10 Ways To Teach Your Kids To Give More And Want Less At Christmas


We would love for our kids to think less of themselves and more of others during the Christmas season (and all year long, really). Our job is to guide and model to them how this is possible. Culture is going to hailstorm them with messages of “It’s all about you.” Commercialism will create the monster named “I Want This” inside our children. Retailers will tantalize us with their displays and beckon our children to not just want but to desperately need what they are selling.

As parents we wonder how we can possibly fight against the way of culture. How do we create children who understand the meaning of Christmas and have hearts that desire to give more and receive less? It seems an overwhelming task.

When faced with what seems impossible, I like to look at the small piece of possible.

What can I do that sends the opposite message to my children than the message retailers are sending? Here’s a few ideas you might find helpful in growing kids who have hearts of giving in a season that tells them to get, get, and get some more.

  1. Don’t ask them to create a Christmas wish list – Don’t get mad at me. But your kids will give you enough hints that you can write down a few ideas without them spending hours creating a list of everything they could ever possibly want. This also keeps their expectations lower. When my kids have created lists, then don’t receive what is on their list, I’ve seen the disappointed looks. On the other hand, if they only drop hints, they don’t fully expect to get those items. It’s a bit of psychology I suppose. If we want our kids to think less of themselves and more of others, then we can make one simple change at Christmas by not asking them to think of what they want.
  2. Throw away the catalogues – One of my children loves to look at toy catalogues. He finds items he never knew existed then suddenly can’t live without them. I try to save him the anxiety and throw the catalogues out before they ever make it inside. If we don’t know it exists, we don’t want something we don’t need.
  3. Christmas Blessing List – Create a list that you post in a visible spot where members of the family keep a list of all the ways they have seen the gifts of Christmas. We define gifts of Christmas as the gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy. Where did we give one of these gifts, where did we see one of these gifts, or where did we receive one of these gifts. It’s a daily hunt for the blessings of Christmas. Training our kids to see beyond themselves and look for blessings. You could even make this a fun game that when the family reaches 100, you go out for ice cream. A little incentive for the littles (or bigs) to give a blessing more often than normal.
  4. Limit visits to stores – Does this sound impossible? It’s really not if we are a little creative with our shopping. I have begun to do most of my shopping online. When I need to visit a store, I try to arrange to go when my husband can be home with the kids, when they are in school, or swap babysitting with a friend. I realized when we hosted 2 orphans over the last couple of years how trips to stores seem to increase a child’s desire for more stuff. This should be common sense, but I didn’t realize it until I saw how these children would begin so content and the more stores we visited, the more stuff they began to ask for. They suddenly weren’t satisfied with what they had.
  5. Pick family missions or service projects – Our family prepares a meal to provide to a hospice patient on Christmas Day. We double the portion we are planning to prepare, package it up, and deliver on Christmas. It’s easy on Christmas Day to become absorbed in the gifts and festivities and lose sight of the ones suffering and grieving. Christmas isn’t joyous for everyone, but each of us can be a vehicle of sprinkling even the tiniest drops of joy into someone’s life. I’ll be posting ideas of family service projects in the coming weeks.
  6. Purchase gifts for others with their own money – If your child has their own money tucked away, it’s a good idea to have them use some of it to purchase a few small items for those they love. The Dollar Store is a great place they can get very small items inexpensively.
  7. Keep them busy serving – The more our kids serve, the less they think of themselves. The more I serve, the less focused I am on myself. Simple acts of kindness through the season will help loosen the hold of greed.
  8. Create family traditions – Traditions are what kids remember more than the gifts. It can be the simplest of moments, but the more time families spend creating memories and traditions, the less focus is given to the gifts. Kids will look forward to the events rather than the material gifts. The value of time and experience will grow larger in their hearts than gifts. Family traditions can be very small, and cost nothing or very little, but kids excitedly anticipate them each year.
  9. Set budgets and limits on gifts and communicate these to your children – I’m always surprised at the expectations of my children when compared to my own. I often forget that they create expectations based on fewer years than I have and often will place my own expectations on them. When I have communicated what our kids can expect at Christmas, they have never complained. If anything it has allowed them to let go of obsessing about what they will and won’t get. If they are told they will receive 5 gifts, they don’t expect more than that. If they are told they will receive one toy, a few clothing items, and a surprise item, they are more than ok with this. Sometimes when we are trying to decrease the size of Christmas, it is easier than we realize. We just have to communicate it to the kids.
  10. Gratitude Journal – A thankful heart produces contentment while leaving less room for discontentment, which is the root of many “wants”. The more we focus on what we have to be thankful for, the less we focus on what we don’t have. It’s a change in how we view life. We spotlight the thanks and the desires become dimmer.

