Archive for the 'Holiday' Category

It’s Time for a Holiday Fish Tale

A great thing about holiday travel is you get to see your loved ones in their elements. For instance, your brother-in-law fishing in his bass boat on a dammed up portion of the Tennessee River.

“That’s why you never give up!!!” my brother-in-law exclaimed at one point during our excursion.

His motivating statement was not referring to a big catch, however. He and his fishing buddy, Dan, had just freed his stuck lure.

The process had taken about ten minutes and included the use of a “plug knocker,” a weighted tool designed to retrieve lines trapped underwater.

“Plug knocker” wasn’t the only vernacular I learned on Lake Chickamauga (‘mauga for insiders). There was also “Alabama Rig,” a massive, multi-hook lure my brother-in-law used. It resembled a small chandelier.

You could probably create something similar by placing a decent-sized magnet into a kitchen junk drawer.

The rig dangled and shined and spun as it hung on the line. In the water, it definitely looked like a small school of fish.

Alabama Rigs are for experienced anglers. As a novice, I used a spinner reel with something called a rattletrap.

“It took my kids a whole year to learn how to cast the Alabama Rig,” my brother-in-law said.

He takes my niece and nephew fishing frequently. Planning is part of his routine.

During our pre-dawn drive to Chattanooga, TN, I was in the back seat trying to catch some zzz’s. My brother-in-law and Dan strategized up front.

“Let’s start at Turkey Foot and catch three or four to get our confidence up,” he told Dan. He was completely serious.

I have historically considered fishing a game of chance. There are fish in a body of water like there are aces in a deck of cards. You drop your line, and, depending on your luck, you may be a winner.

My sister married into a family where such thinking is illogical at best and sacrilege at worst. To them, fishing involves as much skill as any other sport. It also carries the same hope of glory.

“On any given cast, you could catch the state record,” my brother-in-law informed me with the straightest of faces. “That’s why we come here.”

His nod to fishing immortality came midway through our nine uninterrupted hours on the water.

As with any sport, competition is part of the equation. Stealing a fisherman’s favorite spot on the lake is like sitting in Grandma’s pew at church.

“That guy is going straight for the bar!” my brother-in-law yelled to Dan who was closest to the throttle. “Go! Cut him off!”

Judging by the intensity of the moment, you would think Lake Chickamauga was only a few acres across. It is actually fifty-seven square miles. It was created decades ago by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Intensity is how we caught eighteen largemouth bass on a cold and rainy day in late December. My rattletrap accounted for only one of them.

We threw all eighteen back. For serious fishermen, it’s not always about the destination. It’s often about the journey.

Besides, we didn’t actually need the fish as proof of our success. Who wouldn’t take a fisherman’s word for it?

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. Read more at http://www.kwt.info.

 

Things Kids Can’t Do

Kids – at least my kids – just can’t seem to do certain things.

They can’t turn off a flashlight before setting it down. They can’t put their shoes in the same place twice. And they can’t forget even the slightest promise I make.

“But you said!” they remind me.

This time of year, I’m reminded of another thing kids can’t do: they can’t not believe.

Since the world is bigger than they, kids assume there’s a world beyond them. Hence, the magic of Christmas.

A few years ago, we introduced our gang to The Elf on the Shelf. It was actually the Spanish version, Una Tradición Navideña. Bed, Bath & Beyond was out of the English version. The language barrier wasn’t a problem. The kids got the point.

For those farther behind than I, “The Elf on the Shelf” is a book that came out in 2005. It comes with an accompanying elf doll. Once you read the book, the elf appears in a different corner of the house each day to help Santa keep an eye on things.

Technically-speaking, the elf flies to the North Pole each night and returns to a different place in the house the following morning. It’s fun to explore the house looking for where it landed.

Our elf is a female named Valeria. She has shown up in glass cabinets, on ledges, in stockings and on Christmas tree branches. Once, she appeared on a ceiling fan blade that got accidentally turned on.

We carefully wrapped the fallen elf in a towel and repositioned her in a stable place at a lower elevation.

You’re not supposed to touch Valeria. If you do, The Elf on the Shelf web site gives recommendations to help your elf get its magic back: write an apology, sprinkle cinnamon or sing a carol with your family.

The web site also explains what might have happened if your elf returns from its overnight trip to the North Pole and lands in the same place it landed the day before:

  1. It’s the elf’s favorite spot.
  2. The spot has a great view.
  3. The elf is preparing for a really special surprise the next day.
  4. The elf ate too many cookies at the North Pole and was too tired to move.
  5. The elf did move – work on your observation skills!

