Why I Loved 2016

Despite public opinion of the year 2016, for me the year could have been much worse. About this time last year I was anxious to start a new year and put 2015 behind me. I had plans to write up a post about 2015, because it was one of my hardest years yet. I know time has a way of making things seem not as bad as they were, so I like to write stuff down to try to capture the reality of it all. But here we are, just hours away from 2017…and I never did write that post.

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2016 was not without challenges for sure. More job changes, financial strain, marriage strain, being home alone with the boys all week while my husband works 3 hours away – it hasn’t been the easiest year. So, this isn’t a post about how 2016 was the best year ever. It wasn’t. But it’s about the good parts. The things I did, by God’s grace, that I am so, so thankful for. Challenges and all, 2016 has been a sweet year for me. The Lord has shown us so much kindness, as He always does, but He has made His blessings really evident this year, and has shown me that He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

D-GROUP
I joined a D-Group (discipleship group) in the Fall of 2015, and started leading a group in February of this year. I can’t say enough about this. This is easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m thankful I don’t even have to think about what this year would have looked like without it. The accountability that D-group has provided has helped me to create good habits in spending time in the Word, memorizing Scripture, and applying what I am learning through study each week. I have developed deep, meaningful friendships and beautiful community as I have studied, been stretched, and wrestled with Scripture alongside others. I have gained a deeper understanding of the God of the Bible, and a deeper love for Him, because of my time in D-group, and have constantly been challenged to live out the faith that I profess. D-Group helps me to remain focused on eternal things. Everyone has seasons where they are slack in their relationship with the Lord, where we don’t spend as much time with Him. Those times will inevitably come, but those periods definitely don’t last as long, or have as detrimental an impact when we are walking in community with other believers.
#ilovemydgroup so much, and think every believer should be involved in this type of study. I’m learning that it isn’t entirely normal for churches to provide this type of discipleship, so if you’re looking for something like this there are D-Groups all over. Check out the website and join a group near you, or START ONE!

WE JOINED A CHURCH
This is, hands down, my favorite thing we did this year. The last time we were members at a church was in 2012. We moved away from that church family, had 2 babies, and were very unsettled over the next several years in terms of location. We struggled to find a church, and just when we thought we had found somewhere to call home we moved again. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This drained me. This was hard and heavy on my soul. The local church is my heart. Not being committed somewhere and serving somewhere left me restless and uneasy. When we moved to Florence, we were sure the struggle would continue. Thankfully, God was so kind to quickly lead us to our new church and we joined this past May. It is far from perfect, but it is our home and our family now. My soul is at rest. It brings me to tears when I think of it. And maybe if you’ve never felt homeless, you don’t understand why it’s such a big deal, but I cannot think of the Church at Sandhurst without thanking the Lord for bringing us here. Not only do we love it, but our kids love it, too. I have been very intentional about teaching our kids the gospel in our home since the day they were born. Interestingly enough, one of my kids seemed to harbor some sort of animosity toward God. He was not only uninterested, but seemed to not really like God. I wouldn’t have believed a kid (who was 2, 3 years old, mind you) was capable of this if I hadn’t seen it. But since we’ve been at our church, all that hostility has disappeared. I’ve been amazed how much both of my boys have grown in knowledge of God and the Bible. It’s been so sweet to see how much our kids need community, too, how it actually takes a village. Consistently having what we teach them at home reinforced by others has made all the difference. Now, I work part-time with the children’s ministry, and we are partnering with D-Group as one way to get the church body involved in discipleship. I’m sure I’ve leaving some other great things out, but anyway, finding a good church home is so important, and I’m so grateful for God’s kindness in providing us a place to settle down, for now.

MOPS
I’ve been in MOPS (mothers of pre-schoolers) for several years now. There have been times I’ve loved it, and times I haven’t, but the past year has been really sweet. Having two young kids is really hard. Having a group of people that know what I’m going through and are in the trenches with me has been like a life-line. The struggles of motherhood are unique and universal all at once, and the support and encouragement that these ladies have offered me and each other is a breath of fresh air. To be surrounded by women that are truly for each other (instead of busy judging each other) is something special.

