24 12, 2023

That Christmas Feeling


A flood of orange light splashes on the red Adirondack chairs surrounding the fire pit behind my Texas ranch house, making them glow orange-red. The bright green grasses are also glowing in orange. 

Sitting on the red cushions of my creaking old wicker couch, the warmth of the sun rapidly removes the cool from the overnight air, making for a perfect short-sleeves-and-shorts day in the middle of winter. On days like this, I still love Austin — but when the cold comes, I fully intend to escape to get closer to the equator. Yes, I’ll admit I’m becoming a snowbird, running as fast as possible from the cold, which I no longer care to endure — though I’ll put up with it until the holiday passes. It feels more like Christmas when it’s cold or snowing. But after Christmas, I’m ready for the tropics.

Celebrating Together

Today, all the kids are back home, college breaks have started, and I’ll proudly sit in the congregation at church singing Christmas carols with my kids at my side. I live for moments like this.

Christmas Cards

When I was a kid, we were all encouraged to sign a stack of family Christmas cards. I’d write “Merry Xmas” and sign my name, until my mom saw it and said, “We don’t ever want to X out Christ from Christmas.” Whenever she abbreviated it, she would write “Merry C-Mas.” I still do this today, though I’ve long given up on sending Christmas cards. I still love receiving them, and I especially love reading people’s Christmas letters. As hokey as they can be, you can’t get every detail from Facebook, and they somehow give me that Christmas feeling..

The Great Tree Debate

Right after Thanksgiving, we went out and got a tree. Every year there is a debate about whether it’s time to get a fake one. After all, real trees are more work — watering them, and sweeping up when the needles fall, plus later we have to drag it out and put it by the road for pickup. It doesn’t seem very environmentally responsible, either. But when we tried to sell the concept again this year, the kids reminded us that the trees “are grown to be cut down, and they then turn them into mulch. It’s ecologically sound.” So once again, we resisted plastic needles. 

Creating Cherished Memories

I could have insisted on a fake tree, but part of Christmas is about making memories for the family so they can cherish Christmases past. Traditions are important. Christmas ornaments the kids have put up over the years, and ones from our early marriage and our own childhoods, always go on the tree. The box of ornaments is really a memory stimulator. I wish I had my parents’ ornament boxes — they would be filled with treasures and memories.

Danger! Daddy on a Ladder

The day after Thanksgiving, I got up on a ladder, hung the Christmas lights around the eaves of the house, and put the decorations out front. Though the kids have not acknowledged it, it’s expected and part of what we do at Christmas. Our traditions include a tacky plastic angel with  fiber optic wings that my mother gave to the kids. The other tacky thing is my favorite singing lamppost — it sounded like Bing Crosby. (It used to sing carols, but that part no longer works.) We also put out the tinfoil 1960s Christmas tree from our early marriage. We have three nutcrackers and stockings by the fireplace; when I decided to put the nutcracker statues in a different place, I was reminded, “They don’t go there, they go here.”

The Order of Decorations

Nothing can be out of place. A ceramic nativity scene made by my wife’s grandmother goes by the front door every year. The Christmas village goes on top of the grand piano. The dining table is decorated exactly as it has been the last 20 years, and once in a while we’ll add something new, trying to start a new tradition. We often hang stockings for dearly departed dogs, too, but there were too many stockings to put them all out this year. 

Do you have favorite decorations from your childhood? Mine was a little white plastic church music box that would play “Silent Night” as the doors opened. I think one of my cousins ended up with this treasure. 

New Traditions

Recently, when I was offering marriage advice, I mentioned that families carry their family culture with them at Christmas, and it’s important to honor your mate’s traditions that differ from your own. But I failed to mention that it’s also critical to create your own family traditions that will live on through your kids.

What family traditions have you created?

Speaking from the Stairs

On Christmas morning, before we open our gifts, the kids take turns reading Luke 2 through 20, the story of Christmas, just like I had to do while sitting on the old oak stairs at my grandparents’ house on West Wildwood Street back in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I used to hate it, because I was eager to open presents, but then it became tradition, and I’ve done it my entire life. My kids too used to hate it because, like me, they wanted to open presents, but it was a great reminder to put God first in our lives. We even have a seat at the dining table for Jesus. We put out a plate and everything (He doesn’t eat much).

