A Word about Love

I originally wrote the following last night as a comment in a friend's Facebook thread. The topic, broadly speaking, was the age-old one of relationships between the sexes; more specifically, it began with my friend's perspective on the way many women today view men. The subject stirred up something that has been living in me for years about the nature of love. I could expand on it immensely, but the two paragraphs that follow say it well enough in brief....

Ladies and gents, allow an old duffer to provide a perspective from the pre-tech era. Let me be frank: hormones have always run hot. But there was a time when sex was something sacred, not a given; when "friendship with privs" would have been recognized as pure BS; when women were seen as something awesome by men, and men by women; when a guy's voice used to rise a minor third with nervousness about asking a girl out; and when care, respect, and honor, not me-first, what-I-want, and what-I-think-love-should-look-like, guided man/woman relationships.

We've lost track of what love is. This nation has become tremendously self-centered. So men, if you say you're a good man, then know for sure what that means, and then be it toward women in a way that can't be easily moved by circumstance and shifting emotions. Women, know that it is no easier for a man to be a man than it is for you to be a woman. Have respect for yourself--and have respect and care for us men. And both men and women, if you wonder what love--real love, not Hollywood love, not hormonal love, not love that's all about emotions and how you feel--looks like, consult that outdated book for non-sophisticates called the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. The ancient wisdom there will frickin' blow your postmodern millennial minds and challenge you to a higher vision than anything our trendy, self-deifying culture has to offer.

A Christmas Meditation

Ten years have passed since I wrote the following post. Much has changed, yet some things seem like they haven't changed at all except that I'm a decade older. My words back then were written from the heart; I knew them to be true and felt their depth. Today that depth has deepened further through struggle, through growth, through loss, through gain; by God's grace, which has carried me when I could not carry myself; and through his love, which has remained constant for me when I wondered whether he was even there, and if he was, whether I mattered to him at all.

My hope—particularly if this Christmas is not an easy one for you—is that this meditation will speak to your own heart, encourage you, and help you to see Christmas in a different light.

JESUS

Christmas Eve. As an older single male, I'm spending it alone. I would like to say that in reality, I am not alone—and really, that is the case. My Lord is with me. Jesus. But when it comes to polishing off a large bowl of chili (heated to a well-seasoned glow by a sub-lethal dose of Dave's Insanity Sauce), followed by a generous helping of spaghetti, all designed to take the edge off a bottle of 9 percent ABV old ale and another bottle of 11.5 percent Trappist ale . . . well, the work has been strictly mine. No one sits with me in my humble, though comfortable, apartment to make supper and the partaking of craft brew a shared effort. I am by myself—as are many who will read these words.

Yet, as I have said, He is here. Here in these modest digs of a solitary, middle-aged male. And because He is here with me, I trust He is also there with you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be.

Some of you are grieving the loss of a loved one. Others are simply experiencing, like me, another "single" Christmas Eve by yourself. You have friends, and if you're fortunate, you have family, and you're thankful. But there's still something missing, isn't there?

It's all right. He is here with you and me. Emmanuel, "God with us." And in a strange way, those of us who feel sorrow, or loneliness, or a poignant emptiness in this Season of Light, may be closest of all to the heart and soul of what Christmas is truly about.

For you see, that little baby who was born into the lowliest of circumstances two thousand years ago didn't come for the sake of inspiring cozy traditions, or warm exchanges of gifts by the fireside, or happy family meals. No. Those things are wonderful, and I wouldn't detract from them for anything. But their absence in the lives of so many of us lies closer to the reason Jesus was born.

He came not because this world is so wonderful, but because it was, and is, so broken. He came for those of us who long for a place called "home." He came for the lonely, for the disenfranchised, for less-than-perfect you and me who know firsthand the meaning of loss, and tears, and struggle; who long for something more in life. He came to give us that "something more." He came because he knows how deeply we long—and need—to be truly, safely, securely, and lastingly loved.

I write with all the freedom that a couple bottles of high-potency ale can inspire, tempered by my editorial instincts and guided by my heart, which is consumed with Him. But who is He? In this day of well-publicized "new discoveries" of the same tired old heresies that have sought for centuries to recreate a more convenient Jesus, the marketplace of ideas abounds with options. I just Googled the name "Jesus," and on the first page of search results I find the following:

    * three full-color graphic images of Jesus

    * a "Christmas Jesus Dress Up"

    * a YouTube clip of Jesus singing "I Will Survive"

    * an online Catholic encyclopedia article on Jesus

    * a BBC news article that begins, "A statue of the infant Jesus on display near Miami in Florida is being fitted with a Global Positioning System device after the original figurine was stolen."
Clever, all very clever. But when you're alone on Christmas Eve, cleverness doesn't really cut it, does it? For so many of us who are by ourselves tonight, the one thing we long to know is that we're really not alone. The older we get, the more that matters.

