Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Friday, December 31, 2010


You don't want to know how much laundry I've done today. And there are still two dryers running. I love vacations but the unpacking when we get home - not so much.

The King Clan rarely chooses to fly when vacationing. In fact, I think I could count on one hand the number of times we've taken the kids on an airplane, and still have fingers left over. Finanaces are an obvious reason. But beyond that, I just could never imagine dragging the children and all of their belongings through all of that airport mess. And since there are more children than we have hands to hold them, the chance of losing someone is rather high. And besides, you lose so much of the novelty of vacationing if you head for the skies.

Take the audiobook, for example. We managed to finish several books on our trip from PA to Indiana. Of course we did take the long way, first to eastern PA, then to Ohio, then up to northern Indiana. My parents, who were traveling separately, apparently enjoyed their audiobook so much that they forgot to spend the night halfway and just continued on to their destination. If you'd like to try their method, I'm sure they'd be more than happy to loan you 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. It's a good one. I know, I read the book. On our trip, one of the books we enjoyed was Boom! by Tom Brokaw. Great for history buffs. I think it's going to find it's way back into our curriculum for next year.

This year's Christmas vacation was definitely one to remember. It was the year that

Andrew received a bass, Jesse received a saxophone, and we all received nose flutes. Imagine that ride home.

Aunt Shirley gave us all chickens for Christmas and PopPop and MomMom gave us a house (actually the chickens were for Heifer International and the house was for Haiti). We couldn't be happier.

We actually opened our family's gifts on Christmas day. Our tradition has been to do this on Christmas Eve since we spend Christmas Day with my family but this year we weren't all in the same place on Christmas Eve.

We went to Splash Universe in Indiana with the Bauman family. We've never water parked in the winter before. The kids had a blast. We also checked out the Hudson Museum. Wow! What a collection of old cars!

Herb won the jackpot in the King round of Dirty Santa. How come no one wanted to steal his Santa boxers? We also found out that some King family members have it in for others. Why else would Aunt Shirley get the pineapple scented candle when she's allergic to pineapples? And Phil received the Cheese Whiz when he can't have dairy? Hmmm. I'd watch out if I were you.

Andrew's "special" cookies wreaked havoc on certain cousins, causing them to see blue in places blue shouldn't be found. When their paranoia caused them to consult a physician, they were informed that they were either pregnant or had watched too many Smurfs reruns. (Thanks, Marilyn!) It was a great prank but Andrew had better watch out next year.

Of course traveling does have its downsides as well. I, for one, am not a big fan of

Travel toothbrushes. Toothbrushes were meant to be longer than your mouth. If you can fit the whole thing in your mouth, then you have a problem. I can't figure out how to hold the thing. And I don't have extremely large hands. I can't imagine a normal-sized person trying to use one of these things.

Lots of food. I think I've eaten more in the last week than in the whole rest of December combined. Yuck!

Beds and pillows that are not mine. I feel like Goldilocks except that I can never find "just right". It's either too soft or too hard or too low or too high. For this reason I travel with my own pillow. If I could figure out how to travel with my own mattress, I would. I just never sleep well on vacation. I toss and turn wishing for my own bed, my own room, my own air . . .

But distractions aside, we are so thankful for family and the opportunity to see them at this time each year. Just think, we're only 360 (plus or minus) days until we see you again!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On holes and resolutions

I have never written New Year’s resolutions. I take that back; I did so once or twice way back in school when my writing themes were dictated by those in educational authority and their motivational grades. The resolutions didn’t mean anything, though, and I never even attempted to follow them. I don’t plan to break my anti-resolution tradition. I know myself well enough to know that if it isn’t something I’ve had the motivation to do in the past, I’m probably not going to be ultra-motivated to start it just because the year has changed. I do, however, want to see 2011 as yet another year closer to my goal:

Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

What Francis Chan’s Crazy Love did to challenge my Christian walk in 2009, The Hole in Our Gospel has done to my 2010 and beyond. Written by Richard Stearns, former Lenox CEO and current World Vision president, it is his personal journey toward the understanding that most Christians live and work with a gaping hole in their faith. That hole is our failure to whole-heartedly and sacrificially live out Christ’s command to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our failure is one of omission rather than commission; we find it easier to obey the don’ts while dismissing the do’s. This book has challenged me once again to be willing to give up my comfortable American status quo and to pray something like this (adapted from page 198 of The Hole in Our Gospel):

