"'And you've quite given [writing] up?' asked Christine.
'Not altogether...but I'm writing living epistles now,' said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co."
- Anne of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery


Thoughts On "Showing Up" From a Young(ish) Adult in the Church

I recently read an article about the importance of showing up to church and it really got me thinking about what that means in the context of my life and, possibly, the lives of other people of my generation.  As a 30 year-old, I am a member of a demographic that is largely absent from the (institutional?) church.  There is a very large concern in the church that people my age, for the most part, just aren’t showing up.  Few days go by that I don’t see a study posted examining the reasons young adults aren’t actively engaged in the church or an article with # ways to get young adults to attend/join/stay in your church.  As one of the young adults in question, those articles almost always bother me. They bother me partly because it seems to me a basic Christian belief that I am not a demographic to be targeted by the church along the same lines that companies would target me to buy their goods, rather I am a person created in the image of God who should be related to in a personal way.  I also find those studies frustrating because I think they usually take a misguided approach.  Maybe they are asking the wrong questions and supplying the wrong solutions?


If you look at my church attendance, especially over the last few months, it probably looks like I’m not “showing up”.  I’m not showing up to worship; my kids aren’t showing up to children’s activities; I’ve missed all the fundraisers and meetings.  There have been a variety of reasons for my non-attendance, ranging from worshipping with friends to celebrate baptisms and retirements, to just needing a Sunday morning at home to rest.  Many a statistical study might put me in the category of someone not committed to the Christian faith.  But I am committed.  I have a deep and intimate experience of the presence of God in my life.  This way of life consumes me.  It occupies so much of my thought and has become the lens through which I see the world.  I’m not claiming perfection by any means, but I am certainly in this and striving to be all about this.  I am committed. 


I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the statement “Christianity is only one generation away from extinction.”  I suppose there is a technical truth there but, if what Christians believe is true, there will always be a church.  The question is, “what will the Church look like?”  The Church is undeniably changing.  We have moved out of the era of Christendom – the time when the church was the center of society - and into a new unknown.  We are in a stage of transition.  Can I just say that living in transition is difficult?  There is always an element of fear when we move from something we know and understand to something we don’t.    I can understand the frustration and fear that older adults in a congregation feel towards younger generations that don’t seem to be sharing the load.  I understand the fear when there doesn’t seem to be enough money in the offering plate to keep the bills paid.  I understand the frustration when only a few people seem to be willing to help in the ministries that have been a part of a church’s tradition for decades.  I can understand how difficult it must be to see the generation gap in the pews on a Sunday morning.  I get it. 


But the other side of the coin is this:  living in transition is exciting.  Rather than living in fear that the Church (as we know it) is dying, we can live in the understanding that God is doing something new.   Maybe we need to stop asking the questions of how to get young adults to come to church and start asking how church works in the lives of Christians who are living in the midst of this change.  These are the questions I’m living with and they are exciting questions but they are also difficult questions. 


Understand, as crazy as it sounds, that sometimes not coming to worship on a Sunday morning is my most faithful response to God’s call on my life.  There are lots of ways to show up and lots of people I need to be present with.  Church is important and gathering together to worship is important, but I’m finding that God is really stretching my understanding of the concept of “Church”.  My Church family doesn’t gather in just one place.  There are Christians who are my brothers and sisters spread all over the place.  I have responsibilities to each and every one of them on a personal level and I delight in those relationships.  And each of those relationships comes before obligation to an institution.  Beyond that, I feel strongly the importance of being around people who are different from me, people who ask different questions and who have come up with different answers, people who can challenge me to think.  I have valued and close friendships with people who are 70 and people who are 2, with people who are extremely conservative and people who are extremely liberal, with fundamentalist Christians, with “liberal” Christians, with atheists and agnostics and with people who don’t give the matter of religion much thought at all.  These relationships shape me, they challenge me, they are important to me.   I have a need to be present in these relationships, even if that sometimes means not being in the pew on a Sunday morning.


Understand that when I don’t put money in the offering plate, I’m not shirking my responsibility to give.  Instead I’m asking really big questions about what faithful stewardship means.  I have to confess that I have big questions about the ways the Church spends money, from the money we give to support hierarchical institutions to the money that goes to maintaining buildings (which is difficult as someone who loves old church buildings).  I’m asking questions about the nature of charity and how God can use all of my resources instead of just 10%.  I’m asking questions like, “Is it better to spend less on coffee so I can give money away or is it better to spend more money to buy coffee from a company that is employing people who have spent time in prison, helping them to develop job and social skills that will afford these people life opportunities that would otherwise be lost to them because of a bad decision in their youth?  (Seriously, check I Have a Bean coffee - it is just the best and comes from a fantastic company!)


