The Value of the Gift Increases with the Anticipation

I grew up in a ‘wake up first thing and open presents in your pjs’ kind of family.  My little brother and I rarely overslept.  Having the love language of gifts, my father (and therefore us) found great delight on Christmas day.

How could I forget the year my requested Barbie dream house sat next to the piano? Or the year we discovered two full-size go-carts in our living room?

One particular Christmas we sat around in pjs and misplaced hair, wrapping paper strewn across the floor, the frantic excitement had worn off and the reality of missed sleep kicked in.  My father walked around the couch picking up the pieces of paper discarded hastily in the unwrapping ritual. Then I heard him say, “Well, what’s this bag doing here? It’s awfully heavy. Did Santa forget to put all the presents under the tree?”

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My little brother and I shot right up, adrenaline pulsing back through our tired little bodies. “What? More presents? From Santa? Really?”.  Our chipper questions and Tigger-like bouncing brought a smile to my dad’s face. Off to the side, my college-age brother sat, “too cool” to be giddy over Santa’s bag.

My father reached inside the bag and handed me a reasonably large box. Ripping off the paper I saw the face of Samantha, an American Girl doll staring back at me. “Thank you, oh thank you! She is beautiful (in my memory I gushed gratitude).”

The reason that Christmas stood out was more than just the expensive gifts. It was time and energy my dad put into the giving.  The excitement and surprise of finding a gift behind the couch.

Advent, counting from Dec 1st to the 25th means more than remembering the day a Savior was born, the first gift. Advent is a counting down to remembering He is coming again. The arrival of the tiny baby marked the start of the Church age. From Christ 1st coming until His second coming, we are in the middle of a time when our main purpose is to spread His good news.

“let us give our time, our strength, our money, our days to the mission distinctively committed to the Church, namely, to make the Lord Jesus Christ known ‘to every creature’!”~ C.I.Scofield

 

Jesus came, died, & rose again. Then He sent us a Helper, the Holy Spirit, so we can tell others about His coming, dying and rising again. Our main job living in this period of time is to keep living the good news and sharing the good news in anticipation of the greatest gift to come, eternal life with our risen Savior.

Because as great a gift of salvation and His first coming; the next big gift we receive is life forever in His presence. No more tears. Lions lying down with lambs. No more death.  No more brutal murders of innocent children. Just praising the King of all the Kings.

How will I spend this season of waiting for His second coming?

Will I be like Jovie in the movie “Elf” who responds to Buddy’s excitement over all things Christmas with, “I’m just trying to get through the holidays.”

Am I just trying to get through this life here on earth? I’ve already got my ticket to heaven so I’m just biding my time until I arrive on streets of gold?

Or am I as excited as Buddy to talk about my favorite things and to spread cheer?

Am I a “Buddy the Elf” believer or a “humbug” Christian?

My greatest Christmas memories were opening the presents that involved more time and skill to prepare.  Similarly the struggle and anticipation of time here on earth brings value to the gift of eternal life.

H. Clay Trumbull tells the story in“Hints on Child Training” book about a man who created a hunt for his nieces and nephews one Christmas morning.  They awoke to limp stockings and no box in sight. Upon further examination they found their stockings were not empty after all. Inside rested a little card attached to a little thread strung across the mantel. On the little card a little rhyme written by hand: “Follow this string throughout the house, wherever it goes-you will come to a pretty thing.”

“Every child stood holding a frail thread, wondering to what it would lead, and waiting the signal for a start.  At the word, all were off together…they led hither and thither, the children following, almost holding their breaths with the excitement of pursuit and expectation.”

Each string led back eventually to one great room. In the middle of the room were mammoth cardboard boots full of presents. And the children each sat by a boot and carefully opened one present at a time.

“It matters not, whether the home be one of abundance or close limitations, whether the gifts be many or few, costly or inexpensive…(You) must give (yourself) with (your) gifts, thus imitate and illustrate, in a degree, the love of Him who gave Himself to us.”

The greatest gift is yet to be opened for those believers here on earth. May you enjoy and treasure the anticipation of opening the gift, which is meant to satisfy all your longings.

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The Weekend I Babysat my Boys

The first time Bruce mentioned going duck hunting with guys from work I said “no way”. I actually used harsher words than that, but “no way” was the generally theme of my response. There are only so many weekends leading up to Christmas and I didn’t want to “waste” a single one.

This particular weekend we were invited to a fun Christmas party on Friday night with the kids and then a real-deal grown-up Christmas party on Saturday night. My desire to go to those parties trumped my desire for my husband to go hunting (btw…hunting does not fit the normal profile husband. He has never actually been duck hunting before…just so you keep the right image of him in your mind. ;)).

