Tuesday, December 4, 2012


 “Mommy! Mommy! Look what I made!” Eyes glowed with excitement as chubby hands thrust the newest addition to our Christmas ornament collection into mine.

“Oh, that’s just beautiful!” I would exclaim, while silently cursing the Sunday School teacher who obviously was looking for the quickest, easiest Christmas craft possible and had unlimited paper, yarn, and glitter at her disposal!

“Can I hang it on the tree?”

“Why, of course!  Let’s see…oh, here’s a big bare spot right in the back that needs an ornament!  Let’s hang it there!”

I blinked…

  Those little hands have grown into young adult hands. The kids I used to have to lift up to hang ornaments are now taller than me. That rumpled, glittery handprint once relegated to the back of the tree is now one of my favorites.

My heart is full as I anticipate this holiday season. Much has changed since those early years…I’ve changed. I find myself reflective this Christmas. My kids are quickly becoming adults. Did I do it right? Have I trained them well? Was the Jesus so prominently displayed in the nativity scene as prominently displayed in my life?

The jury is still out. I’m still in the trenches; but lessons have been learned and are being learned that I’d love to share with a young woman whose life lies before her…whose marriage is new…whose children are small…and who is just getting ready to hang that rumpled, glittery homemade ornament on the back of her tree…

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Eccl. 3:11

I first want to encourage you to savor the season of life you are in.
If it is the season that brings with it a tree whose bottom branches sag with the weight of 4 ornaments per branch…savor it!
Does your decor look more like Charlie Brown’s than Martha Stewart’s? Savor it! 

Has your 3 year old knocked over your Christmas tree (TWICE!) and broken what few beautiful ornaments you owned? Savor it, because you will laugh about it when he’s 16, and the retelling of the catastrophe each Christmas will become a tradition in itself. (Trust me on this one, I speak from experience!)

Are you single, but wishing you had more exciting plans for Christmas than having to go to your parents’ and grandparents’ houses…again? Savor it. Someday, you’ll miss the smells, hugs, love and laughter. You’ll miss your grandmother’s cooking, your dad’s hearty laugh, and even the awkward gifts from those who love you, but don’t quite share the same taste. Savor it, because you never know when your loved ones will be gone. 

Are your children grown? Savor it! Have a beautiful tree and an elegant table that rivals the ones in Southern Living! (…unless, of course, you have grandchildren coming, and then savor that instead!)

 The point is, don’t wish away the moments that God has given you and the people He’s surrounded you with in this season of your life. Find the beauty in where he has you right now.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  I Tim. 6:6

If Christmas to you is synonymous with stress…perhaps it’s time to simplify. Is your calendar packed? Is your shopping list larger than your budget? Do you feel a headache coming on at the thought of all you have to do? Simplify!

I give you permission to say “No” to some things. This may come as a shock, but you do not have to attend every function, event, party, and concert that you are invited to! 

When my kids were in elementary school, the coaches would inevitably decide to sign our team up for a tournament during Christmas break. Parents would grumble amongst themselves and long for simple times when one could just spend Christmas break with family, watching movies, baking cookies, and hanging out. Some would lament that they would have to cut short time with their out of town families in order to get back for the extra games. Oh, and the tournament fees didn’t exactly come at an opportune time for most people’s budgets either!
So what did we do? We politely said, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to participate.”  

“What!? Can you DO that?” some parents would whisper to me. 

 Yes! You can! (We did…and it was wonderful!) You may not be able to say no to everything, but take a realistic look at your schedule, and make sure you are making time for the truly important things.

Not only have we tried to simplify our schedule, but we’re constantly striving to simplify our gift giving.
There was a time when I thought more was better under the tree. It wore me out trying to shop for and wrap all those gifts, and honestly, we began to notice that most of the items lost their luster after just a few days. More times than not, the gifts we exchanged contributed more to the clutter of our home than to any lasting enjoyment. 

While we still lay out “surprises” on Christmas morning, we have reduced the number of wrapped gifts under the tree down to three. We encourage our kids to give us a list of their Christmas wishes, but they understand that it’s a list of suggestions…they may not (and probably won’t!) receive every item on their list.
We have had Christmas seasons where our finances were so tight that we had to shop at garage sales and Goodwill for the kids’ presents. Other times, God has provided enough for us to splurge and buy things that the kids had only dreamed of getting! However, looking back over our Christmases together, I’ve observed that they actually loved the garage sale items as much as the dream vacation! Sometimes, I think we as parents put too much pressure on ourselves to give the “name brand” items or the “hot toy of the season” so that our kids will be popular or fit in.  Does your 3rd grader really need an iPhone…or even a phone at all? Evaluate your gift giving, and never underestimate the value of saying “no” to your kids’ wants at times. The result of this is that I am blessed with content kids. They exhibit a real heart of gratitude and are becoming sensitive to how much things cost and the value of money. Contentment is a learned trait. When we give our kids their every wish, desire and demand…they will never receive the far greater gift:  Contentment.

