Through Their Eyes

charlie wyrick gardenThis week we celebrated Week of the Young Child here at the church preschool. This special week is dedicated to bringing attention to the needs of young children and what our responsibilities are to them.  As a preschool director, this is constantly on my mind every day, not just this special week.

Remember back when you were very little.  What are your first memories?  Did you feel safe and loved? Did you play in the dirt, get stung by a bee, fall and scrape your knee?  Did someone read to you, make you eat your vegetables, take you on a trip? Did you welcome a new baby sister or bother, and how did you feel about that?

Young children have very basic needs, and they are very self centered. It is difficult for them to see beyond their own person and think of others.  They see the world in a very concrete manner.  Their little brains and hearts are formed by those around them and the circumstances in which they live. In fact, their brains are forming so rapidly in the first five years of life, there is no other time they will grow so much.  The ability to trust, love, express, and think outside the box is at a critical state in those early years.

Learning that Jesus is our God who loves us and lives in our hearts is powerful for little ones.  How blessed our preschool children are to learn in an environment rich in pointing out God’s love and Grace.  Can young children hold on to teachings of God’s love and presence in their lives?  It is through their eyes I know this is so very true.  I see it every day, and I recognize how powerful it is to teach children about Jesus.

Young children marvel in a tiny ant.  They get excited to see one single flower and often stop to pick it. They openly ask real and awkward questions about every topic. They are curious and want to find out. They touch everything.  They run or skip everywhere they go.  They have a natural joy that shows.  They giggle openly, laugh at ridiculously tiny things, and tell you when they are mad. They cry real tears in front of everyone, not caring who sees. They run and give a big hug without hesitation.

What if we as adults lived like that? We work hard as adults to never demonstrate childlike behaviors.  We have tremendous responsibilities as adults and we see pain that goes beyond skinned knees daily in the form of cancer, terror, war, homelessness, fear and death.

Even though living involves joy and pain, take a minute each day to see if you can spot your curiosity.  Check out that tiny spider crawling across your desk with fascination. Give someone a hug. Let a small child see you give them a smile in the grocery store. Smile at their parent, too.  Look up at the sky and spot a cloud, or bird, or plane… or God. Remember your childhood, breathe deep and know God’s presence in your life. If you get the chance, help a little one know God’s love, too.  They will remember this and take it with them as they grow.

” But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me,and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven”belongs to such as these.” in Matthew 19:14.

Confirmation, what’s it all about?

This Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at our church, and if you have ever been a part of the confirmation process, then you know what a meaningful experience this is for all who are involved. It is a joyous occasion where our 8th grade youth are welcomed into our church family as members of this amazing congregation. But what is the real purpose of confirmation; becoming a MEMBER or a DISCIPLE of the church, and why not BOTH?

If you’ve never been a part or heard of confirmation at our church, it is a 12 week milestone where we discuss 10 different topics spanning or faith. Each of our confirmands is paired up with an adult mentor in the church to help guide them along the way. We also try really hard to have as many pastors and staff members in the classroom leading to give the youth a chance to feel comfortable with them following the milestone. In addition to the classes, confirmands also attend at least one session meeting, participate in a service project with their mentor, and attend an alternative worship service outside of the ones we offer at FPC and discuss the differences.

But what is the overall goal? In years past we focused more on becoming a member of the church at the end of the milestone. We made a point of making sure the confirmands understand what it means to be a “Presbyterian Christian” and specifically one here at First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, North Carolina. More recently, we had shifted to focusing on the discipleship portion of the milestone and making sure that the youth understand their faith journey does not end when they join the church. We focused on talking less specifically about being Presbyterian and more about being a Christian.

Confirmation Group

Part of the 2017 Confirmation Class at our Fall Retreat

For the confirmation milestone this year it was important to the committee and myself to think through the idea of why can we not have both? Why do we have to try and focus on just one of these? This year in our classes we talked about the church in both a broad spectrum and and a local one. We discussed what it means to be under the reformed tradition, but then also what are some of the more general tenants of the Christian faith. Our teachers and mentors gave the confirmands the information and freedom they needed to explore their faith, in a safe environment, and then decide if they wanted to become a member. It was not going to be membership OR discipleship, but instead BOTH.

