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

Ephesians4-2

“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.

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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.
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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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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. 🙂

courtesy: annarbor.com

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.
 
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That part of your personality you hate? Look again. It might just be beautiful.

DSC_0016Sometimes I feel like I’m a walking contradiction. Just today I felt overwhelmed with housework and to-do’s. I was relieved when my mom came to get Alyssa so I could catch up, but a few hours later I began missing the kids and the noise. I had longed for some quiet, yet the quiet became deafening.

Here’s another example of my contradictory nature. I can get so excited about things in life. My energy abounds. But then sometimes – mostly in the stillness of the before-bed hours – I start feeling clouded with darkness and fears begin to assault my mind.

And then there’s my personal vice that seems to oppose the very essence of my calling. Few things give me more satisfaction than when I’m doing what God made me to do. Yet those very things many times open me up to the things that have the power to paralyze my soul – my fear of criticism and my need of approval.

I was talking to my friend Tiffany about this several weeks ago. We’ve been friends for over 16 years so she knows me quite well. I was lamenting about a recent conflict that had taken place. Although the conflict had been resolved, in the midst of it I was tortured by it. It consumed my thoughts and I was miserable. I asked Tiffany to help me learn how to not get so upset when someone questions me or criticizes me or doesn’t like me (real or perceived).

She responded in a way I didn’t expect.

She said that she didn’t think I’d ever be able to let things “not” get to me. She said I could learn to handle it better, but my deep thinking and sensitivity were part of who God created me to be. If I lost this part of myself, I’d lose part of myself.

If I lost this part of myself, I’d lose part of myself.

I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted her to get her magic best-friend wand out and grant me a tougher heart. Instead, I found myself looking at this part of me in a different way. I needed to:

  1. Embrace it. God made me a deeply sensitive and passionate person for a reason.
  2. Guard my heart. Even good things can become idols and replace God in our hearts. When I find myself changing who I am or what I do to gain approval so people will like me, I am bowing to the idol of acceptance.  Or if I find myself avoiding situations that make me feel vulnerable, I’m limiting God’s work through this area he created in me.
  3. Run to God. When God remains on the throne of my life, I don’t need approval from anyone else because I’m already approved in Christ. But, he will show me how to use this sensitivity to be open to correction and putting others’ needs first in order to serve them, not to seek approval.

As much as I’d like God to change this part of my heart, it’s there for a purpose. It will never go away. Left unchecked, it will paralyze me. It will hinder me from doing what I’ve been made to do. But submitted to the God who loves me and has a purpose for me, it has the potential to be used for God’s glory in ways I can’t fathom.

Is there a part of your personality that you despise? If you could wish it away, would you? If so, perhaps you should look at it through a different lens. Embrace it. Guard your heart against allowing it to control you in an unhealthy way, and run to God and allow Him to show you how, submitted to Him, it is beautiful.

Overwhelmed? Me, too. Maybe this is why.

MRM_8425_001I’m feeling tired. Overwhelmed. Not enough.

As soon as my endless to-do list appears to be becoming manageable, I walk out to the garden and find black-eyed peas to harvest and shell and can. Or beans or tomatoes or okra.

And then I find I am running low on chicken broth and I bake a chicken and make broth for 3 days and can it. And the bread is low so I have to make more.

And then laundry piles up and dishes aren’t done and the floors need cleaned and PTO meeting minutes need transcribed and items for church need to be prepared and I have to study for the MOMs class I teach on Wednesday.

And THEN my husband’s truck tire that I took in to get fixed last week is low again and I have to take it back in.

And that’s just a picture of my last three days.

This morning, my mom offered to keep Alyssa so I could catch up on housework. But I ended up taking Matt’s truck back in to the dealership and then had coffee with my best friend Tiffany and then chatted with my close friend and mentor Teresa. By the time all that was done, I picked Alyssa up and came home.

But you know what? I didn’t regret my morning in the least. I realized that being with – and venting to – two women who love me was way more restorative than catching up on my to-do list.

I shared with Teresa how I just haven’t felt right since I took my writing break three weeks ago. My life has been out of kilter. My relationship with God has felt dry.  And while there may be several reasons for that, she pointed out something I hadn’t thought of:

Writing IS my rest.

God has wired me, and though I’m shy to accept this, called me, to minister through writing and teaching. While there may be seasons – like harvest season – that the need arises for me to write less than normal, shutting off that part of myself was like shutting off a part of my soul’s oxygen.

I began thinking… could many of us be running on fumes because we’ve shut off the one thing God has wired us to do? We put it aside completely because the season of life doesn’t seem to allow for it? Or we believe it’s selfish to pursue our calling when so many other responsibilities demand our attention.

Perhaps we need to understand that as believers our callings aren’t about us in the first place anyway. They’re about God, his glory, and his kingdom. They may run on 2 cylinders in some phases of our lives and run at Mach 5 in other phases, but they should still be running. They aren’t lying completely dormant waiting for the perfect time.

In the last 3 weeks, my life got out of alignment, and it’s time to recalibrate, and do what I was made to do.

Your turn: In this post, I talk about “calling.” By that, I mean how we work for the Kingdom of God based on the unique spiritual gifting He has given to each believer. Do you know your calling at this point in your life? Have you identified your spiritual gift(s)?  If not, Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12 are great places to start.

Dear Christian Introvert…

But he said to me, “My grace is

It was one of those days an introvert dreads:

12pm – shop at Rhea Lana
2pm – friend’s daughter’s birthday party
4pm – husband’s work party where I knew no one

Granted, shopping at Rhea Lana was fine but the fact that I had to interact nonstop with people starting at noon with no breather was quite overwhelming. (Introverts, you’re feeling my pain. Extraverts, stop crinkling your eyebrows – keep reading; you may learn a little about us weirdos.)

