Flushing Out Santa

Flushing Santa

It had to happen.  I’ve been dreading this conversation even more than the one we already had about the “birds and the bees.”  After all, that was just stuff easily discussed about basic biology, some good-feeling stuff, and some high-octane emotions all tangled up in a cosmic stew necessary to keep the human race going.

But this conversation was a bit more serious.  Because this involves things like magic, the wonder of childhood, and most important: faith and doubt.

I should have known something was brewing a few days prior when my husband told me he found a couple boxes of laxatives laying on the bathroom counter.  I hadn’t noticed, I told him.  The deep forest of bathroom products on the counter is pretty dense after all. Stay with me, it’ll make sense soon enough.

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You see our baby-yet-not-a-baby-anymore, but rather tweenaged screenager and I had just had a very enlightening conversation on the way to the library.

“Mom, I read an article online that said that NORAD denied the existence of Santa, and they aren’t tracking Santa anymore because Santa is a hoax!  Is that really true?”

Startled, I started going thru a mental rolodex of thoughts simultaneously:

  • I’m about to rip his heart out.
  • Why did I wait so long to talk to him? I should’ve had this conversation long ago.
  • He’s going to think his parents are LIARS!
  • If he can’t trust me at Christmas, how in the world will he trust me in bad times?
  • He’s going to lose the magic of Christmas, right here and now, while we wait in the Starbucks drive through line.
  • Christmas is going to be sad now.
  • What if he doubts what I’ve told him on other things, like the existence of God?

“Well, what do you think?” I shot back.

“That’s why I’m ASKING you Mom!  I need to know.”

Since we were in a drive through line, I asked him to show me the web article on his phone.

So he showed me this:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/u-s-air-force-retracts-claim-santa-claus-not-real-article-1.3593233

“Wait a minute,” I said.  “It says right here, and I quote:”

In response to a story from the Washington Examiner — titled “Air Force confirms Santa Claus isn’t real while chiding quarreling bases on Twitter” — the Air Force walked back its initial claims.

Santa is real!” claims the article’s author. I quoted this line from it: “Bluffing to get @Whiteman-AFB and @TeamMinot in line. Tracking him in Dec.”

“See! You just have to read the last two paragraphs of the article” I said obviously stalling.  “You see, there is always someone that wants to kill the Christmas magic, even in the military sometimes, but it clearly says at the end of the article he is real.”

Wrong choice, Mom! (Screams my inner voice)

I could see he was getting more agitated.  He started telling me scientifically it just doesn’t make sense.  There are too many houses–houses without chimneys and millions of kids who live in huts or high-rise apartments.  He doesn’t have to totally understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to realize somehow that if Jeff Bezos can’t get birthdays done with a jabillion employees, how in the world does an overweight, ever-aging Santa pull Christmas off each year?

“I just don’t see how Santa delivers all those presents to every kid all over the entire world!”

Believe me, it ain’t easy!  I internally screamed thinking only of my three kids over the last 30 years!

More questions ensued.  I just kept asking him what he believed and thought.

And then it hit me.  The jig is up.  It’s time to come clean about Santa.

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I was just about to open my mouth to speak and tell him the bittersweet truth in love.

But then he surprised me with this:

 “So that’s why I got the baking soda and the laxatives out earlier.”

“Wait, what?!”

“Yeah.  I’ve been checking different websites online and about half say Santa is real and the other half say he isn’t.  It says here on this site, if you want PROOF that Santa is real, you should sprinkle baking soda on your floor and that way when he puts out gifts, he’ll probably leave a boot print.  And it also says you should put laxative pills in the milk we leave out with the cookies.”

“WHAT?!?!?   WHY??” I asked incredulously.

“Because that way if it is your parents, you’ll know for sure, because they’ll be in the bathroom a lot on Christmas day.”

