Its that time of year once more

Last night I ran so quickly to the grocery store for one little thing but was paused immediately by the sight of the Red Kettle. Oh, the Red Kettle at Christmas. Each and every year it brings gratitude for a lesson learned on giving, but also a heaviness as I feel again the loss of a great man who influenced our lives.

Here’s the story from 2012…

An uncomfortable but true tale: The red kettles used to annoy me. For years I felt guilty if I didn’t have anything to put in them, so sometimes I would just go in a different door. Classy, right? I also felt annoyed because it felt like they were everywhere.  Then when I did have a dollar to give, I used to kind of wish I had a hand stamp that I could wave at the next kettle ringer indicating I already gave.

Oh, how I was filled with the giving spirit of Christmas.

Then one Sunday morning in December of 2008, I heard Stan Buck, (our pastor who passed away November 18, 2012) give us a challenge about the red kettles. He challenged us to give generously; to be prepared to give each and every time we passed a red kettle.

He suggested that if we put a dollar in the kettle each time we passed one it is likely to not total more than $50. He suggested most of us can afford to be that generous. If that’s not your situation consider dropping fifty cents or even a quarter – each and every time. It feels good. Which is usually how giving goes ~ in blessing others we tend to feel the blessing in our own hearts.

Perhaps the truth was I wasn’t actually annoyed at the red kettles, it’s more likely I was annoyed at myself for not being prepared to give. Or possibly I was stingy. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that since that message, each Christmas season I have gone to the bank for my $1 bills and I put one in the kettle each and every time I see one.

And this year, since Stan isn’t here to give his dollar bills, I will put one in for him too.

2009 – The first Red Kettle post (The $1 Difference) can be read here
2010 – The second Red Kettle post (Be Not afraid of the Red Kettles) is here

 

I could not send her

“I love Ava so much, mom. I just couldn’t do it…”

Ava's bornMelissa, our very close friend (really more family member than friend) had her first baby in August and we have all been over the moon in love since. We’ve loved Melissa for many years, my kids consider her more of a sister/aunt/friend. When she and I try to describe our relationship its like friend/sister/daughter. When she met her husband we felt like we all had to approve (and we did!) and when Melissa became pregnant we all knew something special was going to take our relationship to a new place. And she did – Ava arrived and we all flocked to the hospital to meet her, with Kevin even driving 90 minutes to come meet the little bundle of love within hours of her arrival.

Erin & AvaWe’ve had the joy of seeing Ava a lot since she was born and we have all fallen so in love with her. A few weeks ago Erin was rocking Ava and talking about loving her so much. She went on to talk about God loving Jesus even more. She looked at Ava and said “I love her too much, I couldn’t send her to earth to live, suffer and die that way. Even to save all mankind. I just couldn’t do it.”

So we talked about how much God must love us to have sent His son, the One He loves, to earth ~ knowing that many would reject him, that for some this suffering and death would be meaningless. Which took us back to looking at Ava…if you knew EVERYONE would come to the saving grace of Jesus, then could you do it? She still wasn’t sure. What about knowing for many her suffering and violent death would be meaningless. No, we were confident we couldn’t send her. It’s a love we cannot comprehend.

Nativity AvaA few weeks ago our church put on Breakfast in Bethlehem – it was beautiful, stirring, joyful and brought Christmas close. And guess who was baby Jesus? Yep…Ava. When Mary, holding Ava baby Jesus, and Joseph walked in the room and down the isle with their donkey, tears quickly dropped from my eyes…”This is a taste of it.” I thought. So innocent. Just a baby, here to save mankind. Then Erin, who was a tall shepherd tending to a little shepherd walked down the isle. When she stopped to bow and worship baby Jesus I was again overcome with a tiny morsel of the real story ~ just that week Erin had changed “baby Jesus” diaper, now she was bowing to “him” as her Lord.Shepherds Are these some of the things Mary pondered in her heart?

