Candy blogs: Everyone wants Christmas to be meaningful. We say it every year. I certainly have. We long for Christmases past. I have very strong memories of Christmases at my grandparents’ house in northern Idaho, with all the aunts & uncles and cousins. After eight hours of driving … down the last stretch of dirt road … past the general store … past the grove of pine trees … we all leaned forward as far as we could … there! We could finally see the lights of the house! And once inside we were lost in a wave of hugs and kisses and smiles. Christmas had begun!
The first order of the day would be for us kids to go to all the familiar places where Grandpa put his home-made hard candy and caramel popcorn. There was always a hammer in the pan so you could crack off a piece small enough to get in your mouth. It took forever to suck on it long enough to get it soft and chewy. And then there was Grandma’s fudge and candy to find … and the boxes of oranges and apples.
The days were spent sledding and making snowmen and snow angels and playing snow games. The evenings were spent singing and praying together, playing games and feasting on Grandma’s incredible meals. It was very noisy.
I hardly noticed that we had a gift exchange. That part was almost meaningless to me. I don’t remember a single gift I received there (well, I do remember one). It was always about honoring the birth of Jesus and time spent with family that we couldn’t wait for, and that’s what I remember and long for now.
We all WANT Christmas to be more meaningful but our Christmas celebrations don’t change or become more meaningful just because we want them to.
Did you know that Christmas hasn’t always been a happy, joyous holiday? It’s come to us as a result of many transitions and decrees and combinations of other celebrations … not all of them positive. Christmas used to be a loud, rather raucous, celebration. Some Christians wouldn’t have anything to do with it.
Christmas is not Biblical. Sounds pretty radical, doesn’t it? It’s really just a tradition; a wonderful one, but still a tradition. But anything that encourages us to pause and remember and celebrate our life with Jesus is wonderful. And over hundreds of years, that’s the meaning that American Christians have given to Christmas … to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With that said, did you know that, according to the Advent Conspiracy movement, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas … EVERY YEAR? That is astounding to me.
I used to get that “sick” feeling in my stomach when the middle of November came around. You know the feeling I’m talking about. The “only four paychecks until Christmas” feeling? We bought the lie. We dragged ourselves to all the stores on every available day off, buying cartloads of toys and games that were eventually broken or lost or discarded. Never to be remembered again.
As soon as the political ads stopped, the Christmas commercials began, showing frenzied parents driven by the indulgent “I want” lists of their children, and wide-eyed shop-a-holics literally in a shopping coma and feeling fully justified in their decadent spending aqnd making us think that should be normal.
We shake our heads in distaste for these commercials, and yet our Christmas celebrations remain unchanged and undistinguishable from those who don’t honor the birth of Jesus as we do.
We all WANT Christmas to be meaningful … but what would that actually look like?
The Gift of Presence
Last year I was introduced to the Advent Conspiracy. It started several years ago in a church where the leadership felt compelled to DO something about having a meaningful Christmas. It’s a movement “restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption.”
Here is their bottom line:
Worship fully … spend less … give more … love all
To re-state that …
• We are encouraged to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ to the fullest extent
• and out of that worship spend less on ourselves
• so we can give more to others
• which is showing love to all in very practical ways.
The organization shares lists of ways to do this. I’m not here to advocate their list. What absolutely grabbed hold of my heart was the thought that it was time to stop shaking my head at the commercials and overstocked store shelves, stop wishing and hoping and wanting Christmas to be more meaningful … and actually MAKE it so.
So last year instead of meaningless gift certificates and shopping from Amazon Wish Lists, I gave much thought to what would be the most meaningful tomy family. And everyone was pleased and even moved by their gifts. I’ve been scheming again this year to search my relationships and give gifts that showcase their value as a person rather than on materialistic things that will likely never be remembered. I am concentrating on gifts of presence.
After all, the gifts the Magi brought to the Christ child were very carefully chosen … chosen more for their meaning than their value.
The presents we give our loved ones give a very temporary sense of happiness. It flares up quickly and dies down quickly, rather like that holiday meal you slaved over all day and was consumed in minutes. In the scheme of things, very few of these presents will ever be remembered.
But when we give the gift of presence, when we spend time eye to eye and heart to heart, having conversations, continuing traditions, teaching skills, building relationships … we build memories. We build a foundation beneath our families, a sense of knowing where they came from and giving them a reference point when they set the direction for their lives.
When we talk about King Jesus and His gift of eternal life, we help others stop … and worship … and celebrate this gift. And in the busyness of this season … even if just for a few moments … we can all touch eternity by connecting with our Eternal God.
What do you want your Christmas to look like? Have you thought about intentionally making it more like you wish it was? It’s not too late.
