Christmas Shopping

The last two weekends have been rough and full of cranky kids, cranky husband and cranky me. The last two weekends we have gone Christmas shopping.

One thing our family does is tries to encourage the kids to think about what they want to give for Christmas as well, so that the holiday always serves as a platform for them to think of others. We usually take two weeks out in Dec. to construct and create all of the kids gifts by hand, so we aren't spending more money, but they are still giving and reusing materials. It teaches them it isn't just about receiving, but also giving. And then truly it isn't even really about that is it? Its about remembering a birth. It's about Hope. It's about Love. Its about Immanuel, God with us.

For the last week, my kids have been melting crayons, we have been making T-shirt bags, painting canvases, gluing and writing Christmas cards, baking granola. It's been fun projects to do together and they are proud of the gifts to give, but it's still been all about presents, whether giving or receiving, whether earth friendly or not.

My husband and I, in an effort to actually mail out presents on time this year, (they aren't wrapped or mailed yet so we don't have a lot of hope) have shopped the last two weekends to get everything finished. We have dragged three cranky kids to malls and stores, we have issued threats, had time outs, bought presents we weren't even thrilled about that I know I'll need to return, we missed a meal, we prayed for help, we screamed our head off at the thought of being in a cart again,(no that wasn't me, but I did receive all the dirty looks at my freakshow of a daughter and her ability to hit only Maria Carey notes) and we turned an opportunity for family fun and productivity into a huge cranky mess. The last two Sunday's, we have sat around our table and looked at each other and have said, "Not our best day. What was our problem?" To which one of my kids would reply, "you made me mad today." And I would say, "yea I know. you made me mad today too." "yeah, I know" was the answer I got. We would chuckle a little at our mess of a day and say, "better tomorrow"!

See the stress for my husband and I is that we do one present for each person we buy for including our kids. Our kids get new PJ's on Christmas eve, one present from us and one from Santa, so officially they do get three presents, two being toys. When you limit yourself to only two presents, which I love by the way, it creates a new mental breakdown when you are trying to get something that you know your kid wants, yet, stays in your price range, while also trying to get them something that maybe they didn't know they wanted, but you know they will love. The match between desire, price, and time makes it extra hard to shop. My husband and I HATE spending money on presents, just to have a present, we want it to be a good, thoughtful, useful present. For aunts, uncle's, grandparents and kids, you only get one present so you want to make it count.

We've never had a lot of money, and this year with our new diet restrictions, money is even tighter, which makes Christmas feel extra hard. Our kids are older, and very aware and bright. I just wonder if this is the Christmas they discover, since they can compare notes with other kids at school, how lame their parents really are. That pressure gets to me. I hate that its there, I hate that I can see it and feel it and that I am tempted to buy into it.

This year, so many people helped my little family in such big ways. My heart is still overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and neighbors and church. I have been trying to make Christmas presents, truly just small tokens of gratitude, to give to people this year for Christmas. I want to, but yet, now there is this pressure to keep crafting and making long into the evening to get it done.

My husband and I pulled out all of our presents tonight to take inventory and see where we were at, and we looked at each other, neither being overly excited about the "system" of presents. Unhappy at our lack of funds, remembering our own childhood and bringing our own expectations to the table, each having our own desire for what we want Christmas to be, and what we teach our children Christmas is. It was confusing and hard, and now I have a bunch of present to wrap. So even though, we made it through the buying and deciding, there is now wrapping.

That's when it creeped up on me. Even in our greatest effort, to reduce the gifts, reuse and make our own gifts, teach about giving to our children, presents have become a huge distraction. We've tried to make the distraction spiritual and holy, but its still a distraction. One that creeps up on you and takes precious time away from focusing on what Christmas really is. Today in the message at church we were looking at the slow and steady decline into sin. The picture of how to boil and cook a frog was used. The song with the line, "people don't crumble in a day" was used. We take baby steps away from God and towards something else, until we suddenly realize we are lost.

I have gotten lost. I have turned my good intention, my desire to thank those who mean so much to me, and my children away from what really matters. I have slipped into the dark side of Christmas. My only moment of peace today was when we were doing our devotion and singing "Away in the Manger" and "Silent Night". It was when we were focused on the sustaining love of God and His immense dedication to help us out of sin and hurt and pain.

So with my new found clarity, I want to spend the rest of my Christmas season focused on one thing. I will wrap the presents I have, and mail, hopefully the ones I have purchased, but the rest will wait till after Christmas.

My husband and I have found that after we do something together, whether it be a holiday, party, get together, or even seasons of our life, we look at one another and say, "OK, how did that go? What went well? What went bad? What won't do again next year?" Last year we stripped a lot out of our schedule with this evaluation process and have been much happier since.

I already know what my answer will be for next Christmas,

No more Christmas letter, but maybe an Easter letter.

Christmas will also not be the time when I thank people and want to give them a token of my love and appreciation. I will be a random day to be celebrated each year where I can take my time creating and crafting my thank you presents. I will have less stress and more time to focus on Christ at Christmas.

Downsize the amount of people we buy presents for.

I have to figure out where crafting with my kids for their presents comes in. Maybe we have have a crafting camp week some time in the summer and do it all then, that way we still have time to keep the focus on what really matters at Christmas.

Christ. Hope. Love. Redemption. Forgiveness.

Man I had lost myself this year. I didn't even realize it until I wrote this. Now all of my confusion and crankiness makes sense. It wasn't obvious to me at first because I thought we were being honorable in how we approached it, dealt with it, and didn't go into debt over it, but IT was still taking all our time, focus, and energy, and thus being our Christmas idol. We say NO MORE.

With clarity, I am now free.