Understand that when I ask these questions, I’m not always criticizing the way generations before me have lived out their faith, I’m only seeking to be faithful to a living God who doesn’t always choose to do things in the ways we’ve grown accustomed to them being done.  And I’m trusting that those changes will ultimately be for our good.


What I need from my Church family as I ask these questions is grace.  I don’t know the answers to my questions and I’m stumbling along trying to find them.  Sometimes I’m going to get things wrong.  Please be patient.  Most Christians of my generation are living in a period of tension between the way things were and the way things are going to be.  Pray for us.  Support us.  Join us and live in expectation with us as God challenges all of our assumptions and creates something new and beautiful out of a difficult and unsettling period in the history of the Church.


Bye Bye Lully Lullay

It's been one of her favorite carols since my brother was little.  I think he was in first or second grade when he sang it at his Christmas program -  the Coventry Carol.  She told me a few weeks back that she looked up original lyrics.  It suprised her - the darkness of that song.  How it's all about babies dying at the hands of a ruthless king.

Lully Lullay.
Thou little tiny child.
Bye Bye Lully Lullay.

That song just won't get out of my head this Christmas.  And, honestly, it doesn't feel very merry.  I don't really feel like decking the halls.  I feel more like putting on sackcloth and ashes.    It's all of these children.  Innocent little ones with such tremendous burdens to carry, such incredible battles to fight. 

It's my sweet baby cousin and all of the precious little ones who have to fight against disease.
It's the beautiful little girl whose own momma can't care for her and all of the dear children who don't know the love of a parent. 
It's the kids who work in sweatshops and the little seven year old boys who climb trees with machetes in their mouths to harvest cocao beans.
It's the children who have been shot down in  my own land and the children around the world who live in the constant shadow of violence - who live every day knowing they may not see the light of another. 
It's the children stripped of their homes and their families and their innocence - their lives sacrificed to fulfill the insane desires of the more powerful.

Vulnerability is so easy to exploit and it happens every day.  Innocent ones suffer at hands greedy for power, for money, for fame...for who can tell what?  And it turns my stomach to think that in so many parts of this world the massacre of kindergarteners is nothing out of the ordinary.  How many 5,6,7 year-olds the world over live everyday life in the shadow of unspeakable violence?  How many kids the world over die before they even see that age? 

And how can we be  merry in the sight of all this?  It's supposed to be perfect, isn't it - Christmas?  Shiny and glittering and happy and...wonderful?  My tree has gaps and it has been bumped into it and lights have been pulled off and ornaments have been knocked off.  The kids throw fits and all of our favorite traditions just don't go the way they should.  And the to-do list is so long.  But every time I spend a dime on someone I love, every time I do something to prepare for our own celebration, all I can think of are all of those lovely people in this world who have never heard, never felt, "I love you."  And it's making me crazy just how much I care about all of the stuff that doesn't matter at all.

And we light the candles:

And that song echoes through it all. Haunting.

Lully Lullay, thou little tiny child. Bye Bye Lully Lullay.

It haunts and it reminds of the baby king who was born into genocide.  God chose to come in the form of the most vulnerable and Jesus was born in an occupied land under the rule of a powerful king who was set on taking his life.  Sweet, innocent ones slain at the order of a madman and the Son of God was a refugee.

How many mothers cried in Bethlehem?  Jacob's Rachel died there and she named her baby boy Ben-Oni, "son of my sorrow".  And her daughters cried tears for their own sons when they were slaughtered at the hand of Pharoah.  How many times does this history repeat itself?  How many times are the innocents slaughtered?  And Emmanuel came to be with us in the midst of it.  Right in the middle of the pain and the anguish and the filthy evilness of this world. 

I've spent all this time trying to feast, trying to celebrate and Rachel cries and refuses to be comforted for all of her dead children and I just want to cry with her.  I'm not in the mood for feasting.  My heart wants to fast.  I want to fall on my knees and cry the tears.  It's my realest response right now. 

This Christmas feels so far from perfect. 

