Sunday, November 30, 2008

How Christian Is YOUR Santa?

Perhaps one of the most hotly debated issues around Christmas is whether or not, as Christians, we're supposed to tell our children about Santa. You know as well as I do that this determines your worth as a parent.It's kind of like the whole Amy Grant situation. As the years pass, I can't remember if we're still supposed to be mad at her or not. To El Shaddai or not El Shaddai; that is the question. Same with Santa.

Once, in a women's group, I mentioned taking my kids to visit Saint Nick. As soon as I said it, one mom said, "We choose not to lie to our children. If we lie to them about Santa they'll think we're lying about Jesus. Then where would we be?" She made a good point. As my kids and I keyed her Mercedes later that day I couldn't help but wonder if my children would be scarred for life because of Santa Claus? Was I doing irreversible damage? I lost a good 20 minutes of sleep that night wondering...

That was 3 years ago. Today I have come to my senses. I know that not everyone will agree on the issue of Saint Nick, but we have to admit, he's here to stay. So if by chance you find yourself debating whether or not to take your kids to see Santa this season, you've come to the right place.

In order to help you distinguish Christian Santas from heathen ones I have devised the following points system. Before taking your child to see Father Christmas observe him according to the following scale. Add and subtract points according to your observations.

The Stacy From Louisville Christian Santa Assessment

Santa says, "Merry Christmas!" +4

Santa says, "Happy Holidays!" -2

There's a nativity set up beside Santa's chair. +3 points

There's a nativity set up beside the chair with a fiber optic reindeer as the focal point. -3 points

There's a baptistery every child must be dunked in before he can speak to Santa. +2 points

A kid nearly drowned in it because an elf took a cigarette break. -4 points

Santa has a tattoo of a cross. +1 point

Santa has a tattoo of himself. -2 points

Santa says, "Truth is, I'm not real. Not at all. But Jesus is real and He loves you!" +2 points

Santa wears a t-shirt that says, "My Boss Is A Jewish Carpenter". +2 points

Santa wears a t-shirt that says, "I like your cookies!" (I'm talking baked goods here people! Get your mind out of the gutter!) -2

On the back of his sleigh Santa has a big Christian fish and 8 smaller ones for each reindeer. +2 point

On the back of his sleigh Santa has a rusted out bumper and inappropriate mud flaps. -2 points

For Christmas Santa gives your son a polyester suit and a scholarship to Bible college. +4 points

For Christmas Santa gives your daughter an ankle-length skirt and an Mrs. Degree. -4 points

Santa smells like soft notes of sweet baby Jesus and candy cane. +3

Santa smells like Hickory Farms and cigarettes. -2

Santa just got back from a mission trip. +2

Santa just got out on a work permit. -3

So, how did your local Santa score? Perhaps you saw other questionable behavior. What guidelines would be deal breakers for you? Help me add to the list...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful Much?

(This post was written last night, Thanksgiving Eve.)

Praise be to the LORD,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.
Psalm 28: 6-7

While window shopping today I saw something I decided I just had to have. They were Christmas ornaments. $10 would purchase 2 of the collection of 15 ornaments. Sure, I've got tons of ornaments at home, but still. As I looked longer at the selection before me I became frustrated. Suddenly 2 ornaments didn't seem like enough. As I rifled through the selection anxiety crept up. How could I have them all if I only had $10? I wanted them all!

Though my experience in the store may seem trivial to you, it was not to me. We're talking about stupid ornaments, right? Still, something about it rocked my core, forcing me to ask myself: Am I thankful for what I already have?

For a split second, completely surrounded by sparkly this and plastic molded that, I stepped back from myself just far enough to hear the Holy Spirit. "When will it ever be enough?"

You know those moments in movies when the world spins and the character stands motionless amidst the confusion? That was me. With an ornament in each hand I realized there would always be more situations like this one. True, next time it might be a toy for my child, a book for my collection, or $4 coffee, but even then, what constitutes "enough"?

The cursor blinks, waiting for me answer that question. So here I go.