That’s what confirmation is all about to me at our church. It is the chance to grow as a disciple of Christ, but also knowing that when you are standing in front of the congregation on April 2 to answer the questions of faith, you are also saying that you will be an active member in this vibrant congregation. The goal this year was to make sure that our confirmands understood that the journey does not end on Confirmation Sunday, no, it is only just beginning, but no matter where they go in life they will always have a home at 617 North Elm Street.

This Sunday following the 10:45 service, I encourage you to come and meet our new members of this church, but also remind them that they will never stop growing in their faith. Remind them that they will always have a place at the table, and that we are always there for them in their time of need. Thanks be to God!

Explaining Lent to Young Children

“How do I explain Ash Wednesday, repentance, and forgiveness to preschoolers? Do little kids have any concept of how long 40 days is?” I asked myself these questions a couple weeks ago as I prepared to deliver an Ash Wednesday mini-message at our preschool chapel service.

My background is in child development rather than formal theology education (Other than being born and raised a Presbyterian for 40 years). I am constantly learning as I go how best to integrate theology and education of our youngest disciples. One thing I know from working with children is that very young children cannot understand abstract concepts. They think in terms of the concrete. Their sense of time involves, yesterday, today, and tomorrow – that’s it. So Lenten concepts of fasting, alms-giving, mortality, sin, and 40 days are nearly impossible for tiny minds to understand (and, sometimes, grown up minds, too!).

So, what do we say to young children when they hear about Lent at church? We have to put it in terms that they can comprehend and find relevant.

Explaining Lent to Young Children

During the Ash Wednesday service, I asked children if they had ever said “I’m sorry” to a friend or a parent. I asked if anyone had ever said “I’m sorry” to them. Of course, the answer was yes. I explained that, Lent is a time when we say “I’m sorry” to Jesus because we all – kids and grownups – make mistakes. I reminded them that, just like a friend or parent does, when we say “I’m sorry” to Jesus, he still loves us even though we have done something wrong. With the imposition of ashes, we said to the children, “You are a child of God who loves you.” A simple but important message that little ones can grasp.

Here are some other ideas for helping children through Lent:

  1. Daily devotions and prayer – Explain to kids that Lent is a time when we really concentrate on our relationship with God and try doing a daily, kid-friendly devotion. I highly recommend the Jesus Calling for Kids  devotional or Jesus Today Devotions for Kids.
  2. Make resurrection eggs – You can purchase resurrection eggs (like these) online or at a local Christian bookstore or you can make your own.  **Note: for younger children, I suggest making a set of only 6 eggs (donkey, bread, cross, stone, empty, and “He Lives”) as some of the ones in the whole set are a little “intense” for little ones. FPC resurrection egg hunt is on March 29 during Wednesday dinner! 
  3. Serve together – We often think of giving up something during lent, but this is a hard correlation for kids to make. Instead, consider GIVING together. Help children count change from their piggy bank to bring to church or donate clothes to a local charity. Consider how you could serve together as a family at a soup kitchen or nursing home.
  4. Plant something! – Plant some flowers or vegetable seeds and watch them daily. Discuss how Jesus died on the cross but then came to life again, just like the plants come to life.
  5. Read together – There is no better way to teach children than through books. find some Lent and Easter books you and your child like and read them together. Some suggestions are The Donkey That No One Could Ride, The Parable Lily,  On Easter Sunday.

Through it all – the 40 days, the prayer and fasting, Holy Week, the crucifixion, the resurrection – children should have a sense of hope and happiness, rather than gloom and death (which can be extremely scary for tiny hearts). Keep it simple, succinct, and comforting.

“You are a child of God who loves you. Amen.”

 

 

lentGiving up or taking on?

Next week Lent 2017 starts. I remember when I was growing up, my Catholic cousin would talk about “giving something up” for Lent. This was not a practice of the church I attended so I always thought this was strange and wondered what the point was.

