The Rempe Tour of Lights: Fairview Drive

This is the second in a series on Christmas light displays in northern Virginia. To see the first entry, the house on Collingwood Road in Alexandria, click here.

As John Cleese used to say, “And now, for something completely different …”

If the first stop on our light tour was noteworthy for its technical precision and vastness, our second location is best described as an explosion of kitsch in a relatively small space. What the house on Fairview Drive in Alexandria lacks in electronic wizardry, it makes up for in sheer volume.

By my admittedly imprecise count, there are roughly 20 bajillion inflatables filling the yard … and driveway … and roof of this otherwise unassuming house. If you can think of an animated character, odds are that this house has a giant balloon of it.

The only way to really appreciate this display is to get out and among the decorations. Fortunately, the homeowners encourage visitors to walk around the display, with a well-trodden path that winds through the disparate decorations. They even allow folks to walk up onto their porch, where there are—again, rough estimate—about 10,000 animatronic Santas, snowmen, reindeer, and the like, each with a button to push, producing a merry cacophony of mangled Christmas tunes.  (I’m pretty sure my kids pressed each of the buttons, and most more than once.)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a creche tucked away on the far side of the lawn. While I wouldn’t exactly call it “classy,” there is an odd serenity to it—an island of piety in a sea of crass (but fun) commercialism.

I’ve always wondered what neighbors of displays like this must think. There are some houses on the street that would be the talk of the neighborhood, but for the yuletide supernova next door. Others pretty much have forgone any attempts to compete. The kids across the street, however, have taken advantage, setting up a hot chocolate stand to raise money for a nearby family who recently lost their daughter to leukemia. If you visit, be sure to grab a cup or two, and tip generously.

Like the previous stop, the video below does not do the display justice. If you live in the area and have little ones hyped up on Christmas cookies and holiday spirit, it is definitely worth your time to visit.

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The Rempe Tour of Lights: Collingwood Road

At the Rempe household, it never really feels like Christmastime until we have piled everyone into the van and visited our favorite seasonal light displays. Nothing says “welcome baby Jesus” quite like a house covered in LED lights using as much energy as a moderately sized Midwestern city.

While we enjoy all manner of yuletide decorations, there are two displays in northern Virginia to which we always return, and for very different reasons. The first stop here is the house on Collingwood Drive in south Alexandria.

When a light display has its own website, you can pretty much anticipate that it is going to be an experience. However, nothing quite prepares you for how huge this show really is. The house sits across the street from a nursing home, which serves as a prime motivator for the homeowner putting in hundreds of hours in setting it up. The whole display is synchronized to music, which is broadcast on low-frequency FM radio for those driving by. But you really don’t get the full experience unless you take the time to find a parking space, get out of your car, and soak the experience in.

As might be expected, the below videos don’t really capture the majesty of this display. If you find yourself anywhere close to Alexandria around Christmas this year, be sure to make the effort to check it out. You will not be disappointed.

NEXT: From the sublime to the ridiculous …

Finding Joy in Uncertainty

Recently, during a fit of spring cleaning, Beth and I were going through a stack of books and notebooks, trying to determine which were worth keeping and those that would better serve not taking up valuable shelf space. In one of those notebooks, I came across the following—a reflection written by a younger, still-single Steve (circa. 2007) who was contemplating marriage and the future. It reminded me that there is joy in uncertainty when you trust the One who holds the future in His hands. ‘Tis a lesson worth repeating—mostly for myself, but hopefully it speaks to others as well.

It dawns on me that I often view uncertainty or lack of future knowledge as a detriment. I see it as a lack of faith on my parta result of the Fall. “If only I were more committed to seeking God’s will through prayer and devotions,” I reason, “then God would make his plans known to me.”

But faith is not the result of knowing what lies ahead, but rather in the knowing of Him who knows the future. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for,” but not necessarily a certainty that God will bring these things about in the time and manner we expect, if at all.

Continue reading “Finding Joy in Uncertainty”

Running Toward a Different Goal

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job). Check it out sometime!

Tim Montgomery has always been fast.

A track legend in his hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina, Montgomery established himself as a sprinter from an early age. In college, he ran a sub-10-second 100 meters, only missing out on setting a world junior record when it was discovered the track was three centimeters too short. He competed in two Olympics, winning a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta for the 4×100 meter relay, and following that with a gold medal in the same event in Sydney in 2000.  In 2002, he reached the pinnacle of his sport, setting a world record in the 100 meter dash with a time of 9.78 seconds and earning the title “Fastest Man in the World.” He even had his own Nike commercial.

And then everything fell apart.

Continue reading “Running Toward a Different Goal”

A Sad Masterpiece

It has now been close to a week since the conclusion of Saturday’s Bengal-Steeler playoff game (working title, “The Bungle in the Jungle,” patent pending, all rights reserved), and I am just now getting a chance to collect some thoughts in an attempt to describe the indescribable—to explain the inexplicable.

