There have been lean years, and none leaner in our little house at Round Rock than a few years ago.
You may find it odd that i say this, considering all the facts.
There was food in the pantry, a roof over our heads, and the heat pump kept us warm. Our cars were fueled, we each had multiple pairs of shoes, and electricity and running water met us at the flip of a switch or the turn of a tap. There was carpeting on our floors, and dental visits every six months, clothes and a gym membership. We sponsored two children through Compassion International, and placed our check in the offering plate at church.
What grew lean, was us. We were living within the narrow parameters of a budget that kept us credit card debt free on a salary that had just been cut in half.
We home-cooked our own meals, shopped according to coupons and sales, planned our routes to use the least amount of gas, and wore last year’s clothes, and the year’s before, until there was a sheen at knees and elbows and our hairstyles were shabby chic and largely unshorn for months and months at a time.
We were careful. And we talked a lot about how much things cost. And we stopped dreaming. The Plan was to stick to the budget, and the budget never had anything left over.
Somewhere along the way leanness became a hunger, and the hunger became an emptiness.
And i used to pray, just enough, Lord, just enough left over so that i can give. . .give a present. . .And yes, if I’m to be honest, to have one present just for me to anticipate the long December through.
i was raised by a mother who began preparations in the early fall, filled upstairs rooms to the ceiling and closed the doors well before Thanksgiving, so that she delivered Christmas morning in our laps like a cup, filled, pressed down and overflowing.
The ability to give became a hunger in me. In that “lean” year, the year of discipline, fasted soul was weaned off the fat cream of excess and found the delicacy in the simple giving of a “shoebox” through Samaritan's Purse. More than any other year of my life, i learned the privilege and great blessing of beginning the season of giving by laying out the booklet from Compassion and mulling for days with my family over what we chose to send. . .mosquito nets, my Big Guy, insisted. Mosquito nets touched some core in him, and we ordered several to be delivered. For me. . .it was to save one child, one woman, from human trafficking.
In that “lean” year, the year of discipline, Christmas ribboned the rooms, frosted the windows with lights, and bloomed in cinnamon in the kitchen. Angels looked down from the lit tree and the ceramic children played on the sheets of snow in the Snow Village. And we, who are not crafty, planned our homemade gifts and dreamed of ways to create Advent Suspense that would be broken like a fat bubble on Christmas morning and spill something other than wrapping paper dreams over us.
All that long Advent passed, and i bought no present for a sweet heart, wrapped no gift for a dear one, other than a few homemade items. And I, who spiritualize every event no matter how ordinary, and see God’s grace gifts in a raindrop rainbow or the dimple in a beloved’s cheek, never really caught on to why gift giving was not spiritual.
And this is what i have to say, for that was the last year i gave up giving.
If Advent is to teach us anticipation, there must be some symbol, some metaphor, something physical and concrete that touches the heart in some small way to teach us what coming into Heaven will be like.
That, for me, is the Christmas Gift under the Tree.
Do not be beguiled by this world’s mockery of Christmas as “Christian materialism.” It is simply not so, and they are only name-calling.
Do not be shamed into holding back.
God gives. He gives lavishly.
The most extravagant gift He gave was His very own Son. You will never be able to out give that.
And each day, He scatters our paths with gifts.
You are spiritually and genetically wired to be fulfilled by giving. . .and yes, receiving.
And Christmas is His appointed Season, a season for giving.
Begin with the ones who have nothing. . .but let it be in addition to the giving to the poor you do the rest of the year.
Then be the one, who puts an extravagant gift in an envelope for that person who has served you well. . .that hair dresser who changes your whole month with one good hair cut, that young barista at the coffee shop who knows your name and what you usually order. . .that woman in line in front of you at the grocery store who is putting things back because she doesn’t have enough money and her stone faced teenage girl looks into the distance with shame. . .buy her whole daggone bag of groceries, and trust God.
i sometimes suspect a certain amount of selfishness behind this whole parade boycotting Christmas giving (not you, Dear Heart, reading this post. . .i'm talking about those who are just looking for an excuse and who are selfish with their time and money.)
It takes time. . .months. . . to plan, to shop, to wrap, to deliver.
It takes effort to listen and watch others and think what would be pleasing to them.
It takes humility to be the one who gave the gift that flopped.
It takes grace to receive a gift when you have nothing to give back in return.
It takes sacrifice to pay off the debt after Christmas.
There is a depth of Spiritual Discipline in Gift Giving that we profoundly need. We need to stop complaining that Christmas comes too early. We can’t start early enough as far as i am concerned. We are planning for a Season of Joy and Giving when the whole world changes for a few days. . .when strangers talk to you in line, and extravagance is o.k. (“Lobster is his favorite,” one young woman said as the butcher pulled the red claws across the ice. “He’s been really sick with cancer and we’re having his favorite for Christmas dinner.” Lobster in December! Oh the excess and extravagance. . .and the love.) And i am horrified at the Christmas shearing that begins the 26th, like some big hand brushing, “glad its over with” dismissal, and the Christmas lights are boxed and in the attic before New Year's.
Is it not best to begin the New Year in the Light of Christmas?
There are twelve days to Christmas. Twelve beautiful days after the Great Day for the Christmas lights to push away the dark of winter and to blink red and green on the gifts of love, store-bought or home-made. . .Twelve more days, to allow the Holy Family of your Nativity to dwell in the bliss of a new Baby. . .
Oh, the Twelve Days of Christmas. . .my True Love gave to me!
Let us teach ourselves and our children to look at that manger and the Great Heart of the God who gave. . .and learn to give. To give well.
To give sacrificially. To give lovingly. To give joyfully with careful planning and preparation. And to receive gracefully.
This Season of Giving allows us a glimpse
into the tranforming power of the Father’s Generous Heart,
and the preparation and anticipation
provide us a Spiritual Discipline to prepare for and anticipate
the Second Coming of our King.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and comes down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
. . .for God Loves a Joyful Giver.
~2 Corinthians 9:7
The beautiful art on this post is by Trisha Romance, and her website can be found here.