Category Archives: Church

A Seasonal Greeting, Sent Your Way

It’s a well-known fact to members of my family that the season of Advent in the Christian church is my absolute favorite. I don’t know how that sounds to readers at home: Someone having a favorite liturgical season? It’s commonplace to like fall, winter, summer, or spring. But if you ask me, my favorite season takes place in the four weeks that lead up to Christmas Day. Maybe it’s the fact that the color of Advent is purple (my favorite, year round.) Or perhaps it’s the lessons that lie beneath the simplicity of the four words associated with this season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

In the church I attend, the pastor centers his weekly sermon around the corresponding word. It’s a way to formulate a meditation for the congregation to take with them throughout the weeks as we endure mall madness, Christmas planning, possible travel, and holiday cooking. But these meditations do more than calm my feverish excitement for caroling, gift-giving, and tree decorating. They’ve managed to sweep me away to a Christmas that isn’t about the secular interpretations at all. Where the material gifts become obsolete, and the stories which define what exactly it means to be a Christian flood back to me.

**I have to credit this next epiphany to my step-dad, who’s the most prominent spiritual advisor in my life.**

Christmas isn’t about us. None of it is about us. The attitude of this more grounded Christmas is: we should remember that God will take care of us. Productivity is encouraged, but what we think we need may not be what God knows we need. So while we may believe what we absolutely need is an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, God may be there to lecture us this season just to say, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

A Christmas Story, in which the main character, Ralphie, asks for one thing for Christmas: his very own BB gun

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The Power of Influence

Yesterday, I ran into a childhood friend who I knew through martial arts several years ago. It was only by chance that he ended up behind me in the Bob’s check out line at 8 pm on a Monday evening. As I stood in line with my mom, I caught a glimpse of the familiar face, and my head immediately flashed to what Seinfeld would have said to the social awkwardness of reconnecting with an old acquaintance who may or may not remember you.

As I was debating whether to turn around and greet him, or send a fleeting glance over my shoulder, I heard behind me: “Amanda?” I reeled and beamed with delight at the memories that instantly flooded back. We chatted, shared stories, and laughed, as our poor mothers were left with only a slight knowledge of who their child was talking with. In that moment was that simplistic joy, that is pure, and often sought.

I found strangeness in the fact that this old friend who I hadn’t seen in three years and would be entering his senior year in high school, had not changed one bit since I last saw him. But my mom pointed out later that both of us had undergone great physical changes, which is most likely why the mothers were at a loss for recognition.

My only logical explanation for this is: the people dear to our hearts, or those who earn special roles in significant points in our lives, never alter. Physically and emotionally they may grow as people, but through my eyes he was still the 8th grade boy I knew as I was completing my last year of elementary school.  This begs the question: How much of what we do influences others around us? Personally, I don’t think we realize how much influence we have in our environment.

Me soloing at an old demo,other members of the demo team (including C.J.) kneeling around

I didn’t realize how much of a friend I had lost when C.J. quit martial arts for other sports, and it hit me when I ran into him yesterday. Back then, we had bonded over the shared secrets and a mutual understanding of the other’s situation, in a time when the majority of our other friends were quitting to begin their teenage years with a “clean slate” so to speak. Being the last left of our group of friends, we had a memorable connection, up until the time when he quit, when we then lost touch. Now that we’ve reestablished contact via Facebook, it will be interesting to see what’s changed in terms of UMAC then and now, and how we’ve changed since we were kids.

And of course, as someone’s influenced my life, I’ve influenced  another’s. I recently found out that a friend (with whom I’m afraid to say I’ve lost consistent contact) had been explaining to her parents how she wished certain aspects of her life were similar to mine. I was unaware that she had been admiring my privileges, and the way I live my life, from afar. I was flattered, but felt blind that I hadn’t even noticed or acknowledged my ability to live my life as someone’s role model.

As I’ve completed my freshman year of high school, I’ve seen how precious life really is. A senior who I didn’t know passed away due to a speeding accident — he wasn’t even the one driving. I’ve seen students come together and take hold of their ability to positively influence their community, and raise thousands of dollars for charity, and much more. On Friday I’ll be flying out to South Dakota for a week with some other high schoolers and several mentors from my church. We’ll be going to an Indian reservation called Pine Ridge, located in South Dakota. You may have heard rumors about it being one of the toughest places in the west, known for its third world style of living, and multiple gangs. We’ll be building houses and aiding the people, hopefully having a positive impact on their lives.

I think back to a favorite Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life, and how George Bailey gets a peak into how life in his small town of Bedford Falls would be different, had he never been born. I won’t spoil the movie for any of those who haven’t seen it (although I do highly recommend it), but the moral of the story is this: Our lives are valuable, and the amount of influence, known or unknown is truly incredible.

Good Deeds Indeed

DollarAbout a year  and a half ago, I was in church on a Sunday morning, probably catching up on some precious minutes of sleep that had most likely been lost in the rush to get weekend homework out of the way. None of my friends happened to be in service that day, and I had officially lost interest. The only part I remember coming out of my daze for, was the Children’s Message. This is mainly because Larry, a churchgoer who happened to be giving the sermon that day, pulled a handful of dollar bills out of his suit pocket. He challenged the kids to go out and change as many people’s lives as they could with the one dollar he was about to give each of them. I suddenly wished I had embraced my inner child earlier, simply because I wanted a dollar. Now that he had my attention though, I listened to the actual message. He had a good point, about being the change we wish to see in the world, and charity.

After the service, Larry came up to Rachel and me, and gave us both a dollar. “Even though you may be too old for the Children’s Message, you’re never too old to change people’s lives,” was the jist of what he told us. Then he promised he’d check in with us in a few weeks. He never did, which may have been for the better, seeing as Rachel’s dollar went M.I.A. soon after. My dollar, however, has sat at the computer for nearly two years.

It’s wrinkled from my thoughts, which work their way down through my fingers, then mold the dollar into a paper crane, again and again. For every idea I’ve had that I’ve never taken action on with this dollar, a new bird emerges, then unfolds as the idea just doesn’t seem to change enough lives. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve said to myself: “Oh what can you do with a stupid dollar? Nothing! That’s what.” I’ve searched the internet high and low for an idea that might strike some sort of imaginative chord in me, yet turned up empty.

Let’s come back to the dollar in a minute…

Recently, I was faced with a tough decision. Life’s full of them, but this one hit home. Either I march with the Masco band for the Topsfield Fair Parade, or I walk in the Pancreatic Cancer Walk that we’ve walked in the past two years. They occur at the same time, on the same Saturday morning the first weekend in October. Two things I love: music and family, come into play here. But then I think about what it all boils down to. I love to play my instrument, and I do want to play in the band, but I’ve raised so much money for cancer research so far, it’s just such a great thing to reach out to help others. And this makes me think of the dollar. What path can I choose that will change the most lives?

And so the dollar remains taped to my computer, not to go into a homeless man’s pocket, or even a cancer fund. But to inspire me to change others’ lives. For me to be the change I want to see in the world. To simply be the dollar.