But, then, isn't that the story?  How Emmanuel is God with us in the midst of reality?  Funny how we paint that stable to look so warm and quaint and cozy.  But there are some things that you just can't put a rosy spin on.  This world is a mess and our lives are a mess and Jesus came right into the middle of it all.  Emmanuel.  Is there any more loving response? And we've spent all this time gearing up for the celebration that we forgot about the wait.  We are waiting!

We light the candles every Sunday night and we thank God for all of the hope, the peace, the joy, the love which are ours through the Christ.  We celebrate that God loved us enough to come. 

And other songs play through my mind and don't we notice every year how funny it is that so many of the Christmas songs are in a minor key?  How they always leave you longing for...something? 

And maybe it's really ok that Christmas doesn't feel so merry this year.  Because maybe Christmas is less about merriment and more about joy - about joy that comes when we remember that what we are hoping for, what we are longing for is coming.  Forget shallow happiness that comes with perfect trees and perfect presents and perfect experiences.  I want to live the kind of joy that comes with knowing that God has come and he has promised never to leave no. matter. what. and he has promised to come back and make it all right.   Something unbelievably wonderful is coming.  And joy radiates on even when "merry" is miles and miles away. 

So we wait and pray and fast and groan for his return, for the time when he will forever fix what has been broken.  Rachel named her son Ben-Oni.  But Jacob gave him a new name:  Benjamin.  "Son of my right hand."  And isn't it funny how God just keeps doing that?  Keeps renaming his people?  Abram to Abraham.  Jacob to Israel.  Saul to Paul.  And all of those Ben-Oni, all of those sons of sorrow?  Won't he give them a new name, too? 

Christ has come and Christ will come and we can trust in a God who would be with us here. 

I heard it on the Christian radio station - the announcer talking about how sad it is that there are people who can't give their families Christmas.  And I can't help but shake my head and smile, because who of us can give Christmas?  It is God's gift to give.  I'm sitting here, on my knees crying out for all of the innocents who suffer and in the middle of all this mess, I feel the presence of the God who came and the God who is coming, the God who loves each precious child with a fierce passion.  And up bubbles the joy that blows that elusive "merry" clear away.

We celebrate the hope, peace, joy and love that are ours in Christ and we look so eagerly forward to the day when all hope will be fulfilled and we will dwell forever in peace and joy and love. We wait and we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"


Grace in an Unexpected Package

I've seen the pictures of his birth day.  Little baby boy all hooked up to tubes.  Body misshapen.  Life hanging on by a thread.  I've heard the stories of how the doctors said he would never make it.  He would never make it home.  He would never make it a month...a year...five years.  Knowing him, he probably lived on just to spite them - he was ornery like that. 

All of those things normal kids do - learning to sit up, crawl, walk, feed himself, talk - he never did any of those things.  He got around by wheelchair or log-rolling on the floor or being carried by his family or friends.  When he couldn't live at home he lived in children's hospitals and eventually a group home.  I've heard the stories of how hard it was.  My momma has told me of scars left from all of the difficult decisions that have to be made for the life and the family of someone with severe disabilities.  Sometimes there just aren't easy answers.  Sometimes life just hurts.

I've heard people say that that kind of life just isn't worth it.  You wouldn't find anyone with that perspective among my family - not among anyone who knew my Uncle.  He had plenty of disabilities.  His abilities far outstripped them.  And how could it be?  How could a person who never spoke a single word, never walked a single step make any kind of impact?  What kind of worth does a life like that have?

He died the night after Thanksgiving.  We all went over to his group home that day.  Brought treats and laughed and played with him and his friends.  He was ornery as ever - pulling us close like he wanted to give us a hug or kiss and then pushing us away with a grin.  The next morning my daddy woke me up to tell me that he had died in his sleep.  31 years old when they never expected him to see 31 days and it was still too soon.  I stood up there with my family at his visitation.  What kind of turn out would you expect for a man who never spoke a word to a soul?  The line stretched out the door of the funeral home and the people just kept coming.  I listened while they told my mom and my uncle and my grandparents just what he had meant to them - how he had impacted their lives. 

My grandpa says that he used to pray that God would make his son whole.  He says the answer to that prayer wasn't a change in his son's condition, but a change in his own vision.  Where he once saw all the ways that my Uncle's life was not whole, God gave him eyes to see the way that a broken life can be beautiful.  We can think of all the things he missed - all of the he-never-got-to's.  But what about the things he did?  What about the person he was,  not in-spite of but because of his disabilities?  Some people read that God uses the weak.  Every person that knew my Uncle Craig got to see it. 

