12 Reasons My Toddler Might Be Santa

Is there a name for the coming-of-age trauma where kids stop believing in Santa? What would you call that? De-Sant-ification? My childhood excluded Santa from Christmas for religious reasons so I skipped that, but now the tables are turned and I have the opposite scenario: Kids start thinking Santa might be fake; I’m thinking Santa might be real. Kids start to think their parents might be Santa; Now that I’m a parent, I’m starting to think my kid might be Santa.

Here are a few reasons we think Annie may actually be the Jolly Old Man:

  1. Santa has reindeer; Annie loves the deer in our yard.
    Annie Deer
  2. “He knows if you’ve been bad or good”; she knows if I have been bad or good, which she demonstrates by copying me at all times. Mommy eats hummus? Annie eats hummus. Mommy eats a cookie? Annie eats a cookie. Mommy talks on the phone? Annie talks on the phone. And so on. This is her way of making sure I know that she knows exactly what’s going on. (It’s terrifying.) 
  3. Santa loves milk and cookies; She loves milk and cookies.
  4. As Bishop of Myrna in the olden days, Saint Nicholas reportedly slapped/punched Arius in the face over a theological dispute at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD; She frequently hits her little brother. I originally thought it was because she wanted to see what would happen, or she was mad at him for taking up my time, or she wanted me to pay attention to her. 
    Adam Bond transparent santa saint nicholas arius
     “Say ‘homoosious’! Say ‘homoosious’!” 
    Instead, I now wonder if it she is hitting him because, as a non-verbal infant, he has not yet professed his allegiance to the doctrine of Christ the Son being of one substance with God the Father. (“We use our words during theological debates in this house.”)
  5. Santa brings toys to children while they are sleeping; She frequently gives toys to her little brother, usually throwing them on his face while he is sleeping. 
  6. “He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake”; She knows if Thomas is sleeping or awake, and uses this knowledge to ensure her daily naps contrast with his.
  7. Santa has a round belly; She has a little round belly.
  8. Santa’s belly shakes when he laughs, just like a bowl full of jelly; She would probably eat a bowl full of jelly if I gave it to her.
  9. Santa hears requests and fulfills only some, reflecting their parents’ budgetary guidelines, which is something children do not fully comprehend; Sometimes she willingly gives me what I ask her for (that piece of mail), and sometimes she doesn’t (that iPhone), for reasons I do not fully comprehend.
  10. Santa puts toys in stockings (or shoes, if you want to get really traditional about things); She is particularly curious about socks and shoes right now.
  11. Santa puts toys and goodies in a bag that he carries over his shoulder; she likes to put objects in my purse and carry it around. 
  12. The dead giveaway… Little Saint Nick here is obviously making herself comfortable coming in and out of the fireplace. 

    ("I'll just finish folding this laundry," I thought, "She's certainly reading to herself.")

    (“I’ll just finish folding this laundry,” I thought, “She’s certainly reading to herself.”)

 

Advent and FOMO (advent 2015)

“He withholds no good thing…” (Psalm 84:11)

Those who read things on the internet or voraciously scour the Oxford English Dictionary, which added today’s word to their compendium in 2013, have probably come across the acronym “FOMO” long before this post. The letters stand for “Fear of Missing Out,” the official definition is “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere,” and when you move as much as we have, it’s a very real struggle.

I really am excited for Aaron having this great job and moved to tears of joy over having these two babies on a regular basis. This is a life I have desperately wanted for a long time. It’s important to be present in all these moments, even the tough ones. I don’t want to waste it or wish it away, but we are still far from “settled” in our town or home, and feeling so not-at-home for so long is discouraging. Days with two babies are intense, and it seems like things would be so much easier back in our Minnesota neighborhood, which came complete with a built-in best friend/babysitter. (It was more than a little bit awesome.) Even knowing that this move is supposed to be so good for us, all this upheaval makes me feel like we are split in a million pieces. Christmastime makes these aches more noticeable: I want to enjoy roaring fireplaces and watch snow falling outside the windows of our parents’ homes. I want to be in my Iowa Bible Study class. I want to drink candy cane hot chocolate with my neighborhood coffee moms from Minnesota. I want to sing Christmas carols with my college friends in real life and not just interact occasionally on social media. I wish I was having this conversation in person with pretty much anyone who is reading it.

