Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Interview with Steve Estes about "A Better December"

Today we have a special holiday treat--like a surprise plate of Christmas fudge and a frothy cup of hot chocolate--an interview with Steve Estes, the author of A Better December: Proverbs to Brighten Christmas. All this week, I am highlighting this unique book and offering a chance for two people to each win a copy. Tune in tomorrow to read my review.

Matt: Christmas and the book of Proverbs? That's an unusual connection to make, though after reading the book it seemed like genius to me. How did you come up with and develop the idea for A Better December?

Steve:  Solomon wrote Proverbs some 900 years before Christ. But many of his sayings fairly scream Christmas. “The coolness of snow . . . refreshes the spirit” — sounds like December, eh? Or consider this little chestnut: “He who rises early in the morning, greeting his neighbor with a loud voice — it will be taken as a curse!” Tell me that Solomon’s kids didn’t squeal and jump on his bed way too early on Christmas morning.

Seriously, in pastoring the same church for 26 years, I one year decided to keep things fresh by seeing what Scripture might say about how to do December. After all, for many folks the holidays drip with melancholy and stress. I was surprised to learn that Solomon seemed to grasp the problems we face at Christmas. Proverbs fairly popped with zingers about reining in spending, the joy of giving, and the payoff of helping the poor and of sometimes saying “no” to your kids.

Matt: What are some gems of Solomon's wisdom that you see applying to our upcoming holiday season?


• “Even in laughter the heart may ache.” Solomon is thinking about that guy at the holiday party who tries to smile, but is dying inside from a wife who just left him. No amount of holiday punch is going to soothe his aching soul. Christian, are your antennae up for such hurting people?

• Your teenager thinks her social life will droop like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree unless she gets THIS brand of jeans or THAT smartphone this December. But Solomon says, “Death and destruction are never satisfied, neither are the eyes of man.” That is, no amount of stuff will fill us. She may not believe this — and you, her parent, may have to believe this for her.

• Perfectionists, especially perfectionist-moms, cherish visions of a Currier-and-Ives holiday, a family gathering Norman Rockwell would love to paint. But trying to shake a snow-globe Christmas out of every December will disappoint you. Holiday dreams can melt in your hands like snow. Solomon says, “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” God sometimes lets December disappoint us so that we won’t be overly focused on this life. Some years he may give you a Christmasy taste of heaven — other years, a sad December to keep your hopes on the next life, the REAL holiday.

• Other than dropping a buck into that bell-ringer’s red kettle, Christians are hugely tempted to be self-centered in December. My friends, my family, we, ourselves, and us. But great joy lies around the corner for those who ring the doorbell of a single mom — inviting her over, drawing out her story with questions, and loving her kids. “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Matt: This book seemed very personal to you, including stories from your own family and upbringing.  How did your family figure into the writing?

Steve:  They are the ones with whom I’ve sat in pajamas and opened presents on Christmas morning. It’s with them that I’ve enjoyed Currier-and-Ives holidays . . .  and the sadness of Scrooge seeing what he missed during Christmas past. Every story in this book is true. Each is about people I love, about scenes from my memory that affect me deeply.

Matt: As the book develops, there is a budding movement from Solomon to Christ.  How do you envision A Better December being used as an outreach tool?

That lonely neighbor, that divorced guy at work, that woman in the nursing home — each is having a difficult December. Each may in fact be dreading Christmas Day. What sadness. Yet what opportunity! To give them a religious book in July may make them feel evangelized. But in December, to give them a plate of cookies and a tiny, illustrated Christmas book can make them feel loved. A Better December is beautifully produced, laced with humor and zippy language. It doesn’t even mention Jesus until 80% through. But when it does, He is presented as the One who can meet every longing during the year’s shortest days and longest nights.

Matt: What are your hopes for this book as it gets into readers' hands this holiday season? How are you hoping it will make for a better December in 2013 and beyond?

Steve:  I’m almost embarrassed to say this. But as I wrote, I frequently imagined someone reading this book in a large city while riding the evening subway. I guess I pictured the loneliness of being surrounded by thousands of people, not knowing one of them, yet meeting Jesus of Nazareth in this book’s pages. Please understand why I say the following: a number of readers have told me that they wept through the last half of the book. I think this is so because I tried to help readers feel the Savior. I tried to show him as not only true . . . but as beautiful. This is my great hope for that lonely person to whose lap this little book has somehow found its way.

Matt:  Amen!  Thank you, Steve, for taking the time for this interview and for authoring such a winsome, creative, and loving resource. I hope that many many copies find their way into the laps of needy readers.

To win your own copy of A Better December, read yesterday's post and join the contest.