The truth is that we are all broken.  The truth is that each one of us will end our lives with a list of never-got-to's and some of those lists will be miles and miles longer than others.  It doesn't make a bit of sense and it's heartbreaking.  And words can't come close to conveying the grief of knowing that all you could dream of for a precious little gift hangs in the balance.  What if that precious baby never walks, never talks, never dances at the high school prom or at their wedding?  Never drives a car?  Never rides a bike?  What if a precious little life is lost before those tiny eyes see the light of day?  What if that dear one has to fight for every breath?

There are not words to comfort that kind of grief.

But life is always grace, always gift.  And for all of our wonderings - for the wonderings of my family as they watched the life of my uncle and for the wonderings of each and every parent who faces uncertainty surrounding the health of their own precious little ones - there is one thing that is sure.  The God who created that life crafted it with love.  That whole thing about being fearfully and wonderfully made?  It was true for my uncle and it is true for each and every person even if they are born with disability or disease, even if their list of never-got-to's is the longest imaginable.  We can trust that God, who loves better than the best of fathers, has the very best in store for his little child.  And no matter what he will use the gift of that life to bless each and every person who touches it.  He works everything out to our good like that - taking what is broken and making it the most beautiful gift of grace that goes beyond all imagining. 

 I first wrote this blog over a month ago after learning that the baby girl my cousin is expecting may be facing some hardships.  I didn't publish it because I just wasn't sure that the time was right and I didn't know many specifics on her diagnosis.  Now another ultrasound has confirmed that this sweet baby has a kidney disease that threatens her life.  If she survives pregnancy and birth she will eventually need a kidney transplant.  My heart is broken for my cousin and his sweet family, but in the middle of all of the tears and prayers for this baby girl, I keep thinking of the name they gave her before they ever knew a thing about her little kidneys - Gracie.  Grace means gift and doesn't she belong in our family?  Didn't we witness once the power of a life that didn't follow our plans and won't we welcome this sweet little gift with open arms, no matter what her life looks like? 
If you are reading this, please pray for Gracie and her family.  That she would be well, that her lungs would be strong, that her kidneys will remain cyst-free as long as possible, and that all of those who love her already can keep open hands to receive the gift God is giving in her life.  She has a fight ahead of her and she could use your prayers.


Happy Labor Day

I don't really know where to pin the blame.  I'm pretty sure it all started with Cap and the way I was seeing him buy into all of those advertising ploys.  That's when I started to stop and notice.  And really it's my own fault for picking up books I knew were going to mess with me.  When I read the description of the book 7, by Jen Hatmaker, I knew right away that it was a book I needed to read (and a book that I absolutely didn't want to read, but I read it).  Then I re-read The Irresistible Revolution and went on to Jesus for President.

All of those things combined with the fact that my husband is a member of a trade union have converged to make Labor Day stand out for me this year.  I read The Jungle when I was in high school.  I have some idea of what working conditions used to be in our country and I am incredibly grateful for a movement that poured blood, sweat and tears into an effort that revolutionized what it means to work in this country.  I am also incredibly grateful for a union that works hard to this day to ensure that my husband works under safe and respectable conditions.  And unions are not perfect and, yes, there are big problems.  But they have done so much good and there is much to be thankful for.  And so, Labor Day is a day for celebrating how far we have come and all of those that have worked so hard to bring us here.

But there is another side to the story.  Labor Day may be a celebration of where we are, but it's also a cry to remember that the battle is not over.  It's a reminder that while our working conditions may be excellent there are so many people out there who are exploited and abused to feed our desires.  And I'm learning that it's not just in the developing world - that there are men and women and children trying to put bread on their tables in the good-ole USA who are working under conditions that are little better than slavery.

And I'm not really trying to make a political statement.  Honestly, I have no idea how to solve the problem or where to start and there are incredibly intelligent people on just about every side of the issue who can make claims about the right course of action and I can't tell you whose ideas will work and whose won't. 

But I do know that the first step is to recognize the problem.  And maybe the second step is to say that it's not okay.  It's not okay that the majority of the toys my children have are made by children in sweat-shop conditions who will never get to play with those toys.  It's not okay that the clothes my baby girl is wearing at this moment were probably stitched together by a person who is dehumanized at every turn by their employer.  It is not okay that I keep crying for more cheap stuff to consume and other people work all of their lives to make that stuff under horrendous conditions.

