Remembering at Christmas

In a futile attempt to find a relatives mailing address for sending out christmas cards this afternoon I found myself digging through old emails. You read one and then another and you just can’t stop. Memories, interactions, plans. You want to get just a taste of what you wrote back then or what a friend or relative wrote to you.

All this was good and fun until I found an email from my grandmother who passed away this spring. The email was 7 years old but I got emotional almost instantly. This will be our first christmas without her.

Memory and grief is a weird thing and not one I’m particularly well versed in writing about. I’ll go days and weeks without so much of a thought of my grandmother and then a thought, a memory, an interaction will have her come flooding back to me and I keep finding myself, however briefly, overwhelmed.

I think the one thing I’ll say about my grandmother is that she was family in all the messy and traditional ways one might think about that. She was kind and thoughtful and blunt and rude. She was unwaveringly supportive and at times equally sure to note she disagreed with something. But the biggest thing was she was always there. For holidays, special occasions, long weekends in New Hampshire. And through it all you knew that she cared for her family and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren!) deeply.

This Christmas I miss my grandmother. But I’m also deeply grateful for all the times we had together and how in a very real and true and family way she was there with my family and I. Merry Christmas!

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Giving and the Holidays

It’s about a week till Christmas and everyone is in a veritable frenzy of activity. A brief look at my Facebook newsfeed reveals the parties, shopping, exams, and other things people are trying to get done so they can enjoy themselves come that special day. One thing that is hardly ever mentioned however is the topic of money. And I’m not just talking about all the gifts that are being bought. This time of the year is vitally important for charities of all stripes who are desperately trying to meet their bottom lines before the year is out. People are most generous this time of year and of course you can make sure you get that nice tax break if you write your checks in time. As someone who has raised a small, if significant sum of money over the past three years to fund my time overseas as a missionary, I can say money is a dicey subject. As a Christian I think it is even tougher to deal with.

Firstly is the idea of tithing, that is giving ten percent of all you earn to some  type of charity, or commonly, your church. This rather basic Biblical, Christian concept of giving  is surprisingly not well known or ignored in my experience. I remember a few years back explaining tithing to a good non-Christian friend of mind. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. 10%? of every paycheck? That is a lot of money! I forget what he thought might be appropriate but he was probably thinking that 1-3% would be more tolerable. Christians are expected to give a larger piece of their money than many in society. I realize many secular folk give much more than 10% and many Christians simply don’t tithe, but this has been a big part of my experience so it bears mentioning.

Secondly, is the number of people who are asking you for money. Around the time I started fundraising for my year in South Africa, it seemed like tons of my Christian friends were getting into short-term missions as well. It seemed like every month I was getting a new letter or email for someone’s trip. Some of these people were just acquaintances, but many were close and dear friends. I really wanted to support them all in doing something meaningful and also similar to what I was doing, but how? You can’t give money to everyone right?

Recently there was a good op-ed in the NY Times about giving and how to be careful of shady organizations that use more money for overhead than whatever their “work” is. Each major religion was singled out but it was especially troubling for me to see big “Christian” organizations misusing peoples funds.

My first major point of this entry is being charitable need not mean being stupid. Do your research. Give to organizations, ministries, and people who you trust and care for.  My second point might seem a bit contradictory but it hit home for me so I think it is worth noting. Best advice I ever recieved about giving is as follows,

“Just once give money away without forethought. Just do it without any planning or concern or care.”

Now again, I don’t think the point of this was to be stupid and unwise with your money. Supporting a bad charity or group does nobody any good. However I think the underlying point is incredibly sound. The work of charities, organizations, ministries, schools etc. is vastly more important than my own material well-being. To be able to live without a constant thought or care for money I think is an incredible blessing and very difficult for those of us living in the relative wealth and comfort of America. I know I am not there yet by a long shot. But if I could leave you with one thing this holiday season it is this: the money you give away will do far more good than any amount you keep over the course of your life.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and have a blessed New Year!

Having a taste…

Taste and see that the LORD is good…

I was going to write something else but things happen and so I’m writing the following. Hope you enjoy.

Last night I was online before bed and noticed a Facebook status that said Brittany Murphy had died. At first I wasn’t sure who that was but than it clicked. She was that actress in Clueless, among other movies. I was skeptical for a second but a google news search soon revealed the sad news. Only 32, she is now gone from this earth. While it does not yet appear to be from a drug overdose (far too common amongst celebrities) it is nonetheless a tragic thing to lose someone so young. It got me thinking, as celebrities deaths tend to do, about the temporariness of this life.

When I was 10 or 11, I started getting into sports. Part of this was picking favorite teams among the big American sports. Some were local teams, but in football I picked the Green Bay Packers. Soon I had a Brett Favre jersey, a Packers winter coat and was rejoicing in their Super Bowl win of 1996. Sports was such a big deal back then to me. Music and movies too. They were so awesome and the people who took part in them more so. They weren’t just people; they were famous people. It was a difference.

But here I sit at the end of 2009 and realize how flawed my view of life was as a kid. Life is more complicated than sports, or celebrity. There are more important things than the Super Bowl or the next big movie. Life happens, people die and it doesn’t matter if you were young, beautiful, talented, and wealthy (my condolences to Mrs. Murphy’s family). You can’t take anything with you.

It reminded me of the verse I started this entry with. Life is temporal but God is eternal. He is the only thing truely good in this flawed and broken world. This holiday season I offer this request to you. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Read some Bible verses, listen to that old Christmas Carol again, maybe even check out a Christmas Eve service in your area. I think anyone who gives God an honest chance, a good taste, will not only be satisfied but truly never want for anything else.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! May you rejoice in the joy that the Lord has come.

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.- Psalm 34:8