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Archive for December, 2014

A Study in Santa – Pt. III …Do You Believe?

Do you believe in Santa Claus?
I mean…duh… obviously, you know that he isn’t real.  But still…….do you believe in the magic and wonder that sits just beneath the fantasy?

Let me explain…
(and yes…I’m reusing a post from last Christmas, because I still stand behind what I said then!)

 

What do we do with Santa Claus?   Jolly ‘ol Saint Nick.

Some people don’t believe we should propagate the false story with kids, some people are neutral, some people go full-tilt fantasy as long as their kids keep believing and then some (*raises hand*).

I’d like to make a case for Santa.  After all, he’s WAY too busy today to speak on his own behalf.

This year, my little girl is right on the cusp of belief and disbelief.  It’s definitely the last Christmas I can pull off the fantasy.   So, I enlisted the help of my dad (an excellent storyteller) to tell the kids about the origins and evolution of Santa Claus – the REAL Santa Claus – to drive home all those smooshy feelings that keep you choosing to believe in something, even when the evidence is beginning to outweigh the power of imagination.

santa 4Turns out the REAL story of St. Nick is the story of love, kindness, and helping those in need.  Isn’t that a story we can ALL get behind?

santa 1The original Saint Nicholas, who was later made Bishop and mimicked by countless other secret night-time gift-givers, was so convicted about giving to the needy and providing money, food, and toys to children who had nothing, that it caught on.  Talk about a trend worth following!

Whether you’re spiritual/religious or not, the idea of showing basic human kindness to others is something everyone can agree on.

So, the question isn’t really whether you ‘agree’ with Santa, it’s – are you on board with our modern-day take on him?

santa 8And, yes, I admit, the idea has morphed into a more materialistic chase that frustrates even the unbreakable Christmas spirit in me, at times.  But, we don’t have to let it BE that.  Instead of surrendering to the greediness that can be bred by the Santa story, we can use the idea of Father Christmas to do two things:

1.  Enjoy the gift of creativity and imagination.  There is such beautiful artistry in a great story.  Think of the delicious elements of a timeless fairy tale…   The way we weave the best aspects of the known world we can think of – pleasure, love, good winning over evil, bravery, sacrifice, etc., along with the supernatural or impossibly wonderful – (i.e. magic) – into a narrative that fills us with wonder… is there anything better?santa 5

 

You do this on a small scale – all the time.  Even bah-humbug grown-ups make up miniature fantasies anytime we WISH traffic would just part and make way for us to scurry home, or we close our eyes for a milisecond in hopes that that guy will call us back after a date, or we hope, beyond all reason that it’ll be sunny even when the weather channel says there’s a 100% chance of rain on a special day.  We WANT there to be MAGIC.  It’s in our nature to yearn for fantasy.  It’s why stories and movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are so popular!

Passing this on to our children is a gift.  The gift of creativity and the gift of WONDER.  Teaching them that there is a possibility ….that there exists the tiniest crack in reality that …COULD be magical.
That COULD be other-worldly…
it not only stirs their imagination, but it breeds hope.

2.  Appreciate the thrill of anonymous giving.  The anonymity that exists in the legend – that is, the fact that you don’t get CREDIT for the gift – gives it a another layer of honest goodness and sweet satisfaction.  Any selfish desire to get that kickback feeling that comes when someone recognizes you… is gone.  So, it removes any self-centerdness to reveal a pure underlying love of giving and generosity.

Have you ever given a gift where the person never knew it was from you?  Wasn’t it divine?  This is another certain privilege of participating in the Santa story.

santa 9

This is a season where that crack of possibility, that there might be such as thing as magic, opens just a little wider;
Our capacity to dream becomes a little larger;
Our willingness to open ourselves up to whimsy and wonder and even the foolishness that a fairy tale brings, becomes greater.
And our reluctance to suspend disbelief starts to chip away.

 

And maybe for just a moment – BELIEF in something magical becomes a reality.  Even if it happens for a fleeting moment…just a flash of “what if?” …isn’t it wonderful?

santa 7So – I don’t know about you, but as long as there are Christmases, I’m going to choose to engage in the mysterious wonder of Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas to ALL of you, and to all – a good night!


A Study in Santa – Pt. II …Naughty or Nice?

I’m co-opting a blog from another site for this post.  But never fear…the author is just as amazing as I am…  😉

And yes, you’ll note some similar themes as the previous post, but it’s coming from a different angle.
If you want to read it on the original website, click here.


In recent Christmas discussions, my children have been pondering (and possibly worrying) about whether they’ve made the cut. Whether they’ve been “naughty or nice,” as it relates to Santa coming, this is. Now, while my daughter still believes in Jolly ‘ol St. Nick, my son, Timothy, only participates in these conversations to keep the fantasy alive for her, which is pretty sweet, actually.

