When Jessica asked me to write this article for her blog, the words immediately poured out. But something still didn't feel quite right. I guess my hope is that it doesn't seem superficial. Because my point is not that gifts are what Christmas is about. Clearly. But these simple ways of keeping it small are how we keep Christ at the center because we are still able to give and don't leave Christmas feeling spent, exhausted and wondering how we will make it to the next paycheck.
As 2016 draws to a close, I am thankful. My friends that have experienced great loss can say they are thankful and we can, too. Because our joy is not found in material things or the happiness on our kids' faces Christmas Day. Our true joy is found in Jesus Christ alone for He is our Redeemer.
"Through Jesus’s sacrifice, we are granted redemption. He took the wounds we deserve, and we receive the blessing that was rightfully His." @shereadstruth
Don't the best ideas always come in the shower?
Happens to me all the time.
And just recently when we were at Great Wolf Lodge (because of an incredible deal from our friend!), and I was alone in the shower while the boys snuck over to the arcade with their daddy, and I kept thanking God for this sweet opportunity for my family. But as we went to leave I really wanted to go to the outlets across the street.
And I felt guilt.
I had just told Russ prior to the trip I didn't think we would ever have an overabundance financially.
And it hit me in the shower we LIVE in material overabundance---from the family we are surrounded by to the warm home we can open to others, and we love to weekly. We are able to provide for these gatherings because of gifts from others. We have family close by and jobs we both LOVE.
Our bank accounts may not be overflowing but it is two-fold.
I don't ever feel like it can.
God prompts me daily, monthly to give more. And I know that prompting more than anything else.
You see, for the first probably five years of our marriage, our best friends that are a season ahead of us would pass down so much to us—tool benches, a Power Wheels Gator, clothes, you name it. And you know what? So many times these were our GIFTS for our kids for Christmas.
And because of their obedience to God to give to us, we feel called to follow in that path. It may mean our bank account dwindles faster each month but the joy that comes from giving can never be matched.
This is not a look at me! Look at what we do. Please look at what GOD does here. Because we could NOT give if he did not give to us.
My husband is a teacher and I'm a photographer. I made $100 off of my blog last year (total) so most of my time goes to photography. But between equipment, software and "props," maintaining a huge balance is tough. The blessing? The extra money bought all of our Christmas presents this year.
But this is how: I plan. I make lists. I have to have an outline.
But before you leave this page, please know I am terrible at a budget and spreadsheet so this is kind of the only time I plan. But I don’t necessarily plan financially. I make a plan for what we can give to them. And this year, my oldest is getting a trampoline (A HAND ME DOWN!), my middle is getting trains (that I bought two months ago) and my youngest is getting a play kitchen (that we split with both set of grandparents).
Why do I take this much time and plan this much at this time of year? Because I was once a teacher. And in our district we only get paid ONCE a month.
Even when it's a five week month.
EVEN when there's an extra weekend.
EVEN when you get paid December 18, you don't get paid until January 25.
It's the way it works. So I have to plan because my husband is STILL a teacher and coach in that district (and we love it!).
And Santa brings three gifts and one book. Period. These gifts are sitting out unwrapped waiting for them (the oldest--a trampoline, yard sale Lincoln Logs, and $1 dress up costumes; the middle--trains bought two months ago, Thomas the Train engines found at TJ Maxx, and Lincoln Logs; the youngest--play food, the oven, on sale puppy dog that sings).
My husband and I give them one wrapped present (usually a clothing item or two they need) and they give each other one wrapped present.
In their stocking, they get electric toothbrushes, underwear, and floss!
We have even convinced grandparents that less is more. So grandparents will give a little bit of money to "help Santa" (unprompted—they asked to do this; another answer to prayer) and then they will each give them one to three wrapped presents.
Our other family members text now and ask specifically what the kids are playing with these days.
And last year was perfect. There wasn't an overabundance of plastic junk. There weren't tears because they didn't have any more presents to open. They were happy and excited and wanted to just stay home and play.
And y'all. I've seen the benefits in real life.
(Yes, we still struggle with greed. Heck, when the oldest wanted to go to Santa's workshop he wanted something for himself. I told him no, he was buying for others. Don't you know a teacher told him he needed to buy something for himself? ;))
I wrote this excerpt on my blog two years ago and it was everything I felt and still feel so strongly. This is not about us.
"I want more than anything else to be intentional with my time–with my husband, with my boys, and to soak up these memories of our Christmas brunch and to memorize Kuy’s face when he sees the only thing he’s asked for–a football helmet. And Cray when he sees his (yard sale) cardboard bricks. (We even do Christmas simple.)
God gave us His Son so that we, TOO, may find JOY in giving. In picking out or in making that perfect gift. So that we can teach it to our boys as they walk through this life. Because when I gave Kuy his money from my grandmother, he immediately wanted to buy a blanket for his friend. I have so much to learn.
Knowing a football helmet is the only thing Kuy wants this year does my heart good because he will be so thrilled.
Because God knew the one thing we needed that we didn’t even realize we wanted.
PURE joy that God felt when He GAVE us his Son and the deep hurt when He GAVE Him to us because are sinners.
God is so big. Bigger than I can even wrap my mind around.
“Jesus is so beautiful. Sometimes, when you look into His eyes, in your mind, you feel like you could look for hours. He’s so safe and so full of life and so loving. God made Jesus’ beauty to be almost overwhelming. Ask Him for yourself. Ask God to show you what Jesus looks like. I’ll bet you’ll see His beauty.” –Sara Hagerty, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet
I just want to be intentional in a way that brings glory to Him every step of the way so that His beauty…so that His beauty is what shines through no matter how I may make a mess of it along the way."
One benefit of setting the bar low: when we surprised them with Great Wolf Lodge, my oldest was trying to guess and it went like this:
Him: Are we going to Chick-fil-A?
Me: No! Even better!
Him: (gasp) CVS!!!!
May your Christmas be filled with JOY and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
All photos by Restless Arrow.
I first met Amber at a writing conference several years ago. We were both standing alone and she inched her way closer to me. I introduced myself and literally asked her, "Do you want to be friends?" It felt like we had known each other for years. And we have shared a beautiful friendship ever since.
Not only do I drool over her Instagram feed, text her for fashion advice, or when I totally ruin my kitchen cabinets, she saves the day. But Amber is one of the most giving people I know. Her heart is full and she pours out of the overflow. I have been a recipient of Amber's giving on more than one occasion. (And most of the clothes Micah is wearing right now, are from her boys!) The reason Amber gives is because she knows nothing belongs to her, she is simply stewarding what the Father has given her. Right before I quit my job, Brandon and I were looking at our finances and on paper the numbers didn't match. I HAD to stay home with Micah. Because of his special needs, we had no other option. I remember Amber sending me a picture of her prayer journals, how she was asking the Father to provide and make a way for her to stay at home with her babies the year before. All her text said was, "He will provide. He is faithful." And He has.
I hope you have been both encouraged and challenged by Amber's words. I love so much that quote at the end by Sara Hagerty. More than anything this Christmas, I'm praying you will see His beauty. I'm praying we get a long, deep stare into His eyes and it changes our lives.
Thank you for following along in this journey! I'm thankful for you and love you, friends.
If you would like to connect with Amber you can: