Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Gift of Giving

My sister is really good at the Christmas gift thing. One year she made us a picnic quilt made out of old jeans. Another year she gave me some of her canning surplus. Beans, peaches, applesauce, etc, etc. Another year she gave us a personalized sign for our theater room. She's very creative. And thoughtful.

She does this with her own kids as well. The kids pick a sibling and they have to make something as a gift. I thought this was a great idea and so one year about seven years ago I decided we would try that. Our oldest was ten. Dan ended up spending about two weeks locked in the freezing cold garage with all four of our kids. (One or two at a time). This didn't work so well. It was a good idea, but maybe we had started too late. Or maybe Dan was overzealous to think he should "help" the kids build some great bird feeder or whatever they were working on. Or maybe we had too many kids. Anyway-- we kind of fell apart after that. It is sooo much easier to take the kids to the store and have them pick a gift for their sibling. Especially if you're sneaky and you suggest one of the smaller items on your list. Hey, everybody wins! And whats the point of being thoughtful for thoughtful's sake anyway!

Well, I think there's a great lesson in being thoughtful. This year  it just sort of happened without being forced upon anyone. Here's how it started:

Jake didn't know what to get Zach. We were wandering around Wal-Mart. I know, you know how I feel about that place, but it is a necessary evil sometimes. Anyway, we passed some BYU fabric and I got the great idea that Jake could make him a quilt. Jake loved the idea  so we quickly purchased all the fuzzy fleece fabric they had. I wasn't sure how this would really be accomplished being that Jake is ten years old, but I figured even if he did a little work on it, it would still feel like it had come from him. So we set up my grandma's old quilting frames in my bedroom, announced that code secret Santa operation was now in service and that NOBODY named Zach could enter my room. It was hard work. Jake had trouble just pulling the needle through the fabric. His fingers got sore. We remedied that with one of Dad's trusty socks. It helped quite a bit. Macy joined in the fun and caught on to the 'up and then down and through the hole' faster than I did when I first learned to tie a quilt. We watched Psych the musical, got distracted, got drinks of water, exchanged needles in hopes that the other needle would be easier (which it never was) and then eventually tied the quilt, sewed the edges, and then wrapped it up and placed it under the tree. You've never seen a kid so excited to give a gift. 

In this same spirit, Macy has placed a sign on the library door that condemns anyone but her from entering. "Christmas presents at work" it says. Then I got a call from Dan and Zach. Zach wants to knit Macy a scarf for Christmas. How does one do that?" They asked. "Get a book and some cool yarn." I answered. Zach has locked himself in his bedroom the last two nights. He hasn't even asked for help, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a call for guidance soon. Maybe? Ellie liked the blanket idea so much she got some fabric and made a throw for her brother Chase. She spent two days locked in her bedroom. This one is tied on the edges and doesn't need the quilt frames. She brought it into my room last night with great dramatic expression, and announced, "It's FINALLY done!" I'm very proud of them. I'm most proud of them for deciding on their own to be more thoughtful in their gift choices. Sometimes I feel like we are just going through the motions of trying to be good even though we don't really feel it or know why and I think that's okay. You have to start somewhere. Then somewhere down the way we stop trying to look good and we start being. I think that is what life is all about.

I have a long way to go. We are promised that blessings come after a trial of our faith. So I will keep trying to be good in hopes that one day it will all pay off. In the meantime I'm going to put some lotion on my very red and sore fingertips. (Quilters will understand).

Do you have a thoughtful gift story? How about a disaster gift story? I want to hear it. Leave a comment below. Or don't. Whatever. :-) Smiley face!

Christmas Songs Michael Buble Full Album

The Christmas Light within

My thoughts on Christmas

Last night as I drove home, my son and daughter asked what time it was. 

"Seven o'clock" I answered systematically.

"But it's so dark. It feels like midnight." my exaggerators expelled. 

It did seem late. And dark. And cold. But through the darkness a far off hill twinkled a bright red and green or pure white. Large  lamp posts illuminated the black road ahead, and with the help of my headlights, there was enough light to guide us safely towards home. I felt thankful.  I felt even greater joy as we pulled into our neighborhood and saw the trees and yards and houses I passed were covered in tiny sparkling colorful lights as if to welcome us home. I wanted to say thank you to each house. Despite the chilly temperatures I felt warmth.

Light in the darkness. 

There is an old proverb that says "It is always darkest before the dawn." I like this saying, but I think it can be misleading. Yes, in the midst of unhappiness, or painful trials, there is hope for a happier time in the future, but we don't have to wait for the dawn. We can chose to  remain in darkness or to surround ourselves with warmth and light. You can be in the blackest cave where there is not one spec of light--you can't see your hand next to your eye no matter how hard you strain--and if you light a small candle, or even turn on a dull flashlight the darkness is swallowed up in illumination. This power is a gift from Him. And we each have it.

As I drove I thought how fitting, and not altogether coincidental, that we celebrate Christmas--the birth of the Savior of the world--during the darkest and coldest time of year. The history of why early Christians adopted this time is complex, and in some ways controversial as there wasn't YouTube or google back in 300 AD to give us reliable information. I'm kidding somewhat there, by the way. But this I know: as the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, we as human beings are compelled to light a candle, decorate a fir tree, sing a carol, fill our yard and homes with ten thousand lights, visit the sick and the affirm, serve our neighbors, wish a total stranger a good day and a Merry Christmas, and finally, exchange gifts with loved ones as if to say there is hope for a brighter, warmer, happier future. One that includes you. It's a beautiful thing. I love Christmas. I love the light that comes from Him and shines through us.

I love people. I love to drive around and look at the lights. I love to see that my neighbors have chosen to light a candle in a window on a dark December night or decorate a tree or start a fire (in the fireplace of course) or sing a song, share a gift, do a good deed for someone. This is how we light our dark nights. This is how we spread hope for a brighter dawn. This is how we celebrate. 

This is how we spread the story of a tiny babe who came to save us all. This is how we usher in the dawn.

Merry Christmas