My Favorite Christmas Tradition

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The following post originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Church of God Evangel in a segment called “Viewpoints.” The prompt was to talk about a Christmas experience that has made a lasting impact on my life. For the sake of clarity and consistency, below is the edited version as it appears in the original publication.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1, 4-5, NIV

I love the way John tells the Christmas story. Sure, it’s missing the angels and shepherds and star, but John’s version gives us so much more, in a way.

The miraculous birth of Christ is an amazing story, but what is even more amazing is that it began long before that night in Bethlehem. It began long before the angel visited Mary, before Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, even before Adam and Eve.

“In the beginning,” John tells us, before anything else existed, there was Light. Not the physical kind that was created on the first day, but a metaphysical kind, “the light of all mankind,” which allows us to see not just what is in front of us, but to see God himself.

In the beginning, God had a plan to reveal himself to humanity through the Light. On that first Christmas, the Light entered our darkness in the form of a baby boy. As The Message puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (v.14). Christ came to us, waded deep into our mess, and brought us hope we never could have found on our own. That’s what Christmas is to me – light and hope where there was none before.

That’s also my favorite way to celebrate Christmas: bringing light and hope where there was none before. This year I will share my fifth Christmas reaching out to women in the adult entertainment industry. It’s not the only time I visit them; my friends and I take gifts and treats on every major holiday and several times in between, sharing love and friendship with those often hurt or ignored by the church.

I believe if Jesus were walking around our “neighborhood” in 2016, he would be leading the way through those doors to reach the people who don’t feel wanted, worthy, or good enough to approach him.

When I think about the darkness in our world, there aren’t many things that come to mind so quickly as the sex industry. Every day across the globe, millions of women, men, and children are sold for sex or adult entertainment, either by a pimp, trafficker, or – like many of my friends – by their own choice. The spiritual darkness is even darker than the literal dimness of the clubs I walk into, and it can feel overwhelming. In those moments I turn to John 1, where I am assured the light of Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (v. 5, NLT).

Christmas is my favorite time to visit my friends, because as we carry that light into the darkness of the sex industry, I picture Jesus entering our dark world, illuminating truth and hope for all.

Peace on Earth (and in Your Home) – Navigating the Tension through the Holidays

This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on November 23, 2016.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

There is nothing that brings my heart more joy than being with family. My husband and I are extremely blessed to have four wonderful children together, and the majority of our immediate family live locally or just a short drive away. While we get to enjoy family time fairly regularly, I always look forward to Thanksgiving, when we travel to visit my extended family. The holidays are that special time for many people to meet up with loved ones they rarely see and reminisce, bond, and make memories together.

Then 2016.

Guys, let’s be real. This year has been tough on everyone. The last few years have brought to light many social and political issues facing our nation, and all that building tension climaxed this year with possibly the most divisive election cycle in American history. While some people like to keep their circles small and unified in beliefs, I count myself lucky to belong to a large, diverse family holding many different opinions and convictions. The one thing that unites us — and probably how you can tell we’re related — is our passion and stubbornness when it comes to what we believe. 

While I’m pretty sure my family’s Thanksgiving celebration will not include any punches being thrown (fingers crossed, y’all!), you might not have the same confidence for your own holiday gathering. If you are one of the many people worried about facing family with whom you disagree politically this holiday season, remember these pointers to make sure your get-togethers go smoothly, and maybe one day you can even look back on this year and laugh. Or you can just survive until January; I mean whatever you gotta do, bruh.

  1. Go with a plan. And the plan is, let’s just not.

To continue reading, view the full post on the Knoxville Moms Blog. Happy holidays, and remember that family is worth not fighting for. ūüėČ

And Suddenly, It’s Christmas

This year I’ve heard a lot of people talking and posting on social media about our culture’s tendency to skip Thanksgiving celebrations and go right from Halloween to Christmas. Status rants and funny memes are filling my Facebook feed; here’s one of my favorites:

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I get it; we are such an over-marketed consumer-culture that we rush from candy to mistletoe so quickly without ever taking time to slow down and be¬†thankful. Last weekend my friend saw Santa at the mall and requested those who think this is okay to please unfriend him on Facebook. I did not heed his instruction, but I have to ask… Is it really all that bad?

