Are You Ready for Christmas?

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This has got to be one of the most common questions of the season, and yet it can be one of the most misinterpreted.  Some possible translations of this include the following:

1.  Is all shopping complete?

2.  Cooking /Baking is all done?

3.  All gifts are wrapped and cards are sent?

4.  House is decorated?

5.  Mind is completely free of clutter and focused on the holidays?

6.  Are you ready for the spiritual meaning of the season?

Thanks to the commercialization of the holidays, most people automatically think about the material side of things when this question is asked.  Primarily, is all the shopping complete, including groceries?  I have caught myself in the same quandry.  Do I have gifts purchased for everyone?  What on earth am I going to cook?  Is the house clean?!  With all the hubbub surrounding the season and the pressures to out give and out shine, I myself have struggled to remember what it is all about.

As a child, we typically went to be with extended family for Christmas.  In my family, there were many cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.  My mom always felt the need to buy something for everyone, no matter how distantly related, and this brought much stress upon our family.  Even at the last minute, she was runnning to the store because she forgot someone.  And every year, she lamented over the amount of money she was spending.  In other words, Christmas was fun when it finally came, but everything leading up to the actual day was nothing short of misery.  For mom, the misery continued even after the gifts were exchanged.  She always wondered if what she purchased was good enough for so and so, or if that person liked it.  Then there came the comparisons.  It was like a competition between the sisters (in-laws included).  I don’t believe anything was ever spoken, but it was there none the less.

Having grown up in this environment certainly had its effects on me.  I still sometimes feel the need to purchase something for everyone, or at least everyone who is coming over, but I don’t feel that I must spend a fortune on them.  I am also traumatized when people walk in and find my house a certified disaster area; however,  I am overcoming this to some degree 😉

This year has had a different effect on me though.  Cynicism has crept in. To some extent, I don’t care if I buy any gifts at all!  I do want to shower my kids and husband, but beyond that, it really doesn’t matter.  In fact, I don’t care if anyone comes over or not.  I am happy just to spend the day with my immediate family.  This has led me to rethink the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Just what should we be ready for anyway?   The History Channel has an indepth account of all the different cultures and their varied beliefs and practices concerning this holiday.(http://www.history.com/topics/christmas) There are traditions celebrating winter solstice, Yule and the promise of livestock, Oden, Mithra and Saturnalia.  Finally “Pope Julius I chose December 25 [to celebrate Christmas]. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival”  (History Channel). And the celebration goes on. 

Despite its questionable beginning, Christmas to me is about the coming of the Messiah.  God the Father chose to intervene on our behalf and sent His son to be born of human flesh.  This gift of love was to become the greatest sacrifice a father ever made.  Jesus Christ not only came to share the Father, in human form, with mankind and show him how to live in a fallen world, but He came to rescue the souls of men from an eternal death by taking man’s sins upon Himself and paying the penalty for it.  That penalty was death on a cross, and God the Father was pleased to allow His Son to suffer this death in order that His prized creation might be redeemed and reinstated as heirs to the kingdom.  Now that’s something to get excited about!  The thought that God the Father loved me so much that He was willing to allow His own Son to die on my behalf is mind boggling!  That truly is love.

“Are you ready for Christmas?”  “Are you ready for Christ?” is a better question.  This season isn’t about who we can impress or how much we give, because we can never outgive God who gave the greatest present of all.  In fact, all we can really do is fall before Him and say, “Thank you,” over and over again.  It is difficult to ignore and/or overlook past indoctrination and current hype, but if we truly want to be prepared for Christmas, we must!

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Those who can, teach. And those who think they can, teach.

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There once was a joke going around about doctors and their qualifications. The joke went something like this: Q: What do you call a doctor who barely passes his exams? A: Doctor! The same is true for teachers. What do you call a teacher who barely passes the state exams? A teacher. And the sadder tale is that those people are held in the same esteem as the ones who successfully acquired their credentials and are more competent.

I have been witness to various degrees of experience, talent, and ability. What I have observed is that those who barely get their foot in the door are just as apt to boast as those who have a right to. Only those in “the know” actually know the difference…well, the students know also! When I first began the process of accreditation, I was shocked to hear of people who had tested five or six times and still hadn’t passed. All I could imagine was that the test was truly a monster. I asked one of the professors about this, and she told me that most passed the first, or at least the second, time. I began to breathe again. Then I noticed a pattern. Those who kept testing and re-testing weren’t doing very well in any of their classes. In fact, the more I learned, the happier I was to see them fail. I didn’t want someone teaching my children who could barely read or write him/herself.

Now I know there are those who simply cannot test due to anxiety, and those people are excused. They have transcripts proving that they know the information. I am talking about the others who have a deep desire to work/play with little kiddies and think that that makes them a qualified candidate for teaching. If that is the underlying motivation, I say, “Go work in a daycare!” or “Have a few of your own!” Then there are the ones who are overly engrossed in subject matter. They graduate with a degree in a subject that is probably totally irrelevant to surviving in the real world, and so the only option left to them is to teach that subject. Again, this leads to major problems because humans have not been calculated into the equation. There has to be both the desire to teach individuals, care for them, nurture them, AND knowledge of subject, classroom management, etc.

The real life scenarios I have witnessed with these two distinct groups are scary to say the least. (Keep in mind there are thousands of qualified individuals in between these two spectrums, and I greatly appreciate their talents and sacrifices!) On one hand, the barely there teacher somehow manages to squeak through the system and ends up needing a job. Scenario 1 – She gets a job and (heaven help us!) begins to instruct our own children. It has pained me to see notes come home misspelled or hear of a teacher who didn’t know the background information concerning a topic. Scenario 2 – She doesn’t get a job and begins working in other avenues. I have witnessed this too, and what is upsetting is knowing of their need for guidance, and dare I say mentoring, but the people (heaven help us again!) have a degree and know everything there is to teaching; therefore, those individuals become instruments of deconstruction rather than construction.

The other spectrum includes people who would really rather not deal with the public, but because there is no other way to make a living, they are forced to. Some of these people come across as being insensitive to the needs of the students, and quite frankly, arrogant. The students are merely receptacles who are there to receive the auspicious wisdom of the sages. These sages in turn are not seeking to impart wisdom in a usable manner, or even in a manner that all may obtain it; they merely expound upon their subject with utmost authority, trodding upon the backs of those who do not grasp it and exonerating those who do.

As I mentioned earlier, I have witnessed both extremes and my goal is not to diminish the role of teacher; I am one! In fact, teachers can be some of the greatest encouragers to students. There are many teachers in my past that I continue to look up to because of the influence they had and the inspiration they placed in my life. The bottom line is that there are those who really shouldn’t teach because they simply do not have the gifting, or at the very least, they should seriously be honest about their shortcomings and be open to instruction and guidance from others. And the ones who are only concerned with subject matter need to realize that students matter!

The Road Not Taken

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By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In class this morning we studied lyric poems.  The first was A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns and the second was The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.  The best thing I believe that  came from this lesson was to see the students not only analyze the poetic devices found in the poems, but to make life applications.

Some questions that we considered were “When do we find ourselves standing before a crossroad?”  “What are some of these choices we face in life?”  The students were quick to point out a lot of the challenges they face every day.  For example, to follow the crowd or not,  the use of alcohol and/or drugs. They even considered the consequences of walking a different path.  Some of these included being labeled and having no friends.

The courage to take a stand starts with wisdom.  And wisdom comes when we stop and consider the outcome of our choices.  As the students discussed these issues, my hope was that they would look more carefully and fully at the choices before them and the results of those decisions.  The last line of the poem is truly the crux.  And I…I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.