Santa Claus and Christmas

I don’t remember the 60’s nearly at all, but that’s fairly common.  In the 70’s, Pink Floyd and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” set the backdrop for my first memories of levitating sleighs, flying reindeer, and the fat guy slipping through chimneys.   When I was actually introduced to His Eminence, pipe-smoking childhood heroes were still considered normal and flying was something a lot of teens did regularly.  There was no doubt about his reality.  Besides, he also had his own Little Golden Book and I had a signed photo with him.

Some years later, though, I grasped that people don’t wear disguises unless they have something to pull over on me.   The fake beard just seals the deal.  A full-blown panic attack is not out of line when encountering a disguised man who wants me to sit on his lap.  Maybe I’m delusional.   I did have to apologize for knocking down my boys and dragging them under the stroller that one year.  To this day, if I must pass the mall’s “North Pole”, my older sons will intone: “Breathe, Mom. Breathe and walk.  You’ll be fine.  We’re here for you.”  I just don’t get the whole concept of Santa and Christmas.

We as a society go to great lengths to introduce our children to Santa Claus and make sure the impression is real.  In our house, we baked cookies for him and set them out with a glass of milk before bedtime.  In the morning, there sat the plate with only crumbs and the empty glass with distinct, pudgy lip prints on its rim.  The stockings were suddenly stuffed to overflowing, and the tree no longer sat on the floor for all the pageantry underneath.  At least my dad didn’t go tromp around on the roof, like some of my friends talk about.   As teens, we began helping Mom with the baking and she showed us how, at our midnight snack,  to dust the crumbs onto the plate and poof our lips up to make the appropriate prints on the glass for the little ones to see in the morning.

So why do we work so hard to instill this fantasy when it is expected to be discarded before puberty?  They must have Halloween rules at the North Pole; if you look older than about 10, you are no longer allowed to participate.  The innocence and sweetness of a child’s faith in goodness would be seen as gullibility in someone with mental acuity.  Maybe if we keep the idea in the children’s court, we can keep it around.

The story as presented just doesn’t add up, even for children.   Christmas is about  Jesus coming to earth as a baby, born in a stable.  He is God’s own Son come here to show us what He is like.  He taught about true love and demonstrated what it looked like.  After He went up to heaven, he sent Santa Claus back in his plush red suit every year at Christmastime to remind us to love one another by buying expensive presents for everyone we know.  As long as they’re nice, go to church, and don’t otherwise deserve coal.  Glory to God in the highest – uh, yeah.

So the kids and I read Clement Moore’s delightful story again over eggnog.   No brandy needed; this is good stuff by itself. While the original poem is great, what it sounds like today is another story altogether.  The star is introduced as St. Nick, who historically resembles our modern yuletide hero not at all, although the names have become synonymous.  “When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.”  Reindeer are fairly large – this is a cool trick.  I’m not understanding why someone who’s gone to all the trouble of acquiring reindeer for a PR team would shrink them.  What does all the resizing do to my gift?  For that matter, to Rudolf?  Where’s PETA in this?  “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.”  Then, “Dash away, dash away, dash away all!”  Man, this sounds like we’re in East LA, ripping off cars.  Look small, work smart, run fast.  “And laying his finger aside of his nose” – uh-oh;  I’ve seen this kind of thing at college parties.  “And away they all flew like down on a thistle.”   Yep – it’s a flashback from the way-back days.

But really, Bren, it’s just a childhood story!

Just so my mother knows that it’s not just me being overly weird, I had the help of my sons, daughter, and three of their friends online for these ideas.  The jolly man with the goods sits up in his invisible house someplace where no one has ever found him and then goes over his list.  So He sees you when you’re sleeping… and knows what moral choices you make.  Then he comes out to each kid’s house.  My favorite remark, from Kyle:  “You best make morally straight decisions, for the sake of goodness.”  This is creepy; Santa is the ultimate stalker.

Not to mention his obvious unreliability.  The little bully from the playground received and destroyed more toys from Santa every year than any of us ever got.   We dutifully cleaned up our acts for an entire month before the big day and still got stiffed.   Nobody has ever found any trace of toy manufacturing at the North Pole.  And yet the multitude who question God’s veracity simply because they can’t see him celebrate Santa prominently every year with impersonators.

