CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

It’s early for me to be thinking about Christmas; I normally don’t start Christmas thinking at least until after Thanksgiving. But as you may know, Hallmark Channel has already started their Christmas movie marathon and I’ve been watching as many as I can. A few weeks ago, I saw an older movie, maybe from 2017, called “A Joyous Christmas” and I heard a beautiful Christmas song that I’d never heard before. The song was “Christmas Memories” and it has been on my mind so often since seeing the movie. I’ve watched the movie again since that first time. I was curious to know if the song might be available so I checked the iTunes store and couldn’t believe what I found. It was recorded on a Christmas album by country super group Alabama back in the 1980’s! I listened to Alabama A LOT, but I guess I had not heard their Christmas songs (other than Christmas in Dixie). I’m proud to say the song is now in my music library and I enjoy listening to it. Here’s a link to Alabama singing Christmas Memories if you would like to hear it:
https://youtu.be/n2XD1A7HG9E

But the song has stirred up a lot of “Christmas Memories” for me. I have memories from my childhood, from my children’s childhood, and now from grandchildren. But I also have fond memories of being an adult and having adult children. When Robin and I were first married all of my grandparents were living and one set of hers was still with us. So our Christmas celebration began on Christmas Eve at my paternal grandparents (Big Mama and Big Daddy). Christmas Day, we went to my maternal grandparents (Papa and Mama Jessie) and then to her maternal grandparents (Clarence and Flora). All three had huge meals and that was a lot of food to consume in a short time period. It was also a time when cousins would come home and we visited with family members that we didn’t get to see except around the holidays.

From my childhood I remember these big gatherings and an additional one at my great-grandmother’s house (Grandma Gilbreath) on Christmas Day. We had many cousins to play with at Grandma’s and one of our favorite activities was shooting firecrackers. There was a culvert in front of her house and we’d light firecrackers and throw them into the pipe to explode. The most vivid memory of that experience was the time when I didn’t get the firecracker in the pipe and it exploded just a few inches from my hand. It hurt! My hand was numb for a while, but then it was ok. Lesson learned: it is not smart to shoot fireworks in your hand.

I remember being so excited Christmas morning to see what presents Santa had left and I still remember some of them: my little red rocker, my camera, and a BB gun. The year we got the BB guns, my brother and I woke Mama and Daddy essentially in the middle of the night- 1:00 or 2:00 am. Then we were so excited we stayed up the rest of the night; poor Mama and Daddy went back to bed for a while.

When our children were young, Santa brought them a trampoline one Christmas. We had great difficulty getting them calmed down enough to go to bed so Santa could visit our house. It was freezing cold and dark in the back yard and Santa made a lot of noise trying to assemble the trampoline. Robin was quick to the rescue, however. She told the kids to get back in bed and she would go check out the noise. She also crafted a note from Santa saying he didn’t have time to get the trampoline assembled and to ask their dad to do it after Christmas was over. On a warmer day when there was plenty of light Dad got the trampoline ready for jumping.

So many of my memories are centered on traditions that we began when our girls were young, and many we still do today. Some examples:

We pick a night for our family to have dinner and open our presents for each other. One of the girls picked out the menu for our meal and we’ve now expanded that to our sons-in-law. Robin keeps the records for whose turn it is to select the Christmas menu and we’ve had breakfast for Christmas dinner, boiled shrimp, Mexican food… many non-traditional dinners. We all get in the kitchen and prepare the meal together in the afternoon. Before we open presents we read the Christmas story from Luke 2, always in the King James version of the Bible. When the girls were younger, we went to a tree farm and cut down a live tree, all of us decorated it together, and we all worked to put out our collection of Snow Village houses. We all went shopping for a new piece for the Snow Village each year.

When the girls were young, we slept by the Christmas tree one night and on Christmas Eve, they would drag cushions off the sofa and make a bed under the pool table; they would drape sheets or blankets on the sides to make a fort.