Christmas Is a Story of Faith

On occasion, if I mention anything about my faith, someone will reach out and ask me to stop doing it and suggest that I will lose them as a reader. My intent is never to offend, and I’m not trying to change anyone. I want to be respectful of everyone. I usually respond by simply saying, “This is who I am, I mean no harm to you or others. I respect you, I hope you’ll respect me.” I even say “Merry Christmas.” 

In 1 Peter (ERV) it says, “You may suffer for doing right … don’t be afraid of the people who make you suffer; don’t be worried, but keep Christ holy in your hearts. Always be ready to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have, but answer them in a gentle way with respect … then people will see the good way you live as followers of Christ, and those who say bad things about you will be ashamed of what they said. It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong.“ 

What I Want for Christmas

When asked what I want for Christmas, I cannot think of a single thing. And rather than buying me something, I’d rather everyone spend that money on someone who needs something. A kid who needs a toy or a sweater, a mom who needs groceries, a dad who needs a little help. This is a time when many people need more than they have. Rather than spending excessive amounts on things we don’t need, let’s spend excessive amounts to make Christmas special for someone else. 

The Gift of Self-Esteem

I was talking to a homeless man one day who had been on the streets for over 12 years. He was shocked that I talked to him, because most people turn their eyes away. He said something I’ll never forget. “I’m here by choice, because I made bad choices. But it’s not just money or food I want. If you can’t or don’t want to give, I don’t expect you to do it, but don’t look away. It does me a world of good when someone looks me in the eye, gives me a smile and a wave. People forget that we need human connections too. You’ll smile at a stranger walking down the street, but you won’t smile at someone who looks different, is in rough clothes, or is dirty. We need that smile more than you know.”

That Christmas Feeling

There is a spirit about Christmas. Things slow for many of us, and as we get closer to the day, we start thinking about the people we love and care about, and it makes us gentler and kinder. But there are others who don’t see that, who might be unloved and needing to feel the Christmas spirit. And for those of us who give only at Christmas, don’t forget that others need that spirit year round.

I hope tomorrow is the most special Christmas ever. Embrace those you love, remind everyone about those who can’t be with you, and pay tribute to the value of family, no matter how insane they may be. The bond of family is deeper than any other. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: This message is spread worldwide to over 90 countries and hundreds of thousands of people. I’m honored that you open your e-mail every Sunday and thankful for all of you who forward messages to friends and family.

Only a tiny fraction of you live near me in Austin, Texas, but we’ll be at one of five services today (probably the 11 a.m.) at Austin Ridge, our home church. We hope to see you there. You can find it online at www.AustinRidge.org.

That Christmas Feeling2023-12-22T11:28:06-05:00
17 12, 2023

The Dark Days of Christmas


The smell of fresh-baked gingerbread cookies fills the air and the colors of Christmas are reflecting off the wall as the lights blink on the tree, as though to the beat of the Christmas carols playing quietly in the background. Seeing the tree, breathing its scent, and hearing the music fills my heart, probably because of so many wonderful Christmas memories. 

Already, some wrapped boxes have appeared under the tree; no longer do the boxes have to suddenly appear in the morning after Santa leaves packages while we sleep. No more long nights of assembling bicycles, no more wrapping marathons. Now that the kids are college age, we can take our time and do things at our own speed rather than assisting the man in the red suit. Yet we still put out cookies and milk for Santa, and the nativity set remains lit all night, highlighting the Christmas star. 

An Unexpected Tragedy

Yet there is a dark cloud looming in my heart, since I heard that a good painter friend took his own life last week. I’m not sure exactly how to process it because this was a man as jolly and spirit-filled as Santa, always fun to be around, always thoughtful, and ever encouraging. He was as brilliant an artist as any. Apparently he had been suffering from severe depression.

Part of what bothers me is that I missed it. 

I had not been in touch for a while. We last spoke during a telethon where I co-hosted and he was a guest. Speaking beforehand, he seemed as normal and happy and engaging as ever. There were no outward clues. 

Looking Back

I’m kicking myself for several reasons … the first being that I never had a chance to say goodbye and let him know how much he had impacted my life and career, and how much I cared for him. Of course I could not have known, so I kick myself for not having taken the time to touch base recently. I suppose maybe there is something I could have said or done that might have made a difference.

I’m sure others who were even closer are asking themselves the same thing. Yet we cannot beat ourselves up. 