This is compounded because I also have some FOMO about Advent. Again. I’m not sure why this even merits a mention, because I feel like this every year. I have a dream of observing a month of Advent for spiritual reflection and meditation. I have the Advent devotionals, I have the Jesse Tree ornament set, I have a list of all the appropriate songs. Something inside me really craves this. We have never observed the season as fully as I would dream, but this year is it’s own version of missing out because we haven’t made plans for implementing any holiday cheer around here. No tree. No lights. No concerts. No advent wreath. No energy to get excited about presents. I suppose this is the year to scale back – the kids are too little to know we are pulling it in so far, and we’re extremely tired. I want to do all the things that make the celebrations special for us… but only badly enough to feel their absence, not enough to actually make it happen. This family desperately needs a long weekend together more than the holiday hoopla.

On the surface it seems we’re not even “doing” Advent this year, and we evangelicals could all point out that liturgical seasons are unnecessary because God didn’t include a calendar in the back of the Bible anyway. But there can be rich treasure discovered in honoring this ancient practice of remembering, in some tangible way, the wait for Jesus. Without lighting candles or keeping up with any special reading, this month when “missing out” seems to be overlaying my every thought,  the purpose of Advent -celebrating what came and is still coming in the incarnate Christ- should override what seems held back from me.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

The stories I dream of reading with the children during future Advent seasons are full of people who sojourned and wandered, often far away from those they loved, grounded in the firm conviction that God would fulfill his promise with a deliverer and a homeland. The special gift of this Advent is that no matter how much I can identify with those who mourned in lonely exile right now, I am not missing the Promise who fulfills the eternal YES in the midst of my life’s (much) lesser nos.

Advent, Interrupted. (advent 2013)

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. – Matthew 8:20

Instead of following any of our usual traditions, this Advent kicks off an intense season of unsettling. While I am listening to Handel’s Messiah, because that’s just what you do before Christmas (also, it is less annoying than the radio), there is a decided focus on projects like this…

20131202-071831.jpg
…instead of usual things we might do at this time of the year. Instead of covering little boxes with ornamental paper, I’m covering big boxes with Sharpie-d words like, “KITCHEN/OFFICE/ETC/FRAGILE/HEAVY” (sometimes all on the same box… uh…) and covering oddly shaped packages with shrink wrap, which is like a giant roll of Saran Wrap. Instead of buying candycanes to stir my hot cocoa and preparing favorite traditional dishes, I’m creatively mixing random foods from the freezer into “adventurous meals” in an effort to move it empty.  I miss setting up a Christmas tree, placing a wreath on the front door, making snowflakes, hanging stockings, sitting by the fire with our special Christmas mugs. (Aaron’s is a Grinch.) I’m missing church Christmas events, special times with friends, surprise gifts for people I love, familiarity, routines, and control. Instead, I’m saying “good-bye” to much of this and will have to start all over in the new year.

It’s funny that this season is entrenched in tradition and patterns, and that those annoying radio songs focus on things that stay the same (chestnuts, mistletoe, snow and lights, etc.), because the beauty of the real story is that it isn’t about what stayed the same. The history of captivity, wandering, rigid moral and civil codes, receiving and ignoring confusing prophecies, war, tumult, siege, exile, and silence culminates in an unplanned pregnancy, a sub-par birth situation, an emergency move to Egypt, an entire town bereft of little boys. This does not speak to maintaining long-standing magical-feeling traditions. The beauty of this all is that these interrupted circumstances pointed to what was superior and everlasting, and it wasn’t customs or feelings or family gatherings – it was the faithfulness of God and the fulfillment of His promise.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. …From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ … He has made him known.” – John 1

While I would rather be lighting candles, singing verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and reading Messianic prophecies over special dinners, I’m packing up my home, moving away from dear friends and students, spending weeks running around for family gatherings when I would rather be nesting into a new home, and not really doing much of my usual Christmas stuff. This is going to be an Advent with lots of practical reminders of Christ’s coming down to us — from timeless to temporary, from eternal life to a taste of death, from glory to a manger and then no place to lay his head, from the splendor of heaven to the unsettled mess of earth. (Which is more of a condescension than trying to function with the unsettled mess of my living room, though in my mind they seem pretty comparable.)

how many promises! (advent 2012)

The first candle from our advent wreath

The first candle from our advent wreath

My explanation of the first few weeks of Advent 2012 would probably be much like everyone else’s: I’m busy and I don’t feel like I’m “reflecting” or “waiting expectantly” for the Lord at all. This fall has required lots of time-management, work, and bravery, but it has been very good. I am still a little bit tired and worn out from all of that. (When you are in high school or college and work really hard all semester, you come home and your mommy makes you food and takes care of your home. Not so for grown-ups like me.) And now, after teaching, tests, sharing about hard things, countless piano lessons, four recitals, bible studies, book clubs, and packaging up lots of venison, I’m finally on Christmas break. By some miracle, Aaron has had half the normal amount of stuff to do this week. He’s waiting on results for something… I don’t totally get why this happened now, but it means we’re both home a lot, and we spend our time listening to carols, enjoying the fireplace, and drinking lots of hot cocoa stirred with candy canes. This is fun!