We save our change for two years and on the years that Katie and Joshua are home from St. Pete, everyone guesses how much is in the jar. We count it out and the closest guess gets the money.

Our traditions have evolved over the years; some are very different. For instance, our Snow Village collection is just four houses and some accessories now. We no longer cut a live tree and of course the kids aren’t here to help decorate. We have held firmly to some like reading the Christmas Story and having our family dinner.

But the important thing is we spend quality time together strengthening our family bond and we always remember why we are celebrating the day. That’s the tradition that I want most to continue in the years to come.

MESSED UP, TANGLED UP MINDS…

My brother, Daddy, Robin and I attended a gospel music “hymn sing” this past Monday. It was a wonderful couple of hours just singing old songs that I’ve not even thought about in a long time and the four of us really enjoyed the evening. ALL of the money collected through ticket sales and an offering was given to “Veranda Ministries”. The Southern Gospel groups that were there donated their time as well. Veranda’s mission, as stated on their web site, is

“The Veranda, a primary outreach of Veranda Ministries and a ministry supported by Impact Fellowship Church, provides a time of nurturing respite care to allow family caregivers much needed time for themselves. Services for family also include a monthly support group for caregivers and a semi-annual caregiver conference. The conference helps family members and other caregivers utilize biblical principles to cope with the physical and emotional toll of a stressful life situation. The number of clients in The Veranda’s respite program has doubled since its 2012 launch. A nominal fee is charged per day. If a client’s financial situation is of concern, a scholarship may be applied toward the cost of a client’s care, if eligible.”

Caregivers for dementia patients face so many obstacles, frustrations and disappointments of which many of us are unaware. Robin was the primary caregiver for her aunt who had dementia, her mother who had end stage renal failure, and her step-father who had some early-stage dementia. Her guide book during this time was titled “The Thirty-Six Hour Day” and many days that’s what it felt like.

During the hymn sing, the founder of Veranda spoke about their work and the impact they were seeing. She spoke of people who were in near-comatose conditions, didn’t recognize anyone, and were basically non-verbal. But she said when they played a DVD of one of the hymn-sings, many of those patients would perk up and start singing the old songs they had known for many years. I wish I had captured her exact words but she said something like

A messed-up tangled up mind cannot contain the heart and soul where God abides.

Even though our minds cannot process information to recognize even our own children, our heart and soul still sings praise to the God Who created the universe. A line from the praise song “Shout to the Lord” says “Let every breath, all that I am, never cease to worship You”; even when we don’t know in our own mind we are worshiping, our heart and soul takes over and we still worship.

Then I thought about the recovery community with whom I worship each week. We have “messed up, tangled up” minds mostly resulting from poor decisions we have made but we still worship; it is true, we are mentally aware of what we are doing but it begins in the heart and soul, “where God abides”.

“Shout to the Lord all the earth let us sing
Power and majesty praise to the King
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of Your Name.”

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Around thirty years ago (WOW!) Stephen Covey released his bestseller book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I still have it and use it as a reference book from time to time. Some concepts he discusses have stuck with me but if I need to see the details I have to pull out the book. One of the things I have recently pondered is our roles and responsibilities in life. Covey says on page 135:

“We each have a number of roles in our lives- different areas or capacities in which we have responsibility. I may, for example, have a role as an individual, a husband, a father, a teacher, a church member, and a businessman. And each of these roles is important.

One of the major problems that arises when people work to become more effective in life is that they don’t think broadly enough. They lose the sense of proportion, the balance, the natural ecology necessary to effective living. They may get consumed by work and neglect personal health. In the name of professional success, they may neglect the most precious relationships in their lives.”

