The virtue of Father Christmas

tosantaornottosantaThe Christmas conundrum: To allow Santa or to not allow Santa, that is the question.

Of all the things that divide Christians, this has to be one of the most seasonal controversies. Along with Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas,  whether or not to sing Christmas carols in the worship services, etc., this one appears for one month of the year (possibly two, if you begin Christmas festivities before the Thanksgiving turkey is properly digested), disappears for eleven months, and then reappears, just as contentious as before.

Frankly, I’m ambivalent. I’m neither pro-Santa or anti-Santa. My parents believed that it would be too damaging if they lied to me and pretended Santa was real. So I never did the Santa photo or cookie plate on Christmas Eve or had presents under the tree labelled from Santa. Besides, I was terrified of the Santa in the mall. Go sit on a stranger’s lap and smile? Little Laura burst into tears at the thought. (This also applied to the Easter bunny, scary Halloween costumes, and handling Fourth of July sparklers. I was an overly sensitive child, okay?)

My husband and I haven’t had Santa with our daughters, either. Neither of us grew up with it, so we didn’t have cherished family traditions surrounding the guy in the red suit. Why bother?

Recently, I read a blog post on the subject. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read anything else on that blog, nor do I know the authors’ views on any other subject.) The author writes,

“Every part of Christmas, Team Jesus or Team Santa, can be grossly misused. There is no escape from the distracted desires of our heart, even on Christmas. It’s not as simple as choosing a side. In truth, Santa and Jesus are not at war. Rather, we are just a little confused. Our culture has lost the virtue of a fairy tale.” –Cindy Koch (emphasis mine)

That last line reminded me of a quote from G. K. Chesterton:

Fairytales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

Immediately, I thought of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At the beginning of this fantasy (Lewis called it a fairy tale), the White Witch has captured Narnia under her spell. She makes it always winter and never Christmas. 

However, as the human children enter the world, another, more powerful person is at work: Aslan. The lion: wild but good, self-sacrificing and all-powerful, fierce but forgiving. When he is on the move, the White Witch’s spell begins to break. The snow melts. Frozen rivers thaw. New life springs from the ground.

And Christmas happens.

Three of the children meet Father Christmas, who arrives in his sleigh, Santa-style. But like John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Christ, he is also heralding the arrival of someone greater than himself.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” 

Then he gives them gifts. They are tools, not toys, he cautions, and must be used wisely. A sword for Peter, who will soon be leading an army in battle. A quiver of arrows, bow, and horn for Susan, who will need to call for help. A bottle of healing cordial and a dagger for Lucy, who will care for the wounded.

(Clearly, Father Christmas hasn’t gotten the message that his presents are supposed to be the fun, plastic-entangled, batteries not included, difficult-to-wrap toys advertised in shop windows.)

Father Christmas isn’t at war with Aslan. These gifts aren’t for their own self-advancement or pleasure. They will be used to serve Aslan as he defeats the evil corrupting his beloved Narnia.

This fairy tale tells the readers

  • that good will overcome evil,
  • That Christmas isn’t about presents or merry-making but about the arrival of Aslan, the Jesus figure,
  • That the children will be given the tools they need to fight the White Witch,

and most importantly,

that it will take the self-sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan to totally defeat evil. A bloody, violent death. A glorious, unexpected resurrection. That’s what it will take to atone for wrong. At times the outcome seems uncertain and the children fear that the Witch has won and her evil will destroy Narnia for good.

At times, I, too, despair of the world around me: violence and division, hedonism and nihilism, abuse and ignorance. I feel ill-equipped to fight it. I wonder when God is going to step in and save the day.

And then I remember that he already did. 

That is a gift more glorious than anything Santa or another person can put under the Christmas tree.

Evil will be defeated.

Good will reign.

Let’s focus on that this holiday season.






Happy Wednesday


My daughter’s friend sent her this photo. I have no idea where she found it. I thought it was funny–and accurate. (Especially the statistic for Fridays!)    unnamed

His love endures forever


In church, a group of children read Psalm 136. An older child read the “give thanks” parts and the younger ones echoed, “His love endures forever.” It seemed an appropriate reminder for the day before Thanksgiving: all we have has been given to us by God.

The photo is one I took last Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law, an interior decorator turned nurse, had her house all decorated for the holiday, and I wandered around with my new camera, snapping photos. She found that odd, especially when I took photos of the desserts and stuffing and casseroles. The turkey got away, though. He was delicious.

Thoughts on American Girls: Social Media & the Secret Lives of Teenagers

contentThis will be short because I haven’t had a chance to consider this as deeply as I’d prefer. But my husband and I are reading American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, by Nancy Jo Sales. Sales traveled the country, talking to teen girls (and boys) about the social media use. The topic that came up, over and over, could be summed up in two words: sex and porn.