But when Quade woke up sick Friday morning, my plans for the weekend changed…completely. There would be no fun parties. If there would be no fun parties maybe Bruce should get a fun weekend away. So I made the offer and he took me up on it. Phone calls were made immediately. I watched him excitedly pack a bag and figure out what he would need for a “duck hunt”.

While he packed I decided that in order to enjoy my next 48 hours with the boys I would need to take on a temporary persona. I would no longer be “mommy”…I would be “the babysitter”. Because babysitters play games. Babysitters don’t have to worry about the way kids turn out. Babysitters have fun & keep kids safe.

When I picked up Price from school I shared the news with the crew. While daddy was gone I would be their babysitter. The boys decided to call me “Megan”, because Megan is my friend who showers them with love…and candy. 😉

As Megan my first move was to get fast food for lunch. After naps we played games. That led to the oldest two boys writing the books “How a Car Works” & “How a Dinosaur Got Born”…which they then illustrated and “published”. writing books

The next meal scheduled was pizza (because a babysitter is not concerned with dietary needs). While eating we watched the “Christmas Carol”.  Day one completed. 

The next day started with more Christmas movies (this time “Santa Clause”). While they giggled at Tim Allen antics, I cooked a big breakfast. Unfortunately it took a little longer than I’d planned. They became a little hungrier and grouchier. By the time I presented them with these fun pancakes, they quickly ate them rather than praised them.

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(But you think they are cool, right? That feeds my “super mommy” ego.)

While Knox napped that morning we had hot chocolate and cookies…at 9 am. Sure did.

But I usually don’t let hot chocolate moments go by without a little Bible lesson. As we picked out mini-marshmallows from our cups, I read the four days we had missed from our Jesse Tree devotions.

One thing I really wanted to do with the boys that Saturday was an idea of first learned about while researching for an article I wrote for the MOB Society blog–> “Better to Give than Receive” (over there today).

Last year, Courtney DeFeo, a mom of two little girls, decided she was fed up with all the expectations and busyness of the holiday season. She didn’t love the message she was sending her daughters about what Christmas was all about. So she decided they would focus on everyone else around them and “light up” a stranger through kindness. She started“Light em up!” (Families Light up the Community with Kindness). 

She has a list of 100 different activities to do with your kids. The boys and I sat down at the table and looked through the list. We picked out the couple we wanted to do. I printed off labels and gathered supplies.

Then I made the crazy decision to take all 4 boys to Toys ‘R Us…on a saturday…before Christmas. Um, yeah. I’m not a huge fan of the attitudes that emerge when surrounded by shelves and shelves of toys. Suddenly they become “I-want-give-it-to-me-now” monsters. Each time they asked for a toy I said, “add it to your list” (a list I prayed they would never remember).

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After an hour of picking out Christmas gifts for nieces and nephews, birthday gifts for friends and ways to spend their own money, my head hurt from all the consumerism. Standing in line to check out I kept reminding Watts not to run out the automatic doors. As I counted the big boys’ dollar bills and quarters to pay for their toys, Watts started pushing Knox in the cart out those same automatic doors (grabbed him just in time).

With receipt in hand we made our exit from Toyland, Then I remembered the “Light ’em up” ideas we had prepared for. I reached in my diaper bag and pulled out our kit. Suddenly the boys “give me” attitude changed. They were fighting over who got to tape the money to the gumball machine. 

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Then Price said, “I want to give a candy cane to the lady we paid our money to.” He snatched the cane from my hand and ran towards the cashier. I caught this picture afterward. I love not only the smile on her face, but the looks of those waiting in line. You see how kindness grows? How it surprises people? Because “selfishness” is the norm and giving is surprising. 

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The same boy who was standing in line in the picture, came out to see what we were doing. He asked, “Why are you giving away money?” I told him, “God gave us the greatest gift when He gave us His Son. So at Christmas we thought we would give gifts.” 

When we walked to our car at the far end of an over-crowded parking lot, my boys were beaming. Not from the toys they had purchased but from the joy they just witnessed. They had been bit by the giving bug…and they wanted more. “Mommy, can we give him a candy cane? When can we do that again!” 

“Remember my name isn’t mommy, it’s Megan.” 😉 

Few Favorites Friday: Christmas edition

Here are some of my favorites from the past week with family:

1. Children’s Museum of Houston

The Children’s Museum of Houston is wonderful! It is so amazing that we actually went twice in one week. If you are ever in Houston I would HIGHLY recommend taking your children. Even having gone twice we barely did everything they had available. The exhibits are perfectly designed for curious minds (and hands).

Boys loved “kidville” with a real grocery store, bank, newsroom, police station, ambulance, bike shop and vet’s office.

Here are a couple 2-year olds learning about the molecular structure of water. =)

The face painting station was a big hit.

Of course we had to make the reindeer clothes pin craft! (note the two Spidermen with me).

2. S’mores 

A MacFadyen family tradition is to light the fire pit, cook marshmallows and enjoy s’mores.

