Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Special Presentation..."Shipwrecks at the Stable...Stories from A Ragamuffin Christmas"

Hey everyone...
I did a live broadcast tonight for the book. It was a one-hour special entitled "Shipwrecks at the Stable...Stories from A Ragamuffin Christmas" and it's the story behind the stories that make up A Ragamuffin Christmas. Click the link and give it a listen!
Shipwrecks at the Stable...Stories from A Ragamuffin Christmas"

The Emptiness of Christmas...


I'm going to pose a question for the sake of stirring some hearts and maybe making some folks think.
I hope you won't rip into my Theology here because I'm not stating this as a definitive...merely as conjecture.
Jesus was "Very God of Very God". God Himself in the flesh of man. We know that God is a Triune Spirit...3 in 1. So while Jesus, the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit all exist simultaneously in one Being, they also exist separately of each other at times for the purpose of performing the works of God. It's confusing.
When Jesus came to this world as all babies do, He was God Incarnate...God in the Flesh. He was fully God while also being fully Man. He never gave up His deity, but chose to not exercise it during His time on earth except where directed by the will of His Father.
So...while Jesus was physically present here on earth, was He absent from Heaven?
I say yes. And I have thought often about the emptiness of Heaven during those 33 1/2 years.
Did God miss His son? Did He glance to His side and see an empty throne and know where his son was and what He was there to do? Did this knowledge cause Him pain? Did he ever sit on the edge of His Heavenly seat and watch His son at work in the carpenter's shop and wince as Jesus took a splinter in his hand or cut his fingers with the tools or felt the callouses growing on his palms?
Did God ever fall silently into Jesus' room as he slept when he was a boy and run his fingers through his hair as all of us have done with our own child at some point? Did he miss the company of His Son while He was here on earth completing the task of securing my soul?
God had never before been subject to time and space...now He was. Jesus was constricted by the passing of time as we all are. God who existed outside of dimension or measure was now wearing the flesh of finite man. That was a huge price to pay for my soul.
Never lose sight of the fact that God was a Father.  That He loved Jesus as a son. He was a proud parent who adored His child and who had constructed the entire painful plan of Salvation with only His Son in mind to take the lead role. No other son would do.
Christmas is full for most of us. Full of friendships, full of love and hope.
Christmas...for the time Jesus spent on earth separated from His Father...was probably a little empty for them both.
All the more reason to say thank you this Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

What would you say to Him...if you could.


