Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do we love Santa more than Jesus?

   We were walking through a department store when someone asked my then 5-year old daughter Sister, "So, what is Santa bringing you for Christmas?"  She looked at me confused, and shrugged her shoulders.  I just smiled and went on.  As soon as they were out of sight, Sister looked at me and lowered her eyebrows.  "Mom..  I can't believe that they believe in Santa."  In a way of shock and displeasure. I was kind of taken back by her comment.  I know that I had made her to believe that it was almost an atrocity to believe in him, but to hear it come from the mouth of a 5-year old..  it didn't sound like I was being gracious, or teaching her anything other than bitterness...  yet, I believed, as she had put it, that it was just wrong for anyone to believe in Santa, or to have their kids do so.
   I followed suit with that for years.  Not only making her believe that Santa was a myth, but that it was wrong for others to believe in him.  To me, it was idolatry.  My husband and I would roll our eyes at all the pics with people's kids on Santa's lap.  We couldn't believe they were actually allowing them to believe in Santa!  On the very day we were supposed to be focusing entirely on the birth of Jesus!  How dare they....  they were doing their kids an injustice!  

  Christmas eve would come, then Christmas morning...  and my child was excited about the gifts under the tree.  I couldn't believe that she was more excited about gifts more than Christ's birth!  Should I just stop giving gifts altogether?  First Santa...  then a kid being excited about gifts...  I would feel guilty all day..  for all the shopping, for spending too much, for going all out..  I would feel bad that we didn't spend Christmas day at a church, learning about what the meaning of Christmas is truly about.  I started to dislike Christmas.  I faced many a holiday with this same dilemma.  I was so excited about the gifts..  about seeing my children happy.  Along with that excitement came immense guilt, because although my heart desired to dedicate this day to my Lord, my mind could not wrap itself around exactly how to do that.  I felt guilty for loving Christmas, I felt guilty for loving gifts...  it wasn't a joyous holiday for me. 

  I wasn't certain how to do this..  how to be able to enjoy Christmas without the guilt that came along with it.  Whether or not I was doing the right thing by making my kids feel harshly toward Santa and those who believe in him.  I wouldn't even buy wrapping paper or decorations with Santa on them, because he was supposedly taking the place of my God in his holiday.  

  Then, I heard the story of Laurence Krieg.  Kreig is now an adult, and his most prized possession is a letter that he received when he was 9 from CS Lewis.  Can you imagine?  9-year-old Krieg loved Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.  However, he was troubled.  Kreig told his mother that he was heavy burdened, because he believed that he loved Aslan more than he loved Jesus.  He wondered if doing so made him an idol worshipper.  Not knowing what to say, she wrote a letter to Lewis, in hopes that he would comfort her son.  His response was beautiful....

  Tell Laurence from me, with my love:
   Even if he was loving Aslan more than Jesus (I’ll explain in a moment why he can’t really be doing this) he would not be an idol-worshipper. If he was an idol worshipper he’d be doing it on purpose, whereas he’s now doing it because he can’t help doing it, and trying hard not to do it. But God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won’t be angry with us as long as we are trying. And He will help us.
But Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. 

   Sometimes I believe we give ourselves too much credit.  I believe we confuse being a Christian with being religious.  I believe we get so caught up in trying to look the part that we forget to act it.  I know that I'm very guilty of that.  I get so busy trying to look like a Christian, I forget that God is not fooled by whats on the outside, but whats on the inside...  and sometimes we are so busy working on the outside that we just allow the inside to grow dull.  
   Its so difficult for us to wrap our minds around who God is.  We are flesh.  In the Bible, even those who saw him work miracles had trouble understanding.  The disciples who walked with Christ daily still did wrong, still messed up, and still had trouble loving him all the time.  Its not because we don't love him, or because we can't love him, but because we are clothed in flesh, and are incapable of being everything that our soul yearns to be- in this side of eternity.  