Receiving Christmas cards in the mail is one of my favorite parts of the holiday preparations. This year I found adorable mini-clothespins at a craft store, so we’re keeping a card-line. It’s so special to see these friends and family on our mantel! Mailing Christmas cards seems like a throw-back, a trend of days gone by, but we’re still hanging on to this tradition. Communication and relationships are so much more important than the technology we usually use to facilitate them. Sometimes sharing something tangible is a special way to express your well-wishes and encouragement to others – and I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks this way!  (My friend Hannah said it well: “Luckily, I went to a college attended by many people (most of them ladies – let’s be real here) who still practice the art of letter writing.”)

christmas cardline

This week’s blizzard required some significant snow-removal efforts on our driveway. As I looked out the window from my cushy perch in the house, I snapped this shot, and it occurred to me that Aaron was not only clearing the snow from around my car, he was also sweeping it off the top. He is a good man. Also, I’m really excited about these winter-wonderland surroundings!

blizzard

Our Christmas travel plans are probably augmented because of all this snow, but it’s hard to complain when we are inside and cozy by the fire.

It feels only fair to admit that I’ve had an outline for a post called “Advent is for those who fail” in my folder for almost three weeks. At this point, I’m pretty sure I won’t actually sit down and finish it before Christmas. The basic point is that  those who fail should use Advent to look forward in hope to Christ, who unfailingly fulfills all promises. This is great news, especially for people who have a hard time sitting down and finishing projects, even when they are on a break.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. – 2 Corinthians 1:20, niv.

And in case we missed you in the “real mail” – Merry Christmas!

Mock_One

love’s noon in nature’s night

It hardly looks like Christmas should be coming soon! The weather outside is warm enough to fetch the mail without a coat and there is no snow in sight.  I usually forget about some of the beloved nativity hymns and readings until the last minute, but with a whole nine days to spare, here are some portions of my all-time favorite holiday poem. I love the imagery of Christ as the light, the eternal day, and all wonders in one sight.

From “In the Nativity of Our Lord God: As sung by Shepherds” by Richard Crashaw.

Come we shepherds, whose blest sight
Hath met love’s noon in nature’s night;
Come lift up our loftier song
And wake the sun that lies too long.


Gloomy night embraced the place
Where the noble Infant lay.
The Babe looked up and showed His face;
In spite of darkness, it was day.
It was Thy day, Sweet! and did rise
Not from the East, but from Thine eyes.

We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest,
Young Dawn of our eternal day!
We saw Thine eyes break from Their East
And chase the trembling shades away.
We saw Thee; and we blessed the sight,
We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.

Poor world (said I), what wilt thou do
To entertain this starry Stranger?
Is this the best thou canst bestow?
A cold, and not too cleanly, manger?
Contend, ye powers of heaven and earth
To fit a bed for this huge birth.


Proud world, said I; cease your contest
And let the mighty Babe alone.
The phoenix builds the phoenix’ nest,
Love’s architecture is his own.
The Babe whose birth embraves this morn,
Made His own bed ere He was born.

Welcome, all Wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer to winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little One! Whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

To Thee meek Majesty! Soft King,
Of simple graces and sweet loves.
Each of us a lamb will bring,
Each a pair of silver doves;
‘Til burn’t at last in fire of thy fair eyes
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio

“fear not”

Whether you focus on the spiritual themes of Advent or jump ahead into Christmas celebrations, the weeks leading up to the holidays are full of waiting and excitement. While anticipating Christmas brings joyful hope, patience for other things in life is often very raw, destabilizing and scary. Especially when life is wearisome, the holiday waiting can hit a nerve of underlying or unrecognized fear.  It’s easy to picture happy children marking passed days on the calendar expecting another magical December 25th, but the rest of life isn’t like that. We don’t know what, when, or even if things will happen, and the things that do end up happening might be hard or painful. Depending on the person and their circumstances these contingencies may be especially terrifying, but it’s safe to say we all face this battle in some way. At this time of the year it might feel like the chasm between happy hope and our own gaping wounds is uncrossable. Uncertainty can make celebrations feel so painful for some, and these challenges seem worse with messages all around urging happiness and merriment.

There’s no use hiding these hard feelings, and I’ve been thinking about this because this theme of nagging anxiety has been a theme in so many conversations I’ve had lately. There are varied stories, of course, but most of us respond to all sorts of pain by asking similar questions:
What if I don’t succeed in this new endeavor – grad school, starting a business or job, parenting, paying off debt, leadership responsibilities, moving?