Share your ideas with us. How does your family balance the commercialism of Christmas and cultivate hearts not consumed with material gifts?

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15 Non-Toy Gift Ideas To Give Kids At Christmas


Ready or not Christmas is around the corner. For many, this brings excitement. For others, it brings stress.

I’m speaking to several groups this holiday season on moving from stress to simplicity to splendor during the Christmas season. I thought it would be fun to take a little poll to see what stresses everyone out and solutions they have discovered. I will be sharing tips to simplifying the season over the coming weeks.


Today, I share a common stressor. Too many presents! One of the most common complaints I hear is this, “We have to clean out and purge toys before Christmas because the grandparents buy so much stuff.” 


“We have asked relatives to simplify gift giving, but it is X’s love language, and she just can’t help herself. She brings bags and bags of toys each Christmas.”


“We can never think of anything to get our kids because they have so much stuff.”

This may seem like something silly to be stressed about, but it’s actually not so silly.

When you are trying to model the true spirit of Christmas being about Christ and not material gifts, it’s really hard when kids are bombarded with the gifts. And what kid doesn’t like loads and loads of presents?

A closely related stressor for many people is the materialism and consumerism of Christmas. The pressure of gift buying, the draining bank account, and the ungrateful attitudes that begin to develop.


If you have been a reader here for awhile, you know I love to talk about creating memories and traditions. When our kids were little, we asked the grandparents to try to limit the amount of toys they gave our kids. Toys were bursting through every crevice of our home, and the more our kids had, the less they actually played. At the same time, we wanted them to have something that went beyond Christmas morning- something of value, something that could create a memory.

We began incorporating more experience types of gifts.

About 2 weeks after Christmas, our kids were unable to list the toys they received. And they certainly couldn’t identify who gave them what because there was so much stuff, nothing had much value. However, the gifts they clearly remember and still talk about are the ones that created memories.

I love memory-creating, experience-happening gifts. One year our kids received a day of snow-skiing lessons from the grandparents as a Christmas gift. One year Andrew received 8 weeks of swimming lessons. One year our kids received season passes to the local amusement park. They enjoyed that gift for months and even created sweet memories with the grandparents.

Not only do we as parents love these gifts more, our kids do as well. Even if they don’t realize it now, they will later in life.

When they outgrow the latest video game, the newest all-the-rage toy people wake at 3:00am to fight for, they will not outgrow the memories they created with a gift that is a moment with you or an experience they can hold onto.

Here’s a list of alternative types of Christmas gifts:

