This is a journal entry I wrote the other day about Christmas and the need to untangle some of the traditions that get all jumbled together. As my kids get older I feel the need to make some sense of this! If you have ideas about how your family does this I’d be curious to know in the comments.

“Christmas is here again and this year, like several years before, we’re  trying to celebrate in a way that is God-honoring and fits our family. I feel a little stress around Christmas because the culture can be so overwhelming and dominant it gets overrun. I’m referring to the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. These are the parts that are close to my heart and noteworthy this season. These are the things we would like to celebrate. But, like I said, if we do nothing this will completely be replaced by reindeer, Santa Claus, and presents.

I would say we do a pretty good job of keeping the focus on Jesus. We usually do advent stories everyday in December, we sing Christmas songs, and talk about all these in our home. The hard part is trying to make sense of and incorporate all the other things too, like Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and presents. And as our kids get older we simply can’t avoid these other aspects of Christmas. In years past they could mostly remain ignorant, but that isn’t possible anymore. And I don’t want ignorance to be the solution to tough cultural issues. I would rather walk through these things with them and have constructive conversations about it. So how do we work through it? As it stands Christmas is one big jumbled mess of Christmas trees, presents, angels, shepherds, baby Jesus, Santa Claus and reindeer. Is there anyway to untangle this?

Saint Nicholas was a man who loved Jesus and shared his great wealth with poor people.

I really think a little bit of knowledge of church history would help here because it hasn’t always been this way. How have Christians in different countries and in the past done this? For example, Christians have historically celebrated Saint Nicholas Day on December sixth. Saint Nicholas was a man who loved Jesus and shared his great wealth with poor people. And the tradition of him delivering toys and presents sprung up from his extreme generosity and love for the Lord. Clearly there’s a good man here and something we could celebrate and try to emulate. From him we get the tradition of gift giving, stockings over the fire and Santa Claus. So what does this have to do with the nativity story and Jesus’ birthday? Well, nothing really, except that Saint Nicholas loved Jesus and probably celebrated his birth just like every other Christian. If we could pull out just this much of it from the tradition it would help a lot. It would untangle just one piece of the mess it has all become.

I want to get Christmas right. There’s a whole lot that is praiseworthy this time of year and there is a whole lot that is confusing and hard. I want to help our kids understand what is going on and what the season is all about. And the traditions we do and do not celebrate reinforce what is important and reflect what we believe.”

Having a “Christian” Christmas in America is challenging. By Christian Christmas I mean a Christmas that truly celebrates Christ- Jesus’ birthday, and doesn’t get confused or lost in the mess that Christmas has become.

Ever since we returned to America Kim and I are constantly thinking about culture. We think and talk about culture all the time. We talk about Tv shows we do and do not watch. We talk about what kind of schools we want our kids in and how the ‘culture’ at that place will shape their thoughts and hearts. We do things so incredibly different from most of the people around us. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just different.

And when it comes to Christmas, culture and culture clash is on the burner. I think what bothers me most about this season is that it is supposed to be religious. Christmas is supposed to be a religious holiday. But people pretend it isn’t. It gets replaced by Santa Claus, presents under the tree and ‘happy holidays’. And that bothers me. It makes me want to throw the whole thing under the rug.

My problem is that I tend to see things as either black or white. I have a hard time with gray. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy. So gray is hard for me. In the case of Christmas, I want to only make it about Jesus. I really don’t agree with societies interpretation and expression of this holiday so I mostly outright reject it. We don’t talk about Santa. We don’t hype up presents. Instead, we read Bible stories, every day this month. My kids made Bible-themed ornaments and hung them on the tree. We sang Christmas songs. I played guitar, Eli banged sticks, and Ana played the harmonica. I’m pretty sure we memorized Little Drummer Boy this year. I really enjoyed this simple daily celebration in the quietness of our home. The focus was on Jesus.

But I have a feeling black and white isn’t going to work when it comes to Christmas. Our pastor is preaching through Daniel, and a couple weeks ago he talked about participation, ie. how Daniel participated to a degree in the culture at large. He himself wasn’t Babylonian- he was a Jew- yet he studied their laws and customs, learned their language, wore their clothes, took on a new name. He held fast to his moral code and God’s law, but he also took on the culture around him. Daniel wasn’t black and white- he was gray.

