"Merry Christmas!"
Welcome to the official site for author Craig Daliessio and his wonderful book;
"The Ragamuffin's Christmas"

Wednesday, December 12, 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"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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 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 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 Savior and my 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'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 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"?

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 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 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. 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.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wondrous Irony

Last night I took my daughter to Belmont University to hear their Christmas Concert. For those of you unaware, Belmont is a Baptist University here in Nashville known particularly for it's music education. It's a very good school and the music department is world-class.
So last night's show was astounding. Morgan made the arrangements because it was part of a requirement for her arts class. She had to attend two concerts and write a review of them both. So she didn't tell me it was pretty much a formal event and we arrived dressed casually. That's not to say we were frowned upon or dismissed or that we even felt uncomfortable. It's simply a way of saying that apparently this is a very big night in Nashville because the folks attending were all pretty polished and special.
The auditorium was breathtaking, with acoustics that made you tingle. From the opening note there was grandeur and pageantry.
The orchestra played and then the Belmont Choir sang and then the Nashville Children's Choir sang and then a brass ensemble played and there was an amazing song by the Women's Choir and a few more performances before the intermission.
At one point I sat there taking it all in and thinking about how unlike the actual Nativity this event really was.
Last night, the birth of Jesus was being heralded and celebrated with glorious precision and wondrous talent. The well-bred and high-class of Nashville showed up in their very best to witness the performance and join in the revelry. That's how it
But that night...that mystical, scandalous, blessed, Holy, silent night when God took on human flesh and entered this world in exactly the same way we all did...looked nothing like last night.
The night Jesus was born went unheralded. He was ignored by all the world except some shepherds who were nearby--maybe even the shepherds in whose cave he was born--who were alerted to his arrival by angelic hosts. It's befitting the situation really. The illegitimate, scandalous, pauper-king named Jesus who was "God of Very God" and who had been born with one purpose looming large on the horizon, was all but alone when He made his entrance.
There was no orchestra, no stage production, no welcoming committee. There were no local dignitaries in their finest, coming from across Bethlehem to meet him and deluge his parents with gifts. There was no room for him in the local Inn or in anyone's home. Maybe because they were crowded, but also just as likely because he was illegitimate, and his scandalous situation had preceded him to Bethlehem. It was likely that someone could have made space for a very pregnant teenaged mom and her carpenter husband on a cold winters night, but the "Little Town of Bethlehem" collectively pulled down it's blinds and drew it's deadbolts.
And so Jesus was born in a cave, cut into the side of a hill. A place where shepherds would run their smelly sheep into at night and then they themselves would sleep in the doorway to prevent intruders and escapees. It was dirty, it smelled, and it was so innocuous that nobody would have even bothered to look inside to see the sheep...much less the Messiah.
Jesus got His fanfare many years later. After his beautiful infant hands grew into the hands of a carpenter-Rabbi and then were torn by a Roman spike. His lovely, curly dark hair was matted with blood as he writhed on a cross. His precious face was marred and beaten and swollen so badly that he didn't seem human and he was mockingly anointed "king" by the spit of Roman soldiers and Hebrew scholars as it ran down his face.
...and I have trusted him with my soul.
This beautiful baby who was God Himself, and who came to save me from my destination, was not celebrated that night as he should have been. In a deliciously ironic turn, God...being God...told two sets of strangers about His Son. He told the local shepherds, whom the Roman occupiers detested, and He told the fabulously wealthy "3 Wise Men" from the Orient. (in truth there might have been 20 wise men...we only know they brought three gifts and so the story sort of morphed itself into 3 Wise Men). So God proclaimed His Son's arrival to the very rich and the very poor. But only the very poor got to see him that night. It would take the Wise Men almost two years to make their journey to find Jesus. The shepherds were ushered into His presence immediately. Why? Well without judging the Wise Men...I am going to guess that it was because the shepherds were overlooked too...just like Jesus. They too were humble. They too were poor. They were rejected for the most part and lived a nomadic, homeless life.
And perhaps it was because they possibly lent Him this cave. If, in fact, this sheep-pen did belong to one of them...then perhaps God affording them the first glimpse of his son was His "Thank You". In a town that had no room, they offered him the room they had. Perhaps...
Last night listening to the absolutely breathtaking and glorious music that poured out of Belmont, I was moved to tears. I fell more deeply in love with Jesus than previously. I thought of how this was His due and yet He chose to come here knowing he would not receive it on that night. The only sounds were the whispers and accusations of his illegitimacy and scandal. The only worshipers were the lowliest men of the city, who wandered in their life as He would, and who were the only people to hear the angels and the proclamation of the arrival of the "Savior which is Christ, the Lord".
If this was their cave...then it was a perfect type of the work he had come to do. The shepherds gave him the only asset they had. All their possessions in the world were these sheep and this dirty, dank piece of property cut into a hill and fit only for animals. He took it and made it his home.
2000 years later He inspires such pageantry and worship as I witnessed last night. But on the night He was born there was none of that.
And that is a wondrous irony indeed.
Like · · Share · Delete

