Monday, December 9, 2013

Speechless (Originally published December 2009)

I enjoy the gaiety of the Christmas season as much as the next person, but I have to admit I'm finding it harder and harder to keep a reflective spirit this time of year.

Radio stations, in an effort to spread "holiday cheer," play so-called Christmas music round-the-clock. But, how many of these songs have anything to do with the birth of our Savior? How many of them speak of joy and good cheer but don't point listeners to the only Source of lasting joy? We hear of good tidings to men, but do we reflect on just how good the news really is?

While there's nothing wrong with "Frosty the Snowman" or "Jingle Bell Rock," I find myself thinking that we have let the pendulum swing way too far with the holiday songs and not far enough with the sacred.

One of my favorite things about our church in Georgia is the music. The wealth of timeless songs with deep, spiritually reflective lyrics. One of my favorite Christmas hymns that I just learned last year is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. (Click the link to hear the beautiful melody.)

Based on Habakkuk 2:20, the words to this song were originally penned in the 4th century. (It was translated into English 1500 years later.)

I need the reminder that we are marking the birth of a sovereign God, and this is no trivial event. In fact, if we had any comprehension, any true understanding of what this means, it would render us speechless.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some Words about Words

I have some grammar tips I'd like to offer you, my dear reader, free of charge.  Maybe you’ll use them and thank me; maybe you’ll ignore them and mentally note what an obnoxious grammar Nazi I am.  I would, however, ask that the record reflect the fact that I do not correct people individually for their misuse of the English language.  (Unless you’re my father, you won’t find me correcting your Facebook postings or your online musings.)  But, I see no harm in using my little corner of the internet to offer correction to anyone who just happens to read it, thereby making me kinder and more thoughtful than if I corrected you personally.  Either way, take the tips or leave ‘em, but let not ignorance of the (usage) law be your excuse any longer. 

1    1.  Note that I said these tips are being offered “free of charge,” not that I’m giving them away “for    free,” because that would make no sense.  One cannot give something away FOR free because “free” is not a thing.  One simply gives away.  So, instead of saying “The gas station is giving away coffee mugs for free,” just say “The gas station is giving away coffee mugs.”  Not only is it correct, it uses fewer words, thereby saving you breath.  See, proper grammar can make you healthier.

2    2.  If you decide to use the word “whence,” which a surprising number of people do, don’t preface it with the word “from.”  Sure, it’s commonly used and widely accepted despite its grammatical shortcomings, but is that really the standard for which we’re aiming?  Let’s shoot for a lack of redundancy instead.  “Whence” means “from where,” so when you say “from whence,” you are saying, “from from where,” and I think we can all agree that sounds ridiculous.  So, if you must say “whence,” please say “whence” and only “whence.”

3    3.  Don’t say literally unless you literally mean literally.  I was watching Cupcake Wars tonight, and the judge said that one of the cupcakes was “literally exploding with patriotism.”  While an exploding cupcake would have made for good television, it didn’t happen.  So, rather than literally exploding with patriotism, the contestant’s cupcake simply figuratively exploded with patriotism.  Which is way different.  And probably way less messy.

4    4.  Regardless means “without regard to.”  It’s a handy word; use it freely.  Irregardless is not a word and, therefore, does not mean “without regard to.”  Stop saying it.

5    5.   Lastly, contractions such as “could’ve” or “should’ve” are short for “could have” and “should have.”  They are not short for “could of” or “should of.”  Not only do the latter phrases not make any sense, they actually use fewer characters (if one counts the apostrophe) than the purported contraction.  Which kind of defeats the purpose of a contraction.

That’s all for tonight folks.  I probably should of stopped sooner, lest you wish for me to crawl back under the rock from whence I came, but since I’m giving these tips away for free, you have no place to complain, and I would of literally burst if I didn’t manage to get them all in, irregardless of whether you like them.

 See, it’s possible to use all five errors in one sentence.  Don’t let it happen to you.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Just Breathing (But also using the word "bowel" . . . sorry.)

Sometimes I do Lamaze even though I’m not giving birth or even carrying a child.  At least, it’s what I imagine Lamaze breathing to be, having never actually given birth sans epidural.

But I do the breathing all the time  because of a chronic digestive disorder from which I suffer.  I have IBS, which is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Lovely, I know.  If I could hand-pick an affliction, I would certainly not choose one with the word “bowel” in it.  But, alas, I was only afflicted, never consulted.

It started seventeen years ago during my senior year in college.  It plagued me through my student teaching and my inaugural year in the classroom.  It followed me to law school where it worsened, thanks to the added stress and poor sleeping habits.  Over the years it has waxed and waned.  There’ve been weeks, even months if I’m really lucky, where I could almost forget about it.

And then there are times like now.  I’ve just come out of a good season; during the entire month of October I suffered only a handful of attacks.  But November and December have ushered it back with a vengeance.

It’s during times like this that you’ll find me lying in bed doing my “whale breathing” as David calls it.  It sounds a lot like Lamaze breathing I imagine. 

But focusing on the breathing is how I take my mind off the pain.  And in the breathing, I pray.  Breathe in; breathe out.  Breathe in; breathe out.  “Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.”  “Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.”

They’re not eloquent prayers, but the truest ones rarely are.

In a pig sty of self-pity I wallowed last night, wondering how I could possibly endure another seventeen or twenty-five or forty years of this.  Of game boards set up but never played with my children.  Cleaning supplies gathered in a burst of feeling good but sitting unused after all.  Plans canceled, work obligations dreaded. 

The thing about an illness like this is that you might see me in the grocery store at 2:00 feeling just fine and never believe that at 3:15 I would be completely debilitated and down for the count.

So as I lie in bed last night praying through one breath at a time as my kids were tucked in to bed by their dad instead me, I asked rhetorically for the millionth time, “Why?” What purpose could this possibly serve?:  In addition to the scriptures that often weave in and out of my thoughts during such times of distress, the words to one of my favorite Bebo Norman songs wandered into my mind last night:

Take me to the desert
You will be the water
I will drink forever to fill my soul

And lead me through the fire
Of darkness and desire
You will be my shelter
You will be my shelter

I'll find You there
I'll find You there

It's here that I call out
It's here that I fall down
It's here that I find out
That You are everything I hoped You'd be.**

If I could choose, I would find another place, another way, for me to call out, to fall down, to find out that He’s everything.  But I can’t choose the medium God ordains to bring me to my knees and, thereby, to Himself.

If I could choose, I’d spend the evening doing, being, working.  I’d get dressed for court in the morning and think of nothing but arriving on time and doing my job.

 But when I am struck down, I spend those moments instead breathing in, breathing out.  One breath at a time.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus. 

It makes life a lot harder, but I’ve learned that we often find Jesus in the "harder."  How else could He be the water in my desert and the shelter in my fire?

So, if you can't find me, I’ll just be here breathing.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.

(And for the record, I think writing a blog post about a bowel condition qualifies me for martyrdom all on its own.  Okay, God?)

(Also for the record, if I cancel upcoming plans in the month of December, don’t take it personally.  I’m just having a really rough month.)

** Everything I Hoped You'd Be, by Jason Ingram and Bebo Norman, copyright Brentwood- Benson Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music