After these paragraphs he encourages readers to develop an individual mission statement to aid in staying on track and keeping our lives balanced. If I looked at my own roles I would be

A follower of Christ (or attempt to do so anyway)
A husband
A son/brother
A father
A grandfather
An individual (pursuing self-interests)
A friend

Several factors can be considered within each category and it’s up to me to figure out the right mix of factors that would make me feel successful in that area. For example, as a husband, I believe I should, above all, love my wife, but also provide as best I can for her well-being, safety, comfort, and security. For me to feel successful, her needs and desires should be met before my own as an individual (further down the list above). I think each of us have this notion of role/responsibility in the back of our minds but we don’t spend enough time really thinking about it and prioritizing what things are most important. My list above is very different than it was a few years ago. All of those things would still be on the list, but I would have added Sunday School teacher, employee, supervisor, leader and mentor. And the more roles on our list, the harder it is to allocate the 24 hours we have each day to feel successful. (We really don’t have 24 hours considering a third of it is sleeping. But that counts toward meeting individual goals for health and rest).

As Covey says we lose our sense of proportion and balance. If we have not given this topic conscious thought and prioritized our roles and responsibilities we often find that we are just “winging it” and making decisions that are inconsistent with the way we want to live our life. There are surely things that we will have to leave out at times and we need to know we’re leaving out things that are less important.

I think having this prioritization in place helps us manage our time better. We know the areas of our lives that are most important to us and when a decision is to be made about activities we are better able to determine where we want to invest that time. Covey discusses time management as well and provides a “Time Management Matrix” (pages 151 -154). There is a lot of info online regarding Covey’s time management concepts; just google “Stephen Covey time management.)

I think the time investment to consciously consider and prioritize our roles and responsibilities is important and will provide many benefits to improve our decision-making and our lives in general.

ENGINEERING ECONOMY

While I was working toward an Industrial Engineering degree back in the mid-1070’s I had to take a class called Engineering Economy. It was a required class for the IE program and was taught in the IE department by a professor whose name escapes me; I think we called him Captain Zoomer (his last name did begin with a “Z”) because he had a reputation of “zooming” us on exams. I found the class to be interesting and useful and could easily see applications for the material down the road. So, what is it? Below is a condensed version of Wikipedia’s definition:

“Engineering economics, previously known as engineering economy, is a subset of economics concerned with the use and “…application of economic principles”[1] in the analysis of engineering decisions.[2] As a discipline, it is focused on the branch of economics known as microeconomics in that it studies the behavior of individuals and firms in making decisions regarding the allocation of limited resources. Thus, it focuses on the decision making process, its context and environment.[1] …As a discipline though, it is closely related to others such as statistics, mathematics and cost accounting.[1] It draws upon the logical framework of economics but adds to that the analytical power of mathematics and statistics.[1]

For each problem, there are usually many possible alternatives. One option that must be considered in each analysis, and is often the choice, is the do nothing alternative. The opportunity cost of making one choice over another must also be considered. There are also non-economic factors to be considered, like color, style, public image, etc.; such factors are termed attributes.[5]”

Some key concepts in this definition include: it is an aid in the decision-making process; it is within the logical framework of economics, but adds to it the power of statistical analysis and mathematics; it provides a comparison to different alternatives to solve a problem; it assists with the allocation of limited resources (I can easily relate to that!).
One of the concepts that I particularly want to explore is that of “opportunity cost.” Below is a definition of that:

“Opportunity costs represent the benefits an individual, investor or business misses out on when choosing one alternative over another. While financial reports do not show opportunity cost, business owners can use it to make educated decisions when they have multiple options before them. Bottlenecks are often a cause of opportunity costs.
Because by definition they are unseen, opportunity costs can be easily overlooked if one is not careful. Understanding the potential missed opportunities foregone by choosing one investment over another allows for better decision-making.
KEY TAKEAWAYS
• Opportunity cost is the return of a foregone option less the return on your chosen option.
• Considering opportunity costs can guide you to more profitable decision-making.
• You must assess the relative risk of each option in addition to its potential returns.”
In other words, opportunity costs are the return you WOULD have received if you had chosen a different alternative minus the return you DID receive with the selected alternative.

