The Spirit of Christmas

This early morning, as I was driving in my car, I heard a story of a woman who lost her husband unexpectedly, after he had just gotten a long awaited kidney transplant (he was in his early 40’s)  The oldest daughter wrote into a radio show. It was very heartwarming as the radio hosts had her call her mom and read the letter, and then the radio station told her they were helping her with all sorts of gifts, house cleaning, money towards utilities, gifts for her kids, and more. It was good and sincere.  I was in tears before I arrived to work.

Something hit me about the “Spirit of Christmas.”  I love this time of year, and the radio station was giving gifts to help out a family in need at Christmas.

First, the whole story, and many like it are evidence that we were created to “do unto others”.  There was joy!  Everyone felt it, it was good to help this family, and this was a secular, mainstream radio station.  People love to give. People gain so much when we serve others. We were made for it. Imago Dei.

But further…I thought, Why– when there is so much good–do we get soooo overwhelmed at Christmas?  Sooo busy. And there is so much “stuff”.  Stress!

The reality is, I think much of it is meant to be good things. Here is what I mean. A lot of what I want to do around Christmas is good. We just have SO MUCH we want to do! For instance:

  • I love baking and giving treats to neighbors and friends and spending time with my kids in the process.
  • I enjoy wrapping something meaningful for the people who are in our lives…the piano teacher, or teachers, and family and friends and, and, and the list goes on….
  • I love creating Christmas cards and keeping in touch with friends and family. (And receiving others’ cards)
  • As always, I look forward to church, and the extended joy of the extras…singing Christmas hymns or giving money for those in need.
  • I enjoy thinking and brainstorming and figuring out what gifts I am going to get whom.
  • I want to serve the homeless and wrap presents for the less fortunate, and put money in the bell ringers’ Salvation Army containers.
  • I enjoy having lights on our house, and the memories that are spurred when we pull out ornaments that we have collected over the years.
  • There are heart warming Christmas movies I would love to cuddle and watch with family and parties we love to attend to be with others.
  • Nutcracker, or the Singing Christmas tree, or Zoo Lights are always fun!
  • And I enjoy dressing up and dressing down.
  • I look forward to connecting with my husbands office mates once a year at a Christmas lunch…
  • A family Christmas gathering with extended cousins that we rarely see, and old family traditions is wonderful!
  • And hunting for a tree (though, I didn’t act like it this year-ha).

And you know I could go on and on….but this “Short list” is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

And now….I … am …. busy.

These are all GOOD things….but when they are all shoved in a time period of less than 30 days, it just can be….so. so. much.

After taking inventory this morning, it became apparent to me, that many of these traditions are things I do, in fact, enjoy! There are so MANY things I WANT to do!  It’s just that either I can’t physically do them all, or don’t have the time, or feel like I am bone dry and out of energy when the day of Christmas actually arrives. How do we keep the “Spirit of Christmas” alive?

Well, first, my simple definition of “The Spirit of Christmas”:

The “Spirit of Christmas” is love, and giving to others, and spending time connecting. It is caring for others and enjoying moments. Christmas is old traditions, and creating new traditions. And it is remembering what Christmas was for in the first place. It was God’s revelation of his Son to the world. The ULTIMATE gift of Christ.  The fulfillment of prophecy since the very beginning, that God would send a Son, His own, to come into the world…he would be with us (Emmanuel = God with us) and walk among us.  God’s gift of love to us.

So, how do we deal with the overwhelming sense of all that happens during Christmas?

GIVE THANKS:  We start with giving thanks. When we are thankful for what we have, in each moment, we have the joy, and the energy and ability to move through each moment without becoming….let’s say….scrooge.  And the turning of our minds (and then hearts) to “giving thanks”, most of the time, needs to occur in our most frustrating moments.

MAKE MOMENTS COUNT:  We make the most of each moment and each tradition. What do I mean? Simply making the things we “do” meaningful!

