The Whole Santa Thing. And why we should extend grace to those who do it differently.


“Mommy, why didn’t Santa bring me anything for Christmas?”

My four-year-old son’s voice in the back seat caught me by complete surprise. And nearly broke my heart.

I thought we had made it successfully through another Christmas avoiding the whole Santa issue. Apparently not.

It’s not that we’re anti-Santa.  My husband and I both grew up believing in Santa and had good memories. We didn’t grow up thinking our parents could never be trusted. We didn’t believe our parents lied to us. We didn’t have any heartbreak on the discovery that Santa was Mom and Dad. We weren’t confused about Jesus being real because we were told Santa was.

But there was just something in me that didn’t feel right about doing Santa with Drew. I couldn’t shake it. I wasn’t dogmatic about it and did not look down on my multitude of friends who chose to do Santa. My feelings on the matter were unexplainable. Finally I just accepted that perhaps God was giving me that uncomfortable feeling for some reason that was specific to my family, even specific to Drew. I decided to trust that instinct even if I didn’t understand it.

We still watched Santa cartoons and had a few decorations of Santa in our house. We treated Santa like we treated Mickey Mouse – a fictional character with a fictional story, although we did share the account of the real Saint Nicholas. When Christmas morning came, Drew didn’t even bring up Santa because he didn’t care where the presents came from.

But avoiding the perception of a real Santa was difficult. Well-meaning adults constantly asked Drew, “What is Santa going to bring you for Christmas?” I had been successful in blowing those conversations off, until that moment in the car.

I was actually surprised at what came out of my mouth in response. I hadn’t practiced it or even thought about it beforehand. But before I knew it, out it came.

“Drew, you know that we celebrate Jesus at Christmas, and there’s a big difference between the stories you’ve heard about Santa and about Jesus. You’ve heard that you have to be “good enough” to get presents at Christmastime from Santa. But that’s opposite of what Jesus came for. We could never be good enough to get to Heaven, no matter how good we are. And we don’t have to be “good enough” for Jesus to love us. Jesus loves us even though we do bad things, and he came to the world to take our punishment so we could go to Heaven as long as we accept his free gift.”

I then reminded Drew of the presents he received on Christmas morning and how he received the same presents as the other boys and girls.

That seemed to satisfy him. I don’t know how much penetrated his 4-year-old heart, but I do know that he has never truly questioned it since.

I share this story because I meet parent after parent who have similar uneasy feelings about Santa. If that’s you, I want you to know you’re not alone. Pray about it. Don’t just do Santa because it’s what’s expected. But don’t “not” do Santa because anti-Santa has seemed to become a more popular thing to do of late. Being prideful about the choice you make is worse than the choice itself, in my opinion. You never know when your viewpoint might change, after all.

Last year we went to a Live Nativity and in a corner sat Santa. Alyssa, 3, ran to him with such wonder in her eyes and sat on his lap with reckless abandon. Seeing her reaction – and knowing we had never introduced Santa to her either – taught me another lesson. Sometimes things are black and white. But sometimes they’re not. What might be right for one kid might not be right for another.

Alyssa is a dreamer with a vivid imagination. If she takes Santa and runs with it, I will probably adopt the “Santa Secret” for her. (I really wish I had known about this idea when Drew was little. It would have avoided so much distress! If you’re looking for an option that falls between Santa overkill and Santa boycott, I highly recommend reading this article from Jen Wilkin).

Each child is different. Each family is different. Each choice we make in this parenting gig is a choice we have to make with much prayer… and zero pride.

Just as I don’t look down on anyone who does Santa or anyone who foregoes the commercialized Christmas celebration altogether, I hope to receive the same grace in return. Parenting is hard enough. Let’s support each other with grace and humility.

Now Available!  Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals. To get your free copy, click here.

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*Note about this post: If you’re new to this blog, please know that I don’t make a habit of writing about emotionally-charged topics. My intention is never to stir controversy or incite division but instead I endeavor to share in a transparent way how I seek to navigate life and real issues through my faith in God and trust in his word. I’m sure someday I’ll see how I should have done this or that differently, but for now, I share my journey, no matter how on track or off it might turn out to be. My hope is that it may encourage you as you travel on your own journey with God.

