Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Carma’s Corner: Renewal

Here it is-the second week of 2011. For some, 2011 has already been marked with heartache, tragedy, and trial… while for others, 2011 has ushered in joy in the birth of new family members, excitement in marriages, and hope in new jobs or promotions… and another majority may have barely noticed the shifted year, except for the changed calendar on the wall. For me, I’ll readily confess that I belong to the latter majority; 2010 graciously relinquished its reins to 2011. But I can’t fully commit to saying, “I didn’t notice the change in the year” because I did take notice, I did make resolutions, and I did give thanks for the New Year… whatever it may have in store.

January usually dawns with high ambitions for me. Maybe… this year I’ll write the great American novel, or perhaps this small-town, Midwest girl will be discovered by some elite literary group… or for some unbeknownst reason, I rock the literary world with a new voice and perspective. As I said… high ambitions… and within a couple hours, my realistic nature gently yanks me out of the clouds and plants my feet on the ground with a thud. It’s not that my high ambitions are dashed, but the aggressive ambitions are renewed with a dose of reality.

In a sense, January is often seen as the month of renewal. Like me, people claim that this year will be the year to lose weight, gain financial stability, start an effective exercise regimen, eat a more healthy diet, pursue more education, or to find the right balance between work and family. The list is endless. For some, one or more goals will be accomplished, while others will quickly fall to the wayside, left waiting for yet another January renewal. But what does this word renewal mean, and why is it so closely linked to January?

When I was in college, I once received an assignment entitled “expanded definition.” The directions informed me that I was to choose a word and define it in three to four pages. It sounded simple enough, but the final line of the directions read: “Student is allowed to use only ONE version of a dictionary.” My idea of using three or four different dictionaries to define my word gingerly skipped off my pages, leaving me to clothe 3 ½ pages of naked paper. Today, I can’t recall the word I defined, but I remember that the assignment taught me to think about words beyond their printed definition.

The word before me now is renewal… don’t worry I have no plans of filling 3 ½ pages! According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, renewal means “the act or process of renewing: repetition; the quality or state of being renewed; something (such as a subscription) renewed; something used for renewing, specifically: an expenditure that betters existing fixed assets; and the rebuilding of a large area (as of a city) by a public authority.” In essence, the dictionary basically states that renewal means to take something old and give it new life.

The months of each year come and go, but January always marks the beginning… the start… the launch. It provides hope, a sense of renewing purposes. Maybe… 2010 vices can be 2011 victories… 2010 poverty can be 2011 prosperity… or 2010 acquaintances can be 2011 friends. January provides a clean slate for individuals to dare to try something new or to renew past ambitions with greater purpose.

As for me, my high ambitions have been revised and are now called my renewed ambitions. The Great American novel has become 200 words of personal writing each week; the elite literary group has become associating with writers to get ideas and feedback… and as for rocking the literary world, I’ll be content with a small dent!

But for any goals to be accomplished… renewal isn’t just for January… it’s for February, March, April, and so on. For it’s in continual renewal… that true success can be witnessed.

Carma’s Corner: 2010 Rewind

The carols have been sung; friends and families have gathered; the delicacies of the season have been consumed; the gifts unwrapped, and now the busyness of the holiday turns to reflection. In just a few short days, New York’s Times Square will explode with people; champagne bottles will be uncorked; promises will be made; proposals will be accepted, and a minute before midnight, everyone’s attention will turn to the notorious lighted ball slowly descending to a countdown chorus… three, two, one…HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The end of 2010 is near; 2010 will soon be written in history books. What will historians write about the year 2010? With an interest in journalism, I reviewed some of the headlines that made national and world news. Here are some of the headlines I found:

December
Senate Passes Tax-Cut Compromise

November
In Midterm Elections, Republicans Win House, Democrats Keep Senate

October
First of 33 Trapped Chilean Miners Rescued

September
American Hiker Released on Bail from Iranian Prison

August
Home Sales at Lowest Level in 10 Years

July
Stampede During German Parade Kills 21, Wounds 500

June
U.S. Soccer Team Advances to Round of 16 in World Cup

May
Oil Spill Biggest In History, Estimates Suggest

April
162,000 Jobs Added in March; Unemployment Remains at 9.7%

March
Female Suicide Bombers Kill 39 in Russian Subway Stations

February
President Obama Outlines Health Care Reform

January
7.0 Magnitude Earthquake Devastates Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

I’d venture to guess that one or more of these headlines will be studied by generations to come. But even though the historians will try to justly capture the events, the textbooks will never be able to fully capture the relief and excitement of the rescued Chilean miners, the havoc racked by millions of gallons of oil spilling into ocean, and the devastation, turmoil, and sadness thrust upon the people of Haiti. The history of 2010 will only be ultimately real for those who witnessed and endured the year.

