Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looky, look, look, look

The other night at dinner we were playing a game where everyone took turns thinking of a word that relates to Christmas, as we worked our way through the alphabet. When we play games at dinner time we do so in a very quiet, orderly manner, and almost no one screams, shouts, or talks over one another. Ever. We're so proper. Stop in some time and you'll see...that I'm a total liar. It's usually out-of-hand, but always so fun! We love it.  We're making memories here, folks.

When we arrived at "Z" I said, in a very mature, set-a-good-example, definitely not a 5-year-old tone, "Z is for in the number of presents I have under the tree. Ohhhh!!! Or, Z, is for Zilch." Josh and I caught eyes and simultaneously started manufacturing new jokes spun off of my Z words, all while poor Avery held her cute little head in her hands, pounding the table, racking her brain, giving anything to call forth the perfect Z Christmas word. (We aren't competitive at all.) Avery failed. I took a cheap shot. 

Zero and Zilch were honestly the only Z words I could think of, other than zebra of course, but I was hard pressed to connect zebras to Christmas, so Zero and Zilch won. Josh and I laughed because we both know the reality of our financial state at the moment, and it's honestly okay. I'd be death-bed sick if I knew there were loads of presents under the tree with my name on them that belonged to VISA. I like the alternative. It helps me sleep at night. 

Bear with me, I have a point. 

Last night I was at a worship gathering when the two singers started singing about it being Jesus' birthday. And I lost it. I started bawling. I can't quote the words of the song. I only know that the tears came when they began singing about Mary carrying a child and bringing Him into the world in conditions suitable for animals. A King born in a manger. It could be that my Mama heart broke for Mary and Jesus, and led me to uncontrollable weeping. Or, it could've been that wells and wells of gratitude and awe burst and broke, followed by fountains of snot. Or, it could be that I could somehow relate, (not in the birthing our Lord and Savior sort of way, but maybe in the misinterpreted sense). Maybe it was the culmination of a thousand things. 

At that moment I felt reminded that appearances are deceiving, sneaky and secret, (ordered by God)...and really, truly, actually awesome. What looks like poverty and hard times at our house is really just the opposite. We are building. Tirelessly (and tired-ly) pushing for a dream. Too stubborn to quit. And it's exciting!

Calling Joseph and Mary a poor, irrelevant couple, unworthy of a clean bed was actually one of the biggest misconceptions ever made. Mary brought forth the light of the world, but most everyone misunderstood the especially bright star in the sky that night, or why on earth wise men and kings would come to worship a baby lying in a manger. 

But God knew better. He knew how history would unfold. He allowed His very essence to have the most humble, dirty, unappealing (lacking every kind of bell or whistle) entrance to the world. HE PLANNED THAT. HE DID THAT. He wasn't worried. Jesus' destiny wasn't in jeopardy. Sneaky right? 

See, I've understood that our present circumstances and appearances aren't the end of the story, and last night I felt especially encouraged that something is brewing. I was past the point of being okay with the big Z words, I was actually thankful, energized and excited. And I cried the ugly, wipe my nose on my scarf cry, happy as a squirrel in an oak tree. (Is that a common analogy? Squirrel in an oak tree? I made it up. Be free to use it. Or not.)

I'll close with this, appearances are a bummer if you lay it all on the line every day for everyone to see. Where's the magic in that? Where's the testimony? How great is the prize if it's not desperately fought for, or extravagantly paid for, in one way or another? What kind of impression will remain? These questions streamed down my swollen tear stained face as I sat there feeling like the Lord just let me in on a big secret: Appearances are misleading. Deceiving. God works behind the scenes, and below the radar. I suggest saving judgements for later. And maybe even scrapping them all together. Let's do this. Let's plow the field in front of us. Let us not grow weary, for surely this is just the beginning of the beginning, or maybe even the middle, but definitely not the end. Let's be the best darn delivery truck drivers, bankers, post office workers, drum builders and stay at home Mom-ers we can be. Let's trust that if we fight the good fight, with clean hands and pure hearts that we will arrive on the other side, victorious. It's possible. It's certain. It's sneaky. Let's do what our Mom's always told us to do, and not judge a book by its cover. Remember that vision gives pain a purpose (thanks Kris Vallotton), and anything of lasting value isn't built over night. And most importantly, remember that God's too cool, too sneaky, and way too wise to wear His plans on His sleeves. If we stick with Him He's gonna make it count. It's His style. It's His plan. He orders the hard stuff. All we have to do is hang on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Christmas has been tricky for us. Especially since my husband and I grew up with different traditions. Me, Santa. Him, baby Jesus. It's a hard season to navigate. My kids adore Christmas, and I love it too. I always have. This year, however, has been exceptionally awkward, more so than in years past.