Worship fully … spend less … give more … love all
Candy blogs: Last night I dug out a book I hadn’t looked at in a while. Inside was an envelope with my random mixture of abbreviations and old shorthand phrases. A couple of years ago we were traveling and I had heard a song on the radio that completely drew me in at the time. I scratched down the information on this envelope so I would remember to blog about it. Ha! That was a couple of years ago. One of my top five strengths from “Living Your Strengths” is Connectedness. Among other things, this means I believe things happen for a reason. And I believe I found this note last night at just the right time.
The song that drew me in was In Color by Jamey Johnson (love this You Tube video!). It’s about a man who is looking through old family photographs with his grandfather. The grandfather tells the story of his life to his grandson through the pictures. For those of you who know me, it’s no surpise that this song touched me so deeply. I have always been our unofficial family historian and have shared this passion with many to encourage an intentional legacy.
I said, Grandpa what’s this picture here
It’s all black and white and ain’t real clear
Is that you there, he said, yeah I was eleven
Times were tough back in thirty-five
That’s me and Uncle Joe just tryin’ to survive
A cotton farm in the Great Depression
And if it looks like we were scared to death
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other …
You should have seen it in color
What will my grandchildren see in our family photographs?
When I was 11, I was just “tryin’ to survive and scared to death”, too. Our rag-a-muffin family lived in poverty and us kids endured the physical abuse of our mother by my first stepfather, who was a violent alcohlic. He had a loud, deep voice that sent chills down my spine when he became angry. We learned to keep our heads down and not talk too much. My life often seemed black and white with no color. But in frequent intervals, my grandparents always gave me the stability, hope and unconditional love that my wounded, fearful little heart needed. I’m sure it broke their heart to think of their grandchildren living such a life … and they didn’t know the half of it. But through it all they pointed me to Jesus Christ. Jesus became the one unchanging, immoveable force in my life. Their faith in God and their encouragement in my life gave me the strength to rise above my rag-a-muffin beginnings. I am no longer a victim. I am a strong, confident, contributing woman and citizen of the Kingdom of God. This is a story worth telling my grandchildren.
This one here was taken overseas
In the middle of hell in nineteen forty-three
In the winter time you can almost see my breath
That was my tail gunner ole’ Johnny McGee
He was a high school teacher from New Orleans
And he had my back right through the day we left
And if it looks like we were scared to death
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other
You should have seen it in color
When I was 30 I went through a burn out. I call it a burn out because I don’t know what else to call it. What I remember is that one Sunday morning I was responsible for some kind of children’s program at church and just before it was to begin, I shut down. I believe someone on the team didn’t come through with a crucial piece of the program and I couldn’t seem to make one more decision about what should be done about it.
I began to cry a deep, weary cry in front of my team. I told them I was done. My body and my mind couldn’t go on. They called on Scott to take me home. The next morning I went to my boss and asked for two weeks off. Some friends offered our family a free week in their condo in Vale. I spent the next week in my beloved northern Idaho with my beloved grandparents. I didn’t expain much to them about why I was there. They didn’t push me. They let me spend time in the familiar woods and trails and pond and streams. I used this time to try to find out why this happened. I spent a lot of time in the Bible, God’s word and I journaled a lot. They “had my back through the day I left”.
My burn out happened because I had been going full throttle as a doer. My husband and I both worked full time and had two small children. I also kept myself very busy in the church. I said yes to everything because I was good at a lot of things and because I thought that’s what good Christians should do. But I lacked spiritual power because I did everything in my own strength. That is such a cliche’, isn’tit? But it’s true. I didn’t have an intimate relationship with Jesus … I just DID things for Him and craved His approval. I found out that one can’t go on like that forever. My body and mind shut down so I could rest, take inventory, ponder, plan, gain perspective and learn to wait for God’s leading in how best to serve Him. This is a story worth telling my grandchildren.
This one is my favorite one
This is me and grandma in the summer sun
All dressed up the day we said our vows
You can’t tell it here but it was hot that June
That rose was red and her eyes were blue
And just look at that smile I was so proud
That’s the story of my life
Right there in black and white
This is a simple one. I loved my wedding. In our wedding pictures you can’t tell, but there was a raging snow storm in the mountains near our city. It kept many from attending and delayed and frazzled those who did make the trip. It was a cold, dreary, winter day in November but it was alive with color in my heart. It was the day I’d dreamed of. Even though we lost one of the flower girl baskets and the special ordered thank you notes haven’t appeared to this day and I regret not having silverware for the cake as I watched my best friend’s sophisticated mother eat cake from a napkin with her hands and I wish I hadn’t let my hair stylist talk me out of washing my hair because he thought it would stay better, I felt beautiful and I became a wife that day. “I was so proud” to become Candy Troutman. That’s story worth telling my grandchildren.