Forgive my blindness to the injustices and sins of omission committed by Christians past and present. I confess my own blindness and sins of omission as well. Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, to see the world as You see it. Let my heart be broken by the things that break Your heart. Give me the ability to see through our culture and to serve and love my neighbors with Your vision, instead of the world’s. Give me Your eyes and Your heart and lead my feet and my hands to do your Kingdom work. Give me the strength and willingness necessary to sacrifice that which is comfortable and known and which I have held onto too tightly. I thank you for placing me on this earth for a purpose and look forward to seeing more of that purpose played out in the coming year. Don’t let me forget the lessons of the past as I continue on this journey of life, one step in front of the other. Amen.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Right now

Time: 8:11 AM

Outside my window: Barren Indiana farmland covered in snow (Andrew thinks this is where God sent the Israelites to wander for 40 years, it's the worst punishment he can dream up)

Inside my window: A hotel room with one snoring husband, two awaking girls and one almost-teen who won't wake up til I make her

In my belly: Scared you there, didn't I? Nothing, absolutely nothing. In fact, it's time for breakfast so let's get going!

On me: PJs but I won't give you too much information

Looking forward to: Breakfast first, a morning at the water park, an afternoon of cheese factory, some car museum or something like that, and a music shop, pizza supper, and celebrating Annika's birthday

Grateful for: The opportunity to be with family, both immeidate and extended, safe travel, and fun!

Okay, it wasn't my idea, but I read it on another blog and it sounded like fun, as well as being short and sweet. Til I have more time and less vacation . . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas letter

I heard a Christmas song on the radio the other day that I really wanted John to hear. I found it online and clicked play. Immediately, like an invisible magnetic force, all six children appeared out of nowhere. Standing around the computer, each one added his/her distraction to the beautiful lyrics I was trying to share; one child was coughing, one was pounding on the table, two were talking, one was trying to get my attention, and the youngest chose that moment to have a meltdown. The song I was so desperately trying to play for John? I Need a Silent Night by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant. The song is about the busyness of the holidays interspersed with the chorus:

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

Have you ever heard a song at just the right moment? Right when you most needed to hear it? At a time when you could appreciate it and relate to its message? Yeah, me too.

We are a loud family. I’ve done my best but there’s only so much you can do. We don’t have to be announced when we arrive somewhere. I realize that each of us is just trying to be heard. On top of that, we have our individual quirks: Andrew gets very passionate when talking sports, Jesse bangs on the drums, Mariana over-dramatizes everything, Isaac fidgets with objects, Eden audibly takes charge, HopeAnne melts down, John snores, and Cindy laughs. Loud also defines the way we make decisions together.

For example: The yearly Christmas card theme decision. This process was much easier (and quieter) when the children were little and I could dress them in anything I desired, place them in any object I needed, and arrange them into whatever theme I dreamed up. Not so much anymore. Now it’s a family process, and a loud one at that. But it works for us.
So when someone suggested that we dress up in our new King’s Strings outfits and try jumping in the air while holding our instruments, I was game. We even came up with a caption:

Silent Night? Sometimes
Silent Day? Never
Love, Joy and Peace? Always

Things went well until the day of the scheduled photo shoot. Andrew ended up with a last-minute meeting planned for the same time our photos were to be taken. With 8 schedules on the calendar there isn’t room to move or reschedule, so we just squeezed it in. But then it was freezing cold. And HopeAnne didn’t want to remove her coat. Then the wind picked up. And we won’t even mention how many times we had to go “1-2-3 Jump!” before we were remotely synchronized. And the first batch of cards arrived darker than the original. Oh well. Life goes on. Can you believe that - - - - - -

Andrew is in 10th grade. He runs cross country and track, is a member of the orchestra and two smaller ensembles, and is a contributing writer for the school newspaper. He is helping to lead the 6th grade boys’ small group at church, and what a large crew he leads! He also plays on the youth worship team. He is a leader in many circles of influence. We love his dry sense of humor.

