Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Songs

Tis the season!  Or, is it something else I should have opened with? Oh well. Whatever it is supposed to be, consider that is what I said.

The last few years I've posted songs daily leading up to Christmas. I've had some fun with this little exercise. Heck, the lady two years I've followed a 12 Days of Christmas pattern by paying the songs on the 12 days leading into and on Christmas. The songs had no rhyme or reason to them, except they were Christmas songs and they were/are some of my favorite tunes for the season.
So why am I telling you all this?  Yes, I'm doing the songs again, but this year there will be a reason for the season...I mean reason for the list.

Sure, the list will contain my favorite Christmas songs.  Yes, the song will be fun as well as hopefully inspirational.  Most importantly, this list will be one of songs that mean something to me.  Each song will have a meaning to them.  That meaning may be one of sentiment from years gone by, maybe a family song of today or one that means a lot to me and the Christ I call friend and savior.

Over the next few days I'll be busy spending free time, slow time and many other moments of the day compiling the massive list of fun and loved Christmas songs into a simplified list of songs meaningful to me.  The paring of songs might be more painstaking than enjoyable.  It is a task, however that must be done and will be done.  I'm not sure where I'll post this list, but it will be posted sometime before Christmas.  

As I leave you to begin this time consuming labor of love, I'll leave you a fun little tune from a fun loving band I had the privilege to meet and host for a concert.  The song is more tongue in cheek fun than truth, because it does snow in Charlotte,  Enjoy this song, and check back for my list.  Signing off for now, Aaron, with Philmont taking you out with, "It Never Snows in Charlotte."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Joy or Me As Mr. Grinch

Oh the Holidays.  The joy of family, food, fun and relaxing.  Well, maybe not relaxing, but most people try to relax just a little.  Of course, there is the pleasure of shopping, music, long lines at retailers, a movie or two and a whole lot more of other stuff one does during the holidays.

Speaking of shopping, how many of you are going out for a little Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving?  You know, Black Friday shopping?  Wait, I forgot, Black Friday is a thing of the past isn't it?  Okay, fine.  How many are going out anytime between after Thanksgiving lunch/dinner and Sunday close of business?  Typically, Janda and I participate in the fun.  Last year, we were among the masses of mean people that shopped Thursday night.  I know!  We were a part of the reason the retail workers were working.  Actually, it wasn't our fault.  We just took advantage of what was being offered.

Last year, I briefly touched on the topic of retail stores being open on Thanksgiving.  This year, I figured I'd get a little deeper into the subject and my thoughts on it.  If you are a very traditional person who does not want to change their perspective of things, you should probably stop reading now.  Or, if you don't mind seeing/reading someone else's point of view that might make you uncomfortable, then continue reading.

Not very long ago, life was simple.  Sunday's were meant for church and then family time.  Family time for my family typically meant lunch out at Burger King, Arby's, Royal Fork or Golden Corral (others were options, including a home cooked meal).  Sunday's also meant grocery stores were closed along with most of the city not in the gas or food service industries.

Fast forward a few years you find that grocery stores were now open.  Malls, movie theaters, roller rinks and almost everything else considered Sunday just a normal business day.  Sure, churches were still open.  Some of them were even adding a second or third service.  My church, we expanded to two services and were in the process of building a new building.  For the most part though, the holidays were still sacred.  Nothing, and I mean nothing was open.  Well, say for the airlines and a few gas stations, everything was closed.

Over the years, the demand to have more open on holidays grew.  Movie theaters, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and anything you could think of was now open.  As America became more of a McDonald's society, more things opened on holidays and for longer hours.  The one thing we could always count on though was Thanksgiving and Christmas were mostly closed.  Black Friday and the day after Christmas were shopping days (or return days) that had a buzz built up to.  Excitement and anticipation were reasons we bought the newspaper on Thanksgiving and Christmas (or had it delivered to your house).  This was the case up until just a couple years ago.

A couple years ago the retail game changed.  Instead of stores opening at 8am a couple of them upped the ante and opened at 6am.  Then Kohl's, Target and others opened at 4am.  Despite the cries from employees and those steeped in tradition, the masses bought  goods.  Not only did we buy goods, we bought a lot.  So much that a few stores began opening at midnight!  Now, all that has been tossed out and retailers are opening on Thanksgiving night.  Certainly, people wouldn't go out on a holiday and buy stuff, right!  Well, consumers did, and did so in record numbers.  Of course, record numbers were for Black Friday, which was now Thursday through Sunday.  Traditionalists, unions and employees didn't like this "new" shopping phenomenon, but they did so because that is what employers wanted.

