Sunday, December 31, 2006

The 30-Day Challenge: 2007

I absolutely love New Year’s Resolutions. We can stop and dream of grand or miniscule changes to help create the life just around the corner that we imagine. Resolutions bring direct effects; the future stands at our fingertips. All we need to do is reach out and touch it.

My resolutions in the past resembled great scenes from romantic comedies. Maybe they were just my own futile attempts to become Julia Roberts, Meg Roberts, or (most importantly) Audrey Hepburn, but these resolutions took great thought and consideration as I planned for the year.

In 1996, I vowed on New Year’s Eve to have breakfast at Tiffany’s. Now, I was not planning to eat pancakes at the jewelry counter. My resolution mimicked what still stands as my favorite movie of all time. Like Holly Golightly, I dreamed of strolling up to the picture window in New York City, bagel and coffee in hand, and then looking inside at the marvelous diamonds. That summer, my two oldest friends, Jennifer and Melanie, hopped on a plane with me. We hit New York with a fury, wearing oversized black sunglasses, just like Audrey Hepburn.

Grand Canyon trips and hot-air balloon rides checked off my list as the years passed. However, those resolutions gave me quick scenes in my life, but they end so quickly. This year, my friend, Carey, has inspired me to a new type of resolution. She created the 30-Day Challenge for herself as she launched into her 30th year of life. Carey (who I plan to have over for dinner next month since she will not be eating out) designed a series of challenges, each lasting 30 days, to take her through her year. The challenges are ideas that make life better if we changed them. They are concepts we are not doing in our lives currently, or they are things we would be better off without. Each task is big enough to bring great change if executed daily. Still, they are manageable since each will end in a month.

As I sit a day away from New Year’s Eve, my plans go further than my outfit for the evening. It is time to draft my list that holds my challenges for every day.

January: write a letter and mail it
February: no caffeine
March: create art
April: no eating out or fast food (does Starbuck’s count?)
May: do something I have never done before
June: no vain spending (hair, nails, make-up, smelling things, shoes, purses, etc)
July: work to make my dreams come true
August: connect with someone
September: walk in someone else’s shoes
October: eat organic
November: in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 6 a.m
December: be 10 minutes early to all commitments

The seasons of 2007 hold all sorts of surprises. However, we have the patterns and cycles that do not change because the Spirit directs them. The season of Lent grants focus and cleansing as we look at the sacrifice of Jesus. The season of Spring brings new life and hope. The season of Summer offers us rest and connection with memories and friends we need and love. The season of Advent brings hope as we prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

As our hands fill in our calendars and our day wash by us, may 2007 hold intentional change for you as well. Let us slow down our pace or pick up our Cross. Whatever you add or take away this year, I pray that it brings you closer to the God who knows you already.

Now, I must go and make my list for my letters. January is just around the corner.

The Christmas Truce

“This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don't think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now,” these simple words read in a letter from an anonymous British soldier, fighting in World War I. The battle happening on Belgium soil in 1914 found a quick break on Christmas Eve.

The British and German troops fought in the trenches of a war that brought the greatest devastation the world had ever known at that point in history. Because of progressing technology offering the battlefields machine guns and bomber planes, trenches and foxholes gave the only hope of sanctity. This “War to End All Wars” brought devastation and horror like no one had ever seen before.

As they lay in the trenches on that cold, December night, a German soldier remembered it was Christmas Eve. He decided to place a few candles around the trench as his best attempt to decorate for the Season. Other soldiers followed, and soon their lights were visible to the enemy across the Western Front. The fog cleared for a moment, so the stars were bright. Once the British saw the candles, they British followed their example. Soon after, someone began to sing.

“Stille Nacht” echoed through the trenches. The words of the Germans touched the hearts of the British soldiers. Even though they could not understand the lyrics, they recognized the melody. The British joined them by singing, “Silent Night.” Despite the different uniforms, flags, and language, they sang the same song of Christmas.

One German soldier decided to step out of his trench when he heard the enemy singing along. The British soldiers heard approaching footsteps, so they looked out of their foxholes. That German soldier, brave enough to cross enemy lines, stood holding a tiny, wiry Christmas tree. He grabbed a small tree, stomped by the soldiers, and brought it as a gift to his enemy.

