Dear Santa…love Mom

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SANTA CLAUS
NORTH POLE

Dear Santa,

I know the big day is getting close, so I’m sure you and the elves are crazy busy shopping online, wrapping, and packing the sleigh. I feel your pain Santa…I do!

I want you to know I’ve been a MOSTLY good girl this year. I diligently cared for my husband when he had emergency back surgery and in the following months of his LONG recovery. Santa, he was in terrible pain and (sometimes) very grumpy, but with a lot of prayer, a little wine and weekly therapy we made it through!

DSC_0442-2I also took fabulous care of my children. I took my son back East for a college recruiting trip and we bonded over BPM music, survived a hurricane and slept in crappy hotels. It was awesome! Ok, I might have helped him a little too much on the college applications, (oops!) but I made him pay for the tires he accidentally spiked when he drove through a gated residential entrance. (See Santa…I’m working hard not to enable!)

I’ve also cooked, cleaned, laundered, shopped for, loved, cuddled and cherished every moment with my sweetheart and kids. On my honor, I haven’t missed much church, any games or recitals. I’ve driven Kolby to endless auditions in the hoods of LA and navigated the mean streets of the stage Momster.

DSC_0373Santa, I’ve volunteered at J Serra High School until illness has overtaken me (I lost my voice for 3 weeks!). I’ve worked like a like a dog and sacrificed sleep to these munchkins. I’ve watched 400 freaking episodes of Bernstein Bears, read to my little girl every single night (best part of my day), shopped with my teenagers until I wept from frustration, and I’ve laughed and tickled and cried with each one as life throws its best punches at us.

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Santa, even though I sometimes lose my spit, go a little cray-cray and have to text my therapist and Bible Study gals for extra support, I have managed to show up for work, finish a book, keep the sparks going with my man and love to the best of my ability. I know I’m a little jacked up, far from a typical pastor’s wife (whatever that is), with a broken and old uterus and some social awkwardness to boot, but maybe you could still get me a present? (Hint, hint)

  • MAC Makeup
  • Coach, or Kate Spade Purse
  • Spa Day perhaps? (Optional item if I’ve been really good!)

Thanks Santa! You’re the best! And you look dang sexy in that red hat!

Love, Samantha

Gangsta Christmas

Every morning I wake up to another sappy Christmas commercial that emotionally hijacks me and leaves me all weepy in my honey nut Cheerios. For example: the Hallmark tear-jerker that keeps replaying of the lonely soldier in Afghanistan opening up a Charlie Brown book with his little boy’s voice warbling out the Christmas story –sob, sniffle, sniffle, sob.

Enough is enough!  Instead of another blog post on the most amazing Christmas gift I’ve received, or even the most meaningful, how about a tribute to the worst Christmas Day ever?  Yessss…I knew you were in for it.

On a dismal and dreary Christmas morning about ten years ago (a rarity in sun drenched So Cal) my family and I loaded up all the gifts, pies and babies (Kyle was 4, Faith was 1) into our Expedition and with my father and step-mom closely following in the car behind us, we caravanned to the kids’ grandparents (on their dad’s side) in a nearby beach community.

On the way over we sang snowman songs and goofed around.  The roads were quiet and eerily still and we made quick time on the freeway, exited onto a road in a rather bad neighborhood (but one we drive through all the time) and continued on our way. 

All of a sudden, a car coming in the opposite direction u-turned directly in front us and screeched to a halt within inches of our stunned faces.  The kid’s daddy (Brent) threw on the brakes and my father (Papa Ken) stopped quickly behind us almost hitting us.  I looked up and saw a black Escalade hot on the heels of the junky car that had just blocked our path.

The door of the junky car flew open and a man tumbled out with a look of sheer terror on his face, never taking his eyes off the Escalade.  He darted right then jerked to the left as if he was carrying a football into the end zone then dashed across the street directly in the path of our car.  Within a nanosecond, one of the heavily tinted windows of the Escalade lowered and a hand appeared with a large ominous gun tracking the fleeing man.  The man raced across the front of our car and the gun followed his every move.

I screamed “move, move, move!” like a commando from Rambo.   Brent looked at me in confusion because he didn’t see the gun at first, then realized what was happening and quickly moved into action.

