Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas - The Non-Gift Gift

Do you get those booklets in the mail?  You know, the ones from Heifer International, World Vision, or Compassion which list items you can purchase in someone's name that will benefit others worldwide?

For example, for $30 you can give Honeybees to a family in Honduras so they can care for the bees, sell the honey, and use the money to feed their family.  Or for $20 you can give a Flock of Chicks to a family which provides them with food and eggs to sell to earn money.

When I was little, I thought this would be the most insulting gift to receive.  How fun would it be on Christmas Day to open up a present and find a card inside that said, "A tree seedling was purchased in your honor."  Not very fun at all.  I thought those gifts were probably the meanest tricks out there.

Until last year.

Last year I was blessed and cursed to be part of a screening of "58: The Film" prior to Christmas.  The film allowed me to meet people from around the world who are trapped in poverty.  I heard stories from India, Haiti, and my personal favorite - Ethiopia.  I was struck anew by the needs of the world as words Jesus spoke regarding how we should care for the poor were interspersed among the stories.  You can read my initial thoughts here, in a blog post I wrote after viewing the film. 

I say that I was blessed because it awakened me again to what really matters in life.  I say I was cursed because I saw it shortly before Christmas, and it made me question the way that I have handled Christmas in the past - specifically the gift giving and receiving.

My solution last year was to beg my family NOT to give me Christmas gifts.  I had my basic needs met, and more than that too.  I had a closet full of clothes to cover me, I had a pantry full of food to eat whenever I wanted, I had a loving family and a group of solid friends.  And last year I even had the knowledge that across the ocean my daughter awaited me.  What more did I need or even want?

I sat down one night for a few hours and wrote, edited, analyzed, edited, and over analyzed an email to my family.  Finally it was just time to send it out, so I hovered the mouse over "Send," closed my eyes, and clicked. 

I didn't want to appear like I'd gone off the deep end.  I didn't want to stir the waters.  I didn't want those who liked getting gifts to feel bad or pressured into not asking for gifts too.  All I wanted was to affect what I could, and divert money that would have been spent on my wants to instead be spent on others' needs.

You know what?  It worked!

My family members contributed the money they would have spent on gifts for me to various charities that were helping the poor worldwide. 

One of the gifts helped purchase infant formula for the babies in our adoption agency's orphanage in Ethiopia.  Our daughter was there at the time, and perhaps some of the formula purchased went into her bottles.  Another gift helped provide food and education to street children in Ethiopia.  Yet another gift honored my love of gardening by purchasing seeds for a school garden in Ethiopia.  I cried upon receiving notice of each of these gifts.  They meant so much to me.  Some of my family members even wrote letters accompanying the gifts, and I saved those letters and read them over and over again.  (And cried just about every time I read them.)  

I hunger for that kind of Christmas again.  I felt such a deep, long-lasting joy knowing that money was going to help the poor.  So as Christmas 2012 rolls around, only one thing is on my Christmas list: That the people who want to love on me with a gift would spend their dollars to help the poor.  Nothing would bring me more deep soul joy than that.

I'm thankful that I now see what a gift a "non-gift" really is!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

I am the firstborn child in my family.  I am a perfectionist.  I am Type A.  My Myers Briggs is INFJ, heavy on the J. I like my living quarters to be clean and organized.  I freak out if I can't find something because it's not where it's supposed to be. And as far as I know, I have ALWAYS been this way.  Ask my mom.

Which is why THIS

was such a victory for me today.

Yes, yes, that is my precious little baby girl playing in the dirt.  The best part is that I encouraged her to do it.  I gave her a shovel, showed her how to scoop a few scoops, and she was off.  I worked near her taking out the last flower bed before winter's snow covered our lawn.  I heard a cough at one point and looked over to find this...

Yep.  She ate dirt.  I didn't need to teach her not to because after one bite, I could sense she wasn't going to do it again.

And finally a shot of her pants... check out all that dirt.  It looks like she has one brown sock on and one white!  (and excuse the goofy-looking clothes and white socks with brown shoes...we put on our play clothes to go outside and get dirty!)