Is rushing from Halloween to Christmas really rushing anything at all?

I’ve already told you that I’m not really big on “celebrating” Halloween, but I do love me some Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite times to visit my friends on the margins, to sit down and enjoy a meal with children of God who have been rejected by the Church. In a setting where we are often pushed to move from place to place, Thanksgiving is a time to savor the people and relationships that I value so highly.¬†Thanksgiving is also the one time of year I travel to West Tennessee to visit my extended family, and it is my absolute favorite two days of the whole year. I adore my clans, I adore their food, and I cherish the memories I have of growing up together and the memories my children are creating. It is truly a time for me to be thankful.¬†I absolutely, in no way whatsoever,¬†ever¬†want to gloss over Thanksgiving.

However, I have to admit coming home at the end of November feels like being thrust onto the starting line of a race as the gunshot fires, and I don’t even have my shoes laced up. In fact, I’d rather be home in my pajamas and robe cuddled up by a fire watching the race on TV. Because waiting until 4 weeks before Christmas to even begin preparing for the season of giving and light seems like a much more detrimental kind of¬†rush. Office parties and teacher gifts and church plays and soup kitchens and holiday baking and gift exchanging and decking the halls and falalalaaaaahhhh it’s exhausting!!

If there is such concern for rushing holidays, it seems like we should be happy to ease into Christmas, extending the joy of the season to eight wonderful weeks of sharing goodwill and cheer. Stretching out the season minimizes the stress of shopping and gives us the gift of time – time to shop, time to help, time to celebrate, time to remember… Rather than¬†rushing the Christmas season through a marathon month of¬†doing all of the things, let’s go ahead and rush from October into full-on holiday mode. Let’s dive right into the beauty of everything that Christmas means.

Is there ever a bad time to plan ways to bless those that we love? To bake with our kids and share hope with the hurting? Is it ever too soon to sing songs celebrating the birth of our Savior or to put lights on our houses reminding us of the Light of the World? When “should” we start building fires and filling our homes with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg? Is November too early to marvel at the ridiculous miracle of the Messiah being born in a stable? That God Incarnate put on human flesh and entered both our literal and spiritual mess in his mission to redeem mankind? Is there ever a bad time for that?

I don’t think so. Because Christmas should always be in our hearts – the love, hope, family, peace, joy and light that makes this season “the most wonderful time of the year” is the same that fills our spirits every day that we serve Jesus Christ. So go ahead – trim those trees, hang your stockings, and fill that shoebox with gifts of love. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

WWJD? Halloween Edition

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It seems like every October there is this strange tension in the church. While the rest of the world is out stretching cobwebs across their doorways and setting skeletons in their porch swings, folks inside the 4 walls of the church are tiptoeing around trying to avoid the obvious elephant in the room: Halloween. We try to pretend like it’s not an issue, scheduling our Harvest Festivals the week of the 31st – but maybe not on that day so as not to promote the holiday – half joking about our family friendly costumes of super heroes or princesses¬†for the “Boo at the Zoo” party while ignoring the door-to-door visitors that might be coming Halloween night. We ride this imaginary fence of whether or not to participate, all the while missing the forest for the trees.

This year I learned how to celebrate Halloween like Jesus would.

I have never been one to make much ado about Halloween.¬†My kids have a huge collection of costumes that they wear all the time, so Halloween is just the day that everyone else joins their party. Plus the candy, of course, or the Frankenstein-themed notepads and plastic spider rings from those teal pumpkin’ed houses. A few simply-carved gourds is the most decorating we do for the occasion, and this year we even skipped that due to a severe reasonably-priced-pumpkin shortage when we procrastinated until the last minute. I hold no ill will toward others who go all out; I simply don’t have the disposable income or off-season storage to devote toward such items.