So here we sit today.  Christmas items have been out since November 1st - at the latest, stores have been having sales for Christmas items almost as long.  Huge markdowns have already been announced.  And yes, many retailers are planning on opening early for sales, and by early, I mean Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - at 6pm.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear the outcries?  Stores are going to be open on Thanksgiving!  How could stores open on Thanksgiving and let people shop for Christmas?  That is what Black Friday is for!  The cries have gotten so loud that Wal Mart employees have threatened to strike in over 1200 stores across the nation (yeah, kinda ironic that it is Wal Mart - non unionized - threatening a strike) as their protest.  I guess, since you have all these retailers opening on Thanksgiving and forcing people to work means anyone shopping is going to hell.

Not so fast!  Businesses are only doing what is best for their business.  Yes, I think I just pissed off one or two of you by saying that.  It is so true though!  Businesses have an obligation to make money for themselves and for their stock holders.  Plus, we as consumers have forced their hands in catering to our desire to have things now.  When looking at the choice to be open and make money to please us the consumer or to be closed and lose out on the money that comes with the shopping, I can't blame these businesses.  I'm sure if you were put in that same position, you would think long and hard about closing the doors and losing money.

My next question lies in the non retail side.  What makes this any different that those working at a hospital or gas station?  What about the EMT, police officer or fire fighter?  How about those working in a hotel caring for your family visiting from another state?   Or the flight crew that was working the plane they just walked up the Jetway from?  I don't hear the outrage over these people working.  I don't hear of them staging a strike.  In contrast, I hear well wishes, pleasantries or laughing.  I see a genuine care, a smile and if your lucky (or unlucky) a tip of the cap as your asked for license, insurance and registration.  In these industries, people are mandated to work just as retail is now being mandated.  Sure, some of them are public service and there is no real value being made off of serving.  But, in other service industries there is money to be made.  There is a bottom line that these businesses are trying to make, and by providing these services, they too are meeting their bottom line.

Am I anti holiday observance.  Not at all.  I wish all of us could have to fortune of not working on holidays.  I wish we hadn't become a Jimmy John's society.  Reality, however, has dictated differently.  I so wish that we could enjoy each holiday as it comes.  Again, reality has shifted and hurried our celebrations earlier each year.  But, this is indeed what America has come to.

So, before you cry foul, think about more than just the retail.  Think about the service side of things too.  Think about those making life a little more pleasant for you and your family.  If your in retail and hate the fact you have to work, realize you aren't the only person unable to spend the full day with your family.  Yeah, it may suck having to work, but it is only temporary.  Make it a challenge to yourself to make an angry shopper smile - it may make both of your nights.  Lastly, if you are a consumer, one flying, getting free breakfast at the hotel or the one needing the public spanking, try giving the ones working for you a smile and a well wish.  Better yet, try making everyday a day of Thanksgiving, Christmas or Presidents Day.  Really, isn't that what life should be about instead of the chaos that surrounds some of these holidays?

Let the outrage begin.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Be still and Know

The last couple of days I have reflected on many a things that life brought my way over the last three years.  Life, friendships, heartache, cancer, divorce, new beginnings, vacation and the list goes on.  It also brought me writing.  Not something one contemplates over, but something that I learned to do as a therapy for the times I needed comfort during treatment.  Yes, writing indeed brought new insight to the trials of cancer, the treatment and the path it took me.  Tonight, I return to write once again for some therapy.  And, if any of you read my Caring Bridge blog when it was active, you might recognize the concept.

As with any normal family, my life tends to go at break neck speeds.  One kid needs to get to this place, the other across town.  I'm at work and have to get the first one when done while my wife picks up the other one.  I have tomorrow off, but gotta do something with both kids after school, and if I'm lucky, I'll get to pick up lunch and take it to my wife.  Then, after the kids are dropped off at home, I have a quick meeting via phone call that might take 20 minutes or so.  Before I know it, I'm going to bed at 11pm or later on consecutive nights.

Anybody get tired reading that like I just did?  Ha! Ha!  The above example is when there is just one kid in sports and not during baseball season.  I won't even think about trying to write down a normal day during baseball season when the son has a home game and the daughter has a track meet or swim meet.  Thankfully, the boy is gonna have his license here in a few weeks, so running him all over the place isn't going to be occurring to often.

Anyway, the frenetic pace isn't really what this blog is about.  It is just the set up.  The set up for a potential disaster.  The disaster of not taking in the beauty of life.  The gift that life brings.  The beauty of watching my kids grow into great young adults.  The joy of watching my wife pursue her passions.  The dog be the crazy (and mostly lazy) dog she is.  And, I also might miss the beauty of quite.  I might miss hearing that every once in a while.

