Scary Ghost Stories and Tales of the Glories

campfire-tales

“An English tradition for hundreds of years was telling stories in front of the winter fire. They did this especially around the Winter Solstice which falls a few days before Christmas. I’ve said for years the winter solstice is my least favorite day of the year. It has the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night.

Imagine what it was like for someone 500 years ago, wondering if this was the year the night finally won over the day and the days kept getting shorter and shorter until it was night 24 hours a day. No wonder they huddled around the fire for warmth and no wonder the only stories they could think to tell had ghosts in them.”

via Season brings out the ghost stories! – Books by Eric Douglas.

Loren Eaton’s annual 100 Word Storytelling is just around the corner . . .

There Will Be a Door

My daughter is a smart three-and-a-half year old.  I have never said anything to her about Jesus.

This may be shocking to some people, but for me I knew there would be a “right” or best time, and that time had not come before last night.

Truth be told, I don’t speak much to her about God either.  It’s not that I don’t want her to have a rich spiritual life, in fact it’s exactly the opposite.  I know this child, and she is a scientist.  She wants to know how, and why, and what the measurements and evidence are.  I love that about her, and I try to do everything in my power to encourage this way of thinking.

For her right now, trying to explain Jesus is too much like making it a fairy tale.  Which, let’s be fair, in many ways it is like a fairy tale.  But I believe(d) one can only begin to hold the concept of the limitations of human expression in the midst of divine truth after much personal experience over many years.  Even then, the holding is delicate, and easily slips through your fingers.  I can’t even fathom going down the road of, “See that sweet baby? He’s the son of God, He loves all people, he was tortured to death as a criminal. Oh, and he rose from the dead. ‘Night, sweetie…..”

Not. Gonna. Happen.  I just kept telling myself, when the time is right, the door will open, and we will walk through it.

Enter my man, Ezra Jack Keats.

We have the classic book illustrated by Keats The Little Drummer Boy checked out from the library this week.  I’ve been reading/singing it to my child every night for three nights.  As soon as it is over she asks to hear it one more time, so we often have at least two consecutive readings before bed.

Last night, as did so many desperate parents, my husband reached for whatever he thought would work. He said to our bed-bouncing top-of-lungs yelping young’un, “Be quiet, sweetie.  The baby Jesus is trying to sleep.”

Without missing a bounce she laughed and said, “Daddy, that’s silly. The baby Jesus lived a long time ago.  He’s not alive any more. He’s like the dinosaurs.”

I can take a hint.

I took a deep breath, because this is one thing I really didn’t want to screw up. Sex, death, and God need to be as close to right as you can get them.

“Well,” I said, “That’s not exactly true.”

She looked at me seriously. I could tell I was supposed to go on.

I opened The Little Drummer Boy.  “Do you see those kings in the story, the grown ups with crowns and money and fancy presents? Doesn’t it seem a little strange that they are going all that way to give a baby those things?”  She acknowledged it was a little strange.

“Some people believe that baby Jesus was God’s way of coming to live with us on Earth. The kings believed that God sent Jesus. They weren’t just going to see a baby, they believed they were going to honor and welcome a part of God to our world.”

Total attention now.

“See how the baby appreciates the little boy the most? That’s how momma and daddy see  God. We believe God loves all people, and that bringing your truest self as a gift is the best thing you can do.”

She’s still listening to me.  I decide to go for it.  I may never get another chance.

“Momma believes Jesus is still alive. Sometimes I talk to him. (She didn’t laugh at me.)  What would you give baby Jesus as a gift do you think?”

With only a slight pause she says with great confidence, “I would give him a dragon kiss!”

I think I must have gotten something right.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

Call and Answer

On an icy night this week I pulled into my driveway, exhausted, with an angry toddler in the backseat.  My child was what my brother-in-law calls “strippin’ mad” — that state of fury where very young children just start tearing off their clothes, throwing things, and running.

As I sat in the front seat trying to compose my own tumultuous mind, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the shape of my husband hurrying down the sidewalk to help.  I almost wept with relief.

He quickly opened the back seat and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got her.”  “OK,” I said, “But be careful, she doesn’t have any shoes on.  You can’t put her down.”  He gave me a curious look and said, “I see.  It’s fine.  Come in the house.”

I gathered my last-minute shopping bags, purse, diaper bag, and what was left of my sanity and struggled out of the car and up the snowy walk behind my family.

It was then that I saw the footprints.

Merry Christmas to all, and may each of you find and offer selfless love, this season and throughout the year.

What Child is This?

