Happy Chrismahanukwanzaaka! Why “happy holidays” isn’t a big deal

Ok, I’ve sat on this post for several years, now, but since it’s the beginning of November and the battle is already raging, I have to ask a question:

What the heck is wrong with saying “Happy Holidays”? 

The memes, the boycotting of stores who say the H word, the sermons, yes, I have heard them, all the “holiday” bashing makes me shake my head in complete and utter confusion. Ya’ll, nobody has “dibs” on December! By the way, Jesus wasn’t even born in December, but that’s neither here nor there. 

It’s called the “Holiday Season” because there are multiple holidays between October and January, and why in the world can’t I hope you enjoy all of them? There are four holidays that we as a family observe, and at least four more that we don’t. So what if they are attached to a specific religion or culture? That still doesn’t give you exclusive rights to any particular month/season. And if you’re still not convinced, let me tell you a little about the word “Holiday.” When you break it down, it’s easy to see the roots. The word literally means “holy day”. It means a break from the everyday, to celebrate something special or sacred. It was originally used for feast days throughout the year in addition to the three months we use (or condemn) it for now. 

Besides, no matter what you call it, isn’t the season all about love and, let’s face it, self-sacrifice? God sent His only Son to die for a world who ignores Him. Do you think, maybe, for a couple months, you could forget that you don’t agree with people who light menorahs? (Do you know why they light menorahs? They are remembering a miracle.) That you could show kindness instead of indignation to those who celebrate Kwanzaa? That you could, gasp, smile at Santa instead of raving at him about the consumerism of Christmas? Maybe you should try celebrating Three Kings’ Day, if you’re so upset about commercializing Jesus’ birthday. 

Now, I’m not saying “don’t say Merry Christmas.” What I’m saying is that, when the cashier who is working 65 hours a week until January 10th smiles at you and says “Happy Holidays!”, don’t scowl and stomp out the door, vowing never to return. Don’t correct them. Don’t complain, in person or on social media. 

Just smile. Reply whatever you feel like replying, but remember, it’s not a competition. Nobody gets a prize for naming their favorite holiday the most times or the most forcefully. 

Because, Charlie Brown, that’s not what Christmas is about. 

Avoiding the Monster-in-Law

My mother-in-law came to stay for the weekend. 
Since Brother and Sister have extensive food and chemical sensitivities, having houseguests is always a touchy thing. All it takes is a dollop of scented lotion or a squirt of hairspray to ruin the whole visit. 
Parenting is a touchy thing. Everyone has a different idea of how to do things, and it’s personal because everyone does their best to raise their own kids. Anything I do differently than you do/did is because I think my way is better for my family, and if I’m not careful that can quickly turn into, or at least feel like, judging. With my own parents I can always be sure that, whether or not we agree, they love me and my children, regardless. But that’s not always true in the case of in-laws. There are a few things I’ve learned about relationships with parents and in-laws that helped in my marriage and family relations, so I want to share them with you.

1. You marry the whole family.
        Never go into a relationship with the idea that if you don’t like your Love’s family, they will just go away. 
Not. Going. To. Happen. 
Always assume you are going to have to deal with these people for the rest of your life. If you can’t deal with that idea, well, there are other fish in the sea. Remember, this is your Love’s family, chances are he/she feels the same way about them that you do about your own. 

2. Complaining doesn’t endear anyone.
        So you made the decision that you can deal with your spouse’s family and now you’re married. Don’t complain about them. Complaining and whining about family just creates strife and resentment, and causes your spouse to have to choose sides. 
Granted, sometimes there are real issues that need to be addressed, as a couple, with one set of parents or the other, but nearly everything can be addressed in a helpful, constructive manner. I hope this doesn’t embarrass anyone (yes, my in-laws read my blog!) but when Hubby and I were first married we moved into a house that his parents own, and into Hubby’s old bedroom. We were leaving the country, so it didn’t make sense to rent a place for a month when there was an empty house available. One morning when his parents were visiting, I was sitting on our bed with the door partly open, and his dad walked in, opened the closet, put something in it, and walked out. It’s HIS house, HIS son’s bedroom, it didn’t even occur to him that it might be an issue. But it was to me. By some insane luck, my 20-year-old self reacted correctly: I went to my husband and calmly explained what had happened and that it made me uncomfortable. Thanks to The Lord, his 20-year-old self reacted correctly, as well. He pointed out that it had been FIL’s house a lot longer than it had been mine, that he didn’t mean anything by it, and then he mentioned it to his dad and it never happened again. Wins all around.