For example, when giving gifts is just money and a checklist of who we have purchased for and who we have not, it just becomes a “to do list”.  We have a VERY long list of gifts for family.  Why we don’t draw names yet, doesn’t really matter. I actually enjoy giving gifts. The only thing that holds me back is time, or money.  One thing that has helped me this year was deciding to make sure that every gift either “gives back” in some way (see future post), or has a message of love, joy or hope specific to that gift. Though this has been CHALLENGING, it was been so wonderful to know that nearly every gift is giving at least TWICE.  The challenge and finding meaningful gifts has bee incredibly FUN and this might be my favorite year of giving EVER!!!!!

THE “SPIRIT” IS MEANT TO BE EVERY DAY:
“I just can’t fit it all in!?!!!” I often feel like this. I know my friends do, too.

We must remember that the “Spirit of Christmas” isn’t just meant for Christmas.

This can be hard when we feel it all needs to just get done or our expectations are that each of these things we do at Christmas are only meant for Christmas!   But in reality, what matters is the heart behind the “why”.  But if we search the why, we realize that 1.) Our heart is in the right place, or 2.) we are just doing some of these things “to do”, and it might be time to let some go (along with a few expectations).

If you WANTED to send out Christmas cards then DO it. You can still keep in touch with friends, and make a photo card. Who cares if they get your family update or photo in January… or February?! (Each year, I get a card in Jan and one in Feb from people who have fit it into the time frame that works for them). If you are sending for the wrong reasons, STOP.

If you want to bake with your kids and make shaped sugar cookies for neighbors and spread joy, PLEASE do! They would love to receive them in March. No one gives home made cookies in March!  If you don’t like baking, but feel you need to, then STOP.

When you want to serve the homeless, you can ANY time! (even better, join me on a Thursday night!!). Maybe you want to help a family in need, or give to a cause, but December is not a good month for your business – give later in the year.  Giving doesn’t have to be “year end” to get your tax write-off…you get tax-deductions for your giving ALL year long. You want to have a party and friends for dinner, but December got booked too quickly– just plan it for a later date…

Love people, serve others, be present. THIS is the Spirit of Christmas.

What I mean is, God sent His son, Jesus to teach us. He sent Jesus to be with us and walk among us. And He meant for the lessons of Christmas and it’s meaning and tradition, to be applied every single day. He wants our hearts and wants us to love people, every single day. Be present with our kids, every day.

Let go of what is holding you back. And hold on to the things you do for the right reasons.

Our hearts are definitely prone to give.  We were made to love.  We were made to connect! These are the Spirit of Christmas.  Let’s not worry about the to-do list and just spread the “Christmas Spirit” all ….  year ….. long.  Then, when we aren’t able to complete the MASSIVE to-do list at Christmas, we can forgive ourselves and move towards tomorrow…and the next day… and carry the “Spirit” throughout the year.

Living Intentionally: Finally gonna go “Do something”.

This gallery contains 3 photos.

So, there is this song by Matthew West called “Do Something” (previous post).  It’s pretty powerful and it was something that hit me last year. And then there is this book by Bob Goff called “Love Does” (previous post).  Again, … Continue reading

Living Intentionally: Cleaning Closets, giving with purpose

Continuing in my mini-series: “Living Intentionally“…

So, “7”, Chapter 2: Clothes.

I cried.

A few of Hatmaker’s reflections struck a cord, but, actually, my own thoughts struck a deeper cord. I think I need to change some things, and for some reason, clothes hit me. It didn’t hit the author, Jen Hatmaker as much, but it hit me.  I have much.  I have TOO much.  I don’t need as much.  And I want to change what we have, why we have it and where it goes.  So there, I said it. I need to work on the clothes thing…  It’s just a thing…a thing I like, and I have been blessed and I see this, and it is time to bless others.

So I came home from the wilderness and ravaged through our closet. Husband’s side first.  The guy who doesn’t shop. (pretty much, I am the one who says “it is time for some new x, y or z”)

Whoa.

5 bags of clothing later, of JUST HIS STUFF, and we are still full.  Talk about excess and consumerism. I am addressing these issues in a new way.

Mostly just the husband's clothes...

Mostly just the husband’s clothes…

So what are we going to do with it?  Well, not Goodwill.  So….I shop at Goodwill. I like it. I love a bargain and love finding someone else’s near new “excessive” item, that they paid $170 for (let’s say Hudson Jeans, for instance)  and I get to buy them for $24.99, or $14.99 or even $9.99 on a day when the pricing person in the back didn’t realize they are “Hudson”.  Just an example…you get the picture.