The web site makes no mention of a correlation to a parent’s exhaustion level.

No matter the peculiarity of Valeria’s movements, or lack thereof, my kids are still convinced of her magical powers. I can’t make them not believe any more than a grungy mall Santa can make them not believe.

This phrase captures a child’s resilience to doubt, “All things are possible for him who believes.”

In hearing the Christmas story again this year, I was struck by another angle of the impossible made possible.

There were actually two miraculous births: Jesus, born to a virgin, and John, born to a barren woman.

Whether we’re before our prime and scared, or past our prime and sad, the message is the same: God is in the impossible. Believe!

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Read his other Christmas columns at www.kevinwt.com/christmas.

Veterans Day 2018: Military stars shine brightest

“We are privileged to serve,” Texas Air National Guardsman Lt. Col. Ben Schill told me last week. “It’s our calling, our solemn duty.”

He continued, “We don’t need people’s gratitude, but a sincere ‘thanks’ goes a long way, just like in friendship or in leadership. The American people can’t pay us back, but we can’t pay them back for their support either.”

Lt. Col. Schill, known to fellow pilots by his call sign, “Showdown,” has flown F-16 fighter jets for sixteen years, twelve of those in the U.S. Air Force. Duty has called him to Germany, Korea and Iraq.

Today, the Boerne, Texas, resident trains a new generation of fighter pilots at Lackland Air Force Base. He also still flies missions of his own.

Schill recently returned from Afghanistan where he flew roughly fifty “close air” missions supporting American and Afghan ground troops. His time overseas provided clarity on the U.S. military’s role in the world.

“Our power is overwhelming to our enemies,” Schill explained. “We are extremely good at fighting and winning. We have a heritage of skill and expertise that extends back to the World Wars.”

“But we also have a conscience,” he asserted. “The men and women of the U.S. military are volunteers from the citizenry of our country. We have a somber approach to taking life. We don’t take unnecessary life. We don’t cause unnecessary suffering.”

Like a sharp scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon, U.S. Armed Forces excise threats to human life and rights worldwide.

“The meritocracy, the ingenuity and the capability of our military make the United States a tremendous force for good,” Schill stated. “The power of our dollar and the power of our military have brought more prosperity and security than any other forces in history.”

“It sounds jingoistic, but it’s absolutely true.”

I had to look up “jingoistic.” Schill’s Air Force Academy education had left me in some etymological dust. It means “characterized by extreme patriotism.”

You could certainly use the term to describe Schill, a Pennsylvania native, but his devotion isn’t naïve. It’s rooted in an “eyes wide open” view of our times.

“We are fighting an Islamo-fascist ideology that wants to destroy and subjugate faith, freedom and open society. It’s a scourge that devalues human life, particularly the lives of the defenseless, the vulnerable.

“Today’s terrorist leaders are extremely perverse. They’re only interested in power and using people for their own gain. If we pull back, the weak will suffer more.”

Schill pointed me to a timely line by twentieth century English writer G.K. Chesterton: “Men are never more awake to the good in the world than when they are furiously awake to the evil in the world.”

“We live in a miracle called the United States,” Schill believes. “When you witness evil like what continues to transpire in parts of Afghanistan, you realize what good is.”

Under the capable leadership of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the U.S. military is arguably the brightest light atop this shining city upon a hill. (For more on Secretary Mattis, click here.)

Veterans and service personnel like Lt. Col Schill have made it so. They don’t need our thanks this Veterans Day, but it would go a long way if they got it.

 

Kevin Thompson writes a regular opinion column in The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 

Christmas from the other side

“God loves you!” the smiley face stickers say, and He does, but it doesn’t always feel like it. There is still longing, questioning, wondering about how this or that of life will pan out.

“God loves you!” is a good message, but it is incomplete. To interpret life’s challenges, “Satan hates you!” must be part of the equation. It’s a backdrop that makes “God loves you!” significant and meaningful.

If all we have is smiley faces and religious cliches, we end up attributing the dark stuff of life to ourselves: the failures, the brokenness, the despair. We don’t see the enemy at work or the battle at hand.

“There’s something wrong with me,” we’re convinced.

By now we know the story of the manger, that earthy account where greatest becomes least.

We treasure the silent night because it tells us that no matter where we go, the divine has gone before. He is not far off. He is very near. God with us. Emmanuel.

I know these things in my head. I don’t always feel them in my heart, and I’m not sure why.

When it’s hard to grasp what child is this, it is helpful to see Christmas from heaven’s perspective.

