Even after the transparent admission last week that Christmas is “my favorite time of the year,” I must also acknowledge a strong fondness for New Year’s Day.  Not the festive and frolicking New Year’s “rockin’” Eve — although toasting to friends and family both near and far is certainly sweet — but the actual initial day of another year.  Why?  Because I love resolutions!


Yes, yes… I realize that last line prompted many a sigh or perhaps even a “so long” for this post this day.  My apologies.  I do not desire to evoke such a lack of energy or entertainment value.  Note, however, that my relishing of resolutions evolves not from the actual, annual intentions…


… I want to be healthy… exercise consistently… pray more… love others better… be less judgmental… be respectful… eat better… figure this “God stuff” out… work harder… listen more… talk less… be more giving, selfless — less selfish… read a new book… ask for recommendations… ask for directions… read the Bible… be teachable… save more… spend less… go to the spa… hug my kids… teach my children well… get on the scale less… focus more on people instead of things… write a letter… spend less time on Facebook… take more walks… get more sleep… focus on the important things in life… get more organized… take a daily vitamin… work on my abs… quit smoking… get a better job… be nicer… take a vacation… volunteer… read a classic… fast… get out of debt… spend more time with my family… drink less… count my calories… make a new ‘to-do’ list… throw away my old ‘to-do’ list… do away with ‘to-do’ lists… seize the day… be less busy… read the Intramuralist more… stop and smell the roses… appreciate the beauty of the sky… apologize… forgive… forgive again… and again… commit to living wisely… be more humble… be healthy…


Now the reason the sighs and “so long’s” are so often prompted lies within the reality that for most of us, the above are only intentions — as opposed to permanent changes in our behavior.  Our intentions are too often temporary.  Hence, if they are temporary, what’s the benefit of making the resolutions to begin with?


Ah, and therein lies the fondness for the Intramuralist.


What would life be like if we encouraged the above, positive behavior change, but yet, we also allowed ourselves the freedom (for lack of better words) to “screw up”?


In other words, what if we recognized that much of the above is hard? …too hard, in fact.  Much of the above — even with earnest intent and commitment — may be or appear too difficult to do.  With that honest recognition, how would our resolutions be altered?  Would we then simply refrain from ever making them?  Would we give up on the process, noting that while the behavior would certainly be a positive change, that the degree of difficulty makes our pursuit fruitless?  … that with desired consequences unlikely, resolutions are futile and therefore unnecessary?


Friends, as realistic as such sounds, my greater sense is that such logic misses the beauty forded on New Year’s Day.


It is not the actual resolution that possesses greatest value.  True, eating healthy is a good idea; it has great value.  So does taking a daily vitamin, being humble, and appreciating the beauty of the sky.  Those are good things!  But the benefit of the resolution is the growth that comes via the process.  The more we focus on being humble — whether or not we actually, ever, totally and truly get there — the more we focus on being less judgmental and exercising more consistently, the wiser we will be.  The healthier we will be.  And while we may not actually “get there,” the pursuit moves us closer to where we want to be.  The pursuit — and thus the intent — is good.


The reason the Intramuralist so appreciates New Year’s Day is because it’s a clean slate.  Once again, we are given the abstract opportunity to focus on what’s most important.  Yes, we need to give ourselves great grace in the process; know now that we will most likely “screw up” somewhere.  But thanks to the freshness and attractiveness of a clean slate, we are more willing to make the resolutions that we know would be wise to embrace.