 I apologize for all of that but it started me thinking about the “opportunity costs” we incur every day in the choices we make and the alternatives we select. We don’t measure these in dollars and cents, but they are there and I think are measured in terms of happiness, fulfillment, joy, and contentment. It is not unreasonable to think we all have opportunities presented to us every day; opportunities to help someone in need, to share encouragement with someone who is experiencing a difficult time, to be kind to someone who may not deserve it, or to just choose to be happy (people notice that because it seems to be rare in our society).

As in an economic analysis, the first alternative to evaluate is to do nothing. We always have that choice as well and in my experience it is the default selection. We seem to be programmed to take the “path of least resistance” and in most cases that is to do nothing. It is also the one which incurs the most opportunity cost because almost anything we could do in terms of kindness and helping someone out would be more beneficial than doing nothing.

NEW

New is a small three-letter word that brings happy thoughts to mind. It has become popular in our society and almost has a meaning of its own; for example the “new car interior smell.” But I like to look at the dictionary meanings of words that we use so frequently we often don’t remember exactly what they mean. “New” is an adjective and adjectives describe nouns (things) so here are some definitions to consider:
1. not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time.
• not previously used or owned.
• of recent origin or arrival. (a new baby)
• (of vegetables) dug or harvested early in the season. (new potatoes)

2. already existing but seen, experienced, or acquired recently or now for the first time.

• (of a person) inexperienced at or unaccustomed to doing (something).
• unfamiliar or strange to (someone).
• in addition to another or others already existing.
• (in place names) discovered or founded later than and named after.

3. just beginning or beginning anew and regarded as better than what went before

• (of a person) reinvigorated or restored.
• superseding another or others of the same kind, and advanced in method or theory. (“the new architecture”)
• reviving another or others of the same kind.

Over the past month or so we’ve had a lot of “new” in our lives and I’d like to share some of that. Starting with the second definition, already existing but seen or experienced for the first time. New England autumns have been around forever but until this year I had never seen or experienced the beauty myself. I’d seen pictures, but never been. Pictures I have seen and the ones we snapped ourselves just don’t capture the brilliance of the colors, but here are a few examples:

We were told by some of the locals that we hit the leaves at their peak colors, but this year wasn’t one of the best. It was still new and beautiful to me and I couldn’t help but wonder how someone could believe all of this beauty could “just happen” without an intelligent designer and creator.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Ecc 3:11

We’ve also experienced newness in the category of never existing before when our daughter in St. Pete called to tell us she was pregnant again.

IMG_0916

This precious baby is an answer to many prayers and we are so thankful, even if we are a bit nervous about it. I am confident, however, that this will be a beautiful rainbow baby and I’m excited about a new baby, and yes another new experience.

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Ps. 139: 13-14

Phoenix

FATHERS’ DAY THOUGHTS

[NOTE:  THIS POST IS A REPEAT FROM 2017; BUT IT CAPTURES THE THOUGHTS I HAVE REGARDING MY DAD AND MY TWO SONS-IN-LAW AND, IN MY MIND, BEARS REPEATING TODAY AS WE CELEBRATE A DAY TO HONOR FATHERS.  HAPPY FATHERS’ DAY TO ALL OF YOU DADS, BUT ESPECIALLY TO MY DAD AND SONS-IN-LAW]

I’ve heard all my life that “any man can be a father, but it takes a special man to be a dad.” I believe that to be true and I’m fortunate to see three generations of dads in my family right now. I’m blessed to have my dad still with us and I look forward to seeing him later today. I’m confident that anyone who knows my dad could not come up with anything bad to say about him even if they wanted to for some reason. His integrity and character are unquestionable; he is kind and patient to everyone, and if anything would try his patience it would be raising two boys who pretty well covered the spectrum between being okay at times to fighting like cats and dogs at times. Daddy has ALWAYS been a “dad”. Other than my wife, he is still the person I run to when I need advise, or when the car breaks down, or when I’ve had a bad day. He is the man I wanted to emulate as I was growing up and it is still my goal to be like my dad. It is also a goal I realized some time back that I would not achieve but it is still my goal. He and Mama laid the foundation that has held firm throughout the euphoric highs and the devastating lows of my life and I’m so thankful for them and the job they did preparing me for adulthood.

