Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ.
This is what God wants you to do.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CEV)
It’s that time of year when we are reminded to be thankful. I need the reminder. I move from one activity to the next without pause. Taking a moment to stop moving and be thankful doesn’t fit within my “busy” schedule. Yet, that is no excuse.
I used to wonder about the ten lepers who were healed, but only one came back to thank Jesus (Luke 17). Why didn’t the other nine show their gratitude? Thinking about this passage now (that I am older and wiser?), I see now that this story is about me (bummer). How often do I receive the thing I have been praying for, only to rush on to the next ‘request.’
So this Thanksgiving, for myself, I plan to rest in gratitude. To be thankful for what I have, where I am, who is in my life. Thankful for the right now. Tomorrow will take care of itself, God said so*. I need to rejoice in the blessings of today.
Not practicing thankfulness in my daily life became apparent as I listened to my children praying. Their prayers, while so precious, read like a list of ‘help so-and-so’ and ‘please do this-and-that.’ These are good things to be praying for, but we are missing something. Something I often neglect when I pray. When we pray, we are talking to God. And God deserves our praise and our thanks.
I’m not one to shoot for the moon, so we are starting small. Everyday the kids need to say one thing they are thankful for in their prayers. Just one. Let’s make it a habit. We can move on to bigger and greater from there. But let’s start small.
Thank you, God, for my family.
Thank you, God, for my friends.
Thank you, God, for the sunshine.
Thank you, God, for your provision.
Thank you, God, for who You are.
And let us never forget to thank you, God, for your Son, Jesus Christ.
May your hearts be filled to overflowing with gratitude as you reflect on all that God has given you. May your holiday season be filled with those things that truly matter. And may God smile on you, filling you with the certainty that your Heavenly Father knows you and loves you, just as you are. In Jesus name, Amen!
*Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today. Matthew 6:34 (CEV)
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. Isaiah 9:6 NIV
Last week I promised a list of Non-Toy Christmas ideas. I’m here to deliver. This is by no means a complete list and I must admit, most ideas are borrowed from friends and family. But here’s my list for meaningful gifts that are not stuff-ful.
One more comment before I get to the list: if you feel the need to give a toy then go ahead and give it! How about a small $10 Lego set, a match box car, stickers (always a favorite at our house), a small doll/figurine of a favorite character- you choose. My kids are as excited with one small gift, as they are with a large gift. I’m not saying it’s bad to give toys, but let’s stretch our horizons and consider giving something precious: memories, time, financial support…
Date: Give the gift of your time. Make this as expensive (a movie, dinner at a restaurant) or inexpensive (play date with you) as you want. Introduce a child to some of your interests (how about an afternoon baking with Grandma?). And there is always the grand-poobah of date gifts: the sleepover. The point is to give the gift of your time, build memories, and relationships*.
The Choose-A-Date: Stealing this idea from a sister-in-law, she did ‘the date’ gift in grand style. The gift was a picture frame that said “Choose a date” at the top. Then there were two options for where they would go, where they would eat dinner, and where they would eat dessert. The child got to choose. And at the bottom it said they would take a picture on their date, and then the picture would go in this frame (bonus points for heartwarming cuteness).
Operation Christmas Child: This is a chance to help your kids experience the joy in giving and talk with them about children around the world who have so little. O.C.C. usually collect gifts in mid to late November, so you have to be on the ball to participate. If you haven’t heard of it, just do a web search. Operation Christmas Child is done by Samaritan’s Purse and they have plenty of material to make the event more meaningful for you and your child.
Sports/Activities: Sports fees seem to increase every year, and then you have equipment you need to buy too… But what child doesn’t benefit from participating in athletics, cooking classes, theater, or even calligraphy (my mom put me in calligraphy class as a child. I was the youngest person in the class, by… oh, about twenty years!). If you want to make it more “gift like” give a soccer ball with money for soccer lessons. Talk to the parents ahead of time, to match family need with child interests.
Memberships: A great family gift is a membership to a local zoo, museum, or other attractions. You are giving mom’s a chance to take kids somewhere educational/fun and kids a place to learn/create/explore. Again, if you want the “gift like” appearance, give a zoo membership with a big stuffed animal.