I whipped around and motioned for the kids to get down (difficult when babies are in car seats) and hollered at Brent to back the car up and get us out of there pronto.  Brent threw the car in reverse like one of the Duke’s of Hazard boys and maneuvered around Papa Ken’s car motioning like crazy for him to back up. 

The man kept running and a single shot fired off from the gun but missed him –and even more thankfully –us.  The black Escalade roared to life and took off after the man down the side street.  The junky car sat in the middle of the street abandoned, with the door wide open and blocking traffic.

Brent pulled over and we quickly called the police and choked out the incident in bursts of adrenaline.  The police asked us to come in and give them a report. 

Everyone decided it would be best to drop off the hysterical wife (namely –me) at Brent’s parent’s home with the kids and then go back to meet the cops.

I sat at the house in a trance of tremors and tears while my in-laws tried to console me but I was shaken to the core with this near brush of violence.  The last thing I expected on a merry Christmas Day was a drive-by shooting initiated by gangster thugs. 

Who shoots people on Christmas Day anyway?  And what the heck did the guy do to deserve to be hunted down like an animal?

All these thoughts swirled through my brain and then finally peace washed over me like a gentle wave.  And I knew that even in the midst of this terrible awful, I would appreciate this Christmas day like never before.  I held my babies tighter, breathed in their sweet sugary cookie smell, and enjoyed my family with an unfamiliar intensity.

I discovered on that eventful day that sometimes the best Christmas gifts are wrapped in the worst possible circumstances. 

Appreciation rarely reveals itself in the obvious; it’s subtle and generally involves suffering and trial.  And just like the soldier sitting all alone in a tent in the Middle East yearning for his family, I understood all that I had to lose in a split second.

So if your Christmas stinks this year –let it be a reminder of better times, both in the past and yet to come (Lord willing).  And relish the gift of appreciation, unconventionally wrapped, often missed but when found –deeply treasured.

(I know, I know…Halmark wants me to write for them)

What do you appreciate this Christmas?  What do you long for? Do you have a worst Christmas tale?

 

 

 

 

The “Manceremony”

My son entered the holiday season yet a boy, but will return to school this New Year a man.  And so last night, we celebrated his coming of age with a “Manceremony.”

It was only a few days ago that my twelve-year-old son with the warbled voice, the distinct Jr. High aloofness, and all the awkwardness of a “boy of a certain age,” roamed the halls of our home.  Now, a man with a deep voice, facial hair and a buff physique has stolen my chubby cheeked angel. 

He turned and smiled at me last night, and in the dim light of the fire, I caught the distinct outline of a mustache on my baby, I mean man-child. 

He is almost a teen-ager now, though we have avoided that word in our home.  I have chosen to reject all the rebelliousness and disrespect that comes along with that verbiage.  My husband and I have decided to give the first-born instead, a “man” blessing, and skip the teen stage altogether.  Clearly this is an experiment, one that may or may not work, but we are hopeful, though possibly naïve, for the years to come.

So in honor of his impending need to shave, I pulled out the champagne glasses for the whole family, excluding the baby, filled them with apple juice, and we toasted to the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  With a nervous laugh, my son lifted his glass.  I could see his emotions ranging from uncomfortable to proud, but he was obviously appreciative that we recognized his maturation and took it seriously.

And so, I will store up the memories of his childhood deep within my heart; his incessant curiosity, the cherubic blond curls, and his chubby little arms reaching out for a hug.  It’s hard to let go of my tiny football player and embrace this new creature who wears cologne and attracts stares from women of all ages.

 I feel unprepared and truly inadequate for this next stage of motherhood.  We, both my son and I, stand at the edge of an uncertain future.  Like the cusp of a roller-coaster, just about to crest over the highest peak, either I choose to lift my arms up high and enjoy the ride or close my eyes and scream for dear life.

Today we worked out at the gym, lifting weights side by side.  And though I am teaching him proper form, he is pushing me on to new limits. Our relationship is changing, as I both embrace and simultaneously release my son into this dance of growing up.