Christmas, to me, then, is an opportunity to practice this. The culture at large celebrates this holiday differently than me. So rather than hiding from it, or pretending it doesn’t exist, I need to find ways to make sense of it. We have decided as a family not to make a big deal about Santa Claus and presents. It’s not that we’re stingy or un-imaginative. It’s just that we want to keep the focus on Jesus, and these other things are a distraction. But these things ARE a part of other peoples’ Christmas traditions. So how do we practice our tradition without negating the other? How do we participate?

I think open communication is going to be key here. It’s okay to talk about Santa Claus. He isn’t a curse word or anathema. He is somebody other people think is real. He’s a part of other peoples’ Christmas traditions. Same with presents and elf on the shelf. I think it’s how we talk about these things that will be important. I can help my kids put these things in context by explaining that all families are different. We don’t want to belittle or treat others as less spiritual than us. It’s just a choice our family makes. When my kids get asked about Santa Claus I don’t want them to be confused. I want them to know about these symbols of the holiday and be able to fit them into place.

Part of the success of this is creating a strong culture and tradition of our own- truly celebrating with the angels Jesus’ birth. But the other success will be bridging the gap between our beliefs and the rest of the world, and communicating these things to our kids.

Kim and I attended our first official adoption training in Chicago this weekend. My aunt was gracious enough to let us stay the weekend with her, and my mom came down to help with the kids, so it was really quite convenient. Thanks for all the help!

So what is adoption training anyway? Well, I wasn’t quite sure either, but we are required to have 8 hours of in-person training and 10 hours of online training. So this counted towards our in-person hours. Why all the training? We’re already parents right? Well, I guess there are things specific to adoption that we need to be aware of. Something I didn’t realize but adopted kids are by definition ‘at risk’ because they don’t have parents right away. They don’t have a ‘normal’ childhood. And this can lead to mild to severe developmental problems. Kids need love. Kids need attention. And children in orphanages, or passed between care givers don’t get that. So there are things to be aware of.

We spent the morning hearing from a child psychologist. He talked about the basic needs of children, how to tell when they’re at their limit, and what to do to help them cope. Kids don’t have the same learned coping mechanisms that adults have learned, so they often express their frustrations in erratic often explosive ways. It’s important for a parent to help your child learn appropriate ways to express themselves. And sometimes just giving them a squeeze (or proprioception) can do the trick. I appreciated hearing from him. He gave us several things to think about.

The afternoon was especially helpful as they brought in a family who adopted from South Koren through our same agency. Talk about relevant! It was so sweet to see their two adopted Korean boys sitting right there in front of me. It almost made cry to see the reality of it. It’s not just paperwork or theory or a picture in a book. There they were! Adoption works, and now they have two loving parents. The father kept imploring us “Adoption is worth every second! It’s a long process and there will be difficulties. But it is so worth it. It’s worth every second!” I think we needed to hear those words, to see those kids there in the room with us, and see that this actually works. Families do come together this way. Hearts are blended. Children are loved. What a beautiful picture. And to think that God does this for us just blows me away.

We stayed the weekend with Aunt Peg in Chicago. Mom C. was able to road-trip with us as well! Not only was it nice to spend time at our agency’s headquarters and training, but it was added bonus to have some quality time with family.

They gave us a few goodies! We got a free calendar (filled with sweet pictures of babies from our agency) and an Adoption Parenting toolkit book.

A few days ago I was at my parent’s house for a family photo shoot. We had a lot of fun and got a lot of great photos out of the deal. The photographer said he got over 800 photos. Sheesh! Out of those I’d say about twenty were pretty good.

Later on Kim got in a random discussion with my brother about posting photos to Facebook. She made the offhand comment that we, Josh and Kim, don’t (or rarely) post family photos to Facebook and that we’re trying to figure out some other way to share photos with friends and family. And of course my brother was incredulous and confused as to why we would do this. What’s the big deal anyway?

It got me thinking. What IS the big deal? Why don’t I post things like photos on Facebook? Why am I cautious? For me it really comes down to two things- value and control. Here are my reasons.

