Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some thoughts on Christmas

This is the first Christmas I can remember that I have not been stressed out and grouchy in these last few days of Advent.  I think a number of things have contributed to that:

- I got the majority of my shopping done before Thanksgiving (and ordered most of it on Amazon).
- Almost all of the gifts are wrapped, thanks to the youth group girls at our church who offered free babysitting last Friday night! 
- We are not traveling anywhere.
- The kid's Christmas programs are at the same place, at the same time.
- Matt has off on Thursday and Friday, yippee!
- We have been the most consistent in our Jesse Tree devotions this year, which has helped center my heart.  I also think having most of my shopping done before Advent helped that too.
- I have miraculously been able to keep my house in order, in other words, I can see the majority of my kitchen island!  This has helped me feel more peace with all the extra things going on. 

This stress-free season has also allowed me to reflect on aspects about Christmas that I have not been able to process in the past.  One of those things is gift-giving.  Every year I enter the Christmas season with a sense of guilt- I LOVE buying gifts for my kids and my family.  I love it.  And I have felt, for many years, shame about that.  I read blogs about families who don't buy each other gifts but instead buy a goat for a kid in Africa.  Or I talk to friends who totally down play the presents and get their kids one present each, as to not spoil them.  There are the Advent conspiracy videos and the guilt-ridden ads of starving children and commercialism.  I read or hear these things and I cringe inside, not because they are wrong but because it makes me feel like I may be doing something wrong.  So, every year I push through it and I act generously to my kids and my family and I try to justify to myself why I love giving gifts so much.

Then last weekend, as Matt and I wrapped the gifts for our kids, he remarked, "You sure are going for the 'wow factor' this year, aren't you?"  He didn't say it in a condemning way, but just remarking on the abundance of gifts.  And I replied to him, "Yes, yes I am."  And I didn't feel guilty about it, I felt joy.  Then I read this blog, posted on facebook by a friend, about gift-giving at Christmas and it explained so well how I have been feeling these past few years but have not been able to articulate it.  In summary, God has "lavished" us with more grace than we know what to do with.  He loves us more than we can ever imagine and we don't deserve any of it.  He also tells us to love each other as he has loved us.  Of course, he wasn't specifically talking about presents when he said that but can't giving gifts be a reflection of our love, an out-pouring of the abundance of grace we have been shown? 

There also needs to be some intentional thinking about this physical manifestation of God's love.  We don't buy our kids a lot of toys through out the year, unless they get a reward for something or use saved allowance money.  Toys and stuff are not the mode of operation around here to get kids to behave or to feel happy.  So, when once a year they come down stairs to a tree overflowing with gifts it is special and meaningful and not just something they feel they are entitled to.  I also try to be very intentional in the gifts I give.  I usually buy one thing that they specifically asked for and the other gifts are things that I think will help develop talents and hobbies or things that I think they would like to do (which is the fun part!).  We discourage a lot of talk about what they want and don't have them make lists. 
We do Advent devotions with the kids (they love the Jesse Tree!) and going to a Christian school helps focus them on the meaning of Christmas.

But, they are kids and they love getting new toys.  And I don't think there is anything wrong with that.  Of course, we don't create materialism in our kids, it's already there.  There are ways we can feed it but there are ways that we can wisely use gifts to show our love to our kids.  God is not stingy with his love for us, and so it brings us joy to be generous to the ones we love too.  I understand that generosity looks different in every family and wisdom needs to be exercised to spend within your means but there does not need to be guilt in giving gifts to our family.

I also recognize there are issues I didn't address in this post: consumerism and the poor.  That is a whole other post.  But I have been reflecting on those things as well and there are ways to address those things and still be generous to our loved ones. 

I pray you experience the great joy and peace that comes with the greatest gift we could ever receive.  And I pray that in the overflow of His grace, you can give generously, whatever that means for you, this Christmas. 
And that you can take joy in the smiles of the those who receive from you. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bookshelf

Hello Friends!

It's been a busy fall- it began with my brother and father in law coming to build us built-in bookcases in the living room.  I have wanted to fill the empty wall in that room since we moved in but it seemed so much more practical to fill it with bookcases and cabinets.  I had boxes of books in the basement that I didn't have a place for and we needed some extra storage.  My brother-in-law did a great job and I am so happy with the way they turned out!  I had so much fun pulling all my books out of storage and organizing them- many brought back memories of college and our first few years of marriage. 
Take a look at the finished project:

Because we have had books on the brain lately, I thought I would share some of our recent favorites:

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen
It's a sweet rhyme about a true story of a circus ship that wrecks just off of an island in Maine.  It takes place very close to where we vacation every summer so it had a familiar feel to it.  The illustrations are amazing and fun and the rhyme is well done, not cheesy.
The Circus Ship

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean
This catchy little story is a great tool for reviewing colors but it is the rhythm of the words that will keep bringing you back.  It comes with a link for a free download of the author reading it- we play it over and over for Silas.  Karis has it memorized and can "read along" with us.  Simple, clever, fun.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

The American Girl Doll Books
I know that these are controversial for some (I am not sure why...historical accuracy?)but Karis and I are really enjoying them.  I read a chapter to her before she goes to bed and I like that she is learning some history and how little girls lived in different times.  We have covered several of the "girls" and have both learned a lot.

Magic Hoofbeats by Josepha Sherman
My horse obsessed little girl loves to listen to these stories as she goes to sleep.  This book comes with a CD of the ancient stories from different countries being read. 

Magic Hoofbeats PB w CD

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Illiad by Rosemary Sutcliff 
Matt is reading this one to Jesse before bed and it is a great retelling of the Illiad.  The illustrations are incredible and the story is understandable (for the most part).  This is one that we may need to purchase instead of continuing to renew it from the library! 

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of 'The Iliad'

What are your current favorite reads?