And then when we clean stuff out, we just drive a few blocks away (literally) and leave a bag of our excess at the donation drop off. Done.  And when I drop off, I look and see the other stuff people drop off, and I am just a part of the club.  Just normal thing to do…and it IS helping create jobs, etc. etc.

However, I want to be more intentional.  So, I cleaned the closets and choose not just give to Goodwill, or sell on eBay (I do that, too), or drop off at consignment (I do this as well)  but hand to someone in need. Literally fulfill a need.  This isn’t easy, let me tell you. Because not every non-profit needs exactly what we have, and the season of clothes or shoes we have.  We need to sort, and organize and seasonalize (is that a word??) and decide.

First, Winter clothes and jackets to Night Strike for the homeless.  I haven’t gotten to blankets yet, but I am sure I will grab one to go with as I walk out the door.

Second, professional women’s clothing for a company called Dress for Success for women who are trying to get on their feet, whether they were held up by domestic abuse, or poverty, etc.

Third, a couple jackets for a friend collecting for a local low income school.

Fourth, set aside a few bags of spring summer for the season when it might be needed and be patient and see if there is a need.

And the list goes on….

The reality is, it is NOT EASIER to give to those who need directly.  It is WAY EASIER and LESS PERSONAL to drop off at Goodwill.  (Again, don’t get me wrong, I shop at Goodwill, and I donate to Goodwill and they provide jobs and such, I get this, but this isn’t a stretch for me, Rachel Kathleen).  I have to be patient. The stuff that I have too much of, has to sit longer, and I have to work to find the right fit for these items…but I am trying to live with more personal intention. To bless others, in a hands ON approach, not a hands OFF approach.  I currently have BAGS of clothes at the bottom of my stairs (see above). I want to have it cleaned up. But….I am trying to be intentional, and intentional takes time and effort. This is effort in my sheltered little world…let a mess sit a few days.

Also, I don’t just intend to give that which we have worn, or decided is no longer the “style”.  Again, this is all a work in progress – I don’t want to keep consuming so I can give my stuff away…I would like to buy less, and then be able to tithe away the extra to people who need it.  But again, I am in process, and my thoughts and actions are taking in an overhaul.  I want this to be a LONG term lifestyle…not a short term purge!  So for now, purge on!

Living Intentionally: Shopping with Intention

Again, being in the wilderness and reading “7”: Another musing, processing, thought-provoking application for me.
Chapter 6: Spending.

First, I survived in the wilderness without spending one dime. (Miracle!! – don’t laugh)

Second, I was reading while in the wilderness (funny, I had very little to distract me) and chapter 6: Spending, caught my attention.  There is something to being a consumer, and we just simply need to change the way we spend our money. We have money. We are NOT rich in the eyes of our friends and neighbors, but we ALWAYS talk to our kids about how we ARE, in fact, rich in this world.  We tell our kids often that we have SO much, and our house is bigger than the majority of the world.  Even the boys, who share a bedroom, are blessed, because most families have an entire HOME that is the size of their room.  “Yes, their homes are small, and these families layer themselves and live together- in Africa, in India, in South America…”   Questions come up such as: “Why us?” and “What are we supposed to do?”  That, my friends, is another blog post. We are working on it.

However there is also power in where we spend our money.  We can make choices to spend money in places that make a difference.
Page 169 of “7”, Jen Hatmaker addresses this:

“Pulling out of a lopsided market is one thing; redistributing wealth to the world’s vulnerable is a whole ‘nother level…..Your giving can effect extraordinary change. Pick a need, country, people group , an organization focused on empowerment and sustainable independence.  You could be an answer to countless prayers.  The poor don’t lack ambition, imagination, or intelligence; most simply lack resources. We have what they require and more than we need. We could share.” 

I have power in my purchases and I want to make sure we are spending less money (to put aside to give away), and  that I am spending money on things that can have a decent impact.  Right around the corner: Christmas.

