The Elf on the Shelf Can Stay

Ladybugbkt/Flickr/Creative Commons

This elf keeps an eye out from a wine glass. Ladybugbkt/Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve decided to relax about him. I refuse to beat myself up over his presence anymore. He’s okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong — he’s annoying and I have concerns. And I know that many of my fellow parents will disagree, and that’s okay. This makes me cringe, but that little Elf on the Shelf can stay.

After some debate, my wife bought the Elf on the Shelf in 2010. If you aren’t familiar with the Elf on the Shelf myth, it goes something like this: Apparently Santa is incapable of knowing if children have been bad or good on his own, so Dec. 1 to Dec. 24 that Jolly Old Elf sends his little elves to houses to spy on boys and girls. Their job is to check to see if children are being naughty or nice. So, each morning before anyone is awake, our Elf flies in from the North Pole and hides in a different spot in our house. When our children wake up — noticeably earlier in December than any other month — they look for him. Yup, it’s hide-and-seek every morning with the Elf. Then, the National Security Agency Elf spies on our children throughout the day. When our children fall asleep at night, the Elf flies back to the North Pole to provide Santa with a report on how our children have behaved. Then the Elf promptly flies back to our house, hides in a new place, and the morning hide and seek ritual begins again.

Truth be told, my children love it. They. Love. It. They can’t wait to wake up in the morning and search for that little Elf. 

Raising Children to Be Global Citizens

Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia /

Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia /

Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences, and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given. For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or, other possession that could be associated with “success.” As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series. It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.

And then we had kids …

10 Decisions You Can Make to Change the World

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit /

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit /

After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:

The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.

Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.

Finding Hope and Wholeness in My Son’s Return to Africa

RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register

Cathleen Falsani’s son, Vasco, left, and his half-brother, Juma, in Malawi. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register

Look for a billboard on the right and a sign on your left. There’s a dirt road. Turn there.

In this part of the world, most of the streets have no names. So the directions we were given to find the new compound where my son’s Malawian relatives relocated a few months earlier were pretty specific given the circumstances.

We had hoped to be able to visit with Vasco’s 16-year-old half-brother, Juma, his Aunt Esme, and a handful of cousins and other relations for a couple of hours. By the time we found the family’s new compound, we had less than an hour before we had to get back on the road, meet the rest of our traveling companions, and head north before the sun fell.

I was heartbroken. But when we pulled up in our van, Vasco’s relatives were so happy to see us (and vice versa) that even the woefully short visit felt richly blessed. It had been three years since we’d seen each other. The last time was in May 2010 when Vasco, my husband, and I traveled from California to Blantyre for our adoption hearing. We spent a month in Blantyre and were able to get to know Vasco’s extended family (or, sadly, what remains of it) and begin piecing together our son’s complicated biography.

Since our last visit, Vasco, now 13, has grown about a foot and then some. He’s also traded his close-cropped “Obama cut” for Bob Marley-esque locks. Vasco wasn’t the only one who’d changed – visibly and otherwise.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the planet, with more than 9 million people living on about $1.25 a day. HIV/AIDS, which we believe claimed the lives of Vasco’s birth parents before he would have entered kindergarten, remains a critical health issue. Among 15- to 49-year-olds, the HIV/AIDS rate hovers above 10 percent despite widespread efforts to combat the fully preventable disease.

Malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhea-related fatalities remain high in Malawi. So does unemployment, particularly among younger workers in urban areas such as Blantyre, where it is approximately 70 percent.

Leaning In, Mommy Wars, and a Dose of Humility

Working mother illustration,  iofoto /

Working mother illustration, iofoto /

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I feel so bothered by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In

I suggested to my husband that maybe I’m being defensive since I am an educated woman in a professional field who has very clearly chosen to “lean out” to spend more time at home. 

Or maybe it’s because I disagree with putting any degree of blame for inequality in the workforce on women.

Or maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea of human capital.

None of those reasons, however, seem to explain why the book and the phrase “lean in” have become such an obsession for me. I certainly consider myself a huge proponent of equality and women’s rights. I have marched, protested, researched, worked toward, and fought for true equality for women all of my adult life.