His gift spurred a Christmas party.

“They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party. Several of them can speak English very well so we had a few conversations. Some of our chaps went to over to their lines.” On that Christmas Eve, the enemies walked into No Man’s Land to celebrate together. The sparse rations were shared, and a festive Holiday meal was created that night. The Christmas carols they had sung in their living rooms and churches now tied the men together as they sung on the battlefield.

“I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I've also got a button off one of their tunics.” As the soldiers emptied their packs and pockets, a gift exchange quickly ensued. No one shopped or even made a list; they only offered to each other what they had. The generosity of one replaced the sacrifice of another. All the glad tidings emerged that night in the hearts of the soldiers. Food, gifts, song, and celebration took precedent that clear night.

“A few of us that were lucky could go to Holy Communion early this morning. It was celebrated in a ruined farm about 500 yards behind us.”
They even worshipped together. Holy Communion, the most intimate of sacraments, linked the enemies together. They offered the Bread and the Wine, the Body and the Blood of Jesus, to one another.

“Silent Night, Holy Night; All is calm, all is bright.” That night on the Western Front, just like that night in Bethlehem two millenniums ago, brought peace in the midst of chaos. This year, may you find the same peace.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Waiting and Trees

Christmas at the Ingle house meant the children would need to wait. My dad hurried to finish year-end business responsibilities, and my mother, on the other hand, directed many Christmas festivities at her school, our church, and with the extended family.

My big brother, Chris, felt the same angst that I did. We wanted Christmas. By mid-December, we usually saw no hint of decorations. Our parents’ scheduled filled with responsibilities, and they had a plan for Christmas. It always happened for us. However, if Chris and I could not see the tree in the living room, then we doubted if Santa would come that year.

Chris decided one year that we would handle the problem. Christmas was less than a week away, and no one saw any glimpse of a tree. We walked outside to play, but he had instructed me of our mission. With a quick knock on the door and a “Can you play?”, we went and collected the kids on the block. The children filed out and formed the ranks behind our 11-year-old commander, my big brother.

Armed with a hatchet and a camouflage cap, Chris gave us his orders. We would march through the woods behind the house, find the most beautiful tree in the forest, chop it down, and then drag it back. When my parents came outside, they would see the tree on the back porch, and then we could have Christmas.

Angie, Midge, Emily, Chip, Dana, David, and Daniel joined Chris and me (along with our basset hound, Buck the Wonder Dog) as we trudged through the woods. The perfect tree emerged during our hike, and Chris cleared the way and began chopping. The little hatchet went to work, and the Giant Cedar fell to the ground. The children stepped around the tree, reached in, and everyone began to pull. Since I was only seven, I found myself barely holding on to the top of the tree. In fact, I had to run with Buck to keep up with everyone.

When we finally reached the house, we screamed for Mom. Dad grabbed his chainsaw and cut the top out of our 25-foot tree. That year, the top of our home cut tree sat in the living room. Our parents were so proud. Most importantly, our family was prepared and ready for the Christmas season.

As the Advent season begins, we remember the birth of Jesus. This season offers us a period to wait and pray for everyone to be reconciled with God and with each other. Advent allows us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Our waiting is greater than patience until our gifts come; instead, we are waiting for peace on earth through a greater connection.

Throughout Scriptures, we see people waiting and preparing. The prophets waited for the Messiah and prepared the way for Jesus by telling the truth that burned in their hearts. After Jesus died, His followers waited for His return. The disciples waited a few days between Jesus’ ascension and the time in which God sent His Spirit.

Preparing involves action beyond just waiting. When we prepare, we engage ourselves in the days prior to our expected event. Instead of tapping our toes for a Christmas tree, Chris spurred us to walk outside and find the tree. The time came to start chopping!

This Advent season, the time has come to get moving. As we wait for the sacred day of Christmas, may we prepare for it by opening our hearts to God and to each other. In the midst of our crazy season, the Messiah is alive in our hearts.