I’ve come to understand that Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Starting on Ash Wednesday, March 1 this year, and ending on Easter Sunday. The reason people “give something up” for Lent is to focus on God. Many people give up habits like chewing their nails, eating chocolate, drinking alcohol, smoking, etc. All of this “giving up” is intended for people to spend the time seeking God instead of the habit they have given up.

I think it is hard to wrap our minds around “giving something up” because our culture tells us to seek “more.” More money, more adventure, more love, more time, more is better!  So to seek less, give something up, just feels wrong and very difficult.

In some ways the 40 days of Lent is to model the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. In Matthew 4:1-2 it says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”

We know that during this time, Jesus was tempted with food and power and the opportunity to show he was really important. Jesus resisted the temptations by quoting scripture and reminding the devil of God’s power and presence in his life. Jesus gave up power, nutrition and importance by taking on God’s presence.

To me, that seems to be a good practice during Lent, be aware that when we decide to “give something up” we should  “take on” something that is Godly. For example during Lent, we could:

  1. “Give up” fussing with our children over how or what they are eating at dinner. “Take on” more peaceful family meals in which we have conversations with our children and notice how God is working in their lives.
  2. “Give up” talking on our cell phones while checking out at the Target store. “Take on” an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of God’s creation of humans. We might also show God’s love for the frazzled mom with the 2-year-old throwing a temper tantrum in line by smiling warmly and encouragingly at that mom.
  3. “Give up” listening to the radio on the way to and from work. “Take on” quiet time to reflect on the blessings in our lives and spend time in prayer.
  4. “Give up” regular checking of social media, limiting it to once per day. “Take on” time to nap, color a pretty picture in the adult coloring book we received for Christmas, read a good book, talk to a friend, or pray.
  5. “Give up” chips for an afternoon snack. “Take on” eating an apple, or grapes, thanking God for the blessing of fresh, nutritious fruit.
  6. “Give up” negative thoughts. “Take on” the Examen prayer practice in which we examine each day, looking for the positive ways God has been present in our life. (http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen)
  7. “Give up” posting or reading negative thoughts on social media. “Take on” writing in a gratitude journal each day, giving thanks to God for all the blessings in our life.

So, in the next few days I think I will spend some time deciding what I am going to “give up” for Lent. I want to be sure that what I give up will enable me to “take on” more of God. I think doing this will make a big impact on how I experience Easter this year. I think maybe this is the point of Lent!

Pizza Faith: Family Mealtime as Spiritual Practice

Dinner time at my house is often immensely frustrating.  The first hurdle is finding a menu that will make all five of us relatively happy. With a “meat & potatoes” husband, one vegetarian daughter, and another extremely finicky child, that alone usually feels like a monumental task.

Then, I/we have to find time to prepare the meal and eat it in between homework assignments, soccer practice, horseback riding lessons, and piano lessons. Throw in an occasional PTA event or some other evening meeting we need to attend and the schedule will make your head spin. At least, it makes mine spin.

When we do make it to the table, typically everyone gobbles their food amidst a whirlwind of reminders about good manners, sibling bickering, laughter, & impromptu belching contests (yes, even with daughters!).  When everyone disperses a mere 15 minutes after we sit down, I’m normally left wondering why I even bother to go to the trouble of it all in the first place.

Then, there’s the clean up. Ugh!

So, why do I bother?

For both my husband and me, it is a family tradition we grew up with – a cornerstone of family life –  and one that we have always tried our best to incorporate into our own household. It is a time for us to come together as a family unit and share the highs & lows of our day. It is a time when we can discuss current events, answer questions, and, on the good days, laugh together.  It is a time when we can practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, gratitude, and hospitality with one another.

pizza-faith-image

John Roberts of Lifelong Faith Associates emphasizes 5 core Family Faith Practices:

  1. Family Faith Conversations
  2. Family Devotions and Prayer
  3. Family Service
  4. Family Rituals and Traditions
  5. Family Meals

At least three of those – conversations, devotions/prayer, and rituals-  can all be accomplished through family meal time.