I CUT OUT SOCIAL MEDIA FOR A WEEK
A week isn’t a long time, but that week was easily one of my most productive weeks of 2016. I used to feel bad for people who couldn’t keep their social media lives in check…then I became one of those people. Picking up my phone and checking feeds has become so impulsive, and I waste so much time on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love social media. I have learned so much from others, and consistently enjoy seeing other peoples’ lives and hearing others’ perspectives. My world-view has been stretched and challenged thanks to social media. I don’t see myself ever cutting it out completely. At this point, it isn’t necessarily a struggle with jealousy or comparison, or that it makes me cynical, but it is a major distraction from what is going on in front of me. I am going to cut out social media again, this time for one month at the beginning of 2017, with hopes of entering back in with clearer boundaries, and more clarity about the effect it has on me.

Obviously, this list isn’t comprehensive. We did some fun stuff with the boys, they grew some more, we saw some victories in our marriage, there’s more I’m sure. But these are some of the things that have had the largest impact on the year.

I used to not be one for resolutions, but this year I’m actually excited about some of the goals I’ve made. Among them my temporary leave of social media, working out (somewhat) regularly, trying out Whole30. I’ve been able to tell this year more than ever how unhealthy I am getting, how much my lack of healthy eating and exercise has been affecting me. I’ve felt more tired and sluggish than ever, so hopefully this time next year I won’t be saying the same thing. I’m also planning to read through the Bible again, and fast once a month, a goal I set for myself this year – but failed miserably, so it’s going back on the list.

I used to be rather thoughtless about the new year, but I’ve learned that I literally have no idea what the next year may hold. My plans are always changing. But my highest hope for 2017, is that I would love the Lord more, love His people more, and serve them both well.

A Letter to College Students: This Is The Real World

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After graduation, there’s a lot of talk about “living in the real world”. I think this is really referring to the world of 9-5 jobs and professional attire. The world of going to bed at a reasonable hour. I understand these things may be different from the life one typically leads as a college student, but the references to post-college life equaling the real world leave us to infer that college, indeed, does not qualify as the real world. Now, there are some major differences in schedule and responsibility as a college student, as opposed to someone working a full-time job. Most college courses are set up so that only you will suffer if you decide not to show for class. In some cases, there is no accountability at all. Many college students don’t have anyone depending on them for anything, and you have more free-time and flexibility than pretty much everyone else. There are certainly some big differences between the two.

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I went to college alone. My mom helped me move in to my dorm room, but after that it was just me. Most of my friends from high school had gone off to Clemson. You would think when you go to school only an hour from your hometown, that surely there would be some built-in friends on campus. Of course, several people from my high school had also come to the wonderful University of South Carolina, but none of them were people I would spend time with.

On top of not knowing anyone, I’d spent my whole life being shy, and didn’t know how to introduce myself to anyone without the help of a more outgoing mediator. I’d spent all of high school with an “I can’t wait to get out of this town” attitude, only to flip the switch half-way through senior year, when it started to sink in that my time at West Florence was coming to an end. I was nervous all summer about leaving behind all I’d known, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when my mom drove off. I was scared, overwhelmed, and alone.

I did not feel like I was hidden away on some college campus, oblivious to the stresses of “real life”, real responsibility, real burdens. I didn’t feel like I had just landed myself in one four-year-long party. No. Sitting on the 4th floor of Patterson Hall in the heart of a city much bigger than the one I came from, away from the comforts of home and familiar faces, roads, places to shop and eat, I felt like I was in the real world for the first time in my life. Unprotected, exposed, on my own.

That first week was rough. I later realized I understood college to be the place where you meet the people who will be your best friends for the rest of your life. I somehow believed this would happen right away, that they would just happen to come introduce themselves to me the moment I arrived. I spent a good chunk of the first semester of my freshman year contemplating whether I should transfer back home, or to Clemson. Not that I was bored, I wasn’t. I managed to make some friends and spent most of my time with other people. I was still lonely, though. I was craving real, meaningful friendships. I didn’t know that it would take time, that it would get much, much better.

I spent the next 4 years meeting and getting to know a very diverse group of people. Rich, poor, homeless, gay, religious, depressed. I knew people who had been raped, abused, dealt with eating disorders, lost loved ones. The people I came to know during my time at South Carolina didn’t get to press pause on life. We didn’t get to ignore reality. Life still happens, no matter where you go to school, no matter whether your campus is on a hillside or in the city.

Despite what our culture would tell you, this is not the time to “get it out of your system” and do whatever the heck you want (unless whatever the heck you want is honoring to the Lord). These aren’t years that should be wasted, and these years aren’t just about your education. These years can be so full if you handle them well. College is a gift, a unique experience and time in your life. No other period in life will look the same.

