Skipping Halloween

I just don’t know what to do with Halloween.

As a kid, and a teenager, it was a fun time to dress up, visit the neighbors and take in all the candy we could eat while trick-or-treating. It was social and mostly innocent and hey, everybody did it, didn’t they?

Now I have kids. And they like to dress up. And they like chocolate and candy and doing what their friends do. And I like those things, too, for the most part.

But there’s this battle inside me. And I can’t ignore it.

Soon, I will have to choose.

My kids did not go trick-or-treating tonight. (They’re 3 1/2 and 2, so they’ll get over it.)

I have many reasons why they didn’t.

Selfish reasons, such as:

    • I’m tired and still getting back in the swing of things after being away all weekend.
    • There’s snow on the ground. Snow. In October.
    • My husband had class that started at 6:30. Trick-or-treating started at 6. Not a fan of walking through the neighborhood after dark by myself with two little ones.
    • I have enough trouble staying away from the sweets when they aren’t in the house. A bucket-load of chocolate would do in my weight-loss goals for sure.

And not so selfish ones.

Like what this writer, whom I respect and admire, experienced on Halloween one year and how she overcame it. I don’t want to live my life in fear, but I don’t want to celebrate fear or participate in it, either.

Or this bit of information about who suffers so I — and my kids — can enjoy chocolate anytime we want. Sickening. And thought-provoking. Once I know something, it’s hard to go back to the way life was before. Can I enjoy a piece of chocolate if I think about the hands that picked the beans?

Then, there’s the pressure, as a Christian, to shun Halloween because of the evil associated with it. Or the pressure to “redeem” it by giving kids positive, non-scary influences on Halloween. (Confession: I’ve handed out Bible verses with candy in previous years, mostly to justify participating in Halloween at all.)

One of my clearest memories of Halloween as a child was the time my brother, my best friend (a guy) and I went to a house with no outside lights on. I know, biggest  Halloween faux pas and definitely not on any safety list for Halloween. But the people who lived there were my grandparents’ age. I’d just met them — through my grandparents, maybe — and they lived sort of in our neighborhood. It was a whim. A whim I’d later regret. But we walked up to the door, rang the bell and received a kind-but-stern lecture on not ringing people’s doorbells on Halloween if their outside light wasn’t on and oh-by-the-way we don’t celebrate Halloween. I was horrified. Probably more than I would have been if they’d come to the door wearing grim reaper costumes or monster masks.

I don’t want to be those people. I don’t want to suck the life or joy out of anything.

What I do want is to be responsible. As a parent. As a citizen. As a Christian.

My son’s high fever, and subsequent ear infection diagnosis, made the decision not to trick-or-treat, easier tonight. I was relieved, really, that I had a legitimate excuse for not taking them out. In many ways, I’m a coward. I lack conviction. I want to care so deeply and passionately about things that people, even if they don’t agree with my decisions, can understand why I make the decisions I make.

I don’t want to be seen as a taker. As in, I’m taking fun out of my kids’ lives. On short notice, I tried to make up for that by making a special dinner — pumpkin soup with shrimp — and buying candy corn and Turkey Hill ice cream, which had chocolate in it. (Am I a hypocrite or what?) We watched a couple of Halloween kids’ shows on Netflix, which only prompted my daughter to ask when trick-or-treat is.

Sigh.

For now, I hope, this discussion and decision-making process is over. I have a year to gather information and make decisions and try some fair trade chocolate, if I can fit it into our food budget.

There’s a part of me that wants to get this “right.” But sometimes I don’t even know what “right” is. Is it “right” to be a Republican? Or a Democrat? Is it “right” to read Harry Potter novels or the Twilight series or The Hunger Games? Is it “right” to dismiss them as trash? Those are just a few of the other issues I wrestle with that are similar to the Halloween one for me.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

Reading these words of Jesus makes me wonder: Can I do what’s “right” and still be doing wrong?

