Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Take J to a show...

On my list of things to do is to go to a show with J that he really wants to see.  J loves theater and live music.  We have three little kids.  We don't get out much.


Last winter we kept hearing great things about the show The Birth.  We tried to get tickets, but were too late.  So, I knew when it came around this year, I would be getting tickets early. They announced early on that there would be a one-night special performance by Sarah DeShields, a magnificently talented singer/song writer, who just happens to be our church's worship pastor.   J loves Sarah's music, so I planned our big night out.

I can't say enough great things about The Birth.  It is a seasonal production, so you've missed your chance for this year, but should the world still be around next Christmas-time, if you are anywhere near Charlotte, you must go see this show.   It is simple and stark and riveting and profound all at the same time.  The acting is excellent, the music beautiful, the unusualness compelling.  It's the story of Christmas like you've never experienced it before.  Nothing cheesy, nothing religious.  Just beautiful and inspiring.

The performance was followed by a concert by Sarah (who is also part of the Birth cast), her husband, and a funny, talented woman cellist.  Sarah's music is ethereal and lovely and right up J's alley.  Sarah is a native of Scotland and her accent gives her voice an extra dose of angelic quality.  She gave us several Christmas songs in the traditional Scottish style which was cool.  Check out her music here.

It was a really fun night.  J  loved the show and I really enjoyed having this experience with him.  We will definitely plan this outing again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jesus. Santa. Karma. Grace.

**Disclaimer...this is not intended to judge or offend anyone who loves Santa or those who choose to have Santa visit.  Just my perspective, just my experience.  No hating, please.**

We don't do Santa at our house.

Often when I tell people this, I see them trying to stifle how sorry they feel for my kids or they nod with a knowing look--oh, that's right, you're religious--or say something like "Jesus is the reason for the season, right?"

Well, yes, but mostly no.

Christmas "supposed to be" being about Jesus really has nothing to do with why we don't play Santa with our kids.  For me, I didn't grow up with Santa (actually, for the afore mentioned reasons, but I digress...) so it just isn't a part of my Christmas tradition.  My husband did grow up with Santa--the whole deal: cookies on a plate, tons of packages, listening for reindeer hooves.  He wondered why this Santa guy got him all these presents when his mom and dad, who actually knew and loved him, barely got him anything.

We don't do Santa primarily because we try not to lie to our kids about anything--Santa, how babies come out of their mom's bellies, the actual existence of unicorns when pressed on the subject.  Sometimes telling the truth requires a lot of energy, but it is something we're committed to.  No exception for Santa.  (My husband also feels like he doesn't want our kids to think its ever ok for a strange man to come into our house at night, even if all he's doing is eating our cookies and leaving us presents).  So, our family doesn't do Santa and we're ok with that.

Last week, my four-year-old daughter had a play date with a little neighborhood friend.  We were all doing art together when this little girl started to tell me about Santa--how he knows if you've been good or bad, that if you're bad you get nothing, how she has an elf in her house who reports what he sees back to Santa, and I started thinking "this Santa guy sounds awful!"  See, because it isn't our tradition, I'd forgotten all about the good/bad, naughty/nice part.

The conversation with this little girl really got me thinking, though.  This Advent season I've been reflecting on the idea of Christ's light and His gift of grace to the world.  I started to think about Jesus and how His gift comes to me when I haven't been good at all--not by Santa's standards, not society's, not my own.  I receive His light in the midst of my brokenness and inadequacies, not because I've overcome them or been on my best behavior in December.  I found myself so grateful to be living by Jesus' standards--that if you want the gifts of mercy and hope and joy in Him--you get it, rather than Santa's judgments of good or bad.

As crazy as this might sound, it got me thinking that Santa is to karma as Jesus is to grace.  See with Santa, your behavior really matters.  What you put out is what you get back.  If you're good and extend good into the universe, you'll get good back.  But what's good enough?  Enough good?  Where does Karma Santa draw the line?  Because as the song tells us, Santa even "knows what you are thinking!"  Can our thoughts, let alone our actions, land us on the naughty list?

Grace on the other hand, is getting what you don't deserve.  Jesus knows what you've done, what you've said, what you've thought, and He extends His gift of Love to you anyway.  And it doesn't matter how good you are...it can't gain you any more of His already complete and perfect Love.

So many people bristle at the idea of being a Christian, feeling that it involves following a bunch of rules and behavioral regulations.  I'd like to say that, actually, I think it is karma that prescribes a strict, confining code of conduct--if you're naughty, no gifts for you!

Jesus, on the other hand, requires simply that you want HIM.  No naughty or nice, no spying elves, just you and Jesus where He offers you His gift of love and grace, asking only for all your junk in return.  Rather than a list of rules, life with Jesus means freedom!

