Sunday, December 29, 2013

the joy of giving

The Christmas season is drawing to a close and the New Year is quickly approaching. I finally have a moment to sit and reflect upon this beautiful season. The highlight of Christmas this year was witnessing Annike's progression in understanding the purpose of gifts during this season.

Christmas with small children is a lot of hearing them look forward to the presents they will get. I remember the feeling too as a child when I couldn't wait to tear into those enticing packages tempting me under the tree.

In the final weeks before Christmas we did our best to combat the "want" feeling with gentle reminders... What is Christmas really about? Giving. Who is the real gift? Jesus.

In an effort to emphasize the "giving" side of Christmas, I usually have Annike shop for a small present to give to a few family members. It takes a lot of parental direction. "I think Daddy would like a new toy animal!" she says, or "How about getting him this coloring book? Maybe he will let me color my favorite pages!" Unfortunately, the ability to give unselfishly does not come naturally to all people. But I have learned it can be taught, and it can be practiced over and over until we get better at it.

This year was different. Of her own accord, Annike made the most precious compilation of themed animal books to give as gifts. There was a book about rain forest animals, aquarium animals, baby animals, alphabetic animals, swamp animals, zoo animals, and a few more. Each contained pages and pages of colorful drawings. Each made with careful attention to detail. Many included narration.

She was excited to wrap them all on her own. On Christmas morning, instead of running to her stocking or the first present she planned to open, Annike raced to find these presents she had so carefully wrapped herself and placed under the tree. She couldn't wait to give these gifts to their recipients. Joy overcame her as the giver of good gifts.

I felt so proud, and so hopeful as I watched her. Once in a while all of those things I keep repeating over and over until even I am not listening to the sound of my own voice, get through to the heart. For once I didn't have to remind her with a gentle prod and a false smile that it is fun to give... because she already knew.

Belated Merry Christmas!

(This was the best gift that came in my stocking!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

keep it simple

This is the first year I can remember that I wasn't excited about getting all of the Christmas decorations out. Something to do with the way that my house already feels so cluttered all the time. On top of all of the toys everywhere, and the other people living in this house who don't seem to be bothered by any of the mess, we added a baby. He came with a baby swing and a bouncy seat and a bassinet and a whole lot of hand-me-down clothes and he added some burp clothes to the arm of every chair in the house. I was dreading the additional Christmas clutter.

The Christmas season can be a struggle because at Christmas there is so much more... more parties, more mail, more shopping, more pressure, more stuff. More of everything except time. Less time. When you add more to an already full life, you just get... overwhelmed. Every year it catches me by surprise.

We tied to keep it simple this year. There are the stockings, and some lights around the windows, and the Christmas tree. It was a good decision to only hang half of our usual ornaments because as it is the ornaments seem to be migrating around my house.

We took a weekend away with the family. Vacations are different with 3 kids to manage and nap schedules to remember, or ignore and pay the consequences for later. But even so, we took a step away from the holiday anxiety. For one weekend I didn't have to think about the presents I still need to buy, the Christmas cards I haven't sent yet, or anything on my holiday to-do list. We had a simple weekend with the kiddos and the snow.

Sometimes less is more.

Yosemite was a genuine winter wonderland. Especially for those of us who live on the central California coast and see no snow. It seemed to me that God just wanted to show off his attention to detail when He created this place.

This little guy slept, and slept, and slept in his cozy stroller.

And once in a while he woke up!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


We are having a little trouble sharing around here. More specifically, two little girls I spend a lot of time with are having trouble.

It is a familiar story, I am sure. One sister is playing with toy A, but put it down for a moment in a perceived "safe" location. The other sister comes along and picks it up, but the first sister thinks it is still hers. Who is wrong?

The rules of sharing can be a bit of a gray area. Does it go to the person who had it first? Does the youngest player get priority? Do we place a time allotment on all toys? Perhaps we should break the toy in half? Buy two of everything, and might we finally have some peace around here?!

None of those are the answer at all. Because sharing is not really about obeying a set of rules that dictate priority, the way that someone always has the stronger hand in a game of poker. Sharing is a heart issue. And it seems that when the girls are arguing over a toy that they are always both wrong. Little hearts in the ugly process of being refined.

I have come to realize that the rules they learn about sharing here in our home are also the rules they will follow outside of our home. So if we allow someone who pitches a fit to get a toy, then she learns to make a big fuss every time she wants something. And if we divide up the toys so that each child is the owner of her own play things, then they learn to hang tightly to their possessions. These rules are character-shaping.

I would much rather think that what my children learn about sharing here in our home, when no one else is visiting or watching, doesn't matter. The easiest way to handle any scuffles is to placate or distract or ignore. Here, honey, why don't you play with this instead? But I have to view these arguments as a greater opportunity to build character. Building character apparently takes work.

So what exactly is it I want them to be learning in these arguments over toy animals and plastic kazoos?... in these character building opportunities?
I want them to realize the joy in unselfishness.
I want them to be generous.
I want them to learn that sharing is the way you show love to the people around you.

Then why is it hardest to share with those we love the most?

It isn't just the little hearts that are being refined in this area. You hopefully won't find me screaming at someone else for holding my stuffed animals, so at least there has been progress in my life! We only have trouble sharing things that are really important to us. But I sure do feel possessive over that quiet hour in the afternoon when I get to sit down and check my email. Or the slow way I want to wake up in the morning. Or getting to sit in my special place on the couch. And the thing that can really make my heart boil is if my husband is taking it easy while I am running around picking up every one's messes and cleaning and cooking for the household. My selfish heart doesn't want to give him that quiet space because I am too busy wishing he would give it to me instead. Not the greatest example of sharing.

Today, when I had this quiet moment to myself, a still small voice was whispering for me to spend the moment reading my Bible. No, screamed my self, I don't want to share this time with anyone! Not even God! And there lies the root of the problem.

But I listened. I gave the first fruits of my quiet time to God. And it was God who gave back to me as I emerged from the time filled with the joy of sharing, ready once again to be a living example of it in my home.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."  
Philippians 2:3-4