Although I've come a long way, there are still traces of Old Me.  As soon as we got in the house I stripped her down and threw all those dirty clothes in the laundry basket, washed her hands (and face), and put fresh, clean clothes on her.  Getting dirty is okay...but just for a little bit.  :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Awe

Hallway light off, I turn the door handle slowly and firmly, minimizing the latch click until the door opens freely.  I push it open 2 inches and pause, my breath quiet and listening for any sounds of stirring.

I push the door open fully and step long steps, landing my foot gently on each floorboard in a quiet dance to the steady blue light of the baby monitor, visible only faintly in the dark room.

By the light of my cellphone I behold her.  Her sleeping eyes, sweet nose, full cheeks and wild hair.  Seeing her washes away the tension and frustration that dappled the day until I feel my heart beating more slowly, my breath deepening, my furrowed brow releasing as a smile begins. 

Her pajama zipper marks the spot where her play ended and she gave in to sleep.  Reaching down, I connect the two sides of the pajamas again to ensure she'll stay warm through the night.

Blanket bunched in the corner, I lift it until it floats above her, then falls to cover her again.  The soft green and pink fabric, purchased when I only knew her face in a photo, covers her as I hope my love does; tenderly, protectively, unconditionally.

My heart swells with adoration, and I am in awe that I am the one to witness such beauty.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Convictions: A Plank and a Speck

Recently I was hurt by a friend's words and actions and it was eating me up inside.  I felt that I was treated poorly, and I cycled on these negative thoughts for a good 24 hours.  I had countless conversations with her in my head where I shared what I was feeling (sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately), and I hashed out the details of the situation with Zac over and over to see if I was indeed wronged.  (Yes, I have the best husband ever to sit through this and still love me.)

My childish instincts made me want to do one of two things: hurt her back or never talk to her again.  Very mature, Amber.  Thank goodness I have enough self control to act on neither of those instincts!

Rewind to the day before I was hurt by this friend.  Zac and I were having a great conversation in the car about friends.  We were discussing the people in our lives who bring life and energy to us just by being with them.  We look forward to the times we're together, and linger when we have to say goodbye.  We each listed off a small handful of friends whom we cherished like this.

Fast forward to this morning.  During my devotion time, I started reflecting on what kind of friend I'm being to those "top" people in my life.

What I came up with was this: I've been a pretty crappy friend.

One of these friends has an exciting life change coming up, and I haven't spoken to her in weeks.  Another friend and I have been playing phone tag for nearly two months.  If these are some of my "top" people, whom I value deeply, what in the world am I doing?

Could they say about me that I have treated them poorly?  Is my absence in the friendship hurtful to them?  How am I being perceived in the friendship - as someone who is interested and contributing, or an absent friend who only gives fluff to the friendship and never delivers?

Today I was confronted with my deep deficits as a friend to these special people in my life.  How can I be upset over what I perceived to be a friend hurting me (99.9% chance she doesn't even know I was hurt), and yet completely ignore my crappy job as a friend in these treasured relationships?

I have a large task in front of me - to repair the damage that my laziness has caused in these special friendships of mine.  I'm grateful God has shown me what I need to work on so I can stop feeling sorry for myself because of this friend of mine who hurt me, and instead spend my mental energy thinking on how I can love and care for these people whom I have neglected.  Lord, take this plank out of my eye.  You'll probably need a crane, it's so heavy.  I'm sorry I let it get that big.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Lesson Courtesy of the Baby Gate

We finally gave in and got a baby gate.  It was long-overdue.  Feven loves to be around me, and when I'm working to prepare a meal in the kitchen she's at my heels, clinging to my legs, reaching for things on the counters, or opening cabinets she knows she's not supposed to.  It's not safe for her, so we got a gate to keep her in the nearby living room while I'm working in the kitchen.

We installed it and marveled at the freedom this would bring us.  She looked at it and realized the barrier it was between her and mom.

My first time preparing a meal with her safely in the living room was not much fun for either of us.  She whined and cried the entire time.  I tried to get her to play with her puzzle, legos, dolls, books, school bus, soft blocks, or any of the numerous toys that were in there.  She would have none of it.  The one thing she wanted was to be near me, and she was upset that she couldn't have that.

How often is my life like that?  I am surrounded by great things, but all I can focus on is the one thing I don't have. 

Dear Lord, give me the freedom to see all the blessings around me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012