Okay.  Now I knew he needed to know the truth for sure.  If only to make sure my plan for a desperately-needed, post-holiday nap would not be foiled. Instead this little angel child was actually considering wrecking my intestinal balance in order to prove a scientific hypothesis he had been contemplating.

“Are you trying to tell me you would actually allow your parents to be semi-poisoned to prove your theory denying the existence of Santa?  Furthermore, what IF Santa IS real?  Now you just gave him the gift of the runs after he was so kind to pay you a visit.  Is that anyway to treat someone who’s been so good to you all these years?

At that moment we both started laughing.  We laughed so hard for so long. But inside I was crying a little bit.  Then we both grew very quiet.  He was looking out the window as if far away.  And looking in the rear view mirror at my last-born son, I knew this sweet magical tradition we’ve carried for a little over three decades  with all our kids was finally coming to a close.

I know.  Don’t say it.  I waited way too long.

The thing is, I didn’t mean too.  The truth is, a bunch of things happened along the way, and time slipped away while I was so busy tending to more urgent things. Suddenly, like his siblings before him, he too has grown up, perhaps the fastest of all.

I mean, it seems like yesterday when he sat joyfully on Santa’s lap year after year.  Well, except for the year when he was two, and for some reason this was the year he was traumatized by the mere sight of the jolly fat man in the red suit at the mall.  In his annual portrait that year, he is sitting on his middle school-aged sister’s lap.  She is holding back hysterical laughter.  His red teary eyes are more blood shot then Snoop Dogg on a Sunday morning.  I’m terrible, but in some ways this is my favorite picture of all.  Partly because it’s funny, but partly because I knew then he would grow so fast.  That moment that seemed so scary then, would be met with joy and elation the following year.  And it was.

And the year after, and the year after that.  Until suddenly, it was this year, and I realized we forgot to get our picture made with Santa this year.  And last year too.  And probably even the year before that.

“Son,” I told him.  “Now, you know another hard truth in life.  The Santa that you had always envisioned in your head doesn’t really exist.  But there was a real Saint Nicholas.  And there are many people of days gone by and many people now who keep the spirit of Santa alive by being one of his helpers.  It’s a sacred honor when you think about it. Parents and various helpers (like grandparents and mall Santas and elves) love to keep the magic alive, because they remember how they felt as a child when they believed.”

“I know you know the real reason we celebrate Christmas—it’s to celebrate Jesus birth and remember what He did for us.  And Jesus IS real and so is His power in our lives.  This part of Christmas will always be true.”

“Of course Mom!  I know that’s why we celebrate!  I know it’s not just about getting gifts.”

I continued: “I know you know this too; it’s often a horrible and scary world we live in now.   You know terrible and dreadful things about people in this world now I wish you didn’t have to know, but you do because these things are true.  Denying the existence of these evil things won’t make them any less true.  Some things you have to know, so you can plan on how to stay safe.  But I see that continuing to treat you like an innocent child in this regard isn’t doing you any favors.  I think your heart has been questioning for some time it sounds like.  And I don’t ever want to lie to you.”

“Oh mom!  No, I’m fine.  I was just afraid YOU would be really sad that I was figuring this stuff out.  That was making me sad too.  I’m going through a lot of things in my head these days, but I HAD to know.  I just did.”

“I know.”

By now we were both sipping on our adult beverages.  I’m talking about coffee here.  Don’t rush it.  12 is just 21 looking back in the mirror.

“You know, I’m really excited now that I know mom.  I have a whole Christmas plan!  Of course, Santa will always be real in my heart.  But now it’s even better, because I get to be Santa.”

The next three hours he talked non-stop of things he wants to do this Christmas.  He hasn’t been this excited in a long time.  He talked about things he could do for and with his grandmas.  And his brother and sister.  He mentioned things he could make for his dad and other people we know and love.  He asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him anything that is FREE and HOMEMADE means the most to me!  And breakfast in bed would actually be really groovy!)  He talked about everything but what he wanted for Christmas.  That was a first.

