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Rethinking the Santa Lie

img_4030Santa is real. Or at least if you go back far enough in history there was a real man on whom the Santa story is based. Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop in Turkey, a staunch defender of the divinity of Jesus, and writer of the Nicene Creed recited by churches to this day–who enjoyed giving gifts to children. But add enough years and the marketing scheme of Coca Cola Corporation, and the man of faith is transformed into Santa Claus–jolly, magical giver of gifts to children everywhere. Weatherfolk across our nation seem to delight in “tracking” Santa each Christmas Eve, thus lending a certain credibility for innocent, trusting children.

But why do otherwise reasonable adults feel compelled to perpetuate the Santa lie?

For some, I’m sure they just never gave the issue much thought. They were raised believing in Santa (as I was), and they figure that’s the thing to do for their kids. Parenting comes with so many issues and decisions. Why think about Santa when you can go along with everyone else? It may be easy to not think about it.

Maybe some people would say they don’t want to deny their kids the magic and wonder of Christmas that Santa embodies.  Everyone loves to see that sparkle of wonder in a child’s eyes. After all, Santa has flying reindeer, elves who make toys, and a love for cookies and milk. What’s not to love?

But what about that other Christmas story?

The one with angels appearing to people. The one with ancient prophecies fulfilled. The one where the infinite God of glory becomes a little baby in a third-world nation. The one where Love comes down, bringing hope and peace to this tattered world. The one where we’re all on the Naughty list, but we get the best gift anyway.

Is there no wonder there? Nothing worthy of sparkling eyes and anticipation?

Maybe some tell the Santa story not because the Jesus story lacks in wonder and amazement, but because we have lost some of the wonder and amazement of it. Or we think it’s not enough. And Santa’s an easier sell anyway as he plays into our consumerist society. Maybe we sell our kids short.

But, if you’re going with the Santa Christmas story, here are some things to consider. How many lies are you comfortable with telling in order to prop up the Santa lie? And is the lie worth it as you try to teach your kids to tell the truth? How do you explain Santa’s apparent prejudice against poorer people–and how jolly is that?

I don’t have a problem with the story of Santa Claus; it’s a nice piece of fiction. But when the fiction is told as truth, and people go to great lengths to maintain the lie, something’s not right.

If you need help finding the wonder of the other Christmas story, go outside on a starry night and marvel at the stars. Realize how puny we are. Then think about the God who is greater than the universe entering in to our world, miniaturizing himself into an infant, going to such incredible lengths out of His amazing love for us. He came on a rescue mission that Bethlehem night. He came to give us life in the midst of our dying. (Not exactly a new tv, but still.)

Wonder. And be amazed.

 

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Giving Thanks No Matter What

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The Thanksgiving holiday calls us to think about what we are thankful for in the midst of turkey and the impending Christmas busyness. So what are you thankful for? What if you had no turkey for your table? Or no table at all? No sure, safe place to lay your head each night? Could you still give thanks? Would you?

This world is broken, fallen. There are so many reasons to be frustrated, angry, heartbroken, desperate. In spite of them all, or because of them, I will give thanks.

I will give thanks for the simple things. The crunching of leaves under foot. The smile of a stranger. The warm sun on my back. The giggles of children.

I will give thanks for the daily things. Food to eat. A home for shelter. Clothes and books and cars. Good health.

I will give thanks for the furry things. The fickle, independent cats. The adoring, wiggly pooches.

I will give thanks for the social things. My loving, quirky family. Good, solid friends. Friendly, helpful neighbors. Kind strangers.

I will give thanks for the higher things. The faith that stirs my heart with the hope of a better place. The grace that forgives the very worst in me–in us. The love unshakeable of the Most High God.

Though all the other things fall away, the sure foundation of the love of God remains. Everything else is icing on the cake. That alone is the greatest reason to give thanks this Thanksgiving and every day. No matter what people say or do or fail to do, His love and faithfulness are everlasting.

So whether we are passing the turkey like so many others on this national holiday or wrestling with issues we’d rather not name, let us give thanks. On Thanksgiving and always.

 

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A Tale of Two Mothers, A Tale of Redemption

With the approach of Mother’s Day, I have been thinking about mothers and the role they play in our lives. Mothers are life-givers, and everyone has one. Some of us, like me, have two. One gave me life, bringing me into this world, while the second gave me a life, encouraging me to grow and flourish and become. Both are important, though obviously in different ways.

