The Gift That Keeps on Giving

One year, when doing my taxes, I realized that my son’s birth on December 31st had given me a tax credit for the entire year. Those few hours of life on one day covered the past, present and future with regard to the amount I owed the government.

This year, I’m reminded of another birth that had past, present and future implications but much more important ones than taxes and money. The birth of Jesus Christ set in motion events that would forever affect our relationship with God.

In the book of Hebrews we find that “…since death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant [the laws of Moses], those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15-16). Later we see that “…now once, at the consumation of the ages He [Jesus Christ] has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

As we come to the end of 2018 and look forward to a new year, we can continue to celebrate this perpetual gift of salvation that has covered the cost of man’s past, present and future sin.

Christmas Memories

I have fond memories of Christmases past. Although we stayed home many years, some of my most remembered holidays were the ones when we traveled. 

We would often go to visit my grandparents. My cousins were usually there and we had a great time playing, exploring and eating.

Like most kids, presents on Christmas morning was the highlight of our time. And of course, we were always trying to get our parents to let us open presents on Christmas Eve. From what I remember we might have been able to open a small one that night but for the most part we waited until morning.

Games were a big part of family gatherings at Christmas time as well as around other holidays. I have a lot of very game savvy family members. I remember many happy nights staying up late playing Rummy, Up to 10 and Back, Pictionary or Boggle. Sometimes I would even win.

But my memories are just snapshot views. I don’t really remember everything in vivid detail. I think that’s why I rarely sit around reminiscing. I prefer focusing on living in the moment and making sure that those happy memories from my past get translated into happy future memories for my kids and their cousins.

And while games and food and presents are all important and fun, I remember being taught the reason for the celebration. Above all else that’s what I hope my kids remember most about Christmas; that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who came to save us and give us the gift of true freedom.

I hope your Christmas was a great one and that you can store its events away as happy memories to be enjoyed for years to come 

Putting Christ Back In Christmas

The other day I was going into my local Home Depot when I noticed their holiday hours sign on the entrance door. For Christmas Eve and Christmas day, someone had written X-Mas Eve and X-Mas day.

I’m not one of those people who get offended easily at things people say or do. But I was more than a little perturbed that someone had decided for everyone coming into the store that Christ needed to be removed from the name of the holiday.

Christmas has long been a celebration of the birth of Christ as he came to be the savior of a fallen world and to bridge the gap, caused by sin, between man and God. But in recent years, there’s been a push by some to avoid any talk of God and Jesus Christ in relation to Christmas.

Instead, many today put more emphasis on celebrating a magical, obese, reverse burglar who enslaves flying caribou and little magical people in a bid to put toy stores out of business by giving everything away for free.

I’m a quiet person who usually doesn’t say anything about things that bother me in society. But the X-Mas thing really bothered me. Not only did I think it dishonored the real reason we celebrate the holiday, but it also looked very unprofessional. So I took the initiative to make my voice heard. 

I dug around a little and discovered that the Home Depot survey you’re prompted to take on your receipt is actually payed attention to by store managers. So I took the survey and expressed my displeasure in the sign. 

Sure enough, an assistant manager emailed me back that afternoon and when I went to the store the next day, the sign was changed to read Christmas instead of X-Mas.

 A temporary sign on a hardware store door might seem like a little thing to be concerned about. But unless we take action to correct the small problems we see in our daily lives, they will slowly grow bigger and bigger.

Unnecessarily Neat

I was wrapping presents over the weekend and thought about how nice it is that most wrapping paper comes with a grid of lines on the back. Gift givers used to really need to pay attention to what they were doing to get a nice straight cut. Now it’s easy to get a perfect cut every time. What a wonderful innovation! It’s so ingenious, it must have been a Google 20% project. Everyone should be happy about this.

But then I got to thinking, what do I care if my wrapping paper is cut perfectly. I was perfectly happy eyeballing it before. What’s more, nobody else cares if you cut paper straight. Kids tear open present without giving a single thought about the paper. They just want what’s inside. They wontonly tear off what you so lovingly cut, wrapped and taped.

Adults are no better. Think about it from your own experience. When’s the last time you got a present and thought “Gee, these seems sure are neat” or “what loving attention to detail Sam applied to his cutting and taping”.  Sorry, it just doesn’t happen.