Happy New Year, friends!  Time for this semi-humble blogger to hit the elliptical.




the year in review

As we pause to glance back and reflect on the year in review, I’m struck by the events, circumstances and people which made us collectively pause during 2012…


From the London Olympic games to an incredibly expensive American election to the December elementary school shooting…


From the so-called “Arab spring” that turned into the summer of discontent that turned into a seemingly constant state of volatility and unrest…


From the “Occupy” protests to the Super Bowl champion, almost-missing-the-playoffs Giants to Wendy’s overtaking Burger King to become the second best selling hamburger chain…


From the murdering of the American ambassador in Benghazi to the Aurora, Colorado Batman shooting to the recognition of some of the specifics within Obamacare…


From the return of James Bond to Clint Eastwood’s odd, non-talking chair to the “Avengers,” “Hunger Games,” and still-grossing “Hobbit”…


From the books that grabbed our attention, again from “The Hunger Games” to new stories from both Grisham and Baldacci to all those “shades of grey”…


From the overspending in the United States to the overspending in Greece to the overspending in much of the entire European Union…


From the weak attempts to fix the overspending in all of the above — recognizing that spending is always easier than cutting no matter who is currently in charge…


From the arrest of the Pope’s butler to the shocking power of Hurricane Sandy to the inactive global response regarding the ongoing Syrian civil war…


From the additions to our vernacular — via “tebowing” or “kardashianed” — to entire new phrases — such as “Gangnam Style,” “fiscal cliff,” or so-called “legitimate rape” — to a growing supply of JoeBidenisms.


From the downfall of Lance Armstrong to the upstart of Paul Ryan, Gabby Douglas, and Pinterest to the excitement surrounding Corey Booker, Susana Martinez, and Marco Rubio…


From the loss of Whitney Houston, Joe Paterno, and Thomas Kinkade…


To the loss of Davy Jones, Donna Summer, and Dick Clark…


To the loss of Mike Wallace, Nora Ephron, and Neil Armstrong…


To the loss of Chuck Colson, Roy Bradbury, and Rodney King…


And the loss of Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, and Sally Ride…


Not to mention Marvin Hamlisch, Andrew Breitbart, Phyllis Diller, Davy Jones, and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon…


Or George McGovern, Larry Hagman, Helen Gurley Brown, Charles Durning, Jack Klugman, and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf…


It is wise to pause and reflect… to remind and remember… from the good to the bad… from the healthy to the unhealthy… recognizing what we will miss and what we will not… to thus learn from and move forward… prepared for the learnings and growth from the wisdom awaiting in 2013…





Writing from the midwest this day, a funny development occurred.  It snowed.


It wasn’t just a little snow.  It was big…  perhaps not “big” to those living in the mountainous East or West, but here in the heart of America, it was big.  “Big” equates to enough to make life stop (… and to impose upon many the dreaded fear of running out of a gallon of 2% milk).  Yet contrary to popular belief, life stopping is good.


I know, I know.  I hear you…


Do you not realize the plans this all messed up?


I have things to do — important things!


I’m frustrated… bored.  I can’t do what I need to do!


Exactly.  Important things.  Stuff we need to do.


I wonder sometimes, no less, if what we claim to be important is really, truly, somehow lesser…  if we prioritize items and issues and activities that are lesser in value and wisdom than reality — than things of greater value — than things, so-to-speak, of a more enduring “bottom line.”  An insightful friend of mine, who has bravely initiated a ministry designed to generously pour respect into the lives of men and women, often says, “We have to keep what’s most important most important.”  But yet we don’t.  Society doesn’t.  We often get off track…


… in our homes… in our hearts… in Washington… and in the world.


In Washington many of those who contributed to the decades-old pattern of financial fragility are currently seeking to solve it.  But to solve it, they would have to collectively, fairly-permanently agree to spend less money than they take in.  In other words, with a national debt of over $16 trillion, reducing the debt by $2 trillion over 10 years — one of the current options on the table — will make little dent in the debt.  It doesn’t solve the problem.  Solving the problem is what’s most important — not adhering to lobbyist groups that simply attempt to shout loudest for their special, special interest.