Gridiron TragedyTo put it mildly, the game was brutal.  The conditions were brutal.  The play on the field (and on occasion, off of it—I’m looking at you, Mike Munchak) was brutal.  Most of all, the conclusion of the game was brutal—the cruelest twist of fate dealt to a team who has had more than their share of bad luck and self-inflicted agony.

The Bengals lose.  It’s what they do.  Sometimes early, sometimes late, but for 47 years, the Cincinnati football team has specialized in finding new, creative, more painful ways to not win.

But on January 9, 2016, the Bengals delivered their masterpiece—a magnum opus of defeat that may never be matched.  It was King Lear, full of plots and subplots, tragic heroes and anti-heroes.  It was Guernica—a chaotic, dark work of art painted on the soggy canvas of Field Turf at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Christmas, Epiphany, and “Blue Monday”

If the Christmas season (or, more accurately, the run-up to and including Christmas day) is the “most wonderful time of the year,” Epiphany is, to borrow from another seasonal song, “the bleak midwinter.”  Gone are the shiny light displays, the festive decorations, and the holiday treats that were everywhere just weeks before.  Instead, there is a blank space in the living room where the Christmas tree once stood, a naked mantle that before had stockings hung with care, and an expanding belly where our waist had previously been.

... and with this image, I have reached my quota on song references for a single post.
… and with this image, I have reached my quota on song references for a single post.

According to a formula developed by a researcher and psychologist at Cardiff University in Wales, today (January 6) is the “unhappiest day of the year” taking debt, weather, failed new year’s resolutions, and a general lack of motivation into account.  In the United Kingdom, the day has been dubbed “Blue Monday,” and has been adopted by a travel company to encourage Brits to escape the doldrums by flying someplace that isn’t perpetually dank.

As fate would have it, today is also Epiphany – the actual end of the Christmas season, where Western Christians remember the visitation of the Magi to see the young (but not newborn) Christ child.  Alas, most Christians don’t actually get to this 12th day of Christmas to celebrate this.  Instead, we slap three kings into our nativity scenes, celebrate the whole shooting match on one glorious day, and have the entire set put away by the time the new year is introduced.  (Not to cast aspersions on that old chestnut of a tune, but they weren’t actually “kings,” the Bible doesn’t indicate how many there were, and modern audiences aren’t likely to consider Persia or Yemen as the “Orient.”  Other that that, though, great song.)

I submit, however, that there is reason to continue our celebration through the full season of Epiphany.  By doing so, we are reminded not only of God’s coming in human form at the Incarnation, but also of His continuing presence, even in the dark days of January and beyond, and our call to take that news and share it with others.

Continue reading “Christmas, Epiphany, and “Blue Monday””

The Power to Forgive

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job).  Check it out sometime!

“How do people forgive a crime like murder?”  The headline from a BBC News Magazine story asks a question that most of us hope we never have to answer, but it is a question that we would all be wise to ponder.

The BBC article interviews Bill Pelke.  In 1985, Pelke’s grandmother was brutally killed by four teenaged girls in her home in northwest Indiana.  Fifteen-year-old Paula Cooper, viewed by prosecutors as the leader of the group, was convicted of murder for the stabbing death of the 78-year-old Bible teacher, and sentenced to death.  A subsequent appeal based on Cooper’s age reduced the sentence to life in prison.

At the time of the conviction, Pelke said he felt the conviction was appropriate.  But after reflecting on the values he had learned from his grandmother, and seeing the impact the sentencing had on Cooper’s grandfather, Pelke began to reconsider.

“My grandmother would not have wanted this old man to witness his teenage grand-daughter die,” he says. “Everyone in north-west Indiana wanted Paula Cooper to die – Nana would have been appalled by the anger.”

Pelke decided that forgiving Cooper was what both God and his grandmother would have wanted him to do.  For eight years, he attempted to meet with Cooper, only to be denied the opportunity by prison officials.  Finally, on Thanksgiving day in 1994, Pelke was allowed to come face-to-face with his grandmother’s killer.

“I walked in and gave her a hug,” Pelke recounts.  He then offered her his forgiveness.

Pelke’s act of mercy was not without its detractors.  His relationship with his father, who found his mother’s body after her murder, was damaged for years following the decision to forgive Cooper.

“I knew I was doing the right thing,” says Pelke, “and later my father forgave me for forgiving Paula Cooper.  He came a long way.”

Such a desire to offer forgiveness to someone who has done something as unconscionable as murder is difficult for many to understand.  Was Cooper not guilty of the crime?  Had she done anything to warrant Pelke’s forgiveness?  To hold out the promise of compassion in the face of such evil seems unjust – even unnatural.

And that’s because it is unnatural.

Continue reading “The Power to Forgive”