So my discomfort with Sandberg’s book isn’t because I’m anti-woman or anti-feminist. It isn’t because I disagree with her and want all moms to stay home and bake cookies and volunteer for PTA. It isn’t even because I feel the need to defend my choice to be a 99-percent stay-at-home mom. Instead, it’s because, as a Christian, I believe that the whole idea of “leaning in” does not take into account the principle of putting others before self. (Phil. 2:3-8). This principle applies equally to both women and men.

(Caveat: neither women nor men should be trapped into subservience by children and/or spouse. I am talking about putting the real, rational, and loving needs presented by being part of a family before one’s  individual needs.)

Talking to My Son About Boston

8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the Boston bombing. Via Facebook

8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the Boston bombing. Via Facebook

I woke up this morning, like everyone else, to the news of a shootout with one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing and the ongoing manhunt for a second brother. Like many others, I’ve heard lots of misinformation over the past few days about whether officials did or didn’t have a suspect, whether they did or didn’t have them in custody, and so on.

“I heard someone dropped a bomb on Boston,” said Mattias, my 9-year-old son, over breakfast while I scrolled through the breaking news reports.

“Not exactly,” I said. “It was two guys. Two brothers who came from [another country] to go to college at MIT.” They put homemade bombs in and around trashcans by the finish line of the marathon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I really don’t know.”

“Maybe they were angry about something, and they didn’t know how to talk about their feelings.”

“Maybe so,” I nodded.

“Did they hurt people?”

Report: Delayed Marriage, More Unwed Births

Women with baby carriage, vonzolomon /

Women with baby carriage, vonzolomon /

First comes baby, then comes marriage? That is the new norm for many middle-class young Americans — and they and their children are paying a price, says a new report.

With 48 percent of first births now outside of marriage, “today’s unmarried twentysomething moms are the new teen mothers,” says the report, released today by the National Marriage Project, the Relate Institute and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The report says reviving cultural support for earlier marriage may be part of the solution, but some experts question that approach.

Steubenville Rape Case: From Blame to Responsibility

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

Hands in handcuffs, Digital Vision. / Getty Images

The tragedy of the Steubenville rape case has provided a moral challenge to our nation. We are caught up in a highly emotional cycle of blame as we debate who the real victim is in this case. I find myself asking two questions: Why is our nation obsessed with the story and what does this story mean for us as individuals and as a culture?

My Family

I’ve always wanted a daughter. The problem is that adult Ericksen dudes tend to produce baby Ericksen dudes. My dad has 4 siblings — all brothers. I have mostly male cousins. So, when my wife and I started having children … yep … two dudes.

My Church Family

I’ve been a youth pastor for about six years, and for a long time I thought the closest I’d ever get to having a daughter was to pseudo-adopt the girls in my youth group. Actually, they first pseudo-adopted me by claiming me as their “Father” on Facebook. (Hey, it’s on Facebook, so my pseudo-fatherhood status is legit.) As something of father figure for these teenage girls, each youth group session I discussed with young women and men how the Christian faith is leading us into patterns of love and non-violence. Frequently after our sessions, one of my pseudo-daughters will tell me she’s dating a boy. So, of course, after teaching them about non-violence, I say to each of them with a straight face:

If he ever touches you, I will personally kick his ass.

Why You Should Pray Like a Six-Year-Old Boy

Portrait of a boy praying, Emin Ozkan /

Portrait of a boy praying, Emin Ozkan /

It was a proud moment in the Ericksen household. The five of us sat down for lunch and my six-year-old boy said, Let’s pray.

This is every pastor’s dream. Usually I have to coerce people into prayer. Now my boy is offering to pray. With great pride and a smile on my face I said, Yes, my Son. Will you lead us in prayer?

He took a pensive moment and agreed. We bowed our heads, closed our eyes, and then … this happened,Hi God! I want something really awesome for Christmas next year! Please get me something really great! Okay. That’s all. Amen.

Both of my boys began to laugh. My proud moment was gone and replaced by a bitter sense of disappointment. I instinctively thought to myself, “Christmas! It’s February, Dude. I hope you have a lot of patience, cause you’re not getting anything remotely close to ‘awesome’ for at least another 10 months! That’ll teach you to laugh at prayer. And, by the way, you shoulda’ prayed for freakin’ world peace!!!”