Elf In Myself

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” – (1983) – “Every Breath You Take” –  Recorded by:  The Police (Sting)  Composer:  Gordon Sumner

Creepy, isn’t it?  I always thought so.  I felt that way about the lyrics of “Private Eyes” (They’re watching you…) by Hall & Oats.  Who would’ve ever thought there would be something so spooky connected with Christmas?

December for me was the anticipation of my mom breaking out my old Christmas pal, Elfie.  He was an elf doll dressed in a red velvet body suit with a Santa hat on top of a soft plastic head, along with a face garnished with rosy cheeks.  In fact, I believe there was a little jingle bell on the point of his hat.  He was skinny and maybe 8″ tall.  The mittens on his hands were sown together, creating a loop with his arms for slipping over a doorknob, or a thin bedpost.  For this little boy, he not only was a celebratory pal, but he was also the visual symbol that Santa was soon to arrive.  He spent many Decembers with me until one Christmas Eve my dog, Tickey, found Elfie’s plastic head to be a chew toy not to be resisted.  I cried, but forgave Tickey…eventually.

Tickey - 5-18-68 He was 11 months and 22 days old. Lived to be 15. Died Aug 7th 1982. My dearest childhood pal.

Many years ago, when producing radio theater plays for a radio network, I had an idea which came to me like a sled on an icy roof.  While producing my second Christmas radio theater production, I decorated the recording studio in all things Christmas.  When coming into the recording session from a 100 degree July day in Texas, you needed something to help transport the theater of the mind to December.  As I recall, I even had the air conditioner set to a frosty level.  Some of us even had to wear jackets or sweaters in the session.  In honor of my old buddy, Elfie, it seemed appropriate to have a few of his descendants brighten the studio.  Some actors found it intimidating while delivering lines from my script.

Elf On Mic

Of course, all of the above was way before the Christmas craze we now know, and affectionately call, “Elf On The Shelf”.  My granddaughter, Skylar has one.  If you don’t have children, or grandchildren going headlong into the American Christmas traditions, you may not know who Elf On The Shelf is, or what he is rumored to do.  Well, let me enlighten you before December 25th settles upon us.  This elf doll sits on the shelf, the bed, the table, the mantle, ect with eyes wide opened.  At Skylar’s house he surprisingly appears in the most unexpected places every day.  He’s not gazing in amazement at the traditional holiday decor, or the Christmas gifts under the tree, or even the wintry changes in weather.  Nope, not at all.  Just like the lyrics from The Police, his one and only job is to watch…okay, I’ll use the word “spy”, on the children of the house as he reports back to Santa for his big global flight.  The little snitch is all about deduction of potential gifts on Christmas morning.  OUCH!  I guess Santa is too old to be seeing when you’re sleeping, and knowing when you’re awake.  Age has gotten in Kringle’s way when it comes to knowing if you’ve been bad or good.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Now it seems Claus has a built-in security camera in the form of a sneaky elf, who sits on a shelf, keeping a sharp eye on the do’s and don’ts.  Now if that isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is.  At least the fat old man in the red suit wasn’t peeking through the closet door of my bedroom each night of the year.  I guess that’s of nightmare status, like movies called, “Santa’s Claws” or “Santa’s Slay”  Yikes!  Okay, I’ve gone amok.  I apologize.

Elf On The Shelf

Back to sanity now.  I will say Skylar isn’t bothered by her Elf On The Shelf at all.  She’s had about 3-4 years of having his judging eyes on her for a few Decembers.  Frankly, I’m not sure if she is better behaved because of it.  So, in the end, I will say he might not cause lasting psychological scars.  Maybe we will know more in the next 20 years.

Certainly, if you read my last post you might surmise I am one of those Christians who shuns anything in the fluffy & puffy from the Christmas tradition arena.  Well, no, I am not in that category whatsoever.  Like a foreclosure sign in the lawn of a palm reader’s house, you didn’t see that coming.

Putting child psychology aside, the Elf On The Shelf, and St. Nick’s omnipresent, omniscient eyes are truly the opposite of the authentic act of the first Christmas.  Can you guess what the difference is?

