Good Gifts

I’m sure the neighbors heard my oldest daughter jumping up and down and screaming on Christmas morning. Unbeknownst to this Santa, the other Santa in our house purchased and placed a tablet computer beneath the tree.

If you remember this post, you’ll know how much my daughter wanted a tablet for Christmas. I had told her not to be disappointed when there wasn’t one under the tree. So, imagine both her and my surprise when we opened the last present under the tree, addressed to everyone, and found a tablet.

It’s always fun when our wishes get fulfilled. We react with joy and enthusiasm. We’re excited, and we feel special.

God sometimes surprises us with the unexpected. Like my daughter, we ask for something, but we don’t think we’ll receive it. When we do, we act surprised that God could and would give us what we asked for.

We really shouldn’t be surprised, though, when God provides what we need or want. God wants us to have an abundant life. He wants our lives to be filled with the joy of knowing that He can and does provide. God isn’t Santa Claus. He doesn’t simply give us everything our little brains can dream up. He provides what we need and gives us what’s best for us. But He hears our requests, and He loves to give us what we need.

Matthew 7:9-11 says “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” God wants us to ask Him for what we want. He wants to give us good gifts. And we shouldn’t be surprised when He gives them to us.

Help your kids understand that God wants to give us good gifts. The next time your kids ask for something small, surprise them by giving it to them. Talk about how getting that gift made them feel. Explain that we can ask God for the things that we need — from good grades at school to healing an illness to guidance in a decision. When we ask God for something, we should be prepared for Him to answer our request. Talk with your kids about how God never leaves a request unanswered. Even when He says no, God still answers. Talk with your kids about how God loves to give us good gifts. Share Matthew 7:9-11 with your kids. Sometimes those gifts come in a different form than we expect, but God always gives us good things.

The next time you or your kids ask God for something, don’t be surprised when He answers.

 

Three Gifts

We exchanged Christmas gifts with my parents at their house last night. My youngest daughter was so excited because my parents had gotten her a remote-control yellow Camaro. She has been asking for a remote-control Camaro for months. To have it show up underneath the tree was bliss.

We were finishing up a game of Pictionary on the Wii when my youngest came up the steps with her car and remote control in hand. She set them in the chair and burst into sobs. Looking over, I saw the antenna for the remote control — in two pieces.

My daughter was distraught. It took me half an hour to persuade her the broken antenna was not the end of the world. She was upset that the antenna was broken, but she was most upset that this gift that my parents had chosen for her was in pieces. Despite the fact that we can replace the antenna, my daughter was upset that her special gift was broken.

I know my parents searched high and low for the “perfect” remote-control car for my daughter. They checked out remote-control cars online and in stores. They pondered the features and asked the salesperson for help. This was not a gift that was an afterthought. It was a considered, well-researched purchase.

Gifts are special when they are given with the recipient in mind. The wise men in the account of Jesus’ birth knew this. Matthew 2:11 says “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

Now, gold, frankincense and myrrh might seem like strange gifts to bring a baby, but the wise men knew their recipient. When we look at these gifts, we can learn a lot about gift-giving from the Magi.

Gold. They brought a gift that recognized Jesus’ true nature. Gold represented royalty. By presenting Jesus with gold, the wise men were acknowledging His status as King of Kings.

When we give gifts, we want to acknowledge the recipient’s true nature. We want to choose things that appeal to the recipient’s likes and interests. I wouldn’t give my older daughter a skirt for a gift because she’s more of a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. When we choose gifts with the recipient’s true nature in mind, we let him know that we value him.

Frankincense. The Magi brought a gift of sacrifice. Frankincense was burned on the altar in the Old Testament as a sacrifice to God. The gift of frankincense acknowledged that Jesus would become a sacrifice.

We, too, can give a gift of sacrifice. We can give gifts that require a sacrifice of time or something else that’s important to us. When we give a gift that requires a sacrifice of some kind, we let the recipient know that we think she is worth giving up something for. Gifts of sacrifice can be small or large. You can give a friend the gift of baby-sitting once a week, or you can give your kids’ friends an outing with you as the chaperone. You can give up  your daily cup of coffee to buy your friend a special gift. Gifts that require sacrifice are precious and priceless.