Not only do people not care about straight wrapping paper cuts but the grid lines that make it possible also have negative consequences. Think about it, it’s going to cost more to print things on both sides of the paper. Don’t think you’re getting all that ink on there for free. Your wrapping paper is costing you more. Is perfectionism really worth the extra cost?

The cost of perfectionism has other costs too. It’s probably stressing you out, giving you high blood pressure, causing internal anxiety and outward shows of anger and aggression. You might find that every time your scissors veer off the line you start yelling at your children and kicking the dog.

But if health and relationships with those you love don’t move you in this discussion, there’s a more insidious consequence to these seemingly innocuous paper grids. Now that there are lines on the white side, you can’t use scraps of wrapping paper to make little To/From tags. You’re being forced into buying pre-printed tags that you might not even like.

I’ve always enjoyed using the paper I was wrapping with to make my tags. Now that I can’t do that, the joy of present wrapping has left me. Now all I can do is make my wrapped presents unnecessarily neat.

Music to Work By

My musical tastes are extremely varied. Sometimes I’m in the mood for beautiful and melodic, sometimes harsh and loud and other times bouncy and light.

While I’m writing code (as opposed to planning and designing code) or building a map, I can listen to most styles of music but I prefer strong, driving rhythms and either no words, words I can’t understand or words that I know well enough to not have to think about while I listen and work.

This week I brought back a song into my mix from a band called Children 18:3. The song is called Moment to Moment and it puts a smile on my face because it’s just so fun. And it helps the time pass as I’m doing repetitive work.

Every choice before you was a challenge to succeed…
And every breath is a step to forever

Moment to Moment – Children 18:3

Meeting Creep

I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve been in a meeting that stayed on topic and ended on time.

I found myself in a meeting this afternoon that did not meet the above parameters. Even when it was on topic it was excruciatingly inefficient. People repeat themselves and repeat themselves and repeat themselves. It’s as though they don’t believe that you heard them the first time so they’re going to make sure you do.

Or maybe my other theory of meetings is more accurate: people love meetings so they can hear their own voice in a group setting. Personally, I try not to talk in meetings unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, the pain is prolonged.

Don’t get me wrong, meetings are useless and should be banned. Don’t get me wrong, meetings have their place. Sometimes they’re even necessary. I just think they need to be constrained to the following criteria:

  1. Try not to have meetings. They’re generally a waste of time. At the very least, ask yourself if the meeting is needed. Can you accomplish the same outcome with a well-crafted email? Or even a poorly crafted email. I’m not picky, just don’t make me go to a meeting.
  2. No meeting should ever last longer than 30 minutes. If you can’t get the work done in that amount of time, then you need to go to a meeting on time management.
  3. Meetings should only be held in the late afternoon. Meetings disrupt the workday. It can be very difficult to get back into the swing of things after a boring meeting. At least a late afternoon meeting only disrupts the late afternoon which is a less than productive time of day for most employees anyway.
  4. All meetings should ascribe to the DRY principle. Do not Repeat Yourself. Anyone caught repeating a point they already made should be told to sit in the corner. If people didn’t get your point the first time, that means it was confusing, stupid or totally irrelevant.
  5. Meetings should have an extremely narrow topic.
  6. Meetings should never get off topic. This is known (by me) as meeting creep. Nobody cares if everyone in your department got new chairs, you got a new phone, your dog died or you’ve lost weight. All of that and more can wait until your next google chat exchange with your friend two cubicles from yours.
  7. Two people should not dominate the meeting unless doing so will get the meeting over much quicker. Two people talking is called a conversation which can be done over the phone or via email. Don’t subject others to your own conversations. We just don’t care that much.
  8. Finally, the next meeting should never be scheduled during the current meeting. There should be a federally mandated waiting period between the current meeting and the scheduling of a new one. This is also known as a cooling off period during which people can reconsider if another meeting is actually needed. It usually isn’t.

Follow the above rules and you’ll have much happier meeting attendees. If you’re the attendee, try handing the rules list to the meeting organizer. It probably won’t do any good but it’ll make you feel better.

In a future post I hope to provide you with a meeting survival kit in case you do find yourself in a “creepy” meeting that’s gone on too long and doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight. Until then, avoidance is your best defense.