My Faith & Transformation Journey

Christmas Pressure

The closer I get to Christmas the greater the pressure I place on myself to spend on friends and family. The craziness is beginning to steal the joyful anticipation I should be feeling right now. With each thought of gifts I have yet to purchase, I slip a little further away from celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and toward celebrating Santa Maggie. I move away from the giver of new life to the giver of temporary gain. This year I am trying to maintain a new budget and yet celebrate Christmas with my friends.

Christmas is a balancing act for most of us. We want to show our love for our children by the number and expense of gifts under the tree. We go to extremes to impress colleagues and friends with presents that show our respect and affection. Some will feel the tug on their hearts and be compelled to rescue that pet that they have avoided getting all year. And others of us may go totally in the other giving direction and spend everything we have on toys for faceless needy children

None of these are bad things if done for the right reason and if they model Jesus’ example of giving and the greater gift of forgiveness and love eternal that he gave us. Some of us, however, don’t have the cash flow to meet all our personal expenses let alone simple gifts for those closest to us. So how do we balance “the reason for the season” with the holiday season? One way is to stop and ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and if spending that money on that gift is the best way to show we care. What other ways are there to show our love for others this time of year? Do we have to do something before December 25th? Can we adopt a new way of giving that will stay with us in the year ahead? Can we start the New Year with a smile rather than a grimace about our new debt?

In our family we have adopted a 12 Days of Christmas strategy, especially with our friends. We start with some gifts under the tree December 25th for family and then find ways to celebrate Christmas with friends through Epiphany on January 6. It keeps the spirit of Christmas alive for more than a couple of hours on one day. This year we went to the grocery store and picked out $10 worth of food products for each of the food banks we support. We went to Arlington National Cemetery and laid wreaths in honor of our service men and women. I have met with other friends for a meal or a coffee and we invested in each other by listening to what is going on in our lives. These are rich moments of giving of ourselves and sharing our faith. This year we will be making cookies and spending time with other families instead of a gift exchange. On Christmas day, after our family time, we will get with friends to drive around and look at Christmas lights. I did that the other night with a dear friend and we laughed until we cried. I will carry these memories far longer than the gifts I gave that I can no longer remember who I got what for. And we have created a new pattern of giving and sharing time that we can continue long after Epiphany.

What ways can you balance the reason we as Christians celebrate Christmas with the commercial pressure to buy, buy, and buy more? What ways can you honor the birth of the one who came to die that we would be forgiven? How can you show others that gift of eternal love instead of the temporary monetary love? I would love to hear your ideas. It isn’t too early to start planning for Christmas 2015!! Share your ideas and I will consolidate them and remind people of them next year

My Faith & Transformation Journey

Pre-Christmas Shuffle

Like many of you I am in the midst of pre-Christmas activities—shopping, decorating, and planning for the big day. This past week we brought most of the decorations out of storage and began to unpack and set up the tree and lights. Well, the tree is up and a string of lights are on the balcony now. And there is stuff everywhere waiting for its special place in the house. And even though my daughter is an adult now, there is still a child-like excitement and joy in all the chaos.

Our boxes of decorations are memories of Christmases past, packed away for a year. They are the pieces of our past that have been trapped in boxes waiting to explode on us at just the right time. There are the hand-made decorations from my daughter that make me smile and think what a happy little girl she was. There are the decorations from my parents that I have held onto for years. They remind me of special mornings with my brother and sister that I will never have again. There is a special little pillow my sister made with my husband’s name on it that keeps him a part of our Christmas every year. There is the special White House ornament my dear friend gave me and I cherish that friendship every time I open the box. There are the decorations my husband bought when we were at Disney that he was so excited to find. The child in him came out as he and my daughter picked out their treasures for the next tree. There are special ornaments my father brought me from Israel—one of the few gifts he ever gave me.

These are the Christmas reflections of our past. Some sweet; some tempered with sadness. Each box we open reminds us of times past; and yet those memories are made new and fresh as we add to them each year. We are in a new home this year and I won’t have room for everything I usually set out. The pieces we pick will have unique meaning to us. They will connect this place we are passing through to our family and friends, some now gone.

In the moments of our reflections, let us stop and reflect on why we are preparing for this special day in December. A new family was created that day with the birth of an extraordinary baby. This baby would change the lives of his parents and those of the world. This family would celebrate his birth each year, just as we do, and build memories on memories. One day this child would die for his family and for the people he so loved. His family and friends would be left with a different memory. Each day, each year, they would remember the tremendous love he had for them and they would speak of passing that love on to others. They would come to share the memory over and over, hoping that we would never forget.

In the middle of my Christmas shuffle, I want to remember not just my friends and family. I want to remember the man whose life I celebrate. I want to remember that Jesus was born and that he is coming back one day. I want to remember that he is the most important thing to celebrate. And the best gift I can give another is to share the story of what he has done in my life. I hope you will see him in the pages I write and I hope you will find him in the boxes you open this Christmas.

“She will give birth to a son and he will be called Immanuel (meaning God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23,New Living Translation)