Sometimes people like to paint adoption as a wonderful, rosy situation. The poor, unwanted child gets the needed family while the unfortunate, childless couple gets the longed-for child. Sure, there are variations, but that’s the main theme. And mostly it is truly wonderful. Yet underneath the surface there is no denying the brokenness that required adoption as a solution in the first place.

Broken relationships, broken plans, broken hopes.

This is not how it was supposed to be, right? We can feel it in our hearts when the world goes awry, and something that should have been good and pure and whole has been broken.

The world is broken.

But more than a practical solution or a pretty fix, adoption is a story of redemption. Two separate broken stories are bound together as a family, something new and whole and good. It is a second chance, a new start, a gift of grace.

The truth is, though, we are all broken regardless of how many moms we have. Broken. Every one of us. So maybe, if we’re all broken and in this together, you might think it doesn’t matter. It’s clearly not special to be broken. Look at us. That’s just how we are. Big deal.

But it matters, and the big deal is that there is hope in the midst of our brokenness. There is One Who Restores, One Who Redeems. One who picks up all our broken pieces and makes us whole, like we’re meant to be, like we long to be.

Love pursues us.

Like new parents consumed with unquenchable love, God the Father loves us madly. He loves us so much that Jesus was broken to make us whole. And He freely offers adoption to all who believe. The God of Second Chances takes us wandering orphans, and makes us heirs of His kingdom, making us new and whole.

This Mother’s Day I am thankful for two moms, two adoptions, and one amazing life.

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How to find meaning in the Sprint store

It was a necessary evil, my visit to the Sprint store today. My cell phone has been on the fritz for weeks, and it had to be dealt with. Visits to Sprint are never quick, and when the guy told me he was “at a loss” as to what was wrong, I gave up my dreams of getting out of there any time soon.

To pass the time, I perused the newest phones and accessories, watched cars drive by, and couldn’t help but overhear other people’s conversations. There were three rows of seats that formed a triangle around a large center pillar adorned with large monitors facing each direction. No reception today apparently as they stared blankly back at us. I sat in one of the seats anyway, and looked around. I realized should have brought a book.

Other customers came and went. Lucky them. I waited, receiving periodic updates from the Sprint guy troubleshooting my phone. His coworker chatted so long and about such personal details with another young woman that I wondered if they were actually friends. Sprint girl is probably just really open like that.

An older man sat, eyes closed mostly, looking weary and holding his cane, while his wife discussed her issue with my Sprint guy (as he waited for my phone to respond). I guessed they were on disability. A little girl sat next to the man, eating a snack, and then hopped down from the seat. Soon she began circling around the large center pillar, and I watched.

When the girl noticed me watching, I smiled and she smiled back. Before long she would stop in front of me and play peekaboo for a moment before continuing around. After a while, she was chatting with me, smiling, and hopping up and down as she held onto the seat next to me. She was three, like the number of cell phones lined up near us, she pointed out. The remains of her snack decorated her cheeks as she pointed out cars driving by, showed me her pink flip flops, counted to four, and hopped. The young woman chatting at the counter heard our chatter and turned to smile. The older man and his wife paid no attention.

So there we were, in a cell phone store, surrounded by some of the best in distraction technology, both of us waiting without a gadget or screen. For a short while our two very different worlds intersected, and we made a happy connection. And I was reminded that this is what we are made for – connection, relationship, real life. It can be so easy to hide behind our portable technology, like it’s important, rather than taking some time to talk to someone. The ads promise to make us more connected, most connected, with cell phones, tablets, apps, and more. But it’s a lie they sell for a profit. When we lose real connectedness, we lose humanness.

Sure it’s risky to talk to actual people, especially ones you don’t know. They might be weird or crazy or think you are. It could be really uncomfortable, especially for the introverts among us (like me). But a part of me thinks it just might be worth the risk. A part of me dares to think that it’s healthy and good. That maybe this is the kind of thing that our culture is so sorely lacking. That maybe if more people talked to each other, people from all different realms and realities, instead of talking about each other, then maybe – maybe – we could all get along better.

When the wife finished up her business, the older couple called the girl, and they headed out of the store. The couple walked slowly like they carried a great weight, while the child bounced carefree. As they made their way past the large windows, my little friend smiled and waved, and I did the same. And the couple paid no attention at all.

