Giving Thanks

Have you ever noticed that when you ask a guy what he is thinking and he says “nothing” it usually means that they are literally thinking nothing. Guys have this magic power where they can actually think nothing. Women however… at least for me, when you ask us “what are you thinking” and we girls say “nothing” it really means we are actually thinking about absolutely everything at once. I feel like I can’t ever answer because it’s all just swirling around and it’s not one specific thought, so I say nothing. Because let’s face it, women do not have the magic power to really think “nothing”. Kudos to the guys out there.

Driving home from church one night I was thinking nothing, but I was thinking about everything at once. All my problems, my stress, my relationships, work, shopping I had to do, cleaning house, how my head hurt… I could go on and on. Literally on and on about all the nothing I was thinking about. As a woman, it is so hard, basically impossible to turn it off. I could feel it making my muscles tight, my neck, back and head ache. I began to pray about my problems. Lift them up to my Heavenly Father that I know deeply cares about all my issues, but as I did this I visualized this little child coming to their Daddy whining and complaining.

What if I was that parent? Of course I would care about my child and their problems, want to hear all about them. I also thought, what if my child came to me all the time with their problems expecting me to fix them, make them feel better, but my little girl or boy never thanked me. What if they never acknowledged that I had helped them in times past. Newborns or little kids aren’t going to always be grateful, but surely older children would and should be. Surely they would thank their parent for what they’ve done, tell them how much they appreciate them. At least every once in a while.

I saw it all so clearly and saw how much of an ungrateful child I really am to my Heavenly Father. Years ago at our church, we put on a little play where one of the characters was an Israelite in the wilderness who always said “What has He done for us lately?”. I don’t want to be that child to my Father. “In everything give thanks…” it says in 1 Thessalonians. Not when things are going good, not sometimes, in EVERYTHING. Sometimes it’s hard, really hard, to be grateful when it feels like everything is falling apart. I personally think that is when “in Everything” really applies.

The stress, the ache in my head and shoulders faded the more I began to thank Him for what He’d done. Let’s face it, when you start to be grateful for what He has done and what you do have… all the other just doesn’t seem near as big or bad a problem. My problems shrank and so did my pain, but my love for my Heavenly Father grew.

“I will give thanks to you Lord, with all my heart, I will tell of your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1

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Giving Rocks

It was the Christmas season, and everyone was shopping for their family. Everyone was spending money, whether it was a large or small budget, on items that would make their loved ones smile with joy, and if you were lucky, maybe even cry a little.

Our little girl had no money. She was small and young, too young to even procure a job to earn money. But my how much she wanted to give a gift to each one of her family members that would make them smile. Usually, at this time of year, her parents would give her some money to combine with some of the other jobless young children in the family; and together they could afford a small gift for everyone! The little girl wasn’t unappreciative of that, but this year, she wanted something she could do all on her own… something strictly from her. It would show everyone her independence, and that she was growing up and maturing! Oh yes, she must find a way to procure gifts of her own.

Earlier that year, the little girl had either been given or somehow obtained (she couldn’t really remember how she got it) a book that would solve her gift-giving problems. The book was one of those “do it yourself” books, and she discovered she needed no money! She could have a gift for everyone and not spend a dime. Which was good, because she didn’t have a dime. Eventually, the little girl began to plan and outline each persons gift, how she would personalize them, and even came up with some ideas of her own.

The little girl had one very grand gift planned for a special brother…one that she was very proud of, for the idea was of her own invention. So grand was this gift that it required an item much too large for her to carry, so she planned to go for a walk, find the item she needed for this grand gift, and have one of her older brothers carry it home for her. He reluctantly carried it home for her and, since he was far from oblivious to her gift-making schemes, muttered “I hope this isn’t for my Christmas present.” It just so happened that he was, but she refused to let it deter her for a moment. After all, he couldn’t possibly know what she would create from the item he carried.