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Were you Thinking?

So how does one write a book about the Nativity, from a first-person perspective? What sort of inspiration is the genesis of a book that places Bible characters, grandparents, and patron saints in the same space and time as the birth of our Savior? How does one imagine what Joseph and Mary's reaction would be to tasting popcorn for the first time? Or when they watch a murderer and his victims worshiping their son together, for reasons neither Joseph or Mary can't nearly grasp?
It starts with being a dad.
I always wanted to be a dad. For as long as I can remember. Maybe I hoped it would soothe the ache in my heart for my own father, or maybe it would fulfill the promise of a real family as it was supposed to be, not as it was in my childhood. Or maybe it was just the way God built me. In reality it was all of those things.
But it started years before I ever became a dad. It started when I read a book by Brennan Manning entitled "The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus".  It's a series of essays and 3 or 4 of them are about Christmas. In the stories, Brennan emphasizes how human Christ was. How He entered this world just like we did and how He felt the same crushing humanity we carry around with us every day. How He was born the same way we all were.
There are things about the birth of Jesus that we forget. Things that we mostly never consider, unless something brings them into focus for us. And it was when I became a dad in May 1998 I started to consider these things.
When I became a dad I started to grasp what the birth of Jesus really meant. What it must surely have been like for Joseph as a poor carpenter, who was stepfather to the son of God and who probably didn't really understand any of that. What it must have felt like for be a teenager and pregnant while a virgin. A story not a soul would believe. In fact, had God's angel not appeared to Joseph in a dream, he had planned to divorce her quietly, and move on with his life, because even he didn't believe her a first.
It's the humanity of Jesus, and his embarrassingly humble birth that draws me to Christmas...and that inspired me to write this book.
I started writing the book in late November 2009. I was homeless. It was the second Christmas I was in this situation. There would be two more before the ordeal ended. My daughter was 10 years old and she was worried about her daddy. She lived with her mom and so she was alright. But Christmas had always been our time together. She has the same Christmas-loving soul that I have and she loved being with me for the Holiday. This particular year it was not going to be like before and I guess we both knew it.
We had always done an advent calender together during the Holiday season, but for whatever reason that year she didn't want to have one. I was devastated. To me it was another thing that the loss of my career had chewed up from my life. It broke my heart.
During a very early morning walk one day in late November of that year, I prayed that God would do something special for me. That He would save Christmas for me somehow. On that walk I started thinking about what it would be like to experience Jesus as a baby. Perhaps I had come to realize that I had allowed life to distance me from the Nativity. With all that was going on I needed to make the trip back.
I walked and walked and as I did I started to process over again, the amazing truth of Jesus birth. How he was a baby just like my daughter was. How he was approachable. How he was gentle and unassuming. How poor his birth was. How he was born amidst the scandalous whispers of illegitimacy...just like I was. I thought about how he was vulnerable...and I stopped in my tracks. It was here that I made a connection I will never forget. Jesus was vulnerable. All of those things we worry about with our newborns were at play with Jesus too. And in my family it was something we never took for granted.
My father is one of fifteen children. The firstborn was my uncle Angelo. My grandparents were immigrants and all the children were born at home except the last two. I guess that's how they did it in Italy and so that's how they did it here. Uncle Angelo was delivered without a hitch apparently. Everything went as everything was supposed to and my grandparents had their first child. They had a midwife for the process and she delivered the baby boy, did the post-partum work she was supposed to do, showed him to his momma and at some point, she headed across the room to clean him up and put the silver nitrate on his eyes and dress him.
Somewhere in the trip, he wiggled and she dropped him.
She apparently didn't think it was a big deal, she picked him up, took him to the dressing table, cleaned him up as planned, put him in his little gown and brought him to my grandmother. When Uncle Angelo opened his mouth to nurse, there was blood trickling out. About three hours later he was gone.
