The Most Wonderful Time

IMG_1537I love Christmas. I love the magic and wonder of sleighs pulled by flying reindeer and gifts made by magical elves. I love baking and sharing those baked goods with Santa on Christmas Eve and with teachers and friends in the days leading up to Christmas. (And don’t even think about telling my kids anything negative about Santa. Seriously. Don’t.)

I love the miraculous wonder of God’s amazingly unconventional plan of a virgin giving birth to a son in the most humble of places. However, you won’t find a grown-up nativity in my house because I’m holding out for one where Mary is holding Jesus. I know, I know, they found the babe lying in the manger but I’ve been a new mom. I am certain once all these strangers arrived, Mary would have picked the kid up.

SAM_1113I love the decorations and the songs and the snow. Oh my word do I love snow at Christmas. It puts me in such a happy place.

But this Christmas has felt like a struggle to be joyful. My mood has lingered in grey, matching the overcast skies as I tried to rally a smile and headed to Lucy’s 1st Grade Christmas program at her new school. She was so excited. I’d already tackled a band concert for Jarod and an orchestra concert for Kati. Alone I sat at each one smiling and listening and trying not to think about how the others were doing at home alone. Alone I sat trying not to think about the fact that I was attending alone. I tried instead to focus on how proud I felt of them.

Maybe it’s grief. It’s the second Christmas since he died. Last year I was in complete survival mode. Surviving Christmas was the mandate. Minimal decorating. Minimal baking. Minimal everything. Lots of tears. This year there are no tears. But one child has ripped at my heart. He wanted to know if he could write Santa and ask if Dad could join us for just one day. He knew it was a long-shot, but…. Oh the things I had no idea I would have to explain and deal with after Kraig died.

Maybe it’s the busyness of life that is keeping my circle of friends and family occupied. I understand. We are all trying to juggle holiday prep and children’s shows and baking and so on. But I am lonely this time of year.

I never understood how anyone could say the holidays made them struggle with sadness. “How could you be sad during the most wonderful time of the year?!” I used to wonder. I listened yesterday morning as a Christian radio DJ over-simplified, stating it was mostly people who did not understand the hope that Jesus brought at Christmas.

I fully understand the hope of Christ’s amazingly out-of-the-box arrival over 2000 years ago. The arrival of that tiny baby split history in half and brought radical love and redemption to anyone willing to accept it. Grace arrived that night under a starry sky in Bethlehem–God’s infinite grace and forgiveness. Wise men fell at his feet, offering gifts extravagant beyond anything Joseph could have earned in his lifetime. Shepherds were scared spitless by angels exploding into the night sky and singing incomprehensibly beautiful music that heralded the arrival of a king foretold centuries before.

I understand the hope of Jesus and the wonder of Christmas. But this year it is a struggle to feel it.

This morning I learned a friend’s mom had died, losing a battle with cancer. A flurry of texts amongst our circle of friends began planning how we’d support her during this time. My heart ached for her family, especially her kids, having a funeral during Christmas week.

Perhaps this is something I can take from my overcast skies—understanding. I can now reach out to those who wear a forced smile amidst the carols and who hide a tear in the shadow of Christmas lights. I know that sometimes this is not the most wonderful time of the year. That does not lesson our understanding of the amazing gift sent from heaven that we celebrate. But life is hard here on earth. Until we stand hearing the angels sing in person, sometimes Christmas is a struggle. Sometimes it is simply not the most wonderful time of the year. And that’s OK.

For the record —I’m not lost in grief this year. I plan to embrace the simplicity of making it magical for my kids and finding ways to reach out to others. Would you join me in offering hope and smiles to those around you without any this Christmas? Find a way to reach out with a hug or a gift or simply your presence to the widow, the orphan, the needy, the lost, and the lonely. Ask the Father of the first Christmas to show you where you can shine the light of joy this Christmas season.

Praying it is a Merry Christmas for all and a happy new year.

Lessons in Diplomacy from a Teenager

Sometimes as moms you get a glimpse of the kind of people your children are growing to be and it makes your heart happy. This week I got one of those.

My eldest son came home with an assignment from school that had me on edge. It had him stressed. His teacher had assigned a questionnaire on prejudice. The more Jarod struggled with the questions, the more I realize how loaded they were. They were asking kids to confess prejudices they had and identify groups in society who are victims of prejudice. Some of the questions were incredibly slanted and leading.

His teacher had already revealed his value system was not in line with ours. And he lets students share their opinions with little to no censoring or direction, no matter how graphic or inappropriate the thoughts. I could just imagine the potential direction the classroom discussion could take.

As Jarod sought my advice on how to answer, balancing honesty with not making himself a target, a thought flitted across my mind. You know, you could contact the teacher and ask the appropriateness of these leading questions. At the very least you could ask how he planned to guide the conversation to keep it balanced.

Was this the right course of action? No, I decided. Not this time. (And hear me—sometimes it is!)

Jarod is a sophomore. In just over two years he will need to be able to articulate his faith without my protection or help. Scratch that. He needs to be able to do that now.

Buell Bunch (1 of 31)And then I remembered this is something Jarod has been doing with excellence for years in the public school discussions he has encountered. He’s defended his stance on the 2nd Amendment in a class with an anti-gun teacher. He’s defended his beliefs in school discussions with peers and with teachers. He’s made Christian teachers smile that he has explained basics of theology in ways they aren’t allowed. Better still, Jarod has excelled at picking his battles, knowing when to keep silent and when to stand up for his beliefs. And he is diplomatic in sharing his position without becoming angry or belligerent.

My heart smiled at all this. That’s one of the many reasons his father and I chose public school. We wanted our children to work out their faith in the world they will inhabit while having us present to discuss, explain what the Bible says, teach, and, as a last resort, defend them when the playing field is unfair. Jarod is my child who is thriving at this.

So I offered cautions to avoid certain political minefields and then we prayed. Before he got out of the van that morning we asked the God of all Wisdom to give some to Jarod and to help him represent Jesus to his class in the best way possible.

Jarod was beaming when he climbed back in the van after school. The conversation was not nearly as bad as he had feared. There was mention of prejudice against a few groups that Jarod didn’t agree were victims, but, he said, he could not see a loving way to disagree so he said nothing.

When one girl said that churches were prejudice, Jarod found his voice. He said that this statement was unfair. He pointed out that whenever you take an imperfect group of people trying to follow a belief system, you will have those who mess up or go to extremes that don’t accurately represent God. And, he added, saying all churches are prejudice is a prejudicial statement in itself. The class laughed and agreed. One girl said, “Way to go, Jarod!”

My heart was so happy. There was more, but suffice it to say he spoke the truth in love. He defended his faith. He reminded those around him Christians aren’t perfect. And he chose his battle carefully.

How often do we take up a flag for battle when calm discussion is the more Christ-like path? How often do we define ourselves as persecuted when really we are encountering people who have not been accurately shown who Jesus is? We have lost the ability to participate in civil discourse, honoring others while agreeing to disagree. Our society has gone the path of vilifying those who disagree with us instead of approaching disagreements with friendly debate and conversation.

Thankfully, Jarod understands this and has chosen a better bath. One of the greatest joys of motherhood is getting to be witness to the amazing people growing in front of us and seeing God at working their hearts. That made this a good week.