Friday, December 18, 2009

The Gimme’s

I can’t believe how many times I have heard my four year old say, “ I want that!”  in the last few weeks.  In some ways it is kind of cute.  How can I blame her?  There are catalogs coming in the mail, commercials on TV, people asking her what she wants.  The problem is that she could not possibly get everything she wants for Christmas.  Especially when she wants every toy on the planet. 

The other kids have their own ideas.  They are wondering if we bought anything big.  With all the talk and all the hubbub about presents, how could they not be disappointed?  What about me?  Will I be satisfied with what we are able to get them? 

I think this is one of the reasons that Christmas turns from being joyful and fun to being stressful and depressing.  I get sucked into the Gimme’s too.  It’s not so much wanting things for myself anymore.  But I desire to give everyone the perfect gift and give them presents that will make them squeal with glee.  It’s easy to spend hours shopping, charge up our credit cards, and make ourselves miserable with worry.

How do we cure the Gimme’s?

I’ve been reading a debate on Santa vs. Jesus on a forum.  Some people tell their kids to pray to Jesus that Santa will bring them what they want.  Some people don’t like Santa because he’s too commercial.  They would rather tell their kids to pray that Jesus would give their mom and dad a lot of money to buy cool toys for them.  Really?  Is that all it’s about?  Are Jesus and Santa interchangeable?  Is Jesus a big cosmic vending machine?  Can you tell I don’t agree by my sarcastic questions?

The thing is we will never be able to give our kids everything they want.  Nor should we.  Even if I had a million dollars to spend at Christmas, I wouldn’t spend it all on every single thing my kids wanted.  I’m not a scrooge.  I love giving to people.  But is that what will make our Christmas happy?  If that’s what we are putting all our hope and energy into, there will definitely be disappointment Christmas morning.

We’ve simplified a lot over the years.  We don’t buy for our adult siblings or a lot of other people we used to.  It’s not that we don’t love them.  But just having less gifts to look for, wrap, ship and pay for have taken a ton of pressure off my holidays.  I found that in doing that it really is easier to enjoy all the other wonderful parts of Christmas.

Some people don’t get caught up in commercialism, but think Christmas is all about family.  As long as we’re together Christmas is great.  What if you can’t spend Christmas with your family?  Or don’t want to?  Does it then become a bad or miserable holiday?  Don’t get me wrong, I think being with family at Christmas is one of the best things.  But this year, it is not possible for us. 

Perhaps Christmas is wonderful because of traditions.  Nativity scenes, baking, outings to see Christmas displays are some fun things we like to enjoy.  Are those really the things that make Christmas the most wonderful holiday?

Christmas is not about any of the those things.  It’s not about the perfect gift, family or traditions.  Those can all be special parts of the celebration but Christmas is about Jesus.  When he was born at Christmas, it was the beginning of God’s plan to bring salvation to all of us.  Through this little baby we would be freed from the grips of sin and brought into everlasting relationship with Christ.  He came and took the condemnation we deserve so that we can go to heaven.

Even people that know and celebrate that get carried away with all the other stuff Christmas brings.  I’ve been thinking about ways to make Christmas less about the gimme’s for my family. 

I want to try to get my kids involved in giving.  And not just buying presents for their siblings or teacher.  There are selfish motives sometimes in buying presents.  We want to look good.  We want to impress people with our wonderful gift. 

I think it’s important to realize that there are kids that will not have anything under the tree Christmas morning.  Kids we will never know.  Kids that will never know where their presents came from.  There are tons of organizations out there that could use our involvement and generosity:  toys for tots, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse. 

This year, we know several families that are struggling because of job loss and other situations.  We have the opportunity to help them.  I want our family to see the value of giving to others in need.  Even if it mean there will be less presents for them.  Even if it means there will be one less gift to someone who doesn’t need anything anyway.  It’s hard to find the time, but I love it if the kids can help shop and wrap those presents.  It helps them feel the joy of giving and takes the focus off themselves.

Matthew 6:3-4

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done is secret, will reward you.

Since our family is going to be alone this year, we are busily inviting other orphaned people over.  It was kind of a hard thing for me at first, but I never thought it would be so much fun.  We are looking forward to adding some new friends to our Christmas.  It’s an act of giving to plan to make it special. 