Granted, it really was a fun story to tell my little brother when he was young.  (“Honestly???  Did you really think you were going to get the dune buggy just for being GOOD???  BWAAhaaHaa!!!”)   Now, though, these are my children; my integrity is at stake.  I must teach them all about stranger danger and I expect – nay, need – them to take me at my word.  So once a year, I pay cold, hard cash to set my sweet young thang on the lap of a man whose name I do not know, is admittedly introduced with an alias, and then graciously step out of arm’s reach?  Between the hat and beard obscuring over 2/3 of his pudgy face and the stage-pillow in his shirt, I can’t identify him even with the photo of his hands on my little abductee.

Uh – how, pray tell, can I expect my children to discern the truth from my lips? When I’ve assured them of an obvious fantasy that is uncovered and recovered before their very eyes while still in their most impressionable years, how are they supposed to understand when I teach them historical fact?  Why would they ever trust me with their little hearts, when I’ve played with their fondest dreams?

They know the truth, you know.  They know there is a gift to be had at Christmas, and it is free.  Santa is just an imposter, sitting on a throne that is not his.  It turns out to be only the adults that grasp for him and confuse the players:

“Please God, I know I didn’t do too well on the first half of your rules this year, but I did stop coveting my neighbor’s ass and I never murdered my wife.  That makes 5 out of 10 this year, which means my batting average is approaching awesome.  Please send that big promotion at work.  I ask in Jesus’ name, as you’ve promised in John 14:13: ‘You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.’  Amen.”

“It’s Christmas Eve. And reverberating in our hearts is the reality of 2 Corinthians 9:15. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” Christmas is about giving, because Jesus is a gift. It is not hard to make Romans 6:23 a Christmas text. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The first Christmas was the gift of Christ coming into the world to purchase for us eternal life by dying in our place and rising again. And this Christmas – as every Christmas – is a time when God is still giving.”   (John Piper,  DesiringGod.org)

Defiantly Definite

“Definitely” is one of my favorite words.  I’m a pretty serious gal and don’t “maybe” anything.   I like to define terms and think things through, no matter how seemingly trivial the issue.   It’s the little steps that define the path that eventually becomes the story of my life.  I need to definitely do it well.

So I chuckled at a “definitely” comment on Facebook the other day.  The writer intended to say that she would definitely check out the posted link further.  “Definitely” has to be the most commonly misspelled word on Facebook, so the presence of an “a” didn’t surprise me.  What struck me was that she actually said she would “defiantly check this out”.

That’s intriguing.

Have you ever defiantly done anything?  Oh, sure, teens are always defiant.  But rather than just sheer rebellion against authority, true defiance is a stance made in contempt of the adversary; it is an invitation to maintain my point in combat, if anybody dare to meet me.  That’s the gist I get from the three aspects of the word in my 1828 Webster’s.  Definitions make things definite.   Without definition, the rebellion is more stubbornness than stand.   Holding a hill you’re willing to die on makes defiance definitely heroic.

Maybe this whole thread struck me because I had just posted Tim Tebow’s public response regarding his “incessant use of Jesus Christ” in speech.  Tebow, who is the star quarterback for the Denver Broncos,  responded on ESPN that that’s who he is and why, and he wouldn’t shut up.  His relationship with Jesus Christ is everything to him and he would give glory where glory was due, every time.   That is a defiant answer.  And yet, while he drew a line and cemented his foot to it, he didn’t engage his adversary.  He just said, in effect, “Yeah – what of it?”  That’s strength of character.

It reminded me of something I saw my cat do once.  Kitty was big, as cats go: 22 pounds of solid, Siamese muscle.  But when my 85 lb. yellow Labrador ran at him one day, he didn’t flinch.  Right there in the driveway, he looked the dog in the eye and laid down precisely where he was.  My cat whisperer/veterinarian brother explained the body language to me:  essentially, he’s refusing to fight.  But he’s also refusing to give ground.  This is his real estate, and he intends to keep it.  The dog can stay and ponder, or he can leave, but the cat’s going nowhere.  There’s no use growling because Kitty’s said all he’s going to say.

That’s just plain awesome.  That’s what Tebow did, and where I want to be.

I can’t believe I actually thought twice about posting the letter.  What would my friends think of me?  Would they judge me to be a  fanatic, a Jesus freak?  My sanity broke in on my fears:  moreso than I’ve already shown myself to be? 

It boils down to one question:  Will I follow my Lord, or not?

What will I do today that makes any difference?  World changers don’t go with the flow and follow the 98%.   Scary as it is, I must defy the big, ugly dog that outweighs me fourfold and look him in the eye.  Definitely.   I must sit down and say, “This is not just what I believe, it’s who I am.  Take it or go home.”

