Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Gift

I know it's probably way too early to talk about getting that perfect Christmas gift for your wife, fiancée, or girlfriend but, guys, it is time. That's right; gone are the days when a pink ice scraper or a handy, six-pack of 10W-30 from the nearest gas station still qualify as a "thoughtful gift." Sadly, today's woman just doesn't appreciate these things as did the dames of days gone by. That being the case, we might want to reconsider our notion of what a gift is.

First of all, it should be something she wouldn't normally get herself. Women are capable of spoiling themselves, of course, so this will take some thought. You must find that special something she truly desires, yet considers an indulgence.

It must also be something she has only thought about, not actually spoken aloud. This then will require some sleuthing; becoming a Columbo, however, won't be necessary. Be on the lookout for subtle hints -- an open Macy's catalogue with an item circled in lipstick; the coy and subtle, "Let's look at the jewelry counter for a moment"; or a 50% Off! coupon that keeps reappearing alongside your wallet.

Guys, if she actually does mention she would like something, be sure to seize the moment and get it. Or, more to the point, drop everything and go and get it! Why? Chances are she will not mention it again and should this gift not appear on schedule, she will remember she told you.

And one more thing, neglect not the presentation. As odd as it might sound, women do not consider Sunday comics an appropriate gift wrapping. The temptation will be to use the store bag to conceal the gift since most stores at this time have some holiday theme printed on the side but, trust me, this really isn't a good idea either. Here you may have to pony up some coins for something a little more appropriate. Hint: the gift wrap table at the mall is a good place to start. If it's a table operated by some charity, even better. You get a custom-wrapped gift, help out a good cause, and won't look like a buffoon to that sweetheart in your life -- all for the cost of a few singles. Indeed, it's a small price to pay.

Perhaps, as a cautionary tale, it would be helpful to share with you a few gifts that weren't well received: vinyl rain gear and galoshes; a Big Bertha driver and three dozen golf balls (make sure she plays golf first); an adjustable wrench set; and a high octane, propane-injected, flesh-roasting barbecue grill. Learn from your comrades' mistakes and save yourself from these embarrassments. You'll only have to return them anyway.

Now, on to the important stuff. There is one gift that will always bring a smile to her lips and maybe even a tear to her eyes. It will require a great sacrifice on your part, but it will be worth it. It is a gift given rarely and hence all the more appreciated: a love letter. Yes, take the time and write her a poem, a story, or a letter that tells her how special she is, how beautiful she is, how cherished she is and how awesome she is. I know, this endeavor is way out of our comfort zone, but she will save the letter in her special dresser drawer and when she is feeling down, she will bring it out, read it and she will know she is a special, gifted and treasured person.

You can do it. After all, you asked her out, proposed to her, and married her (or possibly are giving it some serious thought). She has to be beautiful, prized and totally awesome!

Go get her, Tiger!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Tree

Soon men all over the world will embark on that glorious and venerated tradition of picking the "perfect Christmas tree" for their living room or den. These 21st-century pioneers will blaze trails through forests of live trees armed with a razor-sharp hatchet or enough chainsaw horsepower to carve their way through the Amazon Rainforest. Others will wander through cut-tree corrals that have sprung up, almost magically, on church parking lots or vacant corner properties where convenience stores used to be. The quest for the perfect tree has brought weak men to their knees and strong men to tears, for (as every man knows) there is no perfect tree. Oh, there are stories told of men who have come close, beaming before their doting wives and bug-eyed offspring with their tree-selecting prowess (only to be disappointed once the tree has been erected by an unseen bare spot or a knotted trunk that won't set right in the stand). Sadly, in the end, many have come to believe the perfect tree is an urban myth foisted with subtle, cornpone deception by tree lot operators and tree nursery owners across this great land of ours.