The truth is I don't look at what's around me as though it is a gift. Instead, I take many things - people, food, clothes, humor, relationships - even Christ - for granted. I live life assuming there's always something out there that can improve upon my current circumstance. I've bought into a lie that says "enough" is defined as "a little more than what I've got now".

This skewed perspective has perverted my thinking about what God has given me. These are a few areas of unthankfulness I've discovered:

I should be thankful God has given me a home to bless others. Instead, I see carpet that needs replaced and a couch with lumpy cushions.

The Lord has placed dozens of women around me every day. But I've been known to embrace loneliness instead. What's more, I've called it being thankful for time to myself.

Of course I have a car and it runs well. But the bumper's dented from an accident. It's embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as my attitude about it.

My husband is fantastic. But he won't mind if I ignore him while I catch up on e-mail, again. Or will he?

My Bible is forsaken for a novel. Then later that day I wonder why God seems so distant. And why I don't feel satisfied.

And this evening, I thought I had "extra" money. But if Jesus is Lord of my life, is that really my money in the first place? Instead of answering that question I contemplate 2 ornaments, frustrated because I can't have more.

I guess you could say I'm the girl in the corner with the glass half empty. I'd die of thirst before realizing there's water right in front of me. Being less than thankful can do that.

As I put the ornaments down, He drew me back to see so much more than the display. Very clearly I saw this truth: I need nothing. Until I am thankful for every stick of furniture, every shirt I wear, every food I eat, every relationship that crosses my path - until then, I don't need another distraction. All I need is Him. For me this will be a discipline of thankfulness and self control; to listen to God and say "no" and ignore a world screams "MORE!"

Maybe reading this isn't what you expected for Thanksgiving. It wasn't what I expected! Yet it was just what I needed. For that, I am more thankful than I can say.

What about you? What are you thankful for today? What's gone under the radar that deserves an attitude of praise, starting today?

Come join me today at Stuff Christians Like!

Need a little sugar? How about The Jelly Bellies of Christendom? Come on over for a free sample!

And look what Erin made! This is fantastic! Erin, I heart you!

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Search of Christmas Ideas!

I'm ready to deck the halls with some sarcasm, aren't you? But in order to serve it up properly I need your ideas. What topics would you like to see me write about in December? Don't be shy! Leave your blog fodder here.

And, by the way, guess who's taking the reigns at SCL tomorrow? I'll meet you there, and here. Two places at once, it can be done!

Stuff Stacy Likes for Christmas - What do you like?

(All links are now in working order thanks to Dan, my tech savvy husband. And no. You can't have him for Christmas. Don't ask.)

On Friday, November 28 all of hades will unleash it's occupants. They will assemble at places like Wal-Mart and Target with crazed looks in their eyes. No matter the temperature they will line up at the doors at 3 a.m. If you think their breath is showing just because it is 5 degrees below zero, think again. It's the smoke and sulfur from the bowels of hell coming up from their lungs. And when the store opens it's doors the onslaught of demon-possessed, WWF educated individuals will push, shove, trample, and swear their way through the first official day of the Christmas shopping season. I am, of course, talking about the day after Thanksgiving.

I must admit, there's a rush that comes with all the insanity. That's why this year my daughter and I are hitting Berean Christian Stores at 7 a.m. for Webkinz for a penny. I just explained the whole concept to her. "You're going to sleep in sweats and at 5:45 I'm going to come get you out of bed. It will still be dark and kind of in the middle of the night. I'll buy you hot chocolate at Starbucks. Even if it's so cold you want to cry we're lining up outside the door as soon as we get there. You may hate it but if you want one you're coming with me. UNDERSTAND?" Perhaps this is a bit extreme. Aren't we talking about a Christian book store? Well, I ask you this: Have you ever seen an angry Christian? I know that's difficult to imagine, but think hard. The only difference between an angry Christian and an angry non-believer on the day after Thanksgiving is asking for forgiveness after swearing for jumping in line. You know it's true. (Probably because you and I shared choice words in the Kohl's sweater department Christmas of '06. I want you to know my daughter loves that snow globe I yanked out of your cart. And yes, it was worth it. Please forgive me.)

