The Best Gift You Can Give To Yourself This Year

I begin the Christmas season and the month of December excited for the slow unwrapping of Advent. The anticipation builds as I day by day, unwrap and reveal a new piece of the Christmas story.

December gives birth to slow, reflective thoughtfulness. Or crazy, insane, and frantic. Seems there is little in between. I tend to slow during December. In December I say no in order to say yes to what matters most.

We ponder. We anticipate. We expect. We focus.

Maybe we need to allow ourselves to unwrap and hold onto the gift of December.

I like December because I stop focusing on me so much. Daily I seek Jesus. I’m overwhelmed with how a familiar story can continue to dive deeper in my soul.

The unexpected gift of December is a month where I think of others above my own self. I think of Jesus. I think of humanity. I think of buying gifts for my family. I think of serving those who need. I think of who I can show hospitality to. To think of others is a surprise gift of freedom to our souls.

I’m finding I want to hold onto December. I want a year of Decembers.

In December people are nicer, decorations are cheerier, givers are more generous. In December homes are open. Parties are hosted. Invites are extended. Hospitality prevails.

In December we give ourselves permission to slow. We’ve allowed ourself a guilt free pass to stop running pace with the rest of the world. We’ve mercifully tended to our soul in the downshifting of life.

In December we become intentional. We carefully plan activities, moments, and memories with our children. In fact, some of us plan something every day.

In December we have fun. We hide elves, make gingerbread houses, watch cheesy movies, and bundle up to sing carols door to door.

In December we are together.

December is the month that brings the year to an end, yet it’s the month that gives birth to the hope we cling to.

December is remembering. We remember a baby that was born to die for us. We remember the stories from old. And we remember our own lives over the past year.

We begin to look back. Amazing how much can change in a year. Or a day. Or even one minute.

For some of us looking back over the year brings sorrow and grief. We’ve had to let go of hands we wanted to hold forever. We’ve had to accept a diagnosis and learn a new vocabulary. We’ve moved, leaving behind what was known to discover new work, new people, new places. We’ve released dreams unfulfilled. We’ve grieved the ending of a season we will never have again, accepting the new season and learning new rhythms of life.

Despite the pain, grief, and sorrow, for the one held in Christ, December whispers birth and hope. Hope never dies because our Savior lives. We cling to the hope that one day He will wipe away every tear. We will dance and run. We will sing forever.

So December, you are an interesting month. A month of reflection. A month of review. A month of renewal. A month of remembering. A month of rebirth.

Remembering the birth of my Savior, I cling to the birth that happens in my own soul. He is the picture of hope. He is joy. He is love. He is forever and unending.

How quickly I’m able to turn a page though.  The day is over. The month closes. We box it up, flip the calendar. Pack away the advent to countdown His arrival, toss the year’s calendar, and we move on.

We match pace with the world. Our inbox  and newsfeed fills with images telling us we need a new ‘us’.

We begin the purge. The focus on a New Year. New goals. New body. We get back to focusing on our life. And for the next 11 months, that is how it goes.

This year maybe I will treat each month like it’s December.

When it’s January, may I think of how I can love others well rather than simply how I can make my body more pleasing to my own eyes.

When it’s February, may I intentionally create activities, moments, and memories with the ones I love. May February hold a small gift each day of time we spend together.

When it’s March, may I open my home and invite others in. May I release the pressure to have it perfectly decorated or spotlessly cleaned. May I stop looking at the Instagram pictures of how others do it and simply do it the best I can with what I have.  May I let the love pour out of us into the ones who come through these doors.

When it’s April, may I tenderly care for my soul by allowing myself to rest. May I allow myself to produce less, accomplish less, and be in Him more. It’s in this place He will renew me so I can do far more than I envisioned.

When it’s May, may I keep unwrapping Him slowly. Day by day. May I find myself surprised that something I’ve read 100 times times revealed a new hidden treasure.

When it’s June, July, and August, may I have fun. The kind of fun that brings a smile back, a reminder to laugh. It’s good for my soul, but it’s better for the ones who do life with me.

When it’s September, October, and November, may I generously give. May my gifts bear fruit in someone’s life. May I give out of my little or my abundance because what I have isn’t mine to begin with. I’ve only been entrusted to manage it well. It’s easy to be a generous giver when it’s not mine to begin with. And it’s not.

