House For Six

The Gifts We Already Have

Deme Crinion2 Comments
Hi. My name is Deme, and I am a slacker.

I thought we were totally ahead of the game when James jumped on getting our house lights up over Thanksgiving weekend.  And this act of merry preparation from the man who is adamantly against any sort of Christmas tree, music or general holiday cheer before December. 

We also got Mia's little tree up in her room the same weekend...

....and that's where this decorating train stopped. 

Our Advent calendar is still in a box and it's December 6th, Friends.

We have grand plans to get the rest of our decorations up and to pick out a real tree this weekend.  We're praying that no one is allergic to it, but we're keeping our old phoney-baloney boxed up in the garage just in case.

Before I go hog wild on decorating and crafting, or at least dusting off the advent calendar, I've been feeling that James and I need to talk about what we want this season to be about.  We know what it's supposed to be about, but how does that look and play out for our family?

The first Christmas package arrived on our doorstep and I can see the the kids already getting a little nutty over the impending present invasion. I've always struggled with how to maintain that Christmas is not about the gifts we receive, but the gifts we give.  And more importantly, why.

To take this beyond just words to our children, we decided to do Christmas a little different last year.  We got one special gift for each of our children, then took the rest of the money we would have spent on Christmas, along with our monthly giving, and adopted a family for Christmas.  The brothers of a local friary minister to one of the poorest areas of our city - out on the west mesa.  We're talking no running water or electricity...and the kids of these families attend our public schools.

We adopted a family of 6 (similar to our family size) and almost every person requested a warm jacket for their gift.  Except the 15 year old daughter.  Her request was different.  She asked for make-up, and my heart broke.  I am certain that she needed a jacket as much as her brothers.  Or a pair of good shoes or gloves or even underwear.  But when money and resources are scarce, things like make-up don't make the cut.  For a teenage girl, very much present in the world, this is no small thing.

We were so grateful to be able to give each person a full outfit (including new shoes and a winter coat), along with stockings full of socks, underwear, hats and mittens.  And make up too.  We also got a few boxes of grocery items according to the list provided by the friars.  We added in a few warm blankets, wrapped it all up and called it Merry Christmas.

The most important part of this experience was driving it out to the mesa to distribute the items to the families.  There was a central pick-up point where the brothers and other volunteers were serving up donuts and hot cocoa.  They had tables and trucks full of food and donated clothing to ensure that no one left empty handed, especially the families that were not adopted.

The most incredible thing about this community is the way they share.  Our hearts were heavy for those unadopted families, but they explained that meeting the needs of their neighbor was a way of life for this community.

They know how to give.  Better than I do. And they have less. What was it that I was just saying I "needed" this week?  Where am I feeling "if we could just...."? I can not allow myself to forget the Mesa.

We did not actually meet the family that we adopted.  They came later in the afternoon after our family had gone, but it wasn't important.  We saw and met many families, all with a similar life, but all with a unique story, and all beautiful.

It's so much easier to think about poverty being someplace across the globe.  But it's here too.  In our own city.  We can avoid it....avoid thinking about it or even seeing it, but it's here.  The experience forever changed the way we think about Christmas. And our wants/needs. 

I recently had a chat with a friend about how we give (at Christmas and throughout the year).....the natural inclination for us both was that we give what we have leftover.  But she said, "Even more so at a time like Christmas, when there's really nothing we truly need [my kid doesn't need another video game], shouldn't it be the other way around?  We shouldn't just be giving what we have left at the end, but simply giving what we have."

That morning I read a post over at A Holy Experience, where Ann wrote about ways to Have More Grateful Kids  I appreciated what she said about there being a lot of different ways to do Christmas right.  We also don't want to take the joy of giving away from grandparents or other loved ones that show their love in that way.  But we can control the gifts we give with in our immediate family, and the gifts we choose to give to others.

So, what will this advent and Christmas look like for us?  For starters, we are shooting for more handmade and thoughtful gifts.  It will be less about money spent and more about thought given.  And it must, must be about gratitude.  Thanks for the gifts we already have and using them to give good gifts to others. Especially those that truly need them.

At the end of her post, Ann Voskamp listed 7 ways to help build gratitude in our children this Christmas.  I think it can apply just as easily to us.  And what topped the list? 

1. A “Gifts We Already Have List”
Hang a long paper on a wall or on the fridge or back of door. Fill that list up before Christmas — with all the countless ways God blesses you all as a family. Count 1000 (or a bit more or less) of the gifts you already have this Christmas!

So, we will get a few more decorations up, but mostly I'm going to focus on getting our hearts oriented up.  We're going to begin with counting the gifts we already have in a way that will be a daily reminder (stand by for some more chalkboard paint!), and help us not to lose sight of why Christmas forever changed the game.  In all I do to make merry our home, I can not forget that it's all to prepare for Love itself, come down from heaven to ransom his beloved.  It's time to get ready.