Too Much Frivolity

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Image via Wikipedia

I am a survivor of Christmas overload.  Seven parties in seven days, and three more to go. There should be medals for this kind of dedication to frivolity.

I love parties.  I love Christmas.  But I don’t love the exhausted, bloated feeling that goes along with the Christmas party.  Call me undisciplined, fallacious even…but night after night of decadent temptation starts to crumble the walls of careful self-preservation and eventually, caution is thrown to the wind, carbs are embraced, and the culinary delights of the season are succumbed to.

Christmas is such a strange animal.  People overeat, overspend, and drink too much for a solid month, leaving them pudgy, broke and hung over by New Years.  Entitlement aside, deep down, we all know that Christmas doesn’t have to be this gluttonous and yet setting boundaries on fun proves to be much easier said than done. 

It’s not an obvious seduction, like drugs or illicit compromise; true Christmas party overload is inherently subtle.  It’s one sip of wine at a time, two late nights justified, then three more. It’s going back for seconds at the buffet table and avoiding the gym because there is “just so much to do.”  Bustle, bustle, justify, justify…and then, all of sudden you can’t zip up your pants.

If someone offers me a cigarette, it’s easy to say no because I am not a smoker, nor do I intend to be one, but when it’s your mother pushing the most divine pecan pie known to man, the boundaries start to blur…a lot.

Moderation seems to be the obvious solution, when we veer towards excess, but it’s a tough sell to say no to “just one more” party, the last cookie in the office basket and the mocha swirl sample at Starbucks

The Grinch said it well, “Maybe Christmas, doesn’t come from a store, perhaps maybe Christmas, means a little bit more.”

And so, maybe contentment at Christmas parties comes with less and not more, maybe finding the “more” is simply saying “no more.”

Secret Santa

Starbucks on Briggate

Image via Wikipedia

I got that giving itch from God today.  A little tickle on my spirit, saying “My daughter, do you see I have a child in need?”

Every now and then, this burden descends upon me to give financially to a specific person. It’s as if God is sitting on my heart and pressing, firmly adjusting my internal vision to see the crisis at hand and move towards it on behalf of my Father’s will. 

I have learned through trial and error to heed this call, avoiding second-guessing and justification,(i.e., does He really want me to go without my monthly Sushi treat or Starbucks?) choosing simple obedience and giving out of my blessings, or lack thereof, depending on the season.

The first time I felt this compulsion to give, I drove over to the family’s home that I felt God nudging me towards and handed them a check.  And though it felt good to be obedient, taking credit for the giving proved anticlimactic.  It felt awkward and rather prideful taking on the role of a Christmas benefactor.

There I stood at the door, having no idea what to say. Somehow, “Hark, I bring tidings of good will and generosity,” didn’t seem appropriate.

The “secret sauce” was missing and the key factor was taking “me” out of the equation and adding in the actual “secret.” 

The next time God put someone on my heart; I got out-of-the-way and allowed Him to be the Giver of all Good Gifts.  I simply played the humble steward, using the gifts and talents He had given me to run his estate. 

And yes, this time my joy was complete.  I got to watch God get the glory and revel in the delight of being a small part of an answered prayer.

Remaining anonymous is like playing Secret Santa without the big reveal, where only you and Jesus know who the real Santa is.  It’s a covert mission from God for the average Christian, a little slice of heaven, to be eaten in the company of angels and not men, for the rewards of this obedience can only be seen in the celestial realm.

When a financial gift is given to someone in need, and the giver remains hidden, something mysterious happens in the spiritual world.  The person sacrificially given to, though they know not of the giver, has become all the more tender.  They have secretly joined in on a “story” of God’s provision.

When I encounter someone whom God financially blessed through me, there is an unexpected seed of compassion deeply rooted in my heart that God has planted.  It’s completely beyond my normal and slightly selfish paradigm, unnatural even, but effortless because of God.  It is His love weaving through my crusty heart to bless both the giver and recipient.

My story and their story intersect, our journeys of faith swirled in layers of sacrifice, obedience, comfort and provision. 

So when the Christmas bonus comes this week, what face comes to mind? A single mom you know, the unemployed father sitting next to you in church, or maybe the family losing their home in your neighborhood?   