So, I came home, revved up from reading and being without computer, phone, screens, music, meat….and I decided…

“Let’s just not do any gifts this year, let’s do something else! No gifts!!!”
Family response:  “Uhhhhhhhhhh……”

My response: “Jesus didn’t have wrapped presents…blah blah blah”

Internal alarm: “Rachel, put on the brakes….again…baby steps.  Let’s not shove this down everyone’s throats…you are #* years old and look how long it took you!”

So, after this little bit of crazy, I made a few decisions:

1. I want to research where I am spending and give something that has meaning.  For instance, an item that would ‘give back’ to a greater cause.  Like Tom’s shoes. You buy a pair, and then someone in need gets a pair.  There had to be companies like this.

2.  I am going to continue to refine ‘gift giving’ in our own family.  There will be family reduction and other intentional applications for nuclear “us”, but I am still processing on the most meaningful ways we could express love, worship and honor to the Lord and one another…we will get there….

So I have been on the trail of companies that I feel are ethical and:

  1. give back in some way (percentage of company profits, or re-investing in a community)
  2. offer an encouragement (scripture, hospitality, etc.)
  3. encourage the hand-made talent of an artisan who wants a sustainable life wage
  4. literally give to someone in need (buy a pair of boots, and they give a pair to a kid in Romania that wears flip-flops in the winter.

This is what I have found.  This is in NO WAY an exhaustive list. I have spend quite some time reading the “About us” and “Our Stories” and also looking these companies up individually.

RACHEL’s researched list of companies that give back in some way:

  • Noonday Collection:  Jewelry, Scarves, Bags, women’s accessories…see link.  This company has a beautiful story that I am learning more and more about.  In my research I have contacted a local ambassador and asked her about the company and her own personal interest, as well as the cool things that she knows that I would not.  I am going to invite others to join me in (at my home) and hope to raise money for an adoptive parent, as well as giving my dollars to women abroad who have a talent and can be paid a wage that can launch their own dream or support their own families.

  • Krochet Kids: A cool bunch of guys, crocheted some hats, went abroad, saw a need and created a company that gives back.  They have some cool guys stuff, snow boarding and skiing hats and scarves and I like the look too.

  • Stone + Cloth: Buy a backpack or an item and it supports education in third world countries.  Cool bags, and clean fresh look.

  • Amazima: Katie Davis launched this to support women in Uganda.  There is a beading circle of women and their beautiful projects are purchased fair-trade.  If you haven’t read “Kisses from Katie”  you SHOULD (Click on “Should” to see previous blog post).

  • Sevenly: For every tee-shirt $7 goes to the selected non-profit for the week. And the stuff is cool! Pretty much tee shirts and apparel

  • Raven and Lily: uses the Open Arms refugee, made in America mission to furnish their products, as well as local artisans and they re-invest their profit into the women’s businesses in the different countries.  I love this explanation of their name “Raven and Lily”:    “After contemplating the words for a company name, we knew we wanted something that would capture the beauty and dignity of the women in our partnerships. We were inspired by Luke 12, where God says that we shouldn’t worry about what we will eat or drink because He cares for the ravens and we are so much more valuable than birds. He also says to look at how beautiful the lilies are yet they are here today and gone tomorrow and how much more valuable we are than flowers. We feel that the value God sees in His creation, including ravens and lilies, reminds us how much more valuable we are as women.”  Some items are on the more expensive side, but they are very high quality and are items that are in my scope of personal “taste”.  I need to buy LESS.  This is good stuff.

  • Roma Boots:  Partnering with World Vision, just sweetens the deal! Roma boots and World Vision give back together…Every pair of rain boots gets boots to Romanians and others in need and give to education.  Cute boots (bye-bye wish list item: Trendy and cool Hunter Boots)…I love the YouTube on this.

  • Live fashionABLE: Mostly scarves, there are specific women that make these items.  I am particularly interested in the “game-day” scarf for some people in my life.

  • Come Together Trading: These guys started this company after a Compassion International Trip…I am working with Mary and Martha who also gives to Compassion International, so that is a draw.  This wouldn’t necessarily be my “go-to” as a lot of items look like an import store, HOWEVER, they have a wonderful variety, and it is a good one to have on the list for items that aren’t really represented anywhere else.