And when it’s December again, may I begin again to remember. May I remember who God is. May I remember that though a year has passed again, a year full of joy mingled with sorrow, He never left my side. May I remember that December brings the calendar to a close, but it gave birth to a calendar that will never end.

 

When You Desperately Want To Stop Caring What Others Think

“‘Someday,” said Miles, “I’ll find a way to do something important.’ Winnie nodded. That was what she wanted.

“The way I see it, ” Miles went on, “it’s no good hiding yourself away, like Pa and lots of other people. And it’s no good just thinking of your own pleasure, either. People got to do something useful if they’re going to take up space in this world.”‘

Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting.

 

DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT

I believe in our souls there is a longing to do something useful and important.

 

For some of us, we miss out on because we are looking beyond the place we stand at this very moment.

 

Do we know that our very important work is held in every breath we breathe? It’s at every turn of our day. Right where we stand. If only we open our eyes to the holy ground we stand on.

 

We are looking at the work someone else is doing, and suddenly ours feels like the drawing of a kindergartner compared to work which brings in high bidders.

 

Or worse, we feel we are doing something useful until we realize we are unnoticed, unappreciated, or misunderstood by others.

 

My husband works at an auto auction. One week a particular car has the potential to bring in $3,000 more than it did the prior week. Same mileage, same condition, similar color. Why the difference from one week to the next? The value has a range, but that one day compared to the other, someone comes in who sees that car and places on it a personal higher value. They are willing to pay more because to them, personally, it is worth more. It’s what they came looking for as opposed to the prior week someone wasn’t looking for it but maybe stumbled upon it.

 

 

DO YOU KNOW YOUR VALUE?

 

When you have something to offer, it will be worth more to some than it is to others. And that is ok.

 

Do you realize your value? Or do you place a value on what you give out to the world based on the rejection you receive?

 

With God, we hold infinite value. We should know this given the fact He sent His Son to die for us. When we surrender our lives to Christ, He fills us with unique gifts. He created us unlike anyone else.

 

I wonder if we’ve adopted an auction mentality rather than a proper perspective of our infinite value in God’s eyes.

 

If we would stop for a minute and realize that God is the only one who can meaningfully value us and then realize that what we have to offer from the gifts He gives us won’t be appreciated or valued by all, then we can move forward with the work He’s called us to.

 

 

START TODAY WHERE YOU ARE

 

Use your gifts where you are today in preparation for where He will lead you next.

 

Do you have leadership gifts yet you find yourself under the thumb of another? Walk worthy where you are and practice your gifts in your small circle of influence.

 

Give out the gifts. They hold infinite value. Some will discard it as worthless, but someone will receive the gift you offer as a treasure. To them it’s worth $3,000 more than it was to the bidder last week.

 

When I write, something inside me comes alive. When I fail to write, something inside me withers and fades. The writing doesn’t have to be shared for me to awaken. When I write in my journal or tuck away a document on my hard drive, something is released. I can’t fully explain it. At the same time, in order for this gift to be used to build up others, I can’t keep it tucked away.

 

Just like Miles from Tuck Everlasting says, if we are going to take up space in this world, we need to quit hiding ourselves away.

 

We need to walk as the person He created us to be.

 

When we began homeschooling, writing took a backseat. Full confession, part of me loved, even relished, in this “out” from God. Not because I hated writing, but because of the writing I was called into.

 

In my heart, I was jealous of the callings and giftedness in the lives of other writers. I would read their words and feel soothed, happy, light. I’d laugh. My days would feel brighter because of their words. And then I would look at my own writing. Some posts brought encouragement and inspiration to people. But sometimes it brought conviction or challenge.

 

To be completely transparent with you, social media has made writing from my calling painfully difficult at times. “Friends” back away from me. I notice the strange looks they give me.

 

The enemy has used this to create insecurity, fear, and jealousy. All kinds of ugly. The Lord has allowed me to wrestle deeply through these sins in order that I emerge stronger.

 

After my ulcer episode I had a friend suggest I write on lighter topics considering that some of my writing invites such intense criticism.

 

That only fueled my inner pinings for the calling of someone else. Why can’t I write on topics that simply make people smile?

 

I believe you know exactly what I’m talking about. You may not be a writer, but there is that one thing, that one area that you find yourself saying, “But God why can’t I have that job like they do, or those kids like they do, or that….”

 

If only I didn’t have to do (fill in the blank), then life would be easier.

 

This is a lie from the enemy.

 

We have a tendency to romanticize and glorify the life of another. All the while, the Lord has given us unique gifts and bents to bring Him glory like no one else can do. Right where we stand.

