The Grinch’s “Two-Sizes-Too-Small” Heart and the Christmas Story

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Source: https://www.amazon.com/Illumination-Presents-Seuss-Grinch-Blu-ray/dp/B07JYQTK85

 

I love Christmas season and I also love the Grinch story by Dr. Seuss. I started loving it even more after having my kiddos. (My wife also tells me I can be a Grinch when the house gets a little dirtier than I like, but that’s another story.)

 

We all know the story: the Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling hermit living with a heart “two-sizes-too-small” and his only companion being his unloved, but loyal dog, Max. He resides on Mount Crumpit, a steep, high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the ever-merry and warm-hearted Whos.  From his cave, the Grinch begrudgingly listens to the “noise, noise, noise” of the Christmas festivities that take place every year in Whoville. Continuously annoyed at their eternal happiness and Christmas cheer, he devises and executes a wicked scheme to steal their presents, trees, and food for their Christmas feast.

 

The Grinch is a lawbreaker.

 

Similar to the Grinch, the book of Matthew also tells of lawbreakers. But these actually appear in a peculiar place – the genealogy of Jesus. Interestingly, several (though not all by any means) of these non-law-abiding characters are women and it’s important to highlight that Middle Eastern genealogies are supposed to be lists of men only[1].

 

Let’s start with Jacob. He disguised as Esau in order to receive his father’s blessing (Genesis 25). Tamar. She broke the law by arranging a way to have child with her father- in-law, Judah (Genesis 38-1:30). Judah. He broke the law by not keeping the promise he said to Tamar. Rahab was a Gentile, prostitute, liar, and lawbreaker (Joshua 2). Ruth was a Gentile and a social and religious rule-breaker (Ruth 3). David. He stole Uriah’s wife and killed him. Bathsheba was unfaithful to her husband, and possibly a Gentile (2 Samuel 11).

 

The genealogy of the very Son of God, the Savior of the world, was one of what the world would disregard and label as law-breakers.

 

As we continue to look at Jesus’ lineage (and yet another parallel to the Grinch), we also see that many of those characters are not people of wealth. The genealogy of Jesus ends with Mary, a lowly teenage peasant girl. Her husband, Joseph, a carpenter, was persecuted by his friends and family members for accepting a woman they would call a law-breaker and what they believed to be her “bastard” child. Joseph and Mary were simple, poor migrants seeking a refuge anywhere they could find; a safe place to rest and live escaping from a dictator who ordered all children to be killed.[2] Joseph and Mary were also fleeing corruption, violations of their civil rights, and other issues that threatened their ability to live and raise their child in peace. It reminds me of the migrants of poorer nations that seek better living conditions in first-world countries at present.

 

But God, in His goodness, invades the scene – one laden with law-breakers, the marginalized, the bitter, and the poor. Solitary, angry, often vengeful creatures, like the Grinch, carrying the brokenness of an orphan desperate for the love of a Father.

 

K.E. Bailey (2008)1 points out that God chooses to be around women and men, both saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles…that those are the kinds of people that the Messiah came to save. In short, Jesus came to save the many “Grinches” in the world. The main Messiah came for us ALL!

 

This is the story of Christmas demonstrates the solidarity of God. He knew our condition, our sufferings, our cries under the weight of our wrongdoings. So in His great compassion, he voluntarily chose to be one of us, a human being who offered Himself to us and for us.

 

Christmas reminds us that God is not indifferent to our condition. He cares! The solidarity of a loving Father demonstrated by the birth of Jesus that came to bring everyone His grace and love, inspire us to promote actions of solidarity that change lives in a broken world to rediscover and experience His love.

 

Like the Grinch, after spending all night stealing from the houses of Whoville, the Grinch travels back to the top of Mount Crumpit, with the single-minded intent of dumping all of the Christmas decorations, gifts (and of course, Roast Beast) into the abyss. As dawn arrives, the Grinch expects the people in Whoville to emit bitter and sorrowful cries, but he is perplexed to hear them singing a joyous Christmas song instead. He is puzzled until it dawns on him that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting. The Grinch’s shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes.

 

This is what Jesus does in our hearts – He transforms it, grows our love and compassion so we can be different people. People who cares about other people. People who have the courage to change the status quo like Jacob, Tamar, Judah, Rahab, Ruth, David, Bathsheba, and Mary and ended up in Jesus’ Genealogy: an unusual situation for that time in that culture.