You can find the account not in Matthew but in Revelation, Chapter 12. It is quite graphic.

“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.” (verse 4)

Upon delivery, the baby is snatched up to God, while the dragon is hurled down to earth.

The dragon, we are told, is Satan “who leads the whole world astray.” Enraged at the woman, he goes off to make war against the rest of the woman’s offspring. (verse 9)

Tell me: What kind of beast would steal a newborn from a birth canal???

Exactly. One who hates your guts.

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy,” John 10 says, even while angels sing, “Joy to the World.” Now, that’s low. And that’s who we’re dealing with here.

None of us lies outside the devil’s purview. We are all targets of his anger.

“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (verse 12)

Thankfully, we are also targets of the one who came upon a midnight clear. He defends us from accusation.

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of Christ. For the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down.” (verse 10)

The first Christmas turns out to be less silent of a night than we first thought. It was actually a night of great war.

The battle’s victor entered the womb humbly and lived his life courageously. His enemy prowls in pride looking for souls to devour – but only for a time.

That’s the full story. Satan wreaks havoc on the earth, but God sends a rescue. Come, let us adore him.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Bottling Christmas

If there were ever a time to freeze frame time, it’s most certainly the week of Christmas. Bottle the spirit of this season and become a billionaire. Easily.

Nights are cold. Hearts are warm. Days are short. Light strands are long. The anticipation of a gift received is surpassed only by the joy of giving.

If you’re like me, your list of people to buy for is longer than you ever imagined. Six months ago, you had no idea you cared about half of them. Suddenly, like an angel in a dark sky, you want to say thank you. Maybe even I love you.

It’s a season of miracles. You find a unique gift at a department store. You find an affordable one at a boutique. Traffic is lighter than you expected. You don’t mind hearing Carol of the Bells for the 234th time.

You think about families who have too little and people who have no families. You think about bare cupboards and sparse fridges. You consider trees with no gifts and homes with no trees. You even do something about it.

You grab a paper angel off an artificial tree. You fill a shoebox and wrap a gift. You wonder what it would be like to receive them. You remember life is relative and that kids in trailer parks laugh as hard as kids with a view. It’s about joy, not stuff.

You drop a few bucks into a kettle and say a prayer for the man at the stop light. You might also lift one up for his dog. Even animals get prayers this time of year.

You hit a movie, maybe a love story, and the popcorn tastes even better than you remember. You stay through the credits. You don’t dwell on tomorrow’s trials. You don’t dread getting up early to face them. You relax.

You recall the highs of the year but also the redemption in the lows. “I didn’t get that job, that relationship ended, my daughter struggled to carry on, but I can now see why. The smoke has cleared.”

You attend a Christmas Eve service and hear the town’s best voice belt O Holy Night. You close your eyes and it’s Mariah to your untrained ears. You go to dinner afterward. You leave 35%.

You see a child and remember what it’s like to want something so much, you can’t sleep. You try to imagine what that might be for you today. You may even write things down and review them come January.

You hear the year’s best jokes from Uncle Larry. You see Susie’s dance recital on Grammy’s smartphone. You cry with an aunt who retired too early. Her husband of thirty years just left.

You give someone the benefit of the doubt. You notice something redeeming in an in-law. You linger at the table a little longer and give more of yourself than usual.

You ponder joy and its source. You think about the sources you’ve tried and the mixed results you’ve gotten. You question whether a virgin birth really happened, and, if so, why God came so humbly.

You recall the baby who, for the joy set before him, endured a tortuous death, rejected its shame and returned whence he came to prepare a place for us. Joy – to the world and back.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Different reasons for gratitude

“Do you know what ‘gratitude’ means?” I asked my 8-year-old a while back.

“It means you have a great attitude?” he answered, less than certainly. I smiled and assured him that was as good a definition as any dictionary could give.

As I write, two funeral programs stare back at me. Both men, young men, died earlier this year at ages less than mine. I’ve kept their faces on my desk as a reminder: Live this day with gratitude.

Gratitude opens my eyes to a world unseen by a clamoring, grasping nature. It slows me to the speed of appreciation. Here, people return to being fellow God-image bearers, not merely conduits of my advancement.

From this lookout, I bring a different cornucopia of blessings for which I’m thankful:

1. A cup of clean water – A missionary to Peru returned to the States on furlough recently. His most striking culture shock? The sheer availability of drinkable water. I’ve since quit complaining about the taste of tap water.

