Good Gifts

As a high school senior, my favorite teacher taught Child Development, the most fun elective a baby-loving kid could take. Also our Senior Class Advisor, Teacher was wild and crazy in all the ways teens love: funny, with a huge laugh; refreshingly honest, telling us truths about which our parents only blushed; smart and engaging, she made school fun. She had a big heart and made it clear that she cared about her students even more than her subject, though she obviously loved teaching, too.

My desk sat near the front of the room and my view allowed me to often admire Teacher’s bracelet: a chunky ivory bangle with silver clasps and the most enormous topaz I’d ever seen. It came from India and I no longer remember whether she’d bought it on vacation or perhaps it had been a gift? Either way, I thought it was fantastic.

Lucky me, my dad was an airline pilot with Pan American Airlines and regularly traveled to India. India wasn’t his favorite destination and, though he complained of the oppressive heat and impassable crowds, I suspect the extreme poverty broke his heart in ways his pride couldn’t admit.bracelet

When he presented me with my own version of Teacher’s bracelet – Hooray, Hooray! – he told me that he had hired a cab driver for an entire day to shuttle him all over New Delhi as he talked with one vendor after another, examining their wares and explaining exactly what he wanted until he found just the right gift for his oldest daughter about to graduate high school.

At the time, I understood that Dad had worked hard to find the bracelet I desired. Now, however, I recognize that the bracelet came at considerable cost. I have no idea truly what dent the bracelet put in his wallet. Rather, Dad paid a personal cost: his time, effort, discomfort, his breaking heart… As an adult who shies from heat and crowds, who feels easily overwhelmed and gives up quickly on strenuous shopping requirements, I am also overwhelmed by the gift of love my dad invested into the gift of this bracelet. More than any tangible item he gave me, this bracelet represents my dad’s love for me.

We didn’t have an easy relationship. As far as I know, my dad had no easy relationships in his entire life. The only child of a dysfunctional family, he never received the love he needed that might have flowed over into others. He only learned to say, “I love you” during the last year of his life, once he knew life had grown short.

Luke 11 says that, as broken parents give good gifts, our Heavenly Father wants to do so even more. This encourages me:

That my dad loved me, and worked harder than I could know to express it in his way; and
That my Father in heaven loves me more than I’ll ever know, and He also wants to give me good gifts.

Which makes me wonder: Have I told God what I want? I described the bracelet specifically to my dad, and I think God wants us to be specific with Him, too (maybe not about bracelets, but certainly about wisdom, justice, love, peace…).

I can’t remember the last time I wore the bracelet my dad gave me. As a vegetarian-environmentalist-animal lover, wearing ivory now seems wrong. On the other wrist, so to speak, not wearing the bracelet my dad gave me, especially now that I recognize the tremendous gift of love it represents, also seems wrong. So if you see me wearing ivory and that seems incongruous, you might get an earful about my revived prayer life and the gifts of love for which I’m asking my Daddy.

Connect
Who taught you to pray? What are your earliest memories of praying?

Study
Read aloud Luke 11:1-13.
What do you learn from Jesus’ prayer in vv. 2-4 about how we should pray?
What is the main take-away from Jesus’ parable in vv. 5-8?
Verses 9-10 are often taken out of context to promote praying for an easy life. How would you explain Jesus’ meaning to someone inclined to believe in a health and wealth gospel? Does the context of vv. 11-12 shed any light on this? How?
What does Jesus mean in v. 13 – is the Holy Spirit the only good gift we can ask for or…?

Live
How is the content of Jesus’ prayer (vv. 2-4) like or unlike your current prayers? In what ways have you found praying the Lord’s Prayer helpful or unhelpful?
What might change if you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?
What do you think Jesus means by encouraging us to pray with “shameless audacity” (v. 8 NIV)?
For what are you Asking, Seeking, and Knocking in prayer? Let others join you in prayer.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that Jesus will teach you to pray and fill you with His Holy Spirit.

