Mrs. Asheritah Ciuciu: I had just become a mom. And a mentor sat me down and just around the season said, “Aren’t you so excited for Christmas?
Jim Daly: And it wasn’t there.
Asheritah: And you have a baby now, and you get to do all these fun traditions.” And in a moment of clarity and honesty, I said, “No, really. I’m not that excited about Christmas. Christmas holds a lot of hard memories for me. And I’m afraid that I’m gonna ruin it for my kids.” And she looked at me across the table and said, “Asheritah, it doesn’t have to be that way.”
John Fuller: Well, that’s Asheritah Ciuciu. And she joins us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, I love Thanksgiving. I hope you had a great day yesterday.
John: Awesome, it was. Full – full…
Jim: Did you eat too much (laughter)?
John: …Always, yeah. It’s really hard ’cause, like, all that food is out there. And before it gets put away, it’s sort of, like, well, there’s less to put away if I eat more.
Jim: (Laughter) I like – I never thought of that.
John: It’s just efficient to eat it all.
Jim: Yeah, all that pumpkin pie and the good football games. Hopefully, you had a chance to look at that. But hopefully, more importantly, some family time. You know, Jean and I, what we love to do is, of course we go around the table talking about what you’re thankful for. Jean started this tradition. We tease her every time…
John: ‘Cause are the boys resistant to it?
Jim: Oh, no, it’s just funny because we’ll always say, “OK, it’s that time, right, Mom?” And we start talking about what we’re thankful for. But just spending time together, board games are big with us. We like to play a board game or two and, you know, make sure we have time together.
Jim: Not just eat and run. I can’t imagine – well I can imagine it – but for all the work that goes into preparing that Thanksgiving meal and then I just look at the table and whomp (ph), we’re done in, like, 10 minutes. (Impersonating family devouring food). And then all of a sudden, we go, “OK, let’s go on to the next thing.” And Jean’s sitting there going, “Really? All that work for 10, 15 minutes.”
But enjoy your food. That’s the thing.
John: And enjoy today. It’s a day off for a lot of people. Our offices are closed so our staff can enjoy time with family and just kind of prepare for the coming very fast December we’re about to have. It’s about preparing for the coming season.
Jim: Well, now it starts, right? Everybody’s probably shopping today. Getting ready for Christmas now. The lights go up. Maybe they went up a little earlier last weekend. But this is it. Now we shift gears from Thanksgiving into Christmas, and we start thinking about Advent and those things that we want to express to our kids to make sure they understand what Christmas about. And of course, one of them said, “It’s about Jesus,” and the other one said, “Presents,” you know? And so, you just keep plowing in to hopefully let your kids catch what the meaning of Christmas is all about. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
John: We are. As I mentioned, Asheritah Ciuciu is here with us. And she’s a bestselling author, a national speaker, founder of a popular blog called One Thing Alone. And together with her husband, Flaviu, they have three young children, so it’s a terrific season for them, I’m sure. Asheritah has a beautiful Christmas Advent book. It’s a devotional called Unwrapping The Names Of Jesus. And you can request your copy today at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Asheritah, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Asheritah: Thank you so much.
Jim: So, this morning, I’m looking at the book and the prep and all, and Jean went, “Wow, I love that cover.” So, I think the cover sells the book, right?
Asheritah: It is so beautiful.
Jim: It’s a beautiful cover. Let’s get into it. The Christmas season, it does carry a heavy load of memories for you. Many people like you, too. I mean, as you talk about the heaviness of Christmas. Let’s start with one of your favorite memories rather than the negative side. I understand it involves a boy you had a crush on.
Jim: I don’t know how old you were. But give us the inside story on the Christmas crush.
Asheritah: Yeah, so, um, this would have been freshman year…
Jim: (Laughter) Perfect.
