A New Season of Firsts (guest post)

I love hearing from parents who are further along the parenting path. This
month, Carol Roper reflects on how Christmas has changed through the years.
If you're one who likes the holidays to stay the same, these may be just
the words you need to hear/read. Make sure to learn more about Carol and
connect with her at the end of the post!

I remember so many of my kids’ firsts. Their first birthdays, haircuts and sleepovers. First days of school, first friends and first dates. One of the most anticipated occasions, however, was their first Christmas.

My husband and I were married eight years before our oldest was born, so I was ready to celebrate the wonder and excitement of the season in a new way. I have to admit, though, it was a bit of a letdown. Six-month-olds don’t really get into Christmas. They’d rather chew on wrapping paper than open all those new toys.

As for my second-born, we were a little more practical and got him an exersaucer for his big gift. But when we set him in it, he promptly threw up and spiked a high fever. That wasn’t the dream Christmas I’d envisioned either.

But since then we’ve had many great Christmas holidays—it’s still my favorite season.

I’ve always loved to play Christmas music during the evenings in December. I remember when my daughter, Elise, was only two and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” came on the radio. I’d crank up the music and we’d laugh and dance wildly across our little den. I can still see those big curls bouncing around her little cherub face. To this day, when we hear that song, we’ll look at each other and grin.

There were the annual Christmas card pictures I had to cajole my son, Jacob, into posing for. The magic reindeer dust we’d sprinkle on the lawn on Christmas Eve to make sure Santa would find us. And the holiday baking that always made such a mess but brought lots of smiles.

As they got older I realized I needed to make Christmas more Christ-centered so I began a new tradition that included three gifts for each family member to represent the gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense and myrrh. This new tradition brought more depth to our Christmas morning, reminding us of the reason we celebrate.

This year will be our newest and most difficult first as a family: the first Christmas since not just one, but both of our children, have moved out—less than six months apart.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…  Ecclesiastes 3:1

My son married a wonderful young woman last July and my daughter built her own house. My husband and I are suddenly empty-nesters. Grappling with what that means for us is something I really hadn’t spent much time pondering. In the back of my mind I knew it was coming but didn’t think it would arrive so quickly.

I’m not sure what to expect this year. Elise says she’ll spend Christmas Eve night in her old room, so she’ll be here Christmas morning. But Jacob and his bride will be visiting her family, so we’ll see them later in the day. Marriage means sharing our children with their spouse’s family.

No. Christmas morning won’t be the same.

But I’m determined to be intentional about adding new traditions to our growing family—ones that will stir the hearts of my children and, hopefully someday, grandchildren. My goal is to always have our home be a place of respite, love and joy. A place where Christ and family are cherished and celebrated. I’ll just have to be a little more creative in implementing these traditions, remembering they’ll look a little different from here on out. But different doesn’t have to mean bad. After all, we’ve gained another daughter.

Don’t be afraid to change.

You may lose something good but you may gain something better.

 – Pelfusion.com

Let your #Christmastraditions change as your family life changes. Just-in-time #IntentionalParenting reflections from @CarollynnRoper via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

How have you prepared yourself for the holiday season after your kids leave home? Are there any new traditions you’ve added that your kids (or you and your husband) appreciate? I’d love to hear your ideas!

IP - Carol Roper headshot

Carol Roper is a designer/draftsman and writer who freelances from her home in South Carolina. Her articles have appeared in Guideposts Magazine, Guideposts.org, American Daily Herald and ChristianDevotions.us. She and her husband, John, live on a farm where they enjoy hosting friends and family around bonfires and watching sunsets from their front porch. Visit her at www.carolroper.org, where she encourages women to build strong, godly homes one story at a time.



Reflections on Sunday School Songs: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

It’s about creation. It’s about sovereignty. It’s about protection. It’s about salvation.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

I left one of my favorite Sunday School songs for last, and in these days after Christmas, when our minds still dwell on the baby in the manger, these simple words seem even more profound. In the tiny hands of a newborn rested all the world…in every sense of the word. He, through whom the world was made (Hebrews 1:2), figuratively held the Planet Earth in His hands.

