Changing Christmas

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I love Christmas. I love the trees, the lights (though I am looking for lights not made in a sweat shop), the smell of pine, the cookies and the silly movies. I love spending time with family, and I love singing Christmas songs. (O Holy Night is my favorite). What I don’t like is the gift giving.

The American habit of giving too much, particularly to children, is profane. Many do use the excuse of Christmas to buy the things people need – clothes, a replacement item, or a needed tool. I can handle that. Even giving one special gift is welcome and can have great meaning. But for the most part Christmas is consumerism at its worst. I get a bit nauseous Christmas morning when I see children – even children I love and am related to – going from one gift to another with little consideration for any of it, or worse, thinking that they are entitled to such abundance.

In years past, I asked my family for gifts that I could distribute. One year it was trial size deodorant that was particularly needed in the homeless shelter I volunteered at. Thankfully, and to my great delight, my family accommodated this request. Truly I was over the moon about it and felt like I had been given the world.

That is was Christmas should be about: giving gifts that are passed on or shared with others. After all, the entire reason we celebrate is to acknowledge the coming of God as Man in order to reestablish a broken relationship. Shouldn’t that be what we give each year, an opportunity to heal broken relationships?

Whether the gift is tangible, like deodorant, or something more personal like time spent over a meal with a new friend, we should aim to give far more than we receive. A family that is consciously planning to give to others is a far more joyous thing than children rifling through unwanted presents.

This year, I’m trying to think of a way to draw my family into the spirit of giving to others. How can we work together to share our abundance? I don’t have many answers yet, especially since Christmas won’t be spent in my neighborhood where I know how to naturally engage in community. However, I am committed to changing the focus this year, not just for me but for all of us. I don’t expect the change to happen in a moment, but little by little, year after year, I hope to change the focus from consuming to relating and sharing.

How will you change your Christmas?

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For ideas on making a strategic change, visit Advent Conspiracy.

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Surrender

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Over the last week I have been increasingly reminded of my mother. I’ve wanted to ask her so many questions about why she might have done something or what things brought real meaning to her. One reason I think of her is because she loved Christmas. As I was putting up my tree, I sorted through many of the ornaments she once had. Glittering and shiny were her favorites. You should have seen our Christmas tree when I was a kid. It was covered in tinsel and hundreds of lights. We loved it. Now I can’t imagine the clean up, but to my mom that did not matter. That tree glowed!

Another reason I think of her is because of my neighbor who is still dealing with the loss of her trailer and some of her possessions. By normal standards this neighbor has too many possessions even after the fire that took out her porch and kitchen. She is, in fact, a hoarder. Even though she knows that this is not healthy, she would collect things from along the road. She had hopes of fixing them, making them better, giving them to others or selling them. She accumulated much and fixed little.

The hoarding is not what reminds me of my mother, though when it came to Christmas stuff she could definitely put my neighbor to a test. What reminds me of my mother is the overwhelming, persistent dream of “something more.” Always, always my mother dreamt of something just beyond her grasp. Whether it was a family or a career or an education or independence, she was always looking for what she didn’t currently possess, all the while running from God.

I respect and honor people with dreams. Dreamers are people I understand. I have many sound and many foolish dreams myself.  At heart, I am a dreamer or I would not be doing what I do. I see a difference, however,  between other dreamers and my mom and neighbor.  It is their complete inability to achieve their dreams or to find satisfaction in the journey toward the dream. They are always striving, never reaching. Always longing, never satisfying. No contentment. No peace.

I can’t imagine a more hellish existence. There is a cure for unfulfilled dreams, though. I know it. I can tell you what the cure is just as I have my neighbor and as I did my mother. The cure, however, takes a certain ingredient to really work. That ingredient is CHOICE.  You have to want it so much more than you want your dreams and own way, or you must be so dissatisfied with your life that you finally accept the cure. Ultimately, it comes down to your will and your choice.

The cure is that we – you, me, my mother, my neighbor – need to surrender everything – all hopes, dreams and ambitions – to God. Let it all go. That means surrendering control. We must surrender our selfishness and ownership of EVERYTHING.

What then happens is a wiping of the slate. Everything is cleared away. God can now put in mind the dreams HE has for us. He puts on our heart the dreams not just to possess but the dreams to actually achieve. He takes us on a journey of discovery of ourselves and how he wants to use us in this world. In that journey comes the peace in doing God’s will and following his plans. This brings freedom from the need to succeed, because it is not our job to succeed just to follow. It brings freedom from bondage and the things this world would say are important, because we have God’s idea of importance which has nothing to do with things or position. It brings freedom to experiment and try new adventures, because with God he uses our uniqueness to reach the world. We are free to be who God made, and is making, us to be.

For days and weeks I watched for a God-opportunity with my mom. I watched as she struggled with the reality of the cancer and the dire prospects. I watched her long for her cigarettes even when she knew those were the very things that had done this to her. I watched as she longed for her dreams and her own sense of importance. I watched. I prayed. I waited.

Finally, I brought her the truth…again. In the light of her loss, she saw her need for full surrender. I prayed with her and have hope of one day seeing her again.  What I miss now is the opportunity to talk about spiritual things with her. I never had that. But I will one day. It is this ‘missing’ that prompts me like nothing else. I can’t let another person miss the great blessing of following Christ in this world.

With my neighbor, I, and others she trusts, have laid it out. Without full surrender to Christ, her life will continue to be a spiral of chaos and bad choices. With surrender, it won’t mean that things will magically change, but it will transform the situation from “chaos” to “God at work.” Where she currently sees hopelessness and despair, I see opportunity and rebuilding. She sees through the eyes of fear and shattered dreams; I see through God’s eyes for redemption and reconciliation. The assessment of the situation is similar – it’s bad, very bad – but I also know who is waiting for her on the other side. She has yet to discover that. Until then I will watch. I will pray. I will wait with her.

God longs for our surrender. For once we fully surrender, we gain the world.