     What if the person I love rejects me and I’ve poured myself out for nothing?
     What if it takes forever to recover after this awful thing?
     What if things don’t get better?
The letters I-F in “what if?” give us a quick way to reveal what I Fear, and I confess a sinking familiarity with this list because I’m asking the same questions on some level every single day. I don’t think these fears are unique to anyone!

It shouldn’t be that surprising to confront growing fear while preparing for Christ’s coming. The Israelites must have mused, Our prophets seemed like they were crazy anyway, we were captured and in exile, and now we’ve had hundreds of years without a messenger from God… What if this is all a joke? Shouldn’t the Messiah be here by now? An angel had to command Joseph not to fear taking Mary as his wife. The shepherds were terrified for one of the most glorious fresh-air Angelic choir concerts of all time. And even today we’re bombarded with skepticism about Jesus’ return: Look at people like Howard Camping! Is it crazy to think this is real? Shouldn’t Jesus be back by now?  Human fear permeates the story of Christmas, so why shouldn’t contemplating the mysteries of Christ’s coming bring our own everyday fears to light as well?

The Christmas story is beautiful here as it validates and releases these fears with  the messages of our Advent contemplations – hope, peace, joy and love.
Weary Israel: This is the branch from Jesse, with the spirit of the fear of the Lord, which remedies all the rest of your fears.
Take courage, Joseph: These crazy and embarrassing circumstances you don’t understand fulfill my promise to bring forth salvation.
Good news, lowly Shepherds:  Salvation comes for all people, including you.
Be not afraid: God is incarnate, dwelling among us that we may behold him.

Reinforcing the truth of scripture, many Christmas carols proclaim the Christ child is the antidote to fear.
Yet in thy dark street shineth the everlasting light!
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.
– “O Little Town of Bethlehem” words by Philip Brooks, 1867.

Saints before the altar bending, watching long in hope and fear,  
Suddenly the Lord descending in His temple shall appear!
– “Angels from the Realms of Glory” words by James Montgomery, 1816.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free
From our sins and fears release us, let us find our rest in thee!
– “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” words by Charles Wesley.

(Advent Starry Night by Virginia Wieringa)

And it’s interesting to note what happened after these Christmas story fears were confronted. Joseph woke up from his dream and obeyed the angel’s command.  The shepherds went from their fields to find the stable in obedience to their instructions. They responded to fear by acting on what God had revealed to them, and that’s the same path we can take to push past fear. In yielding any worry, big or small, we encounter the ultimate revelation God has given us – Christ, the Word made flesh.

Be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”   – Isaiah 40, king james version.

[image here]

kicking off Advent

We’re celebrating the first Sunday of Advent this evening! I haven’t been able to work up the energy to think about doing the usual Christmas decorating, but I’ve had fun planning some new traditions for Advent. This season is all about joyful patience and anticipation, celebrating both those who waited for Jesus’ birth and our wait for his return in glory.

The first tradition we’re instituting (after intending and forgetting since 2008) is lighting Advent candles every Sunday night. I found these cute little glasses at Goodwill and I love them, but I’ll have to remember to look for better purple and pink votive candles next spring so I can stock up for next year.

four advent candles with the pure Christ candle in the center

The other thing we’re trying is a Jesse Tree! This is a twist on a Christmas tree, where there is a new ornament to hang every evening that corresponds with a devotional reading. Or maybe Christmas trees are a twist on the Jesse tree. Either way, we’re doing one of these this year in place of a usual evergreen. It would be awesome to have the same ornament tradition with a Christmas tree, but I am feeling very lazy about putting that together for now. I’m excited about this because a Jesse tree is a tangible way to celebrate the lineage of God’s faithfulness throughout history leading up to Christ’s birth and learn from those who faithfully waited for the promised Messiah. I think it will take a few years to collect a full season’s worth of ornaments, so some of mine will be pieces of paper or drawings for now! From the looks of this picture I will need to some better branch hunting tomorrow, too. Oh well! This is what it looks like for now, and I already started making an ornament for the reading on Monday.

these branches of the jesse tree are ready for ornaments!

That’s what we’re starting out with this year, and here are a few great resources for Advent if you want to think about any of this stuff yourself:
1) This is a fun song from singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson about the genealogy before Christ. It’s a great musical expression of the things we’ll spend some extra time meditating on this month.


2) Ann Voskamp has a Jesse Tree Advent Devotional available if you subscribe to her blog A Holy Experience. (It would be worth your time to subscribe anyway.)
3) I love this article on Advent from Bobby Giles and these Advent prayers from the Gospel Coalition.

It is marvelous that Christ came and is coming again – we are blessed to contemplate these mysterious gifts!

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. -Isaiah 11:1-2, esv.