  • Lessons– sports, music, art, etc. Do you have a child who wants to play the guitar? Do you have a baseball player who wants a few batting lessons? Do you have a budding artist? Giving a gift such as lessons also begins to instill gratitude and appreciation in a child. They begin to see the gift and sacrifice in something such as piano lessons rather than simply expecting they are entitled to it.
  • Sports registration– season of team soccer and a pair of new cleats, session of swim lessons and a swim bag. Sports registrations are expensive, again this is another way to teach children to appreciate the gift of playing team sports rather than simply believing they are entitled to play.
  • Movie passes with a box of candy and a popcorn bucket. We love taking our kids to the movie theater, but it’s a rare treat for our family of 5. Giving the gift of movie passes allows us to enjoy movie trips through the year we wouldn’t normally be able to enjoy.
  • Hotel night away– use points earned from travel or credit cards to save more money. This is meant to be very inexpensive and not extravagant at all. Really focusing on the simplicity of time together. Grab pizza, play games in the room, swim in the pool, just being together away from home.
  • Tickets to favorite sporting event -MLB, NHL, NFL.
  • Gift cards to favorite restaurants
  • A favorite camp. Camps are expensive, and many kids love summer camps. This is a great way to give a gift they will get to enjoy months after Christmas has passed.
  • Books, books, more books. Now, I don’t feel about books the way I do about toys. I think one can’t possibly have too many books. And books are a wonderful way for children to spend time together with their parents as well.
  • A special date night. This takes a little creativity but would be so special to a child and something they would always remember. If you are a grandpa who likes to fish and one of your grandkids likes to fish, plan a special fishing date for the just the 2 of you. Wrap up a little tackle box of a few fishing supplies with a note inside for a private fishing date.
  • Future project together. Are you a grandma who loves to sew? Plan a day of sewing a special project piece with your granddaughter. Wrap up all the supplies and a picture of what you will create together along with a little note about the date you will do this. Are you a dad who loves woodworking? Gift a project date for you and your son to build a project together. Just the 2 of you.
  • Coupon book of 12 one-on-one dates for the year. One coupon a month. The activities should not be expensive or extravagant but should focus on doing something in particular with that child. A trip to a favorite ice cream shop. An evening walk or bike ride. An early morning breakfast out when everyone else sleeps.
  • A collection– coins, baseball cards, stamps. Collections are fun for kids, but even more fun when someone they love gets excited with them and takes part.
  • Groupons for bowling or skating. Each year we purchase a groupon to the local bowling alley.
  • Family gifts– One year we received a popcorn machine from my dad, and one year he gave us a soda machine. These have been so much fun for our family to use on movie nights or when friends come over.
  • Trip supplies – Are you planning a trip next year? Find a way to include aspects of that trip into their Christmas gift. Are you planning a ski trip? Give ski lift tickets and new gloves as part of their gift.

Kids love time. Kids love moments. Kids love experiences. Kids also love stuff. But stuff doesn’t give much beyond the moment. Time, memories, and experiences go far beyond Christmas.

As a bonus, when you give gifts that you don’t necessarily buy at a store, you effectively combat the consumerism of Christmas. Spend less and give more.

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When My Expectations Challenge True Compassion


His response caught me off guard.  My mind was racing to produce a response that would disguise my true feelings.

I called to schedule a time to deliver a meal to the family of a hospice patient that recently passed away.  The meal would be for Christmas Day.

“We plan to drop your meal off around 4:00.  Will that be ok?”

“4:00?  I guess if that’s the best you can do.”  His tone of voice wasn’t what I was expecting.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  What were you expecting?”

“I was expecting 10:00 am.”

I stammered.  10:00 on Christmas morning.  Right in the middle of Christmas morning surprises with my children.  It would be impossible.  Realizing this man and I were in completely different phases of life, I tried to be sensitive to that.  I was unsure of his relationship to the patient who had passed.  However, there was something else that was bothering me.  Some emotion, a feeling that I hadn’t expected.

“Sir, I’m preparing a fully cooked meal and it will be really hard for me to have that ready by 10:00 on Christmas morning.  I can bring it by 10:00 unprepared if you prefer.  Or I can try for about 2:00?”

“2:00 will be fine.”

Honestly, I was bothered by the response.  I had expected someone to show appreciation for receiving a cooked meal on Christmas Day from a stranger.  That wasn’t the response I received.

The response I received bothered me less than the response of my own heart.

Our expectations can set us up for feelings of disappointment and frustration.  Had I only had appropriate expectations from the beginning I wouldn’t have experienced the feelings of disappointment.  But it went way beyond my expectations.  You see my expectations were completely off-course.  I was the one in the wrong.  Not this stranger I was providing a meal to.

The Lord challenged my motives.  He refocused my heart.

As I pondered the conversation, and tossed around my thoughts on it all, the Lord whispered to my heart.

Is this for Me or for you?  Do this for Me.  When you do this for Me, there should be no expectations. 

The Lord convicted my heart.  I wanted to provide a meal.  I wanted to bless someone.  But deep down, I wanted to experience the joy in the blessing.  My motives had been called to the table, and the Lord was gracious to allow me to see it.

To show true compassion, I should serve out of love for Christ.  Period.  Regardless of anything I receive.  I should expect to receive nothing.

Christ died for the sinner.  He gave himself as a sacrifice.  For the ones who appreciated the sacrifice and for the ones who didn’t appreciate the sacrifice.  He gave anyway.  Out of a deep, profound love he gave.