I belong to the King of kings; I have nothing to fear.  He is also the Prince of Peace.  I will not make arguments or shoot every detractor down like so much alley cleaning.  I will simply follow the Man who’s proven to love me and love Him in return.  I will go where He leads me and stand defiantly, definitely on His hill.  I may find, like I did with the Tebow letter, that I don’t stand there alone.  That may not always be the case.   May God help the man who throws the first stone.

Remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou doest that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down – Iain Murray

Socialization: A homeschooler’s perspective

I saw this great quote about homeschoolers the other day in Jim Mullen’s article at Hanford Sentinel.com.

“Those kids are nothing but problems…. They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”

Hmmm. I never thought about the things that truly matter in adult life and make boys into men like towel-snapping and wedgies. For the record, my boys are accomplished at both. They’ve also found time to master important social skills like Indian burns and ice cubes down sister’s back.

That’s not exactly what I’d envisioned as the marker of success.  The original definition of socialize is ‘to render social, to make fit for living in society’.  I haven’t seen that my knowledge of these skills has made much difference in my social status.  The fact my kids even do these things at all embarrasses me.

Last week, the topic of Justin Bieber came up.  I have no clue what this kid does to create the kind of stir he has.  Boys seem to despise him en masse, girls catch their breath at the mere mention of his name and then apparently are rendered deaf.  I heard a mother utter death threats on anyone humming a song of his “because none of us will get it out of our heads before Friday.”  I’m afraid to click on his name on YouTube.  I have things to accomplish before Friday.  Other than appearing to be a younger, more synthetic version (if possible) of Shaun Cassidy, I think he just needs a haircut.

His photo on IMDb made me think of the kids who ask Mom to drop them off blocks before school, so their friends won’t have to see that they have parents. I never did this of course, but you remember the drill:  even in pouring rain, if the friends didn’t witness a mother, you can deny she exists.  Hmm.  If my son ever thinks the way to win girls is to look like this kid, dropping him off several blocks away from wherever we’re going might be a good idea.  It would allow me to deny my part in his upbringing.  Sorry, kid, you mess with my image.

Socialization is the biggest question I answer to those who have no stake in our future.  Am I not worried they’ll grow up to be social misfits?  If knowing and looking like the current teen heartthrob is integral to growing up properly, then that’s exactly what I hope.

In high school, I belonged to the Latin Club.   It branded me a nerd.  Even after touring Italy and Greece together, sitting through class after class with intelligent people, I was afraid of being identified with them.  And those same geeks are the successful business moguls I wish I were with today.    I had so much in common with them, but the popularity contest kept me away.   It was all about popularity and appearing cool.  I am shocked at the vast majority of high school graduates I’ve spoken to who readily admit their total lack of understanding of higher math, grammar, or even American history and consider themselves responsible adults.   What was school about, after all?   Paul Simon sang (about the generation before mine), “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

Most of us are hypocrites.  We look back on the waste of time that was the majority of our education and simultaneously deride those who strive for a more productive use of their children’s time.  And homeschoolers, being human, are just as susceptible to peer pressure as anybody else, for the most part.  If we are the only ones present in the neighborhood all week, I feel left out of the world of important busy-ness.  But I lived on “Homeschool Hill” for a while, too, and I heard several parents there lamenting what failures they were because their only contribution to their students’ education was dropping them at the bus stop.  How much of what any of us do is still the result of peer pressure?  That’s pure foolishness, and has nothing to do with competent, adult citizenship.

I don’t want my children to be part of the crowd doing nothing but griping about the state of the world today.  I want them to make a difference in their world, to think for themselves and stand on their own beliefs.  I want them to believe in God and respect their father.  I want them to read original ideas and deduce their own conclusions.  My textbook and newspaper world prepared me much better to read a review than embark on an original work alone.  I am very aware of my vulnerability to being misled by this.  I also know that, in spite of being an honor student with a 4-year degree, I still have no ability to follow the train of thought in many of our country’s founding documents and make up my own mind about them.

So how well socialized am I, if I cannot join the adult conversation about the most important concepts regarding our native land?  It’s a sad commentary on our society that I am considered an intelligent, competent member of society because I try to research candidates before voting.  Someone actually was impressed that I had a standard for how I voted: could I pronounce the person’s name, and did I prefer a man or woman in this office?  I wasn’t flipping a coin the way they were.