The Christmas story got real close and personal to us this year. Our hearts literally not comprehending this amazing love that cost so much. I’ve found myself seeking more the real meaning of Christmas and resting more in the peace of it all instead of the lists that I tend to create. None of that will make it Christmas ~ it’s a pure and simple scene I am gravitating toward. The story that makes Christmas real and has the potential to bring us all up real close and real personal to our Savior. Merry Christmas to you all.

Some of these photos were taken by myself, Melissa and Keepsake Portraits & Design

The Wisest Christmas Gift

With kids who truly lack for nothing,  we decided to do Christmas in a completely different way two years ago. Instead of shopping for presenTs we chose presenCe. We purchased plane tickets and signed a rental agreement for a house in Arizona. Courtney, Zach and Erin were 20, 18 and 15 years old when we told them time together was the best gift we could bestow on them for Christmas. We stayed home to attend Christmas Eve service, enjoyed our traditional late night feast of hors d’ourves, slept for a few hours and then early Christmas morning we left on a jet plane for warm weather, sunshine, a pool and seven glorious days together.

It felt a little risky, but it also felt a lot right.

To be transparent we did give a few small gifts, mostly stocking stuffers, but their biggest and most important gift was in the form of a simple but significant envelope ~ a letter letting them know they had each been gifted 5 Wisemen for 1 year. “Back in the day” families lived so much closer to each other making a way for natural influence and more opportunity for grandparents, aunts and uncles, even neighbors and friends to be very involved in the life of a family. With that missing today we came up with the idea of “wisemen” traveling with our kids for a year ~ keeping with our theme of presenCe instead of presenTs!

We wanted to give our kids voices that didn’t belong to us; voices that could be trusted and perspectives that were different. So we created a list of people we wanted to speak into our kids ~ specific voices for specific reasons. We wanted them to have wise friends and family who would spend a year talking to them about life and work experience, integrity, faith, character, struggles, triumphs and more. We know there is much to be discussed about relationships, friendships, social media, pressures, college, marriage, humility and strength. With our transient culture, the proliferation of social media (which promotes many good things but also some a significant amount of superficial sharing), with feeling like Christian faith is being attacked and mocked in the media, and inappropriate language and conversations being overheard on a daily basis at school and at college, we believed this was one way we could speak goodness, value, belief, faith, character, integrity and more into Courtney, Zach and Erin. We also thought this was an intentional way of bringing adults directly into their lives for real relationships.

Here’s the thing we also knew ~ people are busy, which is why we spread it out. We approached five people for Courtney, five for Zach and five for Erin. We asked them if they would consider entering the life of one of our kids in a very intentional manner over the course of the new year. We asked them if they would email, call, or meet for lunch or coffee 2 to 3 times during that year. With 5 people reaching out to each of them 2-3 times a year, that would be at least 10 to 15 conversations with other adults who cared about them. That my friends, is quite a gift.

Each of our kids received a specific person who could talk to them about their future careers, someone who would meet them where they were on their faith journey and walk with them.  They each received one extended family member, as well as one person who I felt was put on our hearts for each particular child. Lastly they each received the gift of a dear friend of mine who has been in our lives for many, many years, I chose her because as our kids were turning the corner of adulthood I wanted her voice to go with them, linked more directly to them instead of just through me. It was quite a year – there were lunches, very early morning coffee dates, Skype times, notes and cards in the mail, texts, conversations, mentoring, walks and more. As a parent it was incredible to watch other really good adults pour into our kids.

I told our kids I was writing this article and asked each of them what they took away from, or appreciated about, the year of the Wisemen. Zach, now 20, said he liked that it put mentors in his life, he said he got a lot out of things that he was taught, but his big takeaway was the importance of a mentor in his life. Courtney, now 22 appreciated knowing that people of influence in her life, people she thought highly of and looked up to, were thinking of her and had committed to guiding her. Erin, now 17, says “Having other adults cheer me on in life was meaningful. Also as a kid it can be hard to create relationships with adults, even though we want to, so it was beneficial to have a catalyst for these relationships that we could develop.”