And here's the reason why. The perfect tree must be tall enough to satisfy the children, whose self-esteem can be crushed by having too small a tree, but small enough to stand in the room. The perfect tree must be wide enough to accommodate every ornament, but not so wide as to impede movement through the living room. The perfect tree must have full and symmetrical branches, but must have openings to frame each and every ornament in order to maximize the wow factor. The perfect tree must have long enough needles to last throughout the season, in spite of a lack of water. For these reasons and others, some men have opted out for the artificial tree as a way to minimize squabbles at the tree farm and to preserve domestic tranquility. But, alas, even manmade trees fall short of perfect tree requirements, leading men to ask the universal question, "Why do I do this?"

Men, the tree season is upon us. Older men, it is time to step back and watch the younger men approach the task with naïve joy, leading their families into the wilds of the forest or tree corral determined that they will not only find -- but also obtain -- the perfect Christmas tree. Older men, let them be! They need to learn for themselves what took decades of tree expeditions and countless living room debates to achieve -- the perfect tree is in the eyes of the beholder.

Yes, that is the secret older men have guarded throughout the centuries. The perfect tree does exist -- in the eyes of the beholder. One man's perfect tree may be another man's third choice, but that is okay. For you know you made the perfect pick when you gather the family around the tree, throw the switch, and watch their faces light up. After a collective gasp, the room falls silent as they gawk and wonder how they ever doubted your selection. And then the smiles form, your wife reaches out her hand and you know... this is a perfect tree.

Well done, good and faithful tree picker-outer. This Christmas is for you and all those like you.

May your tree be perfect this year!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Of Veterans and Days

Last week America and Canada paused to remember and honor their veterans -- the brave men and women of the armed forces. There were special ceremonies, parades, speeches and moments of silence throughout North America paying tribute to servicemen and women. November 11 was chosen for this special day of recognition in commemoration of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 -- the hour, month and day that hostilities ended in "The Great War" or "the war to end all wars." Up until that date, the world had not witnessed such devastation and human impact from war. The entire world was altered in a way unparalleled before that conflict. WW I saw the utilization of killing methods and machines far beyond the imagination of the common man: poison gas, flame throwers, heavily armored tanks, machine guns, long-range cannons and bomb-dropping airplanes maimed and killed combatants and civilians alike on a scale never before seen.

In spite of this death and destruction -- and the unmistakable alarm that such unrestrained hostility should have sounded -- the world was by no means finished with war. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the conflict in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan have each taken their deadly human toll around the globe. And there appears to be no end in sight when it comes to a lasting and reasonable peace either. Mankind's sinister appetite for war and political dominance show little chance of subsiding. And with each new or resurrected conflict there is always the need for soldiers and their willpower to fight. Those men and women who march into battle are the true backbone and muscle of any military.

As we move past our nation's special day of remembrance, let us not forget to honor and affirm the veterans of our country. Like all of us, men and women in uniform knew the stresses of ordinary, daily life. More significantly, however, they also knew that at any time they may be called upon to fight and even lay down their lives for the sake of the greater good. Those who paid the ultimate price in service to this country hold a special place in our national and personal memories, as do those soldiers who have returned from service. Together they have created -- and now share -- a valorous tradition that endures for the ages.

As we move forward, let us seek out the brothers and sisters among us who have worn the uniform. Let us thank and walk beside them for their considerable sacrifices on our behalf. Let us seek ways to support and befriend them and the military. This can be anything from sending care packages to active duty troops to sitting and listening to stories of World War II, Korea, Vietnam or other conflicts. Let us never take for granted the courage it requires to put on the uniform. Let us be outspoken in our honor. Let us remember that though Veterans Day has passed, we can still count every day as a day to honor our nation's soldiers.

Thank you, veterans, for going above and beyond.

The service standard you have set empowers us all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Holiday Traditions

It's upon us: Thanksgiving and Christmas have arrived. No longer do the stores wait until the morning of the day after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas sales barrage. Now we can get "Black Friday sales" every day. Isn't that awesome? The best part is we don't even have to leave the cozy comfort of our favorite recliner to get these breathtaking deals. The retail world is more than happy to accept our credit cards over a secure server in order to bring the store to our front door! The days of running to a nearby convenience store on Christmas Eve for those last-minute gifts is so passé. Now guys can shop online during commercials or -- if they want to get all their Christmas shopping done -- can take care of it during halftime. What a brave new world we live in!