He’s got the whole wide world in His hands.

Sometimes when we talk about the world, however, we mean all the people on the planet. Like in Joy to the World, there’s the line, “the weary world rejoices.” In that way, too, He holds us all. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt 10:29-30) and the number of days we’ll remain on earth (Psalm 39:4-5). He holds our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows (Psalm 139, Matthew 6:27, 34). Nothing happens without His knowledge. Truly, He is sovereign.

I’m struck here by the combined intimacy and sovereignty of our Lord. Think about that for a moment.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

“Hold my hand,” I told my little ones when we went into public places or crossed a street. In the same way, Jesus holds our hands as we walk through life. The Psalmist wrote,

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. -Psalm 138:7

Those tiny hands that reached for the dust floating in the stable’s light also protect us from everything that is not part of His will for our lives.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

When someone takes responsibility for something, we say, “It’s in your hands.” Christ Jesus, though no longer a baby, took responsibility for our sinfulness when He died on the cross. The nails that penetrated His hands and sunk into the wood behind them at the same time punctured the consequences of our sin so that we became free through His bondage (Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:9-11, Hebrews 1:3). He carried the salvation of the whole world in His hands.

All these ways we rest in Jesus’ hands? It’s not just you who reads this or me. Recall the other verses of our song:

…you and me, brother

…you and me, sister

…little bitty babies

…the mamas and the papas


Maybe it’s simplistic, but this song brings me peace. I find rest in these facts:

  • He is the structure upon which our world stands,
  • He is sovereign,
  • He offers safety,
  • He saves.

The same hands that reached for dust in the stable’s light hold “the whole world.” (click to tweet)

Structure, sovereignty, safety, salvation—all because “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” (click to tweet)

When you sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” what comes to your mind? How does this song make you feel? Please share in the comments below!

Series Conclusion

I’ve known most of these Sunday School songs since before I could speak plainly. Simple or strange, silly or significant (or sometimes both!), they are the foundation of my spiritual worldview. I didn’t realize that fact until now, as I look back on the series. So, for me, returning to them as an adult affirms the fundamentals of my faith. They bring me back to some of the most important truths we possess as believers. Seems like I needed that this year. I pray they’ve done the same for you as we dug into them together.


(c) Carole Sparks

Attribution: traditional American spiritual (several on-line sources)

 Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide


Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

If You’re Happy and You Know It



Five Reasons We Don’t ‘Do’ Santa

I thought we were past this. With both kids in double-digits now, I didn’t expect to be offering explanations about our stance on Santa Claus again. But the issue has already arisen this Christmas season.


Intentional parenting means that we, as parents, recognize when we’re making decisions and consider the long-term repercussions of those decisions. We don’t just ‘go with the flow’ of our culture, and we don’t parent for personal convenience or for appearances. In our case, that meant choosing not to lead our children to believe in Santa Claus. Before you label us as Mr. & Mrs. Grinch, consider these five reasons we don’t ‘do’ Santa at our house.

1. We refuse to lie to our children about anything.

12-07 St Nicholas morning 15
(c) Carole Sparks

In our present-day culture, truth is what you want it to be. People even say that something can be true for you and not true for me. As Christ-followers, however, we know there is Absolute Truth, and as parents, it’s our job to set the standard of truth in our homes. When our children reach the age of understanding and discover that we’ve been deceiving them about Santa for their entire lives, our admonition not to lie is rendered moot. At that same age, they begin to question our belief system. If we lied about Santa, maybe we’re lying about God, too (more on this below).


As all of us know when it comes to deception, it’s never one simple lie.  The existence of Santa leads to chimneys (or the absence thereof), and who ate the cookies, and multiple Santas in various locations, and why Santa didn’t bring the much-anticipated pony. Telling the truth is simple and easy to remember.


Then there’s the fact that, at some point, you do have to tell them the awkward truth. I’ve written before about those difficult conversations (sex, drug use, etc.). By removing Santa, we eliminated at least one of those ‘talks.’ Whew.