I don't know how my grandmother reacted or how my grandfather reacted. But walking that early November morning I started thinking about how I would have reacted. And I suddenly realized how Jesus could have easily met the same fate. Because he was just like us.
He could have been dropped, he could have caught some terrible infection from the filth of the sheep-pen. Mary could have had complications. What would they have done? They were a carpenter and his teenaged bride in a cave cut into the side of a hill. Nobody even knew they were there except some smelly shepherds who had heard the angels and came to see what the fuss was all about.
I started thinking about the way babies touch us. How it was when I took Morgan out for the first time in public. How everyone looked, smiled, asked if she was a she or a he. Asked her name. Tried to make her smile. they were all touched by the mere presence of a baby.
That's when I got it. That's why I understood why God went to the trouble of telling us in two of the 3 synoptic Gospels, the details about the birth of His son. Because there would be many images and many portraits of Jesus painted in Scripture and the baby was an important one. It was important to see Jesus as a baby in the light of babies we know because for some...that's the only image of God they can feel safe in approaching. We grow up hearing sermons about judgment and justice and righteousness and sin and punishment. We watch "The Ten Commandments" and see an awe-inspiring, powerful, Holy, consuming God. Then we see ourselves and think we could never approach that God. We watch "the Passion of the Christ and see a brutalized, tortured, beaten and bloodied Christ attached to a cross the way you would nail a "No Trespassing" sign to a tree on your property and we feel so guilty, so broken and sad that He had to die like this for us. After a few years and a few blows in life maybe we feel so much guilt and shame and we carry so much brokenness around with us that we are afraid to approach these images of God. The Holy God might hate me and reject me and the crucified God reminds me how bad I really am that He would have to do this. Maybe for some of us we permit this thinking...often coupled with bad preaching that reminds us even more just how terrible we drive us irretrievably from God altogether. We build a wall of shame and fear and embarrassment and pain and we hide from God behind it.
So God sent a baby.
My daughter was a magnet for my soul. I was 34, illegitimate myself, like my own Savior was. I was a scared husband and a scared daddy and I felt like I was all alone in the world with a wife and a child to take care of. I was unsure of myself.
And then I held her...
And whatever I felt by way of doubt and fear and shame was overcome by enormous love and tenderness and hope. My mouth told her "I Love You" probably 500 times that first night. And somewhere in my soul I heard her say "I love you too daddy". Something told me it was okay. That this baby was going to love me unconditionally where others had failed. I could relax and drop my guard and allow my love to flow toward her in ways that frightened me with anyone else. Babies do that.
Walking that frozen November morning, with the shame of failure and homelessness and hopelessness blistering my heart...I remembered that night and the way my little baby made me feel. And I began to understand the reason God wanted us to know so much about Jesus as a baby.
Because all the safety of my daughter love was present in my newborn Savior too. This was an image of God I didn't have to fear and I couldn't misconstrue. He came as a knock down my walls and thaw out my heart. He didn't care how I'd failed or what baggage I carried. He even had the shame of illegitimacy in common with me. All He wanted was for me to hold him and whisper "I love you" thousands of times.
...Just like my own baby did.
From there it was easy to imagine a cast of unlikely characters visiting the manger. Brennan Manning has said that he sees Christmas as the most Holy of the Holidays. Even more special than Good Friday or Easter. Because, as he says; "The only thing more wondrous than the fact that He would die for me is that He would ever come for me in the first place". I agree. And that he did it as a catch me off guard and knock down my walls, was just a wink from a knowing God. A whisper that says "I knew this was what it would can come to me now"
The book places Jesus in the arms of some very colorful characters. And the magic of the book is seeing what the baby does to each heart.
The 24 day period in which I wrote the original manuscript was a true advent for me. Each story really was an anticipation of His arrival, memorialized in each amazing interaction between a ragamuffin and a baby.
Over the course of the writing I became one of those ragamuffins too. It redefined Christmas for me.
And that, is what I was thinking when this story came to be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Keeping a Christmas Secret...