Gifting

“What do your kids want for Christmas?”

Honestly, I have no idea how to answer that question. Unlikely they’ve finally taken our “Need before Want” family value to heart, but they haven’t asked for much. Good thing, since we aren’t buying much. Black Friday came and went with only so much as a fleeting glance at the mall; instead we enjoyed the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for a few hours and then drove home to the Bay Area.

You might not notice if you come to visit (always more to do!), but we’ve spent considerable effort this year decluttering. I don’t want Christmas to add another pile of stuff to our small home. Thankfully we don’t need much and, thankfully, we don’t want for much.

However, a gift-less tree on Christmas morning would be depressing. We attempted it one year – one gift each, unwrapped in minutes – and it was sad. There is such real joy in giving and receiving; it’s a good thing. So we’re putting another set of values on the gifts we purchase: intangible, experiential, practical, meaningful.

Intangible: For people who already have so much, a gift given in their honor can be a meaningful gift. And it’s so easy!

From the time our kids were little, they’ve received a card in their stocking letting them know that a gift of socks and underwear has been donated to kids in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. They think socks and underwear are funny (Boys!), and often this gift has accompanied socks & unders in their sizes. They understand that children everywhere need them, and especially so after we took them to the orphanage in the DR and they saw a levelor-paned window covered in hand-washed undies hung to dry.

Our church supports local and global mission partners through a Mission Market. You can buy backpacks of school supplies, clean water, warm blankets and jackets, shelter, sports equipment, education, food… the list goes on. Other organizations do similar good work, World Vision and Heifer International among them.

For the animal lover, you could give a gift of animal sponsorship through World Wildlife Fund – you choose a particular species of animal to adopt plus sponsorship level, and you receive small gifts (plush animal, sponsorship certificate, etc). Environmentalists and beach lovers might appreciate a membership to Surfrider Foundation.

Another special gift which comes with the possibility of relationship: child sponsorship. Our family has sponsored a boy in the Dominican Republic since our oldest son saw his picture on a table at an event eight years ago and declared, “This is my brother.” And so he is. When we took that Thanksgiving trip several years ago, we met him, talked with him, and our kids played soccer with him. We know other families who gave their kids “siblings” in other countries their same age and gender. It makes a huge difference in a child’s life as well as to your own family. We sponsor through Kids Alive; other organizations include Compassion International and World Vision.

Experiential: This is my favorite gift because it also creates memories. Buy tickets to a game, concert, play, even movie passes. Buy a restaurant gift card. Buy an annual pass to a museum or zoo. Give the gift of a trip: one of our kids is getting gear for a sporting trip while the other will receive warm gear for a weekend snow camp, both indicating a Yes to the trips themselves. Buy admission to a class. One year for my fall birthday, Guy bought us two spots in a glassblowing class where we made our own glass pumpkins. We had a new and fascinating experience, and we have darling glass pumpkins to decorate for fall.pumpkins

Practical: Give something the recipient will use, and best case use up – food or drink, candles, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, perfume or cologne. One of my favorite tuck-it-in girl gifts is OPI nail polish. It goes on well, comes in fabulous colors with humorous names, and it lasts. Bed, Bath & Beyond carries it for less than salons and you can use those 20% off coupons you get in every magazine you read.

Another favorite practical gift: books! This family loves to read and recommend books we’ve loved. Which also makes for a personal gift – if you receive a book from us, chances are high that we’ve read it, maybe even aloud, and loved it. Some of our recent favs: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Flora & Ulysses, Stargirl, The Genius Files series, Tiger Boy, Running for My Life, Orphan Train, The Rosie Project, and Me Before YouAnd while I’m still a big fan of reading books printed on paper, Amazon has Kindle Fires for a pretty great deal.