I wrapped up our conversation finally by sharing a deep truth found in the bible (1 Corinthians 13:10-12) that says:

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And so we grow up, some sooner, some later, but always right on schedule on God’s cosmic timetable.  Truth is revealed as we are forced to let go sometimes of all which we think we know.  New facts emerge.  We mature and change and press ever onward. Other than faith, change is our only sure constant in this life.  And as we let go, we find a love:  truer, bigger, and better then ourselves.

These are the times we get to be Santa to others because our faith rests secure in the love and true spirit of Jesus.   This is life at its blessed.  This is Christmas.

 

THANK YOU TO ALL THE WONDERFUL SANTAS WHO BROUGHT US CHRISTMAS JOY AND WONDER ALL THESE YEARS!   GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Things I Experienced While Running Away

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  ― Søren Kierkegaard

(Morning view where Liz and Marley like to run…okay, walk usually)

    It had to happen. I had to do it.

I’m talking about running. It’s been too long. You know when it’s time? When the earth’s gravitational force suddenly doubles.

You look in the mirror and see the pudge you’ve been avoiding. Tired eyes. A face that could use a lift.   An attitude that often hovers between exhaustion and who cares? Shabby clothes accessorized with a heavy dose of apathy.

I was just about to take a nap. After all, I’d earned it. Moments earlier I had daftly slid dinner out of a box and into the oven and had just plopped onto the couch after another repetitious day of exhaustion battling the minute by minute necessary chores and emergencies called life. You know what I’m talking about. You have those days too.

But instead, a rare divine moment of alchemy overtake me. That inner whisper that says, “GET UP (you sloth)!” That and the soft sadness of my dog’s whimpering. Oh, the not-so-subtle guilt of my lab’s droopy eyes and hopeful but pouty mouth.

     Fine then! I exerted a small amount of supernatural strength and laced up my running shoes. These suck. They hurt my feet and need replacing. Anyway.

Grab the poopy bags. In my case, it’s a minimum of a dozen; running with labs requires a bit of extra preparation.   Collar. Leash. Quick sips of water. Tunes. Keys. Lock door. Check. Slam door. Go!

Put something on with 4/4 beat and start pounding. It hurts. I don’t seem to have a regular rhythm or routine to running these days. It was the 2nd time in a week, but also in about six months as well.

So consistency is not my strong suit. What can I say? Keep going Liz I tell myself.

A few houses later I drift past my neighbor’s house. Her daughter will marry this weekend. Bless them I think. So busy I bet. Time to keep going. A few seconds later I float past another neighbor’s home with two dogs who speak in the language that only dogs know. They announce loudly, “HEY! IT’S MARLEY AND LIZ! DOES ANYONE IN THE HOUSE HEAR ME? IT’S MARLEY AND LIZ!”   I’m tempted to stop and go pet them. Better not. That’d be the end of tonight’s workout.

Huffing and puffing, I make it to the end of block one. YES! The next ten houses is straight down hill. I’m cruising to a little John Reuben singing Bobble Head.

     “Let me see your neck neck bobbing with the vertical fist. You put the two together and it goes like this.”

Christian rap. It’s the only kind I can tolerate. I feel kind of like a bada** listening to it.   When I was running, I knew I would have to write about it later. I knew right then and there I would at some point use the substitute word bada** because I don’t have the literary courage to say well…you know the real word.

I’ve now gone straight down the vertical hill bobbing with my horizontal fist pulling my dog who also doubles as my resistance trainer.  Ok, now I’m getting into it a tiny bit. Just keep going I tell myself. Like the wise Clownfish sage Dory who is forever embedded into our collective subconscience with her exuberant message:

     Just Keep Swimming

     Because that’s what I’m doing, metaphorically speaking. I’m swimming against the tides of life most days it seems.