Jesse is an 8th grader. He played on the varsity soccer team in the fall and is in the school orchestra. He also plays on the youth worship team at church and loves serving in the preschool ministry. He still enjoys drama, was in a community production of Bye, Bye, Birdie (he makes a great nerd) and helps with puppets and skits in the first service children’s ministry. Jesse knows how to have fun and to keep people laughing. He is also very sensitive to the people around him.

Our other middle schooler is Mariana, now in 7th grade. Life for her is all about the drama. She is currently back at Hershey Park with the lead role in Home Sweet Home for Christmas. Earlier this year she was the only non-adult in Allenberry’s children’s show, Snow White, and was “Sad Girl” in a community theater production of Bye, Bye Birdie. She knows who she is in Christ and tries to shine her light wherever she is.

Next is Isaac in 4th grade. He played community soccer this year where he received extra training as goalie and found that this is a position he really enjoys. He performed in Bye, Bye Birdie with his two older siblings. He is an elf in this year’s Allenberry Christmas show, Becoming Santa. He has come a long way since his first year of acting! Isaac has a servant’s heart at home and wherever he goes.

Eden is so glad to finally make it to kindergarten. She enjoys reading but her favorite past time is creating with crafts, items rescued from the trash, and lots of paper! She, too, is an elf at Allenberry and has amazed us with her dancing and performing. She also takes ballet and tap classes. She is creative, is a good listener, and we see the beginnings of a leader.

HopeAnne is 4 years old. She also takes ballet and tap classes and is a born dancer. She can often be found in the middle of a King’s Strings practice, dancing to the music. She loves watching her older siblings in whatever the entertainment-of-the-day is, and that’s a good thing since she has to follow them wherever they go. She is very loving.

It sounds like a broken record but John is still on staff at Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ Church, an adjunct professor at Messiah College, and is working on his doctoral degree through Regent University. I’m not sure there’d be time for anything else.

The King’s Strings is officially a group of 8. HopeAnne began viola lessons in the fall and has already joined us on stage. As mentioned in last year’s letter, we did indeed make it to the judge’s round of that national TV show. Our trip to NYC in April was an amazing experience and even though 2 of 3 judges decided we shouldn’t go on, we met many wonderful people and some rather unique individuals. If the whole audience had had its way, we would have gone to Las Vegas. As it goes, however, we ended up with a few seconds of air time this summer but it happened so fast that if you blinked, you missed it. It’s one of those stories that will get told to the grandchildren. Since then, the number of calls we receive has skyrocketed and our borders are expanding. Not only do we have individual concerts on the calendar for 2011, but we also have several weekend retreats where we will be providing input, worship, and entertainment. You can follow our schedule on thekingsstrings.com.

2011 promises to be a year of change: a third driver in the house, more family members in the workforce, college exploration, three teens under one roof, and all the unknowns. The one known is that Jesus, who we celebrate at Christmas, knows it all. We’ll take it one step at a time and cover it in love, joy and peace. Forget the silence. The louder, the better!

Here’s wishing you a not-so-silent but a loving, joyful, and peace-filled 2011!
Merry Christmas From,
John, Cindy, Andrew, Jesse, Mariana, Isaac, Eden, and HopeAnne King

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas and kids

You never know what is going to happen when you mix children and Christmas.

When the King family was a small clan of 5, we were working on memorizing the Christmas story from Luke 2. Andrew, being the oldest, was doing most of the memorizing but Jesse, age 3, was catching much of it as well. However, he apparently mixed in a little of his own version because as Andrew and I recited the passage and paused just after, "And the angel said to them," Jesse stood on his chair and yelled, "Boo!" You win some, you lose some. And it's become one of those family lines that is oft-repeated.

Just a few short years later, we were at Christmas Eve service and the children were called front for a children's story. The children were asked the name of Jesus' mother. Knowing everything as she does, Mariana loudly proclaimed for all to hear, "Sally!" Those pastor's kids. Don't their parents teach them anything?

The much-anticipated Christmas concert at Fairview Chapel occured this past Sunday evening. As I've mentioned before, I just love playing in this simple stone chapel lit only with candles. The evening was well-received and an invitation has already been extended for next year. That's a good thing as Hope inadvertantly insulted an elderly woman sitting behind her in the pews. As the woman explained to us after the concert, she was singing the alto line of one of the congreational hymns when Hope turned around to her and whispered, "You're on the wrong page." Thankfully she found it humorous and not too insulting.