Undoubtedly the great effect of "A Ragamuffin Christmas" is the "what-if" factor. You read it, and you read about people like you and like me who somehow make a mystical visit to the Nativity and who meet Jesus face-to-face. You know it could never happen, but you also know that if it could have happened...it probably would have happened like it does in the book.  That's the wonder of "A Ragamuffin Christmas".
Nothing about the book makes you frown at it's theology. Nothing makes you angry or insulted and wanting to fire off an angry letter to me, telling me how wrong I am and how God would "Never ever do that!" and surround your protest with a dozen verses of scripture that prove me a heretic.
The story is clearly a fiction, but clearly a believable fiction. It's something that, if it could happen, would probably happen the way it happens on these pages.
The purpose of the book was to make the reader think.
It's to make you think about the situation Jesus was born in. Poor, isolated, ignored, scandalous...all descriptives that fail to meet the standards of the King of Kings. The angel declared: "Don't be afraid! Because I am bringing you good news! For today, for you, a baby is born in Bethlehem. He is the Christ, and He is The LORD!" And then God completed the announced task by sending His beloved Son...my Savior and my Lord...to a filthy cave, to poor parents, amid whispers of scandalous illegitimacy, rumors of insanity, (Imagine those few people that Mary might have told this whole story to, and how they reacted to her.) and ignored by everyone except some shepherds.
Jesus entered the first act of the Great Plan of Redemption through a side door. I think this was all done so that we would find Him utterly approachable.
The story of "A Ragamuffin Christmas" takes you past the things we always think about Christmas, and creates a place where we can think about the other things about Christmas. We have always thought about the Baby...on these pages we think about holding Him. We think about touching Him. We think about making silly faces at Him so He'll smile and holding that precious hand, and our hearts melting as it curls around our finger. We think about the way babies smell, and the way they bring us peace and calm, and the way they make us see the future as a fresh start. They make us think about life itself...about Life Himself.
And somewhere in the pages of this book something inevitably clicks and we suddenly feel Him in our arms and we realize with stunning revelation...this baby is God. He has come to me like this and He has permitted me to hold Him in my arms and He has melted the frost that years and life have added, layer upon layer.
I was homeless when I wrote this story. I needed a special touch that year because it was more horribly painful than anything I can relate. My daughter was 10 years old and her daddy was homeless and it was killing my soul. Christmas has always been a very special time in our house and that year it hurt more than I can tell. I asked God for something special to help me get through that terribly painful period...and He gave me these stories.
He also gave me the vision of sharing them with the world as the printed page upon which they now reside.
And that is why I so desperately want this book to succeed. Sure there are financial considerations, but deep down I want people to be touched as I have been, by the stories.
I want you to be touched.
What if you had been there? What if you had wandered by that cave on that cold winters night and something said to you "Look inside..." and you poked your head in and saw a young girl and her husband and their baby? What if you introduced yourself to Joseph and Mary, and you looked in their eyes knowing more about their child's fate than they knew and it was all you could do not to break down in tears as the thought of what their hearts would endure wounds you to your soul?
So you would keep your knowledge to yourself...you'd even go to great lengths to hide it so that it doesn't accidentally escape your lips.
"He's beautiful, Mary" you might say, "What is his name?"  And then your heart would race and tears would fill your eyes as you heard it from the lips of a young woman whose very name is mentioned in the Bible as "Blessed amongst women". She speaks  the name that all of history recognizes and upon whom the great Plan of Salvation rests.  "His name...is Jesus" the young girl whispers. The name echoes silently in your heart. You try to hide the tears so as to avoid having to explain them to this young couple who don't know the half of what their son's fate will be.
But you know.
Imagine the baby stirs while you are still savoring the sweetness of hearing His name spoken by His mother...and she asks you "Would you like to hold him?"  Imagine the torrent of thoughts as they flood your soul. "Yes...of course" and before you know it, He is in your arms. He is soft, and precious, and vulnerable, and unassuming, and beautiful. And He is God.  And you are holding Him.
He stirs just a bit and He makes the special little cooing sounds that babies make and your heart wants to burst. Because in those sweet syllables of baby-babble you hear something else indeed. You hear what Mary has no way of grasping. You hear; "I have to be doing my Father's business". You hear; "Since your accusers don't condemn you...neither do I. Go get on with your life and stop sinning". His cooing becomes; "Peter...follow me and I will make you a fisher of men". The gentle sound becomes the boom of; "Lazarus come forth!" And then your heart crumbles as you hear; "It is finished".
All the while you are amazed because you are holding God Himself. God is nestled in your arms. God has trusted you with His very Son.
In this moment the words pour out. Maybe you don't speak them in the presence of His parents but they ring from your heart. Your faults, your frailties, your victories and defeats. The dreams you dreamed that died long ago and the ones you tucked away hoping they will never die.
The things you think keep you from Him. The things you need to tell Him about. All babies cause us to drop our guard and become loving, gentle, tender hearts. But this baby especially...He knocks down the walls that our lives have built and He never speaks a word as He does it.
This story is about exactly this encounter. And when you read "A Ragamuffin Christmas" you take the journey to the cave. You awaken to find the baby in your arms. And you have audience with the Very Son of God.
Now, what would you say to Him...if you could?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fox 17 Nashville does story on Craig and "A Ragamuffin Christmas"

Thanks to Stacy Case of Fox 17 for doing this wonderful piece about me and the book!
Story about Craig on Fox 17

What is "A Ragamuffin Christmas"?