Winding it's way creatively through the story of "A Ragamuffin Christmas" very subtly is the secret knowledge that most of the visitors have of what is going to happen to Jesus at the end of His life on earth. Mary doesn't know. Joseph doesn't know. But most of the visitors' lives are firmly in the time after they know. It's not a recurring theme, but a few of the characters are confronted with the fact that in that mystical moment, holding the newborn Savior of the world, they know more about his fate than his mother or his father Joseph. One of the more heart-rending scenes is one that repeats itself 3 or 4 times during the telling of the tale. A visitor will hold the baby son of God and look at his hands and shudder to think of the Roman spikes that will one day tear their way through this beautiful, perfect flesh. The draw him near to kiss his forehead and they stop to remember the gruesome thorns that will drill themselves into this precious brow.
They look at the face of his teenaged mom and wave after wave of pity make great effort to roll out of them at the thoughts of what her mother's heart will one day endure. They have to bite their tongue and hold their silence and they can't scream "NO!" like every fiber in their body longs to do.
Imagine going to the hospital to see your best friend and her newborn baby boy and somewhere along the way God revealing to you in perfect detail that this child will die a horrible death. How could you look at your friend and not break down into pained and anguished weeping?
Such is the dilemma of many of the visitors who come back to the beginning of the great plan of redemption having already seen it's end.
Somehow we manage to separate the beautiful, dark-eyed baby of Christmas Eve from the mangled, bloodied, writhing Savior of Good Friday. But here in the cave of Bethlehem...they are one and the same.
The painful burden placed on some of the characters is keeping this Christmas Secret from Mary and Joseph.
...and dealing with the pain it causes our own hearts

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Shipwrecks at the Stable; Stories from a Ragamuffin Christmas" Booksigning presentation available

If your church or a church or group you know of might be interested in hosting a booksigning / evening with the author please email me. It's a quick 45-60 minute presentation called "Shipwrecks at the Stable; Stories from a Ragamuffin Christmas" and it's stories...some humorous and some emotional and all heartwarming...and a couple of songs via video and live singing. The stories are about how the book came to be, stories of fatherhood and Christmas and what homelessness felt like at Christmas. It's very moving and very casual...more a talk than a "sermon". It's a moving, funny, "comfortable" presentation of the back stories that led to "A Ragamuffin Christmas". It's a very different sort of Christmas presentation. 

Fatherhood and Christmas

Without telling the contents of my book, I want to share something this morning.
This book had a deep emotional effect on me as I wrote the stories. It touched places in my heart that were wounded and weary and some that were healthy and whole. There is a story within the book that addresses the fatherhood of God. Not the "He is Father of us all" aspect, but the fact that He was Jesus' father personally.
The story is about a special visit to the nativity. Writing it spurred my thinking and I did some digging and I am again shocked at what I missed all these years growing up.
Most of my life, I never looked at the birth of Jesus from a biological standpoint. I think I just assumed God created a baby, placed it carefully in Mary's womb one day and she gave birth to a surrogate mother...or a male seahorse. Growing up, if I thought of Mary's role at all, she was a glorified kangaroo with someone else's baby in her pouch.
This thinking caused me to miss God as the Father and as the Daddy, of the baby in the manger. That was a shame and I am glad I have seen the truth.
Luke chapter one verse thirty says (of Mary) "You will conceive a son, and call his name Jesus". Conceive. It means that it was Mary's egg. God only ever created one man ex-niholo (out of nothing) that was Adam. In fact even that wasn't truly out of nothing because He formed him out of dirt and then breathed life into him. But every human born since then was conceived in the womb of a mother. Her egg, fertilized by the baby's father and you have a baby. The same is true with Jesus.
The egg was all Mary's. That is where Jesus got His humanity from. Remember we are quite fond of saying he was "all God and all man". Well it's true, and it's true because Mary conceived. Mary didn't just lug him around until time to give birth. Half of Him was her.
This places a larger image of God as a daddy in my mind. And once I grasped this it was easy for me to write this story. It also explains, a little better, God's frequent pronouncements of His love for His son, and his frequent prophecies of the immense blessings He has yet to bestow on Him in His coming Kingdom. Jesus was God's offspring. It's hard to comprehend and I won't try, but assume it for the purposes of understanding how God must have felt that night. This was his son. And at that moment perhaps God himself was the only being in the universe who knew what fate awaited this little wonder. It gives me a new perspective on the love He has for Jesus...and for us.
I anticipated my daughters arrival for 9 months. I was there as she made her entrance. I held her for almost 4 hours after she arrived and my heart was never the same. How could I have done that had I known she would be butchered for the crimes someone else committed? How could I have endured the knowledge of her awful fate while holding her tiny form? How could I have permitted my little angel to be born in such squalor and poverty...all for the sake of someone else?
I could not. Now I know why God is love.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How "A Ragamuffin Christmas" came to be...