For Christians, it may be tempting to jump into whatever community you find first (which can be good or bad). So many of my friends spent their first semester (or longer) making decisions they would go on to regret. And thankfully, grace was there to meet them then. But what if we recognized the importance of these years? What if we treated them as though they matter? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we used our college years for glorifying God and furthering His kingdom? These years will be a part of your life forever. You can fill them with whatever you want. But if there is one thing I learned in college and in the years since, it’s that living for the Lord is the best, most satisfying use of our time. How you spend your days matters, so let’s not let the world convince us that it’s okay if our lives look a little meaningless for a few years. This is special. Different? Yes. But, this is the real world, with real people, real souls. You can use this time in a million different ways, but there is true, full life in Christ, and using these years to seek Him, love Him, and live for Him will be one of the best decisions you ever make.

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

Photo credit: Tulane Public Relations via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

What 5 Years Of Marriage Has Taught Me

Sometimes I wonder what I would tell unmarried me. What things would I really want to sink in? If I’d really known some of the things I know now, beforehand, how would that have affected my marriage? I’ve learned that you can tell someone something, but until they’ve experienced it, a lot of the time it just doesn’t stick.

I have to be honest. I was totally unprepared for marriage. I didn’t have a clue about how hard it would actually be. I think most of us can talk about our parents’ marriage problems, and it seems like we think after watching ONE couple for our whole lives, we know how to do everything right. Maybe that was just me. I understand that as a child and a teenager, and even into young adulthood…I didn’t see a whole lot of marriages up close. I got married at 22. Most of my friends were still single. No one close to me had walked through a tough marriage before. So I found myself blindsided by how difficult it can actually be. But like I said, there’s only so much you can know about something you haven’t experienced.

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There’s a mystery about marriage. And by that I mean that many people aren’t exactly real about their marriages. Many people portray that everything is awesome, even when it’s not. You could be totally deceived about the state of someone’s marriage, because for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like people talk about their marriage problems.

I think people are starting to be more transparent about things, in general. We can probably thank social media for that. The masks and filters are starting to come off, because people immediately post their very real thoughts on social media, before accurately judging whether it’s a good idea or not. We’ve somehow raised our tolerance for hearing about others’ problems, the real things we are going through, while simultaneously raising our judgmental attitudes. I haven’t really seen many people comment on a thread with, “you should really keep that to yourself”. I’ve seen lots of opinions, support, and condemnation, but it doesn’t seem that too many people are surprised by someone posting about their most personal thoughts or issues. But for some reason, marriage is different. It just isn’t talked about much. I definitely don’t think social media is the place to be blasting your spouse or anything, but I find myself wondering about single people, and young people, if their view of marriage will be…unrealistic. In this era, so many beliefs and opinions are informed by what we see on social media, whether we are aware of it or not. And what I see on social media is often marital bliss. People posting about their date nights, the gifts their spouse showered them with, the way their spouse serves them and their family. And, by all means, I hope people continue to post those things. But when we see mostly easy, we can tell ourselves there will be spats here and there (because, duh), but we (I) somehow believe it won’t be so much work.

The Lord has a tendency of teaching me the same lessons over and over again. I guess that means I’m stubborn? Or that I need lots of reminders.

1) Marriage doesn’t cure loneliness. So definitely don’t let that be motivation for getting married. I have felt more lonely (at times) in marriage than I ever did when I was single. Not only do we expect our spouses to be the solution to loneliness (which is a wrong, harmful expectation), but so does everyone else. It’s like people think “Well they’re married now and they don’t need anyone else. Their spouse will check on them, make sure they’re doing alright.” It seemed like people readily shifted their responsibility to be a good friend to me, to my husband. And I did, too. (As a side note, not at all saying I was a good friend. I wasn’t.) It’s an easy thing to get caught up in, especially early in marriage, thinking your spouse can meet all your friendship needs. But men and women are different. There are things my husband will just never be able to relate to. There will be things that I can never properly communicate to him. I realized early on men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and my expectations to have someone to “connect” with all the time were not met. Because sitting in the same room with someone doesn’t mean you’re connecting, and feeling like you are on a different planet from the person you’re sleeping beside is a hard kind of loneliness.