Fortunately we had a beautiful evening to enjoy this tradition (while attempting to keep all children safe and alive!).

This little guy was most interested in eating the Hershey chocolate!

3. Candlelight Christmas Eve Service

A definite highlight for me was the Candlelight Christmas Eve service we attended. It was the perfect length for children with a nativity play the children from the church performed. Interspersed with the play were the classic Christmas Carols. The boys loved it. This was the first year all 3 boys held their own candle…big milestone! The Light of the World!!

4. Superhero & Santa pjs Christmas morning

Another family tradition is to give all the grandkids matching pjs to wear Christmas morning. This year the boys all wore santa pjs and the girls wore elf pjs, both from Crazy 8.

This year my hubby and I joined in the fun with our own special pjs. Given the season of life we are in, we felt “wonder woman” and “superman” pjs were appropriate. Get your own pair of wonder woman pjs by clicking on this link.

5. Formal Family Pictures

We successfully captured 10 children aged 7 and under in one picture…all looking adorable and at the camera!! With a little Photoshop these wonderful photographers (MD Turner Photographers) were able to put together a pic with all kids smiling!

6. Sea World

We fit in a fun little trip to San Antonio this week and visited Sea World. A favorite from this visit was my two youngest first time on a “real” roller coaster.

My 2-yr-olds favorite was meeting all his Sesame Street friends.

I loved observing our kids and their cousins watch the shows.

We were also very impressed with the inclusion of the Christian version of Christmas at Sea World. The Shamu show was filled with traditional Christmas Carols. Even as we were leaving the park they were performing beautiful carols…”O Holy Night”, “Away in a Manger”, “Silent Night” AND my youngest son’s favorite…”Joy to the World”.  Which we have now re-named: “Joy to the (Sea) World.” (love how he shakes his head as he belts out the last word of the song).

Edible Christmas Wreaths

Instead of putting this in my few favorites friday post I thought I would make it its own post so you could find it easily and maybe make some this week with your children!

Christmas wreaths were a staple holiday treat at our house growing up. They are basically a Cornflake version of rice krispie treats.

The ingredients are:

  • 1/4 cup of butter (1/2 stick)
  • 10 oz of mini-marshmallows
  • green food coloring
  • 5 cups of cornflakes
  • cinnamon red hots
  •  (wax paper & a little more butter when forming the wreaths)

I like to start by laying out a couple of sheets of wax paper and keep a Tbsp of butter available, next to the wax paper…so that once I’ve made the mixture I’m ready to make the wreaths.

Melt the 1/2 stick of butter & 10 oz of marshmallows in a large pot on the stove, stirring constantly to keep marshmallows from burning. 

Once melted turn off the heat and add food coloring to desired “greenness”.

Then stir in the 5 cups of cornflakes. 

The key is to form the wreaths while the marshmallow/cornflake mixture is still warm and before it gets stringy. Also it’s important to coat your hands in a little butter to keep the mixture from sticking to you (I take off my wedding rings so they don’t get yucky!).

Place wreaths on the wax paper and have your children place red hots on the wreath (you can put the red hots in groups of 3 if you want to look like holly or just let them do it more haphazardly). 

Let them cool and then enjoy!!

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Believing like Buddy the Elf

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In Dallas the struggle for those who claim to be “Christians”, isn’t persecution, it’s living in a way that is “set apart”. A lot of people attend church in Dallas but very few live in a way that would show they served a different God.

One night at Bible study we discussed this idea. How do we as moms who love God wholeheartedly and want to serve Him make Him known in a community where it seems everyone goes to church, is involved in humanitarian efforts, and may even be in a Bible study?

I’ve lived in places like San Francisco where wearing a ring with a cross on it was making a bold statement for Christ. Let alone attending church each week. It was easy to be “set apart”. Believing in God was enough to make me different in that community.

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One of our family’s favorite Christmas movies is “Elf” with Will Farrell playing the main character “Buddy”. Buddy is a human who was raised by Papa Elf in the North Pole. One day when he struggled with not belonging in the elf world…not fitting in. His adopted father told him about his biological dad and how to find him in New York City.

What we love about Buddy is his enthusiasm and childlike-faith in all things Christmas. There is no doubt in his mind that Santa exists because he knows Santa. There is joy in all things related to Santa and Christmas. Most importantly he is determined in everything he does to share that passion with others.

At the end of the movie, Santa’s sleigh is broken and the one way to make it fly is if more people would believe in Santa. Here are the different ways that changed hearts to believe:

  1. Knowing Buddy well, they were “won over” by his enthusiasm
  2. Presenting tangible evidence (showing Santa’s list)
  3. Sharing in the joy of singing together–emotional experience
  4. Seeing Santa for themselves

Buddy was “set apart” in New York City. Everything he did (even how he dressed) was different. He whole-heartedly believed in something. He didn’t believe begrudgingly. He believed with enthusiasm, joy and passion. He couldn’t help but share his love with others.

