Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ready or Not, Here Come the Holidays

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A fine old gentleman and member of the first church I served “solo” was pushing 80 years old pretty hard when he pointed his amazing mane of thick white hair my direction and intoned, “Curtis, at this point in my life, it seems like Christmases roll around about once a week.” With my own head of mostly gray hair turning snowy, I’m beginning to see what he meant.

For a four-year-old, waiting a fourth of his life for Santa’s sleigh to slide back seems like waiting for an eternity. For older folks, well, let’s just say it’s getting a lot easier for me to imagine that for an 80-year-old the holidays seem to fly by like telephone poles past a car window.

But I still look forward to them, and, not least, their food!

I rarely get tired of turkey, and I almost never get tired of dressing loaded up with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce. (I love my wife’s family, but you have to watch those folks. A day or two after Thanksgiving, they get tired of turkey you can chew. Somebody cranks up the food processor, and what’s left of the turkey-bird becomes “salad” which, mercifully, no turkey would recognize as kin. I like turkey better before it hits the fan.)

And Christmas foods? Ah, what’s not to like? I cooked for most of the holiday one year and made a Christmas meal I think Charles Dickens would have approved of complete with a stuffed goose, a plum pudding, and loads of trimmings. (Cheesecake, too. That doesn’t figure much into a Dickens Christmas, but it always figures into mine.) Chase dinner with a good hot cup of Earl Grey tea or dark coffee, a nice fire, a comfortable chair, a great old movie or a better old book, and, well, I love it!

It’s great to be with family again for a few days—even if your family has grown, the house hasn’t, and you’re stacked like firewood. And speaking of wood, most family trees have a few nuts, but even us nuts like to be with folks from the same tree for a bit.

I’m partial to the occasions when most folks come healthy and you have a fair chance of making it through the long weekend without the uncommonly prevalent common cold or a 24-hour stomach virus (that you’d swear lasts for a month) exploding through the family like a four-alarm fire at a fireworks factory. Having tried that, I can testify that “healthy” is more fun.

Our family clusters over jigsaw puzzles (nothing less than 1000 pieces, thanks) and games. I like word games. When I was growing up my family of English majors played Scrabble as blood sport. Little kids (and PawPaws) romp and wrestle and drive the parents crazy. Little kids (and PawPaws) make up their own games since they get bored trying to sit through entire TV football games.

I’m thankful for families, for food, for fun, and for the Giver of all good gifts who has so graciously given these. Yes, the holidays seem to be rolling around more quickly than ever, but I’m glad they still come.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! While I don’t wish to rush the turkey in the least, you’ll find a free download there of one of my favorite Christmas songs. Just go to the “Store” and my album “One Christmas Night.” The free song is “Mary Sweet Mary.”

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

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“It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood”

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Well, as Mr. Rogers used to remind us so well, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood . . . It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood . . .”

Aye, and so it is!

It’s cold and clear, still and beautiful. An inch or so of white stuff blankets the ground. The sun is shining, luminescent crystal. And as the cloud blanket that had tucked us in has pulled away from the chin of my part of the world, the temperature has dropped into the single digits.

Though I fussed yet again this year about the price of firewood (partly embarrassed, I think, that as an able-bodied guy I’ve not been able to just get out this year and cut my own; my chain saw may soon rust), I’m glad I got it bought, loaded, and stacked last week and ready to go! And, forgive me if you do, but I’m so glad I don’t live in a place where fireplaces are purely decorative. Mine’s going strong.

But I keep stepping outside onto the porch. Cold, crisp air is the very best sort for breathing. It reminds you that you’re alive. And if there’s a smell that makes a person happier to be alive than the sweet aroma of New Mexico pinion, I don’t know what it would be.

The folks I bought my oak firewood from ease the pain of the purchase (a little) by sacking up ends and pieces of pinion for kindling and tossing them into the bargain. What a fragrance!

But that’s the wrong word! “Fragrance” implies frou-frou (“fru fru,” if you’re Portuguese). Forgive my grammar, but the aroma of pinion ain’t dainty; it’s strong and sturdy and bold. It makes you want to go out and cut three or four cords of wood, eat three stacks of pancakes, and then go out and saw through and stack about six more. Cords, that is. I try to pace myself on pinion sniffing lest I gain thirty pounds or be tempted to strain a muscle while I’m under its influence.

I’m told that smell is closely tied to memory, and I believe it. For me, pinion has a Thanksgiving and Christmas sort of smell.

Snow’s on the ground. A fire’s laid in the hearth. I get to sing for a Thanksgiving banquet tomorrow. Christmas singing—my favorite kind—is just a heartbeat or two away. And I’m smelling pinion.

This is good.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s sweet phrase, “the aroma of Christ.” And I love the way Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases the apostle’s words in 2 Corinthians 2.

We’re told that wherever Christ’s people go, God brings the “knowledge of Christ” and “people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.” It’s because of Christ’s presence, “we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation.”

Contrary to popular belief, it is what is evil and doomed to perish in this world that gives off the smell of death. What Christ brings, the apostle says, is “an aroma redolent with life.”

Better even than pinion!

 

 You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! I don’t wish to rush the turkey, but some Christmas music is available there for your enjoyment or for gifts!

