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Escape commercialism this Christmas

12/11/08
Suburban News Publications

Counting pennies, so to speak, helps us remember the arithmetic we learned in grade school.

Simple math comes back to haunt us when we spend more than we have, or charge more than we can readily pay back. We end up with too many bills, too few pennies.

When I was learning American Sign Language, our first task was to learn finger spelling and numbers. Finger spelling is used to spell names of people, places and things that don’t have an actual sign of its own. But I didn’t realize how much we use numbers in our daily life, so I slacked off, at first, at learning my numbers.

Then the teacher had us ask each other’s address, phone number, age, number of children, and so forth. You get the picture. I flunked that test and went home and practiced signing numbers.

For many, practicing numbers becomes more difficult this time of year.

While banks and businesses are getting billions from the government, we are hit with advertisements from all angles and media. Guilt or old habits might force us to go out and buy, buy, buy, even if we know we can’t spare those pennies right now.

Our country is in a recession, we are now told. Are you surprised? It just gives a name to what we already know; our 401Ks, savings of all kinds and our wallets are losing weight. Even our spare change coin jars are emptying. Our buying power is going plastic and we could get deeper in the hole if we aren’t careful.

I’ve talked with more than one person who is cutting back on spending drastically this Christmas season. Personally, I think this is good. It’s time to take stock of our needs versus our wants; our desires versus our hopes. It’s time to put things in order of relevance. Do our children really need another toy? Or would they benefit more from their parents and siblings sitting down and reading a story or working a puzzle together?

The entire gift giving tradition began after Jesus’ birth. Some time after this day, the kings brought to the newborn King of Kings, gifts of Frankincense, which symbolizes sacrifice, Christ’s divinity and is also a symbol of the Divine name of God.

Gold was a gift to provide his family the means to physically survive and myrrh, which is fragrant oil, would be used to anoint his body before his burial; meaning prophecy told of His death being the main purpose of His life. These were gifts he needed to survive to fulfill His purpose on Earth.

The only reason there is a Christmas is because of Jesus’ birth and remembering that makes the carols sung, the lights shining in expectation, the gift giving and time with family and friends more meaningful.

The more we pull away from the commercialism and realize the true meaning of this season, then whatever gifts we give or receive will mean more to each of us.

Once I taught a choir of elementary-aged children how to sign Silent Night for church. I asked the congregation not to sing the first verse so they would get a true feeling of what songs “sound” like to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

The children were amazing and the congregation never did pick up and sing the verses. They watched. They listened in a new way for most of them. Some had tears flowing down their cheeks and smiles were everywhere.

The gift the children gave the congregation was priceless and free at the same time. The focus was on the child born in a manger that would change the world more than any other event in history.

He came on a silent night offering a gift that cost His life so that we could live free from our wrongdoing.

So I urge you to stop counting pennies and take a moment to feel and hear the silence and the beauty of the season.

As one of my favorite hymns states, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going; and soon all those around are warmed up by its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love; once you’ve experienced it … you want to pass it on.”

Sing Silent Night this year listening to the words you sing and think about that silent night more than 2,000 years ago when pennies weren’t even in existence. When charge cards and catalogs stuffing our mailboxes (and bending the postal carriers’ backs) did not exist. What did exist was a child who God sent to this world to live and die for us.

This is, and always will be, the greatest gift of all.

Column 11/28/08

Columbus Dispatch, The (OH)
November 22, 2008
She’s thankful to be hearing the world that eluded her
Liz Thompson
For The Columbus Dispatch

About 15 years ago, when my husband and I walked through the door of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, we knew that the move was right for us.

We had Baptist and Methodist backgrounds, so the switch was notable in our faith journey.

I, of course, joined the choir, in part because Ron Kenreich was the organist.

Ron directed the choir during my last year at Westerville High School (now Westerville South). When we met again at Gethsemane more than 20 years later, he still remembered me as Liz Day from his first year of teaching.

By 1996, though, I knew I had to quit the church choir: I could no longer hear myself or the singer next to me.

My inability to understand spoken words had begun during childhood, and I was wearing two aids. Bob, my husband, and I were glad to be sitting together at last during the service.
We’d kneel when prayers were spoken by a pastor, who would say after a few lines, “Lord, in your mercy.”
We’d reply in unison, “Hear our prayer.”

In time, my husband realized that I wasn’t saying the response, even though my head was lowered in prayer.
I couldn’t understand anything being said; I was saying my own prayers.

Sensing my needs, one Sunday after the pastor spoke his words, Bob pressed my hand gently. I looked at him, and he smiled.
I saw the touch as love and adoration spoken from God through Bob. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

From then on, when he pressed my hand, I spoke the response.
Bob started giving me a synopsis of the sermon, filling in the blanks of what I’d missed in the message.

Eventually, though, we knew that another change was needed.
The solution eluded us until, while driving on Morse Road one day, I saw a sign for Holy Cross Lutheran Church of the Deaf.
I summoned enough courage to drive into the parking lot on that sunny Saturday, then marched to the door with purpose and knocked. I knocked again. I peeked through the window and saw people inside.

Why weren’t they answering?

As quickly as I wondered, the idea hit me: They’re d eaf, Liz.
Just then, someone saw me and came to the door.

Bob and I worshipped there for the next year, learning and growing in our faith. My signing improved, too.

Still, although words were spoken and signed at Holy Cross, and my husband wasn’t the only hearing person in the congregation, he missed worshipping in a hearing church.

One Sunday, we returned to Gethsemane.
Seeing old friends felt good, but I understood nothing. By then, I was truly deaf, even with my hearing aids.

We faced the challenge together, deciding that our worship had to be more personal — at home — until we could find another solution. We knew that God understood.

In 2002, I became a candidate for a cochlear implant.
My only question: “How soon can I have the surgery?”
The operation proved successful: In a quiet setting, I could understand nearly 95 percent of a conversation — a vast improvement from zero percent in the implanted ear and 8 percent in the other.

I keep a healthy supply of batteries on hand for the voice processor; when the batteries die, I am deaf.

Bob and I have become members of Buckeye Christian Church in Grove City, where we can sit in the front row, back row or somewhere in between — and I understand the message.
With every bird song, every child’s voice or any other sound I missed for years, I am reminded of this blessing.

And I won’t forget the kindnesses that others showed when I couldn’t hear anything: a smile, an explanation in writing or a sign of love and caring in a simple touch.

Thanks for listening for me.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Liz Thompson, 57, of Grove City feels ever grateful for her special gift.

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THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Copyright (c) 2008 The Dispatch Printing Co.