Jesus shows us many, many examples of forging faith over food. He knew the value of sharing a meal with loved ones. He made a habit of breaking bread with the sick and despised, like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Knowing his impending fate, he gathered with his family of disciples around the table one last time (Luke 22:19-20). After his resurrection, he again shared a meal with his disciples on the beach (John 21:5-6).

I know what you’re thinking, though. Jesus didn’t have to get kids to basketball practice, try to help his 6th grader figure out her science homework, or worry about food allergies and picky eaters. That may certainly be true and, believe me, I hear you! However, I think family meal time is still very possible if we make it a goal and if it’s important enough to be near the top of our priority lists. Maybe it’s not every single night and maybe it’s pizza delivery rather than a fancy gourmet meal, but THAT’S OKAY!!!!! Let me repeat that – THAT’S OKAY!!! It’s not about fancy food or masterful ambiance. It’s about being together, having the conversations, creating the traditions, and fostering foundations of faith.

Lessons in Silence

silence

Jesus was a busy guy. He went from meeting, to healing, to teaching, to preaching, to another meeting—and, as the feeding of the five thousand suggests, he still had to provide most of the food for his own events. He must have been so tired. And of course, like us, Jesus had some seriously important work to get done. There is always more of the poor to comfort, always more wounds to touch, more divine words to speak. As I’ve burned the midnight oil far too many times in graduate school I’ve often wondered if Jesus ever pulled all-nighters—I hope not, but then again, those disciples did have trouble staying awake that night in the garden…

All kidding aside, amidst all the frenzy that it probably was to be the Son of God (a lot to live up to), Israel’s awaited Messiah (no pressure, Jesus), and a crowd favorite, Jesus did something very odd indeed. In fact, from the perspective of our success-driven and deadline-laden world this may be the oddest thing Jesus ever did: “But Jesus himself often slipped away to solitary places to pray” (Luke 5:16). I imagine one disciple saying, “Hey Peter, where’s the boss? There are a lot of hungry and hurting people outside that need to be saved.”

“Well,” answers Peter, “He went off alone—again.” Okay Jesus, a coffee break once in a while is understandable, but slipping away from the job to pray—really? After all, why would the all-powerful Son of God need a rest? Doesn’t being divine come up free power-ups or something?

If Jesus’ work-break weren’t odd enough, what happens after is truly astounding. Without fail, Jesus’ silent retreats are followed by magnificent displays of his power; he heals, exorcizes demons, and walks on water, to name a few. Often when I think of how Jesus is powerful I just assume he was a super-hero of super-hero’s, walking around and zapping demons and waving his magic wand to heal the downtrodden. But what if his power came from elsewhere, what if it came from those silent retreats? What if Jesus’ power was prayer-power?

Jesus knew that one of the most powerful things God does is to take a break. Indeed, after six days of some quality work God took a whole day off—imagine all of the extra stuff God could have produced on that seventh day! We might also remember that before Jesus even began his ministry he first retreated into the wilderness to pray for 40 days. Likewise, on the night before he was to be killed, Jesus retreated into a quiet place to speak to his father one last time. And lest we forget that in silence there is unquantifiable, amazing, astounding power, we might ponder just how quiet and still Jesus’ tomb was the Saturday before God launched him out of it.

Jesus’ silent retreats are odd to us because our world moves too fast. There is no time to simply be. Most of us are controlled by deadlines, by being within the slide-of-a-finger’s reach from human connection. There are clocks everywhere; we wear them on our wrists, we place them on our bed-stands, and we keep them in our pockets. We do so because the world tells us that “time is of the essence!” We do so because productivity and performance have become bound to the value we place on ourselves. What we do has become who we are. It’s surprising how fast 40-hour work weeks become 50-hour work weeks become 60-hour workweeks. I’m not exactly sure what we are chasing as we live within this time-crunched world, but it probably something like perfection, success, worth, achievement, reward, and recognition. But what if we slowed down once in a while? What if we followed Jesus in his quiet protest against being over-worked and burned out? What power could we find in the still and quiet places? I wonder if we would hear in those places God’s voice telling us, as God did Jesus, who we truly, really are, “YOU ARE MY BELOVED CHILD. WITH YOU I AM WELL PLEASED. THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO OR NOT DO TO MAKE ME LOVE YOU LESS.”

