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A very merry non-traditional Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner — but not for everyone. Some students and faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University celebrate the holidays (or don’t) differently than their peers. Here are some of their stories:

James DeffenbaughJames

James Deffenbaugh (fr) never questioned if Santa was real – because his mom told him the truth from a very young age.

“I knew about him, we just knew he was a fictional character,” Deffenbaugh said.

She had intriguing logic behind this. She was worried if her kids were told Santa was real and then later told that he was fake, this could jeopardize their belief that God was real. When he was nine or 10 years old, Deffenbaugh told a few still-believing kids on his swim team the truth about Santa.

“My swim coach told me to stop a few times, and then I had to have a talk with my mom,” he said.

Deffenbaugh does plan on telling his future kids the truth about Santa’s nonexistence.

“I feel like my mom has a valid point. If you tell your kids Santa’s real and then a few years later say, ‘No he’s not’, they could think the same thing about Jesus Christ,” he said.


StephStephanie Lamb

Stephanie Lamb (jr) is celebrating her first Christmas this year with her boyfriend and his extended family. Her parents never celebrated Christmas.

“It’s tied to a pagan holiday,” Lamb said.

As explained by Lamb, when Constantine was spreading Christianity throughout the Roman empire, the pagans had a winter equinox feast where they worshiped a god with pine trees. Constantine decided that by picking winter as the time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, they could extinguish the pagan rituals.

“For my family, there’s nowhere in the Bible that says we should celebrate his birth, and all the gift-giving, the wreaths, the trees, the lights — it’s not biblical at all,” she said. “They didn’t want us to grow up confusing and meshing pagan origins with Christ.”

This is mostly a personal choice by her parents, who met at a church that believed the same. The family attended this church until Lamb was 10. They also don’t celebrate Easter.

On Christmas day, the family always eats dinner at home together. Lamb and her sister started a tradition where they rent and binge-watch library movies, since they had an extra day that the library was closed.

“My family was never offended if someone said ‘Merry Christmas,’ and we would say it back, we just don’t celebrate it,” she said.

She thinks she will probably celebrate Christmas with her future family, but pull back and make it less consumerist.

“It’s Jesus’ day, so we should focus on Him,” she said.


Sameer YadavYadav2

Dr. Sameer Yadav, assistant professor for the John Wesley Honors College, and his wife are raising two young boys: Noah, who is five, and Ezra, who is two. Noah is very inquisitive, so when he started hearing about Santa at school, he had a lot of questions.

“We could tell he was having a hard time distinguishing between what we told him about Jesus’ birthday and the Santa Claus schtick,” Yadav said.

Yadav tried to tell him the true story of Saint Nicholas, but Noah had trouble discerning the truth from the story.

“We put Santa solidly in the fairytale category,” he said. “To this day now we’re having the problem in kindergarten where other kids believe in Santa Claus and Noah is the obnoxious Santa Claus unbeliever.”

What was most important to Yadav was for Noah to be able to understand the difference between real things, fake things and fictional things, which are purposely fake for the intention of describing and understanding truth.

“Santa Claus screws all that up, so I wanted to disentangle it,” he said. This is a concept for a five-year-old, but Yadav thinks he’s getting it. “[Noah] will say things like, ‘Santa Claus teaches us about giving, but he’s not real,’” Yadav said.

While the Yadavs don’t give Noah and Ezra gifts “from Santa,” Noah knows that is what other parents do, and he has asked Yadav to put a present under the tree “from Santa” for him.


LarisaLarisa Kuehn

Larisa Kuehn (fr) and her family celebrate Christmas a little differently, mostly because they do everything a little differently.

For most of her life, her parents were missionaries in Bangladesh, where they ran an orphanage while raising her and her three siblings.

“We’d have this enormous Christmas party, so much good [Bengali food], like 200-300 people, [and] my mom would make like 600 Christmas cookies,” Kuehn said.

They spent Christmas day together as an immediate family, decorating a plastic tree. Although it was never below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the kids would bundle up in their winter jackets and drink hot chocolate.

Although they heard about Santa, being in such a different culture, they didn’t fall quite as easily for the stories.

“We didn’t have a chimney, so how could he get in?” she said.

She spent a few Christmases in Germany with her dad’s extended family. In Germany, most everyone Kuehn knew celebrated three days of Christmas, attending Christmas plays at a Lutheran church and visiting German markets. Her German Christmas in fifth grade was her first time seeing snow.

Now her parents are in China, so they spend Christmas in Thailand. They rent a bungalow, decorate palm trees and make sand snowmen.

“We always have a really big seafood lunch on the beach,” she said.

A Thai tradition, they light floating lanterns on the beach with locals. They also have a gingerbread house-making competition and vote amongst themselves to find the winner.