 

HOW TO OFFER WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS MOST

 

Emily P. Freeman writes this beautifully in A Million Little Ways. “Our offerings aren’t efforts worked up inside ourselves. Our offerings are unique responses to a living, giving God. As you take the bread and wine from Jesus, you offer it to others. It is not your job to make them receive it in a certain way or with a certain amount of appreciation. It is only your job to offer it.

 

Live your life like a hostess who serves the people at her table. She looks them in the eye, meets them where they are. She doesn’t spend her time distracted during the party, hiding out in the next room, calling all the people who said they couldn’t come. She doesn’t try to please a group who has already said “No thank you” rather than serve the guests who want more.

 

Issue the invitation. Serve those who show up with what you have and who you are by offering yourself and receiving the offering they bring as well.”

 

 

LISTEN TO THE RIGHT VOICES

 

This entire passage created a shift in me over the past several weeks. You see, God has been speaking to me. He has placed burning desires and passions in me. But I tend to hear the naysayer voices louder than His. I am prone to wander into the path of the discouragers rather than walk confidently where He tells me to go.

 

I listen to the voices who look at me like I’m crazy, or the ones who suggest I write a different way. These are the voices I hear through the megaphone speaker.

 

There are other voices I should listen to. The whisper of God who says, “It’s ok, my child, trust me.”

 

Or the blog readers who send me private messages of encouragement. Or the voices that pull me aside and tell me how the Lord used something I wrote but they didn’t comment or like for fear of what others would think.

 

We have a choice in which voices we will listen to. Choose wisely. Surround yourself with ones who will boldly speak truth and encourage you at the same time.

 

The caution here must be stated. Sometimes the words need to be heeded that seem to challenge us. Sometimes this is wisdom speaking. We must use discernment in order to know when a challenging voice is from the Lord or the enemy.

 

I love Emily P. Freeman’s line to live life like a hostess who serves the people at her table. Those words have echoed in my heart. God did not call me to write for everyone. He didn’t call me to be liked and accepted by all. He didn’t call me to write what feels good and tickles ears. He didn’t call me to write the posts that bring accolades and affirmations. He called me to write out of the prophetic gifts He’s placed in me.

 

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Nehemiah.

 

Nehemiah had a task to do. Build the wall. But the Sanballat types were loud. They were sent to intimidate in order to stop the work of the Lord. Nehemiah kept His eyes on his God and His mission.

 

So he shut out the voices of opposition.

 

What oppositions scream against you? What gifts, desires, or passions are hiding in your heart? What callings do you hear from God but push aside because it’s hard to live for an unseen God when the seen world shouts with wild abandon?

 

And possibly, most importantly, don’t discount the daily, mundane, ordinary tasks at hand. These are important works. Don’t look too far beyond the holy moment where you stand. Your life will be most lived when you stand where God has placed you, offering all the gifts freely where you live and work. Always moving with the Lord in practice and preparation for what will come next.

 

Maybe it is as simple as these two things:
1- Receiving our valuation from God. Infinite value.
2- Living like the hostess who serves the ones who show up

 

Maybe this is how we stop caring what others think. Because if we keep caring much longer, then the ones we were called to serve at our party will leave empty when all the while we held the tray and the pitcher they waited on.

9 Screen Free Non Toy Gift Ideas for Teens and Kids Of All Ages

I think we all want to give gifts that matter and last beyond Christmas morning.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this topic. I wrote a post a few years ago, 15 Non-Toy Gift Ideas To Give Kids At Christmas.  It’s worth revisiting. Especially in light of all we now know about the screen addictions and dangers our children our facing.

Maybe it’s time we become intentional in the protection of our kids in the area of screens by giving them gifts of a different nature.

WHY IT MATTERS WHAT WE GIVE

Our lives and homes are filled with stuff, clutter, and noise. Toy closets and playrooms have to be purged prior to the holidays to make room for all the new toys arriving in the younger years. In the older years we begin to see clutter of a new kind. The digital clutter that infects the soul.

The easy gift is anything with a screen. This is the gift sure to delight our child who thinks in the short term. However, is a screen gift the best gift?

Do our kids really need more games, more toys, another doll?

How much is enough?

For many parents the temptation is to buy according to peer pressure. All of our kids’ friends will receive the latest iPhone, tablet, etc. The keeping up with the Jones’ passes down the generational lines.