So, in my effort to keep you away from my Berean Webkinz sale, I have assembled a list of some of my favorite Christmas gifts. Most are available on-line so I'll give you a link whenever I can.

Stuff Stacy Likes For Christmas 2008

Toby Mac - Alive And Transported
This live CD/DVD combo are everything you love about Toby Mac and more. If you've never seen Toby Mac live he's amazing. The CD and DVD capture the essence of his music and ministry - it's electric and passionate. My personal favorites are "Lose My Soul" (with American Idol's Mandisa), "Gone","Irene" and some old school "In The Light" and "Jesus Freak". Seriously excellent. Also available in an MP3 download. ..."I say 'Diverse', ya'll say 'City'!"....

Electronic Wireless High Frequency Key Finder
I could lose my keys in the ignition. My husband would say the solution is to be more dedicated to putting things away. Well, I love him, but we all know that's not gonna happen. Four different color coded receivers will beep when the main remote's coordinating button is pushed. A loud beep from 60-80 feet penetrates walls, couch cushions, toy boxes, etc. 2 receivers are key chains, 2 are flat for say, a wallet, or to attach to the TV remote. Or your 12 month old when he learns to walk. I do not own this but I am asking for it this year. It's worth $40 to not be late because I can't find my keys. Or my computer monitor. I HATE when that happens.

MyPublisher PhotoBook (This will take you to their site for a buy one, get one free book!)
THIS is the gift that everyone will love! I have done two books - a trip to Disney World (400+ pictures plus narrative text) and a trip to Florida (about 70 photos with captions only) - and given them away. Such quality! The photo clarity and professional binding are exceptional. Be as creative or as minimal in design as you like. The programs are easy to follow, worth your time and fun. So reasonably priced, too. You'll want to do one every year. This is my favorite gift on the list. Here's a page from my Disney book.

Shoebox Greatest Hits & Misses
If you like sarcastic, hysterical, "I can't believe you just said that" humor, this is the book for you! The coffee table book is 229 pages of Shoebox greeting cards. They are insanely funny! The format is very relaxed, the illustrations come from the actual cards, and the writers of the cards make funny notes about the creative process. But the best thing about this book is sharing it. When I purchased it 2 years ago I started getting it out when friends came over, with the condition they had to sign their name below the their favorites. This is great for a group of girlfriends. Can be found on-line and in Hallmark Stores.

We all know Christmas gifts come and go. Here's one that will make a lasting Kingdom difference. World Vision has a spectacular Christmas gift giving program. For nearly any price range (there are gifts less than $30) you can purchase a gift for a needy family in the world. Then, World Vision will send you a card to give to the recipient, for example, "In your name, 2 chickens were given to a poverty stricken family in Haiti. These chickens will provide nutrition and income through egg production..." Gift options include clothing, animals, emergency supplies, seeds, farming tools and education... Through the link you can have the gift catalogue sent to your home. What a way to get little ones involved.

Of course, none of these gifts may be to suit your taste. If that's the case, there's always every one's favorite holiday movie. So good luck with that.

What gifts do you suggest for Christmas? What's missing from my list? Name them and leave a link if possible.

(Special thanks to my friend, Stacey!)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SFL's Egg Noggy, Super Bloggy Christmas Picture

Well bless my heart it's time to celebrate Christmas here at Stacy From Louisville! (infer giddy, girly clapping and shrieking) Don't you just feel all sugar plumy and egg noggy thinking about it? In little more than a month all of Christendom will celebrate the birth of Christ, even though He wasn't born on December 25th. But we won't let that stop us, will we? That's right, obscured facts never stopped us before so why should Christmas time be any different? And I love that I get to celebrate it with you. It makes me want to roast chestnuts in your general direction.

Since you're the world's best blog audience I'd like to play a fun game today. I made you something special and here it is.