I don’t recall these headlines to show all the bad things that have happened in 2010; I don’t outline these headlines to highlight scars gained in 2010; I do so to remember that these headlines are in the past… and even though some effects are still very visible, the only remaining thing to do is move forward. I don’t know what headlines will be penned for 2011, but I do know, as like all other years, 2010 will be a stepping stone into 2011. The 2010 Rewind gives the forward push to 2011, another year of history in the making.

Carma’s Corner: Blast from the Past-Finally Christmas

A few months ago, I was searching through a file when I ran across a detailed program/schedule of the Smidt Family Christmas Eve. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering how I tirelessly outlined all the times of the events to take place that evening- from the candlelit dinner to bedtime. I gently placed the schedule back in the file, recalling my ambition and motivation for detailing such an evening.

It was a couple weeks before Christmas, and like all other children I was beside myself with excitement. The tree was decorated; cookies were baked, and wrapped surprises were slowly appearing under the tree with each passing day. With all the anticipation and excitement swirling within me, I wanted some way to contribute to the festivities. I couldn’t decorate the tree; I couldn’t bake; I couldn’t wrap gifts. How was I going to add my special touch to the holiday?

“What can I do?” I asked Mom each day.

After a few days of my asking, Mom came up with an idea. “I think you should make a program for our Christmas Eve… a schedule of sorts, so we know what we are going to do when,” she suggested.

That was it; that was something I could do! I pulled out six pieces of paper, my crayons, Christmas stickers, a ruler, and an ink pen. Mom wanted Christmas programs, so I was going to make sure these programs were decked to her satisfaction. I folded; I colored; I stuck my stickers; I wrote, and two days later, I gently laid six individual Smidt Family Christmas Eve programs on the front hall table. It was finally Christmas Eve, and in a few short hours it would finally be Christmas.

When I ran across this creation from 20 years ago, it made me smile, but yet at the same time it made me a little sad. In those 20 years since, it seems like the “finally Christmas” excitement and anticipation has slowly been replaced with an “already Christmas” feeling. As one gets older, one assumes more responsibilities; life changes, and days get busier with families, work, and appointments. Time seems to spin faster, and before long one is left saying, “It’s ALREADY Christmas.”

I’m no different. My yearly juggling act of family, friends, work, and other commitments becomes a highly entertaining circus act in December… and I’m left saying, “It’s ALREADY Christmas.” Gone are the days of “what can I do”; gone are the days of detailing a Smidt Christmas Eve program. Already Christmas remains.

I’ll admit I miss those days of having nothing better to do than wait for Christmas… and then exclaim on Christmas morning “It’s FINALLY Christmas!” But Finally Christmas will never be totally erased in my life because I’m continually reminded of the true Finally Christmas.

Over 2,000 years ago, on a quiet, clear night… there were heavenly hosts just waiting to hear the first cry from Jesus. Imagine waiting to declare the good news to the shepherds; I imagine the angels couldn’t wait to sing… even if it was going to startle those shepherds out of their cloaks.

Jesus cried. And behold angels appeared in the black sky announcing, “Unto you a Savior has been born; He is Christ the Lord!” Jesus was here; salvation had come to the world. The angels were excited and spreading the news of the joyous arrival… IT WAS FINALLY CHRISTMAS!!

May the angel’s excitement and joy invade Christmas this year… so Christmas morning may dawn with a chorus of “It’s FINALLY Christmas! Glory to God in the highest!”

Carma’s Corner: Blast from the Past-Forgotten Christmas

It was Christmas Eve 2003, but all the familiar traditions of Christmas Eve were nowhere to be seen. The scrumptious, candlelit feast was replaced with boxed meals from a vending machine; the melodic “O Holy Night” was drowned out by discordant beeps and buzzes; the brightly wrapped gifts were substituted with finger pricks, and the angel’s joyful declaration came to me as “Your tests were positive for Type A Influenza”. There I sat in Avera Mckennan’s Emergency Room… on Christmas Eve.

After a couple hours of waiting, I was admitted and transferred to One East, an all too familiar wing of the hospital. As I was wheeled to my room, I caught glimpses of decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands in the hallway and waiting rooms, reminding me that Christmas was indeed tomorrow. Succumbing to the fact that Christmas would be different this year, Mom and I settled into the room. Right on schedule, an IV was inserted; x-rays were taken; blood was drawn, and respiratory treatments scheduled.

Around 10 p.m., I was finally told to get some rest, but with every muscle aching, my body didn’t readily welcome sleep. I tossed; I turned; I sat up; I went back to bed, but no position brought comfort or relief. Mom clicked through numerous television stations, searching for some distraction. The clock was nearly striking midnight when Mom came across a station featuring different choirs singing carols.

“Maybe we’ll just listen to the beautiful music,” Mom said, sitting down on the bed next to me.

“Hm-mmm,” I moaned. I closed my eyes, praying that Christmas would bring a better day.