The next generation is me. I know I’m a father, and I think I’m a dad, but truthfully you’ll have to ask my two daughters that question. Nothing makes me prouder or happier than seeing my two baby girls as adults with their own families. When I think back on all the struggles we’ve had over the years and see them now, it was worth it. It was worth every sleepless night when they were babies and the sleepless nights as they emerged into adulthood as well as the sleepless nights when they struggle with life’s problems and crises like we’ve just experienced. My heart breaks when theirs does and celebrates when theirs does. George Strait’s song captured it best: “Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love…. it’s a love without end, amen.”

Now, I get to observe my two sons-in-law as they are dads. It’s a different role for me; a role of observation more than participation. I’m always here for them and happy to discuss anything with them, but I try to keep my mouth shut unless I’m asked. These two fine men are on point now with their “daddyhood” responsibilities and appear to be doing an excellent job. I love these two men and am enjoying watching them as they “daddy” their children.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my heritage. I have very fond memories of my grandfathers- two of the finest men you would ever meet. And they laid the foundation for my Mama and Daddy. I even have faint memories of three of my four great-grandfathers and I can say the same about them. How blessed I am to look backwards to see such outstanding dads in my family while looking ahead to see two more coming through the good times and bad times of being a dad.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Daddy. And happy Fathers’ Day to my sons-in-law. I love you men very much!

JUNE 8

Forty five years ago Robin had just graduated from high school and I had just completed a spring term at Auburn. It was a Saturday, but not just any Saturday. I washed and cleaned up Daddy’s 1969 Pontiac that morning and went to get a haircut early in the afternoon. The photographer was expected to be at Mama and Daddy’s house at 4:00 or 4:30; so I had to be dressed and ready by that time. I didn’t have much to do between getting a haircut and waiting for the photographer to arrive.

Robin, on the other hand, had an extremely busy day. Our florist had booked another wedding the same day as ours so Robin actually had to make flower arrangements and boutonnieres during the day and be dressed and ready for the photographer after he finished at our house. I had nothing to do but think about the wedding; Robin didn’t have time to think about it at all. I think we were both wrecks by the 6:30 start time.

But the wedding was great; nobody passed out, there were no unusual events. Just two kids exchanging vows and planning to live happily ever after. And we have; well, not everything has been happiness. We’ve had our share of hard times; a couple of times that I wondered if we would make it through and still be husband and wife. The odds were not in our favor because of our age (20 and 18) and inexperience. I had not learned how to communicate well (I’m still learning) and we brought some baggage into our relationship as everyone does.

About 10 years ago I had a Christmas present video made for Robin with a dozen or so of our favorite songs and pictures and videos that looked back over our time together. It gave me a great opportunity to look through old photos and videos and reflect on our years together. In the video I recorded a message to her wishing her a Merry Christmas and I told her that my intent was to review our life together and capture the good times and the “not so good times”. But what I discovered along the way was there just weren’t that many “not so good times” and even when there were we had always found a way to work through the difficulties; and that having survived those times had made us even stronger and closer.

wedding day

WEDDING DAY JUNE 8, 1974

 

Steve's iPhone SE 134

PRESENT DAY

 

Robin, when we were first learning to express our love for each other I told you with a song that “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me”; it was true then and just as true today. I told you forty five years ago that I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side and that is still true today also. Thank you for forty-five indescribable years and for the ones still ahead. As long as you are with me I know the future years will be even better than the past. I love you; HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

https://youtu.be/9II2J0n4IuU