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.

Advertisements

Stuff: Comments on material “stuff” we have, sacrifice, and how I messed up

images-3Sunday found us at church. In December, our church home highlights some of the “Hear the Cry” ministries we support, and talks about the gift catalog (gifts for foster kids, buying livestock for villages in poverty, etc).  Specifically, the church highlighted some children in Uganda that “aren’t just numbers.”  Then we had a guest pastor speak from a local church about fatherlessness and God as our amazing father.

It was yet another service where I felt both personally convicted to act on God’s pull and tug at my own decisions and my own heart. I also felt filled and encouraged for the week.

Afterwards, I went to pick up the youngest.
First, I stood in the wrong line and waited for him (the oldest son’s line, but he already left with Dad…habit!). Oops. Then, I redirected and found him in the correct room.

He walked out with a big, shiny, new nerf play gun. A shiny new toy.

This is where I … well … the scene was less than pretty.  Similar to scenes I may have witnessed between an angry parent and child in a grocery store parking lot….

“Look!”
“Um, you are donating that, right?”
“No, it’s mine! (excited, proud and happy!) “I used my tickets.”
“Oh, buddy…you can’t keep that. We need to give that away. We have Christmas AND your birthday is two weeks after!”

Insert slight explanation:  Husband and I had been cleaning the day prior.  In fact, we cleaned, dropped off at goodwill, consignment, traded games in, traded books in and generally were preparing for Christmas STUFF!  I was already feeling this deep growl of sickness inside from all of our STUFF.  I was already desiring simplification.  I felt like a worn down product of overconsumption.  And then we cleared some, got rid of some.  And then we went Christmas shopping.  We got a couple of gifts and talked of what the grandparents were gifting, and the “UGH!” and the claustrophobic feeling of hoarding “STUFF” was just feeling like it was making its way right back in.  A hostile takeover of STUFF about to hit our home!

And then the children in Uganda, and the talk of foster kids, and the fatherlessness, and the gift of Jesus in humble beginnings….

I kinda lost it.

So, we walked to the book table, and youngest….sweet, sweet youngest boy was proudly holding the new gun in one hand and a bag of Christmas jelly beans he had received in the other hand.  I walked to the book table to buy the book on fatherlessness, and a worship album.  Mommy needed to write a check.  I needed a pen.  The pen dropped on the ground right at the feet of my youngest…..and baby boy kicked it towards me.  His hands were too full of STUFF to bend and help.

Oh boy!  Watch out…here comes the object lesson!

“Your hands are too full of STUFF to help me out!!!””

or something like that….

And then the explanation in the car….the “I am trying to explain to you why I am so frustrated!”

“Honey, you don’t need that…it just doesn’t feel right to Mommy to walk OUT of church with something….I just feel like we should be walking IN to church donating something….”

…and “You see, this is what happens…we people get so bogged down with STUFF that we have to organize STUFF, clean STUFF, pick out the STUFF.  We just get so busy, we don’t have the HANDS, or the time to help out others.  We are too busy with our STUFF!!”

Oh, I was mad. I showed anger. Ugh.

Oldest has heard this.  She understands a bit.  She has 4 years on him and she has donated her toy she had received at church before.  She starts chiming in…supporting these concepts…at least in theory.

Oh my youngest son tries!  He suggests, “How about when we get something new, we give something away?!”

I see good in it…but the lesson isn’t over yet.  I retort, “Well, honey, you see…God wants us to give the stuff we DO want…He wants us to give where it hurts, where it is a bit of a sacrifice.  And He promises that He will bless us…with 100 times the blessing. But does that mean He will give us 100 guns when we give one??”

“No.” There are tears.

“You are right, but He might bless us with 100 times the joy that we had in getting that gift, when we see the look on the face of someone who doesn’t have any, and that kid is ecstatic to have that one thing!”

“And God wants us to give the things that do matter…things that actually kinda hurt to give away…”

Hearts are softening, including mine.

And this is where grace needs to step in.

You see, I am right on. I am surely right on when I look at myself in the mirror, too!  I, too, have so much STUFF.  I buy STUFF and gift STUFF and I actually covet STUFF.  Oh, STUFF has it’s grip on me…I am learning from my own object lesson.

But I am DECADES ahead of this sweet boy.
And I yelled.  And I got mad.  And there are tears. UGH UGH UGH.

So…we come to a point of understanding.

“We will earn things for others at church from now on.  You can keep this gun.  It’s yours.  I won’t guilt you.  You earned it and you didn’t know.  Its okay.  And I am sorry for yelling.  I was just frustrated with feeling like we should walk in with stuff to give, not walk out of church with stuff”

Oh, how I learned a lesson for myself!  I think God is talking to me, too!

Little man…he is good and he is okay.  He is a happy kid.

He still doesn’t know what to do with his gun.  We are now a few days later.

I keep telling him, it’s his to do what he wants with.  He is pulled between his head and his heart.  We have been praying. He brings it up…sweet baby boy.  He doesn’t know what to do.  But he won’t forget this story.  Whether he keeps the toy gun, or gives it away.  He won’t forget.  Youngest is pondering and thinking on what he should do.  I pray he has deep joy.  I pray he learns to give the tough things at an earlier age so it might be easier when he is older. God has his back.  I’m not worried!

So we shall see.  We will keep praying about it.

And I will now pray over and consider what to do with my stuff issue with STUFF.  God has a hold of my heart.

Thank you, Lord, for continuing to work on MY heart.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Luke 12v15

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6v19-21