Friends, hear me on this, please.  With all due respect, congressmen from both parties and the President each have those special interests in the back of their minds; they have issues and entitlements which they have individually — and often partisanly — prioritized.  As long as those interests maintain an entitled grip on a politician’s motivation, the politicians collectively will not solve the fiscal problem.  If they do not solve the problem, they are not keeping what’s most important most important.  And dare I suggest… if they are not keeping what’s most important most important, they are not serving — at least the entire country — well.


It’s hard, however, to cast stones upon Washington when we maintain similar struggles in our own homes.  In fact, at Christmas, especially, many of us also have prioritized things of lesser importance… like…


… presents over people…

… things over relationships…

… materialism over the meaning of the day…


We all do it.  We all struggle with keeping what’s most important most important.  And it matters not how brilliant nor intelligent nor worldly or wealthy we are; the struggle remains real.


And so sometimes, perhaps, in order to make us slow down — to make us pause and reflect upon what means most — we are given opportunity — if we are humble enough to actually “get it” — to re-prioritize what’s most important.  Hence, sometimes, life stops.


Sometimes it even snows.




my favorite time of the year

Borrowing from none another than Kenny Rogers…


How wise the wise men must have been

To find the Child in Bethlehem

He lives again and draws us near

Christmas time is here.


A tail of love that never dies

The laughter in the children’s eyes

The child in me is always there

Christmas is my favorite time of year.


The mist of wonder lies under my tree

The gift of memories is waiting for me


The day will come and soon depart

The spirit stays to hear my heart

With love for people everywhere

Christmas is my favorite time of the year.


Christmas is my favorite time of the year…


Yes… with love for people everywhere… recognizing that all sorts of varied emotion accompanies this day.


Merry Christmas, friends.  May we always focus on what’s most important.




… with great peace and an even greater joy…



making our lists

We’re making our lists and checking them twice.  Maybe even 3 or 4 times.  There’s so much to do!


Yes, isn’t that the irony of the season?


As the holiday has evolved — knowing evolution often distorts meaning and potentially reality — perhaps our most significant progression of the meaning of Christmas is that we’ve centered so much of the meaning around what we are doing as opposed to who we are being.


What do we do?


Hang the stockings with care.

Fill them.

Roast chestnuts (ok, so maybe not really… remember the distortion of reality…)

Wrap presents.

Wrap more presents.



Call our mothers.

Dress up like eskimos.

Run to the grocery.

Stand in line at the post office.

Finish up work.

Purchase one more gift card.

Deliver those gift cards.


Eat some more.

And more.


The point is that we focus on the doing.  Truth is, that seems our human nature.


As the events of the past week have unfolded — as we’ve grieved the horror of happenings in Newtown, Connecticut — in our passionate, admirable need to respond — we continue to focus on what we can do…  establish tougher gun control laws… put guns in every school… invest more in mental health… tinker with the 2nd amendment… etc. etc. etc.  The point is that it seems our innate human response is to attempt to do something… as if we, yes, we, can control it.  We can stop this from happening if we only do something.


It is a far more ambiguous, intangible — albeit rewarding, growth-oriented — practice to focus on who we are… who we are and what we were created to be.  It takes more time; it’s not as black and white; it’s less legalistic.  It also causes us to be still… to pause, reflect, and take both ownership and responsibility for our individual strengths and weaknesses, our right and wrongful thinking.  Newsflash, friends:  we each have all of the above.


That’s hard to wrestle with.  It is challenging indeed, for example, to actually wrestle with what caused that gunman to snap, mercilessly murdering those innocent children.  What was in his head?  Where was the wrongful thinking?  How has society contributed to that?  Where have we morally accepted what is not good and true and right?  Where is my wrongful thinking?  Where am I not acting and behaving and thinking as wisely as I should?


In order to answer those questions accurately, I need to be still, wrestling with the rawness of the answer.  Wrestling, though, often makes us uncomfortable.  Hence, we jump into doing — because doing is actually easier than being.


The coming of Christmas is not about candles and cookies nor even chestnuts nor children.  The meaning of Christmas centers around the incarnation of a God who loves us because of who we are — not because of anything that we do.