Christ showed compassion to us when he hung on that cross.  In my daily life, I rarely show Him the appreciation He deserves.  Why should I expect any different in this life from others?

Our acts of mercy don’t earn favor in God’s eyes.  They come out of a place of deep love for the One who gave it all for us.  Why do I expect something from a stranger that I myself don’t give to my God who died for me?

I opened my Bible, which naturally opens to the Psalms as it is the most worn part of my Bible.  But on this day, it fell open to Zechariah 7.

“….The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melech, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”  Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?  Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?”  And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty says:  Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  In your hearts do not think evil of each other.”

I read this and paused.  What an unbelievable God we serve.  His gentle rebuke had taken the thoughts I pondered in my heart and turned them completely.

Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Lord, thank you that you love me enough to continually correct me, rebuke me, and pull me back to you.  Thank you for your word that is alive and active and speaks to my daily life.  Thank you for giving me the means and ability to serve, and I pray it comes out of true compassion.  I pray I would serve you and not me.  Forgive me for not showing true appreciation for your sacrifice.  Amen.

Merry Christmas


This Christmas season looked different for our family.  At the center of it all, His truths still remained.  Despite a first book launch and a busier time of life than I prefer, His truths reigned in our lives.

His steady Presence provides peace to our hearts.

May you be filled with peace, love, and joy in these final hours of Christmas.  May you see Christ in your every moment.  May you experience the fullness of His grace and mercy today and everyday.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

Gifts for the True Gift – A Christmas Tradition


When my husband suggested we place a 2nd Christmas tree in the front room, I knew I must have misunderstood him. This is a man who loves Christmas decorated with more simplicity and less clutter.

Before he could change his mind, we had that tree up and decorated. Yet something was missing. The gifts.

So began a new tradition…….

I’m writing at (in)courage today.  Click on over to read the rest of today’s post.

Serving the World is Easy



As I waited in line for my premium priced mocha, I noticed a basket on the floor with a sign that read, “End domestic violence.  Donate a roll of paper towels.”  My first thought was outrage that the coffee shop actually believed something as evil as domestic violence could be ended with paper towels.  I wanted the sign written to better reflect the truth – something like “Care for victims of domestic violence by donating paper towels.”  Evil won’t end until Jesus returns and I could take this post in that direction, but I won’t.

Here’s another thought from that sign.  It’s easy for me to pay $5 for a coffee, throw a roll of paper towels in the bucket  and go about my day feeling good that I gave back in some way. Especially at Christmas when I am feeling more generous.  Maybe I would feel less guilty for spending $5 on a coffee even.  Maybe I would feel better that I had chipped away at the evil that exists or the injustice of this life.  I can walk away feeling like I did something.  It feels good to help.  And donating paper towels is easy for me.

Is there a side to this I should be aware of I wonder?  Does the ease with which I serve the world make me less compassionate to the needs right in front of my face.  The ones I have some kind of connection to and know the histories of?

You see when I serve a homeless man, I feel immediate compassion for him.  I don’t know his history, his mistakes and failures, his story.  I can’t judge him.  I simply feel compassion for his circumstances despite his history.  Sadly, when I know the history of the people in my very own life, I tend to focus on their choices and path rather than allowing myself to feel compassion for where they are right now.

God doesn’t treat me that way.  Did Jesus treat people that way?  No.  He felt compassion and offered mercy and forgiveness.

One Christmas when my children were very little, I wanted to do it all.  I wanted to help every way imaginable.  Our kids were little and didn’t need much, so we had the funds to adopt a family in need.  We provided Christmas for a family of 5.  We packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, we provided a gift through Angel Tree Ministries, we sent an extra gift to our sponsored Compassion child.  Basically, everywhere I saw an opportunity to bless someone in need, we did it.

While all of these things we did were fine and wonderful, they were easy for us.  It was easy for us to meet the physical needs through these ministries.  It felt good to do something tangible. To see in some small way the impact of our gift, of our sacrifice whether it was time or money. I thought I was modeling to my children the “true” meaning of Christmas.  I was.  But I had only scratched the surface.

To unwrap the gifts of Christmas, the true gifts of Christmas, should we look within our families, our neighborhoods, our circle of friends?  Not instead of serving the world.  But in addition to.