Homemade gifts: What!? Ok. Don’t go out and buy a sewing machine if you’ve never used one and try to make a ballgown for your granddaughter. BUT, if you have a talent, make something for them. Wood working? Knitting? Sewing? Cooking? These are the gifts that hold sentimental value and retain their value. My husband has a little wooden car his grandfather made for him. It has his name painted on it, and our children play with it. So much more precious than any Hotwheels car we’ve ever received. My mom can sew- she’s made everything from pillowcases (actually a big hit when they have the kids’ favorite characters on them, and this is a pretty simple sewing project) to an Elsa gown.
The Practical Gift: Oh dear! Don’t say it! But YES!!! It’s what mothers everywhere want! Give them beach towels, school supplies, backpacks, sleeping bags, shoes, goggles, and even underwear! If you think they don’t want these gifts, you are mistaken. My daughter just asked for Elsa underpants for Christmas. She didn’t care what they were, she saw them, they had her favorite character on them, she wanted them. Of course… if she were a bit older that would be an embarrassing present to open in front of everyone. So be reasonable, but also- dare to be practical!!
Sentimental gifts: A friend recently showed me a bible with writing in it. Her mother had the idea to buy a bible when her grandchildren were born, and then she would read it, pray with it, and write notes in it for years, before finally giving it to the child when they reached a certain age. Did your heart just melt a bit? Mine did. Another idea I saw someone give was an “affirmation jar.” They had decorated a mason jar to look really cute, and filled it with notes containing thoughts about that person, and prayers they’ve said for them. You are creative. Can you think of something along these lines? Would it bless someone? A child you know?
Tickets: Is this like a date? But tickets to plays or sporting events would be awesome! You could give them to the family, or you could set a date and go along. I still remember dressing up and going downtown to a special dinner and play as a young child. I don’t remember the play or the food. I just remember my grandpa, and how I felt like such a “big girl.” I also remember the time we got tickets to see a basketball game, and we were so far up in the nosebleed section that I thought we were watching ants running around! But again- there I remember all the laughter, and Grandpa.
Games: Giving a game is pretty close to a toy… but I always forget about games. Kids love games. Family games are the best. Also educational games. My son learned his consonants from Consonant Bingo! And our family still talks about some of the charades games we played at holiday get togethers.
Recipes: Give family recipes to a child. Put it in a cute cookbook. A friend gave me a recipe book for my wedding, it was in a simple photo book. She paired hand written note cards with some really ridiculous pictures of us. (Give the gift with a baking date?) Or give them a recipe + the ingredients?
Ok, this list is getting long. So now we have hit the rapid fire portion of our list:
Give a girl a ‘big girl date‘- manicures, and tea?
Have an artsy child? Project bin full of art supplies.
$ towards college– they will thank you later, trust me, they will!
A watch! Do you know how few kids can tell time? Also, watches are cool. Especially if they have dragons.
Calendar– my kids are always checking the calendar, they like to keep track of what is going on too.
BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS!
Subscriptions! The gift that keeps showing up every month!
Learning tools/objects. Kids think learning is fun, until someone tells them otherwise. Don’t be that someone!
And on and on the list could go… But I hope that will get you thinking. Gift giving and generosity- these are good things! At Christmas time, we are reminded of God’s generosity and His greatest gift to us – Jesus Christ!
May your Christmas season be filled with joy, love, peace, hope, and meaning**. May your Christmas not be stuff full, but heart full. And may your hearts overflow with the love of Christ as you give to others. In Jesus name, Amen!!
*We recently gave a date as a gift to our niece, and she reminded me about it. And I do believe she was hinting that she would like to get another date this year. A sleepover.
**Do yourself a favor- get a devotional this Christmas season. If you need direction, I highly recommend The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp.
I will praise the Lord God with a song and a thankful heart. Psalm 69:30
I start playing Christmas music on November 1st. This is partly to humor my husband. If I had my way, I would play Christmas music all year round. But I am lucky, he can handle about four months of Christmas tunes (yes four, November through February) before he loses his cool. (And yes, I recognize, I have a thing for Christmas music)
This year’s Christmas will be a little different. We will be moving. Right now we are in the process of packing and let’s just say- stuff is everywhere. And since I’ve been packing the toys, and being (frankly) amazed at the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated, this post came about naturally.
As I look around at all the boxes, I’m reminded of a recurring conversation I have with a good friend. Each year we talk a lot about Christmas gifts. Well… we talk a lot period, but this particular conversation is about gift giving and gift receiving. What kind of gifts do we want our children to give? What kind of gifts do we want them to receive? And while we are not hipsters, we are trying to brainstorm gift ideas that aren’t… exactly… toys.