2) I’m not alone. For several years, it felt like I was the only one that was struggling. I knew people had said marriage was hard, but I didn’t see it anywhere. I think there can be a certain amount of shame over having marriage struggles when you’re a Christian and it doesn’t seem like anyone else is going through what you are going through. Because when you love Jesus, and understand the Gospel, all your problems should just melt away, right? No, but it does seem like if you’re a good Christian, at the end of the day husbands will be loving like Christ loves the Church, and wives will be submitting as the Church does to Christ and all will just be dandy. But at the end of a lot of days, we fall short. And the more I have been honest with people about this, the more I have found that A LOT of people know from experience what trial in marriage is like. I’ve said before, divorce rates are high, even among Christians, and many people who stay married are not happy in their marriage. So clearly, I’m not the only one who has gone through struggles. One of the most amazing gifts the Lord has given us is the Church, and it is a beautiful thing to get to learn from one another, to be honest and open about our junk, to have people speak truth to us, pray for us, and encourage us. Sometimes you just have to go first.

3) Marriage is work. Everyone “knows” this. But for us, there are lots of days we don’t put much in. It can be easy to float along, especially in the midst of having little children that require most of your attention and energy, little sleep, housework, careers. It can be easy not to enter in, to engage. To come home and detach instead of initiating a conversation, to “just move on” from the argument without working through it, to take the easy road. (We happen to be bent towards that.) And it’s easy to remember this from the outset, on the wedding day, to acknowledge the work it takes, and commit to giving it your all, but then forget as you go through those long days. But it requires constant effort. Maybe for some people it comes easier, but there is a constant dying to yourself, pursuing when you want to flee, giving grace when no one deserves it.

4) God can change people. Again, I know it sounds like I should have known that already. And I did to an extent. But when you see the same sin, the same hard heart in yourself and in your spouse day-in and day-out, it can be tempting to believe things will never change, that we’ll be the same broken sinners, struggling with the same sins for the rest of our lives. I have felt hopelessness in a way a Believer probably never should, but thankfully God’s work in our lives doesn’t depend on my ability to believe that He is willing to grow and change us. He is faithful to work in the lives of those who love Him, to transform us to His likeness. There have been times where I couldn’t see His work, couldn’t see growth in either of us or our relationship, and have had to fight to believe that God was still with us, still shaping us. Thankfully, the Lord has given us small (yet big) victories, and it has increased my faith in Him.

5) Jesus is everything and He is enough. There have been times when I’ve found myself wanting Jesus…and something else. Jesus + a happy marriage, or Jesus + a church home, or kids, or steady income, or whatever. Of course, those things are good things, and it’s not wrong to want those things, but I’ve come to a place where I will be okay without those things. If He chooses to give He is good and He is enough. If He chooses to take away He is good and He is enough. Everything that I have earnestly longed for in this life, namely marriage and family, has left me wanting. The things I have desired more than anything else have not satisfied me. And that’s because those things are not enough. God never intended for my soul’s needs to be met through His gifts. He gives gifts because He is loving and generous and gracious, but He is the ultimate Prize. He is the only One who completely satisfies. The only thing that doesn’t leave me wanting is Him. HE is so much better than a happy marriage, and my most intense pursuit should be Him, not a healthy marriage or anything else. My marriage has been a means to know and love Christ more, and that is worth every day of fighting for this thing.

I’ve also learned there is a sacredness to marriage and our relationships with our spouses that should be protected, and some things need to stay between us. We have to have the wisdom and discernment to know when we need to let other people in.

I’ve learned a lot of bright and cheery things along the way, too, but these are some of the hard-earned lessons. The ones that required some flames. I’m so thankful that God has taught me a few things along the way, that He has given us marriage as a gift, and uses it to sanctify us and glorify Himself. God, in his infinite grace, has shown me that He is good and perfect, that He is for me, that He loves me, and He has used my marriage as a way to teach me more about Him.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

What Do You Mean By Self-Care?

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I’m not totally sure whether it’s a good idea to make blog posts out of my personal preferences, but I’m going to do it anyway. We’ll see if I regret it later.

I’ll be honest. I cringe a little when I hear the words self-care. Have you ever sat around and done absolutely nothing on a Saturday? Or even just an evening after work, maybe watched a few shows, scrolled mindlessly through social media? Or gone on a vacation? If you’re anything like me, these things in and of themselves don’t leave you feeling refreshed.

The term self-care implies that we care for ourselves, clearly. But further than that, that we sustain ourselves, that we are self-reliant, that we know what is best for us, and that we provide for our own needs. But we know this isn’t how the Christian life works. We know we are to be dependent on our Heavenly Father, to rely on Him to get us from day to day, to sustain our souls. We know that He is the One who gives every breath, much less every physical provision. I think deep beneath the surface of “self-care” the real meaning behind it, is rest, or Sabbath, if you will.

