Monthly Archives: December 2016

In the Neighborhood


This year, our family had a wonderful visit to Washington, DC during spring break. After our early morning tour of the White House, we divided up so that Ben and Jed could go on a whirlwind circuit of the museums to satisfy Jed’s love of history and politics. Riley and I took Clay and Alex to the National Zoo because the younger boys needed something fun to do and because there are pandas in residence.

I took my group on the mass transit Metro, which is not my area of specialty. I am that suburban mom who can spend a whole week driving kids around a five-mile radius of home. I was a bit nervous that we would miss our stop or go the wrong direction on our walk to the zoo. So, when we passed two homeless men in front of a store, I kept walking without much thought. That is, until Clay, who was six-years old at the time, stopped, turned back, walked directly up to one of the men and stared down into his cup. Clay immediately returned to my side, and said, “He has nothing in his cup.” His tone was indignant and accusatory. Clearly, we were not leaving until we put something in that cup. I dug in my purse and gave him some money for both men. He marched over, dropped the money in, and we continued on our way. But Clay’s words and actions have stayed with me.

In the book of John, the story of Christmas is summarized by this verse: “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 MSG). Later during his ministry, Jesus had a conversation about the meaning of being a neighbor. The person with whom he was talking correctly asserted that God’s law required, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” But then the man asked Jesus, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor?’” Jesus, in his typical fashion, answered the question with a story. He told the now familiar, but at the time revolutionary, story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man is beaten, robbed and left for dead, and ignored by two passersby. The only one who stopped and helped was a Samaritan, who was not a person of high standing in Jesus’ culture. Jesus then asked, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” “The one who treated him kindly,” the man responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37 MSG).

At times, the world can be chaotic, uncaring, and unkind. Our highest ideals are not always realized. The daunting nature of things can feel overwhelming – we want to help others, but there is so much that needs to be done. When we cannot see a way to make a dent in the problems of others, the tendency to isolate and withdraw into ourselves can take over. We can be overcome by guilt that we have not done enough in the past, and now we don’t know where to start. I know I have felt all of these emotions and frustrations.

But maybe, during this time of year, we can commit that going forward, we will pray that God opens our eyes to the “neighbor” in our community, whether it be an individual or organization, that needs our help. And then, just begin. Start small. When we see an empty “cup,” whatever form that cup takes, we will do our part to fill it, even just a little bit. May no cup remain empty. Amen.

The Carter Family
We hope you have a Happy Holiday Season and a Beautiful New Year!

The Small Things



Spend any time in our home, and you will become keenly aware of my children’s interests just by examining the floor. Riley leaves the bobby pins and ponytail holders that she uses for dance everywhere. Jed distributes his NBA and NFL card collections throughout. Clay has developed a love of building with Legos this year. Those bricks rarely find their way into the storage box. Alex is obsessed with racecars. If the cars are not in a backpack he carries most of the time, they are strewn about the living room.

Each item is small, but believe me when I tell you that each one can have a big impact. If you sweep the kitchen floor, you will need to inspect the dustpan before you dump it, or you’ll basically be throwing money away. Be wary of vacuuming because you might break the machine if you suck up any of those items. Step barefoot on one of those Legos, you will drop to your knees.

Even though it is annoying to pick up the same things over and over after asking the kids to put their things away, these little pieces serve as reminders that each of our kids has a distinct personality. Riley is constantly dancing in the front hallway when she’s not at dance class. Jed writes his own books about sports. Clay makes fantastic creations with Legos. And Alex is so proud of those racecars, to the point that he showed one of them to every person at Disney World.

Sometimes, I think we convince ourselves that we are small in the grand scheme of life. We get lost in our busy schedules, doing things for others, often feeling unappreciated by those with whom we work or share a home. We wonder if what we do matters.   Unfortunately, those thoughts lead us to feel defeated.

But just like those tiny objects around my home, we make a huge impact in the world just by being ourselves. We have distinct personalities and voices. We have specific gifts to offer those around us. We are worthy of friendship and love.

During this time of year, many of us celebrate God’s miracles. We rejoice in the ways God has come near to the human race in the past, or even became part of it for a time in the birth of Jesus. At the root of this season is God’s love for each of us. A love that is real and present and reaching out to us today and always. A love that is constant even when we feel as though we are insignificant.

We are uniquely positioned to influence people and places and the lives of our communities because we are special and important. We are not small. We are loved.


How The “Crunch” Takes Everything


This year, my almost four-year-old daughter Riley watched the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” for the first time. She was amazed at how “mean” the Grinch was and exclaimed her shock that he was “taking everything!” At the end of the show, I tried to explain how “every Who down in Who-ville” chose to celebrate Christmas even though the Grinch had taken all of their Christmas toys, decorations, and food. It was the spirit of Christmas that mattered and because of that, the Grinch changed and returned all of the things he had stolen.

Riley talked about the show for the next several days. At one point, with her eyes wide, she declared loudly, “That ‘Crunch’ took everything!” “You mean the Grinch,” I corrected. Of course, that was what she meant, but days later, when I was succumbing to the stress of the holidays and setting up for my own little pity party, I realized that inadvertently Riley had stumbled upon a correct assessment of the holiday season for so many of us. It is the crunch of it all that takes away the joy of the season. There is the time crunch – how do I find time to buy, wrap and ship all of these gifts and also attend every holiday-related function hosted by work, school, church, friends, and family? There is the money crunch – how do I buy everyone on my list something nice and meaningful when I need to stick to this Christmas budget and avoid plunging myself headlong into debt to start off the new year? There is the emotional crunch – how I am supposed to be happy celebrating the birth of the Christ child with all of the stress and anxiety and even sometimes sadness getting in the way? Let’s not even discuss the quest for the picture perfect holiday that so many of us pursue worrying all the while that we are setting ourselves up for yet another disappointment. I end up feeling like one of those nut cracker decorations has me in a vice grip squeezing my mind, heart and wallet to the limit.

Every year I read half a dozen articles that give advice on how to avoid all of this craziness, but every year I end up right back where I started.   But this year, watching the Grinch with Riley actually got my attention. The Grinch is amazed that the Whos sing to welcome a Christmas without all of the trimmings, and he realizes: “He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!” Christmas will come for us no matter what. No matter whether I spend everyday from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve in a whirl of emotion and frenzy or whether I take time to stop and realize that this is the first Christmas when both of my children are old enough to grasp the joy of the season, it will come. And it will go. If I do not take some time to shake off the excess of the season – the things that do not matter as much – I will miss it. I will miss the tiny miracle in a manger who came to live as one of us and eventually save us. I will miss the angels singing in pure praise that Jesus has been born. And after it is over, if I have missed it, I will feel empty and sad that I lost the opportunity to kneel at the stable door and worship God’s greatest gift.

Sometimes we learn the most important lessons through the eyes, and the words, of a child. I learned a valuable lesson from Riley this Christmas. I am putting my foot down and telling that “Crunch” to get lost. I see a new tradition forming here too. I think from now on, I will start every Christmas season by reading and watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I will not let the “Crunch” steal my Christmas ever again.