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!

Curb Your Appetite

As the day began, I didn’t intend to fast.

Hustling the kids off to school, I rushed out the door to meet a friend for coffee and conversation. Heading on to work, I realized I hadn’t packed lunch. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” the Spirit nudged. “Do without. Spend time with me.”

One of the spiritual practices ideas I’d provided for our church included skipping a meal and spending time in prayer. I hadn’t thought God would mean it for me. Apparently He did.

When I was more directly involved in leading youth ministries, I used to fast once a year for World Vision‘s 30 Hour Famine. Adults and students together raised support for World Vision’s work around the world and then went without food for 30 hours while we also engaged in learning and service activities. We broke the fast with a simple meal together and communion. It was one of my favorite ministry events of the year.

More recently I have taken on different kinds of fasts during Lent, giving up sweets or alcohol or Facebook. But not food, because I like food and one of my primary Mom-jobs is providing food for my guys.

So yes, I was surprised that God called me back to a food fast, albeit a pretty short one. I skipped lunch on Ash Wednesday. Just long enough to feel hungry and pray instead of eat.

7 - a great book on what fasting can look like

7 – a great book on what fasting can look like

Jen Hatmaker defines a fast this way: “…an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center” (7: an experimental mutiny against excess, p4).

I wasn’t fasting to ask God to move mountains. I fasted because I felt like God asked me to and I want to listen and obey.

All in all the day went surprisingly well. In our staff meeting devotion, during prayer time, honestly, Jesus and I got close. Like the end of An Affair to Remember, when the lovers realize their separation has mostly been a misunderstanding (not that sin is a misunderstanding, but go with me) and they fall into each other’s arms, embracing and mushy-gushy kissing, that was me and Jesus. We’re having a steamy affair. It’s hot.

Typically, fasting is supposed to be “in secret” (Matthew 6:16-18) but my stomach dramatically declared its emptiness to two co-workers who giggled. Oh well. Extra temptation presented itself when Guy called to offer me take-out from one of my favorite local joints. Ouch, but no thanks.

What surprised me most were the conversations God and I had throughout the day. Hatmaker quotes Richard Rohr: “The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up” (7, p43). Earlier in the week I had solidified Psalm 46:10 in my memory: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” When I got hungry I repeated those words to still myself before God so He could fill me up.

Each time I prayed, I became extremely conscious of my physical body. On the one hand that makes perfect sense: I denied my body the food it wanted and I felt it. But this was different. I have at best an uncomfortable relationship with the physical shell that houses my mind/spirit, but instead of feeling the usual criticism, God impressed upon me that He gave me my body as His gift to me. I know that to be true, but I don’t always feel it. That day I felt it, and it was good.

I might even try fasting again this Lent, but I’m not telling.

One more thing: the gal who read Scripture in church this morning mispronounced “stones” in the following passage as “stories.” Go ahead, read it both ways.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones [stories] to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

She went back and corrected her mistake, but I think it was a divine mispronunciation. Yes, Lord, may these stories become bread, the stories of Scripture and the stories of our lives. A final Hatmaker quote: “Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. …the story of God’s people comprises a billion little moments when an average believer pressed on, carried through, stepped up” (7, p114).

So here we go, people, pressing on, carrying through, stepping up, and along the way, sharing our stories of God’s faithfulness. Amen!

Connect
Reflect on an experience when you denied yourself something you really wanted.

Study
Read Matthew 4:1-4.
How did God’s Word sustain Jesus in the desert? How is this like/unlike the sustenance of food?
Read Matthew 6:16-18.
What does Jesus expect His followers to do/not do when they fast, and why?
Read Isaiah 58:3-7.
What was wrong with the way the people approached fasting (vv. 3-5)?
What do vv. 6-7 mean? Is this a different kind of fasting or fasting with a different attitude or outcome?

Live
How is fasting different from dieting?
Reflect on your past experiences (if any) with fasting.
How does fasting focus your prayers and help you to seek God’s face?
What practical considerations would you need to take into account in order to implement a discipline of fasting?
Which Faith Training Exercises might God call you to this week, and why? Reflect on joys and struggles with any Faith Training Exercises you’ve tried so far.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.