Who are we?  Persons with individual strengths and weaknesses, even right and wrongful thinking… persons tempted to do.




a hope that lasts

Still 4 days later, it’s hard to focus on something else…


We could focus on the number of shopping days left, but they pale in comparison.


We could focus on solving the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but that, too — even with its almost unimaginable depth of debt — pales in comparison.


We could focus on all sorts of things; each would pale in comparison…


… except maybe…

… just maybe…

… the meaning of Christmas.


I realize to many the story is simply too old.  A baby, born in a manger, in swaddling clothes with no room in some ancient inn… what exactly are “swaddling” clothes, anyway?  Let’s face it:  the story is old.  The meaning, however, is timeless.  In the aftermath of Connecticut, when we continue to rush to justice — when we definitively aver that these horrific events must never happen again, when we find some solace in our own, at least perceived resoluteness — we need a lasting message… a truth that is timeless.  No speech nor warm wish, nor legislation, movement, or monetary investment compares to the lasting, old meaning of Christmas.


That babe — born some 2,000 years ago — is said to be the only being ever capable of fully and ultimately ushering in peace and bestowing goodwill to men.  Fascinating in the study of world religion, no other proclaimed deity has fulfilled the profound prophecies of Jesus Christ.  No other faithful figure has made the claims he’s made and been able to back them up.  For no other have the words come true.


Peace.  Goodwill to men.  Lasting.  Many have tried to find a solution, to offer healing, to keep bad stuff from happening again — seeking means, movements, and monies that would at least put a better-feeling Band-Aid on those evil, earthly events.  The motive seems somewhat pure; we don’t want to hurt anymore; we don’t want innocent others to hurt either.  But none are fully capable; none carry a lasting, effective meaning.  Hence, no movement or legislation, well-intentioned as it may be, is capable of being more than a so-called Band-Aid.


When I think of the 20 kids who died in Connecticut, I need to be reminded of something I know will work… that I know will be an authentic solution.  I think of peace.  I need to know it’s available.  I think of goodwill… to all men.  I need to be encouraged to generously offer that goodwill.  Hence, I need a lasting hope to hold on to.  Why?  Because nothing temporary makes sense.  Even though potentially good and well-intentioned, “Band-Aids” are temporary.  And while temporary may seem necessary and helpful and may appease our passions for the moment, we forget that underneath the Band-Aid only exists a deeper scar.  My desire for each of us is not to adhere what covers up the wound — but rather, what wrestles with the deeper scar.


Did we cross some sort of line on Friday?

Did society finally go too far?

Did we pass a point of accepted immorality that no longer we can stand?


And better yet, did Friday’s horrific act finally get our attention?


Ah, great discussion… one that no doubt we would each benefit from should we engage in respectful, listening-prioritized dialogue.


My sense is no new lines of morality were crossed.  Instead, arguably, our senses and souls have been heightened with a renewed awareness.


For Band-Aids?


No, for a hope that will last.


Thank God.


Thanks for the coming of Christmas.




the misplaced comma

As I was pulling out and dusting off my fairly impressive collection of Christmas music — ok, wait; that is total “impression management.”  It’s actually, almost a bold face lie.  Sorry.  I mean, yes, my collection is impressive, but the truth is (confession time, friends) that I listen to Christmas music all year round.  I know, I know… many of you wish the triumphant tunes were confined to December days only — perhaps some of you will even pause your loyal readership for a few weeks — but there’s something about singing “peace on Earth” and “goodwill toward men” that puts me in a good mood all year long.


Recently, though, as I was again humbly, vocally accompanying the recorded artist on the CD (fathom that idea), I stumbled upon an error in the way contemporary culture sings a song.  In fact, the words are still the same, but a singular punctuation mark has been moved; it profoundly changes the meaning of the song.  Yes, I uncovered the misplaced comma.


We sing “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.”


