This Little Light of Mine

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Day two of dreary dampness here on the tundra. Folks in my neck of the northern plains can’t really complain though since we’ve been dodging the cold and snow more typical of this time of year. And yet, a sadness looms. Hearts are heavy as grief tries to inch some folks closer to despair. The world fallen. Cruelty, anger and suspicision create a fog that can be difficult to see through.

At least this is how I feel at the moment. Sad for lives lost. Frustrated by injustice. Fearful for the future.

I do not like to feel this way. I search for joy. For hope. I hug my kiddos. And admittedly, I am more excited than ever, at least since I was a child, to prepare my heart and home for Christmas. Truly a season of hope. Seriously, what is taking Thanksgiving so long to get here? I’m ready to get this holiday season started!

I will not grumble about dragging the boxes of decorations from storage. I will not lament a crowded grocery store. I will bake cookies and wrap presents and shine a light in the darkness. I do have power to be a joy-bringer. I may not be able to end the cruelty of hardened hearts or eliminate injustice. But I can offer hope, comfort and kindness to those living near me on this little patch of earth.

I can write notes of encouragement.

I can visit the lonely.

I can prepare food for the hungry.

I can do that thing where I offer to pay for the take-out order of the guy behind me in the drive-through line.

I can be forgiving to family members who irritate me.

I can be gentle with my children.

I can stop wishing for things to be easy and pray for the strength to tackle what is difficult.

I can pray for peace.

I can speak truth in love.

I can write a blog post that says you are loved. Because you are.

I can sing songs to God because I’m reminded of something so profound in a section of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s terrific book, Pastrix, where she says, “Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we can stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim… that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Be a light for someone today my friends.

 

Standard

Gift Giving Doesn’t Make You a Materialist

For years, I’ve heard well-meaning folks lament the commercialization and materialism associated with Christmas. Heck, I’ve even joined the chorus of those who’ve vowed to cut back or cut out gift giving lest anyone get the idea I’ve bought in or sold out. But this thought process can devolve into actually hoping you don’t receive any gifts so you won’t feel obligated to return the gesture. In order to justify a sanctimonious abhorrence of elevating materialism above spirituality, you might even find yourself saying things like, “She doesn’t really need anything,” or “I can’t afford to buy everybody a gift.”

But generosity is at the very heart of God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who says we have to buy gifts at Christmas? Some of the best gifts I’ve received have been of the homemade variety; things like spiced nuts, candy, cookies and granola. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to give a gift. Gifts of service are equally nice. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or offer to babysit. “We love because He first loved us.”

Gift giving does take a bit of thought and planning, which is another thing some folks complain about. I know you’re busy. We are all busy. But if I’m honest, being too busy to think about, purchase, make or wrap a gift is really just my way of saying, “I’d rather do anything else besides something special for you.” Maybe we should re-read the old tale, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and let the notion of self-sacrifice sink in a bit before we get all uppity about gift giving.

Not a crafter or cook? Well, a store bought gift need not be expensive. The old adage, “It’s the thought that counts,” still counts. Let me clarify: scooping up a cache of crap only to decide later who gets each of our hastily purchased do-dads does not constitute being thoughtful. Being thoughtful requires us to pay attention, to listen and to take note of what gives others joy and then selecting gifts accordingly. Being thoughtful does not require us to overthink it or be anxious about choosing the perfect thing. It’s not a contest. And if it’s not perfect, be comforted in knowing that being generous or charitable is not a waste of time or money.

Inexpensive yet thoughtful gifts can include things like:

  • Books!–Fiction, non-fiction, picture books, cookbooks, etc. There are books for every interest imaginable.
  • Food and Wine–A bottle of wine or spirits, a bag of specialty coffee, a jar of honey, a box of chocolates or even a single serving of some scrumptious delight can hardly be a fail. Everybody eats.
  • Little luxuries–Hand lotion, nail polish, lip balm, hand warmers, socks or a gift basket containing a variety of similar items.

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

(Got a family too big to buy for? A friend recently shared with me how her family members pitch in to create one large charitable donation each year. Family members select the charity of choice on a rotating basis. What a great idea! Group support of charitable giving not only makes such a gesture more fun for everybody; it prevents you from seeming weird by being the only one making charitable donations in lieu of giving gifts.)

