Friday, January 06, 2012

Christmas Reflections

"But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them."  Luke 2:19-20

It's been a few weeks since the whirlwind of Christmas, and I'm still thinking about it.  This was one of the most unusual Christmases for us, and yet, it was also wonderful, and leading up to it, there certainly wasn't much hope of it being wonderful.  When Andy got laid off for the season so early, we were truly unprepared for it, and the closer Christmas crept, the more we realized that we were really looking at trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas without gifts under the tree.  Oh, we've had lean Christmases before.  Two years ago, in fact, we had a tight Christmas, but it was nothing compared to this one.  As December kicked off and the decorations went up, and the countdown began, it literally broke my heart to have my kids move the countdown and exclaim how excited they were for Christmas.  Would the still be excited if the only gifts under our tree were the few that might be sent by family?  We were definitely on pace for finding out.

And then a nice gift card showed up in the mail.  I'd posted about it before because it gave us such a thrill to find it.  I took that gift card and put it in my purse, but to be completely honest, I put it there and didn't use it right away because I was wondering if there would be more.  Would something else show up that I could put towards gifts this year?  Because this gift card was nice, but between two kids it wouldn't go far at all. Nothing else showed up, but something else did.

As the days got closer and closer to Christmas, the kids would move the countdown, and were suddenly not exclaiming how excited they were about presents.  They were more excited about Christmas Eve, they were excited to get to spend time with their cousins, and aunts and uncles, and their newest cousin from Hawaii that they'd never met.   When we would discuss Christmas, it wasn't about what gifts they wanted anymore.  It was all about hoping that we could spend a lot of time with family during the holidays.  It was a definite shift in thinking for our whole household.  Instead of focusing on our lack, we turned to focusing on what we already had.  We spent extra time together playing a game or two, and the kids were more than excited to spend time decorating cookies to share with family.

It finally came to the point where I realized that if our kids were going to have any Christmas gifts from us, it was thanks to the kindness of someone who sent us that one gift card.  That was it, every other penny we had was spoken for and needed to be used elsewhere- and many pennies were spoken for twice.  The day I decided to go use that gift card I spent quite a bit of time talking to God about it.  I asked him to really help me to use it wisely, to find gifts that my children would really appreciate and be happy to find under the Christmas tree.  When I was actually shopping, I was honestly dismayed when I saw the reality as to how far this gift card would go.  It didn't go far at all.  And yet, the few gifts that were picked out for the kids were picked thoughtfully.  None of them were something that went in the cart just because, they were specific things that I knew they would enjoy.  In the past, there was more of a thought to just get a whole bunch of gifts that met a particular dollar amount or quantity.  This year there was no such ability, and as a result, for the first time ever, each and every gift the kids opened up, they really and truly were excited.  They'd desired each and every gift, and appreciated them so much more. 

I thank God for the kindness of that person who sent that card, and I have asked him to really and truly bless them, and to let them know how much it was appreciated.  I'm not sure how my momma's heart would have fared had there been no gifts under the tree for our kids.

I shared a little about physical Christmas gifts because it was really, really interesting to see the shift this year.  Like Mary, I've spent a bit of time just treasuring these things in my heart and pondering them, because I've been wondering why.  God is a really big God, and he could have had random people send us dozens of gift cards.  He could have had expensive gifts just show up at our door for the kids.  He could have placed the actual money into our bank accounts so we could give to our heart's delight.  And yet He didn't.  What were we to learn from this season of lack?  It truly was a wonderful Christmas.  We were really able to enjoy family, and each other.  For the first time ever we had the kids open their gifts here at home late Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning.  What a fabulous idea that was, because we woke up Christmas morning, went to church and REALLY celebrated Christmas.  God even gave me a little Christmas gift of my own Sunday morning when I was asked to whip out the drumsticks.  As hesitant as I was to play the drums in the first place, I've become a little fond of it again, and was delighted to be able to spend Christmas morning worshiping the King from the drum set.   When I think about Christmas, my heart floods with such warmth because I really think that we were able to just focus on each other and on God's love for each one of us.

I really think that yesterday was the first time I had a glimpse of why we had such a lean Christmas.  Maybe some people would look at it and say that it was a lesson for us in money management, that we should do a better job of saving throughout the year.  And yes, that may be one of the lessons, but I really think that God used our Christmas season for a bigger purpose.  I think He wanted us to know how the less fortunate really feel. 

We've spent Christmases in the past buying gifts for donating- I'm a sucker for those giving trees, and I've always enjoyed buying the requested gifts.  But what would it feel like to be that person in the crowd who is watching people load up their shopping carts with gifts, knowing that the few dollars you have is ALL you have to spread thinly among a household of children.  What would it really feel like to have to tell family and friends that you just can't give gifts this year?  What would it feel like to be unable to even afford the necessities of life?  Oh, we've been there these past months too, and the thing is, the reality is not at all what I would have expected.  Do you know, yesterday I took the kids out shopping because we had to buy winter boots.  Snow is coming eventually, and someone had been kind enough to send a little money our way to buy them, so we went to pick them up before they were replaced in the stores by swimsuits. As we walked in the door of the store, I remembered that I wanted to get toothpaste while we were there, and mentioned that to the kids.

I've never seen kids so excited about toothpaste.   Each and every one of us in the family have been trying to make tubes of toothpaste stretch for some time now.   So we go to the toothpaste aisle and I tell the kids to pick their preference, and they both had such huge grins on their face as they each picked up their favorite tube- and look! They were full!  Then they both glanced wistfully at the toothbrushes.  Do you suppose...?  Well, I certainly did.  I told them to each choose a new toothbrush. Now, I expect these types of reactions from a three year old who may be choosing a special toothbrush for the first time.  But from an eleven and nearly-eight year old?  It totally slammed home to me that what people who are truly in need want is the basic necessities of life.  Something as basic and simple as a toothbrush and toothpaste really brought joy to my children.  This morning Zander told me how excited he was to brush his teeth again today because he really liked his new toothbrush.  

This is the verse I thought of this morning:

"But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?"  1 John 3:17

In the past, I would look at these lists of things that people need and kind of turn up my nose at them, to be honest.  I would see the toothpaste and toothbrushes, the cleaning supplies, the soaps on the list and think I knew better.  I would get something else for these families, something I truly thought they would rather have- things like gourmet coffees, restaurant gift cards, gourmet food baskets, and on and on.  When really, all these people really wanted was to be able to brush their teeth or wash their hair or mop the kitchen floor with something other than water.   It's all well and good to bless a family in need with a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but how can they have company over to share that dinner if they don't have the tools to clean their homes first?   People who really and truly are in need need the basic necessities of life.

When I look around our home, and look at my family, I would most definitely not place us in the category of being an "in need" family at the moment.  Yes, there is no money to buy anything right now, every dime is being used to take care of keeping the power on, the water running, and keep a roof over our heads.   But we also know we're in a temporary season too.  Andy will go back to work eventually, and when he does, we'll be able to catch up on the things that we've run out of.

God has used this past Christmas of lack to open my eyes.  And open my family's eyes, I think.  We all would have loved an extravagant Christmas.  Quite frankly, we would have loved even to be able to buy gifts for other people in our lives.  But God had other plans for us, and when we look back at Christmas, we don't see lack.  We see love, we see each other, and we see an appreciation for even the smallest things.  But more than that, there is an awareness now that is waking up, and it will be very, very interesting to see where this takes us.  In the weeks and months to come, how will we take this new awareness of what it is really like to be needy and use it to transform other people's lives.  How will we use this knowledge to share the love of God with those around us?  I pray that God would show us what He would have us do.

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