Caption This Photo:

There's so much to work with here, the only limits are your own creativity. Like I always say, the more ridiculous the better. And if you put a thick layer of God sauce on it, well,...that would be a Christmas miracle. (Or, perhaps a Festivus for the Rest of Us?)

Oh, dear readers. What a Christmas season this will be!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missions, Bible College Style

In Bible College I had to memorize, in order, every city in all of Paul's missionary journeys. At the time it seemed like an insanely pointless amount of information. Thus, I chose to boycott. So much so that when it came time to take the test I scored a mere 67%. With that I think I schooled that professor, don't you?

(In all fairness, I now see the error in my thinking. I was a junior year youth ministry major. It wasn't until my senior year that I discovered that teenage substance abuse directly correlates to Paul's missionary voyage to Macedonia. Who knew?)

Speaking of missions, my junior year I signed up to take a class called Cross Cultural Communication. The professor teaching this course was stellar. He was a cultural anthropologist, an expert in Hebrew culture, and a contributor to the footnotes of the NIV Study Bible. He was one of those professors who could rock a tweed blazer and smelled like a cross between Greek mythology and black coffee. He was cool. Unfortunately, when that semester rolled around, he was called away to the Holy Land to unearth something amazing. Much to my chagrin I got to unearth something equally amazing: his craptastic replacement, Professor Laffy Taffy.

He was not an anthropologist. He was not an expert on culture. But he did have missions experience: one month in England in the mid 80s. That's right, my friends. Laffy. Taffy.

He began his first lecture by laying the foundation for over seas missions: "clothing the natives." (his words, not mine) He was convinced that no matter what a person's culture dictated, no one could accept Jesus without being dressed. Especially women. He called it offensive and disrespectful to God.

As one class bled into another (and I say "bled" as in slow and painful torture) this lecture became a regular touch point for him. My toes curled every time. The text we were reading for the course opposed such philosophy, but I'm not sure he read the text. Or could. (Okay. That's bad and I apologize in advance.)

About three-quarters of the way through the semester we had a guest speaker. He was a lifelong missionary to a secluded people group in Africa. He was now retired and came to share his life story. He described, in vivid detail, medical missions and Bible translation. His story was fascinating. He ended by opening floor to our questions.

I raised my hand. (Like I need to tell you where this is going...) Though the details are sketchy, here's what I asked: "Given your career as a missionary I'm hoping you could shed light on an issue for me. When sharing the love of Christ with unreached people groups is it necessary that the women cover their nakedness in order to accept the Gospel?"

He grinned and related the following story.

When he and his wife first began their ministry in Africa a large portion of their financial support came from one particular church. He frequently sent that congregation letters to update them on how his work was progressing. On one occasion he sent several photos. The women of the church were horrified to see the women of that tribe were naked from the waist up. In response to the ungodly, offensive nature of the native women the church banned together to collect t-shirts for each one. The shirts were then sent to the missionary - as a surprise - for those impoverished women.

Several weeks later the missionary sent another letter to the church. In it he enclosed a photo. He relayed that the women were overjoyed with the colorful t-shirts. So much so, they CUT SPECIAL HOLES IN THEM SO THEY COULD WEAR THEM AND STILL FEED THEIR CHILDREN. The picture showed a large group of smiling African women wearing new t-shirts - with the front cut out.

Then he said: "Ironically enough, many of these women went on to accept Christ, with or without their new t-shirts."

I graduated over 10 years ago from Bible college. Those 4 years cost me about $30,000. Every time I get to tell this story I think it's worth every penny.

So what about you? What kind of shirt are you wearing today??

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Real Men of Jesus, Part II

I read all your comments. Today this one struck me.

According to Rick the Rick the Polonian:
They need one for "Mr. We are Best Friends Though We Haven't Met Let Me Give You a Supermassive Bear Hug Church Greeter Guy"

This one if from another church. Here you go...

Mr. Hand Out The Bulletins And Say Good Morning to People Guy

Real Men Of Jesus

Ladies, still looking for that perfect guy who loves the Lord? Have you compromised your standards only to find yourself brokenhearted? Do you sit home alone on Saturday nights, eating brownies and cheese curls, watching Titanic for the 57th time? ("I'll never let go Jack!")