Common question when you're a Christian: "Do you guys do Santa?" My answer, "Sort of." (Read: cop-out.) And then, "Santa only gets credit for stockings. I'm not giving him the glory for the American Girl dolls under the tree. Haha!" (Sigh.) Not even I'm convinced. And then I want to explain, but I'm not sure how to start so we usually just sort of grin and talk about the weather or some less confusing topic. And I walk away half pondering the question that I've been asked a thousand times, (Do we do Santa -- big fat question mark???), but I'm too busy with life to try to untangle the mess in my brain concerning the jolly ol' big guy so I carry on.

But, here's the deal friends - I'm getting off the boat. I just can't do it anymore. I can't skate through Christmas sort of doing something, totally unclear on why, but only because I haven't taken the time to come to a happy answer that would sit well with all of my Trask's, age 34, right down to 10 mos. I owe it to my kids to be more clear, to be more precise in my (in our) belief that the big guy in the red suit isn't better, or more appealing, (or more worthy of our adoration) than a baby in a manger who foresaw his barbaric violent death, thanks to our sin, and still said, yes. It's a hard sell to little ones, especially when the subject matter is so heavy, but I know we can do better, so we will work toward that end. Merry Christmas! Joy! Joy! :) I won't be mad if you stop reading.

I know there are a lot of ways to address this, and certainly every Christian in America varies to some degree on what's acceptable for their home and what's not, so please read this as a, "this is me, and not you" commentary, and please, for the love, don't think I will judge you for doing things differently than we do. Please don't do that. That sort of reaction makes me want to vomit. Okay? Please? I'm not saying we are right. I just can't shake the sickness in my own gut over what Christmas has become so this is my honest response.

So, last night as I'm washing dishes I blurted out, "We aren't doing Santa this year." 
My 7 and 8 year old in unison, "Whaaaat?!! Why?" 
(2-year-old and 10-month old couldn't care less.)
"Because he's not even real." (Slow down, Jenny Trask. Take it easy.) "Do you know who the real Santa was?" 
"Yes," they reply. (Josh told them that story a few years back.) They continue, "Santa's name was, St. Nicholas. He went around giving gifts to people."
"Right. So, there's a real Santa -- St. Nicholas -- and a fake Santa. It's fun pretending, but it's not why we celebrate Christmas."
"We know."
Indignation is rising. I know better than to continue, and anyway, busyness interrupts so that's the end of the conversation for now.

Here's the thing - I love tradition. I like regularity (kids do too). And I love the magical feeling that December brings, but it's all become a big tangly mess in my mind. I also really like doing fun things to make memories for our family to hold onto, and Christmastime is ripe with tradition, memory-making potential so it's fun trying to find traditions we love and ones we can carry on. This year we are scheduled to visit different countries (from home) to see how they celebrate Christmas. It's been fun so far, but guess what? Almost every country has some form of Santa Claus as part of their traditions. Religion too. But mostly some sneaky guy, creepy elf or freaky witch that comes in at night to leave something. This discovery has only stirred the pot of grossness in my guts. My fix? I boil it down to a few fun basic facts about a particular country's traditions, mostly historical, we eat fun food, and that's that. And then I realized that this is the same thing we've done in our own house. Focus on the cute parts, touch on history, eat, be merry and give gifts. I think we'll stay in America next year. Don't get me wrong, we do lots of things that celebrate Jesus, but then we throw Santa in the mix and with him comes a mess...especially since we have no chimney. :-)

This past weekend we visited Old Salem in NC, and learned how the Moravians celebrated Christmas. It was really interesting and fun. The Moravians had simple Christmas traditions, mostly because they had no money, but also because they believed in focusing on Jesus at Christmastime.  Elaborate nativity scenes were found in most every home and they were used to remind children, and everyone, that Christmas is truly a time of remembering Jesus. They also have a tradition of coming together to worship Jesus by singing over candlelight - their Christmas vigil.  The tradition began with children being given a burning candle made of beeswax which represents the purity of Jesus, and also symbolizes Him being the light of the world. The candle was wrapped with a colored band to help them remember Christ's birth, passion and wounds. As special as this history is, it felt significantly dumbed down by the town of Old Salem for the sake of commercialism and appealing to the masses. What has happened?

Christmas is losing it's magic. It's nostalgia is fading. I can't keep up and I feel like I'm suffocating. I need relief. We need Jesus.