When I think about it, it's probably even archaic to refer to the upcoming days as "Thanksgiving" and "Christmas." It seems more correct to refer to this time of the year as the "holiday season," so as not to offend any with the word: "Christmas." But forsooth, I digress. For the purpose of this brief missive, let's agree that "holiday season" refers to the weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas -- with a few days tossed in after Christmas for good measure.

So, what holiday traditions do you celebrate? Does the family gather at grandma's house for turkey, dressing, and mincemeat pie on Thanksgiving? Does your family have other chosen foods and time-honored festivities planned for this special day of thanks? After the feast, do the kids go outside and toss a football around, while the adults slowly drop like flies, surrendering to tryptophan-induced comas? Do the board games come out of the closet? And what about Friday, the day after? Is everybody off to the mall to cash in on the bargains?

What about Christmas? Do you have a real tree, an artificial one, or is the picture of the tree on the calendar good enough? Do you open presents Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, or whenever you see one with your name on it? Will a visit from St. Nick be a part of the tradition? Will he find cookies and milk waiting for him when he hauls in his cache of presents for family members -- every one of whom, remarkably, has been very good this year? Will there be events outside of the home that take place during Christmas? Will caroling, a bonfire in the country, or a family visit to a nursing home, homeless shelter, or hospice house be part of your plans?

Guys, traditions play an important part in our families. I remember fondly my Dad's role as "turkey carver," and I will always remember when that baton was passed to me. I remember the kids in their PJs waking us up Christmas morning to open up presents. I remember the warm glow and smell of candles on Christmas Eve. Growing up, my family's traditions grounded me and I looked forward to Christmas unlike any other time of the year. These fun and familiar routines let me know there was a constant in the world. Even when I was out in the deep end for a while, the traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas wrapped their arms around me and tugged at my heart. In the end, they made a huge difference in my perspective.

Gents, I would suggest you continue or start two traditions this year. At Thanksgiving have each member of the family share (aloud) a blessing he or she is thankful for, and at Christmas gather the family together and read the Christmas story (aloud) from Luke 2.

You might just find this year's "holiday season" takes on a whole new meaning.

If it does, drop us a line and tell us your story. You can be an inspiration to others.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dad's Arms

I can still feel my Dad's arms as he gave me a bear hug when I left home. He and I both knew from that day forward our relationship would be changing: I was getting married and would no longer be under his roof. Oh, we would visit, of course, and there would still be times when we'd reflect back on how it used to be, but life was going to be different. He had strong arms and his hug spoke volumes to me. In his strength I knew he would always be there for me; he would support me, and he would still be Dad. That's just the way it was.

Over the years I've reflected on how Dad's arms were so important to me. I look at pictures of when he held me after I came home from the hospital, his arms holding me next to his chest. I remember how his arms steadied my bicycle as I wobbled forward in a quest to ride a two-wheeler. I can see his bare arms on the shovel as he dug a foundation for the porch. I smile as I recall the weight of his arm as he put it around me as I sat in church. And then there was fishing. His arms would swing in a great, fluid movement as he snapped a lure across the lake -- dropping it into the widening circles where the fish had just broke water.

Over the years Dad's arms grew weaker, yet they never quite lost their power to make a difference. He continued to offer his arms in the service of his church -- using them to count the offerings or do something needing to be done inside. He used his arms to dig garden beds for Mom. Her own diminished capabilities were the perfect opening for him to plant flowers that she could see from her favorite window. Though he was moving slower by this time, his arms were always in service for others.

This past weekend I listened to a sermon that considered Luther's view of vocation and how we all wear the masks of God. In other words, Luther was telling us we are the hands, feet, and arms of God in service to others. That struck me as I remembered how many times Dad used his arms -- his hands -- in service to others. As a consequence, he inspired me to continue the tradition of using my arms -- my hands -- in service to God.

I thank God for Dad's arms. They were there for me; they were there for others, and they were not idle.