Truthfully, we spend our lives working towards something. Most of what we do is work. Raising kids, pleasing clients, or friends, or bosses, pursuing relationships and the list could go on forever. We are stressed because of this work.  We feel the need to rest from this work, but the cure to our stress and tiredness is not self-care. It is true rest.

This has nothing to do with the activities that encompass self-care and rest. They can look quite similar. Rest for one person isn’t rest for another. The issue is the mindset behind it; where we are turning in those moments that we want to feel refreshed. The problem is the source.

The whole idea of the Sabbath is to remind ourselves that nothing depends on us. That God is the One who holds everything together. Not pointless rest, or resting for the sake of rest, but God-focused rest. I am bent towards independence and self-reliance, as I think many of us are. But as Christians, we know we don’t take care of ourselves. We can try, of course, but over time this won’t be enough.

In our culture it’s totally acceptable that “there’s a time to be selfish”, a time to lookout for yourself. Like we take turns caring for other people and then caring for ourselves, and I so easily buy into this. I think that’s where this whole idea comes from.

Just after Jesus was nailed to the cross, John 19:26-27 says “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

In the midst of His suffering on the cross, hanging on a tree, He notices these two people he loves, and cares for them. In my own suffering, I tend to turn inward, to even allow myself to think it’s my turn to be served. But we don’t get this idea from Scripture. This isn’t the life that Jesus models. He constantly pours Himself out throughout Scripture. Retreating to pray and spend time alone with His Father is not the same thing as self-care. It’s the opposite. It is coming to the True Source for rest, counsel, intimacy. Our time alone with the Father is not self-care, it is looking outside of ourselves for true care. And when we come to Him as our source for rest, He can give us wisdom and peace that enables us to face our lives with an appropriate, eternal perspective. He reminds us that He is good, and that He is sovereign.

There’s a Charlie Hall song with the lyrics “Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity, sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity.” And those words are perfect; exactly true. HE is my sanity, my calm, my peace of mind. No amount of pampering, of bubble baths, or running, or wine or chocolate could give me the true rest that He provides. Sure, some of these things can point us to Him, but we have to remember that HE is the wellspring that satisfies every need.

So I motion that we move from calling “self-care” to rest, or better yet, Sabbath. I know myself well enough to know that I am easily tempted to believe I can do things on my own. This is just one way I can remind myself that’s not true. We can keep the focus where it should be, on the Provider of rest. We, as Christians, can claim to the world, each time we say we are going to Sabbath, that we are turning to the One who knows how to care for us, not mustering anything up on our own.

We wouldn’t have had to come up with this whole self-care thing if we knew how to properly rest. It’s something I’m working on this year, and I am praying that the Lord would teach me what it means to come to Him as my source and my Sustainer. Because I can’t even do that on my own.

The Case For No Santa

 

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Every year I have a few conversations about this whole no Santa thing. I’m happy to write about it because I think it’s a conversation worth having. Lots of people agree, lots of people disagree, lots of people “understand”. For us, this was an easy choice as soon as we put some actual thought towards it.

I used to not question things. I used to just do what was considered normal, without consideration. There was a time when I assumed my kids would believe in Santa; that it would be a normal part of our Christmas. Like I said, I actually didn’t even think about it…it was just stored somewhere in my brain, and any envisioning my family at Christmastime included Santa. He was just there, because that’s what I knew, and what everyone else did. As I’ve grown and realized not everything that is “normal” is good, I’ve learned to question things. To stop and evaluate why we are making the choices we make. This is a decision we made well before having kids, and one we would hope other people would respect.

Jones is 3. He doesn’t know who Santa is. Sometimes we pass by a gift bag with that bearded face on it, and I ask him if he knows who it is…just to see if he’s picked it up somewhere. He hasn’t yet. Not because Santa is voodoo, but because we just don’t talk about him. But let me tell you what he does know about. Presents. I realize this is partly my fault, and I haven’t focused enough on celebrating the miracle of Jesus coming to Earth, to dwell with His people, and perfectly atone for our sin in His death on the cross. But let’s be honest. That isn’t super interesting to my 3 year old. I mean he can hold like a 3 minute conversation about it before changing the subject. But presents. He remembers that part. He remembers the Christmas trees, the lights, and the presents. And he really loves and enjoys each of those things. On Christmas morning, when he is surrounded by 15 gift bags (he has lots of loving aunts and uncles), he is not missing out on the “magic of Christmas” or whatever. I promise. He does not need Santa to get excited about Christmas, and he doesn’t need Santa to distract him from Jesus. He is plenty distracted as it is. I understand, because I’m just as easily distracted, even though it has nothing to do with a man in a red suit. My point is that it is difficult enough in this season of gifts, family, traditions, busyness, hustle and bustle to “remember the reason for the season”. We do not need another distraction. For myself or my kids. I hear all the time “we do Santa, but we teach our kids that Christmas is about Jesus” in some form or another. But I think we should know as adults, that Santa is a bit more appealing to children. That if that is part of our Christmas, that is where the focus will be for our kids.

