A Christmas "Do-Over"...

I'm asking God for a "Do-Over" on Christmas... or at least Christmas the way we've always celebrated it!  My Phase 2 kids from China are perfect proof that God loves "Do-Overs"!  I dreamed of being a mommy since I was a little girl and never wanted anything more than to stay at home and raise my children to know and love Jesus.  But I started young and before I even reached 30 years old, I already had the three children God would give me biologically.  I was far more selfish, than selfless.  Mothering 24/7 was so much harder than I had imagined and I found myself wishing many of those years away.  I made my fair share of mistakes and often felt like I was an absolute failure at the only "job" I had ever really wanted.  What a surprise it was when God resurfaced my dreams of adoption just as those 3 were off to school and I had regained the freedom I thought I had earned after 11 years of full-time mothering.  Little did I know that God had 3 more waiting for me in China and that this Phase 2 "Do-Over" would be the delight of my life!

Isn't God good to give us second chances?  I will likely re-do some of the mistakes of Phase 1 and most certainly make new ones all together!  But it's in the opportunity to try again that we get to see God's grace on full display!  His grace has been so evident in our home this year!  My deepest desire is to respond by celebrating Him in a whole new Christ-centered way this Christmas.  Could I have a "do-over" on Christmas, Lord?  I'd like to discover what it means to truly delight in the gift of Jesus and spend the season expressing my deep gratitude and love in giving gifts to HIM!

The sad reality is that the world I am surrounded by is in the process of literally removing Christ from Christmas all together!  And while this should not surprise us...., we supposed "Christ-followers" might need to take an honest look at our holiday celebrations and face up to an even sadder reality...  He's nearly missing from ours too!!!  And while these cold, hard facts smack me in the face, I feel a need to defend myself a bit!  I have tried.... I mean, I've really tried!  Simplify, simplify, simplify!  Less spending of money for things none of us need and more spending of time with the people we love.  More meaningful giving and less checks off of Santa's list.  The Nativity Story before a single gift is opened and a birthday cake for Jesus before the day is through...  And maybe I could take the kids shopping to fill a shoebox for a child in need on the other side of the world.  After all, I've got to teach my kids that Christmas is more about giving than receiving.... right????

But if you are at all like me, you might have to admit to a sinking feeling at the end of every Christmas celebration, as we clean up the wrapping paper left from all the gifts we hoped would make the people we love happy, and then notice our children looking beneath the empty tree with disappointment that the gift giving is "over".  Deep down in our guts we know that most Christmases sweep past us and we have largely missed the true meaning of the season all together!

Before you call me "Scrooge" or accuse me of being the Grinch who stole Christmas, let me make something really clear!  I love gifts!  Giving them AND receiving them!  I think God loves the giving of gifts too!  After all, isn't that was Christmas really IS about anyway?  God giving the most beautiful gift of all.... His son... to save us from ourselves!!!  Christmas began with a gift and I have to believe that the spirit of this season is best expressed through the tradition of giving gifts!  The world has rightly joined us in this gift giving, after the tradition of St Nicholas, who secretly gave to the poorest around him.  But this is, precisely, where I think we've gone off the rails as believers in Jesus...

I'm going to nark on my hubby and kids for a minute and tell you a sad, but very true, story....

About 5 years ago, I didn't get a single gift for Christmas!  I had been completely overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the season...  I've tried to go back and remember what was going on that year that caused such a distraction among the people that I love and I am convinced love me too, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was!  Maybe I didn't notice because I was so feverishly working on a special gift I had planned for each and every one of those same people that year.  It may sound as if I am trying to over-inflate myself here, but when you see what I was doing until all hours of the morning at the local Kinkos, I think you might understand...    

Pictured here is what is commonly called a "Blank Bible".  It is actually a Bible taken apart at the seams, layered with blank sheets of paper the same size, hole punched and bound, then placed into beautiful leather covers.  This incredible, VERY time consuming project resulted in a 4 volume set of the Bible intended for profuse note-taking and personal journaling of the owner and designed to be a coveted keepsake to be passed down to loved ones for generations to come.  Yes... I did that!  Six times over- I did that!  A grand total of 24 volumes!  One for my husband, one for my mom, one for each of my three older kids, and then of course, one for myself!   In retrospect, I'm glad I gave that gift to myself, as it would be the only one I'd get that year!   But I'm getting ahead of myself again!...

On Christmas Eve, I was beside myself with delight at presenting this most special gift to Doug and the kids.  I was likely more thrilled in the giving then they were in the receiving, but isn't that always true?    The Bible says that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" and I believe it, but it had never been more true than with this gift in particular.  I'm certain that I would personally give any amount of money to have such a treasure from the generations before me!  Doug was thrilled with his and the kids seemed grateful too.  I knew, though, that this was a gift that they would treasure more and more as they got older and began to have children of their own.

Christmas morning came and was filled with the excitement of the two preschoolers in our home.  It was so much fun to celebrate with little ones around the tree again and I loved every minute of it!  I didn't notice that there wasn't a single gift for me until the tree was almost empty underneath.  I tried to shrug it off and convince myself that it didn't matter.  The joy was in the giving, (remember?) and I had certainly done that!!!  Besides, I figured there must be a surprise gift waiting for me around the next corner and I didn't want to embarrass myself by pointing out this obvious oversight.  It was bedtime and no such gift had appeared.  Maybe it was underneath my pillow... it wasn't.  