Aren’t there deep needs within arms reach?  The ones within our very own families, churches, neighborhoods, and communities?

Don’t mistake what I’m saying.  I’m not saying we should focus on our own and not help the world.  If you know me at all, you know that is not what I would say.  But I, for one, sometimes become a bit tunnel visioned.  Sometimes I just see the one thing I’m focused on and miss what is screaming for my attention.

The greater sacrifice might not appear so great in the eyes of the world.  But are we performing for the world or serving the Maker of the World?

The world recognizes when we go on international mission trips and serve in a soup kitchen. But God recognizes it all.  The mission trips and soup kitchens and the ones that the world doesn’t see.

It’s easy to serve the ones we don’t have to do life with.  There is no history, no hurt, no misunderstandings.

The harder ones to serve are the ones God has placed in our lives, in our own families even.  The ones we have histories with….good and bad.  The ones who aren’t so easy to love.  The ones who don’t find us so easy to love.  The ones who have messed up big time or have been on the receiving end of our big mess ups.  These aren’t easy to serve.

While serving the world feels good and is necessary, I encourage you this Christmas to choose the hard road.  There is room for both.

Christmas is hope. Christmas is love. Christmas is peace. And Christmas is joy.

Offer love to one you don’t think deserves it.  One who has hurt you and disappointed you.  Has God not done that for us?

Offer love to the one you have hurt that you are unsure if they’ve forgiven you.  Or you are insecure about your standing with.

Offer peace to one who disturbs your peace.  Has God not done that for us?

Offer peace to the one you have been the cause of disruption in their life.

Radiate the joy of Christ to the one who is weighed down with regrets, bitterness, or unforgiveness.  Has God not done that for us?

When you do these, hope shines through.

The world needs us.  We need to serve the world.  But those that God has placed in our lives are there for a reason.  We need to serve them too.  It is harder for sure.  To serve God’s kingdom, we must be open to the easy and the hard.  We must be open to the ones we are sent out to serve and the ones He has brought to us to serve.

For a wonderful message on the biblical priorities of mercy, listen to this.  Christmas is a season we are more open to serving and loving.  May we seek God’s direction to the ones He wants us to serve this Christmas.  It may not look as radical as the world recognizes, but God may use it for a radical work in the hearts of his children.



Expectations of the Season


“I can’t watch Frosty.  I’m a big kid now.”

I looked at my 5 year old and replied, “Well, I’m a big kid and I still love to watch Frosty.”  I felt this tiny twinge in my heart when he uttered these words.  A twinge that reminded me times are changing.  They are growing and each Christmas will have a different look to it.  

(A few days earlier)  “Hey guys y’all want to watch Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas?”  Flashbacks of years of watching this movie to the point of reciting lines ran through my mind.

“No thanks, Mom.”  I closed the movie case and tried to hide my face – afraid it would reveal the tiny twinge in my heart.  The one that reminded me times are changing.  They are growing and each Christmas will have a different look to it.  The oldest piped in, “Mom, it’s just that we’ve seen it so much.  That doesn’t hurt your feelings does it?”

“Of course not!”  I didn’t lie.  It didn’t hurt my feelings.  He didn’t hurt my feelings.  It’s just this darn little twinge.

I listened as my dad and step-mom discussed how it is pointless to decorate a tree when your children won’t be visiting at Christmas. Christmas looks different for them now.  I felt this twinge in my heart.  A twinge that reminded me times are changing.  They are growing and each Christmas will have a different look to it.

And the Comforter of my soul whispered to that twinge, “Each Christmas may look different, but each Christmas holds the same truths. Celebrate the truths each Christmas and you will discover the true gifts of Christmas every year.”

Yes, expect to encounter the true gifts of Christmas despite how each season presents itself. Expect to encounter Him each season and celebrate the true gift.

Christmas is hope.  Christmas is peace.  Christmas is joy. Christmas is love.

And that little twinge loosened it’s grip.

Seeking Christmas is a 7 day family devotion that guides families into intentional times of worship and activities that focus on discovering the true meaning and gifts of Christmas.  It holds the same truths for each family using it, but will look different in each home.  Your family can create your own unique memories and experiences while Seeking Christmas together through guided devotions and activities.