I moved to Nashville, Tennessee in November 1997.
I'm a native of Philadelphia and grew up in the Philadelphia area. I had never considered living anywhere else, except one brief notion about moving to California because I had been there for 10 days when my best friend got married and I was in his wedding. Who wouldn't fall in love with a place that was 35 degrees warmer when you got off the plane than it was when you go on board? (Greg had gotten married in January and it was 35 degrees in Philly the morning I flew to L.A.)
But I love my hometown so very very much and I never thought I'd ever live anywhere else.
Then I got married.
My now-ex-wife is from Utah. (It's an interesting story how we met but one I won't tell here) She hated the Philadelphia area from day one. So we moved to Nashville where I soon realized she merely hated me.
We were married in February 1997, she got pregnant in August, we moved to Nashville in November and in May 1998 my daughter was born.
My daughter is everything. She is the one thing I live this life for (other than God of course). She is all the hopes and dreams I have for every day I shall walk this earth. I loved her from the moment I found out I was going to be a dad. I fell even more in love with her when we had that first grainy sonogram done and I could see the outline of a real-life child in there. I loved her every day during Holly's pregnancy and I told her so each night, when I would hold a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels against her mother's belly and tell her "Hi's your daddy. I love you and I can't wait to see you!" One night around the 7-8 month mark, I did this as I always did, and before I got to "I love you and I can't wait to see you"...she kicked. Really kicked. It's a story I've related before so I won't retell it further.
Morgan has been the driving force in my life for every day of the 14 plus years she has been on this earth...and the 38 weeks before. (She was induced 2 weeks early because it was a difficult pregnancy).
I started out down here doing carpentry but that wasn't paying nearly enough. So, on the advice of another of my dearest friends, in September 1998 I got into the mortgage industry. I struggled terribly that first year. I stayed up late memorizing lender matrices so I could know which programs to put my customers in off the top of my head. I studied rate sheets and called on realtors. I held first-time home-buyer seminars. I called "For sale by Owner" ads and asked them to send me leads from people inquiring to buy their houses. I busted my butt to make something of myself for my family.
On December 1, 1999 at 2PM, I walked out of Davidson County Fourth Circuit Court a divorced dad.
My ex had really never been happy and my struggling to have success in a business I was brand-new to was all the impetus she needed to end our marriage. It crushed me. I had dreamed dreams and made plans and set goals for this little family of mine...really all the family I've ever had...and suddenly the person I dreamed all those dreams for decided she was going to find someone else to make them come true with. And my little princess, my daughter-who was the driving force that kept me going when I worked for that first crappy mortgage company where I learned to excel but was rewarded with my pocket getting picked in a thousand ways- was now a visitor in my home once a week and every other weekend and two months in the summer.
I don't know if you've ever known a broken-hearted divorced dad but let mt tell you...if you are a real dad, you don't have an off switch to make your love for your kids subside on the days they aren't there. I was a zombie for years after my divorce. Morgan was my one source of life and energy and the one person in all my life who had not changed her mind about loving me and who I could love safely. I would spend myself willingly for her happiness and I did.
A year after my divorce I really turned the corner in the mortgage business. I was really really good at my job. I had become a branch manager of a net-branch company and had my own office and was starting to see some real, measurable income. By 2005 I was a branch operator with the largest privately funded mortgage company in the U.S. I was successful, I was making more money each successive year. I was nationally recognized by my bosses for running a good branch and for being active in the community and for developing a really great marketing campaign for a FSBO product we had. I was doing okay.
There was still a massive hole in my heart, but I comforted myself with being a great dad and with the house I had purchased in 2004. Nothing special, 2500 square feet on five acres in the country. It was really the five acres that I loved. I had a wonderful vegetable garden that was ten times bigger than I could ever consume myself. But like my uncle Franny, I love making things grow. I once planted Cheerio's to see if I could grow donuts. (Not really...)