Meaningful: You can buy great stuff and simultaneously do good for the world. I have two fun and comfortable pairs of Punjammies from Sudara. Punjammies could be pajamas, but I wear them as pants. They’re bright, colorful, and easy to wear dressed up with jewelry and heels or down with Tshirt and flip-flops. Best part: they’re made (and each style named) for women rescued from sex slavery in India. I always get compliments when I wear them, which gives me opportunity to share about Sudara’s good work giving women a new lease on life. I also adore their new tote bags made in cooperation with Mulxiply, employing fair trade artists in Nepal.

punjammiestote

Fair trade is a social movement advocating and promoting equality in trade, especially among developing countries. For example, fair trade coffee or chocolate ensures that those who harvest the goods earn a fair wage for fair service. Profit doesn’t get to take advantage of those who make profit possible. You can buy chocolate from Hershey, but more than likely the cacao beans that became your chocolate bar were harvested by a child slave 12-16 years old. Or you can buy chocolate from Equal Exchange, Tcho, or Divine and get (even better!) chocolate sustainably harvested by people who receive a fair wage for their work. Make a good choice, get a good product, and do good for the world.

Two new-to-me organizations that came on solid recommendations and I can’t wait to check out: Youme Clothing and Serrv. And one more, from a high-end clothing company that vets their producers before – and during – their shared business ventures: Everlane. I have a few of their T-shirts (because they are surprisingly affordable) and they are my very favorite T-shirts ever.

Tomorrow we’re taking our kids to buy gifts for kids involved with some of our church’s local mission partners. The gifts we purchase may be among the only gifts these kids receive. Our kids will awake on Christmas Day to a gift-filled tree, and so it’s important to us that they also give. They give of their service in different ways throughout the year, but at this time of year when the cultural spotlight shines on what we will get, we want them to choose gifts for kids who might not have a full Christmas tree, who might not have a tree at all; kids they might never meet who have real needs they haven’t experienced.

I’d love to hear your holiday gift-giving values and ideas. Please share!

Thankful Thursday – Life is More than Worry

As Church Communication Director, this week before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest work weeks of the year as we rush to get Christmas PR printed, in the mail, up around town, in the newspaper, you name it. The creative work, writing and designing, is mostly done, so this week is all about details – proofing and making sure each design in all its necessary formats gets to the right place and people at the right time. The devil is in the details and I am no devil.

I can’t get stressed, though. The irony? This year’s theme is PEACE. No sense at all worrying about peace.

Today I got a kick in the tail in the best way. One of my favorite weekly activities, I have the privilege of leading a small group of delightful women in our moms’ group at church. I love these women. They are light and bright and smart and deep. Our speakers today talked about change and taking intentional steps toward positive change in our lives. Several of my gals are engaged in total life upheaval, not entirely by choice. And yet even in difficult situations, our response is our responsibility. We can still choose to make changes that make us better.moms 15

The gal seated next to me almost died from a fluke illness this fall. I kept rubbing her back, teary eyed, so grateful for her life. And to hear her talk about the peace that sustained her during her illness, the overwhelming sense of angels watching over her, the comfort that whatever happened God held her in His hands… Me, choking back tears because she couldn’t have said those words when we met a couple years ago. I am grateful for her life and for the joy of watching her grow in faith.

Listening to my gals encourage one another in situations I haven’t had to endure encouraged my heart. As I looked on, the words of Matthew 6 rolled around in my head:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

A few of the staff studied this passage earlier this week. We noticed that most people we see daily aren’t worried about food; even when kids complain that “There is NO FOOD in this house!” there truly is, and no one will starve this week, or month, even if we stopped grocery shopping altogether. So I replaced “food” with “worry” in v. 25:

Is not life more than worry…?

Life is so much more than worry!

I am thankful for my friendships with these precious women who encourage one another and me. They add so much joy and love to my life.

