My Dad, one of JM’s Biggest Heroes!
This was bound to be the year.  While we have not ever dodged our son’s questions about Santa Claus, his questions themselves have never been out to debunk the legend.  So balancing some mystery, the magical fun, a grandfather who is a professional “Mr. C” — all while keeping the true meaning of Christmas intact — well, truthfully, it has never even been a challenge.  Until this year.
A few weeks ago J. Michael and I were alone in the car on the way to Atlanta when he came out with, “Mom, is Santa even real?”  When I began to respond, I noticed through the rear-view mirror that he was teary-eyed.  I knew that this was NOT the right moment to have this talk, and that Daddy was going to need to be part of this conversation (no WAY could I have him in the seat behind me sitting all by himself while MY hands were on a steering wheel, unable to hug him!).  So I reminded J. Michael about what he knew of the life of Saint Nicholas, and told him that we would wait and talk about this all with Mike.  “Hold on, Buddy!  Your Daddy and I have looked forward to having this conversation with you and very soon, it is ALL going to make sense!  Okay?”
On that same trip, we met his Uncle Marc and his four-year-old cousin Jack for lunch.  Santa was brought up during the meal, and I noticed that J. Michael looked down at the table in intense thought when normally he would have been talking, laughing, and telling imaginative stories.  I knew the thoughts in his head were stirring, and getting more contemplative.
In the car ride back to North Carolina, he had several questions while listening to Christmas songs on the radio.  But when we returned home, life kept happening, and we never got to addressing the matter.
One day, he even called Mike and left a message on his phone, “Dad, I need to know – do you and Mom buy the gifts from Santa?  Please call me back.”  That conversation STILL ended up not happening that day, and another full week passed!
Two days ago, Nana was on the phone asking J. Michael what he wanted for Christmas, and even though he had mentioned to Bumpa a few months ago what he wanted this year from Santa, he was now just silent, leaving Nana to wonder if the connection had been lost.  I said quietly, “You can answer her, J. Michael.”  And he whispered to me, “I can’t Mom.  The gifts are too expensive, and I don’t want to ask Nana and Bumpa for such expensive things.”  He just kept saying to her, “Nana, anything is fine.  I will like anything from you.” Obviously, he was no longer certain that Bumpa had an actual connection with the Big Man in Red.
This brings us to this weekend, STILL not having had the conversation that J. Michael initiated weeks ago.  (I must confess, I am feeling quite small – like a terrible neglectful Mom – having just written out how loooong we have  allowed his agony to stretch!  Ugh!)
At church, we have four weekend services – two on Saturday, two on Sunday.  J. Michael attends service for one on each of those days, and during the other, he plays with kids in the Encore Room (a hang-out place for those who are there for an “encore” or more).  Last night, we found out that J. Michael was in a heated conversation with another boy over whether or not Santa Claus was real.  The other boy kept on saying that he didn’t believe, and the discussion ended with Jeffrey Michael  Shroyer dumping a capri-sun fruit drink on the boy’s head!
We went to dinner with friends after church, touched briefly on that moment with him when we got home, and told him, “We really need to talk this all-through tomorrow.”

This morning, we found out that he was unusually disrespectful to a leader, and when asked how he got a scratch on his face, he said to her, “It’s none of your business.”  WHAT!?!?!  WHAT in the WORLD?!?!?  Who IS this kid???  He’s never even said that to ME!  When I approached him about it, his eyes just FILLED with tears and frustration and he said, “I don’t know why I said that!  It just came out!  I didn’t mean to.”

And THAT brings us to tonight’s talk:
J. Michael was sitting on the couch.  I was on the other end of the couch with Sadie next to me playing dress up games on my iPhone.  Mike was on the floor, leaning against the couch by me, facing JMan. “I think we need to really talk now about this weekend, and what is bothering you…”
J. Michael immediately began to cry and said, “Dad, I am seven years old, and all of my life I have thought that Santa is real.  I have just had a lot on my mind, and I am really struggling right now with it.”  Then he got onto the floor and sat with Mike’s arms around him, trying so hard not to cry. 
Mike, “J. Michael, you can ask us ANYTHING, and you know that we will tell you the truth if the truth is what you want to hear.”  He nodded yes, and asked Mike to tell him all about Santa Claus.
Mike asked him if we have ever told him that the way it is portrayed in the movies is really how it happens.  J. Michael smiled and said, “No.”  “Have you ever heard us say that there is only ONE Santa?” He shook his head side-to-side.  “And can you tell me how you have felt believing each year in the legend of Santa Claus?  What are some words you can use to describe it?”
J. Michael perked right up and immediately said things like, “Joyful, Excited, Happy, Loved, Peaceful, Thankful…”
Mike then revisited a little bit about the story of the real man, Nicholas, and asked J. Michael, “Is that man making you feel that way?”  J. Michael chuckled out a “No,” and paused.  Mike asked, “Does SANTA make you feel those things?”  “No, God does,” and he smiled.
This is when it got to the really good stuff…
“J. Michael.  It would be AMAZING to think that ONE PERSON could love all of the people of the world SO MUCH that he would ride around delivering gifts and presents, and all of the things that would make them feel special, thankful, important, and loved, right?”