By 2006 the industry was really starting to feel the rumblings of what was ahead. I made very little money in 2006 and by January of 2007 I lost my home. 2007 rebounded for me in my market and I made enough money that I rented for a year and Morgan and I lived a nice little life in a neighborhood in Franklin. But my heart was sinking and the business was drying up. I had my best year ever in 2007...and I didn't close one loan after August 1st of that year. I closed two loans in February 2008. They closed my office in March, along with all but two other offices in the state. I was officially a loan officer for another branch but I had no more business. In May my lease expired and I was homeless. Morgan and I stayed in a friends loft apartment for the summer, travelling back and forth to Delaware so we'd have something of a time together. In August she went back to live with her mom, and my friends needed the apartment for a previous commitment  And so from August 2008 until January 2012 I was homeless. I slept in my car and showered at the local rec center.
Christmas 2008 was hard, but not the hardest. 2009 was terrible. Morgan had informed me that year that she no longer believed in Santa. Okay...I knew this was coming. But along with losing my home, my workshop and garden that were my refuge, and the two dogs the cat and the Welsh Pony that were also part of my I could no longer climb up on the roof on Christmas Eve, as Morgan was just drifting off to sleep, and stomp around and shake the sleigh bells I had made and bellow my "Ho Ho Ho" and be Santa. I would have liked one more chance to do that...on my own roof while my daughter slept in her own bed.
Morgan and I had always had the Advent calenders. I would buy two identical calenders and she would take one to her mom's and leave one at my house. And so together, whether in person or on the phone, we would open a door each day and get even more excited about the approaching holiday.
2009 she told me she didn't really want to do that either. I think it was her defense mechanism. I think that because I was living in my car, and had no kitchen counter to put it on, she just didn't feel like it would be the same. I have wondered if her not wanting to do the Advent calender that year was her way of dealing with the hurt and disappointment of what had befallen her daddy...and subsequently her as well.
I was devastated. I was worried that my daughter would lose faith in me and in God. All I had at the time were my words. And so I began writing a series of stories for the Advent...only they were very grown-up stories about broken Morgan's daddy...who found their way back to the manger and to the baby Jesus. They found their way back to Christmas itself somehow. They were broken, limping, hardened, and desperate. Their faith was dimmed by the beatings the world had inflicted. Their hearts were calloused from the blows of life. But somehow they all knew they needed to be the cave where Jesus was born. They needed to hold this baby and let babies do what babies do. Each day became a journey for me. Each story was inspired as I walked five miles each morning before going inside the rec center to shower and then go off to try to find a job. Each story became very real to me-in the way characters become real to writers- and I was amazed sometimes at how the stories twisted and turned and finally found themselves in front of the most precious Gift ever given.
These stories...and this book...were born from the heart of a very very broken daddy who had seen his whole life vaporize and who wondered if it was ever going to be the same again. Sometimes I still wonder that. I am still such a long long way from anything resembling the normalcy we once knew.
I wrote these stories during the worst Christmas Season my daughter and I ever knew. I had no money for a gift. If my friend Chris hadn't generously given me a rebuilt laptop he had worked on at his shop and was willing to let me pay him for it over time, I would have had nothing whatsoever to give my daughter.
I was crushed. I was nearly lifeless. I had nothing but these stories that seemed to pour out of me from a place that held so much pain of my own and so much embarrassment and humiliation over what my daughter was having to endure, not being able to stay with me on our weekends and knowing her daddy was living in his car. I could have left. I could have wandered into another state and found work and suddenly 5 years would go by and I would be too involved with that life to return to my first life. It happens all the time.
All I had that year were these stories and the love for my daughter that drove me to write them and polish them over the next 3 years until they became what you see now in final form.
These stories were my gift to her...from the deepest pain I've ever felt they brought me hope. Hope that one day we would look back on this difficult time we lived in and found something to share for generations.
It's the hope I have for everyone who reads it now.
Merry Christmas, Ragamuffins...