Ragamuffins
If we're honest with ourselves we would admit we are all ragamuffins. A ragamuffin is less than perfect. Far, far less. We spit when we talk, we fall down frequently and we get up angrily sometimes. Our clothes aren't always pressed. Our breath is sometimes bad and usually on a day when we have a lot to say. Our dreams are broken, altered, bandaged, re-imagined and distant...but never forgotten.
We have sinned greatly and therefore we need great forgiveness. Some of us have spent our lives in service to Jesus and wondered every single day if He was pleased by our offering. We lived wildly, broke rules, felt guilt and shame that few ever understood because we pretended we were okay.
Some of us hid dark secrets from even those closest to us, whom we trusted most, because we still didn't understand that anyone could ever choose to love us...not really love us.
Ragamuffins have sharp edges from the rough way our lives have handled us. The sharpness makes us abrasive and difficult to draw near...but we secretly, unknowingly, embrace that distance because under all our bluff and bluster and outward joviality...we are afraid of being left alone. And so we create that isolation before someone else forces it one us.
Ragamuffins fall to sleep at night to the echo of the voices of those we miss, those we loved who left us, those we have wounded and didn't mean to, and those who have hurt us deeply who we can't seem to forget, regardless of what they did. We long for God and fear Him all at the same time. We pray in earnest while the whispers in our heart turn to threatening bellows..."He isn't listening. He doesn't listen to people like you !"  We learned that from other ragamuffins who rose to power and authority somehow, despite...or more likely because...of their own faults and frailties and the powerful masks they wear to hide them.
Ragamuffins are pretenders. We walk through life like "Igor" in Young Frankestein, incredulously asking "What Hump?" when the doctor offers to fix us. We've pretended for so long, that we started to believe that this broken condition is "normal". We believe that we are inadequate on purpose. That this is how we were supposed to be. If we fail financially it's not because the economy is in the tank, it's because we're "stupid"...because that's what the bellowing buffoon says...and he must be right because he is a "Christian" and the church approves of him. We must be far from God because the smiley-faced guy in Houston says God want's our lives to be "like Friday every day!"  and we're locked in a perpetual Monday morning.
We get sick and we don't get healed. We drive a broken down car and we complain about it. We watch as our lives ebb and our dreams fade but we can't seem to give up and accept the empty hole that wants to take the place of those dreams.
Ragamuffins are bad housekeepers and lousy drivers, and can't balance a checkbook. We get angry and then we deeply regret what we said or did. We wish we could let our eyes glaze over and raise our hands during praise and worship like so many others do but somehow we can't. We are questioners who only want answers but somehow always seem to be viewed as troublemakers.
We love deeply...most of the time too deeply. We are fiercely loyal to those we love and many times to those who are far less than loyal in return.
We have a long list of people we've hurt that we seem to be forced to review each night before bed. We wish things had turned out differently, and we still strive to that end.
We love Christmas. We love this baby and what He came to do for us. So each year we return to this place with our worn clothes and the heavy suitcase that we keep shifting from one hand to the other, because we are so tired of carrying it.  We stumble back here to this cave and to this baby and we remember that He was a lot more like us than He was like any of the polished, and prudish and perfect. We find out...when we see the other ragamuffins here...that we are a lot more like the people the preachers preach against than the ones he is preaching to. But we find out that this baby was that way too.
Somehow in the midst of this Silent Night, we fall on our knees and gently lift this little Wonder into our arms and all the things we carried in here with us fall away. The Baby of Bethlehem does what babies do. Jesus...the Son of God...in the flesh. He wraps his tiny hand around our finger and he sleeps in our arms and we feel the love of God break through all those layers of imperfection, hurt, disappointment fear and shame. That is His Christmas present to us.
The year takes it's toll and we find ourselves tattered and torn and adrift. But we cling to the single plank of Faith and find ourselves washed ashore and stumbling toward a star and a stable. We kneel at the manger and we see God, face to face and flesh to flesh. Jesus, the Baby of Bethlehem. The Savior of the world. The Ragamuffin who came for Ragamuffins.
Come as you are...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Two Father's of Christmas...