“And you know that St. Nicholas did what he did for others because of the love that God has for them, and he used the love and awareness that God put into his heart to give to the people in need, right?”
“And we know that God did love the world so much that He even gave His Son to leave a  heavenly throne and become a baby in order to show us how to live a life with God’s love and strength… He then gave up his Son’s life in order for the perfect One to become what all of the people in the world needed… in order for us to be able to receive and have the gift of God’s holy yet personal, amazing Love…
So, God’s love for the world WAS delivered by ONE man, and He has made all of these things that we love to feel at Christmastime MORE possible, MORE magical… MORE of all of those good things you mentioned…”
By this time, J. Michael was so calm and peaceful, and we just began to help him bring up some of the other questions that he might be wondering — like things about Bumpa…

“Have you ever met anyone who loves to laugh more than Bumpa does?”  “No!” (smiling).  
“And are there very many people who love children as much as Bumpa does?”  “No.”  
Christmas 2007 in our own living room in ATL
“Then isn’t it so great that even Bumpa can be a part of the legend that started through St. Nicholas, and that now is a part of making people feel special at Christmastime?”  
“Yes… but I was hoping that Bumpa could take me to the North Pole.”  
“We understand that…”  
Then Mike said, “Do you think that if the North Pole was real that people would have found it by now?”  
Pause… “Yeah.”
Mike also let him know that there is a lot inside of Bumpa that has been blessed as he’s been able to be a Santa, and he asked J. Michael if he would like to finally hear the story that Mike wrote, based on the life of Bumpa, called How Christmas Saved Santa.  He lit up and said, “Yes!”  So we are going to make cocoa tomorrow night and let that story-telling begin.
Then Mike asked him, “How does it make you feel knowing that your very BEST and most FAVORITE gifts that Mom and Dad gave you were given to you by US, but with us not taking any of the credit for doing it?”
That took a second to sink in.  Then we all had a FANTASTIC conversation about the love and thought that goes into the most special gifts, and how every year, for as long as we live, our most SPECIAL gifts to one another will have the secret code, “From Santa” as a way to let each other know, “This one is full of a MUCH deeper and bigger love than just my own love alone!  This gift comes to you out of my love to change the world with God’s Great Big Love – the kind of Love that starts LEGENDS!”
We then let him in on something that he didn’t know — that each year, Mommy and Daddy identify a few families who really need to be blessed… and we secretly bless them.  We told him about two families last year who we blessed and even told him exactly how much money we secretly gave them.  His eyes grew SO WIDE, and he asked if he could be a part of that with us from now on.
As the conversation grew less and less about the existence of Santa Claus, it grew more and more about the very real existence and demonstration of Love.  For while the legends have grown, the purpose and meaning behind them has not changed.  Believing or not believing is NOT even the issue…  It is all about how open are our eyes to see those around us with God’s vision, and to Love them according to His richest, measureless, demonstration of Love.

J. Michael actually said, “So, I need to let people know how much God loves them by showing them how much they matter.”  (I can already see that J. Michael wants to be all-in on making his little sister’s Christmas joy and imagination super-spectacular!)
The irony of the timing of this conversation brought us to be able to let him know that he is ALREADY living out a part of this Legendary kind of Love.  You see, we spent yesterday with a family who is really hurting — going through a custody battle, separating their *stuff* into “what’s mine” and “what’s yours.”  When we were leaving their house to head back to Mr. Condo, J. Michael asked why things with them were so different, why their house didn’t look the same, and where the Daddy was.  I told him gently what was happening in his friends’ lives, and how their entire world that they’ve always known is changing.  He put his hand on his own heart and said, “Stop Mom,  I can’t take it!  My heart has already grown several sizes inside.”  Then last night he prayed for that whole family before bed and wanted to come up with some special ways to help them.  
ALSO – yesterday afternoon, he put together a “Secret Santa” gift for a friend at church and gave away two of his favorite DS games along with a handwritten note.  I asked him, “Are you SURE you want to do this?”  “Yes, I am.”  “Can I ask why?”  “Well, Mom, lately he’s been playing by himself a lot… and I really think he needs this.”
So, already active in this special boy is a legendary kind of Love.  And now after tonight’s conversation, with the removal of the thought that a Big Man in Red with an army of elves will do all of the work without you and me and a whole world full of people… well… I am looking forward to the NEXT chapter in our little man’s world.  Because there once was a Santa.  And now there isβ€”MORE.  Much more.  The you and me, love-in-us kind of more.  And we do not need to look far to find those who silently beg to matter.

So after leaning your ear this way to hear what I have had to say about Jolly Ol’ Saint Nicholas and my fear that any folly had turned not-so-jolly as my little boy has suddenly grown up, I’d like to leave you with this Christmas Wish:  

May you demonstrate Love in such a way that at least through your own children to their children…  
it will start legends!
This was from Dad’s first year as “Mr. C.”  It’s one of my favorites because very few kids have had a love like this for “The Big Guy!”  Needless to say, J. Michael and his Bumpa will always have this very special bond – sleighride,  reindeer or not!

What On Earth is Peace? (Part 1)
Walking In His Own Shoes