Adrian HowkinsonAdrian

Adrian Howkinson (so) and her family also don’t celebrate Christmas.

“Jesus was born, but it definitely wasn’t during this time, and the fact that we don’t celebrate that is because Christmas is actually a pagan holiday,” Howkinson said. “We don’t try to make it what it’s not.”

They spend intentional time with their immediate family, and her mom makes Christmas candies for all the neighbors.

“What every kid likes about Christmas is the presents, and we still did that, just probably not as much as most families,” she said.

The Howkinson family also has a special Christmas tradition of their own: “We go see a movie on Christmas Eve at the movie theater because there’s never anyone there,” she said. “Lately, it’s been ‘The Hobbit [1 and 2].’”

She’s not sure if she’ll celebrate Christmas with her future family.

“I understand the fact that we don’t have to do [a traditional Christmas] just because everyone else does,” Howkinson said.

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Carlye Arden: speaking Truth

Anyone who attended the Gungor concert, Surge or chapel last week knows who Carlye Arden (so) is. But students may be confused on what she was actually doing.

Spoken word, according to Arden, is “performance poetry.” The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s website says spoken word is “poetry written on a page but performed for an audience” and involves rhythm, wordplay, rhymes, slang and more.

Arden began writing spoken word during her senior year of high school, when she was questioning life and asking God lots of questions.


Spittin’ rhymes – Arden first performed spoken word the summer going into her freshman year. This year she has performed several times at IWU. // Courtesy Photo

“I remember I would think so hard about things, and I didn’t know how to release, and so I would just write … whatever came out of my brain,” Arden said.

When she wrote her first piece, she did not know it was considered spoken word until she read it out loud to her friend, who encouraged her to perform it in front of people. The first time she performed was the summer before her freshman year of college at the Bible camp where she worked.

“[My friend, Daniel,] pushed me to read in front of a crowd, and from reading that one piece … I started writing more spoken word pieces,” said Arden. “It wasn’t until this year that I called myself a spoken word artist.”

Arden said she is unsure how people found out about her talent, but this school year she has been able to perform at multiple venues. Every time she performs, she writes a new piece and never wants to repeat one.

After the chapel with speaker Karolina Goncharenko (sr), Arden received lots of positive feedback. Many students complimented her during her McConn shift after the chapel.

“I have had an overwhelming amount of encouragement,” Arden said. “People were constantly coming up to me. … I was overwhelmed. … I left that shift thinking, ‘I am so tired!’”

Sometimes when she is sitting and doing her homework, she will feel God pointing out someone to her and telling her to write a poem for them. She said she listens to what God “prompts” her to write about the person and shares it with them afterward. There will be times when she is walking back to her dorm, and she thinks, “Yeah, I am feeling a spoken word piece tonight.”

“I love the writing process,” she said. “It is a time where I can be super honest with the Lord and write whatever I am thinking and He teaches me. If I am wrestling with something … He will bring the answer.”

Though Arden comes off as confident on stage, she says she can get pretty nervous, especially when she has to sing.

“With [spoken word], I am pretty insecure about it. Every time I perform, I have to step out of my comfort zone,” said Arden. “The chapel for Karolina, I almost threw up beforehand because I had to sing in the piece that I wrote and singing is one of my biggest insecurities. … But it’s fine, I am working through it; the Lord is working on my heart and every time I perform I become more comfortable with it. But at the same time I know I am no Alicia Keys.”

Arden also would like to dispel the rumor people have spread about her having a record deal. She is working on creating an EP and hopes it can sound like the songs she performed for the Gungor concert. At that performance, she played with Alex Lynch (sr), Kelsey Gilles (s0) and Jenn Weidman (sr). They sang, rapped, played instruments and performed spoken word.

Arden plans to drop out of school and pursue her music full-time as she also wants to become a female rapper. This past summer, she was offered a couple of opportunities to perform but had to decline due to school.

“[I want] to be able to get on stage without anything to prove, without having to be promiscuous … and speak truth,” Arden said. “Being an artist who is a Christian but not a Christian artist is something that is super appealing to me.”

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Because God told him to

By Stephen Cabe, contributing writer

Assured of what he is about to do, he takes one final glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. Nervously, he takes a breath as the needle begins to inject the dark black ink into his chest.

Tyler Coffey (sr) remembers one of the hardest decisions he ever made: following God’s calling to get something he knew his parents would dislike—a tattoo.

“God asked me to do it,” Coffey said. “He asked me to do probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

Before Coffey got the tattoo two summers ago, he asked several people about the idea of getting a tattoo because he was still on the fence about it.

“[At summer camp] one of our speakers came, and he had this huge tattoo,” Coffey said. “I was just like, ‘Did that hurt?’ And he said, ‘Of course it hurt, but I wanted it to hurt,’ and I was like, ‘what?’”