It’s funny how loud God can be in the silence. Jesus heard that voice loud and clear, and it was by the rhythm of love in that voice that Jesus marched his whole ministry long. Even if as you read this it feels impossible to slip away to the still places, Jesus is still speaking. I wonder if you can hear his voice, as quiet and muffled as it may be, saying to you in this very moment, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy, and overworked, and suffering from work-a-holism, and so busy you want to cry, and so anxious you can’t sleep, and so depressed you can’t smile. Come to me. And I will give you rest.”

It’s a New Year. How are you doing with your resolutions?

2017 has arrived! It is a new year. So what? In our culture we make a big deal about the New Year. Millions of people gather in New York to watch a glass ball drop. Many smaller towns and cities across the US hold their own versions of the ball drop. Atlanta, GA drops a peach; Raleigh, NC drops an acorn and a new one I just learned about, Strasburg PA drops ping pong balls! Millions more stay up late to watch it on TV while we all join together to count down 10, 9, 8, ….

There are lots of traditions surrounding the New Year celebrations. It is said that you should be with family and friends as the new year begins because if the first people you see as are loved ones, you will have good luck for the coming year. The New Year kiss is supposed to guarantee you will not be lonely in the coming year. Of course there are the special foods to be eaten on New Year ’s Day. In my family we eat pork for health, black eyed peas for coins and collard greens for dollar bills.

Another tradition is to make New Year resolutions. I googled this and was amazed at all the information I found. It seems this is an ancient practice dating back to the Babylonians who made promises to their gods at the start of each new year. They promised to return all borrowed objects and pay all their debt. Now-a-days, we resolve to change bad habits and take on good ones. The most common resolutions are to improve our health, lose weight, start exercising, quit smoking, go back to school, take a trip, etc. One statistic I read said that one in ten actually meet their new year goal.

So, now it is 3 weeks into the new year and I am wondering what all the excitement was about. What if we put as much thought, time and energy into each new day? What if we resolved each day to improve our lives in some way that day?

How do we do this?

  1. Start and end each day with rejoicing. Psalm 118:24 we read, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Smile at yourself in the mirror in the morning and again before you go to bed. Say a prayer of thanksgiving in the morning and at the end of the day.
  2. Write down the blessings we experience in each day. Revelations 21:5 it says, “And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Journaling is one way to do this. Write down 3-5 things from the day that you are grateful for.
  3. Practice the Examen. This is a daily spiritual practice that helps you reflect on the day in order to see God’s presence in your day. You can look it up at http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen
  4. Choose one new, healthy activity to try each day. It may be a walk, eating more vegetables, a meal at the family dinner table, getting the kids to school on time, getting the kids to school with matching socks, etc. You may have to start small and work up to the big things. That’s okay!
  5. Remember to pray, asking God to help you make things new. God is the expert at this!
  6. Forgive yourself when you are not able to achieve your resolution. Everyone has those days, it will be fine. Remember, tomorrow is a new day!

Snow Hope and a Happy New Year

I love winter, which some people might think is a little odd. Most of my family and friends would much prefer the crisp, bright days of spring, the warm, sunny days of summer, or the cool, colorful days of fall. But, not me. Those seasons are nice, but I’ll take winter.

Why? Well, I have my reasons.

First of all, I don’t like to be hot and, when it’s a 95 degree humid North Carolina summer day, there’s only so much you can do to get cool. On a cold winter day, though, you can crank up the fire, put on your fuzzy slippers, grab a blanket and a hot cup of tea and settle in with a good book. Doesn’t that sound lovely? It does to me.

Then, there’s also the snow. Again, I know some people dislike it, but, for me there’s something about impending snow that makes me giddy. I think that something is HOPE.

This time last week, I was obsessively checking the weather app on my phone. I watched the accumulation predictions go up and down and back up again. My kids and I checked out our snow gear to make sure everyone had things that still fit. We watched as roads turned white with brine and salt in preparation. With each little thing, I felt the excitement building. I even made a list, braved the grocery store, and didn’t mind waiting nearly half an hour to check out. Friday night, when it was predicted to start, the flood lights were on and we were watching, waiting.