Maybe I’m overthinking. I’ve been known to do that before. Maybe Halloween is no big deal. I mean, after all, the chocolate companies aren’t going to miss my kids’ absence in the trick-or-treating tradition. Nor will they miss my chocolate-buying if I change my habits. And are my kids going to hate me if I tell them they need to stay home when all their friends go trick-or-treating?

Parenting is hard. Parenting with conviction is harder.

I could go on, but I feel like I’d be creating more confusion and less progress toward an answer.

What are your thoughts? On Halloween, on decision-making, on convictions, on right and wrong?

Talk to me. I’m all ears.

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A one-way ticket to the discomfort zone

Do you ever wish you could unknow what you know? Or erase something you’ve learned?

Sometimes, I think the ol’ “ignorance is bliss” adage might be a good way to live.

Then I read something like this:

“People tended to believe what made them the most comfortable and prevented them from being nudged from their comfort zone.”

Kathi Macias wrote that line in her latest novel, which tackles the little-talked-about, uncomfortable subject of human trafficking. Modern-day slavery. It’s a topic the Church is shining more light on, but it’s still underpublicized. Taboo, even, in some circles.

Macias spotlights the issue with Deliver Me From Evil, the first in her new Freedom series. To say that this book is hard to read doesn’t fully describe the range of emotions I felt as I read. In it are scenes on which I didn’t want to dwell but couldn’t forget, decisions I wouldn’t want to make but hope would be right. And as is typical of Macias’ books, I’m left challenged and inspired to make a difference. How, is the question I have yet to answer.

Check out the book trailer below for a glimpse of the series. And read on for an interview with Macias. If you’re interested in other books Macias has written, check out my past reviews of People of the Book, which shines a light on Christian persecution in Muslim countries, and A Christmas Journey Home, which focuses on illegal immigration.

How did you come up with the idea for Deliver Me From Evil and the Freedom series?

It actually came out of a phone conversation with Andrea Mullins, the publisher at New Hope. We were discussing the Extreme Devotion series (about the persecuted Church), which I was still working on at the time, and we began to consider topics for a second series. Andrea was the one who suggested human trafficking, and it really struck a chord with me. The more I researched it and worked on the proposal, the more excited I became about joining forces with others working to abolish modern-day slavery, which is exactly what human trafficking is.

What was your favorite scene to write in Deliver Me From Evil?

This book/series has been the most difficult I’ve ever written, simply because the subject matter is so dark and heavy. More than once I had to walk away and clear my thoughts before moving on from one scene to another. But interspersed between the heartache and tragedy are several lighter scenes (written and incorporated into the book out of necessity), dealing with a pastor’s family and their Bible college-bound son who inadvertently discovers the human trafficking ring and becomes involved in the heroic and dramatic rescue attempt. Any scenes revolving around the absolutely functional and loving life of the Flannery family are my favorites.

What was the most difficult scene, and why?

There were many difficult scenes in this book due to the subject matter, but the hardest had to be when the main character, 18-year-old Mara, realizes that one of the younger girls is being tortured and killed in an effort to extract information and punish her. Though the actual violence is done offstage, Mara experiences each blow and muffled scream, as does the reader.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? If not, how did you catch the writing bug?

Oh yes, I never wanted to be anything else. From the time I discovered the power and allure of words, I was hooked! I was an avid reader before I started kindergarten. A short story I wrote in the third grade was turned into a play for the entire PTA, and I won all sorts of awards for poetry in high school. I even told my then boyfriend (now husband) Al when we were in our early teens that I was going to be a writer one day.

How do you go about writing your fiction books? Which comes first for you, plot, characters, and/or theme?

I usually get what I call “a niggling in my soul,” which eventually emerges into the very basic theme of the book. I hate outlining and writing proposals because I do NOT develop plots or even characters ahead of time. I start with a couple of main characters, a starting and ending point for my story, and just let the rest unfold as I go. I know. We’re not supposed to do it that way, but it works for me, and I so enjoy the surprises as the story develops and my characters take over. So much fun! So long as they don’t try to lead me away from my pre-determined ending. Then I have to reign them back in a bit.

How do you get your ideas for your books?