Homeschooled kids know they don’t fit in.  I remember two boys who attended a swim party at our home once and never removed their fishing hats.   At any other swim party, they would have been laughed at as dorks.  But these boys were very fair, and had already learned to put their health before their vanity.  They were wise beyond their peers.  As I look at the college-age kids around me, I see Eagle Scouts, lobbyists, business owners, and museum curators.  They don’t fit in any standard mold.  Yet they are the children of my homeschooling friends.

There used to be a popular book about homeschooling called Hothouse Transplants.   I loved the impression.  Plants raised in a greenhouse aren’t raised in a natural environment.  But when they come out, they have a strength that far outperforms other plants.  I’m doing something different because I want to make a positive change in my world.  And really, wouldn’t that be the ideal definition of rendering a child fit for society?

What I Do

A strange new light has appeared. I feel like this sunset that happened a couple days ago. Everything’s turned upside down and I like what I’m seeing, but I don’t understand it.

I find myself consumed by a need to organize. Now I’ve never been a messy person, but Grandma’s mantra about “a place for everything and everything in its place” just hasn’t worked in this small house. I didn’t notice until after we moved in that the builder apparently didn’t think closets were necessary. The inability to devise any sort of working organization scheme overwhelmed me. It overran my very being.

Until just the last couple weeks. Something, somebody, I don’t know what, inspired me to take control of my life. No more waiting for the world to come right. All of a sudden, I realized that the difference between what I see and what I want is what I do. What I do. Me. Why didn’t I ever grasp this before?

But something else is going on here. Cool gifts have come, totally out of the blue. My husband appeared last week with a beautiful, framed mirror which just fits in my entryway. A small stack of books from my favorite author came home in a discarded box. A lovely chest, the perfect size to house my oldest son’s treasures, was given to us just as he left. In the past, I’ve dreaded Christmas because I didn’t have space for anything more to come in. Now, each gift is so clearly from God and, like that mirror, brings new light into the dark corners of my world. That’s the only way I can explain it.

Is this God? You’d think, as a Christian, that I’d immediately spout grandiose praises of any blessings that come my way. I do know He is behind all this. But I’m human, too. I’m confounded by watching changes happen in me that I did not instigate. I watch the children get into yet another trivial argument and I want to throw up my hands and quit. But then I watch myself walk calmly over to them and handle them wisely. Who is this woman in the mirror? Where is her stress?

It’s just not there. Just like the toddler outbursts, it is disappearing before my very eyes.

Something else has become clear: even if what I do is small and insignificant, it is not worthless in the larger scheme of things. Every single positive move I make brings my world that much closer to goodness. And that is beautiful. It is the ray of light that originates with my Maker and moves out, one step at a time, until a glorious wake is left behind me, which in turn emanates outward to others.

I thank you, my beloved reader, for the ripples your life has washed into mine. They are no small part of who I am and what I do.

The Wheelbarrow Concept

I have a book on my shelf titled, “The Cure is in the Kitchen”. It’s a rather off-the-deep-end book nutritionally, but I just really like the title. It helps me to stay focused on what’s truly important in my family’s health. In spite of so much research into finding the magic key to different diseases, the statistics alone point to our diet. The genetic component of most diseases appears to have more to do with the family recipe box than DNA.

Every day, I see how obesity and diabetes rates have risen beyond all probability. Autism has gone from being one child in a thousand to one in sixty-six, while bipolar disorder and ADD have become household words – just in the last 20 years. These bits of news frighten me, but they haven’t affected me. Allergy and food sensitivity, issues which also have skyrocketing statistics, broadsided me early. My oldest son was only two when he went deaf and doctors couldn’t resolve the fluid constantly plugging his ears and throat.

Since their treatments weren’t working, finding the cause became hugely important. It helped to find out what he was reacting to, even though I already sensed much of what the tests showed. He was allergic to more than 50 common food items, and was sensitive to many neighborhood trees. How was I supposed to deal with that?

I began watching how he felt and acted each day as clues to what, exactly, was affecting him, along with when and how. I journaled everything he ingested, along with his emotions and activities. Merely reading labels wasn’t enough; I found that I could only trust whole foods I’d prepared myself. I had an especially hard time cutting back our sugar intake, but was encouraged to find the reason. According to Mercola.com, sugar is highly addictive and lab rats will choose it over cocaine, even if they are already addicted to the drug. Sugar causes a myriad of neural symptoms, many of which are subtle. Kicking it will be hard, but the paybacks are big.