2. We don’t want our children to lie to us.

This goes back to that age of understanding. You and I both remember that year (or years) when we knew Santa wasn’t real but we still wanted all the gifts, so we pretended to believe. That’s deception. If it’s not okay in everyday life, it’s not okay for Christmas.

3. We refuse to bribe our children for good behavior.

12-07 St Nicholas morning 07
(c) Carole Sparks

A child’s behavior reveals the condition of his or her heart. (See Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp for more on this.) By rewarding a child for good behavior, we feed the inborn selfishness of that child’s heart. We don’t want our children to be good because they will get something; we want them to act honorably because their hearts are pure, desiring to bless God and those around them. We set the expectations for year-round behavior, and that doesn’t change because it’s the holidays.


Furthermore, no one actually follows through on the naughty/nice list. Even if a child is terribly behaved leading up to Christmas, she will still find a stocking (or more) full of new toys on Christmas morning. By not carrying out the discipline, the parent models to the child that her behavior doesn’t matter and that Mom or Dad’s commands can be ignored.

And finally, on the naughty/nice thing…what about the impoverished child? Santa Claus brings gifts to “all the good boys and girls” so he tried really hard to be good for a whole month. Yet on Christmas morning, he gets nothing because his parents can’t even put food on the table. What undeserved disappointment!

4. It’s too easy to misplace the meaning of Christmas.

I have a hard time keeping my focus on Jesus during the holiday season, and I know most of you do too. Think how much more difficult it must be for our children, who don’t have years of experience and a history of God’s faithfulness on which to fall back! Between the songs about Santa and the Christmas-morning pile of gifts to anticipate, our children’s thoughts will—understandably—be consumed by the clutter of consumerism. (Oohh-nice alliteration! I’ll have to use that again.)

5. God is God and Santa is not.

I don’t buy into all that ‘Santa is misspelled Satan’ junk, but undoubtedly, we need to be careful here. Just think about it; both God and Santa:

  • Are unseen
  • See everything
  • Give good gifts
  • Typically have white beards
  • Have mythical powers
  • Come at Christmas (via Jesus)
  • Influence behavior
  • Have naughty/nice lists (Lambs Book of Life, separating sheep and goats)

It’s enough to confuse a little kid! That child may then start to think God also rewards obedience, but we know it’s not the good kids who go to heaven. It’s the saved kids…and adults. What is more, when the child discovers that Santa isn’t real, he may unconsciously put God in the same category.


So What Do We Do Instead?

When changing one’s lifestyle or habits, we all know it doesn’t work just

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story… by Julie Stiegemeyer

to remove. You have to replace. We replaced the whole Santa Claus thing with a celebration of Saint Nicholas’ Day. When the children awake on December 6th, they find a small stocking of gifts—a reminder of Nicholas’ generosity, which is why we also do something charitable on/around that day. We read a book we have about St. Nicholas, and we have a nice dinner together. So they do still get gifts, and because they come in a stocking, they have an answer for all those well-meaning adults who later ask, “Was Santa good to you this year?” The gifts are small, but I try to make them special. The focus, however, is on giving/helping others.



Logistically, this works great for us.

  • It gives the children a chance to enjoy their gifts without the stress of rushing off to this or that relative’s house. In the past few years, we’ve given only St. Nicholas’ Day gifts because we travel later in the month.
  • Because we travel, St. Nicholas’ Day is our family’s private observance of Christmas—something I treasure.
  • It marks the beginning of the Christmas season for us. Although this year we’re observing Advent (an effort to keep our focus centered, as I wrote above), there’s still something about the stockings and the story that say “Christmas is here!”
  • It’s easy to find a charity to help. In the past, we’ve donated money, but now I’m trying to make the giving more of a hands-on experience.


People argue that, without Santa, children miss out on the magic of Christmas. The “magic,” if you want to call it that…the astonishing thing…is that God voluntarily became a human being—a baby!—and came to live with people on earth.


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  –John 1:14


By removing the distraction of Santa Claus, my children have a better chance of catching the real “magic.”



further reading:

From 2013, John Piper says “no way” to Santa in a Christian family’s home on Desiring God.

By Elizabeth Maddrey, one family’s story of keeping Santa in the “make-believe” category, posted at The Glorious Table.