Contrary to a popular belief in our culture, I am not eternally rewarded by superior behavior walking in my shoes today.  Let it be known:  I AM SOOOOOO IMPERFECT!  While I’m at it, don’t take Elf On The Shelf as a picture of what a good Christian does.  The Babe in the manger grew up and said we should not judge anyone, or we will be judged.  It’s not the Christian’s job to sit on a shelf and search for others to flub, fall, and falter.  If you’re under a spiritual teacher which pounds that misnomer into your ears, I say run and never look back.  In fact, a better suggestion is to take a pair of your well-worn shoes, nail them to his/her office door with a note which reads, “Walk in these for awhile.”

Sorry for my rabbit trail on thought.  I’m no Scrooge.  Really, I’m not.

As cute as Elf On The Shelf is, he is theologically off.  The child in Bethlehem’s manger Christmas night was a free gift wrapped in swaddling clothes.  You don’t get a free gift because you necessarily deserved it, but because someone loved you enough, thought of you enough, cared for you enough to go before you arrived and purchased it with a tag which reads your name, in whatever language you speak.  Moreover, this free gift, the Baby in the manger, was given BECAUSE of misbehavior, BECAUSE of abuses, BECAUSE of flubs, falling, and falters, without condition.  Let me write that again…WITHOUT CONDITION!  Try that on some stranger.  No, I mean it.  Find a criminal who abused, or injured, or killed your family member, withdraw all you have in the bank, purchase a gift of great price and present it to the guilty law-breaker.  Do I see any hands for a volunteer?  No, I didn’t think so.  Yet, that’s what God, the Author Of The Law did for us all.  Today, we call it…Christmas.   His unconditional free gift is truly the opposite of Elf On The Shelf.

Nativity

For anyone who accepts this gift, who believes the adult Jesus when He said, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” – John 3:16a (KJV), will have the Spirit of His very essence within.  He reminds me inwardly what is best for my life as He writes His law on my heart.  It’s a good thing because I could never have a perfect behavioral stat concerning the Mosaic Law from the Torah found in the Old Testament.

So maybe if you see an elf hanging out on a shelf, it might bring to mind the idea of an elf inside yourself (In the flavor of Christmas trinkets.) whispering wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love.  However, when diving deeply for a close-up excursion, you find the lacking of an elf, but rather, “RUACH” in Hebrew, the “Breath” of God’s nature.

Christmas can always be merry with a cup of good cheer, spiked with Fuel for the race.

“For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9 – (Holman Christian Standard Version)

 

 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

Children of The Mask

“Well, who are you? (Who are you? who, who, who, who?).  I really wanna know (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).  Tell me, who are you?  (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).  ‘Cause I really wanna know.  (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).   – Who Are You? (1978)  The Who.  Composer:  Pete Townshend.

WARNING:  The following is a story based on actual events.

The breeze was slight, but balmy on that October evening of 1963.  The horizon was painted in orange stirred in hints of pink and mauve hues as a velvet black slowly crawled across the sky.  Holding a basket full of Tootsie Rolls, Juicy Fruit gum and candy corn, she eagerly waited in her living room for the next goblin to come knocking.  The festive excitement showed on her face in the glow of the lit Jack-o-lantern on the end-table.  Expecting guests, she wore her finest pearls, kid-leather pumps, complete with a gold charm bracelet.  Yet, this was no ordinary Halloween night in her Greenville, Texas neighborhood.  Little did she know the sinister duo approaching her home from out of the darkened street.  With Buddy Holly softly playing on her cabinet stereo, she heard the frightening voices anew at her door.

“Trick-or-Treat!”  An unanticipated chuckle came out of her mouth as she jumped up off the couch with the candy basket in hand.  As she innocently approached the front door, she could not have imagined the monstrosity awaiting just outside.  As she gleefully opened the creaking door, there, standing perfectly still and silent under the porch-light, were two 3-year old boys staring deeply into her eyes.  With a gasp, she held her hand over her heart while absorbing the sight.  She squinted to see two young mothers standing near the curb watching carefully over the lads.  Her head cocked slightly to one side as she noticed something odd about the boy’s appearance.  There was a lack of costumes.  They both were wearing button up shirts, cuffed bluejeans with Buster Brown lace-up shoes.  They both held simple lunch-sized paper bags in their hands with the top edges folded down.  The two had cheap plastic masks strapped over their faces.  One youngster had a mask of a Teddy Bear, while the other depicted Mickey Mouse.  A couple of seconds passed until she found the breath to speak.