And so, this Labor Day I will celebrate.  I will remember the people who have gone before and I will celebrate the freedoms we have today.  And this Labor Day I will pray for all of those who work under horrible conditions and I will pray that God continues to open my eyes to injustice and set my feet in motion to stand beside those who don't enjoy the same liberties.


Interesting & Informative Articles, Blogs & Websites

Over the last two years that we have been considering homeschool, I've come across tons of websites that have offered up a treasure trove of information, insight and encouragement.  Here are a few of them that I can find at the moment.  I'll link some of the other great sites I've stumbled across as I remember them. :)

Ann Voskamp has so many good articles on homeschooling and does such a beautiful job articulating why she and her family have decided to homeschool.  I love the way she acknowledges that homeschooling isn't perfect and it isn't easy and it isn't right for everyone, but it is right for her family.  Some of her homeschool posts I have bookmarked are:

Pros and Cons to Homeschooling: Why We Do It?
Home Education
How to Simply Homeschool
A Day in the Life of Homeschooling: 7 Rungs

Here's an excellent article on Homeschooling PreK & Kindergarten.

I really enjoy reading what Kate has to say about homeschooling, or rather unschooling.  While I'm not sure unschooling is the path for us ( I would go nuts!), she has some very interesting things to say about the way homeschooled kids are different and how maybe different isn't so bad.  You can read Kate's perspectives on her journey as an unschooler at Skipping School.

Carisa at 1+1+1=1 is a very large part of the reason we had the confidence to start this journey of home education.  Her website is full of homeschooling advice and especially resources. 

The Homeschool Classroom is a continual source of good advice and information.

Erica at Confessions of Homeschooler has a great series on Getting Started Homeschooling.  Tons of information here!

Peter Gray's blog, Freedom to Learn provides lots of food for thought concerning educational theory.  I can't say that I always agree with his conclusions, but they are always a fun and contemplation-evoking read.

Here We Go!

I woke up this morning to the sound of the school bus driving by our house.  I guess that makes it official - we are homeschooling!  To celebrate not-back-to-school day, we're making a castle out of a huge cardboard box.  We're kicking off kindergarten by learning about knights! And boy, are these kids excited (momma too)!

So, what is our year going to look like?  Here's a little peek into what's in store for us:

Skid is starting Pre-K this year.  He'll be in the same program Cap was in.  There are three reasons we decided to send Skid:

1.  We LOVE the 3 year-old teacher at the school.  She was so wonderful with Cap and had such a fantastic attitude about teaching a hard-to-teach kid. 
2.  We learned so much about Cap's learning styles through that first year of preschool.  We're hoping that sending Skid through the program too will help us get to know some things about how he learns. 
3.  He REALLY wants to go.  He's been begging to go to the school since the beginning of last year.  I had to literally drag the kid out of the classroom each time we took Cap.  He would sneak in to the 3 year-old room and have a seat at the table.

So, Skid will spend half a day at school, 2 days a week.  He'll continue to get lots of learning time at home and will be able to join right in with what we are doing with Cap.  Plus, we've joined a homeschool co-op in our area that has classes one day a week.  Skidamarink will be part of the Dr. Suess story hour there.  So much fun!

Things will look a little different that I had originally planned for Cap.  He wanted to start school back in June, so I let him.  I didn't force him to do any work, but we had calendar time when he requested it and I had work boxes filled up for him to use as he pleased.  What I found was that he didn't really use the stuff in the boxes as I had planned them.  He went above and beyond and was really creative with learning.  Cap is very motivated to learn and seems to do best when the reins are in his hands. 

For example:

I had a box that had some manipulatives to help him do some simple addition.  He didn't want much to do with it.  Later, I found him building a cube out of paper and tape and he was doing multiplication to figure out how many pieces of tape he would need ("I have four sides on my square and I want two pieces of tape on each side, so I'll need eight pieces of tape please, mom.")

I had another couple of boxes with some sight word work and phonics work that he pretty much ignored.  Later I found him laying in the middle of the floor reading a book all by himself that was well beyond where I would have placed him.  He is starting to read some books with little to no help.  He's gotten this far without any pushing from me, so as long as he's willing to pursue it on his own I'll just cheer him on!