A Messy Moment

MRM_0055_041Sometimes my relationship with God doesn’t look all that pretty. Sometimes it’s downright messy. But as I learned in the quiet darkness last night, I find the beautiful in the midst of the messy.

Come along as I walk you into that intimate moment.

I tend to do some pretty heavy thinking after the lights are out at night. For some reason that’s when any unrecognized sadness or burdens avail themselves. Last night was pretty typical. I had just put down a historical fiction novel I was reading. The setting was in the pre-Civil War days and a slave woman’s 9-year-old child had been sold into slavery and separated from his mother.

As I lay with these thoughts in my mind, I couldn’t help but think about such atrocities in human history and countless broken hearts through the centuries. Like a historical highlight reel, my mind replayed everything from Nero’s persecution of Christians to present day sex-slavery.

God, where were you when all those people were hurting so? You could have stopped it all. Why didn’t you?

Then I began thinking about the wars in Bible times, specifically when Joshua led the Israelites to conquer the people in Canaan, God’s Promised Land for Israel. I was already pretty miffed at God at this point, but now I got a little angry.

What about the children of those nations? I realize all of this symbolizes your great Gospel plan to rescue the world from their sin. I get the big picture. But are all the individuals nothing but pawns in your grand plan – no matter how truly grand it is? Where were you when they were crying out?

I guess you could say I had gotten pretty bold with God, but the late night hours are usually when I’m at my most raw. Still, in the middle of my rant, my heart was firm: even if I don’t understand it, even if I don’t like it, I still trust him. I’ll still follow him.

Out of nowhere a verse came to mind. It was so clear, so distinct, that I knew God had planted it there.

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6 ESV)

I made myself repeat this verse in my mind and then…

Have I shown Myself to be this to you in your life?

Yes, Lord, absolutely. No doubt.

Then that settled it for me. I couldn’t explain why God had allowed and continues to allow so much suffering. But I knew at that moment that I didn’t need to understand it all. It’s probably too great for me to know anyway.

But I knew beyond any doubt that God has proven himself merciful, gracious, slow to anger, faithful, and steadfast in love…

when my dad was fighting in court to get his job back

when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer the next year

when I was searching for where to attend college

when I struggled with depression and hated my job

when I was trying to conceive

when I battled postpartum depression

when my husband lost his job

when my father-in-law was dying of cancer

when I wanted to stay home with my children

when my mom was diagnosed with incurable cancer

Every single moment, God has proven faithful. I can trust him. Even when I don’t understand.

And do you know what else I learned last night? God doesn’t mind my coming to him, even being angry with him, as long as I’m willing to listen. Sometimes I think he’d rather me be gut-wrenchingly honest with him so I can open myself up to hearing his voice.

Oh what a sweet, tender moment we shared together last night. It started messy but ended full of beauty. I think I’ll start coming to him with my mess more often.

Now Available!  Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals. To get your free copy, click here.

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Spring is Coming (Plus FREE Download of Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals)

45 Alyssa tulipsI don’t recall a season in my thirty-plus years when I did not look forward to fall. The cooler weather, the beautiful display of color-checked mountains, the anticipation of holiday get-togethers, cuddling under blankets, and hot coffee by the fire. Ahh!

Signs of the season. This year is different. My second full garden season ushered in unexpected emotions with the yellowing of the trees and the coat of bronze pine needles in the yard. As I observe these pictures of the beauty of the season, all I see is one thing: impending death.

It sounds dramatic, I know. But for the first time in my life I really took in the drab of winter last year. Bare trees, brown lawn, and the few signs of life. I looked at my dreary backyard, bordered with wilted pine trees from the recurring ice storms and longed for signs of life.

A hopeful view. I shared this with my mom one day, and I should not have been surprised at the wisdom she immediately uttered.

“The dead of winter is what makes spring so beautiful.”

It’s no wonder her favorite flower is the jonquil. Along with the Bradford pear trees, the slender green leaves poking through the mulch last winter brought my heart such joy. New life is coming! Spring is on its way!

Spring is coming. I suppose I should look at winter for what it is—a reminder that no matter how dead the world around us seems, for believers in Christ, spring is always on its way.