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

  God doesn't expect us to be perfect.  He doesn't expect us to push life away, to push people away..  he simply asks that we have faith, that we follow him as best as we can, and that we embody him to others.  That we show- through acts, that God lives inside of us.  We show the holy spirit, to the best of our capabilities, everyday.  He knows we will fall short, and knows we will fail..  yet he forgives us and love us anyway.

  The rest of the letter continued...

  Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: “Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love You more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what You want and growing more like You.

   I have to say, I entirely agree with Mr. Lewis. I also believe this is very distinctive in the idea of Santa.  Little children have wild imaginations, and one day they will grow and the magic of Santa will fade and be gone..  just like the magic of believing Olaf and Mickey Mouse are real.  One day the idea of someone magical bringing them gifts will be a silly notion to them.  However..  the idea of generosity that Santa brings to them, could very well live with them throughout the ages.  The idea that someone cares enough about him to bring him gifts could make him desire to do the same to others.  The acts of gratitude that he shows for the gifts could very well teach him gratitude. 
  Later on, Krieg said that he was comforted by this letter, and as an adult with children of his own, still embraced the characteristic of Aslan as he envisioned God.  The strengths that Lewis showed through the character of Alsan...  strength, love, protection..  those were the very things that he related to his view of God.  

   The way we do Santa in the Duncan house is a little different.  We don't tell the kids that he is bringing them gifts on Christmas morning, because the gifts on Christmas morning are from each other.  We buy a couple of small things from me and Dad, but the 'big' gifts that they get aren't something that they've asked for, they are something carefully chosen by another sibling, which works out great, because they know one another so well.  They draw names between the four of them on Thanksgiving and spend a month choosing the perfect gift for their sibling, and we spend a day shopping.  They inevitably get something small for their other siblings as well, wrap them themselves, and are more excited about what they got for the other person than they are about what they are getting.  

  However, when we are around Santa, I allow the magic to take over.  I allow them to talk to him, to tell him what they would like for Christmas.  To be given gifts and laugh with him, to be excited about him.  Whatever spin some people may like to put on Santa is their own prerogative.  I don't believe there's anything evil about Santa.  To my children, he's as real as Mickey Mouse and Woody were at Disney world, and that, to them, is exciting!  I love this picture...  the little boy in red and green is my Huddy, just a 'little' bit excited about Santa.  Nowadays, even Sister enjoys adding Santa to our Christmas celebrations..  and not feeling bad about doing so.  

  I no longer feel guilty about Christmas, because I think its okay for me to be excited about getting something special for my children.  They truly are amazing children, in every way, and they deserve gifts.  I believe God has blessed us, and I'm so thankful for it.  I'm thankful that I get to spend that time each year with my family, some family that I only see at Christmas even.  I'm thankful for all the laughter, all the hugs, all the smiles and all the gratitude.  I'm thankful that people put everything aside to be together, to love one another, and to put someone else's desires above their own.  

   On Christmas, we celebrate God coming to earth, embodied in mortal flesh, to give the world the greatest gift.  Salvation.  Forgiveness.  If that Christmas had not happened, we would not be able to enjoy Christmas, we would not be able to live and make mistakes..  what mercy!  Is it really a time to feel guilty?  God erased guilt.  Guilt does not come from God.    The best advice that my husband ever gave me, was to be careful not to confuse guilt with conviction, because they are two different things entirely.   I'm working on that each day...  praying that God will show me the difference between what I'm feeling guilty about for no reason, and what he convicts my heart of in order to grow and change me to be the best that I can possibly be.  I'm working on it each day, and I make a lot of mistakes...  but I'm willing to grow, to change..  to bend and learn from my mistakes.  I'm so grateful for the life that God has given me, and truly thankful that he's changing my heart.  It's a lot more freeing to allow myself to let go of guilt once and for all.   