As a Christian, I am called to honor the Lord with my life, and to point others toward Him. It is my responsibility to raise my kids in knowledge of truth and love for the Lord. The most basic reason my kids won’t believe in Santa is because we will never tell them that he is real. Because he isn’t, and we will not lie to our kids. Can we all just admit that telling our kids Santa is real is a lie? Sure we could go into all the history about St. Nick and where the whole idea came from, but Santa has been hijacked and he and St. Nick are not the same guy. We aren’t so attached to Santa that we need to look for a reason to make him okay to include in our holiday. Lying to our kids isn’t honoring the Lord, and it isn’t teaching them what is good and true. Lying isn’t something I want to model for my kids. Kids don’t intrinsically know who Santa is, they are taught to believe in him. Santa is talked about and treated as though he is a real person. We won’t encourage our kids to believe something is real when it isn’t. We don’t do that with any other fictional characters, why would we with Santa?

I know people say it’s harmless, but I disagree. And maybe some people never actually tell their kids Santa is real, but I don’t think there is much of a difference in saying it and leading them to believe it. A lot of it has to do with the kind of relationship we want to have with our kids. We want them to trust us in everything, but most importantly, when we tell them who Jesus is and what He has done for us in dying a death that we deserve, allowing us to be in right relationship with the Father, and spend eternity with Him, we want them to believe us!

We aren’t like super-spiritual, or think we’re better than everyone else because we REALLY love Jesus, and we’re really gonna focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and everyone who does Santa says they love Jesus but really they don’t love Jesus that much. We know there are godly people that do the Santa thing. I can’t say I understand it, but I know that my way isn’t the only way. We aren’t searching for some deep purpose in everything we do (not to say that we shouldn’t). We have a Christmas tree for the first time this year (because it didn’t quite fit in the budget other years, and this year my father-in-law bought us one), we do presents, we drive around looking at Christmas lights. We do all of those things because we enjoy them, and think it is beneficial to enjoy this holiday season, but we can’t say the same for Santa.

I do think the fact that many people can’t separate Santa from Christmas is pretty telling. Santa equals fun for so many. Santa equals a special part of childhood and fond memories. Literally, people have made comments to the effect of “Christmas must be so boring for y’all.” Some people actually go so far as to say it is beneficial for kids to believe in Santa. All that mumbo-jumbo about teaching them to believe in something they can’t see. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to teach that lesson using someone who is not real, when we can teach them about God, who they can’t see, who is real. There won’t be disappointments at age 8 or 9 (or whenever kids learn the truth about Santa), because God will still be real.

Some people use their parents/families as a case for doing Santa. My family probably thinks I’m pretty weird at this point, so they probably weren’t too surprised when I mentioned this decision. But opinions of my family members are not enough to cause me do something that I believe is not beneficial.

“Well, what about if they ruin it for other kids?” you ask.

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really care. I’ll probably lose friends for saying that. Of course, I will do my best to teach them to not talk about it with other children, duh. Unfortunately, they will be 4 and then 5 and then 6 and they probably will still not do everything I say. But I think we have to understand something. If our kids believe in Santa, who is not real…at some point, someone is going to ruin it for them. At some point, the truth comes out. So it seems to me that if someone ruins it for your child, you should be mad at the person who made them believe something that wasn’t true in the first place. (I know, do I even want people to read my blog anymore?!?!) Because they wouldn’t be upset that Santa isn’t real, if they hadn’t ever believed he was. We are so used to blame-shifting that we’ve found a way to fault others for a mess we got ourselves into. I find it extremely backwards that we would take our anger out on someone who tells the truth, be it parent or child, when we’re the ones who set them up to be disappointed. Unfortunately, I cannot control that anger, so again, believe me, I don’t want my kids to be the ones running around yelling “Santa isn’t real!” so we’ll do our best, but we made this decision knowing we can’t control everything that comes out of our kids’ mouths. And if you are making the decision to teach your child that Santa is real, then I think you should accept that with it comes a risk that they will find out the truth, and that there are people in the world that are not going to cover for you, and even that there are people that will accidentally say something in front of your child that gives it away. Of course, for some parents it’s not about their kids being upset, but about the death of Santa in their house. Sometimes, the parents are more attached to the whole idea, and more upset about them realizing he isn’t real, than the kids are.

