Friday, October 30, 2009

Christmas Convictions.

This is an odd place for this post but stick with me. A friend of mine asked how one can tone down gift giving on Christmas and still keep the magic alive? How do we as parents explain to our children that Santa will be cutting back this year? Some families need to cut back for financial reasons and others because they have several children and they just do not have room for more stuff. Why is it that our children can have a room full of toys and they come out and tell you that they have nothing to play with. I do not have all the answers to this question but I do have some strong convictions that God has placed on my heart. I will attempt to share my thoughts and convictions but please know that we continue to struggle with getting sucked into the world's idea of how one should celebrate Christmas.

First Christmas is my favorite holiday. For a portion of my life I grew up in Colorado. Nothing says Christmas like pine trees, a warm fire place and snow packed mountains. I love the lights, holiday baking and decorating. In some ways I wish that we could enjoy our Christmas tree for months instead of weeks. I have a beautiful nativity that I could enjoy year round. I love shopping in the crisp air and trying to find the perfect Christmas outfit for pictures. (By the way why do we take the majority of our family pictures at Christmas time. The pictures are usually in front of a Christmas tree and were all wearing red. The rest of the year you have a family picture hanging on your wall with a tree in it.) I also love to give gifts. If money were not an issue I would buy every one I know a gift. I would even buy their pet a gift. I know it sounds ridiculous but I love to shop and I could spend hours looking for that perfect gift. Then there is the wrapping. I love to see presents wrapped in beautiful paper, or even wrapped in a fun unique way. I know this does not sound like a post about cutting back but I'm getting there. I will admit that one of my greatest weaknesses is my children. We do not buy them a lot through the year and both are December babies so most of our gift giving is in the month of December. I am still seeking ways to cut back and focus more on Jesus than on things of this world. While we are still working on this we have come to some strong convictions that not everyone will share but has helped us as a family. We still have a long way to go but this is a start.

As a parent one of the things that you look forward to is the magic of Christmas. There is nothing like experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a child. I believe that this is a holiday created for the child in all of us. After all Christmas seems to bring out some of our best childhood memories. After we became parents we began to celebrate this holiday just like we did when we were children. James and I both brought our individual traditions as well as the big tradition of waiting for Santa to come. We told Kayla that if she was good then Santa would come and bring her a gift. We did the big Santa gift under the tree and of course there were always stockings. Some of our friends did not do Santa and we thought that was strange and unfair to their children. Everyone knows that Jesus is the reason for the season but Santa brings the big gift. A few years after Kayla went to school she started asking us really tough questions. One of the hardest question to answer was why Santa came to her house and left a present but he didn't leave a present for ____? Of course we stumbled to find an answer that would not spoil the magic of Christmas. But the questions kept coming. Why is Santa not bringing presents to ____'s house? We knew it was because there was no money due to a job loss. But Kayla wanted to know why Santa would bring her a gift but not be able to bring the poor children gifts. It was not a question of naughty or nice but a question of why would Santa leave out the poor ? Why does Santa come to our house but not her friend? Why do we need to buy for others when Santa will bring them presents? Kayla knew about Jesus and she knew that he was real so I had the answers I needed. But every time I tried to explain this jolly old guy in a red suit kept getting in the way. I have to say that I scrambled for answers and I found ways to get around the questions at hand. Then one day through reading God's word, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and Godly council I knew what God wanted us to do. She deserved the know the truth. The truth was an important part of her faith and it would strengthen ours as well. Over the next several years we made many transitions and began new traditions.

We began by telling her the real story of St Nick.( "The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships." St Nick choose to help people by giving to those that are less fortunate.") We explained that this is a season for us to focus on those that that are going through tough times and are less fortunate than us. To show them love as Christ has shown us. That it is better to give than to receive.

We continued to tell the story of Jesus and how he gave the best gift of all and that his will last forever. We explain that God's gift to us is available to everyone and is not based on being good or bad or how much money you have. Today's idea of Santa expresses that we have to be good to receive a gift and that not everyone will be good enough. How can I let my child think that she deserves gifts more than some one else? The idea of Santa causes us to think of ourselves and not others. So when my child receives that big gift on their list and their friend receives a very small gift (because that is what the family can afford) or no gift at all does that mean that my child was more deserving? We are all sinners and none of us deserve the things that we receive. If Santa were truly magic then we would not have children all over the world that have no gifts and no food on Christmas. Every child would receive that big gift that they have wanted all year.

We glorify the idea of a chubby jolly man that is able to see all and know all. He has the power to be in every part of the world in one evening which means that he is able to be every where at once. He chooses who has been good enough based on his ability to judge. Can you see where we lead our children to ask tough questions about their faith. This all seems so innocent when they are 3 and maybe 4 or 5. But we are all born to search for that which we are drawn to. We were meant to search for Christ. At our earliest age we are feed half truths and are mislead. No wonder we as a nation of believers are confused. We allow our desire to build up a fictional character to become more important than the truth. Is this really a big deal? It is to me. I want my children to know the difference between truth and fiction. The difference between pretend and real. There is only One that I know that is omniscient and omnipresent. Even Satan is unable to know all and be every where. That is why he has demons. It is important for us as parents to make sure our kids know that God is the only one that knows them inside out and is with them all the time. We take away two of God's attributes when we allow our children to believe otherwise. When we glorify anything other than Christ Him self we are dishonoring Him. I know this sounds harsh but I believe that my savior deserves all the Glory and credit for what our family is given. It is God alone that provides our needs and our desires, not a man, not Santa. I want my children to give thanks to the One and only and to seek Him when they have tough questions. He is the only one that has the right to judge and he is the only one that understands why some have much and some have little.