For me, I like control. I like to retain ownership of my photos, especially photos of loved ones and my children. Yes, I post photos online. I post photos on this website and a few other places. But the big difference is that I can CONTROL these places. I can remove these photos anytime I want. And I have better control over how they’re displayed and shared. In that sense they are still mine.

With Facebook you lose this control. Facebook makes it SO easy for people to share your photos all over the place. With just the simple click of a Like button powerful things happen, stuff we probably don’t even realize. And before you know it your photo is no longer yours. It becomes everybody’s. And that to me is an unnerving thing. I don’t trust Facebook to preserve my grip on things I post. It quickly becomes everybody’s. That is the beauty and power of Facebook. Social sharing at it’s finest. But I shy away from this. I think it’s worth maintaining some control over the things that are precious to me. Which leads me to my next point.

Value. To me it seems that the more numerous and plentiful something is the less valuable it becomes. And things that are less plentiful are more valuable. Think about gold. Think about silver and diamonds. They are worth so much because they are in limited supply. To me, photos of my personal life, my kids and my family are gold. They are worth something to me. This is why I don’t post them to Facebook. To me they lose their value when thrown up on Facebook, ready to be consumed and discarded along with the million other things that show up on your Facebook wall. It’s called a ‘Feed’ for good reason. You look at it, digest it, and move on to the next. Things on Facebook have fleeting value. It doesn’t matter what it is, be it a comment or photo, it becomes lost in a sea of info. To me this is not a good medium for precious photos of my family. There has to be better way.

I take my photography seriously. I take pride in the pictures I shoot. And while it’s tempting to post in all on Facebook and get all kinds of recognition and comments, I hold back. I hold things that are precious to me close to my body. Some things are sacred. So because I value my photos and want to control how and when they are viewed I don’t put them on Facebook. Most of the world doesn’t see it this way. And maybe I run the risk of becoming ‘irrelevant’ by not joining the masses. But I hold my ground and for good reasons. Maybe if things change I will reconsider. But for now I stick to my principles.

We are very much enjoying our new baby girl. During our two day, two night stay at the hospital I just couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s been so much fun to have a little baby in our house again. I forget just how little and fragile they are. That being said though, I’m surprised that Ariana can almost hold up her head on her own. I don’t think Eli could do this for at least a month. Maybe she’s off to a head start.

Kim’s labor and delivery went really well. It all went much faster this time, overall about half the time. Like Eli her water broke and we weren’t able to labor at home as much as we would’ve liked. But after arriving at the hospital we were able to walk around to ‘augment’ labor naturally. This had minimal results, so a little bit of pitocin got things going a little quicker. Kim was in active labor for only about three hours, from 7-10pm.

Something that’s important to both me and Kim is to have a ‘natural’ labor, ie. without pain killers or an epidural. We’ve found that there are dozens of benefits to doing it this way, including heightened awareness, a less lethargic baby, easier breastfeeding, and huge sense of accomplishment. Plus as an added bonus I get to play a much more important role- her birth partner and coach. Instead of just sitting on the sidelines and watching the doctors and nurses I was really needed to help Kim cope with her labor. I helped her breath, kept her timing, and gave her something to focus on. I really felt needed, which was nice. She appreciated my help and the delivery in a sense was something we did (and accomplished) together. I don’t think you quite get that experience if you go the pain killer route.

We thank God for our new beautiful gift. And what good timing too, just before Christmas. I can’t think of a better present really. Thank you God. This Christmas we’re reminded again that a baby does indeed change everything!!

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Christmas for a while. I’ve hesitated because a) we’ve been busy moving into a new apartment, and b) I just haven’t known how to encapsulate my thoughts. I have to really guard myself against cynicism, during the holidays more than ever. I know my experiences overseas really shape my perspective. And it’s been a while since I’ve experienced a ‘normal’ American Christmas. I’m sure this influences how I feel about it now. But now that we’re settling back into American life (for the first time in about seven years) we have an opportunity to start new traditions, and let old ones end.

