lighten bag

In my 31 years of life, I’ve had two run-ins with the real Santa Claus. I know what you’re thinking: “Aha, she’s going somewhere funny with this. She didn’t really see Santa Claus!”


And I didn’t just “see” him. I saw him twice.

Santa Sighting #1

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m a six-year old who stays up pretty much every night sweating, concocting terrible, horrific stories in my mind (i.e. death by headless horseman, an unseasonal tornado, or undetected appendicitis). As per usual, the rest of the family is long since asleep. Suddenly, I hear a clatter on the roof. My first thought is not “Hooves! Must be Santa!” but rather that my family is under some kind of siege. I tiptoe downstairs to wake my parents. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs though, I hear a pleasant rustling coming from the den. Finally, the possibility of St. Nick enters my mind. I cautiously peak through the doorway to see who’s there. It’s pitch black, so all I make out is a big red blob/figure standing by the fireplace (I could lie and say I saw a beard and belly and bag full of presents, but I’m going for honesty here, people!). Instead of extending a greeting or a glass of milk to him, I lose my wits and scamper into my parents’ room where they both lay fast asleep. This is critical evidence in convincing you that the blob/figure in the den is Santa.

I shake my dad awake, exhilarated, “Dad! Someone’s in the den!” I don’t want to get my hopes up by flat out identifying the guy. What if it is just a fat thief dressed in red?

I curl up in bed with my mom while dad checks things out. “Will he give me everything I asked him for?” I wonder. Dad creeps quietly into the den and turns on the lights. By the time he gets there, Santa’s up the chimney.

Santa Sighting #2

Two years later, it’s Christmas Eve again. All of my cousins and aunts and uncles on my mom’s side of the family gather at my Great Aunt Weezie’s house, like we do every year. Weezie’s house is, to this day, like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s sort of mid-century-modern (but this seems less of a stylistic choice, and more like an accident), with 70’s décor and shag carpet in nearly every room. There’s a tiny koi pond in the front entry and outside is the most gorgeous, organic garden you’ve ever seen. Weezie’s house is a world of visual contradictions and windows upon windows. We pretty much only go there on Christmas Eve, when the kids get to hang out in a back room, eating McDonald’s and watching Christmas movies on an old, boxy brown TV with long antennas.

On this particular Christmas Eve, I submit to the typical adult pleasantries: “Is Santa going to give you everything you asked him for?” “I hope so!” I answer nervously. We’re on our second viewing of A Christmas Story. lampOur bellies are full and it’s almost time to leave. The weatherman on the news announces a sleigh-sighting and my parents say, “We don’t want to miss Santa!” as they try to wrangle us out of the room. As my siblings and I gather our coats, one of my older cousins pushes aside Weezie’s heavy, pea-green curtains. An entire wall of the back room is windows. “Look!” he yells, and we all rush over. There up above is an arching trail of lights, slowly moving across the starry sky. None of us speaks a word, just our tiny jaws drop down to the very shag carpet as we breathe quick, believing and unbelieving breaths.

“I knew it,” I say to myself in awe.

I think the wise men experienced a similar, if not (admittedly) more magnificent feeling. The wise men were educated astronomers. They studied the stars – one star in particular, from the prophecy of the Messiah in Numbers 24. They had waited for it, believed it would be the sign of a King among kings. And then one regular evening, when all else seemed normal and the world had gone quiet for the night – holy crap. In the sky. There it shone. It was real. “We knew it,” they surely whispered as they stared up in awe.


My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Reid, told me that Santa wasn’t real. I think she was an alcoholic. It ruined me. I had seen the guy with my own eyes! Heard his reindeer on my roof! I watched his majestic passage across the night sky forcryingoutloud! You probably have several snotty adult explanations that might account for my stories (a low-flying airplane, a robust imagination, or maybe one too many Happy Meals). But I know what I saw.

exist-434Now I begrudgingly accept that Santa isn’t real. My parents claim to this day they don’t remember either of these “events.” But even if they weren’t in on some elaborate hoax, who could I trust anymore?

As much as I still go nuts over the Christmas season, I wonder if having the Santa-wool so heavily pulled over my eyes as a kid has infiltrated my spiritual life as an adult, in the way of “trust issues.” This is something I’ve been marinating on this December: Can I trust God? And will He give me everything I ask Him for?

Let me explain. I decided in college that I believed God and Jesus were true and real. That’s what I tell people. Yet my fears as a 30-something wife/mother would suggest that I don’t really believe God is who He says He is in character: trustworthy and good.

30-Something Wife/Mother Fears:

  • I’ll get sick and die
  • Depression will best me
  • My husband and kids will get sick and die
  • I’ll waste my life by way of bacon and Netflix

The things I ask God for, like a letter to Santa, are direct responses to these fears: Please don’t let me die, please let my life have meaning, etc. The underlying assumption is that these outcomes either hang on my ability to earn God’s good favor, or on the whims of a God who is not unlike a list-checking, sugar-craving toymaker. Otherwise, what is there to fear?


Maybe this grappling with God’s character isn’t really about Santa at all. Rather, it’s a distrust acutely rooted in the shambles of my character. Am I good enough to get the things I ask Him for? Am I worthy? The honest answer is no. Not even a little. I’m a lot like my Aunt Weezie’s house: quirky, uncomfortably transparent, and in plain need of some TLC. I’m a suspicious, controlling, undiagnosed hypochondriac – ever certain that I’ll get what I really have coming, which is ashes and coal and disease.

But “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Sarah Nixon, a burgeoning writer I follow on Instagram, ends almost every one of her posts with this hashtag: #heisgoodandIcantrusthim. It’s a long hashtag and you have to be caffeinated to decipher it, but my tense shoulders ease every time I read it. Something about this phrase, repeated over and over again, both comforts and confronts me with its beautiful, hard-to-believe truth. Though I am yet unworthy, He is good and I can trust Him. This is where real hope lies – not in my or anyone else’s own goodness or trustworthiness.

God loves us so deeply that He came down to earth as a baby, to die on a cross, to receive the ashes and coal we deserve. Instead of giving me everything I ask Him for, He gives me everything I need: a love and freedom I can neither earn nor escape from.

God is good and I can trust Him.

He’s a promise maker and a promise keeper. God promised, since the moment sin and suffering entered the world in Genesis 3, that He would send a savior to eradicate it. The wise men knew of these prophecies. They were waiting for a star, for a sign of the Messiah. When it finally rose in the heavy darkness, these earthly kings felt so certain of their own need for a capital-K King, for a mighty savior, that they abandoned everything to find Him. He was real. He was true. And they found him lying in a manger. There was no Mrs. Reid to blow the lid off this one.