And if he does anything with the handwriting papers I give him, it's scribble on them.  But he's spent a good 2 hours this week writing letters and books for people in our family.  He's also starting to enjoy drawing and he really loves to doodle with letters (my favorite was an M who decided to become a cowboy.  M was very good at throwing a lasso.  By the time he was done "drawing" you couldn't tell what you were looking at, there was so much action on the paper.  No matter what the end product looks like, it's great practice!).
So, alot of the plans I had made are pretty much out the window at this point.  Here's the direction we're headed with Cap:

Dad, Cap & I will set some goals of things we want Cap to accomplish this year.  We'll kind of let him take the lead on a lot of stuff and just be on the lookout for how he is advancing toward those goals and how we can resource him. 

We'll also be doing a lot of theme work.  We did a dinosaur theme over the summer and it was a huge hit with both boys.  We made fossils and checked out dino books and movies from the library and wrote our own books about dinosaurs (the boys' favorite!)  Next we'll be learning about knights and medieval times.  We've got that huge cardboard castle we're building in our school room and a good stack of library books have been requested.  The boys are already making plans to engineer a drawbridge for the castle, make some armor and hold a tournament.  We're planning to follow the "Magic Treehouse" series by Mary Pope Osborn as inspiration for our themes. The themes are a springboard for a whole lot of learning opportunities:  history, geography, math, writing, reading, science - the sky is the limit!

 During our time at the homeschool co-op classes, Cap will be taking a P.E. class that is themed around the olympics - they'll learn about and play different sports and glean a little knowledge about various countries around the world.  How cool is that?  He'll also be part of a Creative Drama class, which I am extremely excited about.  If you've read any of my previous posts about Cap and his antics in school, then you'll know that he is a little performer and it tends to get him in trouble.  I was looking into finding a drama class for him as a constructive way to expend some of that energy and this class popped up.  Perfect!

Other things we'll be spending some time on this fall:  play dates with the homeschool co-op, Bible study with What's in the Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible, family game/trivia nights, possibly joining our local Y and getting involved with some sports there (both boys were entralled with the olympic swimmers and really want to give that a go), possibly starting some music lessons (Cap has been pretty interested in piano),  and doing some investigating into ways our family can serve in some local mission work (Cap has long been concerned about the fact that there are kids who don't have homes and some who don't have parents and is very interested in what he can do to help.)  On top of all of that, we've got lots of work to do around here getting "the farm" ready to become an actual farm of sorts next spring:  there's a compost bin to build,  a chicken coop and yard to build, and lots of maintenance work and planning to be done.  The boys are always eager to put on their "work bibs" and help Daddy outside.

It's shaping up to be a pretty busy fall and we're excited to dive right in to this new adventure!


Why Santa Doesn't Come to Our House

I know, I know.  I'm in danger of being the mom in Miracle on 24th street or the Grinch or Scrooge or any other Christmas villain imaginable.  And I started to think maybe I was when my son came to me in tears with this question:

"Mom, *someone* told me that Santa only comes to your house if you are good.  But he doesn't come to my house.  That's because my brother and I are such bad children."

I can promise you that hurt.  Like a punch to the stomach.  Enough to make me think hard again:  Why is it that Santa doesn't come to our house?

It's not that I have a problem with the magic or the pretend play.  There's something sweet about a child pretending that there are elves in the woods or genies in bottles.  There's a willingness in kids to believe beyond their sight.  There is a way that faith-filled-ness seems to be their natural pose and maybe that's just as it should be - belief in the unreal giving eyes to later tell reality from fantasy and letting them see just how much fantasy is really reality.  I mean, the greatest fairy-tale ever told is 100% true and maybe our play as children opens our eyes wide enough to believe the truest wonders of the world.  No, it's not the magic that's the problem.  We can play that a fairy puts quarters under his pillow and he is free to read and play Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to his hearts content.

The problem, for me, is this:  there is this lie out there that all of us have bought into to some extent.  This lie that says, "all you need is more.  More time.  More money.  More clothes.  More toys.  More space.  More opportunity. More is what will make you happy. More! More! More!"  And, honestly, I can't help but feeling that this lie is extremely dangerous.  And I can't help but think that I need to make sure my kiddos have the opportunity to see the truth.

And it's not Santa's fault, really.  Except that I think maybe Santa, good chap that he was, has been turned into something else.  I mean, all those Whoos down in Whooville may have Christmas just the same without packages, boxes or bags.  But I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be our response.  I think maybe we'd all cry boo-hoo!  It's not Santa's fault.  It's because of that lie, but oh boy can't Santa play right into the hands of that lie if we'll let him.