The song, however, was originally written as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”


Notice the placement of the comma.  That comma makes all the difference in the world.  We have changed the meaning of the song.


When we sing…


God rest ye, merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Savior

Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy!


… sometimes I think we act as if everything around us is happy…  like we are always happy.  “God rest you, happy people.”


Well, sometimes life isn’t happy.  In fact, a lot of days a lot of us have tough stuff to handle.  Life isn’t always happy, and a solid faith doesn’t necessarily make us merry.  While we may be able to tap into an inner joy and unparalleled peace — perhaps, something related to that peace on Earth — we’re still not always happy.  Christmas time, especially, is often a painful struggle for many.


Yet when we examine the misplaced comma and return it to its rightful place — “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” — and then we acknowledge that the 15th century carol, written in a minor, melodiously dark-sounding key — we see that the writer was not simply sitting back, believing it was so easy to be happy and merry.  The writer is encouraging each of us to rest in God’s merriment — in the joy available via the creator of the world — regardless of the darkness… regardless of that minor key.


I’ve heard it said that “if Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”  There’s a part of me that believes there’s a lot of truth in that.  Look at us running around these days.  We’re working and wrapping and buying and baking.  We’re spending so much time preparing for Christmas that we’re almost avoiding the meaning.


Hence, the encouragement to rest.


No matter what.


Resting in the merry.




diminishing Christmas?

As the shopping days dwindle and the ole’ familiar carols continue to play, I’m struck by a continuous topic in some circles this time of year:  is there a war on Christmas?


As posted previously amidst these pages, the Intramuralist isn’t into identifying something as war that actually is not.  In the past year we’ve seen the rhetorical rants regarding wars on women, teachers, unions, and coal, for example.  Truthfully, friends, the war terminology seems most employed when the goal is to drum up passion for like perspective.  War is war, and in my semi-humble opinion, it should never be treated as something it is not.


There do exist movements, no less, in which people work to diminish impact and influence.  Again, these cannot logically be equated with combat.  Therefore, the question this season is not whether there exists military combat on Christmas; the question is whether there exists an intentional movement to diminish the impact and influence of the Christian holiday.


We’ve discussed, past, eye-opening examples…


… such as in 2002, when New York City schools banned nativity scenes from their December decor but allowed for Hanukkah menorahs and Muslim stars and crescents…


… or how each year retailers, such as Sears, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, or The Gap have either avoided or been accused of avoiding the use of the word “Christmas,” opting instead for “holiday” and/or the watered-down “winter.”


The examples continue this current season…


… in Newhall, California, where residents of a senior apartment complex were originally told by building staff that they had to take down their Christmas tree because of the presence of Christ’s name in the phrase, “Christmas tree”…


… in Santa Monica, where a large-scale nativity scene has been publicly erected for the last 60 years, but atheists have long worked to halt any public, religious sentiment.  After a year long battle via courts and complaints, the Santa Monica City Council finally voted to prevent any and all religious displays on public property.  (Notice the diminished impact.)


… or even overseas… where in Brussels, Belgium, they omitted their popular city Christmas tree exhibit this year.  Why?  There were concerns that the local Muslim population would find it “offensive.”


Yes, in this sensitive, seemingly uncanny age of correctness, many institutions still choose to address the Christmas controversy (not combat) by paying equal attention to other seasonal holidays.  Typically, this means ample consideration of Hanukkah for those who are Jewish and Kwanzaa for those who are African-American.  What I find unique about these celebrations is the comparison of the holidays…


Factually speaking, Hanukkah refers to 165 B.C. when Jewish rituals — which had been previously outlawed — where reinstated as the Jewish people managed to drive the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and reclaim their temple.  Hanukkah is the celebration of this victory; previous to the late 1800’s, Hanukkah was considered a minor holiday.


Kwanzaa, on the other hand, is factually more of an ethnic as opposed to religious holiday.  It was developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way to celebrate and promote the African-American culture.