In fairness to my husband, who just got painted in the most awful light possible, I should tell you that we had agreed to NOT exchange gifts with one another that year.  I had broken the terms of our agreement when I made him a set of Bibles, but was not expecting a gift in return from him on Christmas morning.  Still, I was hurt...  I had spent hour upon hour in making the most special gift I could have imagined for the people I loved so much, but not one of those people thought of me.  I give gifts because I want to express my love, not so that I can receive a gift in return.  But as much as I want to love deeply, I want to BE loved deeply too!  Not one of us wants to feel overlooked or forgotten...   

Here's the point to my really long and personal sob story...  Is this not EXACTLY what we have done with Christ in celebrating Christmas?  Surely we do not understand the sacrificial Gift given on our behalf in His birth and, even more importantly,... in His death.  All of that can seem so far away and removed from our daily lives, and yet the God of the universe continues to give... and give... and give good gifts to His children.  Is it not obvious why the Bible says ..."He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?"  

We serve a God who delights in lavishing His love on us through good and perfect gifts.  But, sadly... even tragically... we are distracted by a world that offers us so little in comparison, and we forget to express our love through gifts to HIM!!      No more!!!  If Christmas really is a birthday celebration for the Savior of the world, than I think it's high time we treat Him to the kind of celebration and gifts He is so deserving of!

I gathered my "littles" around the table to have a talk on the matter....  
"What is Christmas, girls?" I asked.  Dutifully they cried out in unison... "Jesus' Birthday!!!" 
"Well," I said, "I've been thinking a lot about this lately and I'd like to play a little game with you today... Let's pretend that today is Rachel's birthday instead!"  Rachel began to beam that she had been chosen for this honor! 
 "Happy Birthday Rachel!",  I began, "We are so excited it's your day and so thankful that God brought you to our family and has kept your heart strong so that we could celebrate another year with you!" I exchanged over-exuberant hugs with her and over-the-top excitement about "her" day!  She seemed to thoroughly enjoy this "surprise" celebration with all the attention and adulation it brought with it  
But then suddenly I became distracted and shifted my attention to the other two children at the table.  "Kate!"  I said.  "I have a gift for you to celebrate Rachel's birthday!  I spent a small fortune on it, but you are going to absolutely LOVE it!!! Open it, open it.... I am so excited!" 
I shot a quick glance and waved my hand toward Rachel...  "Oh... Happy Birthday Rachel!"  She seemed suddenly confused... 
"And Ellie!",  I continued.  "I bought something wonderful for you too!  I saw it and knew that you just HAD to have it for Rachel's birthday!"  I handed the pretend package across the table toward Ellie.   She smiled big and reached out, as if taking this invisible package from my hands.  
Rachel suddenly decided that she didn't like the direction this party was going in!  She looked stunned that all this gift giving was being diverted from her and onto everyone else at the table, when today had rightfully been proclaimed her birthday!  "I'm sorry, Rachel," I said, "but I've spent all my money buying gifts for Kate and Ellie and I couldn't get you anything for your birthday.  I hope you know how much we love you, though!  Happy Birthday Rachel!"

My point was obvious... because even an 8 year old completely understands the feeling of being forgotten and overlooked on their special day.  Especially this 8 year old once-orphan, who HAD been forgotten and overlooked for the first 7 birthdays of her life!  It is appalling and embarrassing to admit the truth.... This is exactly how we have treated Jesus on His birthday year, after year, after year!

"How, then," I asked them, "can we give Jesus a present for His birthday?"  They seemed excited to hear the answer.  I opened my Bible to Matthew 25 and began to read....
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

God's point here is so much clearer than my feeble attempts on the subject.  I wish I could say that I had gleaned this timeless truth through my own search of the Bible.  But I didn't.  I had honestly never read this passage in view of Christ-honoring gift-giving, until I heard the words of a song my own daughter wrote 3 Christmases ago....

Jesus, it’s your day
Is this really the way we celebrate?
With so many gifts under the tree
There’s nothing there for you
But plenty we don’t need
 Our lists keep growing
There’s always something new
Traditions keep going
But we’ve forgotten you
 You are hungry and thirsty
With no where to stay
You are cold, You’re so alone
Jesus, Happy Birthday
The song goes on, and so could I...  but I don't think I need to!  God's obvious solution for saying "I love you" to Him through gifts is in giving gifts to "the least of these".  In our language, we would call them the "most insignificant" among us!   If Christmas is really the celebration of Jesus' birthday, is there anyway He could have been more clear about His wish-list?  If we want to say "I love you, Jesus!", then we will say it best when we give sacrificially to "the least of these".

There will be very few gifts under our tree this year and we've all decided together that we like it that way!  We have spent the last few weeks thinking of every possible "insignificant" person that God has given us the opportunity to reach out to and we are sending gifts around the world and straight to Jesus instead!!!

And the best part?  We are overflowing with joy!!!  It has been an absolute thrill to bring the offerings we have, from our piggy banks and wallets, and join them together to make a difference for Jesus this year!  Our hearts have been changed as we've prayed for the orphans in India, for a van for Johnson so that he can drive those orphans to school, for John Monger and his ministry to refugees, and for the homeless we pass on the sidewalk.  We've shopped for Jesus, we've packed boxes for Jesus, we've written letters for Jesus.... and last night Rachel emerged from her room with this~

Rachel might only have "half of a heart" right now- but it overflows with love for Jesus!  I don't think I could have said it better than this precious child did in this letter!....

"Happy Birthday Jesus!  We love you!!!"

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