  • Red Earth Trading Company:  Mostly Jewelry and accessories…but this is a cool website, and they had a recent gig with “Madewell” which has a classic style I love….they also work with local artisans, give interest free loans and have accountable business practices.   Pretty stuff…I may need more jewelry boxes (LESS Rachel, LESS, haha)

Other companies that we will be giving from include companies that bring something positive and meaningful into the home of those we love.  A few examples are:  Mary and Martha (Loving God and Loving others), walk in love (Walk in love. is dedicated to selling well-designed, high quality products with a positive and inspiring message. That message is a reminder to imitate God by loving others every chance we get – no strings attached. We believe that Jesus came and showed us how to be that message), and anything else with an inspiring and positive reach.

So, that’s what I have been thinking about. 🙂

Living intentionally: The deep wilderness and “7” by Jen Hatmaker

Living intentionally: What 4 days in the Wilderness and “7” by Jen Hatmaker have brought out in me:

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So, I recently chaperoned (49) 8th graders in the Ancient Forest (Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center).    We had to hike 3 miles to get in (to the ancient forest), took no showers for 4 days, and had absolutely NO access to wifi, cell, landline phones or internet.   There is a lot more, of course, but to sum it up: it was a great trip.  Living in this way for 4 days gave me LOTS of room to read, think and process.

and…

I intentionally took the book “7: an experimental mutiny against excess by Jen Hatmaker.

Well, that sure got me to thinking…if you haven’t read it, you SHOULD. It is funny, personal, thought provoking…honest, and again, FUNNY!

These two together is a thought provoking combo…I knew it would be…but didn’t know my response or what I would be moved to change in my own life.  Well. I. need. to. change. a. lot.

But, I need to take it in “bite-sized” pieces.  I want it ALL to change NOW…but that’s just not happenin’ as I drag others (the three, a husband and a dog) along with me!

So, for MYSELF, I am going to re-join the blogging world after a summer and early fall hiatus and work through the lessons I have learned…not JUST from 4 days in the wilderness and a book, but that things that have been percolating in this little mind of mine for quite some time.

So, this is going to be a blog series…I guess.  If you care 🙂

Repurpose/Recreate: Nightstand chalk paint, distress project

Ahhhh. It feels so good to have a project complete!
Some days I don’t have a lot of time, but I had a day off, and finished painting a nightstand that I purchased at the Goodwill outlet a couple of months ago for $6. I liked the shape and the height for some reason…and I just felt like I could experiment with making my own chalk paint, and achieving a distressed “pottery barn” look by using Vaseline!

My supplies:

Nightstand from Goodwill Outlet $6
Sample of Paint from Home Depot in “Bali Blue”
Sample of “oops” paint for .50 from Home Depot in a creamy white
Unsanded tile grout
Water
Vaseline
Nail files and sand paper
Paint Brushes
Johnson’s Furniture wax/paste

I always paint and forget to take a before pic!

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I mixed the Bali Blue with unsanded tile grout and water to my liking…following a little bit of information I got from Pinterest on homemade chalk paint….

and a little more painting…..First Coat

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Decided I liked the inside shelf and inside cupboard and top, creamy white.

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And then sanded a little and distressed and applied vaseline to keep paint from sticking on the areas I wanted “distressed”

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An up-close look of some distressed love (not for everyone, but I likey!)

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And with a second painting and sanding and then a coat of Johnson’s Furniture Paste to seal the Chalk Paint … I have a “pop of color” in the Guest Room (my 13 year old artistic and creative daughter’s suggestion)…Voila!!!!

 

The heart, soul and MIND: holding every thought captive, and my ‘spiritual workout’

My last couple weeks have been FULL.  Full of good, yes.  But, also full of unexpected, frustration, busy, chaotic stuff.