As I learned to make more foods from better ingredients, I also taught the children to make their own cookies and desserts. This had a two-fold purpose: limiting their intake to what they were willing to make and eliminating any hidden ingredients. They also learned some very useful life skills along the way. Yet the trademark allergic symptoms of plugged ears and nasal congestion continued to plague us, and little brother was showing some symptoms that might possibly be autism.

The turnaround point came when I learned about the “wheelbarrow concept”. On any building site, workers haul loads of rocks, dirt, and bricks. Each load is heavy, but the workers manage it. While it’s tempting to want to just make one heavy load of everything, that load overwhelms the tools available. Essentially, what the wheelbarrow concept explains is that no worker can haul rocks, bricks, and dirt together in his wheelbarrow without it tipping over or breaking.

It translates to food this way: while I know my kids don’t handle milk products well, they can eat them in moderation. Sugar is not normally a problem, nor is corn. However, combine them in a bowl of Frosted Flakes – pile three small things into the wheelbarrow together – and they become giddy and boisterous. About an hour later, they crash, more distraught than if their dog had died. The reaction is totally out of proportion to the ingredients and not always obviously related to what they ate several hours previously. Add a cheeseburger and a soda for lunch (more corn syrup and milk products), and the body begins protecting itself by producing mucous in the ears or inflammation in the gut.

Knowing to avoid one item or another was great – but synergy works negatively as well. Several items that aren’t significant stressors on their own combine together to make a big reaction.

This little tidbit of information shouldn’t be all that earth-shattering. Doctors have known for a long time that prescribing too many drugs to old folks will cause more problems than Granny started with. Food is no different. To a person with grass allergies, eating wheat bread during hayfever season could be life threatening. Realizing that it may not be one allergen but a combination of seemingly fine foods helps to define the problem so as to find the solution.

Once I’d figured out which combinations were problematic, I separated them into groups. Corn, milk, and wheat went onto separate days. Each group was eaten no more often than once in every four days. The idea is to give the body time to clear small problems singly and not overload it with troublesome combinations. It also ensured we were eating a varied diet, which began building our immune systems to handle allergens more efficiently. Within four months, the food sensitivities began to subside, as did the autistic suspicions. My weight normalized and seasonal illnesses no longer haunted us. While a rotation diet of whole foods is not a panacea, it sure went a long way toward lowering our medical bills.

And that was the proof Daddy needed that the slight extra on the food budget was a good investment.

I Could Do Nothing

When I was still relatively new to homeschooling, a retired teacher turned homeschool maven encouraged me in my work:  “You could do absolutely nothing with your kids but spend time with them, and you’d be ahead of the public schools.”  I’ve never been quite sure of that, but I do see truth.  The character and ability to think for oneself, along with the self-confidence I’ve seen in every homeschool graduate I’ve ever met, is far more important in my mind than whatever academics I may have succeeded in shoving into their heads.  Although I’ve seen quite a bit of academic excellence, far beyond anything I witnessed in school.  I just wish I were a part of it.  My kids are pretty average.

Depending how you judge.  My older son has made a live save while volunteering time with the local fire department, and assisted with countless other rescues.  He and my second son have been available during school hours to fight fires when most every other firefighter is unavailable.  They study, run calls, and return to their books.  I’ve heard first-hand from homeowners how much they mean to the community.  Houses and property could have been lost if they had been locked up on a campus.  And what have they learned?  That knowledge trumps all?  Or that people are the most important investment?

Education is not always easily measured.

But I’m up on my soapbox.  Today, I got a reminder that Mary was right.  I love learning and all things academia, but I never aspired to teach.  That’s a good thing.  I am not a great teacher – I do best when I’m excited about something and lead my flock on a wild learning adventure.   I’ve pretty well burned myself out trying to teach, so declared this summer to be vacation time.  Even if we sit and do absolutely nothing, I am taking summer off.

And this is what I found today, when the children had been quiet too long.  Funny, they didn’t want to be photographed.

Maybe they would be better if I did nothing….

(Day 39/365)

Rodentia

Well, I knew it was coming. We’ve been petsitting for two weeks now, and my kids have fallen in love. After church, we ended up at PetCo, looking at cages and rodents. And then at Petsmart. And then at … oh, another pet store.

Listening to the conversation, I learned it needed to be big, like the loaner at home. And furry – a teddy bear? But what type of cage? Tubes and tunnels, or multi-level wire? We tested wheels – it must be guaranteed to not squeak. I inserted that no matter if it comes with graphite bearings, it will squeak. Been there, done that.

The decision was made, and money changed hands. Wait – what? Did I miss something?

There are two!!!

(Day 29/365)