A Dark Place

The reality is that depression is a very dark place, which most of us, myself included, do not fully understand. Anyone can be affected by depression, and it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a medical condition to be overcome.

So what are we to do?

I think it starts by being an active listener, and not ignoring things people say that might be clues that they are reaching out for help but don’t know how to ask. We should not judge or overreact, but simply listen. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Be empathetic. And, of course, encourage anyone who seems to be troubled to seek professional help. 

My heart goes out to my friend’s wife, family, and close friends. He had more friends than most of us will ever have, and I guarantee there will be lines out the door at his memorial service.

The Emotional Trigger

As you and I enter the holiday period, it never hurts to remember that the holiday is an emotional trigger for many of the people we know and love. I can remember being alone one Christmas and wishing someone would invite me to something. I did not feel comfortable asking because, well, Christmas is family time.

Who can you include in your celebrations this Christmas?

How can you help others this Christmas?

Who needs to hear from you?

This event is also a stark reminder to me that I need to reach out and talk to my friends more often. The downtime at Christmas is a good time to start touching base. And it never hurts to ask, “How are you doing, really? Is there any way I can help you?”

When I was a kid, my dad invited Raymond McPeak to every Christmas dinner. I never knew any different; he was always there, Christmas and Thanksgiving, until the day he died. My dad met him in the Merchant Marine when serving in the Philippines, and though Raymond was 20 years older, they became great friends, probably because they were from the same town. He lived alone and came home from his job at the Post Office to an empty house every day of his life. He was never married, and was never in a relationship. He was simply a loner. And my guess is that he looked forward to every major holiday. My grandmother did the same thing; her widowed friends were always at her house every Christmas. 

Our job is to take care of each other, to care for those who don’t have what we have.

Now you have your marching orders for this Christmas. Give someone something to look forward to. And listen to them, carefully.

Eric Rhoads

Another great gift is the gift of art … giving someone lessons on how to become an artist. We have some wonderful holiday specials at www.painttube.tv.

The Dark Days of Christmas2023-12-15T16:56:58-05:00
3 12, 2023

White Dresses and Lace


Instead of the sound of rustling trees, rain hitting the tin roof of my long Texas porch, and the chorus of a flurry of birds hanging out in my twisted oaks, I’ve awakened to the slow low rumble of of an elevator, the rattle of an ice machine dropping ice into a cheap plastic bucket, and the knock on my hotel room door and shout of “Housekeeping!”

I’m in Dallas. Yesterday we attended the wedding of the son of two of our favorite friends. It was a perfect day, and it’s fun to see a child we watched grow up become a man and a husband. We wish them well.

Why I Hate Weddings

This wedding was beautiful in every way. I don’t regret attending a bit. In fact, it was loads of fun and I spoke to some interesting folks. But there was a time when I swore I would never attend another wedding in my life. I avoided weddings for over two decades. 

A Rough Moment

When I was a young radio DJ in Miami, I supplemented my income as a wedding photographer. I’m not sure how many weddings I photographed, but it was one too many. My final wedding was the one I screwed up. No matter how many backup cameras, sets of film, and plans for disaster, that time was the perfect storm, and something I did ruined most of the photos. I don’t know if it was a bad batch of film, a processing mistake, a bad light meter, poor exposures, or human error, but I had the displeasure of showing up for the viewing at the family home. 

The anxious bride was on my right, the parents were on my left. Stuttering and stumbling with fear, I had to show them the two dozen photos that turned out OK, and the hundreds that did not. The result was not pleasant. I was loudly berated by the enraged father of the bride and was kicked out of the house. Of course I gave the couple their money back, but I’d botched the photos of their special day. It was one of the toughest days of my young life. I was so mortified that I canceled all the other weddings I had scheduled and swore I’d never do another. And for years I refused to attend weddings because it brought back such a difficult memory.

Looking Back

In hindsight, I should have gotten back on the horse and continued. I was pretty good, well paid, and very entertaining. And I had lessons to learn that would have come in handy in future years. But I was too immature, and pain avoidance was all I wanted at that time. I should not have allowed one angry customer to discourage me. (I’m lucky I didn’t get sued, but then again, all I had was my 72 VW and some cameras.)

