Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shots and Toilets as Presents

Just a quick little update on our "giving project" from Christmas (scroll down and read previous post if you're not sure what I'm talking about).
So, it went about like I thought..not much interest in the "giving gifts" on Christmas morning in the midst of the excitement. But yesterday we were able to talk about them more and they were very interested. They haven't picked out the place they want to help provide a well for yet. But they did each pick a gift out of the Compassion Catalog. They were very into it, especially Hannah. She read each description carefully and in the end chose "vaccinations". When I asked why, she said "because it says here kids die from diseases without them". So vaccinations it is. Then it was Sadie's turn. She debated long and hard between a soccer ball and a toilet. She finally chose toilet. (It was actually called "safe and sanitary bathroom" in the catalog. But she prefers to say she's buying a toilet.) When I asked why, her answer was amazingly thought-out, long, serious, and funny all at the same time. Only Sadie. :) She said "well, if a kid doesn't have a toilet, then he has to pee on the ground outside. And then a goat might eat the dirt with pee and get sick. Then the goat will burp in the kid's face and the kid will get a head-ache and then get sick. So a toilet helps kids not get sick." So, there you go..why every kid needs a toilet. :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Ramblings

This Christmas season my family has done a lot. Just like most other families I know. And quite honestly, everything we've done has been fun. But there's also a little tension - it's like we are living two different lives and celebrating Christmas two different ways. This post doesn't attempt to remove the tension. Rather, it's my attemp to think through some of it, with you along for the ride. :)

There's visiting Santa, and buying gifts, and making wish lists and parades and dance performances and school choir performances. There's dressing up to go see the Nutcracker, and creating Gingerbread houses. There's parties galore. And there's the elf. THE ELF. He has been responsible for much mischief, much clean-up on my part, and much giggles on the girls' part.

Then, there's our advent candles and the Nativity set, and talk of hope, joy, love, and peace. We tell the Christmas story and talk about Jesus' birthday. We look for opportunities to give to to others.

I've always thought the two could co-exist. And maybe they can. But there's still a tension. Even the kids feel it. My girls were both delighted to email Santa their wish lists. They have high hopes for Christmas morning. One moment Hannah will jump up and down with excitement and tell you she hopes that she gets an ipod and "dark grown-up lipstick" for Christmas. Then, when Sadie starts her wish list, Hannah interrupts her and says "But remember. .Christmas isn't about the gifts. It's about Jesus' birthday. Jesus is the most important gift". And while her words are true, the way she says it is the same way a whole group of kids will raise their hands and shout "Jesus!" in answer to any question asked during children's church before they even hear the question! Sadie's the same. One day early in the season I interrupted their talk of possible gifts and said "It's Jesus' birthday. What gifts will you give him?". And Sadie in all her innocent and sweetness said "I know, we'll give him LOVE!". And for those of you who don't know her - Sadie *is* one of the most loving people. She loves people and she loves Jesus. But even for her, it sounded like a cop-out answer. (I didn't tell her that!). But maybe that's because it's a cop-out answer I give too. I teach the kids to give and serve at Christmas. We put toys in the toys-for-tots box. We stick a dollar here and there in the Salvation Army red kettle. And then I have to buy the “real gifts” to see if we have any money leftover to donate to poor people somewhere else. And my girls who are happy to give and serve any other time of the year, want to know why they have to provide toys for other kids at Christmas, because "why can't Santa just bring them toys?". And in all my wisdom I answer in a mumble and change the subject.

But Jesus has interrupted my Christmas this year. It all started with reading a book called Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. Her book is actually not about Christmas at all. It is about a God who interrupts our comfortable world and calls us to stop and really love the hurting and poor around us. Everywhere I've turned this advent, I've heard the same message. Stop. See the need. Love in real, practical ways.

I was so inspiried by what I was reading and hearing that I wanted Christmas to be a little different this year. I didn't want to just give lip-service to loving others. I didn't want us to just give our left-over change after all the "real gifts" had been bought. We still have the tension described above. But we are slowly making changes. On Christmas morning, my children will find gifts...good gifts that they wanted. They will jump up and down in excitement. But stockings this year will be different. Usually their stockings have an orange, candy, sometimes socks that they needed, and then a bunch of cheap things to take up the space that they don't really need and that they love for all of 5 minutes. But not this year. They will probably still find an orange (because what else do you put in the toe?) And a little candy. And Hannah might find her "grown up lipstick" she wants and Sadie will find something small she'd like too. And then, they will find two other gifts. I'd actually already bought a bunch of little stuff for their stockings at walmart and I actually took them back the other day for a refund. And then I used the money to buy them each a gift card from Living Water. Living Water builds wells and provides clean water to people in developing countries. It's a need my kids are familiar with already through church activities we've done in the past. And it's a critical need. Santa doesn't go around delivering clean water so people can live. Jesus uses us to do that. And they will also find a gift catalog from Compassion International where they can purchase a gift for a family in the developing world. Cool gifts like mosquito nets or soccer balls or a pig or goat.

This is how I predict this to go. They will see their presents and get very excited. Then they will dump their stockings. Sadie will immediately eat a couple pieces of chocolate and Hannah will squeal and put on the lipstick. Then they will briefly look at the catalog and gift card before returning to their other gifts. And that's okay. Because in a few days when the other gifts have lost the "newness" factor, we'll go online and redeem their gift cards. The girls will each get to choose the country and project they want their gift to go towards in providing clean water. Then, they can pick out a gift from the compassion catalog. Maybe they buy a pig for a family in Rwanda (by the way - I learned an average sow can give birth to up to 16 piglets a the gift of a pig could mean a lifetime of income and food for a family). Or maybe mosquito nets for a family in India or a soccer ball for a kid in Uganda. My hope is, that this becomes a tradition and long after they've forgotten what they "got" for Christmas, they remember what they "gave". I'm super excited about this.

But I was kind of feeling off-kilter still with the whole Christmas thing. I mean what could I be missing? We've done everything. Shopping's done. Giving's done (or planned). Tree is decorated. Parades, parties, events..done or almost done. Nothing left to buy. Nothing left to plan. And then I went to church this morning. Towards the end of the music, we started to sing Angels We Have Heard on High. We got to the gloria in excelsis deo part and my heart remembered what was missing. I couldn't put it in words, but I teared up and just knew. Later this afternoon I looked the words to that song up. I needed to know the meaning of those words. Something about glory, I knew. It means "Glory to God in the Highest" - the very words the angels spoke to the shepherds in Luke. And slowly, my mind caught up with my heart. Worship. The gift of Christmas was Jesus, God's son. And the very first response to that gift wasn't another gift..not even to Jesus. The very first reponse to that gift was for the angels to worship and praise and give God glory "in the highest". Doesn't that mean above all else? With all I am? Jesus came and turned the world upside down. He turns our lives upside down. And to whom much is given, much is required. And I have been given much. But regardless of what that looks like at Christmas time or in regular day-to-day life, it starts with stopping, worshipping, and giving God glory and praise with all I have and all I am.

And now, because it's taken me 4 months to update the blog and because I'm quite sure I won't update it again until after Christmas, I will end this long post with a photo. I just love this one with all the missing teeth! Merry Christmas!!