Then, we saw it. The first few flakes began to fall. We went to bed anticipating the sight we would see in the morning. Saturday morning, I opened the curtain as if it was a late Christmas gift and, oh, what a sight I saw! The whole world was blanketed in a fresh, white blanket – pure, and new, and beautiful. My kids asked, “how much do you think that is?” and didn’t argue a bit about coats and gloves because they couldn’t wait to get outside. Our hopes had come true and we were thrilled.

snow

The snow, and the hope that preceded it, was a great reminder for the beginning of a new year, because new beginnings are a time for hope. Maybe your hope is for healing of past hurts. Perhaps it is hope for a change or an improvement. It could simply be hope for continued happiness and health.

Hoping is different from wanting. We can want things that we have no hope of ever receiving. Hope, however, is a feeling that the things we want are attainable or that events of life will turn out the way we desire. Sometimes hoping is hard because it requires us to wait – and to not become discouraged as we wait.

Depending on the translation, the word “hope” is in the Bible about 130 times in 120 different verses. When I think of hope, there are two of those verses in particular that always come to mind.

Psalm 39:7 says, And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.”

And Romans 5:5 tells us that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

What are you hoping for in this new year? How will you let your faith in God guide you in hope this year?

Whatever your hopes are for 2017 and beyond, remember that God is with you. His assurance of love and grace gives us all hope for the future.

Happy  New Year!

The “One Thing” during Advent

One of my favorite Bible stories is the Mary and Martha story from Luke 10. I’ve studied  this passage a lot and even acted it out for a story telling assignment in a New Testament seminary class. The character I played was Martha and I told the story from her point of view. I’ve always related best to her.

If you remember the story, Jesus has come to visit in the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is the accomplished hostess who gets busy in the kitchen preparing the meal and her home for her guest. That guest is God, after all, so she has a great deal of important and necessary work to do. Mary spends her time sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teachings.

Martha gets a little put out by her sister’s lack of involvement in the hostess work and brings her complaints to Jesus. I completely understand Martha’s displeasure. Through the years, especially during the busy holiday season, I have often felt that I was doing all the work myself. Shopping for all the gifts, preparing all the expected holiday treats for everyone to eat, wrapping all the presents, decorating the house, keeping the house clean for guests, etc. etc.! The weight of all these responsibilities often left me feeling frustrated and alone so I get how Martha feels.

I think where Martha goes too far is when she declares that Jesus does not care about her situation and then orders Jesus to reprimand Mary. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me,” she says.

Isn’t this pretty typical of us in these types of situations? When we get stressed and feel out of control and fear that the important things will not get done, we begin to feel that no one else understands or even cares. We start demanding that others do their share. We even project these feelings on to God. We start to believe that God doesn’t care and then we start telling God what needs to be done.

I love Jesus’ response to Martha. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” I love this response because I picture Jesus shaking his head and saying it in a very loving, patient way.

I’ve always wished Jesus had given us a little more information, though, about specifically what that “one thing” is. I don’t think it is cookies, a beautifully decorated house, or tons of shiny wrapped presents under the tree. Some say the “one thing” is time and attention, some say it is worship, others say it is learning from Jesus. Any of these options make sense to me; it is the actual implementation of these options that becomes difficult, especially during the busy advent season.

So, how do we focus on the “one thing” during this time of year when there is so much extra stuff to be done? Here are some ideas

  1. Decide what your “one thing” will be. Is it time with family and friends? Time at church to worship God and remember the true reason for the holiday. Ask yourself if some of the things on your list of “to dos” support that “one thing.” If not, take them off the list.
  2. Combine some of the tasks with the “one thing.” If it is time with family and friends, gather these loved ones together to do the holiday baking, decorating or shopping. Go to special worship services with your family and friends.
  3. If there is something on the list of “to dos” that is distracting and worrisome, drop it off the list. Forgive yourself for these things that don’t get done.
  4. Don’t blame others for the things that don’t get done. Maybe you think they are important but they don’t matter to others. So what if there is dust on the mini blinds. Your loved ones just want the “one thing” of being together. They won’t even notice the dust.
  5. Remember, the reason for the season is that Jesus is coming! Like Mary and Martha, a very important guest is coming into your life soon. When that guest arrives, be ready to welcome God  and be sure to pay attention to all that God will bring to you!

