News and Tribune

December 5, 2013

MAY: Christmas under construction

Local columnist

— One day this week, my morning jaunt from the east side of Louisville to Southern Indiana came to a slow crawl. Drizzly weather and misty fog threw an accident into the mixing bowl already filled with orange barrels, construction equipment, lane closures and rush-hour traffic.

The recipe for Snarled Snickerdoodle Traffic Treats was ready for baking. Tempers and late-for-work drivers brought the heat up to about 450 degrees. Time in the oven was 40 minutes.

The delays for commuters are inevitable. Estimates for the financial cost of the Bridges Project fluctuate daily. With the hope that the end result will be more than worth it, the extra time allowed me to soak in the busyness of the construction.

Empty and filled dump trucks peppered the interstate meandering back and forth. No less than eight huge cranes added to the downtown skyline, readied to move pieces of the puzzle into place. Bulldozers were carving out flat beds from the dirt, while others were waiting to push tons of gravel into place.

It is overwhelming to ponder the amount of planning, paperwork and coordination that such a project requires. People first began to talk seriously about the possibility of another bridge connecting Indiana and Kentucky in the mid-1970s. Because of the tireless efforts of politicians and community leaders through each decade, we are now seeing the beginning phases of a massive transportation endeavor that literally will help drive Southern Indiana into the future.

As traffic inched its way to the river, thoughts of bridge construction planning turned to Christmas construction planning. What parties are already scheduled? What gifts need to be brought to each event? Is it against the rules to go out and buy white elephant gifts? What family members and close friends still need gifts purchased? When will there be time to wrap the presents? What extra things will be going on at church?

The cranes, bulldozers and dump trucks of my mind were painstakingly pushing Christmas into place. (Practical note: could tolls be put into place to help pay for this Christmas?) Had anything been left out of the Christmas construction project? Perhaps providentially, a Christmas song by Steven Curtis Chapman began playing through the speakers of the car.

Chapman has always touched me with his music. A contemporary Christian musician from Kentucky, Chapman understands the presence of God as only one who has suffered intense tragedy can.

Chapman’s youngest daughter, Maria Sue Chunxi Chapman, adopted from China, was running from their Nashville home to meet her brother, Will, who was pulling into the driveway, returning from an audition for a musical at his school. They didn’t see each other in time and Will accidentally ran over the young child. She died before sunset that day.

When his music comes on, I listen more intently. “Christmas is all in the heart” was the phrase that the cranes lowered in place between the beams of my mind. All the plans and schemes of the Christmas season mean nothing if a construction project hasn’t also begun on my heart.

What bridges need to be built inside of me? Are there detours that need to be constructed so that better roads can be produced? Have some of the materials used in the past simply become outdated? Can improved substances be used that would make a difference in daily travel?

In those moments in the car, I decided on three construction projects for my life this Christmas. Perhaps they will spur planning and some construction of your own.

The first is to guard my health. Often, the winter holidays leave me stressed and feeling bad. The busy season usually means I am more tired, I am less physically active and I have eaten more food than I should have. While I cannot eliminate the added events and food, I can manage them better and keep myself from getting worn out.

Second, I am going to work at being more patient and accepting to change. Few holiday celebrations go exactly as planned. Extra people, problems and sometimes pets seem to worm their way into most gatherings.

If the event doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting, it can leave me churning inside. It struck me that I am more accepting of road construction delays than I am with delays caused by people who are under construction.

Finally, I am going to try to notice what God is doing in my life every day. If normally my life is traveling down a side street, the holidays have me driving the interstate at 100 miles per hour.

At that speed, it is easy for the details to become nothing but a blur. My plan will be to take time each night and reflect upon the events of the day. What is God doing to catch my attention? What internal construction projects does He want me to start planning? Who are the people that have been passed by today?

As the bridge into Southern Indiana was finally crossed, the recipe for a new me was clearly in hand. Ingredients: an added dose of love, joy, peace and patience. Oven temperature: simmer, not boil. Baking time: years, not minutes.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at