Matthew 25:44-45

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

What is your Christmas going to look like?  What are you going to do to get over the gimme’s?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Details of Discontent ~ Part Five: Marriage

It’s been a struggle to write this mainly because it is painfully obvious that I am not an expert.  However, I feel I may have underestimated myself just a little. Tuesday, I spent the whole day Christmas shopping with my husband who hates to shop and spend money.  We had fun.  We didn’t disagree.  We were still married when we came home.  So it seems that maybe I am an expert after all!

Your wedding day.  The happiest day of your life.  The day you marry the love of your life, the person you cannot live without.  In the early days of marriage it is all so exciting.  The two of you taking on the world, building a life, careers, buying a home.  Then the baby years bring a new excitement, purpose and focus.  Eventually, the rubber hits the road and it gets hard.  I never thought that would happen to me. 

As the years go by,  it can become very monotonous.  The realities and pressures of career, mortgage, toddlers come crashing down.  And your spouse can become just one more person demanding your time and energy.  It can become strictly a partnership:  who’s cooking, who’s taking out the trash, and who’s driving the kids to dance.  It’s easy to start to wonder what seemed so great about getting married.

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: sometimes I am discontent with my marriage.  Shocking I know.  There are things I wish he’d do and be.  I’m sure there are things he wished I’d do and be. 

I am never going to be able to say we’ve been married thirteen or thirty years, and every day has been bliss because it hasn’t.  I know there are some couples that is probably true for, but most people who say that are lying or delusional. One night when Mike and I were having a disagreement, I couldn’t help but wonder why God would put two hardheaded people like us together.

There are some things I have learned about marriage that have totally revolutionized my perspective on it.  Marriage is not about most of the things we get married for.  No wonder there is so much disillusionment involved. 

God created marriage.  When he made Adam he didn’t want him to be alone.  So he created woman to be with him.  It was perfect until sin came into the picture.

Genesis 2:18-24

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
      But for Adam no suitable helper was found.So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,
       "This is now bone of my bones
       and flesh of my flesh;
       she shall be called 'woman’, 
       for she was taken out of man."

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.


Not only is marriage God’s idea, but He has a plan and purpose for it.

Here’s the hidden mystery of marriage.

Ephesians 5:25-33

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church – his believers.  He loves us and will always be faithful.  Always.  Because He is faithful. 

As the church, we are here on earth to prepare for His coming.  When I was a bride, I spent a lot of time, energy and money to be ready for that day.  I bought a fancy dress and got my hair and nails done.  It took a year to plan that few hours.  I am supposed to desire to make the time to prepare myself to be united with Christ. 

Our human marriages will be an imperfect reflection, just like as humans we are not a perfect reflection of God because we sin.  But it’s still a picture of the promise of Christ to the church.

At the heart of a fulfilling marriage is a deep love and devotion to Christ.  Without that what do we have?  A mess.  I know because I’ve lived it.  Even our Christian marriage counselor could not help us work things out.  I think I know why now.  Because no amount of compromise or communication could ever be enough.  There will never be enough forgiveness if we just try to work things out in human terms.  It will never be fair for someone to be asked to sacrifice or let go.  No matter how much money you have or how good looking you are, it will never be enough. 

True healing and happiness in our marriage came through surrender.  When both of us were willing to give up our rights and attitudes we found freedom.  There is freedom when you give up the fight for self.  It takes humility to admit we are wrong and to willingly put our needs or desires in the backseat.  Those are the very things God uses to make us ready.

Last spring we were having a tense week.  During that week two people asked Mike if he was happily married.  He had the opportunity to share our weaknesses.  He told them that it’s been a rough week and we had things to work through. Challenges and disagreements don’t trump faithfulness and commitment.   

I think that kind of honesty honors God because it isn’t easy.  It isn’t all candlelight and roses.  It isn’t wrong to have bad times and struggle.  When we hit the low point in our marriage it was ugly.  But as ugly as it was, it was also a beautiful new start.  Once we realized that we could not do it on our own, that we’re sinners, that we’re selfish;  that’s when Christ makes the difference.  Without Him, what’s the point?  It seems easier to just cut and run.

Along the way, we’ve found a way to love each other that is true to how God made us.  God made each of us unique and wonderful.  Our marriage is practical and sarcastic, full of humor.  Sometimes I wish it were different.  I look at other people and think if only he was like that.  If only we did those things.  That’s dangerous thinking.  The things we do and say really aren’t the point.  The point is God offers us perfect love, protection, commitment, faithfulness.  He will come back for his bride.  It’s not about us.  It’s about God. 