Asheritah: …Of my college experience. And, um, I was home in Romania, um, visiting my family. And we were caroling with our youth group. It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions – is Christmas Eve just going around to different homes in different places and just bringing the joy of Jesus through song. And we were at this pediatric unit where the boy’s mom worked. And just before we went inside, he slipped me a note. Um, and we had met in fifth grade summer camp in Romania. We’d been friends for a long, long time. And he’d made his interests clear all throughout high school. And I was like, no…
John: That’s a long time of pursuit.
Asheritah: …Yeah, I was like, no, I’m not going to date. I’m just going to be like a modern-day Amy Carmichael and be a single missionary and write. And he was just like, “I’ll wait. I’ll wait. As long as it takes.” And so that – that Christmas move, he told me later, was gonna be his last pursuit.
Jim: This was the last attempt.
Asheritah: The last attempt.
Jim: And he slipped you the note.
Asheritah: He slipped me a note and basically just once again said, “I’m here, and I’d like to get to know you more.” I’m not entirely sure everything that the note said. I just know I turned, like, three shades of red and, um…
Jim: It’s so sweet.
Asheritah: It is.
Jim: Now what’s the end of that story? The listeners need to know.
Asheritah: A few days later we started dating and held hands for the first time…
Jim: And? And? And?
Asheritah: And now he’s my husband.
John: Oh, there you go.
Jim: I love that.
Asheritah: So, the pursuit paid off.
Jim: What a sweet story. Now some of the listeners are thinking, “Romania? I mean, how did you get to Romania?” What – what happened?
Asheritah: Yeah, it’s a long story, but my parents are Romanian. And my dad pastored a church – actually, five churches – one church officially and four underground churches during the communist regime in Romania. And there was intense persecution and death threats.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Asheritah: And it got to the point where my parents had to leave. My mom was six months pregnant with me. And I was born in Athens en route to the United States. And then when I was 7 we went back to Romania as missionaries to the Gypsies, and we lived there for 10 years.
Jim: Ten years. But during all that time, too, your family was struggling. I mean, you had some things occurring. Describe what was going on and why Christmas had both this joyful side but also a side that concerned you and kind of rode on your emotions in a negative way.
Asheritah: Yeah, um, behind closed doors, it was a different story. I mean, I truly believe that my parents – my mom and dad – loved us and did their best to raise us to love Jesus, but it was a very volatile home environment.
Jim: What caused that?
Asheritah: My dad – I want to be careful in – in honoring my parents in this. But my dad had anger issues.
Asheritah: There was also I think a lot that was going on in his heart and in his life. And we were pioneer missionaries. So, we were on our own in this country.
John: A lot of stress.
Asheritah: Um, and there wasn’t really a lot of oversight. And so there – I feel like the stress that sometimes comes with the Christmas season would bring out the worst in my dad…
Jim: So, some of that deeper anger and flashpoints. I’m sure your dad was dealing with triggers. I mean, again, he grew up in an environment when he was a young child that was very disruptive – right? – in Romania.
Asheritah: Yeah, I’m sure he was carrying a lot of baggage.
Jim: So, we get that. That was Jesus comes to do – to free us from that bondage, our triggers and to help us live a better life in him, kind of the John 10:10 that you mentioned – John, abundant life.
Jim: And that’s part of it. Is he – is he doing better? Or where is he at today?
Asheritah: Well, as I grew older, um, I came to understand just how toxic my home environment was. And then I went to college, got married and started my own family. And about a year and a half after Flaviu and I got married, my dad walked out on us, on his marriage, um, turned his back on his children and on the Lord. And he doesn’t seem to be walking with the Lord now. And we’re not in contact. So, it’s still very much, um, a wound that the Lord…
Jim: I can imagine.
Asheritah: … continues to bring healing and forgiveness and restoration to it. And at the same time, there is that prayer that he would discover the full life in Jesus, that he would return as a prodigal to his heavenly father.
Jim: In your book, you mention something about soul amnesia. I like this term but describe it more fully for me – soul amnesia.
Asheritah: Yeah. So, growing up in a Christian family I always, of course, knew the meaning of Christmas. I knew that this is the time that we celebrate the birth of Jesus and that this is great news, good news for all people. But as I grew older, I found myself kind of like a Grinch (laughter). I think there was just so many hard memories associated with Christmas that I wanted to be over with it. Um, there was too much noise and too much production, too much going on. And I just kind of wanted this quiet time.