   So for those of you who celebrate Santa..  don't feel guilty.  You aren't teaching your children that Jesus isn't important..  you are just enjoying life with your kids, in that small amount of time that they still have those wild imaginations full of magic.  Teach them about God, and about his gift of life that he gave at Christmas..  and don't feel guilty when they don't understand.  Don't beat yourself up trying to make them understand...  remember that they are not only flesh as well as you are, they are children.  One day they will understand it, and they will remember all that you taught them.  They will see God and his spirit and will remember the way you showed God to them through the way that you lived each day.  Until then, pray for them, enjoy them and remember..  those imaginations are amazing, and God loves them.  After all, he created them, and loves them even more than you ever could.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Gift of Imperfection

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

  I'm sure you've noticed by now..  I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of a blank slate.  I like to start over.  I love blank spaces and a fresh start.  I have moved a lot, and no matter how much I say I do, I don't hate it.  I love to declutter- to get rid of things that we don't need or don't use...  I love to have the opportunity to reorganize things in my life, to start fresh.  How many times now have I started a new blog?  A new diet plan?  A new outlook?  I like to begin again..  and for awhile, I've thought of it as a major flaw.
   I've grown so much over the past few years.  Its not been easy..  God has worked overtime in my heart.  He's taken me from one place to another- he's planted convictions, he's molded me, and he's comforted me throughout the process.  I awake each day and feel like I can begin again- that I can start fresh with a new spirit, a new heart..  something that has been birthed from conviction and obedience, that has been weeded through disobedience and rebellion.  A heart that has learned that its easier to be held than to hold on when you are at the end of your rope.  I awake- and start fresh, over and over again.
  The world tends to really enjoy pulling the rug out from under my feet.  I've really struggled with relationships with people in my life.  People who enjoy reminding me that no matter how fresh a start may seem, I can't escape the things that have defined me in the past. The mistakes that I have made, the times I decided to go at it myself rather than to depend on God and his guidance.  For awhile, I've felt like every relationship that I had outside of my immediate family was toxic...  and I honestly just began to shut them out.  If I couldn't figure out how to have relationships with people that seemed determined to knock the breath out of me, I decided perhaps I should not have those relationships at all.
   The thing about people is this..  surprisingly, no matter how much they may seem it..  nobody is perfect.  Everyone is flawed..  we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, and we are all sinful, fleshly beings who have no idea how to function selflessly...  because that is instilled in us from birth.  We are born sinful, willful and selfish.  That's hard for some to accept.  I'll never forget my cousin holding his newborn baby girl, and upon hearing those words he seemed appalled that anyone could ever say this about this precious babe.  I knew once those terrible two's flared up he would realize that what I was saying was truth, but I knew how he felt..  its difficult to accept that we are honestly despicable creatures...  and also difficult to understand why.
   So here's what God has revealed to me.
   Through all the days that I've scrubbed my floors because company was coming over...  only to have the baby spill juice on the carpet five minutes before their arrival-
  Through all the times I've spent hours getting my children dressed, with their hair fixed just perfect to go out, only to have an accident in the car on the way to church-
  Through all the time I've spent trying to make my makeup perfect just to see that picture of me at the event looking like I got hit by a truck just a few minutes into it..  I've realized this about the idea of 'perfection'-
  Its rubbish.
  Its rubbish because not only is it unattainable, but its useless.  Completely useless to anyone's ministry.
   The only thing I've ever gathered from anyone who I've foolishly thought was 'perfect' is inadequacy.  Sometimes that's what people are going for..  but its the furthest thing from what God has called us to give to others.  If you spend your entire life seeming to be someone that no one can measure up too, then all you are doing for others is making them feel useless.
   It's very difficult for me to let go of this idea of perfection that has plagued me for years.  I'm afraid there's something simply bred into us southerners about appearing perfect in the worst of circumstances.  But truly, who wants to be perfect?  Perfect is not only useless to us, its useless to God.  God can't work with perfection.  Read the Bible..  the Bible is full of people that God chose to use to lead and guide a world for thousands of years after it was printed..  and look at the ones who he chose to use!  We can recall easily Abraham's faith, but what of his relationship with Hagar?  Immediately after the flood, Noah, the only man on earth who God considered righteous was found intoxicated.  David committed adultery and murder.  Yet, God chose them.  Why?  Why didn't God chose the 'righteous' people to write about?  I'm certain there were people in biblical times that others regarded as 'perfect' people..  that 'seemed' unflawed and upstanding to their peers..  but God didn't use them.  Why?
   Because imperfection reflects grace.  We are all imperfect, even those who appear not to be.  However, God isn't a God that keeps record.  He isn't a God who is a respecter of persons.  He isn't a God that stands by eagerly awaiting you to mess up so he can pass judgment on you.  If God was that type of God, the Bible would be filled with accounts of those perfect people..  but it isn't.  God wanted us to know that he knows we are flawed, he knows we are imperfect...  but he loves us just the same, and he can use us just the same.
   Dear friend..  don't allow one moment to make you believe that your imperfections make God loves you any less.  Don't believe that something that you've done in your past can forever cast its ugly shadow over your future.  Its true that the world is a very unforgiving place, and there may be a whole world of people who are ready to hold your past against you for the rest of your living.  But there is someone who is ready to forget and forgive.. and honestly, that's the only person who matters.    Today, wake up with a blank slate, and chose not to care who wishes to try and write on it.  Even if its your tenth or your ten thousandth blank slate.  Decide to show your scars rather than covering them up, so that others with like scars may learn to forgive themselves as you have learned to forgive yourself..  perhaps by doing so they can understand forgiveness, because forgiveness is the beginning of grace.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tiger Butter Fudge