See, my kids have watched the ads and they are getting the message loud and clear.  My Cap has a memory and he can tell you word for word the Orange Julius commercial playing right now.  But, more than that, he can tell you that he NEEDS a smoothie because smoothies are great and when you put something great inside you, you become great too.  (Maybe there is a lesson in that.)  That smoothie isn't something he wants - it's something he needs. 

And he's watched that mouse riding a skateboard.  It seemed friendly enough.  All it did was tell us that being physically active is a good thing. (And that Chuck-E-Cheese's is "where a kid can be a kid.")  And that friendly little mouse has my son convinced that we need to take every penny we have, empty out all of our piggy banks and savings accounts and head on over to Chuck-E-Cheese's.  Why does he want to go?  He has no idea.  None.  He just knows that CEC is a place you go and take your money.  He just knows its what the tv told him to do.  They didn't even show him all of the games and the pizza and the prizes.  He wants to be there because he somehow picked up on the message that "if you bring us your money we'll make you happy."  And someday I'll get up the patience to brave Chuck-E-Cheese's with my boy and if he wants to spend every dime in his little piggy bank I will let him.  And he will have a blast, I'm sure.  And it will be good.  But we'll also be doing a lot of talking.  Because the idea that you can give someone money and they will sell you happiness is a complete and dangerous lie.

And I've heard him buy into the same lie with Santa.  "I will be so good and I will ask Santa for every toy I've ever wanted and he will bring it to me."  Ah, but that's not how it works, my boy.  And even if "Santa" wanted to give you ever material thing your heart could desire, he can't. Your desires are so big that they can't be filled with all of the stuff in the world.   And here's the thing:  I used to want to give my kids every material thing they could wish for.  The coolest toys in abundance.  All the clothes.  All the opportunities.  Any thing they could ever possibly want and so much more.

That scripture went around in my head as I battled.  Yes, I want my kids to be kind and giving and not overly consumed with stuff, yet
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" - Luke 11:11-13
And I told myself, "See,  we're supposed to give good gifts."  And I let the lie distort my vision and all of a sudden I thought truth was telling me that I should be giving my kids the things they want.  But isn't the truth that I should give my kids the things they need?  Is it possible that, sometimes, when I give them just what they ask for I am really just handing over a snake.  If my kid comes to me and says he's really hungry do I hand over a candy bar or do I give him something to nourish?  If my kid falls and breaks a bone (an experience I hope we never deal with) do I give him a band-aid or take him to the hospital?  They might prefer the candy bar.  They might prefer the band-aid.  But what they need is nourishment.  What they need is healing.  And it would be horrible of me to offer anything less than what they need.

And I think maybe the same is true of all this stuff - of all this more.  They come to me thinking they want this new toy or all of these shining, glistening things on the shelf at the store. But, often that's not what they really want.  I know because all of those things they thought they needed have sat forgotten and unplayed with on shelves and I've heard them say, "It wasn't as good as I thought it would be."  (Once he was dead set that he wanted a game where a dog poops and you clean it up.  Honestly?  I can't bring myself to buy that.  Maybe it's a good game.  I've never played it.  But there just seems to me something kinda wacky about the idea that we would pay other people so we can pretend we are picking up dog poop...)  And it's funny, but it's also really serious.  I can and do buy my kids stuff.  They have toys that they love - their own little velveteen rabbits that are worn real.  And it's good.  But when I pile up the stuff at some point I am in danger of giving a snake when I mean to give bread.  At some point I am in danger of telling them that the lie is true.  That more will make them happy.

But I've seen what more does to them.  How they mass up mounds of toys at Christmas and birthdays and get so overwhelmed with all the stuff that they don't even know what to do with it.  They walk around with a toy in their hands, never really playing.  Just carrying it until they see another toy they'd like to carry.  And they fight with each other, like the one who is interested in the toy they were previously holding has just made the most inhumane of threats against their very existence.  And it's so ugly. 

And I've heard what the lie has done to our society.  I've heard how since the 1950's our nation has had more than ever before.  We've been filthy rich (and I mean just about all of us, middle class included) and the richer we've gotten the unhappier we've been.  The suicide rate in our nation has increased astronomically since the 50s.   The more hasn't made us happier.  It's made us desperate - despair-ing. We bought into the lie that the more could satisfy and it just hasn't and where can we go to have this all-absorbing desire filled? (I know where!)