But I had just become a mom. And a mentor sat me down and just around the season said, “Aren’t you so excited for Christmas?
Jim: And it wasn’t there.
Asheritah: And you have a baby now, and you get to do all these fun traditions.” And in a moment of clarity and honesty, I said, “No, really. I’m not that excited about Christmas. Christmas holds a lot of hard memories for me. And I’m afraid that I’m gonna ruin it for my kids.” And she looked at me across the table and said, “Asheritah, it doesn’t have to be that way. ”
Ashteritah: “You have the opportunity to begin a new Christmas tradition with your family.” And she just encouraged me to bring my concern to Jesus, which I’d never thought of doing that. It sounds so simple. But to bring my brokenness and to bring my hope of bringing new joy to this Christmas season, to ask God to help me rediscover the joy of Christmas anew, and he led me to the names of Jesus.
And this is where soul amnesia comes in because I realized I need to be reminded of who Jesus is and what makes him so wonderful. Not because I don’t know, but because my soul ceases to be amazed.
Asheritah: And yet, as I unwrapped Jesus’ names that first year, it was like unwrapping a gift each day. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He’s the Bread of Life. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s the Lion of Judah. And each name held such significant meaning and such healing and such hope and joy that by the time I got to Christmas Day, I was like, “Let’s do this.”
Asheritah: Like, “This is the best day ever.”
Jim: And that’s really unpacking Advent and how you deployed Advent in your – in your new family’s life. And I want to get to that a little bit more.
But I don’t want to move off this heavy burden issue because, in fact, I talked to Jean, my wife, about this this morning. And, you know, I was asking her about it. She so related to that, you know, that she felt, in her way, too, that she was not capable of putting on the best Christmas and, you know, that she would fall short. And she said it really troubled her. And until she decided to relax and where – how did she say it? She said something in effect like, “I finally realized less was more in Christ” And so not to be dreading, you know, the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect Christmas cookies, which was really driving her. So, the boys – our boys – had a perfect expression of Christmas. And speak to that for that mom that’s just staying up till 2 in the morning making sure everything’s right. And she did that.
Asheritah: (Chuckling) Not that I have ever done that.
Jim: And she said – yeah. And she even said – she said, “When I looked at the videos of our past Christmases, I could tell I was not healthy. I was tired. I was easily agitated.” And she could see it in those home videos. Speak to that.
Asheritah: Well, I can absolutely relate, right? And I think it comes from a good place because we want to create these winter wonderlands for our children. And we want to make Christmas magical for them. And as a mom of three kids, I get that. Uh, that’s this pressure and expectation that I feel I have every year. And I think it’s only been made worse by social media and all of the comparison. And we see all the highlights of everyone else’s holiday season. And somehow, we feel like we need to combine all of that to make this Christmas even better than the last Christmas, even better than our neighbors’ Christmas. So, there are all these expectations that we bring to the holiday season. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t make Christmas better. I think it can threaten to take our focus off of the reason for the season, which I know we say so easily – right? – Jesus this is the reason for the season. But what I found helpful – two practical things in our family – one is at the beginning of the season, we’ll sit down with the kids. And my husband and I will say, “Each of you gets to choose one activity or one thing that we do,” because there’s this fear of missing out, right? There is touring the neighborhood and seeing the lights with hot chocolate in your PJs in the van. And there’s the Nativity scene, and the Christmas caroling, and the concert, and the holiday parties and sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall. And there are so many things that can keep us just going nonstop.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Asheritah: But instead when we slow down and each of us gets to choose one thing that means a lot to us, that we want to make sure we do, then we can clear space in our December calendar for quiet…
Asheritah: … and for rest, and for just enjoying one another and being together. And that has made all the difference.
Jim: And I think that’s Jean’s point about less being more.