Myrrh. The wise men brought a gift that looked to the future. Myrrh was a resin used in the embalming process. By giving Jesus myrrh, the Magi were looking toward the future when Jesus would die and be raised again.

Whether it’s a toy that grows with a child or an investment in a college fund, give gifts that look to the future. From music lessons to teaching cooking skills, think about giving gifts that teach a skill that will last. These types of gifts may stick with a child for a lifetime, even as they are fun now.

Help your kids choose gifts for others based on what the wise men gave. Make gift-giving a considered exercise, not a mad dash through the store. Gifts that are given with thought and planning make the recipient feel special.

The wise men knew a lot about gift giving. Follow their lead this year and give gifts that recognize the recipient’s nature, require a sacrifice and look to the future. You might still have some broken antennas, but you’ll also have gifts that last much longer.

For more practical ways to get your kids  focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori’s new e-book  Everyday Christmas. It’s available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF  file.

Good Gifts Require Thought

There are four shopping days left until Christmas. The hustle and bustle of this season is quickly winding down. We still have parties to attend, celebrations to host and presents to buy. I’ll be taking the girls out to finish their Christmas shopping today.

Shopping with my oldest is a breeze. She usually knows exactly what she wants and chooses something quickly. Shopping with my youngest is a different story. Let’s just say you’d best have lots of time on your hands. She wants to consider all the options, then make a decision. My oldest does all her thinking before we leave home. My youngest does all of her thinking in the store aisle.

No matter how we do our thinking, the best gifts are the ones that we’ve thought about — the ones that we’ve painstakingly chosen. God spent thousands of years thinking about His gift for us. He came up with a plan for redemption way back when Adam and Eve first sinned. He spent thousands of years getting us ready for that gift. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God sent Jesus as a gift to us, then he wrapped Him in an unexpected package.

My mom likes to put little gifts in big packages. She disguises the shape of what you’re getting by putting it in an unusual package. God did that. He sent the Savior of the world to earth — not as a king — but as a baby.

As we shop for gifts this year, remember that God put a lot of thought into His Christmas gift to us. Even though it didn’t come in the “package” many people were expecting, it is the best present we could ever receive.

Help your kids understand the unusual “wrapping” God put on Jesus and the time and planning that went into His gift.

  • Take your kids shopping for a gift for someone else. While your child is deciding what to get, talk about how a good gift requires thinking about what the other person needs. Talk about how God gave us the gift of Jesus because He knew what we needed.
  • Wrap up something obvious like a book. Don’t add any extra packaging. Ask your kids what they think is in the package. Wrap another book in an odd package. Ask your kids if they can guess what’s in that package. Unwrap both presents. Talk about how God could have sent Jesus as a mighty warrior to overthrow the Romans, but instead He sent a baby because God knew we needed a Savior, not a warrior.

As you and your family and friends exchange gifts this year, remember that God sent Jesus in an unexpected “package” so we could have what we needed to bridge the gap between us and God. And that’s the best gift anyone could get.

There’s still time to create special moments with your kids this Christmas, check out Lori’s new e-book  Everyday Christmas. It’s available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF  file.

 

Memory Monday: Getting What We Need

My 10-year-old daughter went to a birthday party this weekend, and she was the only girl there without a cell phone. She really wants a phone for Christmas.

I feel for my daughter. I know it can’t be easy being the only one without a phone. Nearly every child in her class has one. But she’s not getting a phone for Christmas.

While clearly the majority of the world doesn’t agree with us, we don’t see any reason for our 10-year-old to have her own phone. She doesn’t walk home from school, she never comes home to an empty house, she rarely goes places where she would not have access to a phone and she doesn’t talk on our land line that often. It’s an extra expense that we don’t need right now, and we don’t want her tied to an electronic device, texting her friends, when we can’t see what’s being said at the time it’s being said.