Friday, December 17, 2010

No offense

The King's Strings plays for a variety of events from fundraisers to Christmas dinners, from weddings to funerals. After one of the latter, I asked Isaac what he thought (meaning, how did the music go?). He responsed by saying, "Well, no offense to the person who invented funerals, but they are really boring." Leave it to a 9 year old (whose name means "laughter", by the way) to point this out.

He's right. What I can't decide, is whether or not this is as it should be. People will be sad and grieving, yes. But does that mean it also has to be boring? I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't have to be.

My Aunt Betty Lou was a wonderful human being. Nothing she did while alive was boring and her funeral, in part planned by her, was far from boring. From her Beanie Baby collection which was divvied out to all those in attendance, to the balloons which were used as decorations and later sent off into the sky, to the singing (a LOT of kids songs from one of her favorite activies - Girls and Boys Club), to remembrances and all the rest. Not a boring moment there. Including when the "B" from the word CELEBRATE, which was plastered across the front of the church, fell down during the service.

But other than that, I think I'd have to agree with Isaac that most funerals fall pretty close to the boring category. Family, listen up, there's a new note on my funeral list - NOT BORING. Do whatever you have to do but don't let it be boring. Andrew could play some practical jokes. Jesse could dress up as a clown and make balloon creations. Mariana could sing a fun song from a musical, maybe Do You Love Me from Fiddler on the Roof as I always said that if I could sing, that's the song I'd sing. Isaac could talk in his annoying elf voice (thanks, Roque). Eden and Hope could do their "Sister" routine.

My grandmother thinks that we should have funerals while we're alive so that we know what people think about us. She's right although I do understand why no one has planned one for her yet. What would people think, and all that.

We recently received an invitation to the memorial service of a 90 year old man. I only ever met this man once but I was deeply touched by his obvious love for the Lord, his wife, and his life. He died one week later. The memorial invitation, written by one of his children, said that family and friends should come to the service dressed informally because that's what her father would have wanted. While we were not able to attend that service, I do think that wearing jeans and sneakers would automatically change things. Dressing formally almost shouts boring.

So please save your best jeans and sweatshirt for my funeral. Whenever that is. Or maybe you can just plan it for while I'm still alive so I can hear what you'd say. I won't be weirded out. Remember, I married the son of a mortician. He had his casket picked out long before we met.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What to say?

You know those things that your kids say and you just don't know how to respond? Like when they insult someone in that person's presence? Or those questions about where babies come from? Well, HopeAnne brought me one of these statements today.

"Mom, I forgot to cry when Snow White died."

What do you say to that? How was I supposed to take this comment? Should I be upset that she appears to have no empathy or compassion? Has she become desensitized to the plight of poor, weak princesses? Or am I looking at this all wrong? Should I be glad that she made it through the saddest part of the movie without crying? Is she a better person than me because I cry pitifully through every tear jerker?

So what did we say to this?

"Thanks for the Facebook status."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Simplicity or Glitzy?

We love Christmas concerts. We get to play in the most beautiful venues. Interestingly enough, within one week we will have played at the most lavish venue for the year and the simplist. Today we were at the Governor's mansion and next week we will be at Fairview Chapel in Maryland, a restored one-room chapel with no running water or electricity. Make sure you use the bathroom on your way there and dress warm. Today, however, was decorated lavishly and guests were treated to drinks and desserts served by well-dressed waiters. I think that either John or I should run for governor someday. You could easily fit 13 (or more) children in this house. In fact, I think it would make a nice group home or orphanage. The chapel, not so much. Funny, back in the day when the chapel was used, most people probably had houses the same size as that chapel, and they filled them with large families. Times sure have changed, haven't they?

My Uncle Jim told me to tell Mr. Governor hello and to let him know that he has a pothole on the road in front of his house that needs fixed. Unfortunately the honorable Ed Rendell was not present at his open house for me to pass along this little bit of news. Too bad as I'm sure he would have been right on it. As proof that he did show up to his own open house in 2008, we share this photo (I am the small one in the back, the one who looks like she's been photoshopped into the picture):

The family dogs were in attendance, however. Beautiful dogs they are. They always enjoy the string instruments so much and make their rounds through the performance areas. They aren't much for having their photograph taken, though. I understand. I'm the same way. This quick shot was from 2009 when the Shipman Violin Studio was performing (Mariana in the hat, of course).

