This Christmas

I’m sitting in the quiet, admiring the Christmas tree and thinking; thinking about Christmas. I’m thinking  about how blessed I am. I have my health and family. I have a home and I am safe here. I have clean water, warmth, food and clothing. I live among abundance. Beyond these things, I have hope, peace and joy.

Christmas tree

As I ponder all of this, it occurs to me that so many of the things I am thankful for, the things I am blessed with, are things that Jesus did without. He wasn’t “safe” from the day he was born. His family fled to Egypt to keep him safe from Herod, people were after him because they did not like his ministry or who he claimed to be. He spent many nights sleeping out of doors or in the homes of friends. The last years of his life, he was homeless. I imagine there were nights he knew hunger, that he was cold and longed for home and family. And I know he chose it; that he could have always been comfortable, safe and well fed. But he still experienced it, for our sake. He chose it, so we would know he understands the struggles of human life, because he loves us and so that we will hopefully choose him.

So what does it mean to choose Jesus? I mean beyond that moment when our desperate need for him is realized and we cry out for salvation. What does it mean to continually choose him? I think I’m still trying to figure that one out; but I have some ideas.

All of this pondering also has me thinking about all of the pain and suffering in our world. The orphan, the widow and the prisoner. The sick, hurting and homeless. It’s overwhelming to think about the multitude that suffers everyday. It is heartbreaking and makes me feel helpless. What can I possibly do that makes a difference in the suffering of the world? The answer is nothing. I can’t even make a small dent in world suffering, but I can make a difference to one who is suffering. World hunger; I’ll never solve it. But I can give food to one hungry person and see to it that for a least one day they go to sleep with full belly. Homelessness; nope, I can’t fix that problem either, but I can help a homeless person, find warmth and shelter. The lonely; there will always be loneliness. But I can give a few minutes of my time to one lonely person, so that they know they are valuable and that someone cares for them. I could go on but you get the idea. I cannot change THE world, but I can change MY world.

So this is how I will choose Jesus in the coming year, I will look for the opportunity to reach out and love people in my daily life. And sometimes I will go the extra mile to seek out those in need around me and come alongside them and offer my help and support. It may not seem like much, but if we all did it, we could change THE world.

Merry Christmas

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Counting the Cost

I was offered a really great job recently. It’s at a fantastic company; the people seem great. It would be an upward move, career-wise. There are paid vacation days, holidays and health benefits. On top of all that, I would make twice my current salary. And, I didn’t accept the offer.

I didn’t turn it down because the offer wasn’t good or because I didn’t want the job; and I didn’t make the decision lightly. The choice had huge implications for me and my family. I agonized over this decision. There were tears of frustration and plenty of flip flopping. I felt torn. At times, I had no idea how I was going to make the decision or how to know if I was making the right one.

It all came down to something pretty simple: counting the cost. I had to determine what I really want my life to look like and what is really important to me. I had to figure out what I would gain or sacrifice in the choosing.

View from my office on campus. This picture was taken before Thanksgiving!

View from my office on campus. This picture was taken before Thanksgiving!

I currently work at a private university. I work 36 hours, 44 weeks a year. They also provide vacation time, holidays and benefits. I will never get financially rich working here. I have great bosses and I work with some truly remarkable people. The best part of the job: my daughters attend this university. That one fact is what brought my decision into focus.

I know what I want my life to look like now. I want to be available. I want to have the time and the opportunity to invest in the people and things that really matter. My current job allows me that luxury. The other day, my youngest daughter was sick, really sick. Because of my job, I was able to walk across campus, buy her soup and take it to her at her dorm. While I was there I made her some tea, gave her a hug and made sure she had everything she needed. After that I walked back to my office. This all took place in a matter of minutes.

That may seem like a pretty insignificant reason for giving up a great career opportunity, but I don’t think it is. I’m willing to bet that when I am gone and my daughter remembers me, she’s not going to remember what my salary was or who I worked for; I think she will remember that I brought her soup and made her tea. And that is the legacy I want to have. I want my life to have been more than the sum of my achievements or paycheck. To put it in the words of Grandpa George from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money.”

Don’t get me wrong, part of me really wanted that prestigious job, but a bigger part of me wanted more. I have no idea if another opportunity like that will come my way again. If it doesn’t, I’ll just have to trust that it wasn’t supposed to be part of my journey. And I think I’m okay with that.

My Uncle once told me: “I can always make more money, but I can’t make more time.” Based on those words of wisdom, I think I picked the opportunity with the best return.

Buying Alaska

I had no idea that when I bought that little piece of brass in Seward Alaska I was also starting a family tradition, but I was. I suppose the best traditions start that way, by accident. Our family collects ornaments. To be specific brass ornaments emblazoned with the names and attractions of the places we visit. We have them from Glacier National Park to Frankenmuth Michigan. Some are simple, some are pretty elaborate, and each one of them represents a trip that our family has taken together.

The children remember some of them; I remember them all. And each December, as a take the lid off of the blue tote that contains these shiny treasures, I am taken back in time to places that I have traveled to with the people I love most; my family. I am sentimental and I am attached to these things, not because of their value, but because of the memories and the people that they represent.

Alaska

In my minimalist journey, I am getting rid of many things; some things that do have sentimental value will go, but not my ornaments. I count my blessings every December when I get them out and every January when I put them a way. It is a marvelous way to begin and end each year. They are beautiful and functional, so they get to stay.

I bought that first ornament in July 1992, just a few days after Glenn proposed. As our love and family has grown, so has our collection. In some ways, it is a family history; told in shiny little pieces of metal. I look forward to discovering what other stories we will collect.