I was already aware of much of what Sales discusses but my husband? He hadn’t realized what types of apps are out there, nor what types of sites teens frequent. Slut pages? Oh my. This ain’t your mama’s Facebook feed, y’all.

In the first chapter, Sales quotes a professor of comparative literature from Princeton, April Alliston:

“Historically, a spike in interest in pornography is also associated with advancement in women’s rights,” Alliston says. “What happened at the time of the invention of the printing press was very similar to what’s happening now with the Internet.”

The printing press made porn readily available. About this time, women were getting more rights, and literacy rates among women increased. From what I understand, people (that’d be men) were anxious about women gaining knowledge through reading: what might happen? Porn, typically images of female prostitutes, was shared between men as both a way of excluding women (who weren’t looking at the images) and putting them back in their “proper place” (existing only to please and serve men).

Alliston again:

I see the spread of porn in part as a backlash to women’s increased independence,” Alliston asserts. “I believe that porn has gone mainstream now because women have been gaining power . . . Rather than being about sexual liberation, I see in porn a form of control over sex and sexuality.”

–quote from Nancy Jo Sales, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, published in 2016, p. 38 (emphasis mine)


I know there are many issues surrounding pornography: censorship, free speech, addiction, gender dynamics, sexuality, violence, trafficking. It’d be hard to untangle this knotted up mess even if we knew where one thread started and the others ended. I’m sure that most (if not all) of my regular blog readers would agree that porn consumption is bad for teens, whose minds are both more vulnerable to addiction and less likely to break free from addictive behavior. (The Teenage Brain, by neuroscientist Frances E. Jensen and science writer Amy Ellis Nutt, is a fascinating read on this point.)

  • For girls, it hurts their body image, their sense of self-worth and self-respect, and puts tremendous pressure on them to look and act like the women in porn do.
  • For boys, it hurts their ability to connect intimately (rather than simply sexually) with another human. More than one commentator has recommended that if young men want to get married and have a family, they need to quit porn first. (Easier said than done, I know.) Sex in an intimate, loving marriage isn’t like sex in a porn movie; it’s better

But now that these sites are out there, available, and now that kids know how to access them, how do we adults stop the damage from continuing?

And if reasonable, like-minded adults can’t decide how to stop what’s been started, how are our children to do that? Certainly not alone.

I know God is in control. I also know that he gave me a brain and the ability to learn and apply what I learn. The better educated on the issue that I am, the better I can help my daughters navigate this difficult territory.

I’m sure I’ll learn more about what dangers lurk within my teen daughter’s phone as I continue reading Sales’ thorough and sometimes difficult-to-stomach book. Next week, I’m going to a lunch & learn seminar (given through my kids’ Christian school) on the “eight most dangerous apps on your kids phones.” If I find out anything interesting, I’ll be sure to share.

Any thoughts?

Willing to die?


Recently, I had the dubious pleasure of re-reading The Man Who was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton. I call it a “dubious pleasure” because, while the story is staggering and profound, it is bewildering. I’m not even certain where the sense of profundity derives from, only that it’s there, somewhere, beneath layers of anarchists and undercover policemen, dreams and symbols, balloon rides and accusations and costumes. Driving the entire story is a man named Sunday who is accountable to no one but himself. Is he God? What the heck is Chesterton getting at?

I read this book years ago. I scratched my head and recommended it to people who asked for book recommendations. (They usually didn’t ask a second time.)

I re-read it again, struggling for comprehension. It’s still elusive.

But one scene stopped me. I read it, re-read it, and slowly nodded.

Gabriel Syme is a detective has been engaged as a “philosophical policeman” to thwart a group of anarchists. He’ll end up going undercover and being elected as “Thursday” to the Central Council of Anarchists, a group of seven–all named for days of the week–headed by the mysterious Sunday. As it turns out, every other man/day of the week is also an undercover police detective posing as an anarchist and all of them have been hired by an extremely large man in a darkened room. None of them see that man’s face until the end. It is Sunday.

(Y’all, it’s fiction. Suspend your disbelief.)

In a flashback, Chesterton tells of Syme’s recruitment by another police officer and then his “interview” with a man in Scotland Yard. He enters a dark room. Another man, who has his back to him, asks if he is the new recruit.

“Are you the new recruit?” said the invisible chief, who seemed to have heard all about it. “All right. You are engaged.”

Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against this irrevocable phrase.

“I really have no experience,” he began.

“No one has any experience,” said the other, “of the Battle of Armageddon.”

“But I am really unfit–”

“You are willing, that is enough,” said the unknown.

“Well, really,” said Syme, “I don’t know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.” 

“I do,” said the other– “martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good-day.” 