I opened my eyes to find Mom sitting next to the bed. But the room was different; it was much smaller, and many machines surrounded my bed. Numerous tubes weaved over my body, and where they were connected I didn’t know. I didn’t remember having that many tubes when I fell asleep; I didn’t recall actually getting the tubes, but then again I was asleep.

"Where am I?” I whispered.

“You’re in ICU,” Mom explained.

“Oh,” I said, “then it must be Christmas today.”

Mom looked puzzled. “No, Christmas was three days ago. Don’t you remember?”

I didn’t remember; I had only closed my eyes for a few brief moments, and the next thing I knew Christmas was three days ago. I was later told that I had visitors on Christmas Day, talked to my sister on the telephone, and even said Merry Christmas. I had no recollection of these events; for me, Christmas Day had been lost and forgotten somewhere between late Christmas Eve and three days later.

To this day, I have no memory of Christmas Day 2003; it’s been erased. Of course, I have the stories from others regarding how sick I was, what procedures were done, and how Christmas was forgotten among the frenzy of keeping me alive. It bothers me a little that I missed Christmas Day 2003, but this forgotten Christmas causes me to think about one particular character in the Christmas story—the innkeeper.

In Luke 2, it is noted that while in Bethlehem Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them. Oftentimes, contemporary renditions of this story will have an innkeeper shouting “There’s no room for you here” and slamming the door.

I can’t help but think of a few questions: did the innkeeper forget about the young expectant girl on his door step, did the innkeeper ever wonder if the young couple found proper shelter, or did the innkeeper ever consider that this relatively forgettable girl was going to bring an unforgettable gift to the world? I don’t know.

Like the innkeeper, the True Reason for Christmas can be forgotten among the bustle of holiday activities. But remember Christ came to give something unforgettable—salvation to a world who continually forgets Him. Remember the Reason for the Season, and don’t be left with a forgotten Christmas!

Carma’s Corner: Blast from the Past—Frog Come

“No! No frog come,” I screamed and squirmed. I slowly propelled my trike in the opposite direction-away from the pursuant of the frog. I glanced over my shoulder; the frog was gaining at rabbit speed, and I pleaded all the louder “No frog come! No frog come!”

“Frog come! Frog come,” my older brother teased, shoving the frog inches away from my face with each taunt. At twenty-five, he knew that any green, slimy, and jumpy creature was bound to elicit screams and squirms from his little sister, especially when he chased her with frog in hand. He was right.

“No, no,” I protested, shoving my trike forward. At four years old, I didn’t see any enchantment in frogs; I didn’t believe one kiss would break the spell and turn the ugly critter into a dashing prince. If it was green, cold, and jumpy, it was not my friend; it was not meant to be anywhere near me, and it certainly didn’t have any hopes of becoming a knight in shining armor.

Once again, I looked over my shoulder to find my brother’s hands empty. “Wh-where did the frog go?” I asked.

“Looks like the frog got away,” my brother said. I signed; I had escaped the frog invasion unscathed. As I grew up, the frogs would periodically appear, and I would scream and squirm with each hopping reptile. But over the years I began noticing two significant rules to the game: the frog never reached his individual to torment, and the frog always got away before any ounce of genuine fear set in.

I can now look on the “frog come” game with fondness, although at the time the game was threatening. I still can testify that “frog come” still occurs, especially around Christmas. The frogs don’t come breathing, croaking, and tongue flicking; no, the frogs are specially wrapped and planted under the Christmas tree with tags that read: TO: CARMA, FROM: RANDY and TO: RANDY, FROM: CARMA.

The frogs now come as lawn ornaments, garden d├ęcor, plush toys, and even figurines. Some of the frogs dance and sing while others have buggy eyes and large scales; some of the frogs just sit like a bump on a log.I don’t mind frogs so much anymore; I dare say I like them, although I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t scream and squirm if a live frog happened to hop on my lap.

I once heard that the word frog could be an acronym for Fully Relying On God (F.R.O.G.). Without fully relying on God, my life would be meaningless; my disability would be unbearable, and my faith would be pointless. But full reliance on God didn’t become a reality until God’s own Son had to have full reliance when He was sent to earth as a babe.

Jesus was sent from heaven, from glory, from perfection to imperfection. Jesus didn’t come as a grown man who was going to save the world with one sweep of His hand. He came as a baby in human form; He grew into a child, adolescent, and adult. He experienced temptations and found His full reliance on God to be His greatest comfort while on earth.

If Jesus wasn’t willing to fully rely on God and come to earth, F.R.O.G wouldn’t have come.I’m fairly confident that “frog come” on the first Christmas too. F.R.O.G came to Mary; F.R.O.G came to Joseph, and Jesus was bringing F.R.O.G to the world for generations to come.

Somehow… my brother must have known that I would need extra ounces of F.R.O.G. in my life!