Christmas, no less, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, in whom hundreds of prophecies were consequently fulfilled.


In other words, in this uncanny age of correctness — with of course all due respect — when we attempt to pay equal attention to all holidays, we are comparing reclaiming a temple with honor for an ethnic heritage with the birth of the savior of the world.


As said at the onset of this post, I don’t believe there is any so-called ongoing war.  I don’t.  But it certainly does seem that the excluding of acknowledgement and the equating of holidays is an attempt to diminish the impact that if true, the savior of the world would undoubtedly hold.





Thank God no matter what happens.  No matter what.


Are any of us stuck on that “thank God” part?  I often remember those historical words… that the basic reality of God is plain enough.  We just need to open our eyes and yes, there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see:  eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.  It’s there.  It’s all around us.  It’s real.  And it’s authentic.


What happened, though, was this:  people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God — refusing to worship him — they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.  They have pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.  Many of us have then traded the glory of God for something lesser.


Something lesser.


And what’s lesser gets in the way of us giving thanks…


… in being intentional in our gratitude.


Hence, today I give thanks for _____________________.


And ____________________.


You fill in the blanks.  Pick something.  Pick something to give thanks for.


Today I give thanks with a grateful heart… for an abundance of blessing… both near and far… both big and little… both silly and serious…  so much of which routinely blows me away… by taking that long and thoughtful look.


Blessings to each of you.  Happy Thanksgiving!


May we each be intentional in our thanks.


Respectfully…  always,



teaching our children well

On Memorial Day weekend, the Intramuralist salutes our veterans and those in active duty.


I’d like to say the rest of us are empathetic.  I’m not sure that’s actually true.


You are brave.

You choose sacrifice.

You know loss.


When those 3 aspects are combined, most of the rest of us pale in comparison…


The bravest person I know is my 8 year old son.  Having survived a life-threatening illness as an infant — in addition to the repair of a congenital heart defect — he continues to know no bounds and uniquely encourages the multitudes, not allowing his disability to equate to a limitation.  He both humbles and amazes me.


The person I know who has most willingly chosen sacrifice is one of my dear college roommates, Sara.  Sara is a determined Air Force Academy graduate who had ample, excellent opportunities awaiting.  She and her husband have instead chosen to raise their family — and live their entire adult lives — ministering to a needy, Asian people group, void of authentic hope.  Sara’s greatest goal is to love the people there well, even though her extended family (and most modern conveniences) remain thousands of miles away.


In regard to knowing loss, let me sympathetically submit that I have sadly known many who have known gut-wrenching grief — those who have lost spouses, those who have lost children, those who have lost a friend or family member who have meant the absolute world to them.  I cannot imagine the depth of the heartache.  Yet amidst the agony, I’m uncertain whether any compare to those who have witnessed multiple peers perish beside them.  At any given moment, the thought has to go through your head, “that could have been me.”  To see that loss… to experience that loss… to actually feel that loss… I would think it would significantly impact your view of the world, your grasp of reality, and your level of gratitude.


For this Memorial Day weekend, the primary activity of the Intramuralist household is competitive baseball for our older 2 boys.  Today, in fact, in my role as an assistant coach, I watched our middle son’s team struggle through what they deemed a painful loss.  A few handled their despair somewhat less than maturely.


With my son in the car on our prolonged drive home, I asked why the drastic change of his countenance.  “I hate to lose,” he muttered.  For an 11 year old boy, I understand.  I also understand these young men don’t comprehend real loss.


“Son, perhaps it’s time to instead talk about gratitude,” I smiled subtly.


To those who are brave, who have willingly chosen sacrifice, and who know loss like no other, thank you.


Thanks for teaching us well.  A blessed Memorial Day to you… to your families, too.





(Originally published on Memorial Day weekend 2010.  My boys are now 15, 13, & 10.  P.S.  They still aren’t all that fond of loss.)