 

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When you’re expecting football and get saltmarsh instead

Yesterday, as the sun was setting and football fans were gearing up for the Super Bowl and watching incredibly expensive commercials, our family was driving home from visiting my parents in South Carolina. Our trusty old minivan started having some problems, as indicated by the variety of warning lights that lit up the dashboard. We were hoping to make it home, or at least to a nice place to stop and call for help. But there on Highway 17, in the midst of saltmarshes and billboards, within sight of the Talmadge Bridge, all the gauges stopped working, and we coasted to a stop on the one little patch of concrete on the shoulder of the road.

My call to AAA started out a bit comical as I tried to describe our exact location. No crossroads nearby. No businesses except we were kind of between two “adult” dance clubs, but they were quite a distance away. We were near a billboard for machine guns, which surprised me as I read it. And another billboard for a car dealership. Other than that, it was saltmarsh.

Jasmine the Friendly AAA Woman finally was able to pinpoint our location, but the not-so-friendly computer would not accept the remoteness of this place where we were just thankful, and a little surprised, to have cell phone service. After consulting with her supervisor and keeping me on hold for an incredibly long time, Jasmine announced a tow truck had been alerted and would call me soon.

When Chris the Tow Truck Driver called, he had some random address for us, but I was able to explain where we were, and he was on his way. In the meantime, Jon called his brother, Karl, who was on his way with a friend, leaving the Super Bowl behind to pick up our family.

By this time, darkness had settled over the marsh and the highway, punctuated by headlights of cars rushing by. Will grumbled a little about missing the Super Bowl. Anna noticed the stars. The windows fogged over as it grew colder outside.

Karl and his friend, Al, arrived, and soon the kids and I were on our way home, having to leave Jon with the van to wait for the tow truck. By the time we got home, Jon was riding in the tow truck, taking the van to the shop. I dropped the kids off at Grandma’s house, and drove Jon’s car to go meet him.

The special surprise for the evening was that our truck, which had been borrowed for a few weeks, was suddenly returned to town, and Jon and I were able to pick it up on our way home. So we will not be down to one vehicle while our minivan is in the shop, which makes life so much easier.

Although the evening didn’t go as we had expected, and we missed half of the Super Bowl (a big deal to some of us), we can see God’s protection and provision in so many ways. Safety. That little patch of concrete. Cell phone service in a remote location. People able to leave what they were doing to come help us. Our third vehicle being returned just when we needed it most.

We made it safe and sound to a tv in time for the half-time show (though I don’t see what was so wonderful about Beyoncé, but whatever). It was a big, colorful, flashy, exciting show to be sure. But even better, to me, was the quiet, sure, steady presence of God with our family that night on the highway between the marshes.

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Making the most of the season

I always have lofty plans for Advent, full of ideas for making this time as peaceful, reflective, and worshipful as I think it should be. “Silent Night” beckons me to carve out some quiet to consider the weightiness of the incarnation. Maybe sit in the dark by the light of the Christmas tree and ponder the miracle. Maybe light Advent candles and share in family devotions each evening.

And yet, even if I manage to arrange moments of quiet reflection, I find that Christmas rushes in before I feel ready. Life is so busy, often more so at this time of the year. Even our times of stillness can feel rushed, like just another item on the holiday checklist. So many plans and preparations, activities and obligations. I feel cheated, guilty, like I should have done more to savor the time, to quiet my heart, to be reverent.

But here’s the thing. Jesus didn’t slip peacefully into a worshipful, reverent, silent world. He didn’t wait until we were ready. Jesus burst into our messy, busy, crowded world. He came, not floating peacefully down from the heavens clothed in white, but through the struggle and mess of childbirth. Surely there were also some peaceful moments to rest and reflect, but the world He came to was not a place of peace, and He didn’t mind coming anyway. In fact, that’s why He came. He came to our world, and the wretched, violent, desperate mess we have made of it, on a rescue mission.

We shake our heads at the stories of mass shootings, terrorists, poverty, injustice, and other dark acts of darkened hearts. Some shake their fists at a God who would allow it to be. And God would shake us loose from these chains of sin through His Son, our Rescuer. He has a plan for this mess, and we see it now in His Christmas arrival and later in His Easter victory. God does not sit by unconcerned about the state of our world. It grieves Him enough that He sent His own Son to restore us, to bring true peace. He is the Light in the darkness, the Hope answer for our despairing questions.

