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: 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. 🙂