Wait, what?  Miss the quiet?  I really did just type that.  Of course I'm gonna miss the quiet when life moves so fast.  But the sound of quiet isn't the longing for that I miss.  It is the opportunity to soak it in when I have it around me.  Sure, there might be noise emanating from various directions, but there very well could be quiet I'm not enjoying.

Do yourself a favor: sit back, lay down, prop your feet up in a recliner, so somehow just relax.  Now, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and listen for a couple minutes.  Repeat the process again and focus on what you hear.  What was it you heard?  Kids screaming?  Music?  Spouse typing on the computer?  Maybe your cell phone notifying you of another Facebook post about your move in Words with Friends.  Whatever it was, did you really hear it.

During treatment, I had ample time to hear everything.  One hour a day, I heard the laser preparing to zap me with protons.  The radio station in the back ground, the techs changing out molds the laser goes through.  I got to hear the room move (yes, the room - Gantry - rotated around me).  I even heard the laser not just get ready to zap me, I heard the laser start and end the zapping process.  But, there was one more thing I heard.

So, when you listened, what did you hear?  Psalm 46:10 says to, "Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted."  Every day on that treatment table, I was blessed to be still.  I got to experience first hand that through my hardship he was indeed God and he was being exalted.  I was able to gain insight into what I needed to learn through the many lessons cancer was teaching me.  Though surrounded by noise, that noise became static (and helped me keep track of how long I had left on the table) and what I really heard was God being exalted.  Sometimes it was through the music being played during treatment.  Other times, it was just simply hearing the silence.  No matter though, I got the assurance that God was in control.

Answer the question.  What did you hear.  Was it the kids?  Take joy in that knowing that God is in control despite their screaming or fighting.  Take joy in the fact that one day your kids will love each other and not be afraid to show it.  If it was that annoying band your husband listens to, rest assured that he is taking joy in hearing an art that calms him down (or his helping him get amped up for his workout in the basement).  Whatever it is you heard, I pray you enjoy it.

Repeat this process again tomorrow at some point in time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Drug

Many times over the last four years I have often joked about needing to go take my drugs.  Life with a continuous headache will cause you to take meds frequently.  Sometimes it was a prescribed med, and yet other times it was just a quick dose of some OTC meds I have sitting in my desk.  It was during those times that I often joked with Janda and coworkers that there was, "Better living through pharmaceuticals."  Yes, I said, and at times still say this in jest.

I am fully aware that many people suffer addictions to drugs.  Street drugs, prescription meds, OTC stuff.  Friends and family alike have nearly died and/or destroyed families because of these addictions.  I have an uncle who is a trained counselor who has dealt with the healing of said addictions.  So yes, when I make that statement, I'm fully aware that reality isn't a better life with pharmaceuticals.  Yet, at these times, it does help deal with the headache.  Or, it can help relieve pain, cold symptoms, allergies, etc.  Used correctly, pharmaceuticals are great.

Anyway, this post is not about pharmaceuticals.  Actually, it is the drug that I consume daily through my ears.  Music!  Music is my drug of choice.  To me, it heals, soothes, encourages and basically anything else you can think of.  It elicits emotion.

I don't care the genre, mostly.  I'll listen to just about anything.  My mood depends on the genre or even artist.  Even the genres I don't particularly care for I will listen to if there is something meaningful in a song I've heard.  Yes, that even means country, and if really desperate for something different I'll pull out the classical genre.

I've been like this my whole life.  I drove my parents nuts with some of the stuff I listened to.  And yes, I drive my wife and kids nuts as well.  But, as with most drug addicts or alcoholics, it doesn't matter what the intake is as long as it is entering my system.  Thankfully, the music is not destructive (I know for others it has been recorded it can be).  It is not something that takes over my being.  It is a relaxer and encourager.  I can share and not feel guilty about sharing.  I can play it loudly or quietly, listen alone or communally.

So, if you ever need a good pick me up, change of pace band, encouraging word, calm down tune, something to bang your head to or get a little hood into you head, hit me up.  I'll help as much as possible.  If I have to, I'll even get my brother involved in your quest to discover what to listen to if I'm not able to help.  Yes, growing up I somehow passed my love of music to him.  His love of music and variety of music is even greater.

Good night world, and may you enjoy your favorite song while you read this.  See, not all drugs are bad.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Worship - When, Where, or is it?

A couple weeks ago I challenged some friends to tell me what worship was.  The responses I got were great.  Mind you, I was a little bummed that I didn't get some of the answers I was expecting and some people I didn't expect to respond did.  I guess, that is just the cynical side of me desiring some confrontation (only for the sake of discussion) from some and that is probably not good.  Oh well.