Lady:  Well, hello, you two.  Happy Halloween!  Before I give you some treats, I think I might know who you are.  So, why don’t you tell me your names?  Go ahead, don’t be shy.

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

Lady:  (Giggling)  Yes, I can see that.  But, what are YOUR names?  Let’s start with you, young man.  And you are…?

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

Lady:  (Belly laughter)  I know.  But who are YOU?  I really wanna know.  Come on, tell me, who are you, really?

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

(I wonder if Pete Townshend heard this story and based his lyrics on the two kids of the mask.)

OMA-B W&Me 4yrs old

(L-R:  Woody, our grandmother Opal and me, one year later – 1964).

I will assume the poor lady surrendered and gave my cousin, Woody and I, our candy.  Woody was Mickey and I was Teddy.  My mom remembers it as if it were yesterday.  She, along with my Aunt Ellen (Woody’s mom), just split their sides laughing the entire time.  One thing is for certain, we were obviously not, under any circumstances, going to give up the characters played.  After all, it was Halloween when nobody was supposed to know who was under the mask.  Right?

My granddaughter is very much into masks and make-up.  It must be in the genes.  Each year I am always surprised at what she and her mom creatively put together.  It’s a shame, she’s got such a sweet face.

Mask - Skylar

Masks are nothing new.  Historical records tells the tale.

During the times of the ancient Greeks, the dramatic arts were the pastime of society.  Unlike today, each actor held up a mask on a stick to cover the face as a role was played on stage.  In fact, even today, the classic masks of comedy and tragedy represent drama and the theater in general.

Mask - Drama

Unfortunately, so many of us tend to do the same each day, as if we are playing characters in an amphitheater.  Have you noticed?

Recently, I was at an event where many of my old high school friends were in attendance.  It was a glorious night of hugs, laughter and recollections.  99% of my old friends were more mature, but somehow extremely timeless, some even ageless.  Many of us picked up conversation as if four decades hadn’t gone by.  Then, one of my high school acquaintances was spotted across the room.  This person was born into a family of great wealth.  If this person skinned a knee on the gym floor, the blood would’ve been blue.  We were never close.  There was always an air about this individual.  You know the type.  The kid was from the realm of community royalty and it was played out for all it was worth. (Excuse the pun.)  As a teenager, I didn’t understand it, totally.  It’s not that I didn’t have friends from wealthy families, but this schoolmate was of a different fabric.  My impression was that this person just didn’t have interest in the commoners.  Honestly, I’m not trying to be rude.  It’s the way the air hung over us all when this student walked into the classroom.  The nose was always pointed upward, which could be harmful in the rain.  After 40 years, I truly thought there would be a maturing — a different chemistry –coming from this old acquaintance.  How can you spend four years with a person, yet graduate as strangers?  So, two weeks ago, taking a deep breath, I spoke to this person.  I asked a couple of questions about mutual friends and mentioned how good it was to see this individual once again.  I am sorry to say, there was no change.  This person had plastered the old familiar mask to the skin.  It had become a lifestyle, a mindset.  How tragic.  Frankly, it saddened me.

Have you ever been there?  I mean, knowing someone, yet NOT knowing THEM, the person as they are at home.

During my career in radio, once a week I worked with a particular part-time air personality.  During my time at this one radio station, at midnight I signed off the air Monday through Friday nights.  He worked overnight on Friday nights/Saturday mornings.  We would banter a bit during the shift change just before I left the control room.  Over a two year period, I never felt like I knew the man.  He always “put-on” his air-time persona before he walked into the building.  As frustrating as it was, I always wished that I could’ve gotten to know HIM, the real HIM.  In the end, I only was allowed to meet the mask.

The masks we choose can be the mask of concrete, without smiles, frowns or expressions of any kind.  We use masks to masquerade, as a shelter, an easement or comfort to the one behind it.  The theory is, if they don’t get to know you, you will be safe from whatever they may throw your way.  In this way, the mysterious veil stays in place.  It can be a very lonely place.  Some masks have an etched smile, common in beauty pageants.  If someone wears a constant smile, we may believe life is always perfect for them, without flaw.  If the mask is overcooked in a joyful, party-all-the-time-mold, we may not understand the deeply seeded depression beneath the plastic.  Robin Williams could testify to that concoction.  Maybe it’s a mask of stoicism.  This shield on the face appears as if nothing touches the heart, whether sadness, happiness or enlightenment.  The idea speaks of hardness, emboldened strength or skin made of iron.  In reality, the opposite may be true.  You may be married to a mask, gave birth to a mask, have a cleric who is a mask, or have a boss who is a mask.  It’s not always so easily detectable.