John: Well, we want to encourage you not to have a perfect Christmas but to have a richer one as a result of what we’re hearing today from Asheritah Ciuciu. Her book is an Advent devotional. It’s called Unwrapping The Names Of Jesus. And we’ve got copies at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Asheritah, what I want to cover over the next few minutes is really that Advent application. The four weeks leading up to Christmas and what you do for Advent. Week one is hope. This was a particularly important topic for you for the reasons we discussed, but that nervousness about Christmas, the cloud at Christmas. So obviously hope meant a lot to you. Describe how you would use hope in that first week of Advent.
Asheritah: Yeah, so I didn’t grow up with Advent. It was something that I kind of stumbled on in college. And I felt like this lightbulb went off. Like, “Wow, I can spend the whole month of December preparing my heart to celebrate Jesus…”
Jim: Well, for some not – that are listening that don’t know it, describe it.
Asheritah: Yeah, so Advent is, um, a season preceding Christmas. It’s the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. Each week traditionally has a theme. And different denominations sometimes observe the different themes. Um, it starts on a different day each year, so you just count backwards from Christmas Day four Sundays. But truly, what I loved about the season of Advent when I discovered it as an adult is that the word Advent means coming. And it’s applied in two ways. On the one hand, there’s the first coming of Jesus Christ. And so, we celebrate that God himself took on flesh and became human and entered this world as a baby for our salvation. So, there’s that season of celebrating his first coming. But traditionally, the church has also observed the second coming of Jesus Christ and using this period of December to prepare our hearts for his return. And that just brought such richness to the season, that it’s not just looking backwards at the baby who came, but it’s looking forward to the king of kings who will come again.
Asheritah: And that – oh, my goodness, it just made the Scriptures come alive as I studied them during the season.
John: So, as we come off of Thanksgiving and round the corner, in just a couple of days, it’s Advent Sunday, the first Advent, and so it’s hope. Give our listeners a handle or two if they really have just never celebrated Advent with that perspective.
Asheritah: Yeah, so one of the things I love to do is to infuse meaning into the traditions that we might already do as a family. So, as we decorate the Christmas tree, we can talk about how it’s an evergreen. That means that even in the dead of winter, this tree still lives and is still green and how that’s a picture of Jesus Christ. And he is the resurrection and the life. So, we can have those conversations as we put ornaments on a tree. Another practical idea is to make Christmas cards for families whose children are in NICU, who are maybe facing despair and sickness and possibly death in this season. And to be the agents of hope, to bring the light of the world into that dark place and to talk about why we do this? Why is Christmas not just about Santa and gifts and what we get, but an opportunity to reach out as we are the light of the world to bring hope because Jesus is the light?
John: That’s good.
Jim: That is so good. One thing – and I relate to this as well. I’m sure you do too, John. But one thing you were nervous about was doing enough to teach your daughters the true meaning of Christmas. And I understand your daughter kind of poked that fear one day. What did she do that all of us as parents probably have experienced?
Asheritah: She must have been about 3 years old. And Flaviu and I had these conversations about, “OK, are we going to do Santa? Are we not going to do Santa?” And we decided not to do Santa. We still celebrate St. Nicholas, and we put our boots out by the window, so there’s fun in that. But, um, in our home, we had not talked about Santa Claus. We had talked about how Christmas is about Jesus and that he came as a baby so that we might be saved and reconciled with God. And so, I’m driving to grandma’s house, and Carissa’s in the back seat. And there are all these decorations everywhere for Christmas. And so, I ask her, “Carissa, why do we celebrate Christmas?” And I’m just bracing myself, like, for a proud mom moment. Like, “This is going to be great. It’s going to go on Instagram.” And, um, she’s just pipes up. She’s like, “Christmas is when we celebrate Santa, and Santa brings us gifts.”
Jim: You’re what (chuckling)…?
Asheritah: And I was like a deflated balloon.
John: Oh, no, no…
Asheritah: I was like, “What?”
Jim: A failure.