Arm broken in two places, growing bent  ….  anxiety at outdoor school for middle guy …. daughter’s  soccer club changing everything–she can’t even try out  …….  father-in-law wanting us to buy into the business in 18 months (can we?) ……..  one kid playing a sport requiring a ton of time (and that we don’t really love) …….. soccer team that I coach has to figure out what league to play in because the one we planned on playing in, dissolved …..got a call from school district lawyer about oldest’s 504 plan (a 2 year issue we have been dealing with)  ….   ….. need to write a letter to superintendent of the district (per his request) about the 504 plan  …. working everyday in different schools for different teachers, with different kids …… (I am sure this is much like any of you…or that some of you have MORE than I… I feel bad even putting some of my list here….)

And all the while, God is doing stuff. He’s working…. and this time he was talking to me about my MIND.

A friend tried to encourage me on Monday when one of the situations above got my mind thinking every possibility, every outcome,  every angle.  She tried to tell me, “It really will all work out, God loves you, knows you and the oldest and you will be in a place He needs you”

I got kinda frustrated.  Not with her, just the circumstance. “Yeah, it will ‘work out’… it did for Joseph in Genesis….but how many years was he in slavery, or prison before he did….I just want it ‘my’ way.  Just one area of my life to feel normal, organized, predictable”, was the short of my (ridiculous, immature, selfish and very real) reply.  I said a few more things, and felt extremely frustrated while thinking of all of the possibilities and running them through my mind.

Oh, I was being honest and –whoa–, in sin, I know. I am being honest here.  I knew (as I said it) that I don’t want to follow MY plan…but I felt like it.  And God told me…. “Hold every thought captive….”

Okay, I hear you God.  And I did hear Him…I adjusted and apologized to my friend…

But this problem I was frustrated with kept entering my mind…my realm…from emails, texts from other people, more emails to forward…I was just going to ignore the problem…think on other things…..but God had other plans….this “issue” kept (and is still) making it’s appearance…. more emails, more conversations, questions about “the issue” asked of me.

“Hold every thought captive…and make it obedient in Jesus.”

Oh, so I can’t “ignore it”? I have to make it obedient to Jesus? I have to say in my mind… “I trust your ways. I trust they are better than mine…I really do.  I trust you care. I trust you love me….I trust you love my oldest….I trust you know what you are doing…”

But.  But….my mind it keeps moving… But…. Flashback.

I don’t know what the conversation was, or how it was presented, but I remember being identified as something in school, for “gifted kids” (Whatever, I am not one of these, but somehow tricked them into thinking I was, haha!) and somehow, at that time in my life, I picked up, “Rachel, you are a very good brainstormer.  You come up with lots of ideas, different angles, and have a creative thought process…”  I don’t know if those are the exact words said, but that is the message I took to heart.  It is a message I have believed and acted on for the entirety of my life:  I am good at ‘brainstorming.’ My mind…..

Well, I learned this week, that when you brainstorm the good — the creative — the solutions,  your mind is moving, thinking churning…..and guess what people….I JUST NOW (this week) realized that my mind is thinking, churning and processing ALL of the NEGATIVE possibilities of life,  as well!!!!

“Hold every thought captive….”

So, Wednesday, after listening to a talk in this small group I am in…and hearing the speaker quote the bible verse, “Hold every thought captive and make it obedient in Christ Jesus.”  (2 Corinthians 10:5).  I confessed to my small group.  Confessed my struggle, and shared where God wanted me to listen.

And then this morning…I read this, in the “Living Life Undaunted” book of 365 Readings and Reflections from Christine Caine….May 2nd:

body, soul, mindAnd I immediately and already knew the answer to the question. Confirmation of  God’s work in my life.

He wants me to Spiritually Exercise my MIND.

And even in the chaos, even amidst the distractions in my life, the world’s views, the enemy’s diversions…God speaks.

The problem I spoke of…it is still a “problem.”  But, I will say, the more I relinquish my mind to the issue, and don’t dwell on it, thinking of ‘all of the possibilities’, the more I let go (as another friend suggested I do, haha), the better I feel.

So, I have a challenge — a way to “spiritually exercise”.  I will be trusting, thinking on these things…anything that is good, pure and noble.  And consciously trying to hold the overwhelming flood of thoughts, brainstorms, ideas – captive in obedience to Christ Jesus.

What is the answer to your question? If you are to “exercise” the body, soul or mind, which one do you feel is the most difficult to strengthen you as you learn to follow God?  Easiest? Why?