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Benjamin Oink: The Christmas Pig

By Mitch Carnell – A friend of Benjamin Oink – West Ashley Writer’s Group

 

One afternoon as I sat dozing in my favorite chair I heard a knocking at my front door.

When I went to see who was there I looked left, I looked right but I didn’t see anyone.

“Down here. I’m down here.”

I looked down and saw a big smiling face.

“Good afternoon, sir. My name is Benjamin Oink.”

Benjamin Oink,” I repeated in surprise.

“Yes, Benjamin Oink. I was strolling down your street and your house looked so friendly.”
“Thank you, Mr. Oink.”

“It’s almost Christmas,” Mr. Oink said. “I was wondering if you would like for me to guard your mailbox.”

“What do you mean, guard my mail box?”

“Well, I would keep watch so that your mail stayed safe.”

That is how Benjamin Oink came to live at our mailbox.

Everyone who passed by our mailbox waved and honked their horns. Everyone fell in love with Benjamin Oink and he loved them back.

Every day when Carol went to collect our mail, Benjamin greeted her with a huge smile.

“Oink, oink, oink,” he said. “I am so happy to see you, Miss Carol.”

Carol patted him on his curled up nose and gave him an oatmeal raisin cake.

“Oink, oink. Thank you. Please come back tomorrow. I look forward to seeing you. Oink, oink.”

All of the neighbors brought him gifts. Miss Shannon gave him corn on the cob. Miss Barbara brought him real shortbread cookies, but his favorite was those oatmeal raisin cakes. Benjamin Oink now watches all the nearby mailboxes. He is a good neighbor.

That is how Benjamin Oink became known as the Christmas Pig.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Dear Family and Friends,

As you know our lives have changed over the last few years. I thought that our traveling days were over; however, we weren’t ready to give in so easily. In 2016 and 17, we went to the grand celebration on the 4th. Of July to be with my sister’s family in Lincolnton, NC. For years I have wanted to attend the Christian Writer’s Conference at Green Lake, Wisconsin. Thanks to the help of our helper and friend Jan we took the plunge. We flew to Milwaukee and rented a car. The center is on the lake. We had a wonderful time, learned a lot, and made new friends.

This year we ventured out west to North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments were all that I expected. Devil’s Tower and The Badlands added to our excitement. Jan again did all the driving. Thanks to daughter, Suzanne, we had a wonderful hotel in Spearfish. Spearfish Canyon is spectacular. This trip and the trip to Green Lake were simply great gifts of joy.

Each Friday Ann Cheek comes to play the piano and sing with Carol. On the last two Mondays in each month, we go to hear the Joy Singers from First Baptist Church sing at one of the long term care facilities. I continue with my Monday lunches with the preacher boys. I continue at First Baptist. Jan and Carol often attend Stono Baptist were they have made good friends. The service is far more informal which works out well for them.

Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday continue to gain momentum. They are more needed now than when we started. Ethicsdaily.com and day1.org have been very supportive. I continue to eat with the Wednesday night gang. We have been doing this for over thirty years.

We are grateful when Suzanne makes it down from Nashville. Her son Christopher has been on a ship in Bahrain to fulfill his Navy Reserve obligation. Christina, Nancy and Michael’s daughter, continues at the day care center and their son, Colin, continues at Publix. Our friends Marvin and Kathy Cann come down from Spartanburg once or twice a year. Marvin was my roommate at Furman. We are unhappy about losing the wonderful help from Brandy Brown, but she is needed at home. Cassie Shokes, daughter of our friend Clyde has stepped into the post. Carol’s doctors are pleased with where she is with her Alzheimer’s disease and I am grateful to them. Our friend, Gene Plyler, is a great source of help. Will Wilcox, Liz’s cousin, came from Seattle for a visit. Unfortunately Kay, his wife, could not make the trip. My good friend, Gayland Poole an Episcopal priest in Texas, died this year. Joe Gilliland moved to Birmingham to be closer to his son. My sister, Jean, and Bunky spent Christmas with us. What fun! My boyhood friend, Ansel McGill, and wife Susie called Christmas night. Ansel suffered a severe stroke, but he still has that wonderful deep voice. The call made my Christmas. We are thankful for all of you. We know how blessed we are to have each of you in our lives. We are concerned with the turn our nation has taken away from a, “Kinder gentler society,” but we can each do our part to help restore decency to our national life. May God bless you and your family in the New Year!