Sometime in the next couple of years, we’ll probably get her a phone. When she’s in middle school and needs a phone to call us to come pick her up after school and goes more places without us we’ll probably add another phone to our cell plan. But our daughter is going to be disappointed this Christmas.

This is really the first year we haven’t fulfilled the big wish on her Christmas list. She’s gotten used to waking up on Christmas morning and finding the one thing she wanted more than anything in the world under the tree. This is the first year we’ve had to say, “we don’t think what you want is the best thing for you.”

I think my daughter will get an inkling of how the Jewish people felt when God sent Jesus. You see, the Jews were living under Roman rule. They were oppressed and taxed by the Romans. They had few rights and were subject to laws in which they had no say. It had been centuries since the Jews had been their own nation.

When they read the prophecies about Jesus, they were expecting a warrior — not a baby. They wanted someone who would save them from their current situation, someone who would overthrow the Romans. They didn’t expect that when the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 was fulfilled — “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — that it would be fulfilled in Jesus.

When they heard that “the government will be on his shoulders,” they thought He would rule over them. After years of exile and mistreatment, the Jews thought their Savior would finally put them in charge.

Instead, God fulfilled His prophecies with a tiny baby, born in a smelly stable. He gave all of us what we needed, not what the Jewish people wanted. His Christmas gift didn’t fulfill the wishes of the Jews. No, it was much better than that. God’s Christmas gift fulfilled the needs of all mankind.

Two thousand years later, we realize that God’s gift of Jesus was perfect. We have forgotten the disappointment of many of the Jews. When Jesus died, it was a crushing blow to many Jews. They couldn’t see the rest of God’s plan.

Our kids need to know that not everyone in Jesus’ time was thrilled with God’s gift. They need to know that the Jews were expecting something different. And they need to know that God’s plan is always perfect.

Illustrate this for your kids by putting something really practical in a box and giving it to them. Put it in a box that’s the same size as something they really want. When they open the box and find socks, ask them how they feel. Remind them that they need socks. Socks will keep their feet warm. Talk about how sometimes God gives us what we need rather than what we think we want. Remind them that the Jews wanted a warrior — someone to throw off the burden of Roman rule. God gave them Jesus who would give them eternal salvation — not just salvation from their current situation.

Talk with your kids about how God is still giving us the things we need, rather than the things we want. His plan sometimes requires that He withhold the things we think we want because we need something different. And that different thing is always better.

 

A savior for the world was a much better gift than a savior from Roman rule, don’t you think?

 

For more practical ways to get your kids focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori’s new e-book Everyday Christmas. It’s available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Don’t Forget the Stick

It’s my job to get the hockey stick when we go to practice and games. My daughter hauls her bag of gear, and I grab the stick. We’ve always done it that way, mainly because my daughter doesn’t remember how long the stick is and has a tendency to accidentally whack others with it. We’ve been hauling her gear and stick to practice and games for more than a year and a half, and I’ve never forgotten the stick. Until last night.

I popped open the back of my station wagon, pulled out her gear and realized we didn’t have a stick. A hockey player’s stick isn’t like a baseball bat. You can’t just pick up another one and it will do the same thing. Sticks are cut to be the right height, and the blades are curved differently, depending on if you’re a left-handed shot or a right-handed one. Playing with someone else’s stick is a lot like trying to borrow someone else’s eyeglasses. You can do it, but it may not be the right fit.

Left with no choice, we checked with the guys at the snack bar to see if they had a stick we could borrow. The one they came up with was a little bit short and curved a little bit in the wrong direction. But it was better than no stick at all. My daughter survived practice without her stick but said it wasn’t something she wanted to do again.

Because I forgot her stick, my daughter was forced to play with a stick that was less than ideal. Too often, we try to force our kids to play the game of life with the wrong stick. We forget that our kids were created to be who God wants them to be, not who we want them to be.