So if I haven’t set up the Advent calendar yet or made an Advent wreath and I can’t manage to make time for daily Advent devotions with the kids like I want to, it’s still okay. He is here with us in the midst of our challenges and schedules and failures. He comes to us anyway, right where we are, penetrating our mess. It is great when we can be still, and we definitely need that at times, but God is still God in our busyness and stress and struggle.

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A thankful, giving, disappointing Christmas

So here we are in Advent, preparing for the coming Christmas… the coming festivities, parties, gifts, and sparkle. And the babe in the manger who came on that silent night can be easily overshadowed by the bells and bustle.

American culture makes this time into a sort of game, a competition, another leg of the Rat Race. No sooner are our bellies full of turkey thankfulness than the starting gun rings out and the race begins. Who will get the best deals, the earliest deals, the coolest toys and gadgets? Who will have bragging rights come Christmas day, inspiring the envy of their friends because of their cool stuff? Oh, yeah, and happy birthday, Jesus… and did you see my super, new, best thing?

This Christmas one-upmanship has a powerful effect on kids. They see the commercials, and hear people talking. They want and want and want. They quickly learn, in this great land of opportunity and plenty, that they do not have enough. Most have not yet learned the truth that they will never have enough unless they learn contentment. So if they don’t get that prized item, they can take it pretty hard, especially if their friends enjoy bragging about what they got.

Instead of the generosity of giving, much on display is the selfishness of getting. The main job of Santa is, after all, to bring kids what they want (although he is strangely biased toward the more well-off kids).

In the name of Christmas we can reinforce selfishness, continually asking kids (and adults) what they want for Christmas. “What do you want for Christmas?” “What will you get for Christmas?” It puts all the focus on themselves. What if we start asking what they will give, what we will give? “What will you give for Christmas this year?” “What are you excited to give?” Are we prepared to be thankful regardless of what we get?

God gave… that’s how Christmas started. He gave first, and He is our example to follow. He set the standard. But the focus can easily shift to getting rather than giving, and while the two are different sides of the same coin, the emphasis is important.

We can give gifts from a store, gifts of time, homemade gifts, gifts of experiences, gifts of togetherness. Teaching our kids to value them all can be a challenge. But words have power, and as we begin to change how we talk about Christmas, along with what we emphasize, the focus can begin to shift.

Maybe I haven’t done the best job so far of teaching my kids to be joyful givers. I think when kids are really young, sometimes we do not expect much from them, but as they grow we need to require more and raise the bar. Everyone has talents and time that they can give even if they have no money to buy presents. We need to encourage kids to be givers.

My kids have high expectations and hopes for this Christmas, just like every year. But they also know without a doubt that they will not be getting everything they want. (I tell them this to make it clear.) I am sure they will be disappointed because some friend gets a new cell phone or those expensive sneakers they will outgrow in six months or some other wonderful, amazing thing that my kids did not get.

And that will be fine. It’s okay to be disappointed. Sometimes it’s even good. Disappointment can lead to growth and maturity, and that, while maybe not appreciated at the time, is a great gift itself.

So, as we head toward Christmas this Advent season, let’s bring along our Thanksgiving thankfulness, look for ways to give joyfully to others, and graciously accept disappointment. Let’s give out of a fullness of love, following the Father’s example, and letting that Rat Race run right on by. That kind of Christmas honors the God who stooped low to love us.

And if you see my kids around, feel free to ask them what they are giving for Christmas.

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When the “worst camping trip ever” wasn’t at all

Happy to find a three-day weekend in October and hankering for autumn leaves and cool temperatures, our family headed north recently to Oconee State Park in the mountains of South Carolina for camping adventure. Following the “be prepared” scouting motto, we filled our minivan with all the essentials… tent, sleeping bags and pads, clothes, food, camp kitchen, and so on. Sure, we could have left the full size pillows at home and maybe brought fewer clothes or a smaller cooler, but we had room, especially with the backpack on the back of the van. Sure, we were heading to a hike-in tent camp site, but the ranger assured us the walk was not very far to the site. No problem.

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Setting up camp on Saturday was delayed a few hours as we waited for the rain to stop, which it did around 4:00 in the afternoon. That’s when we set out down the trail with our wagon filled and arms loaded with as much as we could carry in one trip. That’s when we discovered that our camp site was about a quarter of a mile over gravel, and then narrow root and leaf, trail. That’s when we realized we should have gone more minimalist with this trip. It took at least three more trips to lug all our “essentials” to our site. We vowed to work towards “bring only what you can carry” camping and making the kids practice with backpacks.