But please, oh please…don’t forget the “secret sauce” when you put on that Santa Suit!

Christmas Lights and Humility

Ned Flanders

Image via Wikipedia

Someone stole my neighborhood and turned it into Whoville.  Large elves, masquerading as competitive men have ambushed our energy resources and hung up enough LED lights to have the streets aglow with a garish gleam as bright as the sun.

My first indication that our new neighborhood might go a little “over the top” at Christmas was during a conversation at my son’s baseball game. My neighbor asked me if I wanted to join in on the lift rental. 

A “lift” rental?  Seriously? 

She assured me that it was a normal occurrence in our neck of the suburban woods at Christmastime, and that all the neighbors cooperatively shared the expense and used it for the soaring high icy peaks of our two-story homes.  I could see desperation in her eyes that I grab onto her vision, but I wasn’t taking the bait.

I said “maybe” to the lift. Silly me…I’m so old-school thinking a ladder might be sufficient.

So, a few weeks later, the foretold lift arrived and our neighbors got busy stringing lights on the trees and peaks of our little borough.  My family was out-of-town that weekend, so you can imagine our surprise when we returned.

Remember that song, “I wear my sunglasses at night”? Think bright, stadium bright and you just might get the picture. Every nook, corner and cranny burst forth with Christmas paraphernalia. And that’s just the lights!

The inflatable army has also come out in full force-Frosty, Spongebob, Mickey, and Santa bluster and blow about depending on their robustness or their lack of. Sparkly reindeer, candy-canes and the angelic host have all joined the cast of characters on our street. 

So, not wanting to feel left out, the next weekend my husband risked life and limb on an extension ladder to string a Charlie Brown strand from our roof to our neighbors.  We highlighted one simple peak on the second story, strung lights around the porch, added a few multi-coloreds to the bushes and called it a day. 

We were so proud of our simple accomplishment.  We had fun, experienced a little danger on the extension ladder and laughed a great deal at our slightly cheesy and ghetto attempt at illuminating design.

That is…until we walked to the tract across the street.  Some of our neighbors, concerned that we didn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the “decorating spirit” encouraged our family to travel over to Sarasota, where apparently the big Christmas dogs come out to play.

So, we bundled up the baby, grabbed some coats and mittens, and the family ambled out of our tract into the neighborhood just across the street. 

And this is how we got schooled in the Ned Flanders way of Christmas.

We could hear the roar before we even crossed the street.  Three lifts were at work.  About fifty people were out, from kids to grandmas, and all were busy decorating.  This was definitely the bigger the better, and anti-less is more school of thought. 

Every tree was being wrapped in lights.  Some of the homes had music synchronized with the lights to create shows.  I’m pretty sure I saw a real sleigh and a chorus of angels.  Music blared from loud speakers.  There were Christmas banners, themed homes and lights strung across the street from roof to roof creating a tunnel of extreme awesomeness.  It was the North Pole, a fairy tale, and a child’s Disney dream! 

As my son and I reveled in the majesty of our Costco culture, laughed at the over-commercialized decorations, and took in materialism at its finest, my husband on the other hand, turned sour.  The Grinch face was starting to appear.

“It’s too much,” he said, “too competitive, too garish. They’ve lost the Christmas spirit.”

I nodded my head in agreement while secretly plotting ways to spruce up our own lawn.

“So how about an inflatable Jesus on roller-skates?” I suggested. 

At least I got a smile out of him.

Deep down, I know it’s the posture of our heart that matters at Christmas.  If we are decorating our neighborhood as a gift to the community, than the gift–whatever it’s brilliance or lack thereof is enough.  If we are decorating for approval, applause and to win the association’s contest, then shame on us. 

If I am to be honest, I desire both.  I want to be content with a little.  I also want to compete and win. 

I struggle with my inner naughty; this duality of the Christian walk and the daily battle between choosing humility or competitiveness.  I think I might have caught my neighbor’s desperation.  I’m pretty sure it’s viral.

Praise the Lord that Jesus doesn’t keep a naughty list like Santa or I might get some coal in my stocking.  Because, when my husband goes out of town, some elves just might drop by our house too!

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