A picture’s worth a thousand words
But you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered
You should have seen it in color
People say that a picture is worth a thousand words … but there is always so much more to the story than what can be seen in a photograph. It’s important to TELL your stories and pictures can often get us started telling. Our stories represent our life … they are the celebration of moments that make our lives alive with color! We’re here for a few short years and then we’re gone. Leaving a lasting legacy takes intentional effort. Pictures with their stories attached in some way are one way to leave a legacy.
What will your life say to your grandchildren? How will they know?
Candy blogs: See, Candy? You’re not the only one at Wal-Mart at 5:45 a.m. There are many other people here snatching bits of time for family needs. See Candy? I am answering your prayers for provision through honorable work. See Candy? My plans for you don’t preclude your inner circle … your immediate family and close friends. Spend your irreplaceable currency of time on me, yourself and your inner circle first. Then expand outward. It’s all my calling on your life. See Candy? I have shown you that you’re on the right path. There’s no whining on the right path.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening …
What are you listening for today?
Candy blogs: One sad result of the hurried, harried lifestyle of today is the demise of the family dinner table. I’m not a fancy cook but I did try to fix dinner at home most of the time when our kids were growing up. We didn’t usually actually eat at the table either but we usually ate at home.
What has happened to family meals at home? There are so many benefits.
* children learn table manners
Where else will children learn how to behave and eat as a guest in someone’s home or in public? Don’t be the mealtime police but do emphasize the basics: no elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed, use a napkin, ask for food to be passed to you, be willing to try new foods, ask to be excused, take your dishes to the kitchen.
* children learn the art of conversation
Most kids and teens today won’t look you in the eye, don’t know how to give a firm handshake and don’t know how to speak with words using more than one syllable. This type of “conversation” won’t work in a job interview. Conversation with real people has been exchanged for its electronic counterpart. Consistently eating meals at the family dinner table can help counteract this dangerous trend that keeps young people from functioning on their own when they “try” to leave home.
* children can expand their vocabulary
Speak to your kids in a normal tone and voice. Baby talk is for babies. Use words as you would talk to other adults. Let your children ask you what the words mean. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer.
* children can be taught to cook
Now is the time to learn to cook. It won’t happen through osmosis and you don’t wait until you think your child WANTS to learn to cook. Meals should be part of every household, not just the ones where everyone likes to cook.
* part of childhood chores
Use mealtimes to give your kids a way to contribute to the family. Setting and clearing the table, food preparation and clean up … one or more of these chores should be part of everyone’s day.
* you have more control over what your family consumes
Concerned about salt or preservatives or quantity intake? You have the powuh!
* eating at home is much less expensive
Why people don’t eat at home much anymore
* Women don’t know how to cook.
I do love the resurgence of all the cooking shows. I think cooking at home is making a comeback, especially in our unstable economy. But many people never grew up learning to cook. The popularity of the cooking shows is an indicator that there is a need out there to teach people how to cook. There are many ways now to learn to cook. No excuses.
* Women don’t think they should have to cook.
I worked full time most of my adult life until two years ago. I often dreaded the drive home from work because I knew the first words I would hear would be, “What’s for dinner?” I had already put in a full day and would now continue the work that waited at home. Funny how I usually thought of ‘home’ as ‘work’. Funny how I had chosen my life and often resented it.
* I am Woman, hear me roar
Oh, hadn’t I heard? Women don’t get coffee for their bosses anymore … women have college degrees now … women don’t cook and clean anymore … women have more important things to do. (Boy, you should have read what I just deleted.) Families appreciate a home-cooked meal more than almost anything else. Ask your family.
What kept me from cooking at home?
* I was tired.
Oh, well. We Americans are so fixated on not being uncomfortable or unhappy. Get over yourself. We work tired for everyone else and use ourselves up by the time we get to our family time. Is that living your priorities?
* I didn’t have all the ingredients.
Prepare a menu and grocery list based on how you shop. And I recommend shopping based on how you get paid. If you get paid every two weeks, plan 12-14 meals and include all the ingredients you’ll need for those meals on your grocery list. Keep your shelves stocked with the usual things your family eats on a regular basis.
* I didn’t know what to fix.
* I didn’t have enough time.
There are options. Collect crock pot recipes. Everyone will love the smell of dinner when they walk in the door, especially you. Most other meals can be on the table in 30-45 minutes. That’s from start to finish.
Some Practical Tips
* It’s all in the recipes
Collect simple recipes from friends, actually look in your cookbooks, on the Internet, cooking blogs, cooking Facebook pages. Try to stay away from boxed and processed foods. You can make a wholesome meal quickly.