–G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday, chapter 4

Those final two lines of dialogue stopped me. Martyrs require no other qualification than a willingness to die for what they believe. I’ve heard stories of martyrs (usually early Christians) all my life and never considered that they did not have to be perfect or especially saintly or knowledgeable or hard workers or whatever; they only had to be willing to die.

Then I wondered: Would I be willing to die for what I believe? 

Then I wondered more: What does a “willingness to die” look like?

It could mean actual death, of course. Beheading. Stake-burning. Crucifixion.

But could it also mean a willingness to set aside

  • my own agendas?
  • my obsession with my opinions?
  • my own inclination to talk too much and listen too little?

Could it also mean

  • loving my enemies?
  • forgiving the unforgivable?
  • curtailing my spiritual freedom if it causes others to stumble?

Those aren’t things that I can do on my own. I definitely wouldn’t do them if left to my own desires. I’d sit around taking selfies and making certain every item on my to-do list is checked off and sharing my opinions on everything, including things on which I know nothing, and interrupting others every time they speak. Yuck.

But I know that my fitness for any God-ordained task doesn’t derive from my own innate abilities but from God himself. So I also have to conclude that any willingness to die for God–whether that’s physical or not–comes from him. And any ability to live for God–whatever form it takes, whatever task he gives–also comes from him.

So I’m neither unwilling nor unfit for whatever work God calls me to do.

In the eyes of other people, I may look like a very unlikely candidate for that job, and I may believe that myself at times. 

In the eyes of God, unlikely-looking is no deterrent. Those same people end up doing unimaginable things. He equips. He grows. He does the impossible. He gives me himself so I can be used by him for his work.

Who should I listen to: other people or God?

Chesterton’s novel may leave me with other unanswered questions, but even I know the answer to that one.

If God’s called me to a task, He’s already given me everything I need to do it. He’s given me himself. And that is enough.




The people God uses

In my spare time, when I’m not writing or chauffeuring kids or exhausted from CFS, I like to redo furniture. This past summer, I got the brilliant (at the time) idea to find a new writing desk. My old one had been forced into duty as a sewing machine center and my study was empty. Based on the skills that I learned from furniture upcycling with the ladies’ association, I knew that I didn’t have to pay top dollar for a new desk.

I searched Pinterest, got ideas, and off I trotted to the local Salvation Army thrift store. No desks. But there was a dresser.


Here, it’s turned on its side so you can see the banged-up laminate. The back piece of plywood was wobbly, too. It was in sad condition.

The drawers couldn’t open and close properly and as for the mirror that was originally attached to it: well, let’s just say that it wasn’t attached anymore.

Obviously, this was my new desk. 

It took sanding. And priming. And painting. (Lots of painting!) Then an antique glaze and a few coats of wax sealer. And help from my supportive husband, who allowed his garage to be filled with sawdust, drop cloths, and little room for his car for a few weeks.

Now this $25 dresser is a desk . . .


and a set of bookshelves . . .

Why, yes, those ARE copies of Ruminate in the lower right corner!

. . .  and an accent piece in my library. (That would be the mirror, which is still not hung on the wall! No photos of it.)

This morning, I thought about how I had looked at this sad, abandoned piece and decided to change it. Is this how God views us?

God takes joy in picking unlikely people for his work.

  • You’re laughing because you’re barren, past menopause, and this stranger is prophesying that you’ll be a mother of a great nation; you think that can’t happen? Not so fast, Sarah. I’m not bound of natural constraints on fertility. Menopause? Infertility? Not a problem.
  • Oh, you think you’re just a little guy from an insignificant family, and you can’t possibly be a military leader? And you’ve only got 300 men to fight with you against the army of the Midianites? Hold on, Gideon. I’m not bound by numbers and statistics.
  • Oh, you’re a beauty queen trophy wife who has to get permission to talk to her own husband? You think you can’t intervene on behalf of your people, the Jews, when their lives are in danger? Think again. Esther, I gave you great beauty for a reason: so you would be in this palace, at the time, with this corrupt king as your husband. Now I’ll give you courage, and your people will be saved from genocide. I’m not bound by societal norms or cultural expectations.
  • You’re a terrorist, self-righteous Pharisee, and intent on destroying the infant church? Mm, Saul, you’re going to end up being Paul, a missionary for this very church you’re trying to destroy, a speaker who’ll end up talking to corrupt politicians, demon-possessed slave girls, and everyone in between? Oh, and you’ll write a lot of letters that scholars and ordinary people alike will read for a long, long time. I’m not bound by your motivations and desires.

Unlikely people. A great God.  

Unlike me in my creative mode, God doesn’t have to scour Pinterest for ideas, search the web for tutorials, or ask for help from anyone else. He has plans to change us.

No matter how broken down and weak you are, no matter how bruised or scarred, no matter how evil and vile your past has been, know this: God can use you. 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  –2 Corinthians 4:7

Our children are watching