Here's where we are headed -- 

Christmas tree - yes. I'm not getting into history here. We like the Christmas tree. It smells good. We do not worship it. It's not a paradise tree (garden of Eden reference) and when we look at it we don't think of it as being a source of redemption (Jesus hanging on a tree). We just like it. It's adorned with memories and warmth and it's not leaving.

Gifts & spending - Americans overindulge. Enough said. We're implementing this for our kids -- something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read, and something to give (all categories with a spending cap, of course), inspired by Jen Hatmaker. I'd also like to think more about giving experiences as opposed to cheap tee shirts or Black Friday Barbie dolls. (Ie. My kids will remember our trip to Old Salem better than they will remember almost every gift they will receive this year. Long after Barbie is headless, the memory of our trip to the Great Wolf Lodge will remain.) There's nothing like Christmas morning with kids. Nothing on earth. Our kids are extra blessed on Christmas morning only because we live across the country from our extended family so they have gifts from several families to open come December 25th. This is special, and we are so so so grateful, but they are not spoiled by us on Christmas. Finances won't allow it, and even if they did, I'm not sure Josh and I would allow it.

We will also continue to make gifts for teachers, friends and family when and where we can. This is fun, and oftentimes the end result is super awesome and usually something you might pay a good amount of money for, so it's a win-win.

Santa - Sorry, buddy. We will watch Polar Express and Elf because they're like any other good kids' movie -- pretend and sweet. We will also encourage our kids to hush about Santa being a big fat faker when they're at school. 
Pictures with Santa, fine. If we happen to encounter a friendly one who doesn't give me the heebie-jeebies or make our kids scream, and they want to get in on that hype, whatevs.
Mailing wish lists to Santa. Nah. It's just a set up to be let down, unless you're Donald Trump, and can (and will) buy everything on your sweet child's list. Note: Even if we could, we won't. This is the real world.
You can't have it all just for being the cutest kid on the planet. Real life doesn't work that way. Character doesn't come that way. Buying love like that is dangerous.
No more milk and cookies for Santa. Maybe we can make a special treat to leave for Daddy as a gift on Christmas Eve instead, to say thanks for providing for us all year? 
Stocking credit will now belong to us, or we might adopt my sister Andrea's idea and make them "sibling stockings," filled by each other, for each other. I like that idea a lot! 

Nativity scene - yes. We have a lovely one handmade by Josh's dad. It's precious.

Other traditions - 
* We will continue to read, The First Miracle by Jeffrey Archer on Christmas Eve Eve (we have plans with friends on Christmas Eve). 
* We will continue to pray on Christmas morning to thank Jesus for being born before a single gift is opened.
* We will write poems called, "Jesus, Because of You..." each year. No rules here. You can list words. Write sentences. Or be a rhyming machine. It will be fun to look back at our answers as the years pass by and the babies get bigger.
* We will read the Bible story of Christmas.
* We will attend Christmas functions.
* We will give to someone we don't know, in secret.
* We will bake and share our treats. We will craft. We will be merry.
* We will always love school craft Christmas presents made by our babies more than anything.
* We will probably only buy small, meaningful gifts for our extended family -- parents, nieces & nephews, and have a spending cap on our own kids' gifts.
* Josh and I rarely exchange gifts. This makes birthdays more special, and we can buy socks any old time of year. Seriously. 

Bottom line: We will simplify. We will remember Jesus. 

Kids are a bottomless pit of questions. 

Why do we get a Christmas tree at Christmas? Who were the first people to have Christmas trees? Do reindeer really fly? Jesus knew me before I was born? 

This blog is my conscious attempt at having some answers - having some black and whites where there've only been gray's. 

So, now when the question is asked, "Do you do Santa?" the answer will be, yes. We most definitely do. We try to give to the poor and sick in secret, just like he did. We try to protect the ones who are in danger of being abused, just like he did. We give without wanting. Just like St. Nicholas did, and just like Jesus wants us to do. 

Oh, you mean, do we try to get our kids to behave in December so that Santa will come? Go into huge amounts of debt so that Santa will be lifted up and glorified? No. Definitely not. If I can't get my kids to behave between my husband, Jesus and I, there's no way I'm handing the reigns over to some strange fat guy to do the job for me. No.way. Plus, I figure they'll end up in counseling eventually for being let down year after year, and never getting that one thing they asked Santa for, so we're really doing them a favor. 

We will make Christmas sparkle once again. It will be magical, and meaningful and special and joyful. It will. It will. I can feel it.

I believed in Santa when I was little. I don't think he ever disappointed me, but then again, fairy tales never disappoint, do they? Life does, however, but the disappointments are always trumped by the man I know as my King. He's the reason for the season. He's the encounter that matters to these kids He's put Josh and I in charge of. He gets Christmas. Period.