Photographer to the Stars

Picture this. It’s 1977, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is the number one album worldwide, and the Bee Gees are at the top of their game. Their sound engineer, Carl, was an icon in the recording industry, and he fell in love with the receptionist at the radio station in Miami where I was working as the night DJ. The couple hired me as their wedding photographer. So I showed up at the beachfront park in Miami to learn that the wedding included the Gibb brothers … all of the Bee Gees, and their little brother, Andy. Here I am, posing some of the most famous people in the world in wedding photos. It was a little intimidating.

At the reception Robin Gibb invited me to sit with them and invited me to an afterparty at their house. I politely declined, but kicked myself later; I should have attended. But I had to go on the radio later that night — and I was so insecure that I did not feel deserving. In hindsight, someone could have filled in for me on the air. 

Thankfully, those wedding photos turned out perfectly. 

My Best Marriage Advice?

When I got married, all the older couples were giving me their best marriage advice, but it fell on deaf ears. And I resisted the urge to take the young couple aside at the wedding yesterday because anything I had to say would also fall on deaf ears. There are days when I wonder how even my wife puts up with me. Here’s what I wanted to tell them, but didn’t.

  • Love changes. I always heard this, but never believed it would happen to me. You go from that euphoric feeling of being in love to a level of mature love. The changes usually start about year three and peak at around year seven, which is why those are the most dangerous times for a marriage. Mature love is so much different. You care as deeply, probably more, sometimes less, but as the euphoria wears off, you get closer to real life — kids, jobs, mortgages, problems and challenges, what to do with your money, how to raise your kids, the impact of your faith, etc. It’s actually better, but it’s easy to look back at the feeling of early love and crave it. If you know this will happen, you’re less likely to do something stupid trying to regain that feeling.
  • Up till now you’ve been living with campaign promises, and now that you’re married, all the pretending will slowly disappear. One friend of mine had never seen his wife without makeup until after they’d been married for a while. Another reported that he no longer closes the bathroom door and no longer hides passing gas. You’ll start seeing the real person behind the actor or actress you’ve been dating the past few years. Don’t let it shock you. Embrace the fact that the real person is better than the person running for office.
  • The person you marry will change, and you will change. Ten years out, they won’t be the same person. Twenty or thirty years later, they will have changed dramatically. That’s not a bad thing. It’s like fine wine; we all mature. Again: Embrace change.
  • The moment you get married, you’ll discover people want what they can’t have. You become more attractive. There will always be shiny objects who will try to grab you when you’re vulnerable. Don’t ever put yourself in a position to take advantage of it.
  • You’ve both been on the hunt … seeking the perfect mate. And you developed a lot of habits you now need to shed. You’re used to trying to win, to conquer. Now you have won the best prize of all, so put your conqueror behavior aside. It’s not even cool to flirt with others. Just understand you have to lose the habit or it could lead you to big problems.
  • Speaking of shiny objects: If you shed one marriage for another, the things you don’t like about your previous mate will tend to show up again and again. I have this on good authority from a friend who has been married five times and finally admitted HE was the problem all along.
  • You’re a team now. Partners. You’re used to making your own decisions, but you can’t do that anymore. All major decisions require both of you to agree. Don’t dominate. Be a true partner. Things will go smoother.
  • Your money isn’t your money anymore. You share it unless you’ve made specific arrangements otherwise. This was a hard one for me. I used to buy things without input, or I’d buy them anyway, even after input. I slip into that behavior once in a while still, but these decisions should be shared.
  • Try to agree on who does what up front. Don’t just assume that she will do the cooking and dishes or stay home with the kids. Don’t just assume he’s the one who is going to work to support everyone. Figure this out before you get married.
  • Don’t think you can change their mind after you’re married. Make sure you talk about every possible scenario, and if the person you’re with says they don’t want kids, or want to work when you don’t want that, take heed and listen. Have the difficult discussions. Get premarital counseling.
  • The “D word” is never an option. Agree up front that no matter how bad things get, you’ll never threaten divorce. You’ll think about it hundreds of times in your marriage when things are not going your way or when you have rough patches. Never make it an option. If before you get married you’re thinking, “If things don’t work out, we’ll simply divorce,” don’t get married. You’re not committed.
  • You’re not going to be easy to live with. Whatever you’re whining about because it’s their fault is 50 percent your fault, you’re just not seeing it. You’re in this together.
  • When you’re upset, don’t start name-calling. Remember, some things will resonate for years, and some things you can never take back. If you’re angry and about to say bad things, you’re allowed to say instead, “I’m angry and might say the wrong thing, so let’s continue this discussion in an hour” or “tomorrow.” But do always go back to resolve it.
  • Don’t keep bringing up old arguments over and over. You get to bring it up one time, not every time you get angry. Get over it. We all make mistakes.
  • Honesty is important, but there are some things you should never share with your spouse. If it’s something that might haunt them forever, keep it to yourself.
  • The number one reason for divorce is people feeling as though their mate is not paying attention to them anymore. Most divorce happens between year three and year seven, or after couples become empty-nesters. When you were campaigning, you worked really hard at showing them you care. When that goes away, your partner no longer feels special. Find ways to keep the attention fresh and new and show that you still care, even if you’re married a hundred years.
  • If you’re going to take sides, side with your spouse, not with your family or parents. Doing anything else is a quick road to division. Even if you disagree, suck it up and support your mate. You’re not married to your family.
  • Communicate about what you each need, daily or weekly. Live up to it.
  • If you’re getting married for financial security or to escape your parents or to get away from an ex, run for the hills. Those are stupid reasons. Marrying for money is empty once you realize that all the money in the world, all the stuff, won’t make you happy.
  • Communicate up front about your faith. It never seems like a big deal if you don’t agree, until you have kids. Then suddenly it matters and you want to raise your kids the way you were raised. Conflict will arise. And it might not be healthy to confuse your kids.
  • Christmas, birthdays ,and major holidays hold family traditions. We used to get our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, my wife’s family got the tree Christmas Eve. I wasted a lot of time and energy debating these cultural things, and there were lots of hard feelings. Decide in advance.
  • Most men change significantly between 25 and 35. Most women change significantly between 20 and 30. What you want and need and who you are will change. Wait it out if you can. But if you can’t, you need to be willing to live with what each of you has become. Growing apart isn’t an option. Stay committed. You can get through anything. Even arranged marriages end up with people coming to love one another over time.
  • Addictions destroy relationships. Take it very seriously if your spouse is giving you clues about your addictions. Listen and change.
  • Make it clear up front that you will never tolerate physical abuse of you or your kids — or emotional abuse. Put him or her on notice that the first time they get physical is the last time they will see you. There are no excuses, and no apology that would ever be enough. If you love someone, you don’t hit them, ever, or threaten to.
  • People who give up who they are and what they love resent it. Respect the passions of your spouse and make room for them.
  • Don’t clam up. Say what needs to be said, no matter how painful