3. Space is the best peacemaker.
        Sometimes it’s not practical, or even possible, but putting space between you and your families is one of the best ways to keep the peace. I’ve never, ever, ever met anyone who said to me, “We live with my parents/in-laws and it was the best decision we ever made.” If it can be avoided, two adult women should never have to share one cooking space. Even if you have to share a house, finding a balance and respecting each other’s space is non-negotiable. 

4. Communicate.
        Your in-laws are your spouse’s family, it’s important to treat them like family. One way I make sure to do that is at Christmastime and birthdays. Since our families live 10 hours apart, planning is imperative! Making sure each family gets the same amount of time and different ideas of what the kids want/need is just a beginning. Sometimes communication is best when it goes through your spouse, especially if there have been bridges burned in the past, but ladies, a word for you: don’t make your husband/son choose between you. Even if he makes the right decision (sorry, Mom, the right decision is his wife) he’s still going to be miserable, and so will you. Trust me, it won’t end well. Open, honest, direct, and mature communication is key to a good in-law relationship. 

5. Respect each other.
        My sister-in-law lives with us. She has been with us since Sister was born, and she’s a permanent authority figure for my kids. I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult for both of us to learn to live together. One of the big things for me was letting her be an authority, even when I was around. A few times one of the kids would come to me with tears in their eyes and wail, “Auntie told me NO!” 
I had to learn to say, “then go talk to Auntie about it.” If I had comforted, or even dismissed the issue, that would have been disrespectful to her and undermined her ability to be an authority to my kids. Hubby’s parents afford me the same respect, and if I make a decision about the kids there is no argument from them. Occasionally they will discuss a decision with me, but always later, never in front of my children, and they frequently have good ideas that I’ve never thought about before. (Huh, well, I guess they DID raise three kids…) Not only does this mutual respect create a peaceful and secure atmosphere for my children, it also fosters good in-law relationships. 

So when Hubby’s mom said she was coming for the weekend, my reaction was excitement, not dread. When she got ready in the morning, she skipped hairspray because I’ve explained to her that it bothers the kids. When the two of us went to town together, it was a fun and stress-free outing. 
What I’m saying is, good relationships with your in-laws are not only possible, but desirable. They just take a little effort.

Letting Go

A few months ago in Florida a man was swallowed up by a sinkhole that opened up below his bedroom as he slept. His brother in the next room heard his screams and ran into the bedroom. The brother couldn’t see the man, but he could hear him, so he jumped into the sinkhole after him. A law enforcement officer had to pull the second brother out before he, too, was swallowed up. As of the time of this writing, there is still no sign of the man, and officials labelled their efforts a “recovery” instead of a “rescue”. 
This tragedy speaks deeply to me on a spiritual level. Let’s take a step back for a moment and, without in any way belittling the pain and trauma of this family, apply the same situation to a church family. 
 
As I go along in my Christian walk, I notice a brother or sister with a spiritual sinkhole opening beneath them. Some sin that they have is threatening them, their marriage, their ministry, their children, or some other aspect of their life. Ideally, they would notice it on their own. In the real world, however, it’s all too often that we are blind to our own sins. Jesus addresses the issue of hypocricy in Luke 6:42 when He tells us to remove the log from our own eye before we worry about the speck in our brother’s eye. Unfortunately, this verse often serves as an excuse to disregard the loving rebuke of a brother or sister, instead of instruction on preparation to give the rebuke. But let’s assume for the moment that I see the “sinkhole” forming, I remove any “planks” and get my heart right with God, and then go to my sister and, in love, point out the danger she is in. What happens next? 
 
I think in Matthew 18 we get a cut-and-dried version of dealing with sin in the church, and many people, myself included, have an idea of this very simple, neat and clean process. In reality, we live in a fallen world and when you have sinners correcting sinners, what started as a loving warning can spiral into ugliness and name-calling faster than, well, than a sinkhole can swallow a bedroom. 
 
I would imagine that man who was unable to save his brother will live with the (mistaken) guilt of that failure his entire life. The same kind of guilt can occur when we fail to rescue a friend falling into the sinkhole of sin. When someone is too stiffnecked (there’s my hoity-toity biblical term for the day) to listen to a friend’s loving warning, we’re instructed to bring one or two others. If they still refuse to alter their course, the situation goes to the church. At that point, if they continue in their sin, they are turned out of the church. Going back to the illustration of a sinkhole, it’s better that they be the only one to fall in than to take others in the church with them. Sin is like a plague, it takes down the carrier, and it’s contagious. 
 
