A neighbor in my condo complex wanted to see the local Mandarin Chick-fil-A’s Twelve Nights of Christmas, again. Mandarin is our neighborhood in the geographically huge city of Jacksonville.
She’d been there the night before to support her daughter’s school. Each night if customers mentioned the name of the particular local not-for-profit showcased, the organization received a percentage of the price of the meal. So, I said, “Why take two cars, I’ll drive.”
We had our chicken sandwich meal and the place was packed with families. Squirming, laughing children couldn’t wait to rush over to the the outside decorated area and see what was going on. Many of the not-for-profits had decorated a tree.
We were early-birds and the singing presentation would be quite a bit later. We didn’t stay for it. We did listen to the teenagers rehearsing their Christmas carols. They sounded great.
Jacksonville is on the First Coast (called thus because St. Augustine was the first permanent settlement by Europeans in the Americas) and the First Coast is very Christmasy. Nothing can compare to it. It seems every single church is having a presentation of some type (classical Christmas music, Christmas worship music, children’s presentations, a series of family-friendly Christmas movies, and much more). There are local neighborhood Christmas crafts fairs, food fairs, and the like.
I did get to meet the Chick-fil-A cow from the television commercials. He is real.
The Jacksonville Historical Society has an extraordinary Gingerbread Extravaganza display every year. Grade school classes contribute displays as well as professional bakers.
Jacksonville Beach has Deck the Chairs every year. I went last year and it was spectacular…forty decorated lifeguard chairs.
When I lived in NYC, my husband and I went many times to see “the tree” and huge lighted angels at Rockefeller Center. Each time it was wonderful. But, let me tell you, St. Augustine’s Night of Lights at Christmas has NYC beat by a mile. You have not seen a Christmas light display like this. It’s not to be missed.
My energetic, fun friend Deborah Williams knows almost everything that’s going on in Jacksonville. Well, almost everything that would be of interest to her group of friends (a bunch of seasoned gals to like to kick back, but also want a few laughs now and then).
So, she told me about the pre-holiday fireworks display at Evangel Temple [5755 Ramona Blvd. Jacksonville, FL 32205]. I said, “Yippee doodle, let’s go.” And we did.
It turned out to be the quintessential Fourth of July celebration. Little kids ran around playing with sparkling toys their parents purchased at various booths on the church grounds. Some of the girls turned cartwheels. Deborah and I got steak hamburgers and fries from one of the food trucks in the parking area.
A pastor gave a sermon about freedom in Christ changing one’s life which was appropriate, I thought. There were worship songs and patriotic marches. The young lady who sang the Star Spangle Banner did a wonderful job. Whenever that song is sung, I always wonder if the singer will be able to hit the high notes. She did.
Then they shot fireworks from the roof of the church. A totally professional extravaganza that seemed to go on and on thrilling everyone, especially the children
Evangel Church bills itself as a vibrant evangelical church in the heart of Jacksonville. They certainly lived up to that.
I’m no expert on marriage, but I’ve been on this planet several decades and have observed a few things. So, Let’s talk about three couples (nice people) where the husband chose his mother over his wife. Minor details will be slightly changed to protect the innocent…there’s really nobody guilty here. They are couples who went into marriage seeing hearts and roses and made terrible mistakes.
Couple number one: He was raised by his mother in a rural American community after his abusive father abandoned the family. His mother sacrificed and insisted that he go to college, which he did, majoring in business. In his senior year he met and fell in love with a young nursing student who grew up in a middle class suburb of a medium-sized city. They were both ambitious and wanted success in their respective careers, they wanted children in a few years (and had one), they read the same novels and liked the same movies, went crazy for the same types of food. What could go wrong? Those are similarities in life-style and that’s important, very important. But are these things core values? She was startled and dismayed when he insisted on using money she thought they were saving to go on a luxury cruise to move his less-than-affluent mother to an apartment in their town. He also wanted his mother to babysit their child. She thinks his mother has too much say in their immediate family’s life. The marriage now has serious cracks.
Couple number two: He was born in India and came to America as a teen and grew up seemingly very American. Now he’s a manager in a fast food chain. His parents and cousins live in a close-by neighboring city. He calls them and sees them fairly often. She’s working in the Big Apple and is an energized, happy-go-lucky New Yo’Rican. She’s born and bread in New York City with a family heritage from Puerto Rico. She has some serious family baggage (don’t we all). When they met, she frequently said of him, “He’s amazing.” He commented that she knew how to do so many things. What they shared in common was a burning desire to make some money and build a successful life in New York City. She had no idea that when push came to shove, he’d revert to culturally eastern core values. He’s very close to his mother, and now that his parents are struggling financially, he’s been helping them out in a significant way. His wife is not pleased with the money leaking out of their bank account.
Couple number three: He’s a bit of a buttoned-down middle-management guy who came from a working class Puerto Rican family. His father died young and his mother worked hard to make sure the family of two stayed secure. His wife is a millennial with pink tipped hair and a certified professional in her field. Her family background is more middle-class. They share similar professional goals, want to own a house and be seen as successful. She was shocked when he insisted his mother move from another city (where she had no family) and come live with them. Although his mother is quiet and tries not to interfere, shortly after she moved in, the marriage began a downward spiral.