Guys, have you reached a plateau spiritually? Tired of Scary Elder pushing you into a corner or the janitor refusing to Pledge the pulpit to a lovely sheen? Looking for the extra somethin'-somethin' to give your ministry an edge?

Well, you're both in luck. Here at Stacy From Louisville I feel your pain. That is exactly why I have dedicated the last 24 minutes of my undivided time to bring slave to your wounds.

Because I've got nothin' but love for you I have expertly cut and pasted a remedy. Girls, THIS is the guy for you. And guys, THIS is what you aspire to be. No compromise, no wimping out.

What you are about to see will solve your problems, or your money back. That's right: OR YOUR MONEY BACK!* I'm not here to make money, people. I'm here to spread Holy Spirit sunshine. So turn up your speakers. Lean in close to the monitor and wait for God to speak. These. Are. Real men of Jesus.

*If not completely satisfied click here and file your complaint. Individual results will vary greatly. Application subject to interpretation. 1 in 1000 may experience adverse affects including itching, tingling, and spontaneous visions of blinking sequin holiday sweaters.

Mr. Really Really Really Long Prayer "At least God's still listening..."

Mr. Over-Emotional Worship Leader "Epileptic Seizure!"

Mr. Ultimate Ultimate Frisbee Guy "Sorry about your head wound..."

NOTE: Michael, a regular reader of SCL and SFL, is the genius behind these videos. Folks, we're in the presence of greatness!! Thanks Michael!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Falling Headlong

I love a good motorcycle ride, probably because it gives me a false sense of my own awesomeness. Every time Dan & I get on a Hog (that's right, I'm down with the lingo) I can't help but think, "Hey you nerdy Dodge drivers. I'm on a Harley. Be scared of me. Maybe I have a tattoo and belong to a biker gang, you just don't know. I might even throw ball bearings into your wood-veneered mini van." And so it goes until we hit a small bump and I cry for my mother.

One particular evening several years ago my husband and I rode over The Skyway Bridge (pictured here) on the Harley. The view from the top was spectacular - clear sky, deep blue water sparkling in the sunlight. On the Harley it was so much easier to take it all in - the wind on my face, the smell of the salt air, the rush of the 190 ft. ascent to the top of the bridge. The sense of freedom was unparalleled. Yet later that day, when it was time to return from our excursion, the bridge was not so welcoming. The heavy darkness of night, mingled with the raw, lashing wind and fatigue of the day, were hateful companions. As we started the bridge's ascent I was terrified.The gusts were so intense I literally huddled behind my husband to avoid their razored edge. Dan felt their lashing, too. When he yelled, "DO. NOT. MOVE." I instantly froze. We both knew the winds of the bridge were enough to lay down the bike and seriously injure us both.

It was a reality check. How could it be that something I loved so much had turned into something so dangerous? All the freedom was replaced with serious danger, that if ignored, could have killed us. The change of perspective was staggering.

Our walk with Christ can be like this. On some occasions He chooses to protect us from the harsh slaps of life. In His infinite wisdom He knows which battles we simply can't survive and so He provides a way of escape. We enjoy life unaware of the pain we've been spared. We live free.

But there are other times. Days, weeks, or months pocked by pain, disappointment, loss, loneliness, doubt, fatigue. It plays out many different ways...

The child you love walks a prodigal's path.
You were aiming for a promotion but got a pink slip instead.
There's a miscarriage.
You live in loneliness is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Test results come back from the doctor. It's worse than you imagined.
God is silent when the rest of the world is screaming.

None of us is a stranger to injury. In those times we lay in bed at night, tears soaking a pillow beneath us as we look up at the blank ceiling. Wishing He would usher us away from our reality our lips mouth the word, "Why?" The stabbing from the enemy is all too real, but for some reason He deems us strong enough to stand and fight. And we may never know why, which makes it even harder to swallow.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of suffering - and trust me, I've had my share - there's something to be learned. In my life, when pain has reared it's ugly head I have so often prayed, "Jesus, just help me get through this." Over the years I must have prayed that countless times.