* Share the cooking
Everyone can be involved. Make it a family “event”. Mom doesn’t have to prepare every meal. And sometimes Dad is the one who loves to cook. Great! As long as someone is doing it. Or let each child choose a night of the week to pick the menu and be involved in the shopping and preparing of the meal. I love this idea! Wish I’d heard of it when my kids were at home. I kind of do this now. Once a month I invite our grown kids and their spouses over for MFD (monthly family dinner). I always ask one of them what they’d like me to make. They always pick a childhood favorite. Sometimes I ask them to bring a part of the meal.
* Freezer meals
This is one of my favorite finds! Make a double batch and freeze the other half. It won’t take you any more time to prepare but it will save you a lot of time on another busy or tired day. You might have to rearrange your freezer.
* Set a budget
Do you know how much to spend on groceries? Dave Ramsey recommends 5-15% of your take home pay. Of course the percentage depends on the size of your family and your total income. Do you really want something else more than you don’t want to cook? When we became empty-nesters I spent the first few years demanding that we eat out more because I’d been cooking for 28 years, after all. But when we sat down and figured up how much we’d been spending on eating out, I quickly changed my mind. We were spending hundreds of dollars every month on restaurants and I was throwing away food I had purchased in the grocery budget. So we were spending money on groceries AND eating out. I decided that I wanted to use the money we saved instead for getting out of debt and to be able to stop working at a job that tied me to a schedule. Do I like to cook? Not really. But now I want to spend that money on other things.
Now ladies, I am NOT saying that one should never eat out. We still do. There are times you just can’t make it work to get a meal prepared at home. And sometimes we’re really just so tired that a family meal at a restaurant is just what the doctor ordered. And I have always thought a green salad tastes better when someone else makes it.
But I think eating out should be the exeception, not the rule. It might be a little chaotic getting to the table but once you’re there, take a deep breath, look around at your ‘life’, remember you chose it, give thanks and dig in. Use this time to really get to know your family.
Breathe in the simple. Breathe in the contentment. Breathe in the joy.
Candy blogs: There is a new spirit surrounding Christmas this year, don’t you think? We are finally admitting on a broad scale that we have made this holy holiday into an opportunity for enabling shopping addiction and over indulging our children and justifying a reason for living on more than we bring in. All true.
There has always been a spirit of generosity, too, with gifts and food and money given to those who need it. But this year that part of Christmas has been brought forward. There is a heightened sense of the need to relate to each other on a more meaningful level, a craving for the simple joys, a looking less at ourselves and more at where we can truly make a difference.
I have to admit that I have never pondered Christmas more than I have this year.
In my little family I have a reputation for being a sap. I have tried some different ways of doing these types of things but they have usually met with knowing glances and avoiding eye contact and barely-covered heavy sighs. Ahh, my quality time love language recoils at these responses but you can’t teach a pig to sing. So this year I won’t be overdoing the sappy stuff. I do plan to give meaningful gifts but I won’t be overdoing the commentary that could go along with them. I will let them speak for themselves.
But I don’t have to let the preferences of others change the meaning I find in Christmas. My own personal Christmas … my own personal meaning. As I’ve been decorating the house and listening to Christmas music and pondering the bigness and smallness of his birth, Jesus has whispered His sweet reminders that:
… He made me sappy on purpose and it finds its sweet spot every once in a while.
… In this season of my life I’m not responsible for making Christmas meaningful to anyone else. I am only responsible for living out the meaning I find in it.
There are some physical “things”, though, that are meaningful to me at Christmas. I have several boxes of Christmas stuff but, since our nest became empty several years ago, now I only pull out the REALLY meaningful things.
Here are some of them:
And candles. I love candlelight at Christmas.
If you are struggling this season, worried about not having enough money to give your family the Christmas they’re used to, take this as your opportunity to re-connect to a REAL Christmas. Who needs those toys that get broken or games that are beaten in a month or gadgets that are obsolete as soon as they’re opened? What our families truly need from us is less presents and more presence (Pastor Darrel Wiseman).
How might that look in your family? Popcorn garlands? Singing Christmas carols together or even caroling around the neighborhood? Sharing a favorite meal? Looking at family photo albums? Reading Christmas books and stories together? Attending free community events? Building a snowman? Baking goodies and sharing with neighbors? Going sledding? Hand-made cards? Letters of respect and love in a frame?
There are times you’re meant to receive instead of give.
If you’re not struggling this season, find someone who is and do something about it. Hear Jesus whisper His purposes to you.
Here are some ideas:
Capture and enjoy each Christmas moment. Celebrate His birth.
After all, Christmas changed the world.
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great JOY for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10<a