I hear this cry from parents. Why can’t Christmas be simpler? Why can’t we focus on what really matters?

Well, one reason is because we spend the majority of our season shopping and pondering what to buy. Maybe it starts with us and has little to do with our kids.

Some parents believe in giving enormous amounts of gifts. Other parents believe in giving only a handful of small gifts. To each their own, neither is right or wrong, simply family values and convictions. Whichever camp you reside in with your gift giving, this list will provide you a few thoughtful ideas.

 

 Screen Free Non Toy Gift Ideas:

  1. Investment Account– Before you breeze by this one, consider your teen or tween who is interested in learning about the stock market. Open a custodial account with someone like E Trade.  Purchase a few small stocks. They will love watching their money rise and fall and learning about the investment world.
  2. Business Start Up – Help your budding entrepreneur. Does your teen have an interest in business, an entrepreneurial spirit? Buy gifts to help their venture. Our boys have a snow shoveling business in the winter and lawn business in the summer. Equipment is expensive, and they are required to buy their own. This would be a great opportunity to purchase equipment they need or supplies to help them in their efforts to become more efficient in their craft.
  3. Collection of gift cards – Pick 5-10 of their favorite restaurants or shops and purchase small denomination gift cards. Kids love to have their own money to spend when the time arises.
  4. Concert tickets – Look at the year ahead. Is there a favorite band coming to town? Buy tickets now and gift at Christmas.
  5. Trip – Is your family planning to take a trip next year? Make it part of the Christmas surprise. Give gifts to go along with the trip. Last year we knew we planned to take our family on a cruise. We decided that this would be our Christmas gift to the kids. The gifts they unwrapped held the clues about the big gift. Swim trunks, sunblock, new shorts and tops, etc. The grandparents gifted along as well and provided excursions for the trip. This allowed us to take the trip of a lifetime without double spending.
  6. Audio Books or Dramatizations – So many options here! Christian Heroes Then and Now and Adventures in Odyssey are some of our favorites that make the gift list every single holiday. We use them on road trips to alleviate screen time in the car and to enrich our lives at the same time. Chronicles of Narnia Radio Theater by Focus on the Family is amazing.
  7. Memberships and Season Passes – Zoo, science museums, children’s theater, amusement parks. There are so many places in your town.
  8. Tickets  – Sky Zone, Defy Gravity, Skating, Bowling, Ice Skating. These are all places our family likes to go but are too expensive to do frequently. Groupon often has incredible deals to your favorite places.
  9. Hobby/Skill  – Grow an interest in a hobby or a skill set your see in your kids. Sewing, woodworking, painting, music lessons, art lessons, camps, photography equipment. Hobbies are expensive. My kids have lots of interests but we are unable to fund everything they would like to do. If your kids have been begging to take drum lessons, maybe this is the time to invest. A year of lessons or the equipment.

For additional ideas (especially for younger kids), read my post on 15 Non Toy Gifts to Give Kids At Christmas. Also you might find it helpful to read this post if you have a child who struggles at Christmas when surrounded by kids who receive the latest and greatest of everything. Dear Boys, When You Compare What You Get To What Everyone Else Gets  .

For a Christmas that matters, one which focuses on the true meaning of Christmas, while providing your family thoughtful, intentional ideas for creating memories, experiences, and traditions centered on Christ, check out Seeking Christmas – Finding the True Meaning of Christmas. 

 

Parents-Don’t Let Peer Pressure Be The Reason You Say Yes To Your Child

Parents lead by example. If we model caving to peer pressure, our kids might follow.

For those who prefer audio, you can listen to the podcast of this post by clicking this link.

He burst through the back door out of breath. “Mom! Dad! Can I walk up to Walgreens? Please they are all waiting for me at the front door.”

We looked out the door and confirmed several kids, none of whom we knew at all, waited to walk along a major road full of traffic with no sidewalks the 1/2 mile to Walgreens.

Our response went something like this. “Um. No way.”

“You can’t say no. They are all waiting on me. All their parents let them. Y’all are overprotective. It’s not fair.”

He continued to tell us how embarrassed he would be to have to say his parents wouldn’t allow him to go. We told him we were sorry but for several reasons, he could not accompany these kids. We offered to drive them there but that was shut down immediately.

After he let down these friends we didn’t know yet, we explained that as his parents, we would never make a decision based on peer pressure or his pressure placed on us. We would never agree to let him do something simply because all the other parents let their kids. And we would never give way to his tactics of pressure by having his friends here waiting in hopes that we would fear letting any of them down or embarrassing our own child.