Thank you to the many friends and family members who came to watch us perform. Were we right? Is it not the best hot chocolate around? Our apologies for not warning you about the no purses rule. That was a new one from last year. I guess I understand with all the security precautions. Interestingly, you were allowed to bring instrument cases into the residence without so much as a scan or pat down. So for next year we'd be happy to loan you a guitar or violin case in which to place your wallet, phone, make-up, comb and brush, or any other important item that you need with you at all times. Although who knows what security measures might be in place next year?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Famliy magic

There are different kinds of magic. There's the sorcery kind. Don't worry, that's not the kind we're talking about. There's also the slight-of-hand kind. I don't like that kind. I know there's a logical explanation for it all but I can never catch the magician at his trick so it just makes me mad. Well, except when my little children try a trick for the first time. Now those tricks I can figure out. A third type of magic could be called family magic. This is the kind that can make a garage door magically go up for the toddler who has never seen it before. It's also the kind that can make sandwiches appear by saying "Abracadabra ala Peanut Butter Sandwiches" and sneaking the plate around the other side of the unsuspecting preschooler. Sometimes, however, it goes terribly wrong. Take last night for example.

Eden had been wanting to watch a particular movie ever since we got it out of the library earlier this week. It was finally time; I said she and HopeAnne could watch it after supper. Well, supper was over and I was enjoying an extra minute or two of relaxing (family rule: the person who makes the meal doesn't have to clean up the meal, the people who don't help with the preparation of the meal have to clean up, hence my moment to sit) and wasn't ready to go downstairs to turn on the movie. Eden was getting just a bit impatient so unbeknownst to her, Jesse headed downstairs to secretly start the movie. Andrew soon followed to tell Jesse to hide from sight when the deed was done. After waiting long enough for the movie to start and for the boys to hide, I told the girls to stand at the top of the steps and say, "Abracadabra, movie start." At the same time, the boys, hiding in another room of the basement, heard the movie's theme song and realized that they had started the wrong movie.

Too late. The girls were already on their way downstairs and what was supposed to sound like little girls praising and thanking their brothers sounded more like a meltdown. It was a meltdown. The boys wisely waited until the crying stopped before appearing from behind locked doors. Maybe next time they will apply that all-important principle - check your work.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Now go

"You are now entering your mission field."

This was written above the exit doors of the church John and I attended for a period of time during college. It made a big impact on me and I've thought of it often in the years since. I've wanted to paint it above all of the exit doors in my house and in my church but that didn't seem practicial or aesthetically pleasing. Maybe I shouldn't be so worried about what is and isn't aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes you just gotta do what you just gotta do.

Last year I found a landscape photo that I had taken that reminded me of this quote. It was of a long driveway surrounded by a stone wall and large, established trees. The picture was taken in the fall. With Andrew's help (Andrew, how do I add text to my picture? Mom, you click here where it says "Text". He's such a smart boy) I added this message. It now hangs above the door we use most often. Next to it is a closeup of multi-colored fall leaves with the passage from Matt. 28:18 - 20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But I don't think it's big enough. It needs to make a glaring announcement each time we walk under it. I think I need to give myself a Christmas present this year. Hmmm, I wonder what that could be?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Creatures at home

"Thank you, God, for all the creatures around this table. Amen."

This is how I used to end my suppertime prayers. Well, almost. This happens to be Jesse's version, first quoted at age 2 years and 10 months. Even then we never knew if it was an accidental misinterpretation or a profound commentary on life. Either way, my version went like this:

"And thank you, God, for all the missionaries and preachers around this table. Amen."

I first heard it on a radio program and thought it would be good to try out at home. I like it. And I think it worked. I see traces of its influence in ways big and small. There were those years when Jesse wanted to be a pilot so he could fly missionaries to remote locations. That was replaced by the desire to be a builder so he could build orphanages. While both dreams have come and gone, it in no way diminishes his calling to be a missionary and preacher to the world in which he lives.