 

As I reflect on all of this, I see a Jesus who came to save all because all humans are equal before God. God is no respecter of persons – nobody is exempt from the privilege of salvation and the transformative power of his love and acceptance that ensues. Jesus didn’t see some human beings better than others. Jesus came for all and saw and sees all humans as equally loved children who He longs to have a deep relationship with: the Republican and the Democrat, the citizen and the undocumented immigrant, the black, the native American, the Latino, the Asian and the white, the elderly and the child, the married, and the single.

 

As we approach Christmas, I hope we all reflect on how Jesus came for all equally and hope we can change our hearts and show this Jesus for all in the same manner.

 

Merry Christmas!

[1] Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes: Cultural studies in the gospels. InterVarsity Press.

[2] Matthew 2:13-15

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Thanksgiving in Retrospect

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1 NIV)

 

jan-kahanek-184675-unsplashPhoto by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

 

I came to the US eleven years ago. I didn’t have much of a habit of journaling before coming, but one of the first things that I did when I came was to buy a notebook to journal my experiences in a land that was going to eventually become my home.

When I came I didn’t have many friends or family around so journaling became a way to process everything that I was going through at that time in my life. Journaling became not only a way to release my emotions, but also a way to record the good, the bad, and the ugly that happened in my life.

After having been journaling for a while, I began the practice of looking at it at the end of each December, reading and reflecting on everything that had happened to me during that year. “Yearly review” had never been my original intention in journaling, however, as I began to make this an annual ritual, I began to see God revealing something very important and very often forgotten- the blessings in my life!

If I am honest, I am not the type of person who tends to find joy naturally in the midst of trials…I tend to get frustrated, discouraged and disillusioned with my circumstances. However, by intentionally looking back at what God has done over the previous year, I have been able to focus on God’s activity in my life instead of being unhappy and unfulfilled because the grass is greener elsewhere.

And as I began doing this regularly, I began to see the details of my life in retrospect and observe God’s hand clearly guiding, teaching, and providing for me. It cleaned my vision to come into a complete awareness of the things that I couldn’t see in the moment- awareness of what I love in life, simple things that make me joyful, and maybe, the most important thing, the people God has put in my life. I can confidently say that the act of journaling made me be more grateful and expanded my ability to enjoy life more fully.

Perhaps “thankfulness in the moment” is something that you struggle with like I do. Maybe you find yourself thinking that your life would be more fulfilling with a new relationship, a different job, a better house, or a nicer car.

I get it. I’ve been there, and I often still find myself in that space.

In Phil. 4:11, Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I have come to believe that having this individual time to journal helped me see life in the eyes of what Paul was saying in this passage of the Bible.

Doing this is not easy; it is still very much a journey for me. I don’t do a good job thanking God for all he does all the time – this is a daily exercise that I’m still learning. But by simply keeping records of the blessings (and even blessings in disguise) in my life, I am learning to point to God and change my mindset when I need; a mindset of cultivating “an attitude of gratitude.”

Looking back and reading entries from weeks, months, or even years can bring back fresh memories of special events, people, and moments that have touched our lives in a positive way. And being in communion with God as you write about your blessings, offers Him a grateful heart.

I decided to take a look at my journal on this special day and realized that I have a lot to thank Him for!

 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

 

 

10 years

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They say if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans. I am a living testament to this statement.

 

Yesterday, August 10, 2017, marks exactly 10 years that I arrived in the United States. I came with a clear plan and objectives: go to graduate school at Colorado State University, where I was accepted to study environmental economics, graduate, and go back to my home country, Brazil to get married and have a family.

 

That was the plan.

 

Just some key information before I continue this story. When I was accepted to CSU in March 2007, I did not know a soul in Colorado. Being from a Latin country where friendship and social life form the integral fabric of our culture and society, I knew this wasn’t going to fly. So in addition to my search housing in Fort Collins, I also started thinking about how I could make friends even before I arrived in the United States…again, a country in another hemisphere where I didn’t know a soul.

 

I had one idea – I was part of an international Christian environmental organization called A Rocha that had offices and members in over 20 countries around the world, including the United States. I thought “maybe if I could meet a member or 2 of A Rocha USA at least we’d have some common ground, it’s something, right?” It was a long shot, but I had nothing to lose. I had met a few of the American members when while attending an International A Rocha conference few years before, so I at least had a contact. The headquarters for the American chapter was located in Washington D.C. so I knew the chances of there being members in Colorado was fairly slim, but it was worth a shot…

 

So, about a month before I embarked for the land of the free and home of the brave, I wrote my colleagues in D.C. and asked if they knew of anyone from the organization around Fort Collins area. They got back to me saying that they indeed had a few members located in Colorado; they had reached out with my contact information and informed me that if these members were interested in getting in touch I would hear from them directly.

