of pop culture. And forget classrooms. 

In fact, Common Sense is well on his way to becoming extinct. Instead, he’s being replaced by his six other brothers.

         Let me introduce them to you.

         The oldest brother is Get Some Sense. He’s big on education and thinks that the more degrees he gets, the more wisdom he’ll have. As a result, he’s up to his neck in PhD’s, MA’s and MS’s, MD’s, and whatever other alphabets he can buy. Unfortunately, while he’s smart enough to know that a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable, he’s not smart enough to know it doesn’t belong in his fruit salad. Furthermore, in his vast acquisition of knowledge, Get Some Sense has deemed social promotion, entitlement and self-esteem more important than hard work; government regulations more important than parental authority; and “political correctness” more important than, well – common sense.

         Then we have Common Sense’s next brother, N.O. Sense. (N.O. stands for “No Originality”.) NO Sense is, basically, a follower. Whatever’s popular or the current trend or whatever the crowd is doing, NO Sense will be found doing, too. Needless to say, he has very few independent thinking skills and even less interest in developing any. He’s the soul of every sort of mob mentality from bullying to violent protests to drug use and crime. Tragically, he’s never been known to be the source of any good deed.

         Next is Not-A-Lotta Sense. (He’s a twin.)  Not surprisingly, Not-A-Lotta has not been very successful in life. He’s not very open to listening to advice; in fact, he’s a do-it-yourselfer. He has to find out everything for himself. The hard way. Like the time he bought that fruity computer stock (something to do with apples) from some guy out of his garage and Uncle Milt told him to hold onto it. But he didn’t. He needed beer money. Sometimes Not-A-Lotta Sense is a slow learner.

         Not-A-Lotta’s twin bro is Lacking Sense. “S-Lacker,” as he’s known, has the ability to think for himself; he just doesn’t. He tends to rush into actions and decisions with not much forethought. He’s often late to work (when he’s working), drives too fast (license optional), and spends money like water (picture the faucet left running).  He is, however, really good at video games.

         And then there’s Dollars and Sense. Dollars believes everything is about money. The only two questions he ever asks when making any decisions are, “How much will it make me?” and “How much will it cost me?”  For example, since vacations generally cost money rather than make it, he’s never taken one. He did fly to Aruba once but that was just to deposit money into a “non-existent” bank account. (The rest he keeps under his mattress.) Dollars is also a big fan of insider trading. But you didn’t hear that from me.

         And finally, there’s the last brother, Non Sense, who’s been around, it seems, since the beginning of time. However, it actually hasn’t been that long. Non Sense really came into his own in the late 60’s and particularly made a name for himself at a place called Woodstock. Since then, he’s been spotted in various places including Hollywood, Washington DC, and in most universities around the world. Non Sense babbles frequently on talk shows, “news” networks, and U-Tube. Social media is also a favorite hang-out. If Non Sense friend-requests you, I don’t recommend you go there.

         So – since his six other brothers have taken over, Common Sense has become rather rare. He’s found in few places these days: old books which no one any longer reads, the minds and hearts of the “Greatest Generation” (aka – “obsolete” by later generations), and in original, unabridged copies of sacred documents like the U.S. Constitution and the Holy Bible. Common Sense has become so endangered that I now suppose he’s better known as – Uncommon Sense.

         I will miss him.