As we talked, the question at hand was something like this: No kid can ever be good ALL the time, …that would be impossible… So, …what “counts” as far as Santa is concerned? How good does one have to be to avoid the lump of coal? And how much naughtiness is assumed in the normal kid behavior bell curve? Is it just during the Christmas season? What about when you do extra nice things…do those “buy” you a later screw-up? Are there levels of goodness? Like – sorta good gets you a scooter, but REALLY good gets you an iPad? Basically…we were trying to define “naughty and nice.”funny santa

At first, I gave them an answer along these lines: “Well, I think it’s more about your heart. Do you try to be obedient? Do you apologize when you make mistakes?” I was trying to get at the idea that Santa looks for children who are generally good, knowing full well that no one is perfect. And apparently, we decided that if you’re better than Hudson (a kid at Timothy’s school who’s notorious for getting into trouble), then you’re probably ok. But still… fingers crossed on Christmas Eve… and let’s hope the letter we send to the North Pole is cute enough to push us over the edge into the “nice” camp, if Santa was on the fence.

But, as the conversation was humming along in the back seat of the car, in my mind, all I could think of was, “of course ‘Santa’ is coming! Because… I’m Santa (really hoping I didn’t just spoil the surprise for any of you…), and I WANT to bring them gifts! I mean – I REALLY want to. I can’t WAIT to give them gifts.

Santa gives gifts on the condition that they’re good…
Mommy gives gifts out of pure love.

My children receiving gifts depends much less on them and so much more …on me…on my desire to bless them. And, sure, I much prefer when they’re well-behaved, but Timothy’s right – no one can be good all the time. And if true goodness is what we’re aiming for,…everyone will fail. In truth, we ALL deserve a lump of coal.

Thank goodness God works more like the real Santa (parents), and less like the song. He doesn’t give us good gifts because we’re good (despite what some folksy theology may teach), but because HE – the giver of all good gifts – is pleased to give them to us. It makes HIM happy. And if you’ve ever given a child a really amazing gift on Christmas morning, you know the feeling!

In the end, that creepy Christmas ditty we sing to children this time of year… you know the one – the stalker tune about how Santa knows when we’re sleeping and when we’re awake, …how “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake” – isn’t at all the spirit of Christmas OR the truth of life. If you do things that way, you’re not even behaving for “goodness’ sake,” you’re behaving to hopefully earn good gifts. But, moreso – the real gift giver wants to give the gifts, regardless of our behavior.

Santa gives gifts on the condition that we’re good…
God gives gifts – including the gift of His Son – out of pure love.

So, perhaps in this season of presents and stockings and holiday gift-lists, we should spend less time trying to achieve the bare minimum “goodness” to be in Santa’s good graces, and more time being thankful for Emmanuel – God with us – the giver of grace.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17


A Study in SANTA – pt. I …is Santa Naughty?

‘Tis the season to read articles on why Santa is evil.
I know…’tis the season to be jolly…but not too jolly, because that would be acting like Santa…who’s evil.

Ok, ok, maybe not evil – but DEFINITELY not something a good God-fearin’ mama would inflict on her innocent children.

Every year I read these, and every year I react the same way – I agree with so much of what these parents are saying.  I respect their point of view and admire the fact that they’ve given so much thought to the subject.  But I still disagree.

Sometimes the claims are things like – since Santa isn’t real …if we play along that he is, then our children will think that EVERYthing we tell them is a lie.

….um…what?
If that line of reasoning is true, then I’d better not take them to a Harry Potter movie, or play pretending games, or read fiction.  C’mon…  As parents, I’d like to think we’re savvy enough to help our children distinguish fun fantasies from truth.

But many of these articles have gotten much more sophisticated in their anti-Santa reasoning.lighten bag

This year I read a very well-written blog post from a mom describing the biggest reasons why her family doesn’t participate in the Santa fantasy – and the number one reason was this:

Santa promotes works righteousness.”

The idea is that the whole Santa story encourages a conditional system whereby good behavior EARNS you a prize/reward, and bad behavior keeps you from getting something.

Well…
Yup.

She’s right.

Santa DOES encourage a works righteousness system.  And you know what?
I’m glad!

I’m glad for two reasons:

  1.  That’s how much of this world works.

It may not be the way we want it to work, but that’s inconsequential…because it does.  In this life, characteristics like hard work, kindness, patience, thoughtfulness, considering others, etc. all garner you good consequences.

Now, there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, if you are considerate and thoughtful, people will like you.  If you’re diligent and steadfast in your studies/work, you’ll be able to accomplish your goals…maybe even enjoy some prosperity.  If you are patient and kind, your relationships will work more smoothly.  From the corporate world to the marriage union, being good earns you good things in return.