 

A few weeks past and I got an email. A man named Don wrote me saying he had gotten my information from A Rocha. He lived in Colorado and he very generously offered to not only pick me up from the airport in Denver but invited me to stay at his house for my first weekend in the US and drive me up to my new housing in Fort Collins. Just to meet SOMEONE in my new state was a blessing I would have been crazy to pass up, so I quickly agreed.

 

I arrived in Denver on a beautiful morning of August 10th 2007. I saw Don and his wife, Angela, waiting for me at baggage claim (we exchanged pictures before). I was later told that I looked like a “drowned rat” getting off the plane…great first impression, right?

 

I was very grateful for this warm welcome to the country where I knew I would spend at least the next 3 years, but I was also exhausted. I took a shower and went to bed in their home in Denver.

 

The next day, this friendly couple told me that had invited their daughter to come for lunch. Around noon, a pretty, blonde young woman arrived and shook my hand. She was a senior at CSU, studying Spanish and had just returned from a semester abroad in Mexico.

 

We ate lunch outside, feeling the warm sun and fresh breeze on our faces. Little did I know that my lunchtime “chance” encounter was the beginning of a friendship journey that continued in daily meetings at the CSU campus, dates downtown, and a year and a half later, a walk down the aisle with the love of my life.

 

My wife completely foiled my plans. And I am so, so grateful.

 

Life never happens the way we plan, does it? And thank God. I had no idea that less than 24 hours after stepping onto American soil I would have met the woman I now call my wife.

 

It’s been ten years since we met, eight years since we got married; we have now two beautiful daughters and an incredible journey of friendship, love, and seeing the glory and faithfulness of God as the result of this amazing journey.

 

All I can say is that I am very grateful that my plans are not God’s plans and I allowed God to pave the way. Letting the Lord take the reins is often scary, but I can guarantee you that it is worth it.

 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”                                            Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

Turning 40

Two thousand seventeen saw me wave goodbye to my thirties and tentatively step on to the descending side of ‘the hill’.

Sometimes I don’t realize that I just turned 40 a couple of days ago. As I started reflecting on the previous decades of life, my thoughts turned first to my accomplishments – what I have done over the past 4 decades. But I soon began to reflect on the fact that, although I am proud of what I have achieved and where God has brought me, the most important element of this season of my life is thankfulness for all that I’ve experienced and all God has done.

 

Hence, I would like to share my thoughts on 40 reasons I am extremely thankful:

 

  1. God’s love for me
  2. Wonderful parents who taught me about God and Jesus
  3. My country, Brazil, and all the good things it has (despite all the bad ones)
  4. A childhood that I could enjoy a good urban-rural life
  5. Growing up near the beach
  6. My only sister (we used to fight a lot but we’re great friends now)
  7. Wonderful in-laws
  8. My only nephew Pedro
  9. The beautiful state of Colorado where I live now
  10. The beautiful mountains that I look at every day
  11. My wonderful wife
  12. The gift of fatherhood
  13. The gift of being able to take care of my daughter Ava twice a week and experience the joy and challenges of parenting her + teaching her my native language
  14. The gift of having one more daughter on the way (due March 3)
  15. Wonderful extended family (both Brazilian and American family members)
  16. Still having contact with childhood friends
  17. Being part of a men’s vocal group in my 20’s (don’t ask me how that was possible).
  18. The opportunity my parents gave me to have a good education
  19. Studying abroad twice.
  20. Learning different languages and one of them the language of my family background, Italian
  21. Being granted an American citizenship
  22. Working with sustainable agriculture with family farmers in my home country
  23. Visiting different countries and cultures
  24. Visiting where my paternal grandfather was born in rural Portugal
  25. Founding an environmental conservation non-profit organization in my home country
  26. Writing and co-organizing two published award-winning books
  27. Running three 5K races
  28. Serving in various community organizations in Brazil and US
  29. Leading a community garden in my church that also produces its own composting
  30. My home church in Brazil
  31. The church family I belong to in the US
  32. Great mentors in my life
  33. The opportunity to be a mentor for several people in my path
  34. Being part of the School of Kingdom Ministry team
  35. My house
  36. My academic and teaching career
  37. Great co-workers
  38. Working with diversity and inclusiveness at work
  39. Being nominated for the Master Teacher Award for the 2015/16 academic year
  40. The hope and faith I have that my future ahead is full of good surprises

 

 

“I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1

The Future of Our Water Depends on Us

in celebration of world water week!