Coffey got his tattoo two summers ago after he felt God telling him to get it // Photo taken by Stephen Cabe

The speaker explained how Jesus felt so much pain for humanity, so by getting a tattoo, he felt just a little bit of pain for Jesus.

“I was thinking if I ever got a tattoo, I wanted it to have a meaning like that,” Coffey said.

Until Coffey was assured by a verse his dad referenced, he was unsure whether he should get the tattoo permanently inscribed on his chest.

“When my dad referenced a specific Bible verse, I knew it that God was confirming for me that I was supposed to get the tattoo,” Coffey said. “I know I’m still in God’s will because of the different people I’ve been able to reach and the doors my tattoo has opened for me to talk to people.”

The verse that confirmed God’s calling for Coffey to get a tattoo was 1 Corinthians 13:11.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (NIV)

The tattoo is the starting point for Coffey to share his testimony and what God has done in and through his life.

This semester Danny Wogoman was one of the first people to hear the story of Coffey’s tattoo.

“I was definitely moved,” Wogoman said. “It made me think about the meaning behind tattoos, and I started wondering that maybe there’s more meaning behind other people’s tattoos that I don’t know.”

Coffey even shared his testimony with the tattoo artist when he was getting the tattoo.

“I was there for like an hour and a half, so I got to share my entire testimony,” Coffey said. “He really clung to parts of my testimony, and he didn’t say it with words, but God gave him a little bit of hope that day that there’s actually a person that cares.”

Growing up, Coffey had to overcome many obstacles, one of which was bullying.

“All the mean things people called me never had power over me until I began to accept those words as my identity,” Coffey said. “The speaker at our camp talked about the meaning behind words and how God gives us words with meaning. That’s when I asked God to give me three words.”

The three words God gave Coffey were love, hope, and faith—all of which are now tattooed in Hebrew in the shape of a triangle on his chest.

 “[The way] I used to read the Bible I would take verses that were inspirational and (without the context) I would post them on Facebook, but it didn’t mean anything to me,” Coffey said. “It means more to me that my tattoo is in Hebrew because if it said it in English, I feel like it wouldn’t have the same meaning. And it makes people want to know what it means.”

Every time Coffey shares the story of his tattoo, it gets easier for him to also share his testimony.

 A sports ministry major, Coffey hopes to use the story of his tattoo and his testimony to share Jesus with people in the present moments and in the future.

 “My goal is to share the hope that God sees and cares for you when no one else does,” Coffey said. “And God will never stop trying to reach you anyway he can.”

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Longboarders skate to relieve stress

By Heather Cox, contributing writer

It’s a breezy, early morning as Ruth Wooster (fr) comes out of Beckett Hall, steps onto her longboard and rolls down the sidewalk toward class—the fresh morning air waking her up and melting away her stress.

Colin Jensen (so) rides his longboard outside the Philippe Performing Arts Center.

Colin Jensen (so) rides his longboard outside the Philippe Performing Arts Center. // Photo by Becka Roth

Hundreds of students on campus have taken up longboarding over the past several years for those same reasons: it’s a relaxing mode of building-to-building transportation on the university’s ever-expanding campus.

Longboarding began as a sport called “downhill skateboarding” in the late 1970s, and the first longboards began appearing on IWU’s campus around 1998 and 1999, according to Joel Cash (sr).

Cash has been longboarding since 2000, when he first attended IWU before taking a multi-year break from his studies, which he recently resumed.

Wooster, who has been longboarding for around 3 weeks now, said “it’s super relaxing and gets you places faster.”

Jonathan Daugherty (so), who has been longboarding for close to a year, agrees and adds: “it’s a stress release, and it’s a fun thing to do with friends.”

The Midwest Longboarding Association states longboarding began picking up popularity around 2010. The Ripple, a longboarding shop in Carmel, Ind., said its board sales began rapidly increasing around 2006.

Though Indiana doesn’t have many steep hills, there are still ways for people in the Midwest to get more involved and serious about downhill skateboarding. The MLA advertises and organizes events for the sport and recently had one at Indiana University.

The longboarding culture is improving and moving rapidly and constantly, on and off campus.

“I think a lot of people would find it fun and stress relieving like I do. I definitely like seeing a culture of longboarding,” Daugherty said.

Jesse Turcott (sr) explained, “I like the challenge of learning a new trick or skill. I also love going on solo rides late at night if I need to get away or think or just enjoy a nice evening breeze.”

As colder weather is rounding the corner, longboarding might get put on hold for some people.

“My longboard usually gets put up once it gets cold, as I only use it for recreation,” Daugherty said.

Some, such as Turcott, will continue with the love for longboarding throughout the cold seasons.

“I actually board throughout the year,” Turcott said. “As long as there isn’t snow on the sidewalks, I’ll still go out and board. I just have to layer up a little more.”

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