What I see here is making the mistake of thinking lifestyle choices (what TV shows they’re both fans of, what foods they like, if they’re both athletic) are core values. And yes, these are very important. But they might not be bedrock values. Core values are things that will take precedence. They will rise up and over-rule other likes and lifestyle choices. Core values might be deeply held religious values. When it comes to raising children, this core value will be very important and could become a source of huge conflict. Core values rise and move to a prominent place when trouble comes. Is it a core value to care for an ailing parent? Then again, what do you want for your children? Is it really totally okay to place small children in daycare while both parents pursue careers? Or is resentment brewing over this choice? What about when he has a picture in his mind of a successful professional couple, then she announces she wants to be a stay-at-home-mom because she’s found profound value in motherhood? Then again, it could be that one partner in the marriage has a firm concept of family legacy and what their children can and will become, while the other partner has a much more lais·sez-faire attitude toward parenting?
Today we lose sight of the fact that marriage is a contract. That’s why they had a longish period of “courtship” in days gone by. It’s important to take the time to intentionally find out if this other person is really suitable to be your life-partner and the parent of your children. It’s important to discover who your in-laws are and how they live…and if you can live with that. Because that is what you are doing. You are entering into a life and living contract with another human being. That’s marriage.
Thanksgiving Day is gone, though thanksgiving continues as a way of life for me. So, now I’m thankful that Christmas is coming. For me the day after Thanksgiving is the “official start of the Christmas season” which doesn’t end on December 26th. No, I also celebrate the 12-Days of Christmas and end the season on December 6th with Epiphany.
In my house, the day after Thanksgiving is the day for taking out my large plastic “Christmas bins.”
This year I did some research and I found out surveys show that people who celebrate Christmas early tend to be happy people. All I know on a personal level is that I feel great when I jump into the Christmas season with both feet.
Isaiah 9:6For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ~ New American Standard Bible [NASB]
My feeling is that “Christmasy people” enjoy the “Light” the season brings. Even the non religious feel the light piercing the darkness and they like it. I don’t decry the overabundance of lights on houses as commercialism. Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph don’t upset me. I know Santa Claus isn’t the baby Jesus. I also know the real St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop who gave gifts to the poor. I don’t mistake my Santa figurines as “the reason for the season.” Not for one second. But Santa does make me smile. Still, I know if there had never been a Jesus, there would not have been a Santa Claus.
I love to see smiles breaking out on the faces of children when they sit on Santa’s lap. Too often our children are fretful, feeling the anxiety and weight of the world in this angry time. Laughing when they see Frosty or Rudolph is a welcome break. It’s the Light breaking through the darkness. It’s children being allowed to be children, even for a short time. It’s the joy of the season breaking out. It can’t be contained. Darkness can’t hold it back.
I’m a firm believer that you can’t decorate on an empty stomach.
It is up to the church to tell the story of the baby Jesus. If we tell the age-old glorious story, they will listen. We must tell them.
The Birth of Jesus ~ ~ Luke 2 ~ New Living Translation [NLT]
2 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
The Shepherds and Angels
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Christian children all over America will be bringing their bibles to school on Thursday, October 4th. They and their families will be participating in celebrating religious freedom in the USA with this simple act.
Christian children who read and delight in their Bibles, enjoy sharing this very important part of their lives with their schoolmates. On October 4th, these children can let their spiritual lights shine. It’s awesome that American Christian children live in a country where they have the First Amendment religious freedom to bring their Bibles to school. Bring Your Bible To School Day is a visual celebration of this freedom to talk about God’s amazing love for us.
RELATIONSHIP, perhaps one of the most important and powerful words ever.
I’m a firm believer that my relationship with God is the most important relationship I have. It’s the one that upholds everything else in my life.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” ~ Genesis 2:18 [New American Standard Bible]
We were created to have relationships. In our society today we seem to be so isolated, lonely, even desperate. Depression seems to be epidemic. I know that in my life, building relationships with other people has been the key to happier days.
Yet, relationships are so easily damaged. Here is a list of five things (done to me, done to others, or I’ve done) that I’ve learned, from painful experience are huge NO-Nos. We could each make up our own list, and in fact, that’s a great idea. Make your personal list. Here’s mine.
1. Don’t take loved ones for granted and stop putting in effort. Don’t think they’ll always be there. For one reason or another, one day they won’t. Don’t stop treating them like they’re special. Don’t forget birthdays, anniversaries, school events and other occasions, family celebrations.
2. Don’t demean your loved one/friend in public. Don’t show greater respect to someone of higher status, of greater wealth, or who is just plain flashy…when that person will mean nothing to you in the long term and will have little impact on your life. Don’t constantly correct your loved one in public (or in private, for that matter).
3. Don’t constantly show you can do things better than your loved one. When your spouse, child, sibling, parent, friend washes the dishes, don’t pick up the water glasses, inspecting for spots and then begin to wash them over. This is an example. Anything in this vein is an insult.
4. Don’t engage in negative joking and banter, as a practice, with the ones you love. Have you noticed on reality TV these days the couples and/or family members are constantly belittling each other in the form of a joke? This is not good. This is hurtful. Because we are bombarded by this type of behavior on TV, doesn’t make is a healthy thing to do in our relationships. Habitual put-down jokes are very destructive.