Nothing is ever perfect. The movies sell perfection that does not exist. If you don’t expect perfection, you’ll be a lot happier.

I’m looking forward to the day when my kids find their soulmates and I can have them ignore my advice. But at least I’ll feel as though I tried. 

Happy Sunday,

Eric Rhoads

PS: A note to my bride. I know when you see this list you’ll realize that I’m aware of the things I should be doing that I’m not doing. I’ll try harder. I know I’m hard to live with, I know I drive you crazy, and I know I do stupid things. Still, I adore you. You’re as beautiful as the day I married you, smarter than I knew at the time, and your advice has been valuable and helped me in ways you cannot comprehend, even though I was often resistant to it. Thanks for being my partner in life.

PS 2: Though I love Christmas, I hate the pressure of shopping and gift-giving. I love to give people what they want, but I don’t love buying things not knowing whether they will like them.

I still don’t know what I want. I honestly can’t think of a thing, yet people are asking. But surprises are wonderful. The best gifts are the ones you make.

PS 3: It all clicked when I stood in front of Anders Zorn’s watercolor paintings in Sweden. Then I went to the home of Stanislaw Zoladz and saw watercolors that I couldn’t believe could be made by a human being. So I’m painting in watercolor and gouache more than ever. I’m loving it. It has given me a fresh perspective on painting, I’m learning and growing in new ways, and I’m having fun experimenting. This week I copied two Zorn masterpieces. I did one that I’ve spent five nights painting.

What I realized through all of this is that I never could do what I’m doing had I not attended Watercolor Live online last January. When I find challenges I don’t know how to solve, I’m able to pull the answers out of my head because they were taught to me during that four-day event. It truly does change you; I’m living proof. As the host, I can’t watch every segment. But there is something to this immersion-training thing. 

Reward yourself with a ticket. www.watercolorlive.com Yes, you can do it even if you don’t think you have talent. Oh, and it’s a great Christmas gift.

PS 4
Other cool gifts 

White Dresses and Lace2023-12-01T18:01:45-05:00