 Each year my family has a celebration called the "Whobilation", a fun celebration, Whovian style!  We also have the fun celebrations of all those in Whoville, one being the fudge contest!  Although this one fell to another in the contest, it was still fantastic, and easy enough for my kiddos to make all their own!!

Tiger Butter Fudge

2 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips, divided
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
2  14oz cans sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1.  Take a 9x9 baking pan and line aluminum foil.  Lightly spray with non stick cooking spray.  
2.  In a large bowl, pour 2 cups of milk chocolate chips and one can of sweetened condensed milk.  
3.  Cook in a microwave for about 60 seconds, remove and stir.  Continue to microwave at 15 second intervals (stirring after each one) until the chocolate chips are completely melted and smooth.
4.  Pour the milk chocolate fudge mixture into the baking pan.
5.  In a separate large bowl, pour in the white chocolate chips and peanut butter chips with the second can of sweetened condensed milk.  Cook in the microwave for about 60 seconds, remove and stir.  Continue to microwave at 15 second intervals (stirring after each one) until the chocolate chips are completely melted and smooth.
6.  Pour the white chocolate fudge mixture over the milk chocolate fudge mixture.
7.  In a small bowl, pour the 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.  Melt in the microwave for 30 seconds, remove and stir.  Repeat in 15 second intervals until chocolate chips are completely melted and smooth.  Drizzle it over the fudge.
8.  Place in the fridge for about 60 minutes to let it set up (stick in the freezer if you want it to set up faster).  When set, lift foil from pan and cut fudge into squares.  

Christmas Baking!

I really truly wish I had more time to spend in the kitchen with the kiddos.  I've realized that the next years, when Hero is a little bigger will be easier to do a lot of baking, so I've decided to enjoy him being little and needy and just do a little bit rather than try to overdo it.  There will be years ahead of us when the girls will want to spend hours in the kitchen with me..  for now, they all prefer barbies..  so a little bit of kitchen and a lot of play is good for me for now!  

However I did want them to do a few things!  I thought these would be easy treats, and the girls bought tins at the dollar store so we could take their sweets to family for our Christmas gatherings!  These were really fun, and they pretty much did them without much help from me!  

Pretzel Hugs!

Now for some reason, the hugs worked, but not the kisses.  None of the kisses melted, they just burned.  The hugs though worked perfectly!  We started out with some square snyders pretzels, the ones that look like windows.  We topped them with Hershey's Hugs, put the oven on 350, and just melted them!

  After they were melted, we topped them with MMs and let them harden again!  I put them in the fridge so they would harden faster, but I think it would work better to let them do it their own on the counter.  It was hard to get them off the plate without breaking them, but they turned out cute and they tasted delicious, and the kiddos can do this alone pretty much!!!