What not to do:

  • Buy items you love without giving any thought as to whether the recipient will also love it.
  • Try to be overly “helpful.” No exercise equipment, self-help books or nicotine gum unless you’re certain these types of items will be appreciated. Certain means you’ve heard it said. Certain is not, “I’m certain so-in-so needs this.”
  • Yammer on about a gift’s cost or how much stress was involved in finding or selecting it. Our exasperation kinda sucks the recipient’s joy out of receiving a gift.
  • Be ungrateful about any gift you receive. Wish lists are a guide, not a directive or command.

Let’s just say I’m back in the gift giving camp. To my mind, the lavishness of department store displays, homes drenched in Christmas lights and abundant feasts during the holidays need not be perceived as sinfully decadent. Take it in. Soak it up. Give generously without a grudging heart. Let all of the holiday excess wash over you as a reminder of the overwhelming outpouring of love and grace lavished on the world by a loving God who sent his son that first Christmas morning. Let the good news of great joy for all the people fill your heart with the sweet assurance of knowing how much you are loved. Share the love. Give a gift.

*Do you have great gift ideas or family traditions? Please share your thoughts about generosity and gift giving in the comments. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

Standard

Inspired by Joy

Photo by Emily J. Davis

Photo by Emily J. Davis

As editor of Edina Magazine, I often get to meet interesting and inspiring people. One such person is Elvi Bankey, who has been collecting antique Christmas ornaments for nearly 30 years. She agreed to an interview and also agreed to set up most of her holiday display over two months in advance of Christmas so that we could photograph her collection for the magazine. I’m not sure I would have been so accommodating, especially when it comes to all the work involved in decorating for for the holidays.

I learned lots from Elvi about the history of various Christmas ornaments, AND what it looks like to live with a true Christmas spirit. Elvi loves Christmas. She embraces decorating for the season with joy; unlike me, who tends to groan at the mention of dragging out boxes of ornaments and manger scenes. Read about Elvi’s antique ornament collection here and then maybe join me in a pledge–I promise to try to see the holiday season through Elvi’s eyes–joyful, appreciative, loving and expectant. Thank you Elvi. You are an inspiration!

Standard

What Are You Waiting For?

Image

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Some people cringe at the notion of December being treated as merely a collection of shopping days. Although kids love those light-up lawn ornaments that count down the days until Christmas.  And before you get too cynical, pause for a moment and maybe consider the enchantment of seeing a child quiver with excitement as he or she anticipates Christmas Day.

Kids actually have the right idea. Their anticipation grasps at a thread unraveled from a garment of hope. On what kids should focus their lens of hope may require some parental guidance. But their enthusiasm is to be emulated, not squelched.

I am not advocating over the top consumerism or teaching kids that Christmas is all about the gifts. But the days of December do brim with a certain anticipation. A longing for fulfillment. To celebrate the arrival of that which brings true joy and will at last ease our anxiety, pain and brokenness.

The name for this season of waiting is called Advent. It is quite literally a time of preparing for a great celebration.

Beginning yesterday, December 1, and running through December 24, we wait. But not just for an Xbox One or for the booze to kick in to provide enough liquid motivation to stage some elf on the shelf high jinks.

We wait for peace, for joy, for restoration of this whacked out world and its relationship to the creator. We prepare to celebrate a birth that changed the course of history. We also wait, prepare for, long for, the completion of what that birth set in motion. His return.

So go ahead and shop. Put up the tree and wrap the gifts. But consider adding an Advent wreath or Advent calendar to your December days – something tangible to help you focus on what it is you’re truly waiting for. Get the kids involved in special moments that mark the days until the BIG DAY. Read Advent devotions and say Advent prayers at dinnertime, at bedtime, or while you wait in line at Wal-Mart. Especially while you’re in line at Wal-Mart. Ask God to remind us what we truly wait for so that we might brim with the genuine anticipation of a giggling child at Christmastime.

Look up. Open up. Get excited. Get prepared. Advent is here. And a gift most worthy of waiting for has come and is coming again.

Standard