Technology that overwhelms us with it’s incessant “reply ASAP” feeling. Or more frustratingly frequent: websites that give me the FREEZE OUT. Passwords that I know by heart suddenly don’t work. Pages don’t load.   Email I don’t have time for or read.  People I should but don’t reply to.  News doesn’t ring true. Trolls say mean things. Things disappear. And then fall apart.     Yeah, and that’s just my digital life.

So I keep going. Running. I’m playing a mental game I played in my early twenties when my first son had incredible colic. I used to run with a Walkman CD player on my hand like a pizza delivery man so it wouldn’t skip.

I’d run away. I’d run away from the noise.

I’d run from the responsibilities I didn’t think I could handle for one more day.

I’d run far, far away from the stress and go to the imaginary place in my head where everything is copacetic and cool. In this place in my head, people agree and life isn’t determined by income, time constraints, or other people’s desires. In fact there aren’t even voices, just faces. And music. And animals. And just this peacefulness.   I admit, it’s kind of a selfish utopia.   And though I always knew it didn’t really exist, it always felt so good to be running towards it, striving, endlessly striving to find it.

I’m about ¾ of a mile now. Not that far, but I’ve already thought more thoughts then steps travelled. This much I know is true.

I’m running away again. I’m running away from Hillary. I’m running away from Donald. I’m running away from ALL THAT because I’m so tired of hearing about it, thinking about it, and in shreds as what to do about it.

       I run thinking if I just run far enough and hard enough I might possibly be able to run out of this spare tire that is causing serious bladder inconvenience. I mean really. You throw a tire on a water balloon and see which object survives.

       I’m running away from my bullet-point two-page To Do List that I still haven’t gotten through from Monday. I’m running from all the responsibilities and future things I don’t know if I can handle. I’m trying not to run while amoritizing the remainder of my mortgage while simultaneously figuring out our emergency equity thanks to rising home values.   Still, worry thoughts creep in. I shoo these thoughts away with my hand while flying down hill again. My dog is so lucky. He thinks of none of this. He just breathes the cool air and keeps running.

A weird thing happens next. As I literally swat away my pesky thoughts, a small missile hits me in the forehead. At least that’s what it feels like. It’s a bug; who knows what kind? Clearly an armor-shelled kind like a beetle or something. I silently thank God for not allowing him to fly into my open mouth. That would’ve scarred me for life.

Still stepping out. Next stop. A teenage girl is melded into her boyfriend against a car under the street light in an intimate embrace. Oh yeah. I remember. I was young once. Slow down sweetheart I think.   It only gets harder from here. Then harder still. Enjoy. Don’t rush. You’ll be grown sooner than you think.

Soon, I’m by the house that always dries their clothes at night. My goodness! They use the best dryer sheets! It pours out of their dryer vent and perfumes at least three yards. It smells so clean and pure. At this moment I’m listening to U2’s “Lady With The Spinning Head” at top volume, an absolute running favorite of mine. I smell this and close my eyes and suddenly I’m six years old again. I’m running through sheets in a clothes line in a little dress with my wavy hair blowing and shoeless feet. I’m not really here I imagine. We are all just whispers in someone else’s dream. I’m breathing better. I feel the rope of anxiety releasing a bit from my neck.   It’s all going to be okay I think. At least I hope it will be.

It’s totally dark now. I always run at night since my first free moment from responsibility rarely falls before sunset. Anyway, I hit a dark patch for a while, and then I find myself under a tree arched over the sidewalk. A man with a jet black dog has suddenly appeared. I yank out my earphones as I realize he’s been talking to me for a while. I catch the end of his sentence: “We’ve been waiting for a while for you.”

I’m not alarmed. It’s not the way it sounds, but I had to quickly transition from the music-lined utopia in my head to absorb and comprehend what he meant.   Then I got it. His dog was as excited to meet my dog and I, as much as my dog was jazzed about meeting the two of them.

