The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

gift givingThere are a couple of people in my life who are excellent gift givers. There’s something about their ability to know me – to be able to anticipate what would delight me – even if I haven’t recognized the need or desire just yet.  They both observe.  They notice things.  And those things work their way into their minds such that they recognize the perfect gift when they stumble upon it.

math clockIt can be a clock – with mathematical equations instead of plain numbers for the mommy who secretly delights in the intricacy of numbers.  Or parchment paper pre-cut to perfectly fit jelly roll pans.  It can be snap-circuits for the child who has mentally deconstructed and rebuilt everything he sees since he was a toddler.  Or a small container with your name on it filled with your very favorite kind of candy (in a family with lots of kids – this speaks volumes about their individual value).  It might be a book for a teen that shapes her ideas of what it means to be a woman.  Or a “year of experiences” – gift cards for different family outings for each month of the year.

I am not talking about the monumental – “they bought us a house for our wedding!” type gifts.  I’m talking about the things – little or big – that say, “I know you.  I’ve observed you.  I’ve thought about you.  I want to provide this for you.  I want to delight you in this way.”

Do you know someone like that? Have you met that person who always has the gift that leaves you richer because of the thought behind it?

I think it’s a rare gift – this ability to give gifts well.  🙂

Perhaps part of the reason these gifts are so meaningful is because they touch that place deep in my heart where eternity is etched.  These women are revealing an important part of God’s character: God is a good gift giver.  God gives me what I need – what I long for most – what I don’t already have or  what I could use more of – and the things I don’t even know to desire.

James 1:16-17 – Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Romans 5:9-11 – Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 8:25-27 – But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Psalm 37:4 – Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

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Photo credit:  By unknown, only publisher is recognized – De Wolfe Fiske & Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rising to the Surface

catfish feeding frenzyMy daddy has a ranch with ponds of catfish, large-mouth bass, and bluegills.  When he regularly drives to a pond and throws food to the fish, the fish learn to come to the surface at the sound of his truck’s engine approaching. This is pretty handy if you like to take grandkids fishing.  Hungry fish swim to the surface just when you want to catch them.

Of course, the same way the fish learn to come expectantly to the surface at the sound of Daddy’s truck, they learn to dive to the bottom of the pond when they hear a threatening sound.   Incidentally, grandkid squeals are one of the sounds that send them back to the depths.  But it is fun to see the fish, however briefly.

When it comes to child training, wisdom and foolishness are often responses to what I offer when I drive up to my child’s pond with corrective discipline.

Ultimately, my kids are responsible for the choices they make. They will answer to God for what they believe and how it affects their choices in living. But Scripture gives a strong warning to me when I cause my little ones to stumble (Matthew 18:6-7).

Perhaps this is the reason parents are instructed not to provoke their children (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4). Yet there are far too many days when I feel the millstone tied firmly around my own neck as I dip my toes into the edge of the sea.

But there are those days.  Constant bickering.  Accidental bumps in the hall morph into movie-worthy brawls.  Instructions met with eye-rolls.  One child biting a sibling while another is coloring on the sofa.  I hear myself saying, “I don’t speak Whine, would you like to try that again in English?”  Dripping sarcasm.  Angry faces.  A baby crying in the exersaucer.

All hypothetically speaking, of course.

In moments like these, it is hard for me to figure out who or what to address first.  And in these moments, it is really hard for me to remember that eternity is hanging in the balance when I begin to address our mess. I really just want it to stop!

Yet I am learning that effective correction only happens when I seek restoration to obedience rather than restitution for disobedience.

On those occasions when my child has disobeyed and I seek to restore her to a place of blessing and obedience for her good, she learns to swim to the surface when she hears my voice. She learns to accept instruction and to receive correction, both of which are signs of wisdom (Proverbs 1:5, 8; Proverbs 15:5).  This is the result of grace.

On the other hand, when a child has disobeyed and I seek restitution for his disobedience, doling out consequences for my satisfaction, he learns to swim to the bottom when he sees me coming. His heart shuts me out and I see a posture of defiance as he prepares to defend himself or to justify his actions. These are signs of foolishness (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 12:1).  This is the result of condemnation.