I am thankful for a day off with my love after a season of working too hard and missing one another along the way. We walked the beach with our happy dog on a perfect San Francisco day, followed by a spontaneous splurge lunch at a marina-view restaurant.SF dog

I am thankful for an opportunity to serve with one of our church’s mission partners, Harbor House Ministries. All three of my guys have been there more than once, but today was my first time. Our middle school group plus a few parent chaperones served a Thanksgiving meal prepared by church folks; we also built relationships, did a craft, packed up leftovers for people to take home, and cleaned up. I talked with a mom of two darling girls; I don’t easily talk with people I don’t know, but we so easily connected over kids and this blessed place where her older daughter is safely cared for. Tween enthused about the “amazing” place called Harbor House and can’t wait to go back. I got to tag along while my kid’s heart changed. So good!

HH Thanksgiving

Life is so much more than worry. Life is love, encouragement, connection, work and rest in balance, service, and community. Life is our creative response to life’s own twists. Life is our responsibility to create, and life is our creative God’s good gift. He already said, “It is good.” Now it’s our turn.

Slow Down

An ordinary afternoon dog-walk around the neighborhood turned gruesome. A car passed just as I noticed a squirrel hunkered in the middle of the lane. Car 1 slowed down, paused until two cars were directly opposite in the other lane, and then blared its horn. Horn terrified Squirrel who leaped sideways under the tire of Car 2, followed by the wheels of Car 3. No kidding, I squeaked in horror.

All three cars drove on, while Dog and I had to continue our walk past twitching, then dead-still, squirrel. Because God loves all His creatures, I prayed for this little one.

I felt dirty, complicit for having witnessed this scene. It happened so quickly but it seemed Car 1 deliberately honked at exactly the wrong moment, that it could have honked earlier or later, or simply stopped for a moment. That the rush of life was just too much.

Last summer I read a book that referenced “the Gronk,” the driver behind you who honks incessantly the very second the red light turns green. Like the extra five seconds he might rush you to the gas pedal mean that much? Seriously, dude, chill!

A few days later Guy and I took Dog for another stroll. Same neighborhood, different street, equally gruesome: the smallest fawn I’ve ever seen lay in the roadside grass. At first we didn’t notice it as it was so out of place; someone driving too fast must have hit it hard to launch it out of the road and over the sidewalk; and then we saw it twitch. Morning commute had it out for this beauty.

All this during the first week of summer, and meanwhile my kids’ friends were too busy or too tired to play and their moms already seemed harried. Don’t get me wrong, we have a few things going on, too, but balanced with a big dose of summertime do-nothing. Because “Boredom = Opportunity.”

Summer is not a sprint. Honestly, it’s a gift, much like the Sabbath we so dutifully ignore. Long, hot days make our bodies and brains want to move slower, to float in the pool, to sip cool drinks over laughter-filled chats with friends, to play and rest – and work as necessary – in a different rhythm.

We slowed down with a week of family vacation. Leisurely strolls along the beach, hunting for beach glass, reading good books, eating and sleeping as much as needed and then a little more.

“Regular” life necessarily isn’t vacation, but we can bring elements of vacation, of rest, into “regular” life:
Turn off social media
Do something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone
Move your body playfully
Learn something new
Make dinner a family carpet picnic of kid-friendly finger foods
Schedule outings with friends
Create something; if that intimidates you, color in a coloring book
Turn off the TV and read a book
Play a board game
Pamper yourself
Do something you haven’t done since childhood and laugh yourself silly along the way

Yesterday I worked, and then I met a friend and her sweet daughter for a mani/pedi. I usually do my own nails, but after a week of beach walking my feet were a wreck. It felt terrific, and the time with these dear ones filled me up. During a brief conversational lull I glanced up at the large screen TV – mercifully playing without sound – to catch a glimpse of a road sign that read:

LIFE IS PRECIOUS
SLOW DOWN

Yes, that’s it! Perhaps we don’t even see the carnage we create as we race from Point A to B to Z, the lost life or lost opportunities or the children for whom we’ve scheduled too many activities when they truly only want more time with us, their parents.

What would it take for you to slow down? What can you do today, tomorrow, this week, this month, to intentionally stop the madness? Life is precious, and I don’t want to miss the beauty.

slowing-down-gift