I grew up with Santa. I wasn’t upset when a friend told me their parents had said he wasn’t real. I don’t think kids who grow up believing in Santa will be scarred for life when their little hearts are crushed. They will get over it. Of course, people can say we’re making this big deal out of something that isn’t really a big deal. But if it isn’t pushing us towards Christ, isn’t it pulling us away? Is an added hindrance really worth it? If we can’t imagine Christmas without Santa, aren’t we proving the point that celebrating the birth of Christ is not our supreme focus?

It feels like there is this immediate backlash towards those of us who have chosen to leave Santa out of our Christmas. There is this immediate justification of why Santa is okay and even good. But I hope we can stop defending our stance long enough to actually consider whether it really is the most beneficial thing for our kids. If we come away deciding Santa is essential to celebrating Christmas, then at least we’ll have taken the time to think about it, and can incorporate him into the holiday with a clear conscience.

Photo credit: pipnstuff / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

To The One Who Bails

I’m not sure when it started, or if it’s always been this way, but we have a problem.

Flakiness.

Flaky Christians. Christians who don’t keep their commitments.

waiting

We’ve all been there. Waiting for that person to show.  Or been the one cancelling last minute.

This weekend, my kind sister was hosting a meal in her home for some friends. Several people, a couple weeks in advance, committed to coming by saying “Yes, I will be there.” In the days leading up to the event someone dropped out, someone else cancelled, another person bailed. You see where this is going. What was supposed to be a big meal for several friends turned into a bunch of leftovers. My sister went to the grocery store, bought groceries with money, spent her whole day cooking and cleaning, and then had almost every person flake out. She’d invested her time and money into this thing. She spent the day preparing when she could’ve been spending valuable time with her son, or catching up on her own to-do list.

I understand things come up; legitimate things come up all the time. But we all know, typically, our excuses for not keeping our commitments are not legitimate. Often times, we break our commitments because we didn’t plan well. We didn’t spend time earlier in the week doing all the things we needed to do…the laundry, alone time with our spouse, studying for that test, preparing for that deadline…in order to make sure we had time to show up to that thing we committed to a few weeks ago. Other times, we cancel because another option opened up that we liked better, whether it was a different gathering, or sitting at home on the couch.

I felt so sad and mad for my sister. Because I knew exactly how she felt. I’ve had friends cancel on me. I’ve had people that I was relying on for one thing or another, not show up. I’ve had people commit to volunteering for events, or say they would help me with something, and then “not be able to make it”.

The thing is, we all have the same amount of hours in a week. Most people don’t show up because they have extra time, or because they just happened to finish everything else they needed to do. They show up because that was the plan, regardless of what other plans didn’t work out just right.

I work at a school, and I can tell you, this idea starts early. This idea that we can just change our mind if it suits us. I guess there’s this idea that you can’t be held accountable for things when you’re in high school, because maybe you can’t drive, or you can blame your parents whose plans don’t exactly line up with yours (I’m merely stating the way it is, not that it should be this way). But somewhere around going to college/turning 18, you become an adult whether you want to or not. And as adults, we should know our decisions affect other people. I’m so thankful that early on in my adult life someone explained to me that it’s not ok to break your word.

James 5:12 says “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

Christians, we are called to be reliable. We are called to keep our word. We should be people of good character, people that honor the Lord, and others with the way we live. We should be considerate, humbly counting others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  When we say “yes”, it should mean yes! Not that we will change our mind in a few days.

I want people to believe me when I tell them I will see them Tuesday, or whenever. I hope that I am that trustworthy. That when I tell you I will be there, you don’t doubt it at all, because here’s the problem. When we aren’t reliable, we aren’t representing Jesus very well. Jesus, the reliable, unfailing, trustworthy Savior of the world. The One whose life, death, and resurrection we can count on. The One whose steadfast love endures forever, whose grace abounds always, whose mercies never cease.  If we want others to think well of Jesus, they need to think well of us. The world is watching us, y’all, and flakiness is not godly.