I have to admit that Christmas in America is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not really into the whole Santa thing. It’s so sad how Santa has become such a distraction from the true meaning of the holiday. Santa has hijacked Christmas away from Christ. Yes, this sounds harsh. And I bet that most people don’t see it this way. But it really is true. I know this because while overseas I got a very different view of Christmas, one that didn’t involve Santa.. In Indonesia Christmas is strictly a religious holidays. You see, in Indonesia Christmas was the holiday for Christians. Every religion got a holiday. The Muslims got Ramadan, Buddhists got Waisak (Buddha’s birthday), etc. Everybody got their fair share. Christmas was for the Christians. There really was no Santa Claus, no reindeer, no presents under the tree. Everybody knew it was for the Christians because it was Jesus’ birthday, and naturally Christians would want to celebrate that. And due to this simplicity and national nod of the head, we were able to celebrate Christmas as Christians, without any of the distractions you find in the west. It was a simple and surprisingly meaningful Christmas, and an experience I’ll never forget.

So when I see Christmas in America it’s first shocking and then disheartening. When Santa and reindeer enter the picture I just shake my head and ask “why?” I can’t help but think how confusing we’ve made this holiday. How on earth are we supposed to teach our kids and family about Jesus’ birth, angels, and God’s miracles when we get so wrapped up with reindeer and Santa Claus? Perhaps it can be done, but again, why? It seems incredibly dangerous to allow children to believe a lie about Santa and then expect them to believe the truth about Jesus. This holiday is about Jesus, period. Not Santa. When we mix the two together we encourage belief in something that isn’t real while jeopardizing and minimizing something that is! I for one am not willing to confuse this important event. We don’t need Santa for Christmas.

We plan on doing Christmas a little different. It won’t be about Santa. It won’t be about being good or getting presents. We want to keep it simple, get to the heart of the matter, and throw away everything else that’s not. Instead of buying a million presents we plan on just buying ONE for each member of our family. God didn’t flood the world with a million presents. He gave His best and most special gift on Christmas. So our family celebrates Best Gift Christmas. And we will give one gift to each other to honor and remember what God did. This is our way of keeping Christmas about Christ.

We don’t want to be distracted this holiday season.  It takes some guts to go against the grain. But by taking little steps we can make this season religious again, a true celebration.

Here’s another good article about Santa Claus called What To Do About Santa. Check it out and pass it along.

I’ve been thinking a little bit about what I’m calling “double standards”. Now that I’m a parent I’m starting to think about these things. Specifically the question that goes through my mind is “Why are some things okay or permissible for adults to do but not okay for children?” That’s what I mean by double standard. I don’t want to be too black and white about this but it seems to me we shouldn’t have double standards when raising our kids. If something is bad for them it’s probably bad for me. That’s fair. That makes sense.

An example of a double standard I see a lot of is movies and television shows. Why is it that adults think some Tv shows are okay for them but not okay for their children? Why are we as adults allowed to watch blood and guns and violence, but children aren’t? At what point is that okay for us?

Perhaps the answer lies in our tolerance or sensitivity levels. Adults are exposed to more things so maybe we’re able to tolerate more than children without being scared. We’ve been exposed to it so we can handle it. I guess after a while you get desensitized to certain things. There are levels of exposure. Children are very sensitive to things at first. And as parents we can control, to a certain extent, what they’re exposed to. So there is a continuum of tolerance levels.

But I think the principle is still sound. I really believe that things that are bad or unhealthy for children  are generally bad and unhealthy for adults too. I think there’s some wisdom in that and I’m going to try to hold fast to that idea. I’m going to try not to have too many double standards at home and with my kids. The principle is easier for children to grasp and probably sets a good example. If mom and dad can’t do it than neither can you! That seems fair. We’re all the better off for it too.

36 hours, 18 minutes, and 14 seconds. That’s how long it took us to travel from our home in Indonesia to my parents home in Wisconsin. I started a stopwatch the moment we left our doorstep in Sumatra, and stopped it the moment we arrived at my parents doorstep in Wisconsin. So it includes all things like taxi rides, waiting in lines, transit, immigration, baggage claim, etc. It’s the TOTAL trip. I always like to time our travels that way. It’s a more accurate way to see how long we’ve traveled, not just how long our flights were.

To be more specific though we basically had two long flights, from Jakarta to Tokyo (7 hours) and Tokyo to Chicago (11 hours). Our first flight to Tokyo was relatively easy. Eli just turned one, and because the flight left around midnight Indonesia time he slept pretty much the entire flight. The lights were dim in the cabin and he and Kim could get some shut eye. As for me, I don’t sleep well on flights, especially that first one, so I spent the time watching Ghostbusters (always a classic) and just zoning out.

