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.