This is one reason we teach our children to care for others, to love people, to share their toys and respect their elders.  We don’t just do that so they’ll be ‘good people,’ but because we want them to be liked and accepted.  We want them to get into good schools, get good jobs, make good friends, and find loving romantic partners.  We want them to be good – to get good things.

I’m not saying that my theology ends here.  Of course not.  There is something far deeper at play in raising up my children.  I want them to honor God in their lives, to make sacrifices, and to know the love of Christ whether they are experiencing joy or sorrow.  But, that doesn’t negate my desire for them to have a good life.

Santa isn’t evil for being conditional.  Many good things in this world are conditional.  Very few things are unconditional…which brings me to my second point.

2.  It sets up the perfect dichotomy between Santa and God.

I WANT Santa to be conditional, so that my children will see and experience the freedom and delight of a God who is not.  God is unlike any other mini ‘god.’  Anything we can make into an idol – including Santa, but also things like money, power, sex, attention, etc. – will disappoint us when we can’t live up to the place we’ve assigned it in our lives.  But God loves us DESPITE our failings.

Santa brings gifts to reward good behavior…because we are good.
God sent his son while we were in full rebellion against him…because he is good.

I WANT my children to realize the vast and beautiful difference between the two.  I want them to enjoy the fantasy of Santa, but bask in the freeing reality of God’s love.
I want them to realize that Santa’s gifts are conditional, but God’s good gifts are unconditional.

If Santa didn’t promote a works based system, I’d be much more leery…because he’d be dangerously close to mimicking God.  As it is, he’s a fun piece of fiction.

In the end, the gifts from Santa…and the gifts from this world – are fleeting.  The only gift that endures, is the gift of life.  And thank goodness that doesn’t depend on our good works.

So, yeah… Santa does promote a works righteousness…just like the world.  But that’s ok, because Santa isn’t the final arbiter of righteousness at all.  God is…and his system is much kinder.  No matter how nice we are, we all have the capacity and the tendency towards the naughty.  And God loves us despite that.  For goodness’ sake.  🙂

 


You Get What You Pay For…?

I know y’all love to hear the tales of my failed dates, and as many of you have been letting me know – it’s been too long since I posted one.  So …here we go.  I think I’ve waited the requisite amount of time that (I hope) he won’t be reading this…, fingers crossed.

I met this guy (let’s call him Adam) online and we chatted a bit before deciding to meet up for a drink.gingerman - outside 2

My first mistake was this (and it’s taken me a while to figure this out):
I was his first date after his divorce.
Big no-no.
(Ironically, as I write this, I must admit I haven’t followed my own new rule and have gone out with two other recently divorced guys and each time it’s proved the rule… sigh.)  Anyway…

I realize that SOMEONE has to be the first date… but why ME?

My first date after my divorce ended up being with the man I fell deeply in love with… so, I guess I never really gave this issue much thought…, until being on the other side of things.
The dark side.

This is, I’m sure, not the case for everyone, but for several of the men I’ve been out with – if it’s their first foray back into the world of dating, and especially if they were in a LONG relationship/marriage, they’ve lost their dating “touch.”  And I basically have to hold their hand and guide them through the terrifying stormy waters of first-date-land.  I’m basically the e-harmony of the human realm.
Awww….I can hear you all now, “that’s so mean!  It sounds sweet to me that they’re innocent and don’t know how dating has changed… don’t BLAME them!”  And, I don’t.  Blame them, that is.  I just don’t want to be the guinea pig that has to endure a bad, boring, or awkward date because they’re getting back on the horse.

But back to the date.

Adam lives in Pearland (ugh….might as well be Siberia…(for those of you not in Houston, Pearland is a suburb.  So, yes, I’m exaggerating.  I’m an inner-loop snob.  It’s protocol.  It’s in the ILS handbook.))

Since he doesn’t live in the city AND he’s recently divorced, he didn’t have any ideas/suggestions as to where we should meet up.  (This is an example of losing the touch.  Women want a man who will at least show enough leadership to suggest a meeting place….Or, at the very least, master the fine art of “Yelp.”)

Gingerman - outsideSo, fine – I put out a few options.  One was a wine bar, one was a coffee shop, one was a beer house… and he chose beer.  Great!  We went to the Gingerman (it’s a super chill spot with about eleventyhundredteen beer choices.  Seriously…it’s a lot.)

I got there a few minutes early.  He got there late.  (strike 1)

While I was waiting, I ordered a beer and paid for it/closed the tab.  I like to do this on dates sometimes, so that the guy knows I’m not just trying to milk him for his cash-o-la.
When he finally arrived (he had a hard time finding the place… apparently he’s as adept with Google Maps as he is with the Yelp), he went to order a drink and asked me what I was drinking.  I told him, adding that I liked it but didn’t love it, and …
he proceeded to order the same beer.  Out of 14-bajillion beers, he just copied mine.

beer menu
Fine…perhaps he was nervous, so his imagination wasn’t at full speed.