Our second flight to Chicago was a different story. Eli was really fussy during this flight. He screamed, he blasted, he fussed, he squirmed. . . for the entire 11 hours. He didn’t sleep or nurse either. I think he was so fussy because he was bored, and his ears were hurting him. We took him to the doctor soon after arriving and discovered he had an ear infection. So that was a culprit. This flight was also in the middle of the day for him, as opposed to our first flight, and so he wasn’t tired either. I feel bad for the nice French Canadian people who had to sit next to us. They hardly spoke a word of English though we made some initial attempts to communicate when we first got started. Even though they were good sports about it I could tell they were a little annoyed. It’s hard to enjoy a flight, let alone get any sleep, when you have a noisy baby right next to you. We were those people- the people with the fussy baby.

But we’ve learned some interesting lessons too. Number one- make sure your baby isn’t sick when you fly, especially with an ear infection. We have some medicine now (Amoxicilin, which we couldn’t get in Indonesia) and can spot the signs and symptoms so hopefully he won’t have an ear infection again. Number two- make sure your baby gets enough liquids. I think Eli was fussy because he was dehydrated. He’s still nursing and doesn’t really take a bottle yet. And trying to nurse him on an airplane has proved very challenging to us. The first thing we got upon arriving in the States was a sippy cup (again, something we couldn’t get in Indonesia) so that if he won’t nurse at least he’ll be able to drink out of a cup. Number three- Benedryl. We will definitely be picking up some Benedryl for the flight back next month so that if Eli really is inconsolable we can give him a sleep aid.

Eli is doing much much better now. His little ears aren’t bothering him anymore and he’s back to his happy little self and enjoying a lot of special time with grandpas and grandmas.

We’ve been struggling the last few days with some minor illnesses with our eleven month old, Eli. He had some infections in his diaper for a while (which we just got treated) but now he’s been running a 102 fever for the last few days. I’m sure to all the other parents out there you’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, just a 102 fever?? That’s no biggie!’ And I’ve been reading some things about fevers and it’s probably not a big deal. He’s still active and alert. He smiles and plays after the fever medicine sets in. It’s just that when it’s your first child and he’s been crying and miserable for the last four days you can imagine we’re just a little bit concerned.

I think part of our worry stems from the fact that we’re in Indonesia, a foreign country. If we were in the States we could call our parents, get reassurance from various places, or run to Walgreens and pick up what we need. But here, there is no Walgreens pharmacy. We can’t readily call or talk to people. We’re mostly on our own. And because it’s a foreign country we have to worry about other things like malaria, or dengue, viral infections, or any other random thing we’ve encountered here. Simply because it’s Indonesia the risk and fear factor goes up a a bit. It’s just a fever, but because it’s Indonesia it could be anything.

I admit it’s been hard to trust God with some of this. We’ve been feeling the pull to come back to the States and trying hard to fight against that pull. But when our little guy is sick, and we know the right medicine and treatment exists in America, it’s hard to work up the excitement to be here. We struggle with that from time to time. Right now we’re struggling with it a lot. We need God to fight our battles for us. We’re trusting Him for healing. Healing for Eli, yes, but healing for us too and our attitudes and that He would get us through these trials.

“Lord give us new attitudes today. Help us to trust you with the unknown. Amen”

It’s been a really exciting last three weeks as we’ve welcomed our new baby into our lives. He’s been a super sweet baby so far. Kim and I keep bracing ourselves for when the hard stuff comes.

Everybody always says that when you have a child your life will change. To that I would say that my life has ALREADY changed. Being able to watch my baby come into the world and the role that I was able to play was a changing experience for me. I wrote about this in my journal recently and I think that so far the brief time we had in the hospital was more life changing than the time we’ve had since then. It’s hard to explain but witnessing my child come into the world was just awesome. I’m sure as time goes along truly our life will take on new parameters, schedules, etc. Our thoughts and truly our life will change at that point. But so far just taking care of a newborn hasn’t been that bad. I can’t speak for Kim, but that’s my perspective.

I took some more photos of baby Eli recently. One in particular was kind of fun to shoot. I used a candle and a long shutter speed to create a fire or halo effect around his head. Take a look!