Let’s camp here for a while, because what looks very simple on paper can be very ugly in real life. No one likes to be rebuked, and a wounded pride is like a wounded animal: dangerous and illogical. Many a friendship has been destroyed by one who gives a godly rebuke with an ungodly attitude, or who receives a godly rebuke with an ungodly attitude. At this point it’s easy to say, “If I had minded my own business, I would still have this friendship.” I would argue that if you didn’t care enough to pull your brother or sister back from that sinkhole, you are not truly loving them in a godly way. Proverbs 12:1 says, 
 
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

 

 
The comfort God has for us, though, lies in the knowledge that we followed His directions and that, even if they haven’t listened, we have done the part of a true friend and given a warning. He promises that His word will not come back void. With that knowledge, then, our responsibility is to trust and pray, and to LET GO. Carrying the responsibility that is God’s will swallow us as surely as a sinkhole. 

Calm, Cool, and No Control at All

“Even as I sat holding my son, I realized that I couldn’t control whether he would love God.” -Francis Chan

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?” Luke 12:25

 

 

A little less than a year ago I found out that my life had changed forever. With tears and a huge smile I woke up my husband and showed him the double pink line that would reshape our universe.

Five cumulative hours in a midwives’ waiting room, four months of spending every morning kneeling to the porcelain throne, Three false-alarm hospital trips, and $200 in maternity clothes later, our beautiful son Jude was born. I like to say that God is making up for those two weeks in labor and five hours of pushing by giving me a baby that was only waking up twice a night by the time he was three weeks old. He never cries unless he’s hungry, we finally found a pacifier he’ll take, and I estimate diaper blowouts approximately once a day… sometimes more.

As exhausting as it is keeping up with a two-month-old baby, I know this is nothing compared to what I’m going to be doing in seven or eight months, or, heaven forbid, when he starts walking.

As I write this, I’ve had to get up to change the cradle sheets after they were wet on, change a wet diaper, change my own sheets because Jude spit up on them while I was changing his sheets, change a dirty diaper, wash dishes so the sink was empty, bathe the baby in the sink, feed the baby, empty the baby tub, change another diaper, and answer the phone.

I love my new son more than life itself. I would give everything I have, down to my last breath, to make his life easy and filled with joy, but more than that, I want his life to be filled with the love of God. The realization that I have absolutely no control over whether my son serves God with his life hit me hard. From that came the realization that I have very little control over my son’s life and decisions in general.

When I was eighteen, my 16-year-old friend drove off an embankment into a river. Everyone wondered, “How could it have been different?” When I look at my son, my instinct is “You don’t get to drive until you’re eighteen.” There are so many things I could forbid him to do in the name of protection, but what kind of life would that be for him? I could wrap my darling in bubble wrap and refuse to let him go outside, I could feed him nothing but organic food and live so far out in the country he would never be exposed to harmful fumes or people from the city. In short, I could do my best to protect my baby from the world, but in the end, he will grow up. Some day, my sweet little baby boy will decide that he needs to be on his own. That stresses me out. I want to control his world and keep him safe, but I know that’s ridiculous. There is absolutely no way that I can protect my son from everything, and trying is going to give me ulcers. Some day, he will make decisions on his own. He will decide that bungee jumping from the tree out front with Dad’s bungee cords is a good idea. He will show off for his friends (and girls) on a four-wheeler, in a car, or on a motorcycle. He will buy a car, go to college, get married, have children, have a job, and do things that his mother has no knowledge of or control over. Today God nudged me while I watched him sleep and said, “If you give him to Me now, it will save everybody a lot of stress and heartache.” I can just imagine Him saying, “How can you protect him without Me? What can you do that I can’t? Being a mom is enough work, give me the responsibility of keeping him safe, and both your lives will be much easier.”

For a control freak like me, it’s completely counter-intuitive to give the care of my son into someone else’s hands. Leaving him with my sister for an hour is like pulling teeth. Worry is second nature to us A-type personalities. Giving up my darling baby Jude is so difficult, it feels like someone is prying him out of my hands. But I know that won’t happen. God just sits and waits patiently for me to give him up freely. So here it is:

 

God, I know that giving my son to you will save he and I both a lot of pain and stress. I know that You can take better care of him much better than I can, and any control I have is just an illusion anyway. Even so, it’s hard. He’s my baby, my firstborn. He’s so small and fragile, and I’m his mommy for goodness’ sake, who could protect him better than me? But I know You can. We dedicated him in church, but I need to dedicate him in my heart. So here he is, Lord. I’m opening my hand, but I don’t have the strength to give him up. I need You to take him and give me peace. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, harder than giving control of my marriage to you. My baby needs me, and you’ve given him to me, but now I’m giving him back. Thank You for letting me care for him here on this earth, and for entrusting him to me. I’m trusting You to take care of the things that I really can’t control anyway. I’m giving You my darling son, please take good care of him. I know You love him even more than I do, and I trust you to watch over him. Thank You, Lord, for everything. I love You.

~Alissa

 

 

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