Wild But Not Free

The other day Eli and I came across a wolfdog. My son’s spirit animal is a wolf, and he was mighty stoked to see one in the middle of a city street. But that’s not where wolves belong, so we knew something was amiss. We wheeled around and went to make sure it was okay, and that any little humans around it were safe too. Poor thing was terrified. We did our best to approach it cautiously. I’m usually the animal whisperer, but this time the creature only wanted Eli. We sat down and let it come to Eli. The experience was surreal to say the least.

Then something spooked it, and off it went and so did we.  We followed it to a house where another wolfdog was penned in the backyard. SAD. But true. Eventually the owners came out and reclaimed their missing canine.

All this made me wonder about wildness. Like animals, I think we humans are born to be wild. But society, religion, tradition, and necessity do their best to tamper us and tame us. I get that. We need civilization, but don’t you ever feel that there’s a part of you that aches to be free? To run barefooted through wildflowers, exploring the next horizon and the next, and not be fearful that you’ll miss your call to fetch at a slave master’s bid? I, for one, want to go places I’ve never been. I want to make friends with strangers. I want to wander without a map. I want my pain to make me more deeply appreciate the pleasures of life. No more dull existence. No more living in shame, fear, and guilt. Those are chains and coffins for the living. So, if you need me, I’ll be digging my way out from behind the fences of life. Oh, I’ll do the work I need to do, fulfill my obligations, and even conform to the rules that make sense, but when my responsibilities are met…you’ll find me in the mountains or along a shoreline. I’ll be breathing deep and laughing loud. Who knows? I might be dancing with wolves…if they’ll have me.

Here’s to the wild spirit that lives within you! On that happy thought, I’ll sign off with Tolstoy’s sentiments: “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for love.”

The Best Christmas Ever

It’s Christmas Eve and I want to share one of my most cherished Christmas photos with you. It’s a portrait I took of my son, Dallas, when he was two. I am infamous for dressing little ones up to create a meaningful memory. For a long time this was just my precious “Little Drummer Boy.”

Not anymore. Dallas is all grown up. I think of him as my son, a wondrous young man, and a superhero all in one. He loves Jesus and teaches me what that means.

Because of Dallas, now when I look at this portrait I ask myself, “What can I lay before the King?” My finest gifts aren’t all that fine. Especially this year. 2016 been brutal and seems to be ending as wickedly as it began. I’ve never worked so hard to have so little to show for it, so little to lay on the altar…or to put beneath the tree.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to do what I’ve seen Dallas do…and his brothers and sisters do. I’m going to share what I’ve been given. I’m going to be grateful that I’m still alive to celebrate the birth of Christ. I’m going to stop thinking how hard life is, and focus on how glorious it is.

Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

That does not mean a heap of presents beneath the tree.

It means a heart full of love. It means gratitude for the wonderful people who step in to fill in where I fall short. It means marveling in the light of the season. It means helping those less fortunate than I am. And believe me, I know how very blessed I am.

So today and tomorrow, I pray that it’s all about Christ and nothing else.

“I played by best for Him,” says the song.

That’s what I’m going to do—my best. If all I can do is beat a drum, then I’m going to beat it the best I can. That’s all that’s required of us. God knows our hearts. He knows our circumstances. When we have “no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King,” He knows better. He knows it’s not the price tag on the outside of the package that matters—it’s the cost our hearts pay.

That means we not only show Him how much we love Him, but we allow His love to fill our hearts and our lives.

So today and tomorrow, friends, may you accept and feel the love of the God of Love. May all the beautiful things about Christmas bring you closer to Christ.

The other night the manager of a bookstore told me that she was only allowed to wish me “Merry Christmas” if I wished her a “Merry Christmas” first. Otherwise, all she could say was, “Happy holidays.” Or risk losing her job.

I get it. Let the tinsel, the trimming and trappings belong to the holidays. Let the “Ho, ho, ho,” and “ca-Ching” echo through the holidays.

But let Christmas belong to Christ, and only to Him. After all, it’s His birth that we celebrate.

So I wished the bookstore manager, “Merry Christmas!”

And with all my heart, I wish you “Merry Christmas!”

May it be your best ever.

Pa rum pum pum pum

The REAL Santa

So I met the real Santa Claus the other day. He was taking a quick break from his shift at the mall, sneaking out the back way because kids were still lined up and his bladder was about the burst.

“Santa, you got a minute?”

“Not really,” he said, bouncing on the tips of his boots.

“I’ve just got a quick question,” I pestered. “I’ll walk you to the restroom and keep aggressive kids at bay.”

“Fine.”

“So how’d you get to be the real Santa?” I asked.

He turned his head so fast I saw the elastic string used to tie his beard tight. The guy had dark stubble beneath all the snowy white.

“What are you, a wise guy?”

“I guess,” I said. “I’m a writer, and I noticed the sign in front of your North Pole photo display.”

We both glanced past the gingerbread wall at the sign that, in bold red letters, declared: The REAL Santa.

His bells jingled as he hurried through the curious crowd. I had to jog to keep pace.

“Listen,” he said, “if you want to know how I got the job, I’ll tell you. My brother used to have it. Then he died and they gave it to me. Big bellies run in our family.”

I felt a little foolish for even asking, but I was curious. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ve been trying to feel the spirit of the season. When I spotted your sign, I figured you’d have some insight on the real deal.”

We were almost to the restroom. He paused long enough to nod in my direction. “You got kids?”

“A houseful,” I said and something pricked my heart.

He lowered his voice and crooked his finger so I’d lean in to hear. “I’m not sure what you’re after, but I’ll tell you this—I’m not the real Santa. You are.”

Right then two little boys came tumbling out the restroom door, twins about four years old. They made a beeline for the man in red while I ambled back the way we’d come.

I was searching my brain, trying to fine some profound meaning in Santa’s two-word response. That’s when I stopped right in front of the Christmas display, complete with gingerbread siding, synthetic snow, a camera and a big ol’ digital printer, and the empty red throne waiting for Santa.

The line coiled all around the North Pole display. Little kids, big kids, babies, and in-between kids. Some dressed right off a Gap Kids cover, others looking like they’d just rolled outta bed. They were with parents trying to hold hands sticky from the free candy canes elves were passing out. One mother clutched both a toddler and an infant, squirming and crying, but matched perfected in red and green stripes. A grandma looked weary and threatened coal if her grandson got out of line “one more time.”

Then above all the bustle, I heard, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa was back. He jingled and jollied his way to his chair while elves hurried to snatch credit cards from adults’ outstretched hands. Twenty bucks for a snapshot of their precious little one on Santa’s lap. But the first little girl in line was having none of it. She writhed and screamed like she was about to get immunization shots.

“Mommy!” she screamed.

Her mother bribed her, threatened her, then finally hid out of the way, just around the corner of the gingerbread wall.

That’s when my answer began to come. That’s when I realized what Santa meant.

I kept watching and sure enough, the scene repeated. When children went to have their photo taken, the adult that brought them, the one that loved them so very much, stepped out of the way, right smack dab in front of the sign that declared: The REAL Santa.

The truth was so Christmassy plain and perfect…even I got it.

And I think you will too.