Friday, November 23, 2012

A word about the book...

There is a certain "mystical" quality to this book. There has been since I first started writing it as a blog series in 2009. Most of the stories took me less than 10 minutes to write. They would come so fast that it sometimes felt like taking dictation more than it did composing a story.
The entire project was inspired...and I say that as solemnly and respectfully as I can. There are some amazing "stories behind the stories" on the pages.
Two Christmases ago, when I had self published the book and released it on a limited basis, someone told me it had a similar effect on him as when he read "The Shack".  Now, I have serious issues with the Theology of "The Shack" most folks do who have even a modicum of training in the Bible. But I understood what the guy meant.  As long as you read "The Shack" for what it was, it was a great book. It was special in a way that made you stop and realize that it was a once in a lifetime literary event. It's the folks who tried to develop a theology around the book that ran it off the rails. The underlying thing about "The Shack" was that, while you knew the events in the book could never couldn't help but wish they would.  Everyone who read the book wished, somewhere deep in their heart, that there was really a shack somewhere in some woods near their home. We all secretly wished we could escape for a mystical weekend with God in a nice little mountain cabin and hang out, and eat delicious food and get to know Him as we all deeply desire. We all wished it could just be us for a few days...just Him, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and me, and we could walk along the lake and hike the mountains and open up our souls and ask the burning questions that we all have inside of us. Questions that you can only ask when you are really comfortable with the person you are asking.
That was the magic of The Shack. It was horrifying what the main character endured to make the shack necessary. But the way God entered his life and brought healing...that was the real medicine the book offered. The author crossed the line quite a few times in the process but as I said before, if you were grounded, you could take the good and overlook the bad and be better for it.
The guy who told me that "A Ragamuffin Christmas" had the same feel, explained to me that it was this mystical feel that he compared to "The Shack".  Only my book is infinitely more Theologically sound. There aren't any doctrinal ideas that will make anyone cringe. No views of God that will cause you to run for your Bible and start emailing me scriptures to correct my post-Christian philosophy.
I make the case for salvation as clear as a bell by the end of the book.
But there is a quality to the book that is similar to "The Shack". The other day in discussing the book with a friend, it dawned on me what it is. Just like "The Shack", this book creates an event that you know immediately could never take place...but you wish with every page that it could.
It's obviously physically impossible for any of us to somehow become transcendent and return to that Holy night and see Jesus actually enter this world. To interact with Mary and Joseph and watch a parade of Ragamuffins as they come to meet the infant King of Kings. To hold Him ourselves and gaze in wonder at the very face of a form that makes us love Him more deeply. To smell the "baby-powder smell" of his skin, and to have our hearts implode as his tiny hand curls around our finger while he sleeps. ...and to understand the entire time..."This is God...and He has chosen to do this for come here like this, in this form and let me draw this close to Him."
That is the thing that every reader seems to take from "A Ragamuffin Christmas". That deep longing that this could really happen. That we could somehow really have this moment too. Sacred, silent, amazing. I don't present God in any form other than the forms he presents Himself in the Bible. Nothing in this book will make you scratch your head and wonder if you should be offended.
Instead, I think the book bridges the gap between who Jesus really is and what we have tried to make Him. Somehow we created a dichotomous Savior. Somehow in our lives, we developed a disconnect between the infant Savior of Bethlehem -sweet and peaceful and beautiful and approachable- and the Savior of Calvary, writhing in pain, abandoned by his Father, dying alone on the garbage pile of Jerusalem, with spit running down His face.
I think one of the great things the book does is reconnects those two. We are reminded throughout the book, in various scenes, that this beautiful baby is destined for a final showdown with death. And the realization makes both portrayals of Jesus more wondrous, more special, and more painful for those who love Him.
I think we all wish we could hold the baby. I think we all wish we could go back to the very opening scene in the Great Plan of Redemption, and experience the beginning, now that we've been touched by the end. Those of us who have made the journey up Calvary's hill, would have a very special view of Bethlehem's manger.
...if only we could really go there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The book hits the streets!

Kindle version is available NOW! Print should be ready by Friday!
Price is discounted to $7.50 (ebook only) until next Wednesday.

A Ragamuffin Christmas...An Advent Journey