I’ll admit there are times when I try to force my girls into the mold that I would like them to fit. I miss the days when my girls loved to wear skirts and dresses. Now, it’s all jeans and T-shirts. Sometimes, I wish I could get my youngest to just take a few minutes to think before she acts and not barrel through life at 110 miles an hour. And there are other days when I wish my oldest would not be quite so cautious. There are days when I’d rather do anything other than sit through another freezing hockey practice or another
rainy soccer game.

But God designed our kids to be a part of His perfect plan — not a part of our “perfect” household. As a parent, it’s our job to encourage our kids and to show them how to use their gifts and personalities for Him. It’s not our job to create the “perfect” children.

We are to help mold our kids into the image that God has for them, not the image we have in our minds. No matter how different our kids’ choices may seem, we must keep in mind that Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Those quirks and differences are all a part of who they are. And who they are is exactly who God made them to be.

So, encourage your kids to be themselves. Don’t expect them to be like anyone else. God didn’t make them to fill the same role as anyone else. Let them play with their own stick, not a borrowed one, and you’ll be amazed at where God will take them.

The Gift of Time

As you’re reading this, I’m probably shopping. Yep, I’m one of those crazy people who gets up at the crack of dawn and goes shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I love getting a good bargain, but I mostly love spending the day hanging out with my mom and watching all the other crazy people.

I’m hoping to put a dent in the girls’ Christmas lists this morning, and probably get a couple things for myself, too. As I pondered my girls’ lists this week — one short and one long — I wondered what on their lists to get. We have a few surprises in store, so the actually list shopping is going to be limited. Yet, we always try to get that one thing they absolutely think they must have. (Although, this year, my 10-year-old thinks she must have a cell phone. She’ll be disappointed on that one.)

But you know what I’ve discovered over the past 10 years? The one thing my kids truly want more than anything else is me. They want to know they have my undivided attention. They want to spend time with me.

As a parent, don’t buy into the myth that you can give your kid “quality” time rather than “quantity” time. Our kids needs us to spend time with them — lots of it. They need us to put away our phones, our computers and our TVs and focus on them and what they have to say. They need us to listen to them, laugh with them and dry their tears. But we can’t do that if we don’t make the time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” If you have kids, the time for spending time with them is now. Our kids will only grow up once. If we don’t capture this time now, we won’t get it back.

This Christmas, I encourage you to give your kids the gift of time. Make each of your children a coupon book offering them your time. You can set up a regular date with each of your kids, or you can offer them the opportunity to choose the time. Coupon ideas include playing a game of their choice with you, making dinner with you or staying up a half hour later to spend time alone with you. Make coupons that fit your child and your family. You can find some coupon templates and more ideas here.

Give your kids the gift of time this Christmas. You don’t have to brave the mall for it, and it’s what they really want.

An Out-of-Control Imagination

About 20 minutes after we put the girls to bed last night, my oldest was standing in front of me, tears streaming down her face explaining that she couldn’t go to sleep because she kept thinking about some scary stuff someone at school had told her. God has gifted my oldest with an amazing imagination. She can draw entire comics, write extremely creative stories and make up song lyrics on the spot. I can send the girls out to play with the neighbors and with nothing more than a rock and a bucket, my oldest will create an elaborate plot for the girls to follow as they play. I am in awe of this gift that God has given her.

But, sometimes, that gift can take a scary turn. Because she has such an active imagination, she’s extremely open to suggestion, and the time before she goes to sleep can become a terror fest for her. She’ll start to dwell on something that someone told her. Lying there in the dark, she can create situations in her mind that are terrifying. This usually ends either in nightmares later in the night or, as it did last night, with her standing in front of us crying because she’s scared to go to sleep.

For many parents, the scenario I’ve just described is a familiar one. It’s also an extremely teachable moment. So, we need to put aside our frustration at what may seem like “silly” fears and teach our children how to stop letting what God intended for good be used in a way He never intended.

Psalm 34:14 tells us “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Within this short, little verse is the key to putting our kids on the path to using whatever gift God has given them for good. Now, my daughter is not “evil” because she lets her imagination get carried away, but the things she is dwelling on that scare her are “evil” because they rob her of the peace that God promised her.

