Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crazy like a fox

Is it just me, or does anyone else suspect that President Obama and the Congressional Dems are laughing up their sleeves the entire time that they condemn the Republicans for supporting the "Bush Tax Cuts" compromise granting another year of federal unemployment benefits in exchange for keeping the existing tax rates in place?

For those keeping score, the so-called "Bush tax cuts" are the nearly decade old reduction in tax rates which brought both a recovery from the last recession (2000-2001), and increased government revenues (though not enough to offset the dramatic rise in spending). They are the tax rates which are in place today. On the other side of the coin, the Democrats got an unprecedented additional extension (is this the 3rd or 4th such extension? I've lost track) of unemployment benefits, paid for by more government borrowing. So, bottom line, Dems got more expansion of government and more deficit spending, despite the nationwide rejection of such things in November, and in exchange the Republicans got the status quo ante? Not a reduction in taxes or spending, but simply an agreement that we all get to keep paying the same taxes we are now and have been for the last 10 years? Tell me again how this was a good deal for conservatives and that President Obama caved? Color me underwhelmed so far.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer shares my opinion that this is the greatest trick the president has ever pulled, getting a 2nd stimulus (cost: $990 billion) through a Republican House while only agreeing to a 2-year extension of the status quo on taxes. Paul Krugman and others who argued for an even bigger federal stimulus package? You're about to get it.

Deer season

I got this photo on my phone this morning. It's my old hunting buddy, William "Bucky" Buchanan next to his prizes. His text told me he also got another buck, which isn't pictured.

This photo brought back a lot of memories of long days afield, typically freezing our tails off in the Iowa snow, waiting and hoping for one of those legendary Iowa deer to walk by in range. I shot the biggest deer of my life during the last deer season I lived there, but it could have been Bucky's. That morning, he decided to hunt nearer to the truck while I made the long hike through the snow toward the back fence and walked up on a herd of does and one giant buck. Since then, he's well up on me, shooting several nice deer the last two years.

I also remember a lot of nights in my Iowa kitchen (with its pink countertop and orange flooring!) cutting meat and packing it to the freezer together. We got a lot of deer some years, not much in others, but always there was a lot of fun.

Congratulations, old friend.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Christmas and Gifts

When I was a kid, Christmas was the most magical holiday imaginable. Presents would suddenly appear under our tree. Empty stockings would be stuffed full, with both enough candy to feed an African village for a day and toys suited to each of us children and our interests. For my part, I strongly suspected Mom and Dad's hand in this, but you couldn't convince me that Santa, or maybe even God, had some hand in making it all happen in just the way it did.

I don't recall there being much comparison of how many each person got, and certainly there were no calculations made as to the relative retail values of each person's hoard. Instead, there was simply joyful celebration of what you had received and the knowledge that your gifts were evidence that you were fully known and deeply loved.

What I have learned since is that my parents (and my mother in particular), both of whom are consummate gift-givers, had put a vast amount of thought and planning into the event. They carefully planned out how much to spend on each child, trying to make sure that each one got not only gifts suited to his or her interests and personality, but even that there approximately the same number of packages to open. All that effort and thought made Christmas morning memorable every year.

Since then, I have grown up and gotten 4 children of my own. I still try to make Christmas just as magical for them as it was for me. We have even kept back a significant portion of the presents, hiding them about the house until Christmas Eve comes (shh!!! Don't tell them!), and they can wake up to more than they remembered being there the night before. And just like my parents, Karen and I take a lot of time selecting gifts appropriate for each child, and trying to ensure that everybody has a similar number to open. We're hoping that this Christmas will be great and that our kids will long remember this year's celebration.

I recount all of this because I learned something yesterday as I wrapped all the presents. I was thinking about how silly it was to try to make sure that everybody has the same number of packages. I sighed to myself, wondering when the kids will grow up and realize that not everyone has the same interests, not everything costs the same, and so in an effort to give perfect gifts for each person, the number might not come out even. Then I reminded myself that while they are getting older, they're all still just kids, and it's still pretty tempting to compare.

In that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me as clearly as He ever has about something in my heart. He said, "When will you grow up and stop comparing what I have given you with what I have given others?" I had to confess right then, because though I am well past the point of wishing I had four boxes of Legos instead of three, I am still prone to comparison and discontentment. I can still look at my wonderfully blessed life: a wife who loves me, 4 growing, healthy kids who still think I'm Superman, a church family to shepherd that loves me in spite of my flaws, a loving extended family, good friends, a warm, dry house, and on and on and still see instead all the things I don't have but wish I did. In that holy moment, I realized that God, as the ultimate Good Father, gives His gifts according to His will, but according also to what is well suited to the person. Just like I would hardly give Polly Pockets to my Nerf sword loving son, or books about space ships to the girl who loves Anne of Green Gables, so God gives His gifts in a way suited to the person. The choice I have to make is whether to receive them with joy, because they are perfectly suited to me, or to compare and wish for a different set, more suited to someone else. This Christmas, I hope I will make the right choice, and then continue making it.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, in whom there is no darkness or shifting shadow. ~ James 1:1