But then I stopped.

In a suffering moment, when I was dealing with a chronic pain diagnosis and some depression, truth zapped me like lightening from the sky. By praying, "God, just get me through this..." I was limiting Him. In essence I was saying, "All I want from you today Lord is just enough to get by."

I had to ask myself, "Is that really all I want from God?"

Or in times of suffering is it possible to take advantage of God's closeness and fall head-long into Him? Maybe when He wasn't giving me peace, He gives me Himself instead, thicker and richer and almost tangible. Maybe He isn't far away at all, even if the answers to my questions seemed unreachable.

Am I suggesting a change of perspective is a cure all? That all the loneliness or pain will disappear if we ignore it? No, not at all. What I am saying is, at least for me, I can throw myself into my pain and make it my god or I can run headlong into Jesus Christ and saturate myself in Him, banking on the fact that He'll teach me in my circumstance, even though He may not take it away.

The reality is, with Dan and I riding the Harley, we could have wrecked the bike for thousands of reasons when we rode that day. There didn't have to be a bridge involved, but there was and not ascending the bridge wasn't an option. To make it to the other side alive I had to swallow my fear, sit tight in spite of it, and ride it out. We had no choice but to throw ourselves into it. Would I do it again? Probably not. But I did it once and now I have a story to tell. I think that's worth something.

The circumstances I find myself in every day - my grandma's illness, dealing with physical pain or fatigue, my mom rejecting Christ - are painful, to varying degrees. But for now, those circumstances will not change, they are what they are. But if I can fall headlong into Him again and again, I can cry and know there's comfort. I can ache and know He's healing, though maybe not physically. I know that I know Him and rest in Him, even if it means ascending another dark, lashing hill.

And one more thing: I can write these words to you with a clear conscious and a firm resolve. And a heart full of praise.

But that's me. What about you? Can you throw yourself into Him today? Let's tell each other how we're going to do this.

OK, I'll go first. Today I'm going to read 27 out loud. And I'm going to serve Christ by serving my son, instead of myself. Whether I feel like it or not.

What are you going to do today to throw yourself into Him? Maybe this will give you some ideas as you prepare to leave your comment below...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Come Join Me On Facebook!

Will you take me back??

Hey SFL readers! I've been gone tending to family matters. And while my grandmother is only marginally improved, I've decided to hit the ground running. That's right, I'm firing up the jets for Stacy From Louisville - and just in time for the holiday season! So break out your sequin holiday sweaters because the shenanigans are about to commence. In all seriousness, I have missed you a great deal! I hope you're still out there...

In the meantime, I'm on Facebook: Stacy A. Small

It was only a matter of time, you know. I've already been stomping all over Jon's wall like I own the place, but that doesn't surprise you, does it? I'm always thinking up new status updates that are crackpot wacky but without all of you it's pointless. Please join me soon!

And spread the word. In the blog world - Stacy's back!!!!

Again, will you take me back? I've missed you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Life In A Nutshell

First, a thank you.

When I posted that there was a family crisis I was blown away by the number of you who committed to pray for me and my family. Your support is more valuable than I can say. When pain washed over me in the past few days I was able to read your comments and steady myself. Thank you so much!

Now, an update.

This is my life in a nutshell.

My grandmother is in a rehabilitation facility. That's Medicare speak for "crappy holding tank until they can decide what to do next". A doctor contacted my parents today to inform them that my grandmother's condition is, "Very serious." Then he went on to tell them, via answering machine message, he couldn't remember my grandma's name and he hoped he was leaving a message with the correct family. Nonetheless, the doctor's right.

So I kind of feel like toast.

Though the earthly prognosis isn't good, the eternal one falls in our favor. So that's where I'm resting for now.

So again, I thank you for your prayers. And I look forward to getting SFL up and running again. We've got ourselves a crazy community going on and I sure would miss you if you weren't around!!

Thankful for you,