A marriage seems hopeless, but out of nowhere a sign of life appears. Spring is coming.

Long unemployment tests our faith, but soon a break comes. Spring is coming.

Terminal illness threatens to cripple spirit as well as body, but peace emerges. Whether in this life or the next, spring is coming.

A prodigal child is away from home, but a knock on the door happens when you least expect it. Spring is coming.

When winter delays. It may be a long, hard, dreary winter. The sun may not shine for days or weeks. The end doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. But when our hope is in Christ, we can rest in the hope that never fails. In an answer to the when and how that only he knows,

Spring is coming.

Are you enduring a winter in your life? What do the seasons show you about what God has planned for your future?

Today’s post was taken from Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals. To get your free copy, click here.

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Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals – FREE Download

Glory in the Garden Cover

If you stay up until 4:30 a.m., and then get up at 6 a.m., does that count as an all-nighter? Even in my college days I never pulled an all-nighter so this was new to me. Now before you think I’m just highly motivated, I must confess I just happen to be on prednisone – steroids – at the moment and since I couldn’t sleep I figured I’d try to knock all of this out.

And it’s DONE!
I can hardly believe it!

My e-subscribers will receive a free download of Glory in the Garden. (Not Subscribed? It’s free and quick. Click here to subscribe and your copy will be on its way!) When you subscribe, you’ll be sent multiple download options. I’ll also have paperback books available in a few weeks. All of those details are in the email I’ll send with your free download. Oh, and don’t wait. This free download will only be available through December 21st.

I can already see you now. The fire is going, you have coffee in your hand, the Christmas tree lights are twinkling, and you’ll be reading this book, dreaming about gardening – whether you garden or not. But most of all I hope you’ll be inspired. I hope you’ll see familiar Scripture passages in ways you never have before. I hope you’ll be challenged and encouraged in your personal walk with God and your ministry to others wherever you are. God spoke to me in the garden. My prayer is that he’ll speak to you.

It’s HERE!!
Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!

Sign up!
Click the link above to receive your free download of Glory in the Garden!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*


23 Popular Christian Children’s Books + 15% Off Heart and Soul Coupon

UntitledOh, my idealistic new mama self. I have to chuckle at the remembrance. Drew, about 5 months old at the time, would doze off in his swing before bed. Meanwhile, I read him Bible stories. Sure, they were from a children’s book, but he didn’t even sit still for that particular book until he was at least in kindergarten.

I don’t know what I was trying to accomplish but I truly thought on some subconscious level he would tuck those stories deep into the recesses of the brain, and someday they would miraculously come to life, a product of a devoted mom after God’s own heart.


We have such high ambitions as brand new moms, don’t we? But when we get a few years under our belts we laugh at those days; however, the desire to raise our children to love and follow God doesn’t change. It just changes shape.

Drew is 8 now and Alyssa is 4, and since I began staying home I have tried to place a greater emphasis on books. We read all sorts of books, but I’d also like to be sure a good portion of those are faith-themed books. This has become especially important as Drew is growing older and is searching for how to reconcile the truth of Scripture with his everyday life.

A couple of weeks ago I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations on children’s books, both for young children like Alyssa and all the way up to preteen. I received so many great suggestions and many of those suggestions were given by my friend Pam, the owner of Heart and Soul Christian Book Store here in Russellville. I also found several other ideas thanks to the library of First Baptist Church in Russellville, a sister church.

Below is a list I compiled based on those recommendations.  For my local readers, Heart and Soul has many of these options in stock and at the bottom of this page, be sure and print the 15% off coupon.