Mask - Me

There’s a biblical instruction on the authenticity displayed in all things, as God sees it.  “But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:37 (CSBV)

It’s not so much how life-like your self-placed mask may be, or how faulty it may be. The crux is to be a synthetic person, or not.  It’s not just about how others see you, or the portrayal you select toward a path of protectionism, but rather how YOU see them.  Ironically, the viewers see your entire mask as you hold it up, but there’s a problem looking back at them.  Most physical masks I’ve ever worn, tended to have slits or tiny holes for the eyes.  Lots of kids trip and fall on Halloween night.  Nothing much in life is ever gained by tunnel vision.

YOU are gifted.  YOU are stunning.  YOU are worth it.  YOU have lots to give.  No need to hide it from us.

If the truth were revealed, we all hide behind something, even if for short periods of time.  If you feel you don’t, it may be proof that you are Teddy Bear or Mickey Mouse.

When transparency directs the day, it might be conducted by fuel for the race.

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:14-16 (NAS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving behind Part of Yourself

“Every time I see your face it reminds me of the places we used to go.  But all I’ve got is a photograph and I realize you’re not coming back anymore.”  Photograph (1973)  Recorded by:  Ringo Starr.   Composers:  George Harrison & Richard Starkey (Ringo).

It’s not just a few in my family tree that has suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s.  However, although each and every one, that I knew, may have forgotten who I am, I’ve yet to forget who they are/were.  That’s vital.  Investing in the lives of our kids and grandkids is a memory deposited into their minds and hearts one drip after another, like a savings account.

555886_4255872002215_1629801309_n

Recently, I wrote about my beloved grandparents, complete with scores of pictures.  The gentleman above is my great-great grandfather Martin from my mom’s side.  I wrote of him last summer.  If memory serves me right, the man was born in the 1840s.  Here it is, 178 years later, and family still speaks highly of him.  What a reminder of how to live out a legacy for future generations.

That’s my granddaughter, Skylar in the cover photo above the title.  September brings Gradnparent’s Day at her school.  I was invited to visit her 2nd grade classroom, sit in an uncomfortable, tiny plastic chair and watch her while in her zone.  Make no mistake, these opportunities are blessed times.  My hope and prayer continues to be that she will remember my love for her.  Someday, as she sees the photographs of us together it will spark memories I have deposited into her mind so she will be able to bring them up to her kids and grandkids.  After all, when I do leave this life, I will be taking my memories of her with me.  It’s a biblical concept.

Skylar with Papa Brown at pre-k stone soup 2014

Grandparent’s Day from Kindergarten class.

The years run by us like a river rushing to the brink of a waterfall.

Skylar 1 year old birthday.

Her first birthday.  (That was a dress her mom wore when she was that age.)

As much as we might want to hold back the floods of time, it’s just not the way God designed it.

Skylar2

One day old and sound asleep.  (When her mom was born, I was afraid to hold her.  It was new to me then.)

What will she remember about me?  Will the memory file in her mind recall good scenes of happiness or spots of darkness?  All of that is up to me, the decision-maker of the forks in the road.  One memory she may not recall is when at two years old, when I had a longer beard laced in grey and white, she secretly told her mom, with some excitement, “Pa-Pa is Santa!”

As a person of faith, a Jesus-follower, she knows that when at my house she will hear prayers and stories about biblical characters.  Whatever happens to my health in the future that is one thing, an item of everlasting, I will leave with her.

If we still talk about my great-great grandfather Martin in 2018, it’s possible the ones to follow after me might well be reflecting on my pictures, recordings and writings in 178 years.  What will I leave behind for them?

Here’s to lots more Grandparent’s Days to come!  It’s up to me to fill-up with fuel for the race.

“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons (and daughters) and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” – Deuteronomy 6: 6-7. (NAS)