God has given each of our children talents that they can use for Him or that they can use in other ways that aren’t pleasing to him. The key to teaching our children to use their talents for good is teaching them to recognize when they are straying from what God intended and then teaching them to seek and pursue peace when using their gifts. Sounds easy, right? It’s easy to talk about, but even as adults, we struggle with this. Teach your kids a simple process to recognize when they are letting their gifts and talents serve the world instead of God.

  • Talk with your kids about the gifts and talents God has given them. Ask them how they think they can use those gifts and talents for God. Then, ask them if they can think of any way that they could use those gifts and talents in ways that aren’t pleasing to God.
  • Give your kids this simple process to follow: Stop, Ask, Pray, Replace. It works like this. Whenever they are in a situation where they find themselves using their gifts and talents in a way that either scares them or that they aren’t sure is pleasing to God, they should Stop what they are doing. Next, they should Ask this question: Is what I’m doing pleasing to God? If the answer is yes, they can keep doing what they are doing. If the answer is no, then they move on to step 3. They should Pray and give their gift or talent to God. They should ask God to remove whatever fear their use of their talent has brought them and ask God to show them how to use their gift for Him. The last step is Replace. They should try to replace what they are doing with something else that is pleasing to God.
  • This process looked like this last night with my oldest. We asked her to identify the problem, which was that she had let her imagination run away with her, which led her to worry about things that weren’t likely to happen. We talked about how that wasn’t what God intended for her to do with her imagination. We prayed with her and asked God to take away her fear and to help her not to let her imagination create fear. We also asked that God would replace her fear with peace. Then, we gave her something else to think about. We told her to build the best ice cream sundae ever in her head until she fell asleep.

The next time your son or daughter gets caught in a spiral of using a gift or talent that God has given them in a way that’s not pleasing to God, help them follow the Stop, Ask, Pray, Replace method to find peace and to use their gifts for God.

Gift-giving traditions

Christmas break is almost here for my kids, so today I’m finishing the Christmas shopping and wrapping the presents. I talk to a lot of people who are conflicted about how many gifts their kids get. I’ll tell you that we spoil our kids for Christmas. If they need something and it’s anywhere near Christmas, I wrap it up and put it under the tree. We also always try to replenish our game closet at Christmas along with some of the things that the girls ask for.

I love giving gifts, and every year I say that this year we’re going to cut back and give the kids less. However, by the time Christmas rolls around, I find they have a bunch of stuff. I’ve made peace with that. We don’t buy our kids much in the way of extravagant toys or gifts during the year. Birthdays are a big deal around our house, but most of that effort goes into a party, not a gift. So, I’ve decided not to fight my love of gift-giving, and we spoil our kids at Christmas.

That doesn’t work for all families. I talk to a lot of people about their Christmas traditions and gift-giving traditions run the gamut from lots of gifts to one gift to three gifts. I know people who give their kids “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” Whatever works for your family is the way you should do it.

However, when you are giving gifts, no matter the number, make sure your kids understand the joy of giving as well as of receiving. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says “God loves a cheerful giver.” But, that’s sometimes hard for kids to get their heads around. Our greedy nature makes us want to receive more than give. Involve your kids in the gift-giving process. Have them make or pick out the gifts for their friends and family. It may be more work for you, but it gives them a chance to get excited about giving to others.

One tradition that some of my friends have that I love is the right/left Christmas game. It’s one more way to sneak in a reading of the story of Jesus’ birth while having a lot of fun. You can find the text of the game here. Buy a gift for the whole family. Read the right/left version of the Christmas story. Every time you hear the word “right”, pass the package one person to the right. Every time you hear the word “left,” pass the package one person to the left. The person left with the package at the end of the story gets to open it. The kids love it and it makes them really listen to the story.

No matter what type of gift-giving traditions you have in your family, be sure to remind your kids that the reason that we give gifts is because Jesus came to earth as a gift to us. The wise men brought Him gifts as an act of worship. We acknowledge those things by giving gifts to each other.

Go, this season, and be cheerful givers.