Preschool to Early Elementary:
Berenstain Bears by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain
Good Night Warrior by Sheila Walsh
Will, God’s Mighty Warrior by Sheila Walsh
Gigi, God’s Little Princess by Sheila Walsh
The Princess Parables series by Jeanna Young and Jacqueline Johnson
The Grandma’s Attic series by Arleta Richardson and Patrice Barton
The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop and Susan Henson
The Squire and the Scroll by Jennie Bishop and Karen Rhodes
Just Like Jesus Said series by Melody Carlson
Hermie and Wormie series by Max Lucado
The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago
Tale of the Poisonous Yuck Bugs by Aaron Reynolds and Pete Whitehead
The Nineteenth of Maquerk by Aaron Reynolds and Pete Whithead
Veggie Tales Values to Grow By series
Veggie Town Values series

Early Elementary to Middle School:
The Amarias Adventures series by Amy Lynn Green
Hunter Brown series by Christopher Miller
Imagination Station series by Paul McCusker and Marianne Hering (Drew loves this series – it’s similar to Magic Treehouse)
Christian Heroes Series by Janete Benge and Geoff Benge (I cannot wait to get my hands on some of these!)
The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
Faithgirlz!/Girls of 622 Harbor View by Melody Carlson
Adventures in Odyssey series by Paul McCusker

I hope this list gets you started like it did me! If you have any others to recommend, please list them in the comments! And again, for my local readers, be sure to print out the coupon below and head to Heart and Soul! I’ve known Pam for over 15 years and I know she’ll help you locate exactly what fits you and your family.

Heart & Soul coupon

(click coupon to open in your web browser and print)

Coming next week!!
Glory in the Garden: 31 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!

Sign up!
Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*

*I have received no compensation for my recommendation of Heart and Soul Christian Book Store.


Walking on Water – My Reflection on a Crisis of Faith

I sit this morning, praying for my husband. He is taking “the biggest test in his life” – an exam at work for which he has been preparing the last two years. I can’t help but reflect to the moment over six years ago when we were sure he wasn’t even going to get the job, much less be where he is today. God has been so faithful.

Below is a post I wrote a few years ago reflecting on that moment that I’d call one of my biggest crises of faith. I hope this encourages you if you find yourself in struggling against the winds and waves of seemingly hopeless circumstances.Bridge Tower B&W

Walking on Water

When the phone rang, I was filled with nervous anticipation. My husband was searching for a job after his second layoff, and he had just taken a test for the one company that could keep us in Russellville with all of our family. I was so hopeful for good news.

After all, at the moment, pain was all around me. I was in a Florida hotel room accompanying my mother-in-law to her step-father’s funeral. This sudden death added to the pain our family was experiencing with my father-in-law’s fight with cancer. I was so hopeful that this phone call would bring a light to our darkness.

But my hopes were shattered as soon as I heard Matt’s voice. He didn’t know the results, but he was sure he didn’t pass. In that phone call, our hopes for staying in our hometown, being near our family, and building our home, were slipping away.

I went to take a shower before the visitation, and I couldn’t help but sob and sob. I didn’t understand. Why were all these things happening at once? Why couldn’t we have gotten some good news? Had God forgotten about us? Did he still have a plan? Why did he seem so silent? At that moment, the faith I had worked so hard to maintain over the months was crumbling.

And there I was. With nothing else left to cling to. Except the one thing I couldn’t let go of.

Thankfully, in the midst of it all, I couldn’t forget Who my God is. I couldn’t forget his promises. His character. His love. His provision. I learned that when I fixed my eyes on him, and him alone, the circumstances around me seemed to get dimmer in the shadow of his light.

What I experienced in my heart that day is what I think Peter experienced when he walked on the water with Jesus.

“‘Come,’ [Jesus] said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:29-30)

According to the first part of this verse, Peter walked on the water with no problem. He had his eyes on Jesus. The reality of his circumstances – the fierce wind and waves – were not a question in his mind at that point. All that mattered was that he saw Jesus, he was walking to Jesus, and he trusted Jesus.

But then things changed. Peter became aware of his reality. Most translations of this verse I read say that Peter “saw” the wind. If Peter saw the wind, then his eyes weren’t fixed on Jesus. They were fixed on his circumstances, and he panicked. He found himself sinking.

One interesting thing to note is that the wind didn’t stop when Peter was walking on water. The difference in his condition was where his eyes were fixed. When they were fixed on Jesus, his circumstances didn’t change. The wind was howling and the waves were threatening. But because his eyes were on Jesus, he didn’t sink.