Merry Christmas!

Curbing the Christmas Gift-Giving Madness

I remember the first time my oldest daughter was finally was old enough to begin to understand Christmas – including the part that involves asking Santa for all he things she wanted. I gave her a catalog and told her to show me some things she liked so I could tell Santa what to bring her. She flipped through the book pointing to MANY toys and saying, “I want this. What is it?” Clearly, she just wanted “stuff” even if she didn’t know exactly what that “stuff” was.

As my three daughters have gotten older, their Christmas wish lists have gotten shorter yet, somehow, more expensive! Instead of Barbie dolls and roller skates, now, they ask for laptops and pricey American Girl Dolls. The same is true for many of my nieces and nephews as they have gotten older, too. The things they really want aren’t in the budget for me to buy, so I often resort to gift cards instead, which they certainly appreciate. However, it just doesn’t elicit the same amount of joy as watching them open the box of that fun, new toy.

Gift-giving (and gift receiving) is a huge part of Christmas for most of us. Some of us are relentlessly dropping hints hoping that someone one will pick up on just what we want to receive on Christmas morning. Others of us are desperately wracking our brains trying to figure out the perfect gift that will convey just the right sentiment to the ones we love. Then, there are budgets to consider, wrapping to be done, and the list goes on. For me, this part in particular has become one of the most stressful parts of the holiday season.

However, it shouldn’t be that way. We give gifts at Christmas to remind us of the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ. He is the gift we have all received from God and, of course, He is the main reason we celebrate Christmas win the first place.

gift-giving-madnessSo, how do we reign in the gift-giving and keep from losing sight of the real meaning behind it? Here are a few ideas:

  • Three Gifts – This method of gift-giving is a “loose” association to the Bible account of the Christmas story in which Jesus received three gifts from the three Magi. Since Jesus received three gifts, using this method, children are limited to requesting only three gifts for themselves (whether those three are from Santa, parents, etc.)
  • Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read – This strategy has become popular recently. Children are allowed to ask for one thing in each of the four categories. Therefore, they get gifts, but not a lot of useless junk just to fill a stocking.
  • Body, mind, and soul – This approach gives one gift to nurture the body (sports equipment, etc.), one gift to nurture the mind (books, games, etc.), and one gift to nurture the soul (something fun, hobby-related, etc.). This could be a difficult concept for young children, but might work well with older kids.
  • Give experiences instead of stuff – Rather than another new toy, maybe kids would like to go to a concert, a museum, or another event. You could give them something big (i.e. tickets to Disney) or something small (i.e coupon for a tea party with mom). Often, experiencing something can be even more exhilarating & educational than getting an actual item.
  • Charitable gifts – This works for kids and adults! Almost everyone has a cause that is important to them, so how about making a donation in their name to a particular charity? My girls love animals so, one year, we donated to the National Wildlife Foundation and symbolically adopted a whale. They loved it and were able to tell people they got a whale for Christmas!
  • Make a habit of giving to others – I think it is natural for kids to get caught up in the idea of getting gifts – especially younger kids who don’t understand budget, etc. It is, however, also important for them to remember the blessings they already have. One great way to do that is by remembering those less fortunate. Involve kids in buying toys for Toys for Tots, Angel trees, or other charitable organizations. Let them get exited about picking out something special for someone else. Serve together at Hot Dish & Hope or spend some family time ringimg the salvation Army bell. Helping them remember to be grateful will make any gifts they do receive so much more meaningful.

I know from experience that buying, getting, and receiving gifts can overtake the holidays. Over the last few years, I have had to make a very conscious effort to make sure I don’t let that happen – and to make sure I am teaching that to my daughters as well.

It starts by counting our blessings rather than our wants and remembering the most precious gift of all.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

I also love this song to help keep things in perspective:

Merry Christmas & Joy to the World for God’s perfect gift!