Asheritah: “How can this be possible?” And I remember thinking, I just need to try that much harder. I just need to, like, overwhelm her with messages about Jesus and the Gospel because obviously, she’s not getting it. And I look up in the rearview mirror and make eye contact with her. And she has this smirk on her face (laughter).
Jim: She knew what she was doing at 3.
Asheritah: She knew what she was doing.
Jim: Oh, my.
Asheritah: She was pushing my buttons. And she just kind of laughed. And I was like, “Carissa.” But she’s the jokester of the family.
John: Oh, gosh. What a moment (smiling).
Asheritah: She loves making us laugh. Um, but it revealed something about my heart, that I had turned all of this into idolatry. Like, I want to be the perfect mom that does things perfectly for my children and gives them the perfect message and makes Christmas perfect for them.
Asheritah: And realizing in that moment it’s not about me. And it’s not about being the perfect parent or having the perfect Christmas. It’s about relationships – and in that moment, to be able to laugh and say, “You got me. You got me.”
John: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Jim: And I think that’s the gold nugget. That’s what, hopefully, people are hearing today. It’s not about being perfect. And it’s about enjoying the moment and what Christmas truly means. That’s what comes across so critically.
All right, week two – we’ve talked about hope this first week starting Sunday, as you mentioned, John. Week two of your Advent focuses on preparation. That sounds like work. What do we mean preparation? What – what do you mean in that context, preparation?
Asheritah: Yeah, so we do so much to prepare our houses for Christmas. We do Christmas gift shopping. We decorate with lights and the trees, and maybe we do community service. But this is a good opportunity, a good week to slow down and say, “How am I preparing my heart?” And again, the names of Jesus that just resonate with this message is that Jesus is the truth; he is the word of God; he’s the holy one of God. And each of those names, as we meditate on them, brings so much richness to this preparation. That it’s not about making ourselves right with God, but it’s accepting what Jesus already accomplished on the cross.
Jim: Yeah, that is good. In fact, you wrote an article called the 25 Simple Ways To Make Christmas More Meaningful. We’re gonna have that at the website, John, so folks can go take a look at that too and give them some help on that. All right. We’re winding in there – week three, joy.
Asheritah: Oh, I love this one (laughter).
Jim: It’s joyful, yeah. Why is joy so good?
Asheritah: Um, well, for me personally, Asheritah means God is my happiness. God gives me happiness.
Jim: It’s an unusual name, Asheritah.
Asheritah: It is. It is.
Jim: But God is my happiness – that’s great.
Asheritah: Yeah, and that’s kind of been, um, I feel like, my parents’ blessing on my life that I would find joy in Jesus. So anytime I see this word joy my eyes just light up because I want to lean in and listen and say, “OK, what do you have for me, God?” And so, the names – some of the names of Jesus that stood out in this week are prince of peace. He is the one who brings us peace with God, reconciliation with God, but also, he makes us agents of peace in the world so we can bring his joy with us. He is the great high priest. And so, we can stand confidently before God’s throne because of who Jesus is and because of what he’s done. Because he’s gone before us. And that brings us joy. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And the angels came to the shepherds and say, “I bring you great tidings of great joy,” right? The Christmas season is all about joy because of who Jesus is.
Jim: Asheritah, the obvious question is in your own personal experience and having to shift, you know, Christmas from a horrible time of the year for you because of the memories of your father, and the anger that he expressed during that time and how that triggered him, for whatever reason, and how it brought kind of dark memories for you. How’d you turn that into joy? There are many people listening, and they’ve got, you know, a whole list of reasons that the Christmas season becomes a heavy moment. In fact, you’ll read news articles about depression, anxiety being at the highest point of the year during the Christmas season. So, I think a good question here is for that person who’s struggling, for whatever reason, their parents, those bad memories, or just Christmas never being a joyful time, as you’ve just described. Speak to them. What – what can they do to begin to change that, um, as you’ve done?