Similarly, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, our circumstances don’t automatically improve. Jesus doesn’t always calm the storm immediately. But when our focus is on him, our perspective changes. He gives us the strength to overcome, and he walks us through it. Then, in his time, and whether it be in this life or in Heaven, Jesus will take us in the boat and the wind will stop.

A few weeks after Matt took his test, he got a letter that he – miraculously – passed his test and eventually got the job. Jesus had taken us into the boat and this storm had calmed.

But I will never forget that day when the wind and waves were so fierce that all I could do to keep from sinking was look to my Jesus.

Coming in two weeks!!
Glory in the Garden: 30 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!

Sign up!
Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*

I Saw a Sign. A Purple Sign. It was from God.


13 Christian SongsSo, I joined a gym. It’s kind of funny how it happened. I had become very concerned that at my mid-30-ish age that I was in such poor shape. Aches and pains were coming way too frequently for my liking. I began to see myself two decades down the line too frail to be able to enjoy retirement and my grandchildren and, most importantly, to be able to do ministry.

I had tried the whole running thing. I’ll just say it. You runners are plain crazy. I have the utmost respect for you but I just don’t get it. Not even the beautiful spring mornings were enough to keep me wanting to do it – and I was only running (ahem, walking mostly) less than a mile.

I had tried Zumba on my Xbox Kinect. That worked great until my Zumba game quit working; plus, I had gotten bored with the 30-minute routine and wasn’t coordinated enough to jump to the hour one.

So my horribly out of shape self decided to do the only thing I knew to do. I prayed. My desire has always been to do ministry and I hope someday I can travel and speak and serve. But that would become difficult if I don’t take care of my body now.

Now I will give you permission to laugh at me. I truly believe God has a sense of humor. Not long after I began praying that God would show me how to get in shape and find a plan I would stick with, I saw a sign.

A purple sign. On the side of the road. That said $10 per month.

Planet Fitness was opening in my town. It was from God. 🙂


So I talked with my husband and not only did I sign up but I also signed him up. I began on the treadmill – mostly walking – catching up on my favorite podcasts a few times per week. Then one day I was on the elliptical and decided to turn on some Christian music after a podcast had ended. I was amazed at how much more energy I had once I was listening to these upbeat tunes. I went from going 1 mile on the elliptical to 2.5 simply by the music I was listening to.

(That very night I saw on the news ticker that a new study showed a higher level of performance in exercise when listening to upbeat music. Just thought I’d throw that in.)

Then I got serious. I began doing searches for Christian music workout tunes and came upon this post by Running Rachel. I quickly looked up some of her suggestions and added them to my playlist.

Below is my playlist that I’ve tweaked to my personal routine. These give me 49 minutes on the elliptical, which equates to about 4.5 miles. I chose about 10 minutes of warm-up songs, followed by a sort of interval workout until finishing with “All the People Said Amen.” I’ll also note that all of these songs were free to download for Amazon Prime members.*

1. Beautiful Day by Jamie Grace

2. Burning in My Soul by Matt Maher

3. He Moves You Move by Audio Adrenaline

4. I Feel So Alive by Capital Kings

5. My Lighthouse by Rend Collective

6. Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective

7. Just a Friend by Jamie Grace

8. Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman

9. Do Life Big by Jamie Grace

10. Greater by MercyMe

11. White Boots by Jamie Grace

12. Every Good Thing by The Afters

13. All the People Said Amen by Matt Maher

If you’re looking for some upbeat, positive, Christ-centered workout music, or just some music to lift your mood, these are some to get you started. For those of you who listen to Christian music during your workout, do you have others to add to the list? I’d love to get a second playlist started!

*If you’re am Amazon Prime member, simply download the Amazon Music app to your smartphone. Search for the songs individually (some albums will not be free for Prime members but the individual songs are). Or click the links above and add them to your library in Amazon. From the app simply organize into a separate playlist. Be sure to download the songs to your “device” and not just keep them on the cloud; otherwise you’ll use data when you’re playing them unconnected to Wi-Fi.
Coming in two weeks!!
Glory in the Garden: 30 Days of Devotionals
FREE e-version for e-mail subscribers!

Sign up!
Click the link above to receive Glory in the Garden for free when it is released in late November!
*The paperback version will also be available – a great Christmas gift!*