First, I want to thank Linda for her kind comment on "Straight No Chaser". Your comments got me to thinking about Christmas, what it is, and what makes it meaningful.
This Christmas has been so wholly odd. Robert and I got sick the week after Thanksgiving with a respiratory virus and only started sleeping through the night again a few days before Christmas. Because of the sickness, there were a lot of things not done. I still haven't written our yearly letter that we send out instead of Christmas cards. Some of my best friends received no gifts at all, but they gave wonderful gifts to us anyway. I haven't had the energy or clarity of mind to blog, although I enjoy it. Certain parts of school have had to go by the way side.
It really hasn't been what I try to do, but it was so much more than I had hoped it would be.
As I went into the Christmas season, I prayed a lot. I didn't have much energy to do much more. As I asked how the Lord wanted us to celebrate His birth and life, I found one thing kept coming to mind: invest in people. Invest extravagantly and see the rewards. So I tried to do that.
When I was able to breathe, I took my children shopping individually. We went to breakfast, talked, laughed, and shopped. I didn't give them a spending limit as I often do, but I didn't have to. Each of them had taken time to talk and listen and get Christmas ideas. Each knew what the other's "favorite things" were, and when the credit card was put away and all the receipts signed, they had spent barely over the typical spending limit, and they had equal number of gifts for each other. How is that for a God-thing?
I also took them shopping for their dad, and I watched a 10- and 7-year old walk themselves into exhaustion looking for what they knew was the perfect gift for their dad. We hit multiple stores and walked far more than I ever thought their legs would endure all because they wanted to value their dad and get him exactly what they knew he would like, and he loved his gifts.
I also did something totally out of the ordinary for me. My husband had a list of books he wanted. They were all business books that would be useful for his software company. I told him to just buy them, but he said he was hoping to get them as gifts. Normally, I wouldn't buy things like that as gifts, but I laid it before the Lord, and He said the most wonderful thing. He said to buy all the books because it is a celebration and affirmation of Rob's gifts. "Gifts" being both spiritual and Christmas. By making those books his gifts, I was affirming and investing in Rob's gifts. I didn't realize how much that meant until I saw him just staring at his pile with a look of "oh, wow" when he was done opening them.
Then there was Christmas Eve. Normally, Christmas Eve is a day for cleaning and getting the house right before the family comes in. Not this year. This Christmas Eve the Lord reiterated, "Invest extravagantly in people, and you'll reap wondrous rewards." So we invested.
--First thing in the morning, we made sugar cookie dough and put it in the fridge.
After we cleaned up from that, I pulled out the paints, brushes, and water cups, and we painted ornaments.
--While they dried, Anna made fudge.
--Then Rob ran off to the story for last minute things and a friend came by with her two children for a gift swap. When she called and asked to come by, I thought, "I have so much to do," but the Lord reminded me that His admonishments to the Pharisees and Sadducees had nothing to do with their floors but rather their lack of commitment to people. So I told her to come on over. Let's play. She did, and our talk was wonderful, and I loved it.
--After our friends left, Anna and I made a pumpkin cake and baked it.
--While it was cooling, we rolled out the sugar cookie dough and cut out cookies. Rob guarded the oven to make sure none burned while the children and I rolled and cut and shrugged when things didn't work quite right.
--When the cookies were done, I cleaned the kitchen...again. Anna made frosting for the pumpkin cake, and frosted it.
--We had dinner.
--I pulled out a bag of powdered sugar, milk, sprinkles of every sort, paint brushes (saved only for baking), every container of food coloring I owned, and at least a dozen small bowls. The children and I made all colors of "paint" imaginable, and the family sat down to decorate cookies. By the time we were done, we had some wonderful works of art.
--We set up a plate for sometimes-we-believe-in-him-and-sometimes-not Santa.
--We had our family altar time, prayed, and sent the children off to bed.
--As Rob and I watched It's a Wonderful Life and waited for enough quiet to wrap the children's presents without intrusion, the phone rang. It was friends. Could they come carol us? The kids were in bed...it would wind them up again...I wanted to get to sleep at a descent time..."Of course you can. We'd love it." Ten minutes later, we were sitting on our porch wrapped in blankets listening to some of the most divine Christmas music I've ever heard.
--When our friends left, the children were excited all over again. My husband was shaking his head smiling, and I was convinced it just doesn't get any better than this.
After the children had wound down again, we pulled out the wrapping paper and the gifts, watched George Bailey stare at the parade of people who loved him as he realized simply being part of folks' lives and investing in them is powerful, and cried (I cried. Rob did not cry, but he held the Kleenex box for me).
We did all the Santa-that-the-children-aren't-ready-to-give-up things and placed the gifts under the tree. We were ready for Christmas.
Then I looked around the house. There was so much not done. The floors had not been swept or vacuumed. Nothing was dusted. I didn't know if I had scrubbed the toilet. And the Lord spoke quietly, "You can give them a clean house, or you can give them you." I went to bed.
Christmas Day, my folks and my brother came down. We had lunch, opened gifts, and played games. My mom helped my son build things with his wood (very cool gift from Uncle Raymond), and three generations played dominoes together at the table. No one noticed the entryway had not been swept or the carpets not vacuumed. No one even commented that they could sign their name in the dust on my mantel. Instead, as they left late that afternoon, they all said it was a wonderful day and they loved it. "We need to do this again soon." Yes, we do.
And what deep meaningful things did I learn?
--A 7-year old hammering with his grandma makes a great picture.
--Memories of painting and decorating cookies lasts long after the cookies are gone. I shouldn't be skimpy on making either.
--Love is what causes someone to give gifts to people who don't have the ability to give in return. It was that way with the first Christmas, and it remains so today.
--Gifts are treasures of wonder when we have the sense to accept them as expressions of love instead of worrying about whether they are what we wanted or hoped for.
--If I stay focused on the joy a person brings, I will find the same joy in whatever they give me in a box, and I will remember that joy every time I look at that gift.
--It is better to gather dust on the mantel than dust on relationships.
So, yes, for me, Christmas was tremedously meaningful. I was shown in so many ways that the best gift we can give anyone is showing them they are valuable. We talk about the first Christmas being all about a Gift. We miss it. Simply giving gifts is about performance, but when you start giving value, then it becomes about people, and that means everything.