Carol and Mitch

 

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The Shiny Side Up! Rev. Susan Sparks – “Life”

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you had a lovely holiday.

Recently, I saw an image on Pinterest that said “Life*” at the top, then underneath, in small print by the asterisk, it said: “Available for a limited time only, limit one per customer, subject to change without notice, provided ‘as is’ without any warranties, your mileage may vary.”

While this was meant as something to make people laugh, it actually packed a powerful message. Amazingly, we tend to believe that life comes with some type of warranty that promises things will always be easy, fun and painless. And when it’s not, we complain—incessantly.

We complain about the weather. “OMG, it’s so cold, when will it ever stop?” Then, two months later we carp: “OMG, it’s so hot and humid, when will it ever stop?”

We whine that the trains and buses are late. We moan that people are rude, the stock market hasn’t done well, or that the grocery store is out of our favorite item. Recently, I was at Whole Foods and I heard a woman complaining to the manager that they were out of her “soy milk substitute.” First of all, what is soy milk substitute? And second, why would anyone want it?

We waste so much time complaining about the superficial things that we miss precious seconds, hours, days, even years of our life. It’s like the Jewish prayer: “Days pass and years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles.” We must be grateful in the good times and the bad, for, in the end, it’s still life.

Warnings like “life is short,” get greeted by eye rolls and shrugs. Yes, we’ve all heard this saying many times—which I think is part of the problem. I’m afraid we have heard it so much that we have become immune to it.

But there is urgency in those three short words. Things can change in the blink of an eye. We don’t know what is going to happen from one day to the next. We don’t know if we will be given tomorrow—or even the rest of today. Just look at the headlines: random shootings, tornados that tear apart entire towns, soaring cancer statistics. Life – is – short.

It is also sacred. The Psalmists offered this wisdom: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14). Life is the greatest, most sacred gift we have. Sure you may think other things are important, but if you didn’t wake up this morning, then what difference would it make?

Life is short. Life is sacred. And, because of that, it should be celebrated in the good times and the bad. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself: a long line at the DMV, the dentist chair or the chemo room, it’s still life and there is joy to be found in the simple taking of a breath.

The author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote, “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Find that light. Strive to be grateful in all circumstances. Use that gratitude to inspire and lift up others who are mired in difficulty.

We were never guaranteed that life would be easy, or fun, or painless. Yet, even in the pain, we can be grateful for the simple gift of being alive. And, if you find yourself struggling, use these few words as your mantra: “it’s still sacred, it’s still a gift, it’s still life.”

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Take No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I do my best to keep it. I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, cause me pain and create separation, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year. As the years pile up, keeping my resolution doesn’t get any easier.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I am often attacked with, “Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply is, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Susan Sparks in her book, Laugh Your Way to Grace, suggests that we rediscover the power of humor. She maintains that we take ourselves far too seriously. We need to repackage some of the comments that cause us pain.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment her or him in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion. The psalmist said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee, oh God, my strength and my redeemer.”

The late Dr. Arthur Caliandro gets right to the heart of the matter with a three word solution. “Life is now.” That statement is stunning in its simplicity. Live in the present. Don’t drag past hurts into today. I was part of a vivid demonstration of this principle. We were planning one of the annual John Hamrick Lectures while Dr. John was still living. A potential speaker was being considered. I called the speaker to extend an invitation. He told me that because he and Dr. Hamrick had been involved on opposite sides of a controversy, he would only come if Dr. Hamrick approved. When I told Dr. Hamrick of my conversation he didn’t hesitate. “That was then. This is now.” Wow!

I make no claim that getting rid of bitterness is an easy task. You and I have experienced great hurts. Unfortunately we have also inflicted great hurts. I know that I am in the process of becoming and that God is not finished with me. Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try. It will not be easy, but it is worth the effort.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in interpersonal and organizational communication. He is the editor of, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. He and his wife are active lay members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. Mitch blogs at www.mitchcarnell.com.

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