So perhaps, after we've wearied our clever minds exploring all the alternatives, the Jesus of the Bible really is what we're looking for after all—because of all the gods available in today's spiritual shopping mall, He is the only one who has come looking for us in a way that is consistent with someone who cares not about religion, but about us. To be born in our midst and commit a lifetime to experiencing everything about the human condition, from inglorious start to brutal finish, certainly smacks of a genuine and very personal investment.

Christmas is God's way of acknowledging what all of us instinctively know (though we try so hard to argue otherwise): that this world is fractured, splintered. That we are lonely. That we are lost. That we long for something more. Christmas is God's way of saying, "My loved ones have lost me, and I have lost them. And that is unacceptable to me."

This Christmas . . . you are not alone. I am not alone. Jesus came for us. If you've screwed up your relationships, Jesus came for you. If you've been sexually abused, Jesus came to clothe you with dignity and hope. If you're lonely, He came to give you a place at the family table. If you've been betrayed or abandoned, if your heart is filled with pain and anger from the lashes of an unjust, uncaring world, He came to hold you gently with arms that will not be removed. If you're_______, He came to fill in the blank with something better than emptiness.

This Christmas . . . we are deeply loved.

So to you, my friends, however you may believe and whatever your circumstances may be . . . may He fill this time with the reality, the glory, and the comfort of Himself. Have a blessed Christmas.

—Bob

To Be Together: A Holiday Guest Post by Berry Simpson

For a special holiday treat, I thought I'd try something a little different. In this post, my friend Berry Simpson, author of Trail Markers, Remodeled, and other books, shares his heart and wisdom on the gift of family togetherness. Since my introduction to Berry's writing in 2012, when I edited Remodeled, I've appreciated his gift as a writer for sharing plainspoken, heartfelt wisdom gleaned from his life as a runner, an outdoorsman, a Bible teacher, a blogger (What I've Learned So Far), and above all, a lover of God and his family. It is this last that he writes about here in his piece titled . . .

To Be Together

(C)2017 by Berry Simpson

We had a family photo shoot Saturday afternoon organized by our daughter, Katie, with her extraordinary photographer friend, Cindy. We were in Mansfield, Texas, about five hours from our house in Midland. That might seem like a long drive for pictures, especially since we were all together the week before for Thanksgiving. I would have thought so myself a few years ago, but nowadays I think it makes complete sense.

We had our entire tribe: our daughter, Katie, and her two girls, Madden and Landry; our son, Byron, who drove down from extreme north Dallas; Zoe, an adopted tribe member and exchange student from Germany currently living with Katie and the girls; and Cyndi and me. We met at a local country club, a location that Cindy, the photographer, uses often, since “they’ve never chased me away.” It was a fun afternoon. We posed in every possible combination: the girls, the girls with their mom, the entire family, the family with Zoe, Cyndi and me with the girls acting silly in the grass, and the crowd favorite, Cyndi and me kissing.

The Gift That Can’t Be Wrapped

The morning before, I participated in a video conference with my great friend Gary from Colorado Springs. He was recording an interview about how calling changes your life and ministry, and we started talking about our recent Thanksgivings. We laughed at how being grandfathers has changed our family gatherings. For instance: I remember asking my parents what they wanted for Christmas, and all they would say was, they wanted us to be together. We wanted them to tell us something we could wrap and put under the tree; they would never commit to a gift that I could put in a box.

Now I am the one who tells my kids that for Christmas, all I want is for us to be together. Only now do I realize how important that is. Now I get to watch my kids roll their eyes. It has come full circle. Like that.

We are blessed as a family. I thank God for that every time we are together. We are able to spend time with each other and still remain friends. I never knew how rare that was until I heard so many men tell their life stories. Now I am convinced we are blessed. For Thanksgiving we had mostly traditional food. (Zoe was fascinated by my process of carving turkey! Had I known how closely I would be observed, I would’ve watched a few more YouTube videos to polish my skills.) We enjoyed grilled sweet potatoes, homemade bread, homemade apple pie, homemade hand-decorated sugar cookies, brisket chili rellenos, sweet potato pie, all the other favorites—and no green bean casserole! But what we most relished sharing were the stories and the laughs and the embarrassing family memories.

My Father’s Greatest Legacy

This year was my first Thanksgiving holiday in a decade with neither of my parents present. My mom died in 2014, and my father died just last March, eight months ago. Several people, both family and friends, asked how I felt about not having my dad with us, and was I OK being the oldest person in my lineage. To be honest, the topic had never occurred to me. I said, “When Dad died, we were all caught up. There were no stories untold and no grudges or secrets between us. His was a peaceful and well-deserved departing. Dad left us in good shape, loving each other and loving Jesus. The holiday was great.”

On her most recent Christmas album, Amy Grant sings:

When you open up that door

To old familiar rooms of love and laughter

Coming home just the way you are

Knowing this is all that really matters

To be together

And so, only a week after we saw each other at Thanksgiving, we were all together again taking official family photos. It was fun. And our favorite part was when Cindy the photographer asked us to move closer to each other and snuggle more.

I’m not so naïve as to think everyone has together moments like this. But whatever time you have with the people you love, I hope you lean in and find a way to enjoy each other.

Together.