Asheritah: Yeah, well, I think this is where week three, joy, blends with week four, love. Because it is the great love of Jesus that can restore the joy of Christmas. You know, one name of Jesus that I clung to in those first few Christmases was man of sorrows. And as I would look around the Christmas table, and there’s that seat that is empty at the table – and I know so many families face that every Christmas for whatever reason, whether it’s death or estrangement or betrayal. There’s that empty spot at the table. And Jesus is the one who understands. He is the one who was betrayed. He’s the one whose friends turned their backs on him. He’s the one who encountered death of loved ones. So, if anyone understands pain and brokenness, sorrow and wounds and betrayal, it’s Jesus. And yet because he was the man of sorrows, he went to the cross on our behalf. He bore our sin and our shame so that we could receive God’s great love in Jesus Christ that is so wide, and so long, and so high and so deep. It is in Jesus that we are found hidden in God’s love. And that is what brings us joy.
Asheritah: It’s not because we put a Band-Aid on something or we pretend that something doesn’t hurt or something isn’t broken. It’s that we bring that brokenness to him, and he’s the one who offers love and healing and joy.
Jim: This is the meaning of Christmas. It’s not Sears and Roebuck. Sorry, Sears and Roebuck. But, you know, this is what it’s about, finding that kind of love and joy and peace in Christ.
You know, Asheritah, I’m thinking of the naysayer, you know, the person that looks at faith in Christ as a crutch because you’re struggling in this life. “Of course, you need God because you can’t manage it.” You hear that criticism, you know, from some in the culture today. What do you say to them as a missionary young lady growing up the way you have. Facing struggles very authentically with the separation and divorce of your parents and those kinds of things? For that person that would come along and say, “Oh, Asheritah, you just need a crutch. That’s why you lean toward this Jesus you talk about.”
Asheritah: I think I would ask questions. I think that’s an opportunity to sit down and listen and say, “Tell me about that. Why do you think that? Where have you been hurt?” And then in those conversations, in the context of a relationship, I think that’s where God’s Holy Spirit offers us opportunities to speak truth. To reveal the ways that Emmanuel is God with us. We do not serve a God who is distant somewhere in the cosmic universe who is detached from our hurts and our pain. We serve a God who let go of the splendor of Heaven and became an appearance as a man and became obedient to the point of death on a cross. He is a man who understands all of our hurt and brokenness.
That is what makes my heart beat. That is what brings hope and joy and healing and restoration.
Asheritah: That is what makes me keep going on the days where I wonder, am I ever going to see my dad again? Is there ever going to be reconciliation in this relationship? And instead of becoming hopeless and allowing despair to set in, I can set my eyes on Jesus and say, “You are the one who understands. And so, would you give me your love? Would you fill me with your peace, with your joy this season? And would you fill me up so that it overflows into the lives of my family and my children and my husband so that I can be an agent of love and reconciliation?” And it’s overjoying to see when God answers that prayer.
John: Well, we are so glad to have had Asheritah here. And we want to encourage you to stop by our website and get that book, Unwrapping The Names Of Jesus. It’ll be great for you to work through this season and every Christmas season to come. Get a couple of copies so you can share this with somebody else. Just stop by the website focusonthefamily.com/broadcast for details.
Jim: John, as we often say, if you the listener can give a gift of any amount, we’ll send this beautiful gift book. Again, the cover is unbelievable. Jean plans to just set it under the tree ’cause it’s so pretty as it is. But just send a gift of any amount. Help us in the ministry to help restore marriages, to save a baby’s life. Man, we’re talking about – these are Christmas ideas, right? Bring the love of Christ into this world. Help us to do that. And we’ll send you a copy of the book as our way of saying thank you.
John: And you can get the book and also the article Jim mentioned earlier called 25 Simple Ways To Make Christmas Meaningful when you’re at our website, which, once more, is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Asheritah, thank you again for being with us the day after Thanksgiving and going into this wonderful Advent season.
Asheritah: Thank you so much for having me. It was my joy to be here.
John: We hope you have a terrific time with your family this weekend and your worship community as well. And that you can join us on Monday as we share one of our top 2019 broadcasts featuring Emily Colson as she inspires you to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.
Emily Colson: God places value in every life and He calls us, his church, to affirm that value.
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