Christmas Eve is only hours away.  There are so many joys to celebrate, and so many blessings to treasure, and yet the world reminds us in ways loud and quiet that life is also fraught with suffering and loss.

A man died, frozen to death, under a bridge in my hometown this week.  His body was discovered several days after he died, covered in frost.  His name was Robert Hissom.  I didn’t know him, and the circumstances of his death suggest it had been a long time since anyone knew him.

This post is not about analysis or solutions, it is simply a recognition that this man was once someone’s baby.  Somewhere things went horribly wrong for Robert.  Some people say he was probably mentally ill, that he was an addict, an alcoholic, a “loser.”  These things are either speculation or opinion at this point; regardless, they have nothing to do with the sadness that comes over the heart and mind at his lonely death.  What is certain is that he was once a little boy who played, and went to school, and had friends, and had dreams.  He wanted to be loved, and protected, and to grow up to have a great life.

The happiness associated with Christmas is tempered with the understanding that the babe faces a solitary and agonizing death.  If Robert’s story speaks to you in any way, please consider one more gift commitment this holiday season.  In Charleston, West Virginia, I recommend contacting Covenant House to find out how money, advocacy, time, and donations of food or clothing can help someone in trouble.  If you live elsewhere, please contact the nonprofit in your community that works to address chronic homelessness.

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Image credit: Social Exclusion Housing

 

 

 

Santa Claus: or, There and Back Again

Before I became a parent, I was sure of one thing:  No elaborate lies about this guy named Santa Claus.  I generally “believed” myself as a child, but I don’t remember my parents telling me he was real.  I had presents under the tree “from Santa” and enjoyed all of the traditions and stories about the North Pole, reindeer, etc.; but Christmas was about spiritual matters and the other stuff was just fairy tale fun.

This Christmas my daughter is 2 1/2 years old.  She is prime time for the jolly old elf, and I saw on her face something I never expected.  A few times when I started to explain that it is all just tradition and a fun story, she gave me a look that I can only describe as please don’t take this away from me.  In that instant I realized this period of magical thinking is truly brief, and while I had no interest in some elaborate ruse for myself, she was interested.

Conundrum.

I have known too many people who complain bitterly about being tricked about Santa Claus.  They use words like tricked, lied to, fooled,  and deceived.  They say things like, “I realized I could never trust my parents again.”  That, my friends, is serious business.  I don’t think there is any sure way to know if one’s child will end up feeling this way if you lead them along the merry path.  All I knew, or thought I knew, was that I was not about to risk it.  I mean for heaven’s sake, I need my credibility there for things like sex, God, and paper or plastic.  I can’t be burning it up over some fool elf.

But like I said………there was that face.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t real, and I found myself enjoying the game in spite of myself.  The look on her face when she saw Santa soliciting donations for a children’s charity in town was incredible.  She was just speechless in his presence, but couldn’t stop talking about him at home.  She talked about the elves, the workshops, the North Pole, the flying reindeer, all of it.  Where it started to change was when she processed the stories about “keeping a list.”

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Santa Claus without getting into the lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.  The worst are picture books that show him keeping lists of names of “the good little girls and boys.”  My child’s face would cloud over and she looked very unhappy.  Truly, she should have nothing to worry about.  She’s a well-behaved kid.  But I knew she definitely did not like this part of the story.

One evening as she was falling asleep I heard her say, “Santa will be upset with me.  Santa is going to be upset.”  I assured her Santa was just fine with her, that he didn’t get upset with anyone, that it was all good.  But the next episode sealed the deal for me.  As we were talking about Santa in general and the fact that Christmas is coming, she cut her eyes away from me and said flatly, “I don’t love him.”

My girl is one of the most loving children I’ve ever known.  This was a red alert that the big man had to be kicked to the curb.  After talking it over with her father, I told my daughter, “You know, Santa Claus is just a character in a story that people like to tell this time of year.  It’s for fun.  It’s all about magic, and giving, and imagination.”  She looked at me with wide eyes.  I went for it.  “He’s not real.  He’s made up.  Momma and Daddy are real.  We love you.  You never have to worry about Santa, he’s just pretend and for fun.  If it’s not fun, we can just not talk about him.”

That child’s face lit up like a you know what.  She smiled a beautiful smile and hugged me with all her might.

What can I say?  If it works, it works.  If it doesn’t, it’s truly no loss.  Yesterday we lost a fat guy in a suit we were going to lose eventually anyway, and we kept a tighter grip on unconditional love.  That is for real.

Image credit: Norman Rockwell