So, after some much needed and necessary thought, discussing it with a couple people, I decided I should probably get a few things off my chest.  What better way to do that than to write.  Besides, I haven't posted a blog lately, and writing is something I need to do more of.  I also need to exercise more, eat more fruits and vegetables and a few other things, but that is not the meaning of this blog. No, worship is why I write.

Before I get to far into the blog, what is worship?  Where should we worship?  How should we worship?  Most importantly, when should we worship?  Believe me when I say, there are some really good opinions, but then there is also the right answers.  Somethings here may blow your mind, because when presented to me, they blew my mind.  So, here goes.

How many of us were taught to take our hats off when in the church?  I know I was.  Raised in a very conservative church that was admittedly more conservative than the denomination itself, I took my hat off the second I entered the door (not that I wore a hat that often).  But the Bible doesn't mention anything about hats, does it?  Well, not exactly.  At least in the manner of whether to wear it in a building, despite the courtesy of keeping it off while indoors.  What the Bible does say in 1 Corinthians is that man should not cover his head when worshiping God.  I guess then that removing my hat when in a sanctuary, or during prayer (organized or personal time), or during the worship music at church is indeed necessary.

As for where and when to worship, Romans 12:1-2, Hebrews 12:28-29 and 1 Timothy 2:1-3 all state what worship is.  I add that worship is an anything item, anyplace time.  Additionally, we are to pray as our worship, pray all the time and pray with all we have.  We are to honor God with all we do - be it driving, work, school, sports, home, etc.  Well, who can say they are giving everything to God and doing so in an honorable way?  Yeah, me neither.

My next question is, does your worship focus only around music?  Are you focusing your worship time as being only at church?  Either way, according to scripture, we are doing it wrong.  I think we have done things an injustice to the word and following as the word says.

So, please do yourself a favor.  When you discuss worship, think about all of what worship is, not just what you think it is.

In my next post, I might just ask about when your day of rest is.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cancer Can Ki$$ my @$$

There, I said it!  It is something I had to say.  I don't usually say stuff like that, but today I just had to come right out and say it.  Heck, let me say it again, "Cancer, ki$$ my...."  Okay, I've said it, but I don't feel any better.

As a cancer survivor, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about cancer.  My thoughts aren't the type that throw me into a pity party.  They don't depress me, scare me or anything negative.  More over, they encourage me, astound me and leave me in disbelief that I have actually gone through a fight and come out on the other side ahead and better than I was.  I stand in awe of how God has taken this disease, allowed me to endure what I have and used it to somehow encourage others.  I don't get it, and probably never will.  Typically, these thoughts stay in the background as I carry on through each day.  Some days they are more prevalent, but I try to limit those days (simply to keep my sanity).

Today, my thoughts took front and center stage.  Usually, I accept cancer news with grief, but as a part of life.  I have to in my line of work.  With the number of patients I see diagnosed with cancer, or fighting it, I can't let cancer toy with my emotions like a cat with a ball of yarn.  Yet, today I let cancer defeat me.  No, not my own cancer, or that of a patient.  Rather, news from a friend.

Jim is a great guy.  He and his wife became very dear friends during the time Janda and I were in Jacksonville.  While I was in my treatment room, strapped to the table like a convict awaiting a death cocktail, Jim and his wife would sit in the waiting room chatting with Janda.  Jim would go receive his treatment at some point in time during their conversation and return within 15 minutes to continue where he left off (he was battling prostate cancer and didn't have to spend 60ish minutes on the treatment table like I did).  It wasn't long before we started going to a meal here and there with Jim and his wife.  I went on the Budweiser Brewery with Jim, his wife and a couple other friends.  Janda and I were both excited and disappointed when his graduation date came and they went back home to Georgia.  BUT, when we went back to J-ville for my 1 year follow up, we stopped there in Georgia and enjoyed a great BBQ meal with them.

Since then, Janda has done a great job of keeping in touch with them.  The bond between care takers (ACS and the treatment center calls them) is a beautiful thing and one that can't be explained.  Jim's wife usually keeps Janda up to speed, and Janda reciprocates regarding me.  We looked forward to seeing Jim and wife last summer, but a flare up of cancer caused them to postpone their trip out here for Frontier Days.  This year, we were hoping to see them out here.  But, Frontier Days came and went.  Then, today happened.