Why do we think so much about this topic? Partially because of monetary needs. Some family and friends cannot afford to purchase big ticket items. Partially the desire for our children to build stronger relationships with their relatives through rich experiences, not big presents. But mostly to focus Christmas on a baby in a manger, not a box under a tree. And then of course… if I’m completely honest, because of all the stuff. There is just so much of it!
So, if you are looking for gift ideas that aren’t for sale at the nearest store, you’ve come to the right place! I don’t have a complete list, but I hope to spark an idea or just give you something to ponder. But my list is too long for right here and right now… so you’ll just have to wait*.
Until next week!
May God bless you and keep you. May He show you that His love for you is so great that He sent the Ultimate Gift to you in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. In Jesus name, Amen
*I’m not trying to be difficult, but I want to keep the posts short and simple (my middle names). Also, I may not have finished the list quite yet…
Do everything without grumbling or arguing
We traveled to the Rocky Mountains this summer. Before our trip, I prepared our three small children. I told them what to expect and what we would do there. We took increasingly longer walks around town to get our bodies ready for big mountain hikes. But my secret was I was more excited than any of the kids. Yes, they got an airplane ride. They got to hang out with grandparents, aunts and uncles (which meant they were spoiled with treats). They got to stay at a hotel (which meant a swimming pool). And on and on the list went. But I got to go hiking in the mountains. It had been years. I was so excited.
We made it to Colorado only to have our oldest son get sick. Mom offered to stay back with him so the rest of us could go on a short 3 mile ridge hike. I felt a little guilty, but she persuaded me to go. She had hiked that trail the last several years, while I had not been there for six or more years (that woman is a tricky reasoner when she wants to bless you with a gift you aren’t sure you should accept).
So hiking we went!
At least… for a little while. But things quickly fell apart. We were on a high alpine trail with a one-year-old and a four-year-old. If you are a parent of small children, I probably don’t need to say anything else. The hike alone was a challenge. Add the distance we had traveled the day before as well as rising considerably higher in altitude (which is a lot harder on your body than you would guess) and this wasn’t turning into the blissful ‘Sound of Music’ moment I had been anticipating.
I was overtired. I was guilt ridden for leaving my oldest son (and my mother). I was trying to get my two younger children to hike. I wanted to do this hike, it’s one of my favorites. But it was clear my kids couldn’t make it any further. We were going to have to stop halfway and turn around.
I was not happy.
Enter my dad. He stayed back with us, instead of doing what he wanted and hiking on. He stayed with two grumpy kids, his grumpy adult daughter, and her husband (who wasn’t grumpy, and rarely is). And he found something to be thankful for. Correction, he found about a hundred things to be thankful for. “Isn’t this a great view! I love this view!” “What a great napping rock! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a great napping rock!” “Is that a chocolate chip granola bar! Those are my favorite!” “What a beautiful day! Perfect weather!” And on, and on, and on…
And suddenly I was smiling too. Because there was plenty to enjoy right where we were. We didn’t need to get another mile down the trail to see great vistas, or enjoy chocolate chip granola bars. We could be happy here. We could rejoice here.
This is an analogy for my life. I live on a schedule, always concerned about getting somewhere by a certain time. I have things to do and places to go. When things don’t turn out the way I expect (which is more often than not), I can get grumpy.
But God isn’t calling me to be a grump. He is asking me to rejoice! And I can do that wherever I am, with God’s help. Focusing on Him, the beauty of His creation and the good He is doing, and suddenly everything else isn’t so important. Not the schedule or the to-do list or the shortened hike.
So after a brief snack, we turned around and headed back,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4
Rejoice. Not with fake happiness. Not feigning thankfulness. But seriously looking around and finding something to be thankful for. We can all find one thing. Start there. Then, surprisingly, finding the next thing to be thankful for gets easier and easier. When we are truly filled with joy from Christ, it’s contagious. Dad lost three grumps on the side of that mountain, and headed back with three cheerful hikers. I just couldn’t stay grumpy when he was so happy, and sharing that happiness with me. And it was worth it- because on our way back, we stumbled across a herd of elk!
So, be thankful in the small things today, because you never know what is around the next bend. It could be even better than you imagined. It might not. But I know one thing- God will be there with you.
May you rejoice in the small and the large. May your eyes be opened to the blessings you already have. And may God give you the joy you need for each day! In Jesus name, Amen!