Our children are not missing out on the magic of Christmas instead they are experiencing the freedom that comes from knowing the truth. We have several holiday traditions that we hope they will carry with them when they have their own families. One of my favorite is pulling out the decorations from our childhood and theirs. It is heartwarming as well as difficult as you go through and remember the years that these ornaments represent. Many come from family that have since gone to be with Jesus. Some mark milestones while others are a painful reminder of years that included tragedy and even disobedience. We love to listen to music. We enjoy the classics as well as some newer songs. One of my favorites songs; Christmas is all in the Heart by SCC. There are always concerts and of course our favorite candle light service at church. We enjoy baking and shopping trips with friends. My sister and I love to look for items for stockings and filling them on Christmas eve. Spending time with family and catching up with friends that we haven't talked to in a year. Taking the kids to the square to see lights and an occasional trip to Branson. In the midst of all this it is hard not to get caught up in the fast pace hussle and bussel. But the one thing that we all look forward to that helps get us back on track is Christmas eve.

On Christmas eve we read the story about the birth of Christ. Every child likes to hear the story about how much they were wanted and how their story began. Jesus loves when we tell the story of his birth. When you decorate your tree talk to your kids about how you decorate for their birthday and that you are decorating for Jesus' birthday. Tell them that this is the month that has been set aside to celebrate Him. We always have a birthday cake. Some years I have had to buy one but we try to make it. It does not have to be beautiful but it is a good family activity. Let every one help. Even if it is just putting on a mound of sprinkles. Take pictures. It is neat to see how His cakes change. One of my favorites was when we made a manger out of graham crackers and laid a little plastic baby it it. We piped yellow frosting for hay. After reading His story, singing happy birthday and eating cake it is time for gifts. Gifts for Jesus. It is His birthday right? So what do you give the guy who owns cattle on a thousand hills. You give Him your self. That is what He wants from us and that is what we try to remember on that night. We each write one thing that we are going to do the next year to honor Jesus. We fold it up and place it in the nativity. On Christmas morning we open our papers and read them aloud (if one chooses) or we pray over them. This is our gift to Jesus. An example- one year my gift to Jesus was to be a mother of mercy. I was having trouble with letting things go when my children made wrong choices. I knew that God had been speaking to me about this so that was my gift to Him. It meant so much to be able to place it at his feet in the manger that I still remember writing it down and asking Him to help me be a mother of mercy that this day my Spirit is reminded and corrected when I do poorly on this.

The nativity is our reminder that God has given us the greatest gift of all and that no other gift is needed. After we pray over our gifts to Jesus and humbly ask that He accept then we begin our celebration. That's right. No rushing in thinking of ourselves first. This is very hard for kids but an important lesson. We start with the stockings. They are a reminder of St Nick and how he loved God, loved others, and gave to the poor. Then we open our gifts to each other. We try to open one at a time. We take turns so that we can enjoy gifts and think of those that gave them to us. Please know that it is not always smooth. The little ones are never patient and there are always things that you hurry through but each year we notice that the focus changes just a little. Noah still talks about Santa but when he does we simply remind him that he is pretend just like bat man. We talk about the real St Nick and about the real Jesus and how when you have Jesus in your heart you want to do good things.

We are slowly applying the real meaning of Christmas. We are far from where we need or want to be and each year I pray that God will help us understand and want to do the right thing. Our children are not missing the magic instead they are experiencing truth. We were not created to be entertained or to experience magic but to worship the One on Only. This was very difficult and very offensive to me several years ago. I felt that my children deserved to have that magical experience that their youth brought them. Why does that have to come form something pretend when the real thing is so much better.

Our daughter was disappointed at first but I do not regret telling her. We have told Noah from the beginning that Santa is pretend and even though he really does not fully understand it all we have been truthful from the beginning. There is no doubt in their mind that Jesus is real and we have not set them up for confusion. When a child is told that something is real and then it ends up being pretend how are they to believe that our God is real. When they desire something and God says no will they doubt Him? If God with holds some thing from them will they think that it is because they were not good enough and if they do better he will deliver. Will they understand that He is not always judging them but that he has something better for them. As a family we are not taking that chance.

Our children still receive a "special gift" that is wrapped and placed under the tree. It is not the first to be seen or opened. Sometimes it's the last. We love the suspense. Instead of Santa bringing the really cool gift it is a special gift from mom and dad because we love them. If we need to spend less that year we have the ability to talk to the older one and she understands. The little ones are not going to understand. But when you start out with a solid foundation you are able to teach them what it means to receive or give a gift. A true gift is given with no strings attached and is given out of love. There is nothing that you can do to earn it. This lays a foundation for their faith so that one day they can receive the ultimate gift. The gift of salvation.
At Christmas time we still bake cookies, decorate the house, go to parties and exchange gifts. The difference we ask God to remind us that the gifts under our tree are a provision from Him not a chubby guy in a red suit. We celebrate the birth of Christ our savior and we do our best to honor Him by reaching out to those we love. Weather we give three gifts like the Christ child received or we give many, the most important thing to me is that my children know not to put there hope and joy in anything that is fleeting. There is only one that will never forsake us and He is the ONLY reason for the season.

Every year there are things that I hope we will do better. This year I would like to see us enjoy family more and be less busy. Take time to make our prayer chain. (25 links with names of those we will be praying for over the next 25 days) You can also take time to pray for those that you receive a card from or pray over the cards you send out. I would like to take time this year and thank God for the gifts that we have received before we open them. Thanking Him for each of the people that He has placed in our lives. And the big one that is really hard for me is to only do 3 gifts. I would like to do more on their birthdays and less at Christmas but it all kinda runs together. My flesh is weak and I end up wanting to do more than we should.

Thanks for sticking with me on this long post. I hope that God will give each of us wisdom and discernment in the days ahead and that we would choose to be obedient no matter what He ask of us.