I have ideas coming out of my ears! I am a seriously addictive idea person. You
want ideas? You can have my overflow! My challenge is to figure out which ones are worth pursuing. Not every cute or fun or even meaningful idea that pops into our head is meant to be a book. I pray, think, study, bounce them off people, etc., before committing to moving ahead with one of them. For the most part, however, nearly all my book ideas are, to one degree or another, born out of some moral or social issue that I care about.

How can we find out more about you, The Freedom Series, and other books you are writing?

Please visit my website at KathiMacias.com.

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I was given a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for posting the author’s interview on my blog. This blog tour is managed by Christian Speakers Services (ChristianSpeakersServices.com).

The early edition

I’m headed away for the weekend and have another post scheduled for Saturday, so here’s an early look at what made me smile this week.

Isabelle’s made-up story about some princesses (silly bands) and a crocodile (accessory to a Crocodile Hunter action figure) and a magic spell that turns the crocodile into a “handsome man” in her words.

Corban’s dinnertime prayer from the other night. It went something like this.

Parent: Who’s going to pray?

Corban: Me!

Parent: OK, go ahead.

Corban, with hands folded: It’s not workin’.

Parent: What’s not workin’?

Corban: Jesus.

Parents laugh uncontrollably.

An ’80s dance party in the kitchen while making potato pancakes for dinner. Isabelle LOVES dance parties.

Kitchen successes: homemade pizza, meals prepared for my absence, washed dishes, among others.

Phrases like “Isabelle, give your brother back his purse” that only a mother can say in all seriousness.

Laughing so hard you cry and can’t breathe and can’t stop laughing. (It was a joke on TV that hit so close to home, I’m still smiling when I think of it.)

Laughing with my love over how well he knows me.

Love overflowing from a box sent by family in another state.

Learning to love my kids exactly where they — and we — are in life.

Reconnecting with my best and oldest friend over the phone and feeling like we were next door neighbors instead of chatting hundreds of miles apart.

Two hours to myself to shop for jeans/pants and pick up a few groceries.

Little changes that make a big difference — like moving a piece of furniture, or a plant, or cleaning an area of the house of its clutter.

Too many reasons to smile

Seeing the sun rise over Lebanon (the city, not the country, though it, too, might be beautiful)

Losing 3 pounds in 10 days after seeing no change or weight gain for months

Related to that, running 1.5 miles three times in 8 days. Feels good to be back on the horse.

Alphabet pasta. And finding our names in it.

“I’m an African.”

Seriously, where does she come up with this? I’m hoping we’re just raising a globally minded daughter.

Collecting leaves.

Fixing hot chocolate for my kids and watching them fish the marshmallows out with their hands.

Hearing Corban sing the theme song to “The Cat in Hat Knows A Lot About That.”

Bandaids fixing everything.

A “tea party” in the “tree house” of the seminary playground.

My own geekiness when an author whose book I’m reading approaches our dinner table and my subsequent disappointment that I didn’t get to shake his hand.

My inner boldness to approach said author at his book table afterward and shake his hand and tell him how much I’ve enjoyed reading it so far.

Great ideas. Mine and others’.

Creativity.

A clean kitchen. And the power of baking soda to clean the grease off counters and stovetops.

A picked-up living room. (It’s a short-lived smile, but I’ll take what I can get.)

Isabelle earning a mommy-daddy-daughter movie night for 5 more straight days of no potty accidents. (We’ll be watching “Beauty and the Beast.” I’ll try to refrain from quoting/singing the whole thing to her, but I failed miserably with “The Lion King” a week ago.

Hearing what’s on my husband’s heart and mind.

A weekly dose of smile

Watching my daughter write the letters in her short name. (I-Z-Z-Y. And seeing her get excited about spotting a “z” in another name.)

Hearing my son give kisses and say “bye-bye” to everything from daddy to the bath water to the pumpkins on the porch.

My husband shooing me out of the house at 6 a.m. to go work out.

Hope.

Friends. Especially when I discover “kindred spirits,” as Anne of Green Gables would say.