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How do we stand out in our own communities? Do we have that kind of passion & joy for our God?

Our God is so much more amazing than the “god” that Buddy believed in. Our God doesn’t make toys and deliver them in one night. Our God created the entire universe! Our God saw us in our sinful state and instead of condemning us, he was gracious enough to send His own son to die for us (John 3:17). That’s something to celebrate!

Why don’t we share God with those around is in a way that draws them to His heart? Why do we act like Christianity is a burden? Why do we allow the activities to take away our joy instead of doing them out of joy?

How are we “set apart”?

We can believe like Buddy:

  • Know God intimately (can only be passionate about a person we know)
  • Grasp the miracle of all He has done for us…be in awe
  • Know the tangible evidence of God’s great story…be knowledgable
  • Everything we do should be consumed with our love for Him
  • Not concerned with what others think
  • Enter conversations with innocence and assume the best of others
  • “The best way to spread (Christian) cheer, is singing loudly for all to hear”

Maybe one way we can stand apart, particularly during the holidays is to SMILE!

“I like smiling. Smiling is my favorite”(Buddy the Elf)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

5 Tips for Enjoying Christmas with Young Kids

Yesterday I found myself slightly dreading the arrival of Christmas. You may also feel overwhlemed or stress. It was 2 years ago when my 3rd son was a newborn that I found myself crying at a Christmas party…normal life was hard then the added demands of the holiday season made it unbearable. But through that challenging year I made some changes.

I thought I would take a second to remind myself & share with you what helps keep this great holiday under control & focused on the “Reason for the Season”.

1. Ask your kids what matters to them

Instead of feeling like you have to go to every holiday concert, activity, crafttime, party, etc. Sit down at dinner one night and ask your kids what their favorite holiday traditions are. If they remember it from last year and enjoyed it, then it’s worth doing it again.

My kids’ favorites are: the downtown Christmas parade, the Lionel train set at our local mall, visiting Santa, making Christmas cookies, and watching Christmas movies. Another one of their favorites is…

2. Find an advent that works for your family

Advent, from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming”, is a formal way to expectantly wait and prepare for the coming celebration of the nativity, birth of Christ, at Christmas.

There are a lot of different options out there for advent. We have used a set that my sister made for her kids called “The Family Promise Tree”. The creator of it, Cherie Steuerwald, adapted it from the Jesse Tree, which has been around since the 60s. The booklet that she wrote to go with the daily ornaments, has a short poem with hand motions, story lesson and memory verse. 

It starts at Genesis in the Bible and works through God’s promise to send His Son to deliver us from sin. Each day tells a story from the Bible (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist) leading to the arrival of Jesus…the Promised Child. It’s a simple advent and it works for us.

Another option we are going to try this year is brand new…”Truth in the Tinsel” by Impress Your Kids.

 I met Amanda at Relevant and she shared this idea with me. I love it because:

  • hands-on crafted ornaments for each day
  • tells the nativity story
  • adapted schedules for busy moms (if you can’t craft everyday in December)
  • one page supply list (most of which you probably already have).
  • super cute book layout

The key is to find what works best for your family. Low stress. Fun. Then the truth of the miracle of “God with us” can be shared with your children.

3. Fewer, more meaningful gifts

Our boys have so many toys. So. many. toys. Last year I heard about giving them gifts according to this little rhyme/categories and I loved it. You give them 4 things:

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

I decided that what they really need is typically clothes. So instead of the “wear” category, I inserted a “something made”. (want, need, made read). Last year I made my eldest a crocheted blanket, my middle a superhero cape, & my youngest a little handheld blankie.

This year with Pinterest I think I’m going to make a couple pillowcases for the older boys and a fort kit for my youngest…but if it becomes overwhelming I’ll forget about it.  

4. Order Christmas Cards from Hallmark.com

The last three years I have ordered our cards from www.Hallmark.com. I typically order a postcard (less paper/less cost) with our family picture on the front. The best part is that Hallmark  will address and mail them for me. I keep all my address in an excel spreadsheet. All I have to do is upload the spreadsheet to their website and for no additional charge (just cost of stamps) they will address & mail the cards for me.

 I know it’s not as personal as handwriting the addresses but this is the season of life that I am in. Most people just want to get a cute picture and update of your family.

5. Let go of “perfect”

Once we had young kids around I had to let go of all my expectations of a “perfect” Christmas. I had to realize that in my attempts to make it all perfect, my stress & attitude were far from “perfect”. So I put up fewer decorations around the house…only those things that are important to me (nativity set) and the kids (stockings & tree). I have the boys join me even if it means Martha Stewart may frown at our results. To me a perfect Christmas is perfectly imperfect!

What does your family do to simplify and enjoy Christmas?

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