When I remember that the battle is for my child’s heart, and not for my will to be done, I am prepared to empower her rather than overpower her. I see that we face a common enemy – an enemy that is not flesh and blood, but spiritual (Ephesians 6:12).

Sin, not my child, is the problem.  And sin is a problem both of us face.  If I come alongside him, we face sin together.  If I come at him, we face off against each other.  Right there – the moment I understand this – I have already won a huge victory.

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Photo credit: I, Jina Lee [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Boxing Day

imageBoxing Day.

Traditionally a day for boxing alms for the poor or when servants would receive a Christmas Box from their employer.

In our house it ranges from boys boxing as the excitement and exhaustion of Christmas finally catches up with us to boxing up Christmas (in the odd years when we are traveling right away and won’t be home for weeks).

If you are like me today, the momentum of the Christmas holiday’s has come to a crashing halt and you are sitting in a bit of lethargy looking at the things that will have to be packed away soon.  Not yet, but soon.

When that day comes, it may be good to have some ideas for packing up the annual decorations with next year in mind.  We also like to think through what worked this year and what we would like to change for next year.

So here are some tips to file away to make packing (and unpacking) more efficient:

  • Decorating is exciting.  Packing away? Not so much.  Plan a celebration for when the house is back to normal.  If you drink a cup of cocoa as a family when the tree is finished, consider drinking a cup of cocoa when the last pine needle is swept away.
  • While you are all together, talk about what you did/didn’t like about this Christmas season.  Decide what you’d like Christmas to look or feel like next year.  Write it down.  File it.  Next year you’ll know what to include in your schedule and what to avoid.  I also put a reminder on my calendar on November 1st to remind myself where I filed the plan so  we will be reminded of want to do differently with time to accomplish it.
  • german pyramid windmill nativityoak laser cut nativityPack Advent supplies in their own box so that you can get them out by December 1st, even if the rest of the decorating needs to wait.  We like to include our advent calendars, our German Pyramid, and our nativity sets in this box, so they are among the first things out.  A post-it note with any new traditions we want to start next year makes a great addition to this box, too.
  • Pack all your Christmas music, books, coasters, and blankets away with the Christmas decorations.  It frees up lots of space for the rest of the year and increases the appeal of seeing them again when Christmas rolls around.
  • Wrap lights around paper towel tubes.  Plug ends into each other to keep from unraveling. Stuff the extra bulbs inside the tube.  Next year plug them in before unwinding to verify that they work.
  • Pack ornaments by person.  Last year we bought a plastic bin for each child.  When we packed ornaments, each one wrapped and stored their ornaments in their own bin.  This year tree-decorating stress was dramatically reduced.  There were no fights over similar-looking ornaments, no congestion waiting for Mommy to unwrap and distribute ornaments, and no tears over “missing” ornaments that would later be found at the bottom of the box.  Someday, when they are ready to decorate their own tree, it’ll be easy to “gift” them their ornament bin.  I keep a fine-tipped, permanent marker in our ornament bin to label any new ornaments as we decorate.
  • Take a page out of Bob the Builder’s book… Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!  Cut off card fronts for use as gift tags next year.  Or make gift boxes out of greeting cards.  It’s a simple way to make the most out of those expensive cards you receive.  If you feel funny about having writing on the inside of your box, you can use card stock for the bottom.  We read all the cards one last time and then cut off the covers to use next year.
  • Make a place mat out of Christmas photos you received.  Paste special photos onto 16″ x 12″ piece of poster board.  You can overlap or trim photos if needed. Use a metallic marker to add names to photos that aren’t labeled, flip it over and add more photos to make it double sided.  Don’t forget to include the year somewhere! Our local office supply store will laminate this for about $3.  It is a fun memory builder over the years, and a great way to clean off the refrigerator!  I hate throwing all those pictures away.
  • Store your wreath hanger in the bag or box with the wreath.  We actually store all of the outdoor decorations and their hangers in one box. The outdoor lights are in there, too.  So if we have a nice day, we only have to pull out one box and the ladder to get going.  If you have lots of duplicate tools laying around, you could also add any tools you always need for this project.
  • Pack a box with all of the Christmas wrap, bags, bows, tissue.  Purchase additional tags & wrap at after Christmas sales.  Store this box in the front of your decorations  for easy access.  This will free up room wherever you normally keep gift wrap.
  • Replace any needed items via after Christmas sales.  There will be reduced prices on lights, trees, gift wrap, ornaments, etc.  If something wasn’t working this year, now is the time to replace it.
  • candy cane syrupMake candy cane syrup from all those candy canes left lying around.  This is great in hot chocolate or on vanilla ice cream.  It’s easy and makes pretty gifts.  Pink?  Think Valentines!