Today Janda received an email from Jim himself.  Usually, Janda will just relay news while we are talking in the evening.  Not today.  Today, she sent me the email from Jim.  It has returned...again....and worse....with unbearable pain.  He had to return to J-ville again...for more treatment - 10 rounds this time...with new meds that might help.  Sure, he has noticed minimal relief, but isn't assured of success.  And, he also confirmed that he believes prayer works as he prayed for strength to go to church.  Not only did he go, but he sat through the service without pain.

Today, my thoughts of cancer haunted me.  I wound up in tears at work.  I sit here now, in tears.  The pain of cancer has made this day a very long day.  I hurt for Jim and his wife.  Yet, in true Jim fashion, despite the grim outlook in his email, I saw a glimmer of hope.  He was positive.  It is something that I respect in him the most - being positive for his friends and family.  It is something I strive to do, be positive for my friends and family.

So tonight, I'm okay with the tears.  Heck, if Jimmy V championed it and Stuart Scott encouraged it, and Christ can shed them, then cry I will.  If you think of it, or remember to, please join me in prayer for Jim and his wife.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Noah - A Flood of Disagreement

Have you ever had that one movie you just have to see?  You can't wait to go see it.  You have waited for months to see the song.  You follow the movie Twitter page so you don't miss the newest preview.  Then, you see something posted about how awful the movie is.  Your heart drops as if you just had your job review and it wasn't as positive as you had hoped.  Now you are conflicted if you should see the movie or not.  Never mind that your favorite actor/actress is in the movie.  This review isn't what you expected.  Then you start seeing others praising and condemning the movie all the time.  "Great movie that takes liberty and portrays everything it should," to, "Awful movie that fails to capture the true essence of the plot."  So what do you do?  Toss caution to the wind and go see it?  Or listen to the detractors?

This is what I see happening with Noah. The critics in Hollywood are raving about how amazing the whole movie is.  The actors/actresses in it can't stop raving about the writing, the plot and how fun the project was.  On the other side I see/hear people complaining about how awful the movie is because it isn't true to the Bible.  It isn't a "Christian" movie because it was written by an atheist.  The list goes on from both sides.  Me, I say who cares!  Okay, that might not be true.  Maybe I do care, but not the way you would expect me to care.

My take on Noah has nothing to do with the movie itself.  I don't care if there is artistic liberty (which I've heard has happened) or if the movie is true to the Bible.  Heck, I don't even care if the women speak or not (which I've read they do and some have had issues with this).  I have no desire to see the movie, simply because I just don't want to.  I have nothing against the movie and nothing that supports going to see the movie.  It is one of those movies I look at and think there are better things to spend my entertainment dollars on.  Anyway, I'm not here to encourage or discourage your attendance at the theaters.  Rather, why the disagreement?

Over the weeks I have read and heard many Christians discuss the merits of the film.  Most don't agree with the premise of the movie nor do they agree with a movie being made that doesn't represent the Bible correctly.  Even fewer have stated they want to go see the movie simply because they feel the movie is blasphemy.  Okay....Where, may I ask, did you see that this was a "Christian" movie?  Did you not know the movie was a Hollywood production?  Again, not the purpose of this blog.  I've also seen and heard people voice their disagreement with the movie yet still believe, "If someone eventually discovers the truth..."  Yeah, okay, if that is your take, go for it.

My biggest observation is that none of these Christians see the bigger picture.  Sure you can recognize that God can use anything to bring people into a relationship with him.  Just as he used an ass to speak to Balaam, he could use this movie to speak to people.  I'm not one to discount that outlook and hope.  BUT, why argue about this?  Why argue about this Hollywood movie at all?  What if this is all a grand design of those that wrote and made the movie?

I'm of the firm belief that Christians have gotten so distracted by the fact that this is, "A disgrace of Biblical representation," that we are forgetting the point.  Because of our disdain for the film and the constant arguing and bitterness involved those that aren't Christians would rather go see it simply to distance themselves from Christianity.  They see the arguing and believe us to be the same hypocritical people we always are.  They see us as hating anything that isn't in agreement with what we believe.  What reason would they have to discover the truth after the movie when all they see is hate and bickering before they attend a showing?  Additionally, if you think that your values, beliefs and faith are going to be swayed just by seeing a movie, then maybe you are the one needing to discover what the Bible really says just as much as the ones you believe need to know the truth about Noah.

If you want to go catch a matinee showing of Noah this week, by all means, do.  Enjoy a couple hours away from the pressures of life and indulge in a big old tub of popcorn and large soda with the movie.  If you have no desire to see a movie of any sort, then chill at home.  All I ask of you is to remember, not every Christian you meet hates this movie and some of us are just as fed up with all the bickering just as much as you are.