As we unpacked our goods, we discovered that our van backpack was not actually waterproof after all. Water-resistant, perhaps. But driving through significant rainfall successfully soaked two sleeping bags and various articles of clothing, prompting Anna to declare this “the worst camping trip ever.”

But no worries! Since we had not packed “minimalist,” we had an extra sleeping bag and blankets. And many of the clothes were not wet. And besides, the kids had packed too much and didn’t need it all anyway. Things could only get better.

And they did. Granted, we hit a few other snags along the way. Like how our tent was too big for the designated site so it extended right up to the fire pit, which was strangely close to the tent area to begin with, causing us to have to improvise our fire. Or how the entire campsite was on a hill so we felt like we were rolling into each other all night. Or how we could still hear those loud campers across the lake ignoring the camp quiet hours around midnight. Or how some of us were cold…

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But there were the mountains. The sweet smell of decaying leaves on the forest floor. The cool fresh air. And we were there in the midst of it. Living and breathing, absorbing it into ourselves, storing it up, hoping it could last long enough. And the colors and the coolness, the elevation and beauty were like the face of God to me. Smiling, gracious, kind in His caring for us. It is a gift to be able to tramp through the crunchy mountain trails, to chase the raccoon from our leftovers, to witness the growth of a small purple mushroom, to find a beaver had visited during the night to claim a small tree.

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We hiked the trails, marveled at waterfalls, drove the twisty roads, fed some trout, and ate some apples at the orchard down the road. It was a grand time after all, immersing us in another place and another season from the usual.

And the blue sky. And the sun on the autumn leaves. And the trees reaching toward heaven. And the five of us rambling over mountains, thoroughly enjoying our “worst camping trip ever.”

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Ode to the New Season

I love the changing of seasons. The newness, the freshness of it. It inspires me to make my own changes, and gives me a fresh perspective. My favorite season is whichever one is new, although I do prefer Spring and Fall a bit.

The past couple days have been refreshingly cool here in South Georgia. This morning I walked the kids to school, as I have been trying to do a lot this school year, and the world was simply glorious. Blue skies, cool breeze, a scattering of leaves. Anna and Will actually said they were chilly… how great is that?!

Fall is definitely in the air now, coloring my dreams in oranges and browns. I can finally walk into the mall and allow myself to look at the store displays that have been proclaiming Fall and Halloween and Thanksgiving for weeks already. (I still avert my eyes from the expanding Christmas aisles. If I don’t see it, it’s like it’s not there, right?)

I’m ready for pumpkins and the scent of cinnamon and no longer sweating when I walk to the mailbox at the end of my driveway! Bring on the crunchy leaves, and I will happily plod right through them and gather them into piles to my children’s delight.

I love Fall! I just wish we had a bit more of it.

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Lessons From a Corn Maze

If I had my own corn maze, I’d call it The Amazing Maize Maze. Really, I can’t believe I’ve never seen a corn maze with that name. There must be one somewhere.

I went to a corn maze twice last week, having never been to one before, and it was interesting. Looking at the map, it seems like a lot of fun. The paths are cleverly arranged to make a picture. You get to walk around through corn, which just doesn’t happen every day. And the days I went to the maze were beautiful and sunny, with cheerful skies. What’s not to like?

But, the whole point of a maze is to try to find your way out, which necessarily implies that there are lots of ways that do not lead out. And I happen to have some issues with getting lost. I don’t like it. Not even the thought of it, really. But if my kids were up for the maze, then I was, too.

As we went through the maze (happily following a guide, which I think is kind of like cheating), we passed through an intersection and my son asked why we didn’t take a different route. I explained that not all the paths lead back out. He asked why not. I asked him how much fun it would be to do a maze if we knew every path would lead out, so there was no way to “lose.” He thought about it, and answered that it wouldn’t be any fun.

Exactly. It’s a paradox: without the chance of losing, winning is meaningless. Why even bother unless you just like walking around in the corn (which, in itself, is interesting for a certain amount of time)?

Another thing about the maze is that there are lots of paths people can choose to follow. But not all of them will take you where you aim to go, no matter how sincere you may be. Some of them are simply dead ends. And so it is in life, on so many levels.

Life is truly amazeing! (Yeah, that was bad, but I just couldn’t resist!)

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