I recently read an article here about introverts that said it best: Small talk with strangers is my kryptonite. YES! (And truth be told, small talk with friends can be my kryptonite some days as well! Of course, this is never to be confused with deep talk. I could deep talk for hours!)

But here’s what I’ve learned about this aspect of my personality. It isn’t a flaw. It is God-designed. And it isn’t meant to help me avoid people and situations where I’m uncomfortable.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

For me, as a believer and follower of Jesus, my weakness is meant for an entirely different purpose than my strength.

For example, my sweet spot is teaching and speaking. (The great irony is that I can speak in full confidence to a room full of people yet quiver talking to a small group in a social setting…can anyone relate?) So, if I’m not careful, I can head into a teaching or speaking situation with full confidence in my ability. How many times have I left a classroom feeling I’ve completely failed only to realize that I hadn’t prayed before I ministered to my class? I was operating in my own strength – even within my own spiritual gifting – yet I fell on my face without God’s anointing and power.

But every time I find myself with one of those days like I mentioned above, you’d better believe I’m spending a LOT of time in prayer! Why? Because I know my weakness threatens to cripple me. My anxiety leads me to only think of myself instead of how I might minister to another person.

In my weakness, I sink into the background. In my weakness, I avoid small talk. In my weakness I grit my teeth and bear it until it’s over. In my weakness I never seek to know another person.

But when Christ’s power rests on me, I see outside myself. I look for opportunities to ask someone about herself and open the door to conversation. And because being deep and sensitive many times accompanies an introverted personality, meaningful connection can occur in ways that are more difficult for the extravert. Sometimes this connection happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I don’t leave the situation defeated. I leave knowing that truly Christ’s power was resting on me as I sought Him to use my weakness for his glory.

It’s not perfect. It’s never easy. And I still put my foot in my mouth plenty.

But it beats the alternative of letting the weakness of my personality cripple me instead of being used by God to take me farther many times than my strengths ever could.

A Heart-Wrenching Reminder that We DO have an Enemy

DSC_0565My family and I were enjoying a peaceful dinner while on vacation this week when I received the text. A dear friend appeared to have voluntarily gone “off the grid,” with no word to the ones closest to her. To say my heart sank is an understatement. Though I tried to push it to the back of my mind so I could be fully present with my family, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

This is a young woman who had the joy of Jesus written on every inch of her face. Despite a difficult life as a result of bad choices of the past, Jesus had set her free. I watched as she endeavored to love Him with every fiber of her being, despite the odds stacked against her and the pressures of life seemingly unrelenting. Just a short month prior, I marveled as she intentionally tried to be a witness and share Jesus with coworkers. She desired to help others find freedom in the Savior who rescued her. And she had the most humble, teachable spirit of anyone I’ve ever met.

Oh, how I love her.

My whole vacation was clouded by my worry for her. I went to bed each night pleading for her safety, begging God to meet her where I couldn’t. If she wouldn’t (or couldn’t) answer my calls or texts, I knew the One who loves her more than I do could reach her in a way that I was unable.

What troubles me about this whole situation is that I truly believe she is where she is because the Enemy saw her as a threat, and he lay in wait, ready to pounce on an area of vulnerability.

Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.  -1 Peter 5:8 HCSB

What makes me think I’m immune from a similar attack? You see, most of the time I think I’m impenetrable to the enemy’s schemes. Sure, I sin just like anyone else in the flesh. But I don’t fear being suckered in so deep into a lifestyle of sin that I run away from my Savior.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! -1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV

Almost ten years ago, my close friend Michael was killed in Iraq. If I’m remembering the details correctly, an insurgent climbed into his tank and began shooting. Michael had armor protecting himself, but the bullet penetrated between a gap in the armor, killing him instantly.

I may think my armor is strong, but the truth is, the enemy knows where my gaps are. He knows where to hit me with great likelihood that I’ll fall.

Do I know where my gaps are?

I can name a few, but one I’ll share with you is my tendency toward depression. I haven’t dealt with this in years, but when I did, I remember darkness so thick covering me that I couldn’t see the light. I felt completely lost, and God seemed so far from me, too far from my grasp. Should I fall into depression again, who’s to say that I might not find myself vulnerable to harmful, destructive, ungodly behaviors?

I don’t understand why God allows the enemy to have his way with his children at times, as we see both in Job and in Peter’s sifting.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 NIV

As Beth Moore says in her book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, sometimes – like Peter – we need a little sifting.

But other times I believe we simply underestimate the power of the Enemy. If we are threatening the Enemy’s kingdom, you’d better believe we’ll be attacked, whether as an individual or as a church. Satan isn’t going to stand by while we go charging against the gates of Hell.

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18

My heart has not stopped pleading to God on behalf of my friend and sister in Christ. But her situation is also a wake-up call to me. We must be alert! We must ask God to show us where the gaps in our armor lie. Could they be in:

  • past sin (even forgiven sin reveals a weakness in our hearts)
  • sin against us
  • insecurity
  • loneliness
  • striving after things of the world
  • unanswered prayer
  • tragedy
  • a spiraling situation beyond our control

May I ask you, dear reader, to pray for my friend? In my prayers for her, this verse passed my lips multiple times; may I ask you to pray the same on her behalf?

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. – 1 John 4:4 NIV

May I also ask you to be alert? Take a look at yourself and ask God to reveal the gaps in your armor. I’ll leave you with one of my friend Michael’s favorite passages:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. – Ephesians 6:10-13

Thank you for allowing me to share my heart with you today.

 

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