We sat down on a bench in their back patio and started chatting.  Some about me, some about him.  Ok, mostly about him.  Ok, ALL about him.
At one point, I went to the restroom and texted a friend of mine that I was bored out of my mind having to keep up with his incessant self-agrandizing.  My friend wrote back, “oh…give him a chance.  He’s probably just nervous.”
Fine.
FINE!!

gingerman - back patio

So, I went back out and suggested we get a bite to eat and another beer.  We went in to the counter and I ordered the blah-blah-blah with brie (does the rest matter?  It had brie.)  He looked over the menu and decided he’d have the same sandwich.  Then, I perused the beer menu and ordered another (as in – not the same kind I had the first time) pint.  He ordered the same one as I did.

If you’re not keeping score, that’s THREE items for which he just copied my order.  I mean – I’m a good orderer, but c’mon…
(strike 2)

Then the bartender told us the total and asked how we wanted to pay.  Ugh…. I hate these moments.  On the one hand, I want to hand over my card to show that I’m perfectly fine paying and I’m not assuming the guy will.  On the other hand, I think there’s something really sweet about a guy taking care of the bill, so I want to hesitate.  But I don’t want to hesitate so long that it looks like I’m EXPECTING him to pay.  Gah… in this achingly long 5 seconds, this is all going through my mind, whilst I glance quickly at him to see if he’s reaching for HIS wallet.  Which he’s not.
So, I give her my card.  She asked if I wanted to close out or keep it open and I told her to keep it open.

As we’re walking back to our table, he says, “Why’d you do that?”  I say, “Do what?”  He says, “Pay!  I’m supposed to do that!”  I’m thinking…Right!  Well…why DIDN’T you?  I gave you an excruciatingly long 5 seconds?!?… but what I SAID was, “Well, the tab’s still open, so – we can figure that out when we leave!”  That’s a nice way of saying – if you want to pay, you can.  Later.

We sit down to more one-sided conversation (thank goodness there was brie…), and then he told me that his ex-wife reads my blog!  What???  (Ex-wife…if you still read this and you know I’m writing about your ex-husband… we should chat – hit me up).  What are the odds?  I don’t know this woman.  So, in my mind, I’m excited because a stranger is reading!  That’s fantastic!  But, I don’t think HE thinks so.  Anyway – that’s not really an integral part of the story…

He orders one more beer – on my tab.  ijs…

After an hour and a half, I decide I’ve used up enough of my time on a date that I know is going nowhere, so I politely ease into goodbye time, at which point the bartender sees us collecting our stuff and asks us both, “Do you want to close it out on the card we have already?

Ok, Adam… this is your chance.  This is the moment you were….WE’VE all been…waiting for…   So I waited… not 5, not 6, not 7, but TEN looooooooong seconds before answering her.  He said nothing, y’all.  Nada.  Just stood there and watched as I closed out the tab and paid $40 for our date.  He even had 1 more beer than I did… isn’t that bad form?  I’d never order 3 glasses of wine if my date only had one or two… but whatevs.  I pay… I tip… and I gallop towards the door.  He walks me outside and we realize we’re parked in opposite directions.  Did he ask to walk me to my car?  No.
(strike 3)

What he DID ask was far worse.  He made two horrifyingly awkward comments:

1.  Him:  “So… what are we gonna do?
Me:  “about what?”  (I can’t decide if this is about the not walking me to my car, the failed conversation, or the money thing…there really are so many options)
Him:  “the money!  You didn’t need to pay!”   (didn’t I?  I mean…SOMEONE did!)
Me:  so annoyed… “well, she was asking for a card and you didn’t give her yours, so I just took care of it…
Him:  “Well, how can I pay you back?
Me:  “I have a paypal account…write this down”   KIDDING!  (I wish I’d said that…)  what I really said:  “Um…well, I’m not sure, Adam.”  I mean…what was I supposed to do?  Walk with him to an ATM?  They guy didn’t even offer to walk to my car, let alone a banking kiosk.
(strike 4)

2.  Him:  “Can I take you out on a second date?
[note… I don’t think people should ask this question on a first date.  It’s one thing to imply that you’d LIKE a second date, but to point-blank ask the other person out on said second date…puts them on the spot.
Plus…read the room, dude!  This date was an act of social mercy…why would you think I’d want another?]
Me:   bumbling and looking nervous, I’m sure… “Um…. can I process things a little and let you know?”  Gah!  What kind of answer is THAT?  I might’as well have just said, “Nope.  You’re boring and cheap.”  He knew right away what ‘processing’ was code for…   poor guy.
(strike 5)

Whelp, …5 strikes and you’re out.  That’s how the saying goes, right?

 

In the end, I was out 1 1/2 hours, and $40.

But at least I have the tale to tell – for all of you… including his ex-wife.

Lucky me.