Growing up, my church always had a “Hallelujah Hoedown” (laugh all you want; this is East Tennessee) in place of Halloween celebrations, and by the time my parents wrapped their heads around us trick-or-treating, my brothers and I were in middle school and not terribly interested anymore. For the last decade of my adult life, I have spent nearly every Halloween at church, where we hosted a Trunk or Treat event, a “safe alternative” to walking door to door at strangers’ houses. I value that this particular church was open to the community, and while our church-sponsored trunks were always “family friendly,” no one batted an eye when community members showed up dressed as zombies or demons or scantily-clad nurses or whatever other non-churchy costumes were presented. (Okay, well, maybe my husband batted his eyes in the other direction of scantily-clad nurses, but it wasn’t a judgmental sort of way.)

This year we are serving at a new church, one whose Fall Festival was held on Wednesday night before Halloween. Our neighbor across the street is festive for every occasion, and she rang my doorbell¬†last week bringing special treats for my kids. “I know you are always at church on Halloween,” she said, “so here’s something special since the kids won’t be coming to my house.”

“Actually, we’re not doing anything on the 31st,” I replied, much to her surprise, “so we will plan to come by and show off our costumes!”

Her excitement at my news should have clued me in that¬†there was something special about this day in our neighborhood, but I have to admit it didn’t. I was actually a little disappointed that our church wasn’t having an outreach event on Halloween night, as I had grown so accustomed to this tradition being a blessing in our previous context. This year, however, we got to try something new.

Halloween night came around, and I honestly considered skipping the trick or treating. We had already been to our church Fall Festival on Wednesday, our new church campus’ Fall Festival on Thursday, and a local Freaky Friday event in the park, so we had enough candy to feed the whole neighborhood. But I already told our neighbor we would come by in costume, so off we went. As we walked down our street I realized something that made my heart sink:

I don’t know my neighbors.

I know R&C on my right, whose boys ride the bus with my kids and let them come over when I am late getting home after school. I know D&K on my left, who always go out of their way to be neighborly, including dying my hair pink a few years ago. (That’s going above and beyond, people!) I know C&C across the street, who bring my kids dollar store treats for every major holiday and give them shiny rocks from their garden whenever we go retrieve a ball that has rolled into their yard.¬†And that’s it.

As we walked from house to house, I saw dozens of kids I didn’t know lived here, including two in my son’s class. We met dozens of parents and grandparents giving out candy. There was one man sitting in his garage with a box of cigars¬†and a bowl of candy about 10 feet away so kids could help themselves without breathing his smoke. (LOL, by the way.) There was a little old lady who lives by herself and gave kids packets of hot chocolate and instant oatmeal in lieu of candy. (LOL even more, by the way.) There was a family on a cul-de-sac with a trailer hitched on the back of their truck, giving neighbor kids a mini-hayride in addition to sweets from Elvira at the door. (Okay, that was awesome.)

Not only do I not know my neighbors, but I am missing out on what it means to be a neighbor.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Trunk or Treat (or Hallelujah Hoedowns) at church, as these can be a big blessing in certain communities. And yes, I should be spending time getting to know my neighbors all year long. But this Halloween showed me that a typically controversial holiday can be an opportunity to love people. No, I don’t mean hand out salvation tracts along with Blow Pops and Snickers. (That’s actually pretty annoying.) I mean coming together as a community, learning each others’ names and needs,¬†loving¬†people where they are, especially when that is just up the street.

For one night every year, my neighborhood becomes one big party where everyone joins in, and I have the opportunity to interact with people I normally never see. Rather than boycotting that with my self-righteousness or devaluing it with my presence somewhere else, I’m choosing to participate, dress up, share the fun, and share the LOVE. Body of Christ, rather than fighting about ‚Äúthe Christian response‚ÄĚ to Halloween, let‚Äôs take the opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and serve them the way Jesus told us to. Because loving our neighbors honors him, and that‚Äôs what Christian holidays are all about.

Maybe next year I’ll remember to get pumpkins…