The Present Of Presence


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….”  OK, who are we kiddiing?  It has been looking a lot like Christmas since September.  It is the time of year where we are in a frenzy of buying presents for our loved ones.  And not just any present will do.  Only diamond jewelry or a new car will apparently express your deep love for your significant other, at least if you believe the commercials you see.  But the present that will evidence that you truly care for someone is not something that can be put in a box or wrapped up in shiny paper–it is YOU.

No, I am not suggesting that you hand yourself over to the intended gift recipient.  What I am suggesting is that the gift that will mean the most is not something that is concrete or tangible.  It is not something that can be physically held or conveyed.  The best thing that you can give anyone–whether a romantic partner, an acquaintance or a complete stranger–is your time and attention.

One of my favorite sayings is “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”  The hours in each day are a precious gift.  They are limited in number, and once they are expended, they can never be recovered. We can choose to use some of our finite time each day as a present to others by giving them our presence.

Time is one of the things which we guard the most selfishly.  We demand “me time.”  We’d often rather give money to charitable endeavors than volunteer, i.,e., give our time.  That choice indicates the value we place on the hours in our day.  Accordingly, giving of this finite resource is more precious and meaningful than a boxed gift that we spy in a box store and simply throw in our shopping cart with only a few minutes (perhaps even seconds) of thought.

I am looking in the mirror as I suggest that giving of time to others is the best possible gift.  The concept is easy to grasp, but putting it into practice is difficult.  Mea culpa.  I had several instances in the last 24 hours where I was called upon to give of my time.  Doing so convinced me that being present for the person with whom I interacted was a present from me that had real meaning for the recipient.

I confess that early morning is my “me time.”  I want my space, quiet, a cup of coffee and time to do what I want–read, write, play on the computer, etc.  Woe be to him who dares intrude upon it.  But, of course, someone did.  A distant online friend sent me an instant message.  My first inclination was to ignore it.  Begrudgingly, I dashed off a cheery greeting.  As the exchange progressed, I learned of a difficult situation with which this individual was dealing.  I can’t wave a magic wand and make his problem instantly disappear, but taking the time to communicate with him and express my concern and care was a gift to him that he’d probably rather have from me than ________________ (insert name of trendy gift of the season).

After downing enough coffee to be correctly labeled as fit for human interaction, I took the time to send an online message to a friend inviting her to go to an upcoming event with me.  I had been putting this task off because I was “too busy” even though I knew this person was having some personal struggles and could use a positive interaction.  I felt ashamed of my reluctance to take action when I got a quick reply from her saying she “loved me to pieces” for thinking of her and looked forward to getting together.  The smile coming through her words was palpable.  Taking the time to reach out to her gave her a much needed boost that a store bought gift simply could not.

In fact, the best Christmas gift ever was a person’s presence.  Jesus took the time to be on this earth and give Himself to a hurting and needy world.  He could have simply sent wonderful presents to all of God’s children (perhaps gold, frankincense or myrrh), but instead He showed up in person to give love, compassion and eternal life.  Let’s take this example to heart.  Give more of yourself and less of things for Christmas this year.






Thankful For Positive Negativity


Thanksgiving provides an occasion where we can stop to consider our circumstances and to give thanks for them.  Unfortunately, in our materialistic society, our thankfulness is usually directed to things we have and not to things we don’t.  If we follow Paul’s directive in Ephesians 5:20, we should give thanks for everything; sometimes the things we should be the most thankful for are the things we are lacking, i.e., the positive negatives in our lives.

While superficially this statement may seem confusing, stop and think about it.  What are you glad that you don’t have?  Here’s an easy one.  I am glad that I DON’T have any physical disabilities.  I will be able to hear my four year old grandson sing a Thanksgiving blessing.  I will be able to see the table full of food that my daughter and I will prepare together for our holiday meal.

Admit it.  You have stood in front of your refrigerator and made the bold statement, “There’s nothing to eat.”  What you really mean is that there is nothing that you want to eat.  Food is in your refrigerator; what’s available just doesn’t strike your fancy.  Why not be thankful that you DON’T have bare cupboards like Old Mother Hubbard?

And those cupboards have to be located somewhere.  You can give thanks that you DON’T have to be labeled homeless.  My humble abode is just that.  It is humble and is not fit for consideration for a photo spread in Better Homes and Gardens.  But this humble abode does provide a roof over my head and prevents my exposure to the elements.

The elements can be devastating.  I DON’T have to worry about hurricane destruction to my house this hurricane season.  My residence is in Florida, so it is in a prime location for a visit from Jim Cantore and a storm for some reason innocently named after a human.  Who knew Marie was such a menace?  My humble abode has been spared the wrath from any sinister storm this year.

How am I warned about severe weather?  Why I can read about it on the Internet and in the newspaper.  I am not out of the loop because I DON’T suffer from illiteracy.  If I choose, I can read about who accused whom of what in the news.  I can read all about it–or not.  I can read something mindless, like the National Enquirer, or I can read a textbook to plan a lesson for the ESL class I volunteer teach to help others.

Speaking of books, I can freely purchase, carry and read a Bible in the country where I live.  I DON’T fear persecution here for my religious beliefs.  It is not a question of whether I can read a Bible; instead I have to determine which of numerous versions I desire to peruse and study.  I can bow my head and pray over my meal in a restaurant without worrying that the authorities will have my head for this behavior.  I can openly gather together with others of like faith to ask the Lord’s blessing.