2. A high in the 70s – The stock market has averaged a 12% annual return a year since 1928. But in how many years has the return been 12%? Two. The average high temperature in Texas may be in the 70s. But on how many days is the high actually in the 70s? Not many. I’m thankful when it is.

3. A disability – We are all disabled in some form or fashion. Some of us more noticeably or more severely than others. But nothing puts life in perspective like a handicap. It seems irrational not to want to send back an illness, an injury, an abuse, a catastrophe. But many “victims” wouldn’t trade their stories. They learned too much. They became too much.

4. A vehicle – It may be sixteen years old with rips in its leather and a busted taillight, but my Land Cruiser still unlocks opportunity. Transportation creates disproportionate returns. It delivers knowledge, relationships, employment and enjoyment well beyond its raw value.

5. A good woman’s love – I can’t put it better than a song by Roots & Wings:

“A good woman’s love is sweet like the summer / It saves you like a shelter just when you need it the most / A good woman’s love is solid like a mountain / Like a road that just keeps winding, it goes on & on & on”

6. The strength to respond – Again from Roots & Wings:

“An honest man would know, once he’s finally found her / He better put his arms around her and never let her go / ‘Cause once you have a woman’s love / Treat her like no other, place nothing else above her / She’ll love you more than you could know / That’s a woman’s love”

7. A child’s resilience – As a parent, how many do-overs could you use? Instruction given more gently, patience given more liberally, perspective maintained more consistently. And yet kids bounce back like a trampoline: ready to forgive, willing to forget, hoping for the best from the people who brought them into this world.

In the words of my spiritual mentors, The Oak Ridge Boys:

“When you look down in those trusting eyes / That look to you, you realize / There’s a love that you can’t buy / Thank God for kids”

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

A Herculean Halloween

Our family has have never really prioritized Halloween. Oh, we’ll make it to a party or two. We’ll hit a few houses (“hit” in the non-vandal sense). But our kids’ costumes have generally consisted of whatever they can find in the dress-up box (race car driver, puppy dog, Elmo) or in the garage (Olaf painted on a cardboard box). It’s the creativity that counts, right?

The real excitement, at least in recent years, has surrounded The Candy Bowl, an annual early November neighborhood football game that my kids throw. To the victor go the spoils: all leftover Halloween candy.

But this year, with Halloween on a Saturday and a daylight savings hour to spare, we decided to splurge.

First, we planned to hand out actual candy instead of fruit snacks. Then, we planned to eat chili and cornbread with some friends. Finally, and most surprisingly, I agreed to spend hard-earned money on NEW costumes (thrift store purchases have occasionally occurred over the years).

Don’t let your imagination run wild. It didn’t mean we were surfing Amazon for three weeks selecting every last accessory. It meant we were in Wal-Mart at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I was pleasantly surprised by the selection.

Our five-year-old son requested Superman. He had worn his cousin’s hand-me-down kangaroo costume to a preschool party two days earlier. Evidently, he was the only non-superhero among the boys in the room. But kangaroos can jump twenty-five feet!?!

His first grade brother requested Captain America. Remarkably, I found both costumes in just the right sizes.

I thought my luck was running out, however, when the nice kid helping me uncovered no “Batgirl” or “Secret Service” outfit. But then, time stood still as I gazed into the eyes of a handsome male model on a costume’s packaging. The costume: Hercules. The size: Adult.

Initially, I struggled to wrap my mind around paying $22.47 for a costume for myself. Last year, I broke my string of twelve straight years as a referee when I bought a pair of disposable white coveralls and went as something of a beekeeper.

But when I remembered that I had to teach David and Goliath the next day at church, I decided to pull the trigger. It was like slaying two hydras with one imaginary sword.

Back home, batgirl became a beautiful butterfly with some face paint and wings we had bought a while back. The aspiring Secret Service agent stuck a pillow under a white button-down, grabbed a walkie talkie and became Paul Blart, Mall Cop. We were set.

When I appeared in mythological form, I was not greeted by fear. My five-year-old said I looked like a girl, my seven-year-old said I needed some fake muscles, my nine-year-old asked, “What in the world is that?” and my twelve-year-old observed, “You’re obviously not Goliath.”

Rrrrr. That’s it. I’m stealing Almond Joys from all your plastic pumpkins! And Hercules is dressing out for The Candy Bowl!!

Well before sunset, the costumed crew trick-or-treated at a few nearby homes before driving to a tract home neighborhood. The subdivision was a land flowing with Milk Duds and Bits-O-Honey, some of which will end up at The Candy Bowl where a  certain middle-aged Hercules plans to reveal his deity to childlike mortals.

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.


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