Posted in focus on faith

Christmas Tips from a Reformed Scrooge

I used to hate Christmas. I know, you’re not supposed to say, “hate.” As a matter of fact I never allowed my kids to say it. How about strong dislike! Definitely seasonal dread. Not at all what it is intended to be.

Why did I dread Christmas? I was caving to culture-pressure; concerned about costs; and leaving Christ mostly out of the process. Those three factors added up to some miserable Noels!

Now if you were to ask my kids or even my husband, they would say that our Christmases were wonderful! Lots of gifts. Decorations. The annual tree-chopping with a frosty tailgate picnic to follow. Mounds of goodies. Parties. Family gatherings. A turkey the size of a Volkswagen. The family/friends hockey game. Games, Poppycock. Movies.

So what was my problem? I wasted a lot of energy on “creating” the ideal Christmas; I worried a lot about the cost of it all; and frankly, I didn’t trust or even consult the Birthday Boy for most of it!

Thankfully, that was then and this is now.

What’s changed? I have. And, to be fair, circumstances are also different. I’m older. My kids are launched and have kids of their own. Christmas for grandparents is far less stressful than Christmas for parents. The last thing I want to do is toss pearls from this lofty height and add to the seasonal guilt already weighing some of you down.

But may I encourage you?

If you dread Christmas, even just a little, stop a minute and pray. Right now. A simple cry-of-the-heart prayer. Something like, “Christmas is coming again, God. HELP!”

That’s a good place to start – with Him. It was His big idea after all.

Then brew your fav hot drink, grab a pen and paper, and jot down whatever comes to mind as you think ahead to Christmas.

You might write:

Shop for gifts,

Order gifts online, Crochet afghan for sister,

Make cookies for the cookie exchange,

Book photographer for annual family pix, Coordinate clothes for photo shoot,

Shop for clothes,

Make jellies for co-workers,

Chop tree,

Hang lights,

Decorate house,

Send Christmas photo-cards,

Host office party,

Sing in Christmas cantata,

and much much more.

GIVE IT TO HIM:

Once your list is done, put your pen down, put your hands on the list, close your eyes and ask God for guidance as you consider everything beneath your hands. Visualize His hands over your hands and, as much as possible, give it all over to Him.

Open your eyes. If your drink is still hot, have another sip.

GET RID OF IT:

Now look at the list again and cross off anything that is inspired by ego, competition, or social media bragging rights. Good-bye afghan, jellies, office party!

Years ago I removed “chop tree.” I dragged home the little artificial tree from my Sunday School class – stuffed it in the trunk of my Honda on Dec 21, lugged it into my living room, plugged it in and grinned like Scrooge. I bought a vastly reduced Christmas tree in the after-Christmas sales a few weeks later.

I also stopped risking life and limb and frostbitten digits “hanging lights.” My neighbor stopped the very next year, giving me the credit and thanking me for freeing him from something he only did to compete with me.

GIVE IT AWAY:

Take stock of what’s left. What can you delegate? I can give “cookie baking” to our 11-year-old granddaughter who loves to bake. “Shopping” went to my husband who thinks he’s Santa anyway. This made our kids very happy because Dad always buys them what they want; I would buy them what I could afford! Not nearly the same!

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

Once your list is shortened and you have carved out a smidgen of margin, consider using some of that time to play a game with your kids, take a snowy walk under the stars (God’s light display!), decorate some gingerbread and use it as an excuse to meet a neighbor, or simply take a nap!

Christmas doesn’t stress me out any more. I do less and let others do more. I stay away from social media so I won’t be tempted to compete. I make sure my neighbors know the real me so they don’t judge me by my light display, or lack thereof. I play more. Laugh more. Rest more. Buy fewer gifts and give more money away. And I focus more on Jesus!

May your Christmas be simpler, better, and something you can look forward to this year, and always. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

Generosity part 3: hope for the rest of us

hubcap-treeAs the Christmas season approaches does the word “generosity” make you nervous? If so, you’re in the majority. Many of us are in a constant state of donor fatigue, inundated with requests from our kids’ schools, our churches, the natural disaster of the day (tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods and fires), starving children, missions fundraisers, telemarketers, political parties, community initiatives, door to door campaigns, and on and on and on.

We aren’t just stretched financially but many of us also have a bulging calendar and a demanding clock. Maybe you are multi-talented and you don’t want to waste it. Or perhaps you can’t bear to see an unmet need. Or maybe you look at the staggering success of colleagues and, in comparison, you feel like you have to crank it up a notch so you don’t get left behind. Maybe, like me, you read Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster book, Lean In, and you think super-woman really does exist so you just need try a little harder.

303891 The truth is Superwoman is a mythological comic figure. And no matter how much we want to be her, we can’t. (I doubt the slinky get-up would be overly flattering for most of us anyway!) We can’t say yes to every request for our time, our talent or our treasure. We have limits. We are human.

Boy that really stinks doesn’t it?!

How are we supposed to “change our world” if we are limited human beings? Well, a few of you will do and are doing huge things that grab the attention of the multitudes. But most of us, the vast majority of us, are the multitude. What about us? We want to make a difference too! Is there any hope for the rest of us?

A resounding yes! Consider these four suggestions:

Get to know and then respect your limits. Even though I wince every time, I have learned to say “no” or “not at this time” with kindness, courtesy and respect.  I agonized for a month and finally replied to a request for support from a godly, gifted, impassioned young woman with “no.” I explained that I did believe in her and in her calling and I didn’t doubt she would do great things but I have limits and her request fell outside those limits at this time. It was tough. But right.

Discern what your top one, two, at most three talents or areas of giftedness are rubber-glove-thumbs-up-20579179transparentand operate mainly from those strengths. This will require focus, discipline and, you guessed it, the ability to say no.  I know that I have two strong gifts: my hands and my humour. I use the gift of humour in lots of speaking and some writing. I use my (often rubber-gloved) hands helping my family, my friends, my community and my church.

Be ready, and willing, to scale back, take a break, or walk away from some or all of your world-changing activity if God asks for it. In July 2012, with a head full of plans and a briefcase full if solid ideas, I returned home from a professional development conference to find my husband Gerry near collapse from exhaustion. It was obvious to me he needed a wife! Being Gerry’s wife is my highest calling and greatest privilege. God didn’t have to ask me twice. I dropped the plans and ideas and quit some other things and embarked on a yearlong ministry to my dearest and best friend. During that year, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with and surgically cured  from pancreatic cancer. It was a rough road. Gerry is doing great, my daughter is almost fully recovered and I am getting back into the swing of my ministry. Did my “sabbatical” affect my work? Greatly! My invitations and influence are much reduced. But remember this: when we follow God one yes at a time, we trust Him, not our own efforts. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works (Hebrews 4:10). Either we trust He who calls us or we don’t.

Have some fun! Hug your kids or grandkids. Go for a walk on a snowy pathway. Sign snowy pathwayup for the Christmas choir. Paint a room. Curl up with a good book or your fav series on Netflix. Hop into bed early with your husband — check out this resource!

If generosity is a scary word for you right now, you are probably over-extended. Generosity flourishes in “margin” I meet very few truly stingy, selfish people. Christmas is still several weeks away, start now to create some margin–space around the edges of your life–and generosity will no longer be a scary word, but a joyful invitation to change the world one small act at a time. If the rest of us all do a little bit, it can make a huge impact. Now that gives me hope!