While Thanksgiving is simply one day on a calendar containing 365 days in a year, I DON’T have to limit my thankfulness to that holiday.  I can and should be thankful on a daily basis for what I have and for what I DON’T.  If I DON’T limit my thankfulness to things I have, I will realize that I have more to be thankful for than I ever realized.  Yes, I appreciate those negatives in my life which are positive for me.

JUST WONDERING:  What negative thing can you give thanks for today that is a positive for you?










Dear Abba — Asking Advice


Life is a series of decisions. A common part of the decision-making process is to seek advice on what action to take.  Why even comic strip characters do that.  Lucy may not have gotten rich charging five cents for dispensing psychiatric advice in Peanuts, but she provided lots of humor when Charlie Brown sought her assistance.  While we may laugh at Charlie Brown’s lame attempt to obtain expert advice from Lucy, don’t we all seek advice from sources that are just as questionable?

By definition advice is guidance or recommendation concerning prudent future action which is typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.  While Dear Abby may be popular, I am not so sure that I would consider her authoritative.  Readers write to her about every conceivable issue under the sun–parenting, dating, family relationships, sex, career moves, etc.  How can she possibly be knowledgeable about all these different areas?  The answer is, of course, she can’t.  But yet, this advice column flourishes.

Part of the appeal of Dear Abby is that the writer gets to remain anonymous.  Letters are signed with cutesy names such as Undecided In Utica.  If Abby doesn’t even know your name, much less the full details of your situation, is it likely that she will be able to give you sound advice?

But even folks who know you well may not give you good advice.  When I was a teen, my father encouraged me to pursue becoming a tax attorney.  Blah!  Fortunately, that was advice I did not take.  I became an adoption attorney and love the interaction I have with people.  Let someone else interact with integers; I’d be bored stiff doing that work day in and day out.

Several factors impact from whom we seek advice.  Cost is always a consideration.  Lucy may charge five cents, but parents are more than willing to give advice for free.  While you might want a psychiatrist to guide you, you might only be able to afford the counselor at a free clinic.  Experience is also a consideration.  If you are having car trouble, are you going to pick your beautician’s brain about how to fix the problem?  The stylist deals with bangs all the time; brakes are not worked on in the salon.  With whom you are comfortable talking plays a part in choosing an advisor too.  You may not have a problem with asking dear old dad for advice on financial investments, but you might shy away from requesting his recommendation on an intimacy issue.

Many times what we are actually looking for when seeking advice is confirmation.  Erica Jong described it perfectly when she said, “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”  We can claim ignorance or lack of expertise for not taking the action we think we should, but when someone else tells us to take that action, our excuse is gone.

While the actual decision to be made may not be an easy one, the source to seek advice from should be the easiest decision of all.  Who wouldn’t seek advice from an expert on the subject who knows you intimately and who will not charge you a thing to advise you?  Apparently just about all of us.  We  fail to turn to the best advice giver bar none–Dear Abba.

“Abba” is an Aramaic word most closely translated as “Daddy.”  Our Father God, who knows the very number of hairs on our head, knows us better than anyone.  And there’s no doubt that since He created the heavens and the earth that He can point us in the right decisional direction.  He doesn’t even charge us five cents. Jeremiah 33:3 reveals how He is waiting for us to ask Him what to do.  “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  Need advice?  Ask Dear Abba and not Dear Abby!



Let’s Hair It For The Boys

Everyone’s heard about the hair of the dog, but during the World Series we were treated to seeing the hair of the Dodgers.  More commentary appears to have been generated about the long red hair on Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner’s chinny chin chin and head than about the finer points of our national past time. Why the fixation on hair?

Well, in the first place, everyone has some.  Therefore, it is isn’t surprising that people want to compare and contrast hairstyles.  Some may even want to get up close and (too) personal in order to do so.  One reporter allegedly asked if she could touch the ginger growth hanging off Turner’s face.  All that hair certainly hasn’t affected his thinking ability as the ball player quipped back that she could do so for $10.  Is his salary from the Dodgers so pitiful that Turner has to resort to selling touches of his facial hair?  Give that man a raise!

Secondly, a bushy beard and wild-flowing hair just don’t seem to mesh with the discipline required of a professional athlete, particularly a baseball player whose sport is more of a controlled, thinking man’s game.  Former Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott was a firm believer in clean-shaven players and had a famous no facial hair policy for her team players regardless of the color of their hair.

A player’s grooming habits take front and center sadly because our society is superficial.  We judge a book by its cover and are quick to notice if that cover contains long strands of hair.  Whether you think a bushy beard is the best or is beastly, the observation starts and ends with the outward appearance.

Guess who else notices all that hair?  Why, our Heavenly Father.  Not only does He notice our hair, but, according to the Bible, He is aware of the number of hairs on our head.  Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7.  And that number, as scientific studies reveal, is less for redheads than for other hair colors.

But while God notices the color and length of our hair and is able to have a head count (pun intended) of all those hairs, those things are not what is important to Him.  Just as Dodgers’ fans are bottom line more concerned about Justin Turner’s batting and fielding abilities than the length of his hair, God is more concerned about who we really are–not what we look like.  He looks at our heart and not our hair.  I Sam. 16:7.  I’m assuming that this is the tactic Justin Turner’s fiancee takes.  She looks at her beloved’s inner worth and not at his outer excessive facial hair.

Since it is No Shave November, maybe now is a good time to steer away from the superficial.  Let’s focus on the good cause spurring the hairy chinned individual’s avoidance of shaving and not whether the stubble is appealing or appalling.  Look at the heart and not the hair!