During a church missions celebration several years ago, the kids were given the assignment to go around the display area, asking people several questions. One of the questions was to ask for the person's definition of a missionary. Most people answered that everyone is called to be a missionary as commanded by Jesus in Matt. 28:19, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations." (NLT) One former missionary felt it necessary to tell the children that only certain people can be missionaries. Oh well, he's allowed to have his opinion. It's probably just an issue of semantics, anyway. And the kids got the point regardless.

I know they got it when they tell me I have to pick up yet another public school friend to take to Wednesday night youth group. I know they got it when they are willing to step out of their comfort zone to teach their peers in Sunday school or in a small group. I know they got it when they choose to serve in the preschool or nursery ministry at church. I know they got it when they are willing to take a cut in pay to play a concert for a group that cannot afford to pay, but that would benefit from a concert. I know they got it when they walk around the nursing home visiting with the residents after the concert. I know they got it when they choose to give up freetime to mentor younger children. I know they got it when they are willing to sit with a grieving friend and to show their support at both the viewing and memorial service. I know they got it when not only are they willing to live with less personal space than most of their friends, but they are willing to let that space shrink even further. I know they got it when their hearts break with the things that break God's, and they then act accordingly. I know they got it when they are willing to use their gifts and talents for God's Kingdom now, not waiting until a certain age. I know they got it when they show a servant's heart at home. I know they got it when their lights are shining into the darkness in which they sometimes find themselves.

And I am happy.

Thank you, God, for all the missionaries and preachers who were around this table before they dispersed into their mission fields for the day. Amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bah humbug - never!

We're those people you've been complaining about. You know, the folks who start Christmas long before Thanksgiving? Before October has reached it's end, in fact. I guess we even have the Hallmark and department store folks beat.

To our credit, we have good reason. For the past 4 seasons we've had 2 or more children in the Christmas show at Allenberry. For a show that opens the first week of November, one must start rehearsals in mid-October. But actually, at home we've pulled out the Christmas CDs even before that. We need this much time to listen to Christmas music, decide what we want to place in this year's King's Strings concerts, write music as necessary, order some and put the rest on "repeat" so we can listen to it over-and-over again and learn it by ear. And then of course there's practicing together. This all takes time and I don't think our December concert-goers would appreciate it much if we waited until the first Sunday of Advent to start thinking about Christmas.

But if you're looking for an apology for our pre-Halloween Christmas joy, you won't find one. Why not celebrate Jesus' coming longer than the prescribed Sundays of Advent? Listening to and singing Christmas music for so long has been very beneficial in preparing our hearts. In fact, I overheard one child tell someone, "I'm so glad we're a musical family because we get to listen to Christmas music longer than most people." So besides the fact that our Christmas preparation schedule is determined by the activities we find ourselves in, I do believe it's possible to redeem the commericialization and prematurity of holiday celebrations. Consider this:

Who decided that it's only possible to prepare our hearts for the one month of Advent? The flip side of this is the phrase I've often heard from Christians: We should have Christmas in our hearts all year long. While I'm not really into trite sayings, I have a feeling that these are some of the same people who start complaining when Christmas shows up in October. I love to talk with my children about the Christmas songs we're listening to and to pull out the Christmas storybooks. The childlike wonder can transform any Scrooge. And isn't that our role as those who believe in the real reason for Christmas? I'd love to see us redeem the season by spreading joy (even if it comes right after Halloween) rather than complaining every time we see a premature Christmas display.

If "love came down at Christmas" and if we are to "spread the good news of Christmas" all year, then I want my children to practice that. Rather than be known as complainers, I want my family to spread joy wherever they go. If someone hands my daughter a Santa Claus sticker, I could loudly announce to the store cashier that we don't believe in Santa. Or I could say, "Just think, all day long when you see that sticker on your shirt you'll remember Jesus, the best gift giver ever!" Or we could talk about Santa Dan, a good friend and godly man who uses his Santa look-alike features and beard to dress up and bring toys, food, and other necessities to the less fortunate people of central Pennsylvania. And if I see a display that incorporates the true meaning of Christmas (and not just a generic holiday banner), rather than bemoan the fact that it's too early to advertise the season, I want to thank that business for being willing to use the word Christmas. Complaining won't stop the stores from commercializing Christmas. But a little extra joy and light at a stressful time of year could do wonders for ourselves and those with whom we come into contact.

So I say with gusto: Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Santa Dan and his wife, of course!