  • Update your Christmas mailing list before you discard the envelopes from this year’s cards.
  • Pack up special Christmas clothes with your decorations.  If your sweaters, Santa hat, and  bell necklaces are in the same bin as your advent calendar, you can get both out to enjoy by Dec. 1, even if the rest of your decorations are still waiting.

As you pack away “Christmas” be sure to recount the memories from this year and Christmases past.  And… don’t pack away Jesus.  He was born to be a part of your whole year.

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Photo Credits:
Red & Green bins by Greg Henshall (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave Your Clothes On!

My mother loves to talk about when I was a little girl.  And although I don’t think she enjoyed it much at the time, it brings great delight to recount how hard it was to keep me dressed.

undies on faceSadly, there are many childhood pictures of me with my undies on my head – pigtails poking out of the leg holes.  And I think it usually happened just as we were supposed to be leaving for church or expecting company.  For my benefit, as a loving mother, she would beg me, “Leave your clothes on!”

Since this behavior predates my memory, I have no idea why I didn’t like to keep my clothes on.  But I have to admit, in some ways this behavior has followed me into adulthood.

No, I don’t welcome people into my home my birthday suit.  Our family does not privately operate au naturel.  I’m actually quite modest in that regard.

But this tendency came to mind when one of our elders was teaching a Sunday school class recently.  He made the passing comment that you have to keep your clothes on to still be clothed.  It sounds obvious, but it’s actually quite profound.  You must remain in the clothes to be clothed with clothes.

Likewise, you must remain in Christ to be clothed with Christ.

Scripture speaks of being clothed with righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), clothed with Christ himself (Galatians 3:26-28).  In another place, we are instructed to clothe ourselves with the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18a).

Using another analogy, Jesus says (John 15: 4-6, NIV),

Remain in me, as I also remain in you…. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me….  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (Emphasis mine).

So often, I want to strip off Christ’s righteousness and pop it on my head like those undies.  Then I think I can parade around in my nakedness, showing people how righteous I am.  I play this little legalism game where I clothe myself with rule following and accessorize with good deeds.  Then I try to get others to believe I am righteous, too.  It’s a little like the emperor in his new clothes…

Romans 3:10 tells me that no one is righteous.  Isaiah 64:6 reminds me that my righteousness is like filthy rags.

Without Christ’s righteousness, I am nothing.  When I try to live out of my own strength, I am nothing.

When I strip off Christ’s righteousness, I am naked.

God’s grace to me is that, clothed with Christ, I can stand in his presence unashamed.  The same way he provided clothing to cover the nakedness and shame of Adam and Eve in the garden, he has provided clothing for me.

In my day to day experience, when I try to live in my own strength, when I strive to be “worthy” of the approval of God and man… I miss out on the experiential benefits of being clothed.  I feel as if my sin is not covered.  The guilt and shame of that nakedness can be covered by repentance.  I can remain clothed in righteousness, experiencing grace, only when I keep my mind bathed in scripture, my heart warmed with constant prayer, my strength bound up in the Spirit, and my soul dressed with the beauty of Christ.

And God, my loving father, dresses me with Christ.  And then, for my benefit, pleads with me, “Leave your clothes on!”