But here's the thing: when you've experienced the life-altering gift of grace that Jesus gives, your behavior will begin to change.  As you allow His light to penetrate the dark parts of your heart, you will grow.  His Spirit will begin to develop in you, you will find that kindness, patience, joy, gratitude, peace and love will become a greater part of who you are.  But it isn't because you are getting an external code of conduct imposed on you.  Its because you're connected to heart of the One who is Good.  And when you screw up, there's no coal, only more grace and love and a reminder of whose you are.

So this Christmas I find myself so grateful to be celebrating a gift of Love, one that doesn't come with strings attached or one that is pro-rated between my good and bad deeds.  I'm saying "no!" to Karma Santa and "yes!" to the grace of Jesus, the Light of the World.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Read a work of Christian Fiction without complaining (part 1)

In October, I decided to tackle my list item to read a work of Christian fiction without complaining.  See, I am a Christian, but also an English major and I have pretty high standards for what I think are good books on which to spend my limited reading time.  (Basically--self-disclosing here--I'm a book snob).  In my limited exposure, I have found Christian literature to be, let's say, below my standard.  When I made my list, I added this, believing that there had to be a good piece of fiction that was Christian in nature.  Right? Something?

I'd heard several people say what a good book The Red Tent was, so I decided to pick it up from the library, thinking this would satisfy my intentions for putting this item on my list.  Well, I have a few things to say about this...1) it is most definitely not a Christian book and 2) I need to ask more questions when my friends recommend books to me.

About #1, it's totally fine that this book isn't a Christian book.  Few books I read are.  So that's not my issue.  What my issue is is that now I can't check this item off my list with integrity. :)

The story is written from the point of view of Dinah, Jacob's only living daughter, and sister to the famous twelve sons of Israel and Jacob's wives.  So, it is a fictional account of the female perspective on some of the stories in the Old Testament.  It's clearly got a lot of anthropological research into ancient near Eastern cultures and roots in the Hebrew texts.  The title comes from the separate tent the women would go to in order to keep ritually separate/clean during their cycles and, in the book, was seen as a place of female bonding.  The ladies spend a lot of time there practicing their familial religions because, in the tent, they can keep this secret from their husband.  Biblical Pillars like Leah, Rachel, and Rebecca are cast in really different lights than in the Biblical accounts. To be clear, I'm not bothered or threatened by this, I was just caught off guard.

About #2...Dear people who recommended this book to me...you forgot to mention it was really, um, interesting.  Ok, no hating, but I didn't love this book! Maybe it was because I'm not so much of a girls' girl or maybe it's because I thought it was so sad and depressing or maybe because I thought the story line dragged on and on or maybe it was because I was expecting something so different, I don't know.  But I didn't love it.  Like I said before, no hating.

So, I can say that I read one more book toward my annual 15, but I can't yet say that I've finished this list item.  I'm pondering finally reading The Shack, another book I've avoided... ;).

New Recipe: Cream of Broccoli Soup

My baby boy (the baby boy who is almost three...I'm in denial) is a fruititarian.  Meaning that he eats almost nothing but fruit.  Fruit and chocolate.  So I at least know he's half mine, given my issues with fruit.  He has almost no interest in any vegetables and has a special disdain for broccoli.  I get it--when I was a kid, broccoli creeped me out.  But now, its my all time favorite veggie.  We gotta find some common ground somewhere here, kid.

Baby boy is obsessed with the color green.  I decided to try to to trick him.  In the morning I began the hype..."I'm making you GREEN SOUP for supper!!"  "Green SOUP," he replied!  I found this recipe for Cream of Broccoli Soup.  I changed it to make it vegetarian and gluten-free by using vegetable broth and by adding 1 T. cornstarch to the milk as a thickener rather than doing the butter/flour roux.  I took the advice of some other reviewers and chopped the broccoli before steaming it.

Well, my plan went south in a hurry when the boy walks into the kitchen and sees the bowl of *minced* broccoli (I cut it up t-i-n-y) and declared, "That BROCCOLI in that bowl!!"  "Hmmmm...," I replied.

So, the results were that everyone else in the family thought the green soup was awesome and the baby ate about 20 bites against his will, so overall, it was a win. It was pretty easy to make, yummy, and healthy-ish.  I'm keeping this recipe.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Ornaments for the Kids

One of my list items is to make the kids Christmas ornaments annually. I saw this kit and fell in love. The red is JL's--she loves cardinals. The green is DI's because he likes anything green and the blue and is SJ's 'cause that's what was left over (poor middle child). I love how they turned out.