So, maybe it's extreme.  Certainly it's odd.  But, Santa doesn't come to our house.  And, please believe me, I'm not making any judgment on you if he does come to yours.  This is just how I know to hold that lie at bay.  Because I can't stand to see the obsenity of more ushered into my house at the same time we celebrate the birth of one who gave up everything.  I can't handle the mile long wish lists or the cataloges with every single thing circled as I am trying to prepare my heart for the advent of one who tells us not to worry about stuff, the one who tells us that the more we have the harder it is for us to see the truth, the one who gives to us so abundantly and commands us to make sure that we take care of those who do not have the same resources we have.  It's enough to break my heart, that juxtaposition.  One with power to create the universe lying as a helpless, completely dependent infant in a manger in a stable.  One with power to make the guards and the pharisees and the priests stop and bow before him, but choosing instead to let them spit and taunt and nail and kill.  He has given everything and promised everything and all I ask for is more of what the world has to offer.  All I ask for is a snake when he would give me bread! 

See, it doesn't cost anything for Santa to bring gifts.  He just loads all of those goodies up on his sleigh and drops them down the chimney.  And if there is no cost, surely we can just keep asking for more and more and more.  And more is a lie.  A lie that I want my kids to see straight through.  I want them to see because I don't want them to be trapped in that lie, thinking more is the answer and missing out on the truth which is a million times better.  Less is more and everything is ours in Christ.

So, what do I tell my little ones about Santa? 

That Santa is a story.  A story based on a true story.  A legend.  Once upon a time, there was a man named Nicholas.  Nicholas was a saint, someone who was in love with Jesus and someone who asked Jesus what he should be doing with his life.  Nicholas, the saint, was wealthy.  He had been given much and he knew that what he had been given wasn't for his use alone.  He knew that he was to share with people who did not have.  He knew that he was free to share all he had because Jesus had already given all of himself and God raised him up and gave him more to give and Nicholas knew that God would always give him more than enough too. 

Nicholas loved God and trusted God and he gave to other people not because it made him feel good, but because that love God had given him couldn't be bottled up.  He had to share that love.  So, Saint Nicholas, with the life full of overflowing love saw these people that had a need. 

There was this family.  They didn't have any money.  In fact, they owed other people a lot of money.  And, in those days, if you couldn't pay with money you had to pay with something else.  And since this man didn't have any money, the people he owed were going to take something else from him instead - his daughters.  His daughters would become slaves of other people so that the family's debt would be cancelled. 

Nicholas knew that this was horrible and he knew that he had to help them, but he wanted it to be a secret.  You see, Nicholas didn't want these people to think he was the one they should be thankful to for their freedom.  Because it wasn't really Nicholas's money that was paying their debt.  Nicholas knew that God had given him that money and that God wanted him to save those girls.  No, it wasn't Nicholas who was doing the saving.  It was God who was doing the saving and he was letting Nicholas help. 

So Nicholas snuck to their house in secret.  The girls had their socks hanging out of the window to dry.  Sounds silly, I know, but they didn't have clothes dryers then.  Nicholas took some money, enough to buy their freedom, and stuck it down in their socks so they would find the money when they put on their socks in the morning.  The family's debt was paid and the girls were free.

So, today, we remember St. Nicholas.  Sometimes we call him Santa.  Over the years the story of St. Nicholas has been told over and over again.  And sometimes people changed the story a bit here and there.  They added in fun things like a toy factory and elves and cookies and sleighs.  And we give gifts and sometimes we pretend they are from Santa and we do lots of special things for other people and pretend that we are being Santa. 

But no matter how much fun we have playing about Santa Claus, it's important that we remember why St. Nicholas gave.  St. Nicholas gave to others because he loved God and he knew God wanted him to share that love.  And we can give for the same reason too.  We can let God's love fill us up so much that it pours out for other people. 

And, here's the secret.  All of the kids who believe in Santa will one day find out that it wasn't really Santa putting the presents under the tree and in their stockings and then they might think that Santa isn't real. 

But, I want you to know the truth. 
Santa is real! 

St. Nicholas was a living, breathing person who really walked and really talked and really loved God.  He spent his life working in churches helping other people see God.  And one day, when Nicholas was old, he died.  But we know that death is not the end.  And one day Jesus will make this old, broken world new and shiny and then you could meet St. Nicholas.  Maybe you will really get to sit on the real Santa's lap.  That's the truth.  Now isn't that a better story?