The wisest Christmas gifts we ever gave was the gift of wise men and women to walk a little more intentionally alongside our kids. It seemed a good time to write this – as we scurry busily around during this season it’s good to be reminded that what we truly need most isn’t all the presenTs under the tree, it is the presenCe of others in our lives.

The Red Kettle

An embarrassing but true tale: The red kettles used to annoy me. For years I felt guilty if I didn’t have anything to put in them – and who likes to feel guilty, right? (So sometimes I would just go in a different door….classy.) I also felt annoyed because it felt like they were everywhere. Then, when I did give my $1, I wished I had a hand stamp that I could wave at the next kettle ringer indicating I already gave. Oh, how I was filled with the giving spirit of Christmas!

Then one Sunday morning in December of 2008, I heard Stan Buck, (my pastor who passed away on November 18th) give us a challenge about the red kettles. He challenged us to give generously; to be prepared to give each and every time we passed a red kettle.

He suggested then that if we put a dollar in the kettle each time we passed one it is likely to not total more than $50. Most of us can afford to be that generous. If you can’t, consider dropping $0.50, or even $0.25 – each and every time. It feels good. Which is usually how this giving thing goes – in blessing others we usually feel blessed ourselves.

Perhaps I wasn’t really annoyed at the red kettles, it’s more likely that I was annoyed at myself for not being prepared to give. Or maybe I was just stingy. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that since that message, each Christmas season I have gone to the bank for my $1 bills and I put one in the kettle each and every time I see one.

And this year, since Stan isn’t here to give his dollar bills, I put one in for him too.

(I’ve read several Facebook postings in the last few weeks about people from our church thinking of Stan when they see a red kettle – and giving. This good and faithful man inspired so many to do the good and faithful things in life. His legacy will be far reaching.)

Be Not Afraid of the Red Kettles; The $1 Difference; Stan Buck

On Break

Christmas break is over. I know that because I have planned, prepared and served really great and well balanced meals the last few evenings.

Over the Christmas break, I don’t cook…much. I’ve heard a few gasps and had a few questions lately about what I do for meals if I’m not cooking, so I thought I’d share about that here. Let me begin by framing my view of being “on break”..

I’ll begin with my kids, their lives immediately shift gears when that last school bell rings before break. They exhale, smile, relax and are instantly free of homework, alarm clocks and schedules. They are on break.

Our oldest returns from college and trust me….she is on break.

Then there is my husband, each year he is on vacation between Christmas and the new year, sometimes he even adds days on the front end of that. So he also shifts gears. He quits setting an alarm and his day moves at a completely different pace and…in an entirely different environment. He is on break.

Then there is me ~ the stay work-at-home mom. My work environment stays the same, except now there are more people on my lunch break. (And I love this.) In addition, the Mom Taxi is no longer running just after school hours, it’s on call all. day. long. (Which is fine.) Plus, now I’m the head baker of all things Christmas. Oh yeah…and during this season I move to professional shopper status. (Which I enjoy.)

If you’re a mom, you might be saying, AMEN! I mean, how many extra duties do we moms take on during this season? And I haven’t even touched on scheduling holiday travel or family get togethers, work parties, friend gatherings, Christmas cards and more. Which brings me back to why I don’t really cook over Christmas break….I want to be on break too.

I manage this by heading to Sam’s Club and buying a ham, a variety of crackers, chicken salad, lots of hor dourves, and other similar wonderful cuisine. On Christmas morning I make an egg casserole and homemade caramel rolls (technically I prepare all of this the night before), and this year Kevin cooked a turkey so we could have turkey sandwiches – for many days. It was awesome. We also eat out more than usual, and I’m good for a homemade pizza or two. (Well, actually three so we can have leftovers!)

I love having a break from planning, preparing and serving dinner. It allows me to have time off as well to refresh. But now everyone is back to school and work, (except for my college girl who will be here for a few more days) and I am back to providing healthy meals for my family. The first night we sat down to eat, my seventeen year old son made a comment about how nice it was to sit around the table and eat a great meal. The second night I heard several compliments on the fish and homemade bread, and tonight the pecan chicken and I got rave reviews.