When Thriving Feels Far Off

coffee

As a mom to 2 little boys, I read a lot of blogs and things that seem relative to my life. I think that’s normal? I’m attracted to headlines that 1) offer me help, 2) commiserate with me (just being real here), or 3) encourage me. I’m not sure if it’s a new trend, or what, but it seems there’s a lot of talk lately about how we as moms of little children should thrive, or flourish. Those two words, I’ve heard a lot recently. And it seems to me like all of a sudden moms everywhere woke up and realized we’ve been doing things all wrong. All these moms are experiencing this unanimous epiphany about how merely surviving is not enough, while I’m still over here sleeping. I’ll be the first to admit parenting is HARD, I’m probably doing it all wrong, and I need all the help I can get, but it somehow feels like an added burden, a reminder of another area in which I fall short.

Making it through the day with just enough energy after laying the kids down to throw yourself onto your own bed? That’s not good enough. Barely getting through that conversation with your 3 year old without screaming your head off? Nope, not good enough.  You may only be getting a few hours of sleep per night, you may not have eaten a real meal in a week, you might be trying to balance mom, wife, and career duties, but you better be kicking tail while you’re doing it!

Initially, when I think of what it looks like to be a thriving mom, I think of someone who shows up everywhere on time, hair and make-up done, with kids who don’t have snot all over their face or dirt under their fingernails. Someone who has time and energy to cook dinner for other people, host parties, volunteer in ministry. I think of someone who has it all together. And y’all. That ain’t me.

Isn’t it funny how we can twist something that’s meant completely for good, and find fault in it? Take something that’s meant to offer freedom and grace, and allow it to hold us captive? The thing is, this call to thrive, to flourish, it’s not meant to be a burden.

Jesus says in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

In the very offer of abundant life, the thief is busy trying to rob us. The enemy loves when we’re tired, worn down, defeated. He wants me to believe that thriving is out of reach, that life to the full is unattainable, to settle for less than.

This year has been a little hectic for my family. My husband changed jobs, and then changed careers. We’ve moved 3 times, living in someone else’s space for the past 7 months, 3 of those consisting of me and the boys living in one city and my husband in another. Let me say, we have some AMAZING friends and family that have housed us over this time. Hospitable, gracious, selfless people. We are so, so, so thankful to have such wonderful people in our lives. But the year has been full of transitions and unknowns. I wouldn’t for a second try to convince anyone that I’ve been soaking up every precious moment, cherishing each day, relishing the season we’ve been in. It has been hard, and really, really unpleasant at times.

Most moms will tell you, we are tired. This season of raising little kids is tough. Exhausting on many levels. And life has a way of forgetting that you’ve got little kids and you’re already tired from keeping these little humans alive, all the while trying to nourish their little brains and spirits, and sometimes it tosses something else your way when you’re already at the end of your rope. Sometimes, when it rains, it pours, you know? To be honest, surviving is just about my only goal some days. Thriving? Maximizing opportunities and delighting in every experience offered to me? Not so much.

So, how do I experience abundant life, when my circumstances are undesirable? How do I live life to the full, when it feels like life is throwing punches?

I’m sometimes tempted to believe that “life to the full” is lived out in the form of nice vacations, lots of friends, a good reputation, comfort, ease, fun. But a quick look around, and I know that’s not true. I have seen people with much less than I living rich lives. I have been in houses made of mud and witnessed life to the full within those very walls. Everywhere you look there are people going through really hard things. And I know that Jesus’ offer for them is the same.  Abundant life is attainable. It isn’t limited to those with favorable circumstances, or money in the bank. It is for the broken, the lowly, the hurting, the sick. It’s for the beggar, the blind man, the woman at the well, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the single mom, the outcast. This offer is there for the taking, despite where we find ourselves. And it is found in relationship with Jesus. It is in those quiet moments when He speaks straight to my heart. It is in the encouragement and prayers of dear friends. It is in soul-filling conversations. It’s in communion and intimacy with the Father, that transcends circumstance, and in the truth that HE is so, so much better than anything this world has to offer.  It is not something so fleeting as happiness, success, financial security. It is HIM. Getting to walk through this life here and now, with Him, and the promise of eternity, with Him.

So often, I believe the lie that life to the full is somewhere off in the future. When we get out of debt, or finally own a home, when my marriage is better, or my kids are older. But I’m so thankful that the Lord’s promises are not dependent on me having my crap together or what stage of life I’m in.  I’m also thankful that on those days when it is all I can do to make it through, those days that I’m already completely spent by 8 am, those days when surviving is all I can muster up, He will meet me there with his big, deep grace, and love me through. That He is faithful through it all, in times of plenty and of want, joy and sorrow, good times and bad.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30