Paulo R.B. de Brito

Water droplet with the earth in it.

I watched the movie Life of Pi a few weeks ago. The storyline revolves around a 16-year old Indian boy named Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, who survives a shipwreck in which his family dies, and he finds himself stranded in the Pacific ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. I really enjoyed the movie and watching it made me realize how dependent we are on fresh water.

Water is life for us and for our planet. The human body is made up of 60%  water and the human brain of 75%1. Fresh water is one of the most precious resources on Earth. It is essential for basic human needs, health, food production, energy, and maintenance of ecossystems worlwide.2 I wanted to pay homage to this incredible God-given resource as today, March 22, is World Water Day, an internationally recognized day sanctioned by the…

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World Wetlands Day – Hope for a better future

Beasts-of-the-Southern-Wild-33538_3The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece…the whole universe will get busted”.
(Hushpuppy – Beasts of the Southern Wild)
The movie Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) portraits a story of a six-year-old Hushpuppy and her unhealthy, hot-tempered father, Wink, who are optimistic about their life and their future as a storm approaches a southern Louisiana bayou community called the “Bathtub” (a community cut off from the rest of the world by a levee).
It’s interesting that the movie points out that despite the circumstances of the characters, there is still hope. Hope that one day their life and future will be better.
The movie reminded me of the hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Katrina’s disastrous flooding of the Gulf Coast confirmed three decades of warnings by scientists. Most of New Orleans is below sea level, and South Louisiana’s coastal wetlands (where the movie takes place), which once helped buffer the city from giant storms, have been disappearing at a spectacularly fast pace.
One of the causes of Katrina’s catastrophe was wetland loss. An average of 34 square miles of South Louisiana land, mostly marsh, has disappeared each year for the past five decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). As much as 80% of the nation’s coastal wetland loss in this time occurred in Louisiana. From 1932 to 2000, the state lost 1,900 square miles of land to the Gulf of Mexico. By 2050, if nothing is done to stop this process, the state could lose another 700 square miles, and one-third of 1930s coastal Louisiana will have vanished. Importantly, New Orleans and surrounding areas will become ever more vulnerable to future storms. Craig E. Colten, a geographer at Louisiana State University (LSU) (1), on a report about Louisiana’s wetlands once said:
New Orleans can’t be restored unless we also address coastal and wetland restoration too.”
Another cause was building and maintaining levees and dams along the Mississippi River also leading to wetland loss. Another geographically widespread cause was voracious grazing by nutria, a nonnative species, which destroyed wetland vegetation (1).
Lastly, but not least important, activities by the oil and gas industry is another cause. Peaking during the 1960s through the 1980s, oil and gas companies dredged canals for exploration. There are currently 10 major navigation canals and 9,300 miles of pipelines in coastal Louisiana serving about 50,000 oil and gas production facilities. These canals, which are perpendicular to the coast, have created new open water areas, drowning wetlands and allowing salt-water intrusion into freshwater ecosystems. The result—land loss hot spots.
Further land loss would also endanger oil and gas facilities, the huge port complex, and the gulf’s valuable fishing industry. South Louisiana’s wetlands are critical nursery areas for commercially important marine species, including shrimp, blue crabs, oysters, redfish, and menhaden.
In the last few years some researchers have been calling for restoration of wetlands and barrier islands to help protect New Orleans the next time a hurricane strikes.
So why are wetlands important?
Wetlands are essential for humans to live and prosper. They provide freshwater and ensure our food supply. They help sustain the wide variety of life on our planet, protect our coastlines, provide natural sponges against river flooding, and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.
If the wetlands in the state of Louisiana were protected, Katrina would have had a different impact. It has taken a major hurricane to show the nation that it’s necessary to rebuild the wetlands and barrier islands of Louisiana.
The goods news is that 10 years later after Katrina (last August of 2015), efforts have been taken to address those issues. Wetlands restoration projects have been in the agenda (2).
I hope that one day all wetlands around the world can be restored with the same hope the six-year-old Hushpuppy had in the movie about her life and future even in the face of storm. The hope that the Bible in Romans 8:19-22 that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but  because of him who subjected it, in hope that  the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
If you want to find out more about wetlands and how to help, see further information at http://www.worldwetlandsday.org

Notes:

(1) Tibbetts, J. (2006). Louisiana’s wetlands: A lesson in nature appreciation. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(1), A40.(2)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/10-years-after-katrina-louisiana-is-becoming-a-model-for-climate-resilience_55d53afee4b07addcb4586aa