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

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.” –Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go, quoted in Real Simple magazine, Nov. 2014

This month I took on a gratitude challenge, three thanksgiving’s each day for the month. Like most challenges, it started easier than it has finished (though it’s not over yet). Over a particularly busy few days I recorded nothing at all, and gratitude in extended hindsight doesn’t work as effectively – what moments of grace did I experience last Wednesday? Oh goodness, I can’t remember this morning let alone last week!

Yet as with most disciplines, the effort, imperfect as it so often is, pays off. I am grateful to have recorded these gifts, to be able to look back over the month and see God’s goodness played out in the details of my life. How quickly time passes, and how full life can be, especially when I take time to say “Thank you!”

I found confirmation of my experience in this gratitude experiment in this article in Real Simple. Gratitude leads to feelings of happiness, boosted energy, greater health, resilience when necessary, improved relationships, and acts of kindness. Gratitude changes us and those around us in a beautiful cycle of thanksgiving.

This month I have given thanks for shared love and laughter with my family; specific acts of kindness by friends; dog snuggles; a flock of favorite birds in our backyard tree; quiet moments; unexpected words when I needed them; natural beauty; opportunities to serve; fun adventures; home. All this in the midst of so much more.

Some of the “more” in this month has been painful, hard moments filled with negative emotions and tears. Even when life is good it can be up-and-down overfull of good and bad. Which is why I – we – need so desperately to recall the truth: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). God is the God of hope, worthy of praise, Savior who allows us to associate with Him so personally, “my God.” My God!

Which begs the question: just how much harder might this month have been had I not engaged in a discipline of gratitude?

This morning we met up for a beach walk with friends we haven’t seen in a while. SoCal weather has been in the mid- to high-80’s, bright blues and vivid greens-turning-to-browns prevailing. The breeze couldn’t defeat the beating sun, nor did we need it to. The forecast says much-needed rain is coming and for today we enjoy this unbelievable Thanksgiving weather.

Our friends downsized when they moved NorCal south. In their move they gained easy beach access and a simpler state of being. Funny thing, we moved the opposite direction and while we drive much farther to access the coast, we also gained a simpler state of being, a slower pace, the community for which we so longed. As much as I need to remember that, I do miss this:

birds

Sitting and soaking in the view will always be good for my soul, and an extra-special gift this Thanksgiving.

This afternoon the guys and I prepared delicious and (our version of) traditional holiday food with my side of the family; we enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal together with my mom, sister, brother, and nephew. The food and drink was special, the table beautifully set, we wore something a little nicer than our usual scrubs. For a time, any drama was set aside and we enjoyed one another’s company. We laughed and told stories, we remembered those who cannot be with us, we created new memories for times ahead when we cannot be together.

We said thanks, and appreciated this day set aside in honor of thanks-giving.