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Laughter Is God’s Gift Tucked Into Warm Hearts

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Laughter. It is both healing salve for our souls and the most potent weapon against “pious piffery.”

Laughter’s very existence ranks as one of the highest tributes to the Creator’s skill and a delightful glimpse into the character of the Divine.

What kind of God do we have? One who delights in creating flightless birds like ostriches even as he makes squirrels that can fly. We have a God who sends his Son to poke fun at the pious who point out specks of sawdust in folks’ eyes while looking around 2 X 4s in their own. He laughs at those who scrupulously wash the outside of their dishes but leave last week’s dinner sprouting mold inside.

What an amazing blessing when at the very moments we begin to take ourselves too seriously—always proof that we’re not taking God seriously enough—our Creator sends some good-hearted soul into a dour committee meeting or to a cheerless table. God sneaks in some joy, tucking it into a warm human heart and springing it on us by surprise.

Wonder of wonders, just one good chuckle, the precursor of a tsunami of laughter, suddenly washes across our souls,  and what moments before was a corpse-like meeting or lifeless meal desperately in need of burial, suddenly lives.

Eyes were glazing over. Backs were bending under a weight of pomposity. Grace was in danger of literally being ruled out. Then out of a healthy heart, a laugh erupts and the previously flat-lined EKG of the meeting peaks up into a mountain range of life and mirth. Against all odds and often even against propriety—since laughter was on no one’s agenda (except perhaps God’s)—breath returns, scales drop from eyes, and something like vision, and maybe even hope, bursts onto the scene, defying all of the best bureaucratic and sanctimonious attempts to keep real life and joy locked outside.

It is no accident that tyrants, bureaucrats, and Pharisees are utterly terrified of joy. Its shining spire, laughter, is the visible tip of an iceberg that, ironically, melts good hearts even as it plunges sanctimonious souls (sanctimony is a very heavy thing) down to a watery grave.

When I slip into taking life too seriously and even the dog ducks when she sees me coming, I like to spend time with 1) kids, and 2) authors who are truly good at thinking and at laughing all at the same time.

Author G. K. Chesterton had a world-class laugh and a universe-class pen. No one has ever turned a phrase like the rotund “apostle of common sense.” I just read a piece by Ron Ratliff recalling an incident when Chesterton was having trouble getting into a horse-drawn cab. The cabbie suggested that he try turning sideways. Chesterton responded, “I no longer have a sideways.” I’m told that he distrusted cold, hard, thin people. Me, too.

When life is getting hard and cold and pitched sideways, God’s gift of laughter, straight from His heart of joy, lifts it right-side up.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

       And if you’d like to get the jump on some Christmas music, hey, it’s available there! 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Trick or Treat” and Memories of Halloweens Past

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Well, I got to go “trick or treating” the other night. Halloween it was.

I’d not done that in a long time, but it surely brought back some vivid memories. Halloween has, since my childhood, never been all that big on my list of holidays. Even as an adult, after I’d learned enough history to know just a little about “All Hallows’ Eve,” it’s barely been for me a bump in the road on the way to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When our kids were little, we did the usual “dress up” stuff and enjoyed (or survived, from this stodgy parent’s point of view), the various carnivals, trick or treating, etc. They were cute, and I’m glad we did it, but my sons will tell you that I wasn’t as young then as the grandkids have made me now.

When I was a kid myself, we didn’t think anything about dressing up as Dracula or Frankenstein or such ghoulish sorts of folks. Vampire teeth of a plastic sort might not have been the best idea, dentally speaking, but I had a good time with powder, hair goo, fake blood, and a black cape. It was fake and it was fun and we knew it. I never felt the slightest temptation afterward to start sacrificing neighborhood pets.

I guess it was a simpler time—perhaps more naive, perhaps more innocent. Folks on one end of things who wanted to play with really dark stuff and truly scare people were either fewer in number or a lot quieter. And folks on the other end, always serious about making sure that everyone is always serious and scared that somebody might not be, seemed fewer in number, too.

I’ve since learned that real zealots, genuinely pagan or pretentiously pious, are all really scary, just in different ways. Good folks to avoid. (Both need to “light-en” up.) In any case, when Halloween, for reasons good or ill, got more and more complicated, it got less and less fun. But it was simply good fun and high on my list of good days when I was a little guy.

On Halloween evening, Mom and Dad helped us dress up, paint up, suit up, shoved buckets or bags in our hands, and kicked my little bro and me out the door of 125 N. Goliad to pillage the Amarillo neighborhood. I don’t know what Jim’s favorite treat was, but I was on the hunt for popcorn balls, chocolate, candy corn, Sweet Tarts, and maybe a caramel apple or two. One year I remember getting pretty much all of that and then erupting in something beyond gratitude.

Those memories flooded back on Halloween this year as a pretty little not-so-abominable snow lady’s daddy and I walked behind Her Frosty Highness, door to door, her Secret Service abominable detail. I took her to get donuts the next morning, just in case Her Icy-ness had not had enough icing. Then MawMaw and I skipped town.

Halloween is both a lot different and a whole lot the same as it once was. Like life, I suppose. What’s best about it at all times is still a gift from God and well worth a prayer of thanks as we turn toward Thanksgiving.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! You’ll find some new sample songs there! Just click on “Samples.”

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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