So maybe the first step to contentment in regards to marriage is to realign our ideas of what it should be with God’s. 

Are you willing to surrender?  Are you willing to give up the fight?  Are your ready to live something greater than your own temporal happiness? 

I’m thinking there will be more on marriage,  it’s just coming slow.   There are some instances when surrender is not the right thing.  There are times when we should be discontent with our relationship.  We’ll get there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nitty Gritty

Have you ever had one of those days when you don’t want to get out of bed?  And then upon getting out all you want to do is crawl back in, curl up in fetal position and plug your ears?  You’re tired, stressed, unmotivated and overwhelmed.  It isn’t fair:  the cheaters get ahead, the whiners get attention, the rich get richer.  You have a cold coming on and there is a lot of stuff to be done.  Not to mention Christmas shopping, wrapping, mailing and baking. 

I hate when life leaves me feeling battered. It makes me edgy with my kids. I find myself wondering around the house but getting nothing done.  I try to reason with myself; it’s not that bad.  And it certainly is not.  We are healthy, we have a warm house, a job, and two vehicles.  On those days though, being rational really doesn’t help.  It actually makes it worse.  I should be thankful and happy.  If I have it so good, why do I feel so bad?

Normally I just keep on pushing through.  I’m just wondering if there is anything wrong with letting myself feel bad?  Just a little.  Maybe I can take the night off from laundry and cuddle with the family in front of a movie.  I could take a bath or go to bed early.  Or take a minute and call a friend. 

Maybe it will help to just slow down.  But does it?  In the short term, yes. I don’t deny the fact that a little downtime and wallowing is nice.   But the next day?  I am back to square one.

The last place I seem to turn to for my battered little soul is Christ.  A bath will soothe my body, and extra sleep will help my brain but what I really need is a soothed soul.  When I’m in the nitty gritty, tired and unable to handle life,  it’s usually because I’ve been too busy for God.  And that leaves me all dry and prickly.

I read this to the little girls tonight.  It’s exactly the salve my soul needed.  This is the kind of refreshment and encouragement that lasts.  It’s the kind of encouragement that allows you to slow down and keep going.  So just in case you are in the nitty gritty, I thought I’d pass it on before I go get in the bath help my husband process a deer. 

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills-

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip-

he who watches over you will not slumber;

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you -

the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm-

he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is Santa Coming to Your Town?

We had our first Christmas small group tonight. We had supper together, held the baby, prayed another baby would be delivered soon and watched The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren. If you live by me, you can join us next Sunday if you want. Free food! As we were discussing our Christmas celebrations we started talking about Santa.

How do you celebrate Christmas and focus on Jesus' birth when Santa Clause is comin' to town?

I never believed in Santa as a child. We had fun with Santa gag gifts and usually Santa visited our gathering but it was all silly and I never actually thought Santa brought us presents.

Our kids have never believed in him either. Our kids were the ones telling all the other kids in Kindergarten that Santa is not real, resulting in mass hysteria. Sorry about that. But our stockings get filled, we go see Santa at Bentleyville and watch all the classic and not-so-classic Christmas specials. Santa is certainly not taboo in our house.

Let me just say that it's hard to believe in Santa when he shows up dressed like this.

One of the couples in the group was sharing about their transition with Santa. They've always had Santa as a big part of their Christmas. They are starting to rethink telling their kids that Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny are real because they are abstract and not tangible. They cannot be seen or felt. Sort of like Jesus. She wonders if in the future as the kids inevitably learn that Santa and friends aren't real, they will begin to think that Jesus is not real either. The stories we tell our kids about Jesus and Santa may all seem like fairy tales.

They also noticed how as their kids get older they have to keep perpetuating the lie. They ask questions like How does Santa know where everyone lives? Why does Santa bring Jimmy a Wii and he only brought me some play dough? How does Santa fit down our chimney?

I've never thought of it that way. It's a horrifying thought to me that my kids might look back at us and feel like we aren't trustworthy or we lied to them. Or worse, that they would wonder if Jesus was just some made up character like the big fat guy in the red suit.

It's making me rethink how I handle the character thing. I think it's fun to play around with it. And I don't think it's wrong. In fact, the tooth fairy is due to make an appearance at our house this evening. If she remembers, she can be pretty unreliable.

I guess I need to prayerfully consider how we are going to handle this in a way that honors Christ. Because He's what Christmas is all about.

Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.