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.

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

Free Download

*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.

Free Download

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.

Free Download

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!*

 

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!*

Sometimes It Does Depend on Me + 6 Ways to Serve In Your Church

MRM_9413_001It may be because Drew’s a redhead, but his bright red cheeks told me he was tired. It was one of his last soccer games of the season, and only the minimum number of players showed up. That meant lots of playing time – yay! – but no breaks. Eventually it looked like the whole team was playing in slow motion.

They were exhausted.

My previous post was a lesson I learned that when it comes to serving in the church (or anywhere really), it doesn’t all depend on me, no matter how much I may think it does. But as anyone serving in the church knows, there are times in fact when it seems that if you don’t do it, no one literally will.

That’s why I felt it necessary to follow up on that post with a friendly reminder that sometimes it does depend on me – and you. 

You’ve probably heard that in any given organization, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I’m not sure if that’s an official statistic or a quotable quote, but I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

Why is the minority doing the majority of the work? Sometimes, granted, the minority can be control freaks and want everything their way. (I’m not pointing fingers…you saw my last post about hating group projects. Most of the time I ended up doing all the work because I wanted it done my way. Guilty.)

But sometimes it’s simply because the whole team isn’t showing up to the game. There are no subs, and the players – while they love the game – are exhausted and desperately need a water break.

So let me encourage us all to come to the game. In a church setting, here are just a few suggestions:

1. Be attentive to the communicated needs. Maybe you’re a horrible cook so providing a dish for pot luck may not be your thing, but helping clean up afterward is something you can do. On the flip side, maybe you have young kids and can’t stay late to clean up, but you can certainly bring a dish.

2. Seek out serving opportunities in areas that interest you. Don’t wait to be asked. If you love music, ask the music director if you can come to choir practice. If you have a passion for the elderly, ask a pastor how you can help meet their needs. The list is endless.

3. Volunteer for the church nursery or to serve in Children’s Church. When you serve there, you’re not only serving the children (obviously) and the parents (clearly), but you’re serving the other workers. I remember when Drew was a baby and we had lots of babies and not enough workers, and Matt and I were in nursery two out of every three Sundays. We rarely got to be in worship and listen to biblical teaching we so desperately needed. If you volunteer, you’ll be contributing to the rotation, allowing everyone to be in worship more often.

4. Participate in the church’s outreach events. Again, the more who serve, less work is shouldered by few. Plus, serving alongside your brothers and sisters in your church is a huge blessing!

5. Be there. You can’t very well do or even know about the above items if you’re not present with your local church regularly. Make it a priority to serve God through the ministries of your local church.

6. Pray about where God would have you serve in your local church. This should probably be #1. Jesus moves and grows his kingdom through the local church. Don’t dismiss that. He has equipped you uniquely to use your gifts to serve through the local church. And there are few things more fulfilling than exercising those gifts for the glory of God and for his kingdom.

God doesn’t call us to be mere spectators in kingdom work any more than he expects us to do all the work. It’s a team effort.

Come on, team, let’s all come to the game and play.

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!*

It All Doesn’t Depend on Me

DSC_0094“You’ll work on this project in groups.”

Those were the words I dreaded in college. UGHHHHHH! Why can’t I just get it done myself?  I gritted my teeth during every management/marketing class I had, thankful that my major was psychology, where groupthink wasn’t a priority.

Since college, my mindset has continued along the lines of, “If it’s going to get done, I have to do it.” That’s one reason I was very confused when I felt God leading me to give up my position as Sunday School Director at my church after only serving for a year.  I had just gotten started and I was enjoying what I was doing.

But in many gentle whispers, I knew God was prompting me to make space in my life to be available to invest in those around me in a more concentrated manner. If a new Christian needed discipled, I wanted to be available to have a regular Bible study time with her. If a friend needed to talk, I wanted to have enough room in my schedule to drop it all for her and my other commitments not go crashing to the ground.

So in that effort to create this margin in my life, I knew God was prompting me to cut back on a few of my commitments. But my biggest concern – and why I didn’t officially resign quicker – was that I was afraid “no one” would step in. Our Sunday School was growing and I didn’t want to leave it hanging.

Little did I know, God was working on another woman in the church, a woman I love and respect immensely. When I confided in her that I felt led to step down, she began feeling God’s nudging to step up.

I watched the fire in her eyes yesterday as we discussed turning over the leadership. Her passion for Sunday School eclipsed my own exponentially. It was almost as if God whispered to me in that moment, “It all doesn’t depend on you, Jill.”

DSC_0102I don’t think God was done driving home his point when this morning I received a text from a friend who was struggling asking me to pray for her. All I wanted to do was drop everything I had planned for today – which was hours of garden work on this last 70 degree day until winter moves in tomorrow – and have coffee with her.

I was about to offer, when I received a text from a mutual friend offering the same thing (the first friend had sent a group text and I was unaware of it). Again, God reminded me – even in the specific area I had felt him leading me to be more available – “It doesn’t all depend on you, Jill.”

Had I not followed God’s promptings and stepped down as Sunday School Director – and stayed because I felt no one else would do it – I would have robbed someone else of the blessing of serving. I would have continued my frantic pace, unable to minister to those who needed me.

Not only did God teach me that it all doesn’t depend on me, he taught me to listen to his gentle whispers to guide me in the smallest of details.

What about you? Have you struggled to step down – or not say yes to something – because you were afraid no one else would do it?

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!*