I don't know when it was that I first tried comprehending Joseph's role in Christmas. Growing up it was too confusing to try to comprehend that Mary was his wife but Jesus wasn't his son. When I was really young I didn't even understand reproduction and sex yet, so Joseph at that stage was the guy who went to work every day and made money and told you to turn off the lights and to shut the front door because you weren't heating the whole neighborhood.
Then when I was a teenager I knew what it meant that "Mary had never been with a man".  It was sanitary and sanctified and it made the topic comfortable for the pastor. There are reasons they cling to the KJV that have nothing to do with accuracy...discussing the virginity of the mother of Jesus is such a reason.
When I got older I just stopped paying attention to Joseph altogether. He was Mary's husband but not Jesus' father and so he wasn't really a key player in this whole scenario.
Then I became a dad.
The night Morgan was born I was 34 years old, scared, hopeful, wondering if I could do this the right way, wondering if maybe now, with a granddaughter, my dad would want to have a relationship. Wondering if I would measure up. I was worried that my wife wouldn't be happy enough. That I couldn't spoil my daughter as I wanted to. I was afraid of a million phantoms and bogeymen that I shouldn't have even considered.
I was also a nervous wreck just watching the miracle of her life as it began outside the womb. A million things raced through my mind as I watched her enter the world, but none so frightening as the moment I thought her head popped off. Yeah...I thought that.
Here's the deal, Holly was doing fine...as fine as a woman does in delivery. She had early contractions around the 7 months mark and so the doctor had her on prescription Magnesium. Because she had some difficulty in the pregnancy, the doctor decided to induce at 39 weeks. So we checked into St. Thomas Medical center and began the wait for Morgan's arrival.
About 9:30, Dr. Ballardo gave Holly an injection of Pitosin to induce labor. The problem is that when Pitosin hits the bloodstream of a woman who has been on Magnesium, the result is horrible nausea. So my poor wife was pushing the baby out and in between pushes, vomiting forcefully into a bedpan. I stood by her side, holding her hand with one of mine and the bedpan with the other. I was positioned where I could see Morgan as she entered the world.
At some point, Morgan's heart rate began to drop just a little and Dr. Bellardo said "I'm going to have to help her a little, she's getting a little distressed". Okay this happens all the time but this was my first child and I was a nervous wreck. Was she okay? Was she in trouble?
Dr. B reassured me that this was normal and that she had crowned normally, (which means the top of her head was now showing) and he just wanted to give her a little help. So he attached a suction cup to the top of her head and began to gently pull.
So there I am...34 years old, no prior knowledge of what is going on, holding my wife's hand with one and a bedpan in the other and watching my little girl enter the world. At the very end, as Morgan was almost completely out of the womb. I was encouraging Holly, holding the bedpan, and trying to sneak a peak at my daughter. I was focusing on Holly one moment when I heard a loud "POP!" and out of the corner of my eye I saw Dr. Bellardo's arm jerk back...and for a brief instant I thought he had popped her head right off.  Just like that.  He apparently had seen the horrible look of fear before and he laughed. He showed me the thumb release on the suction cup and he assured me that Morgan's head was still quite intact. I laughed at myself and then with one last push my little girl came into the world...head and all.
It was a funny event in the midst of something that scared me with it's intensity and awesome solemnity.  I was a dad now. Now everything in life was important.
I thought about that story as I wrote the story about Joseph in "A Ragamuffin Christmas". Before I became a dad, I barely consider Joseph. Now I appreciate him. It's hard to be a daddy, especially with the situation as it was for Joseph. Imagine being charged with raising the very Son of God Himself. Imagine how nervous Joseph might have been when Jesus tagged along to the carpenters shop and picked up his daddy's tools. Imagine the thoughts in Josephs mind as he tried teaching Jesus his trade, knowing that Jesus was who He was and maybe wondering if He couldn't have done the teaching instead.
Imagine his response as he had other children and tried to be fair and unbiased.
Imagine if there were lean times in the carpentry business and Joseph worried all night about how he was going to feed his family...a family that included the son of God.
That had to be a burden that not many men could have handled.
Then I thought about the other Father at Christmas...God
I was a goofy, exuberant, joyous daddy the night my daughter was born. I couldn't wait to tell everyone in the entire world that my daughter was here and she was the greatest thing that ever lived.
Is it wrong to think that God might react that way?
Did He show up at some point that night, while Mary and Joseph slept and after the shepherd's had gone back to their flocks and nobody was around to see? Did his Holiness and Glory fall upon that filthy cave and did He enter in and kneel down beside the dirty manger where His beloved Son was sleeping. Did He pick Him up with no one to witness, and hold him to his chest and weep tears of joy and pride and love as I did the night Morgan came into the world? There is nothing in the bible to say that He did...but nothing to refute it either.
It's conjecture on my part...artistic license and nothing more. But having "Torn heaven open" and sending the Spirit and gloriously proclaiming "This is my beloved son..." at Jesus' baptism, is it a stretch to think He reacted to his birth as well?
Last year, I wrote one of  several new chapters for the original book and one of them was exactly that scene. God...as a Daddy...having a few precious, tender moments with his Beloved Son before the war for the souls of men began. It's one of my favorites and I hope it will be one of yours as well.