“…It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Acts 20:35

So often, the tendency at Christmas is to focus on “me.” 
What do I want? What am I getting? 

 One thing we began many years ago to help promote the idea of “giving,” rather than “getting,” was to allow our kids to pick out, purchase, and wrap gifts for their brothers and sisters. When my kids were young, we’d give them each enough money to pick out and purchase a gift from the dollar store for each sibling. They could hardly wait to get home, wrap their gifts, and put them under the tree. The sweetest part of Christmas was watching them give out their handpicked, hand wrapped gifts to each of their brothers and sisters. This was a favorite holiday tradition for many years.

As the age span and number of siblings increased, we have graduated from the dollar store days and transitioned to drawing names and nicer gifts. Each kid chooses one sibling’s name out of a hat for which they will pick out a gift. The older kids use their own money and shop on their own. We still help out the younger ones. The fun part is that the kids try their best to keep the name they have drawn a secret until the gifts and the identity of each giver is revealed on Christmas night. This has become one of the most anticipated parts of Christmas for my kids.  From the biggest kids to the smallest, the question I hear most often as Christmas approaches is,

 “When are we going to draw names?” 

I’m so glad that my children love to give to each other! I’m so thankful that in the midst of all the “getting,” they’ve caught a glimpse of how much fun it is to give!

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16:6

I love to find ways to impress upon my kids the joy found in following the Lord. So often, the idea is that once you become a Christian, the fun is immediately sucked out of your life. What a misconception! God desires for us to rejoice and be glad! My grandparents and parents exhibited strong moral convictions and standards; they followed the Lord without wavering in good times and bad…but they made following Him appealing! They made our home a happy place to be…filled with laughter, fun, and wonderful memories.

My husband and I have attempted to make Christmas fun for our kids, as well. Some of our Christmas traditions have deep meaning spiritually…some are just good, clean fun…but my hope is that the total package will reflect to my kids the deep abiding joy found in a life committed to the Lord.

One thing that continually amazes us is how much our older kids cherish our Christmas traditions. From Dad putting the topper on the tree or going as a family to look at Christmas lights to searching the house for Santa’s last gift in the scavenger hunt “he” set up…traditions have helped make the Christmas season set apart as something special.

Many times, we have been on the verge of abolishing a “tradition,” simply because we thought it was probably too juvenile for our older kids…yet it is the older kids themselves who plead with us year after year to continue! I think these traditions have become a common thread that has served to bind our family closer together throughout the years. It is what makes our family experience unique and our home a pleasant place that exudes the joy of the Lord. So, whether sentimental, silly, or sacred…establish family traditions, maintain them, and constantly look for ways to start new ones! Give your children the “delightful inheritance” that comes from Jesus living in you!

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”  
Luke 2:11

I have always tried to incorporate Christ into our Christmas celebration, but truly pulling it off can prove to be a challenge. We have read Luke, chapter 2; we have had birthday parties for Jesus; we’ve attended church plays and live nativities, and we’ve even performed in some of our own.

Perhaps the best tradition that we’ve established is a relatively new one. For many years now, we’ve had an advent calendar called “The Nativity Advent.” A felt manger scene adorns the top, and the bottom portion has numbered pockets which each contain a person, angel, star or animal connected to the story of Christ’s birth. Beginning on the first day of December, the children take turns daily adding characters to the manger scene, until adding the finishing touch of baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Day.
Last year, we added something significant to our Advent. Every night, beginning December 1st, my husband would read a story from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. This Bible storybook combined with our Nativity Advent Calendar was one of the most meaningful traditions we’ve established in helping us focus on the true meaning of Christmas as a family.

Although this particular storybook is marketed for children, its message touched my husband and me as adults. It beautifully explains how every story in the Bible “whispers His name.” This was a tradition worth repeating. We plan to continue it throughout the years to come.

As much as I desire to make Jesus the center of our celebration and am committed to actively looking for ways to accomplish this in our family…I realize that the real task at hand is not letting the conversation end with the baby in a manger. The ultimate goal of Christmas should be to use this time of year as a springboard for communicating the message of the Gospel of Christ.

How I desire to impress on my kids, as the song by Avalon so eloquently expresses, that this Jesus we celebrate at Christmas is “…more than a story, more than words on a page of history. He’s the air that I breathe, the water I thirst for, and the ground beneath my feet.  He’s everything.  …everything to me!”

If my children are able to take hold of this Truth and personalize it as their own…it will be the greatest Christmas gift I could ever give them!

So, savor the season He’s placed you in.

Simplify by making sure you are doing what is truly important.

Teach your kids to be selfless, instead of selfish.

Make the Christmas season fun and your home a pleasant place by being sentimental about traditions.

Celebrate the Savior.

Oh…and whatever you do…don’t blink!

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