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.

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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: 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 🙂