“We don’t make our decisions based on peer pressure, or fear of missing out, or fear of what others think.”

We continued explaining that we didn’t know these kids. What if they shoplifted and he was with them? He would be in the same trouble they were in. We explained it wasn’t out of fear, but out of protection, that we couldn’t let him go.

Until our children are more mature and able to make wiser decisions, we are responsible for showing them how to make these decisions.

Later that night he came back to us and said he completely understood. Initially, he was mad but after really thinking through it, he realized he didn’t really want to go to Walgreens. He simply wanted to be accepted.

Isn’t that what all tweens/teens want? To be accepted? If we are totally honest, isn’t that what we as parents want as well?

Peer pressure doesn’t end after graduation. It’s something we continue to walk through. As our children walk these roads, we walk with them. We find ourselves facing the pressure of allowing our children to do things so they won’t be left out or looked at as weird.

As parents we have an enormous calling to point them to the cross over and over and over again.

Our children are already accepted by the One who gave His life for them. And that is the only acceptance that truly matters.

If you are a parent, there is no doubt in my mind you have heard from the lips of your kids, “But that’s not fair, all my friends get to….”

And you might answer something like this, “Well, I’m not everyone else’s parent.” Or maybe you say something a little deeper and wiser. No matter we’ve all listened as our kids tried to persuade us to allow them to go along with what everyone else is doing.

I remember many times growing up asking to do something my mom refused to budge on. I was mad at her during those times, but now I’m grateful for her protection.

I find myself tempted to fall into the same trap my children fall into. I find myself worried about my kids not fitting in or feeling different or left out.

The area I see this most prevalent in is the world of the smartphone in the hands of kids, tweens, and young teens. By allowing our kids to enter into the world of texting, chatting, surfing, and social media, we are allowing them to walk into potentially dangerous situations that appear harmless and fun.

Just because all our kids’ friends have smartphones and social media accounts doesn’t mean we have to allow it in our kids’ lives. Yet this is the number one response I hear from parents who don’t want to allow their kid to have a smartphone.

I don’t believe that we recognize it is peer pressure causing us to say yes to our kids when our instincts are screaming, “No! Not yet. Just wait a little longer.”

 

What is happening to the souls of these children living in a highly connected, yet truly disconnected, picture-perfect driven world?

If I want my kids not to worry what others think, I need to set that example in my parenting.

If I want my kids to protect what they consume with their eyes, I have to place protective boundaries around their eyes in the training years.

If I want to protect their heart from destruction through bullying, I can’t place them in the arena where kids feel emboldened to speak freely because they speak from behind a screen.

Our kids, in their impressionable years, don’t know who they are yet. They are figuring out life, and life is hard even when it’s easy. Our kids need 100 times the reassurance in the tween years.

We are bombarded with new studies and statistics showing alarming rates of tween and teen suicide, pornography addictions in our children, runaways and abductions from online relationships, and bullying like we’ve never experienced before.

I have to ask, what good comes from our children relating in the online world? How does this enhance their lives, make them more well-rounded, make them wiser?

When we look at the statistics and studies are our teens better off since the introduction of the smartphone?

Once we open the smartphone door, it’s hard to close it. Once our kids get a taste of approval and acceptance and adoration online, their appetites grow. We know this is true because we see it in our own lives and kids need much more than we do.

Kids begin feeding on the likes, forming opinions of themselves based on what others say about them, valuing themselves based on how many shares they received.

Our boys attended a youth retreat last summer where the theme was A1. Audience of One. I would love for their lives to truly be lived for an audience of one. But when we place a smartphone in their hand, we are effectively handing them an audience of the world.

It’s better to say no, to protect our kids a little longer than they want to be protected. They don’t know what dangers lurk online. Our job is to protect, not just their physical lives, but their emotional, mental, and spiritual lives as well.

Times have changed. It’s ok to be overprotective when we are protecting their hearts, minds, souls, and lives.

We are still the parent. We can still say no. Our no is not a no forever, it’s a no for right now until they really know who they are. For each child this age will look different.

In our home we don’t have a set age because each child differs in maturity and wisdom. We are able to know which kids can handle a smartphone at what age.

At some point in the teen years, a smartphone will happen. As parents we still shoulder the responsibility of deciding when the right time arrives. I don’t think we will regret waiting longer than what seems to be the norm.