Hobby Lobby, even if I don’t buy anything.

“Mom, you’re the best mom.” (Said to me after I made shaped pancakes for breakfast. Apparently the qualifications for this “award” are low.)

Mommy-daughter date. (We saw “Lion King 3D.” A bonus smile: singing all the songs and Isabelle dancing to them.)

Writer’s group — learning from other writers, being with other writers, seeing my own writing with fresh eyes.

Thursday night NBC comedy, especially “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office,” my two current favorite shows on TV.

The Bartelt bobsled team. (Isabelle pulls the wagon. Corban pushes. And they run down the block. It always makes me think of bobsled. And I giggle.)

Ditto for the Bartelt gymnastics squad, acrobat act, dance team and soccer team.

If you catch yourself smiling this week, make a note of it, even if it’s only a mental note. Then pick a time later in the week to reflect on those moments. See if your spirits don’t lift a little. If the world doesn’t look a little brighter. We all know how dark and bleak life can be at times and is at times.

Add a few extra smiles to your week. And pass them on.

Here’s your sign …

I don’t endorse labeling people or groups as “stupid,” but that Bill Engvall comedy routine “Here’s your sign” still makes me chuckle a little when I think of it. (And maybe it dates me a little. Is he still around? I feel like I watched him in the 90s. Like that was so long ago.)

My husband and I have been doing our own version of “here’s your sign” with church signs lately. We seem to notice them. And not that we could come up with the “perfect” church sign message, but we end up shaking our heads or discussing the point of the message or wondering if it accomplishes its purpose.

I’m no Matthew Turner (Jesus Needs New PR. I love the signs people send in to him). He tends to attract the funny and provocative ones.

I haven’t seen anything like that around here. But try this church sign out. I saw it today.

“We’re too blessed to be depressed.”

That’s a different take on a similar churchy saying I’ve heard before.

What do you think?

What makes a good church sign message? What have you seen recently that makes you cringe? Or smile? Or think?

Would you attend a church based on the message on its sign?

Discuss.

I’d rather have Jesus … or would I?

The familiar tune began as we opened our hymnals and fixed our eyes on the screen at the front of the sanctuary.

“I’d rather have Jesus …” we began to sing, “than silver or gold. I’d rather be his than have riches untold.”

Suddenly my voice caught in my throat and I couldn’t sing the words. I couldn’t say the next lines: “I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands; I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.”

That is, I couldn’t say them and mean them.

By the time we hit the chorus —

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

— I wasn’t singing anymore. I was mouthing the words because, you know, what if somebody noticed that I wasn’t singing this venerated hymn?

I wasn’t singing because there are a whole lot of things right now that I’d rather have than Jesus, and I don’t say that carelessly or to cast doubt on my salvation. It’s just where I’m at.

What would I rather have than Jesus? It’s not really about kingdoms or “vast domains” as the song says. Heck, I’d take a little control over the domestic domain inside these four walls.

Some days, I’d rather have a little extra spending money than Jesus. Oh, man, even typing that out makes me feel petty and selfish. Some days, I’d rather have coffee than divine strength. Some days, I’d rather have a life plan I can see and control. Or a house. Or a reliable car. Or a thinner body. Some days, I want what most people want: a healthy marriage, well-behaved kids, a clean house. Some days, I really want what our neighbors have: a nice big camping trailer and the vacation time to take it to exciting places. Every time the truck rolls by with the trailer in tow, I can feel the envy rising in my heart.

If only the song had stopped there, I might have been able to deal with my inability to sing. But it went on.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Men’s applause. Worldwide fame. OK, I probably don’t really want those things, either. But I do spend a lot of time fantasizing about my first novel or seeing my name in print again. And again. And again.

In the long run, this is my prayer — I’d rather have Jesus than anything else — but daily I battle. Who or what will be most important in my life?

Tell me I’m not the only one. Tell me you’ve done this — stopped singing because you didn’t feel the words or mean them. Tell me I’m normal. Or tell me I’m not.

Tell me. Is there anything you’d rather have than Jesus?