I’m good with not cooking much during the Christmas break. I appreciated the time off and now my family is once again appreciating my efforts to provide a daily dinner.  We’re back into our routines and we’re all happy in the new year.

10 Day Before Christmas….

10 Observations:

10Our tree has lights but no decorations.
Yesterday Erin told me she showed Courtney (at college) our tree via Skype and Courtney said to “Wait for me to decorate it!” So having no decorations moved from pathetic to “intentional” at that moment. Nice.

9)  We have no lights outside on our house yet.
Let’s face it, at this point we probably won’t. It’s OK.

8)  Baking ~ we will get to that.

7)  Shopping ~ under control, we’re doing less of that this year, which has made gift giving simple and intentional.

6)  Christmas cards.…look for mine in January. Not kidding.

But….

5)  The fireplace has been going every evening and it has been drawing us all to the living room each evening ~ together.

4)  The lights from the tree create a warm glow that even our dog is appreciating.

3)  Sitting at my kids wrestling matches and basketball games this season is a gift.

2)  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are coming regardless of baking, lights, shopping, crazy or lazy schedules. Thank goodness.

1)  God has a plan to save all of humanity ~ and the plan began to unfold when a baby was born…in a stable. So, in 10 days, we will celebrate this birth, this plan, this love, this wonder. We will come and adore Him, we will offer personal gifts, we will pause and give him praise…regardless of the state our our home, schedules or circumstances.

It’s 10 days to Christmas…ready or not. 

Christmas Eve 2007

…let the little children come to me… Luke 18:16

Gina, Brian and their four young daughters had spent the entire day at her parents celebrating with family. Now, as they slipped into the back of the church for Christmas Eve service, Gina surveyed those around her and became painfully aware that her family had arrived not in little red dresses and black shiny shoes, but jeans, sweatshirts and tennis shoes. “Oh brother.” she sighed.
When the pastor invited all the children to come close for the children’s message, Gina groaned and then watched as her eldest, Bethany, scurried down the isle hugging everyone she knew on the isle seats. As the pastor complimented the little ones on their fancy attire, Gina wanted to leave.

Then he asked this question, “What are we waiting for tonight?” Bethany’s hand shot straight up in the air and “Hanukkah!” came forth. After clearing that up he asked another question, “What is something you’ve had to wait for”? Again Bethany’s hand shot straight up and she said, “Well, I’ve had to wait for my mom to wake up from a nap. Wait, and wait, and wait and wait.” Gina’s head found its way into her hands.

As my friend told me this story I was laughing with her and feeling her pain. As a mom with young children at the time I identified with wanting to feel joy and pride in the way our children represent our family. I want to be the mom whose children are dressed nicely and give the answers that tell we know Jesus in our home. Not necessarily the one whose child has sat down in the middle of the song, in front of the whole church, to pick his nose, or flip up her dress. (I do recognize the pride here, I’m just being honest.)
I reflected on Gina’s story a lot the next day. I thought about how it really was a great Christmas story.

Bethany, though a young child loves the Lord. I thought about how much like Jesus she really was. Had Jesus been at that service, I don’t think he would have been any more dressed up than he normally was; when we read of the wedding in Galilee, there was no mention of his fancy garb. When Jesus walked among the people he would greet them along the way, remember how he called out to Zacchaeus – and he wasn’t even near the isle, he was up in a tree!

Luke 18:16-17 says, “But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Oh, that we could all be a little more like Bethany – greeting, shaking hands and hugging all the friends we meet along our way. That we would wave our hand with excitement to give the answers, and that in our excitement we would not worry about shouting out a response that is different from what is expected. That we should all smile as big as Bethany does because she knows Jesus is in her heart.

I was not at this particular Christmas Eve service, and even if I had been, there is no way to be sure, but I am certain that Jesus was smiling at Bethany that night. Had Jesus shown up in the flesh, I can only imagine how I might have responded to his presence, but I believe, without a doubt, that a smiling Bethany would have run full blast into his arms.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be more like Bethany.