Anytime I come to a complete HALT after running hard, I sort of feel like my heart might explode, but mostly I was trying to just be cool as I didn’t want this neighbor I’ve not met yet to have to call 911 and deal with two rambunctious dogs.

We chat and laugh a bit over the crazy antics of excited dogs. Now I’m glad it’s nearly pitch dark. Like I said earlier, spare tire issues are seriously annoying me here! I need to get home to make the round-the-block bathroom trip again.

Home again and quick pit stop then it’s out the door to make another neighborhood orbit. It’s easier this time. Every house left behind is another step towards victory, another step in the right direction. I’m about to complete my second lap. I’m looking down focused on breathing mesmerized by my tall shadows under the streetlights. I’m skinnier when I’m fifteen feet tall. I like it like this and…..

     JESUS! I look up. Just standing there is a skeleton in a hoodie with a scythe in his hand. Seriously, I said JESUS when I saw this because that is the quickest best prayer you can ever pray when you have your wits scared out of you.

It was only a few feet from the sidewalk.   Out of the corner of one eye, I saw a glimpse of something as I was chasing after my own shadow. So I looked up. As I approached the darkened house with porch lights turned off, the dark shadowy figure seemed to come out of nowhere. Don’t panic! It’s just a skelly with a scythe–but it’s not real! The not real part took a nanosecond or two to click in. It was just a life-size Halloween decoration a few feet away from their front porch..a few days early.

See, Liz? I told you it was a good idea that you learn to run faster. Besides it was just a decoration. I did a double take. It hadn’t moved…. yet. But we live in a weird world these days. I double checked with my dog. He wasn’t alarmed. He was still pacing himself one dog’s length ahead of me, so it must be okay.

Life and death. Love and loss. Alone, yet not.  Cool breeze mixed with hot sweat.   Fear and hope and faith. Reality and dreamland.  Our only true constant we navigate by is change. Time passed and time still to go.   Miles still to run and words still to write, I press on. Ever onward.

 

 

 

Driving out the Demons

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PHOTO CREDIT: DEVIANT ART

How do you deal with your inner demons? I’m not talking about a Debbie Downer day where it feels like you’re walking under a black cloud all day and nothing goes your way.

No, I’m talking about a real wrestle-with-God, wrestle-with-your-own-soul day of darkness. The sixteenth century Spanish poet St. John of the Cross calls it The Dark night of the Soul. Sometimes it lasts a day or two, a week, perhaps a season. For him, it lasted forty-five years! However long it lasts though, it’s tough. It’s challenging to find even a pinhole of light anywhere, when it seems darkness surrounds you everywhere.

I call it fighting the demons. These demons are like riding out a storm at sea. Sometimes with these tall looming ocean waves, you have no choice but to bob up and down with it, rather than exhaustively fight it and drown.

A Christian writer that I greatly admire, Joyce Meyers, has an acronym for FEAR that has always made sense to me:   FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL

Well, I’d like to piggy-back on her acronym, and add my own: DEMONS

DOUBT (and) EMOTIONS MERGING (with) OUR NARCISSISTIC SIDE

Basically it works like this:

Our feelings and opinions shape our perspective regarding the trials and challenges of our daily life.   You can’t help it. They just do. This is the lens of how we see the world–our filter. Some of us naturally just have a sunnier, brighter disposition and see things from a lighter perspective. Others are a bit more cynical and jaded. We see life through a polarizer lens—everything is a bit darker as if looking out through sunglasses. Yet when light shines through, it is definitely sharper! It provides a nice contrast to the dark around it. Perhaps because sometimes we’re not expecting the light to break through.   Doubts are the demons we get to wrestle with.

Fear and demons go together actually. Both have the ability to paralyze us, rendering us unable to act. Both make us focus on and inflate our sense of self, rather than something so much bigger: God.   Doubt at its core tries to reduce and diminish God to a point of non-existence. The problem with doubt is: It puts the whole burden on us to make sense of it all.

Since our feelings and emotional thoughts drive our decision-making process, we need to remember that a logic based on faith would serve us better at being the DD (designated driver) of our lives.

BUT HOW?

How do you find light (hope and a sense of peace)?

How do you find logic (soundness of mind, an ability to see a situation sensibly and rationally)?

Above all how do you have faith (confidence and assurance that everything is going to turn out okay or at least in a way used for good)?

How do you find light, logic,and faith while you are in that season of darkness, or questioning, or your doubts seem taller than your faith? Feelings and emotions seem to trump all. Logic seems like a first sweetheart that dumped you decades ago. Faith sometimes feels like the imaginary friend you had in childhood, but gave up years ago as you slowly grew up.

I’m no expert. I have no degrees in psychology or theology.   Unless you count all the pedigrees I’ve earned from the School of Hard Knocks.

So how do you drive out those pesky demons? Those dark thoughts that threaten your peace, and sometimes your sanity? Especially when you have too many situations brewing? Or one or two that is just really more than you can bear?

I suppose the simple answer is YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE IT.   For me, I have to remember to believe:

  • Things are not always as they appear and unconditional acceptance of what is: My take on the situation may not be accurate. And even if it is, I have to accept that I do not have the power to control or change it. The only thing I have the power to control or change are: My perspective and my decisions on how I act.
  • There is a God and He is good. Because if not, then life is just a bunch of random events, chaos essentially, and then there is nothing to assign meaning or significance to. Then I am reduced to explaining the pain, cause, and results of these things beyond my control by the limitations of my own thinking, or even more mind-confusing: the expertise of others. This option has never worked in my life; I feel like a rat in a maze, forever frustrated while trying to find a way out. The key is to find the way UP in order to GET OUT.
  • God is in control. I choose to believe that God is not unaware of injustice, cruelty, tragedy, hardship, and the evils of humanity. Nor is He unaware of goodness, giving, kindness, faithfulness, and a love for others. And though I can’t explain the whys of situations on earth, God can. I believe God’s word in Isaiah 55:9: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. I’m not delusional and tell myself God enjoys giving us hard unfair things to deal with because it’s for the best. No! Rather I choose to look at life’s hard trials and dark emotions as something God will use for my best and His glory. Romans 8:28 All things work together for the good, for those that love him and are called according to His purposes.
  • I can freely choose to love and have faith in God. I’m not forced to submit to a rule-enforcing, legalistic, dictator-type God. No! I get to freely choose to obey and serve and LOVE a grace-giving God that says His love for me is unending, that I’m even worth dying for. I can read His promises knowing His hand is actively involved in my life.   Hebrews 11:1 says that Faith is the CONFIDENCE in what we hope for, and the ASSURANCE of what we do not see.

I guess it comes down to this: As I wrestle, I wrestle WITH FAITH, not against it. I fight my inner demons (negative, hopeless, or unsure thoughts) in partnership with God. I know He does battle on my behalf where I am weak. I do not go onto the battlefield alone. He equips me with confidence because I know and believe in His trustworthiness even when I can’t see God. Even when I can’t feel God’s presence.

So I eat, run, work, sleep, think, parent, write, love, and do WHILE I wrestle and pray, strive and hope, all the while: believing.

So I read God’s word. I question Him. I cry alone with Him sometimes.  I tell Him my doubts and my hopes and my fears and my dreams. I read some more. I pray. I think on it. I STOP thinking on it (that helps a lot!) I wait. All the while,I persevere in my choice to believe and trust.   A funny thing happens:

My faith grows. Slowly, sometimes erratically, but still it grows.

Belief (faith in God) is like running a marathon. You simply take a step. And then one more. You just keep going. It is this endless HOPE that propels you towards the finish line.  And with every step, the demons grow smaller and less powerful and the light and love of God and for God grows closer, and bigger. And on some days the whole sky is not big enough to contain it all.