The girl worked hard and perfected each of her gifts in her own mind. Christmas Day was fast approaching. She wrapped each of the gifts, except for the one, for it was too heavy to wrap. She put them all under the tree, and saved the last gift for setting out the night of Christmas Eve hoping it wouldn’t be seen.

The morning  arrived, and everyone walked in to Christmas morning. Everyone opened their gifts. While it was humorous to the family that all the gifts from her were the same material, they were all differently painted with a name, a quote, or an animal. But the one the girl was proudest of was the chess set that sat under the tree. They were all rocks… every piece of the chess set… every gift given to her family… but oh the joy it filled her with to give even the gift of rocks.

 

Happy Holidays?

When we were kids… the holiday season was 100% the most wonderful time of the year. Aside from Football Season of course. But, it meant family, laughter, good food, making memories and reunion. For me personally the older I get the more tradition is important to me. It was sentimental and what made me happy. It was what made me get in the holiday spirit! From, watching that 1 special Christmas movie on the night of Thanksgiving! No Christmas music until after the Turkey was consumed! Decorating while munching on green, red and gold Reeses cups, sugar cookies and sprinkles with the Carpenters playing. Watching one brother untangle the lights and get them to light up until he reached the inconsolable stage of madness. Turning off all the lights and watching the Christmas Lights glow. Singing a Christmas Carol together as a family and going to bed knowing the next morning the Christmas spirit would greet you with that “Oh yeah the tree is up!” feeling. It was pure Christmas magic growing up!

What we did the rest of the month of December differed from our traveling schedule. But it typically excluding our singing engagements it included shopping, wrapping, watching our favorite movies, and a trip down the road to carol to our neighbors. Christmas Eve was a big deal growing up! It’s a Wonderful Life played, food was on our plates, Mom and Dad cried watching it every year. (Which I never understood, I mean it wasn’t that sad). Dad always passed out the handmade Nativity set to each one of us and as he read the story the pieces would take their place back on the table telling the true meaning of Christmas. We went to bed and please… who could sleep?

In our home we didn’t grow up believing in Santa Clause so there was never a reason to stay up the night of Christmas Eve and listen. This didn’t in anyway dampen our excitement or anticipation however. There was the however the challenge of being the first person to be up and yell “MERRY CHRISTMAS” loud enough to wake all of the other 8 people in the house. Competition lives on strong in this home. I won’t go into Christmas morning, you get the idea. All of the above mentioned things prepared my heart for Christmas Day! How could you not be in the Christmas Spirit after all of that? And why would you ever not keep tradition?

I’ll never forget the first Christmas the feelings changed. Our oldest brother wasn’t there, we were decorating minus one and it was all I could think about. Even the “he’s where the Lord wants him” didn’t seem to make anyone feel better. I remember the attempt to record the decorating process and send it to him was unsuccessful and that made it even worse. He had joined the military the previous May and it was one of the toughest things I can remember going through in my childhood. We were a large family, inseparable and the news was not easy to swallow. We were all doing well with it now! But Christmas traditions minus one for the first time was hard.

I won’t lie and I won’t sugarcoat anything. Christmases deteriorated after that. We had a few more good Christmases, and when I say good I mean Christmases that I actually can look back on and remember only good things. Things got worse as the years went on… what caused it you ask? I wish I could answer that one for you and for me. But, I have no definite answer. All I can say is that the most wonderful time of the year, had become a time of stress and conflict. I tried to tell myself if we just did our traditions, if we just did this or watched that movie, that it would get us all in the “spirit” of the season. It would help us all feel better! But, it didn’t. Christmas became “can’t wait for today to be over”. I hated it. We all hated it. I won’t point fingers. I won’t even attempt to explain why it was this way.

Fast forward to 2016 and I am still trying to manufacture a feeling of “Christmas Spirit” with lights, food, movies, etc. I mean, don’t we all?  There is this feeling and longing to relive that childhood feeling of the magic of Christmas. The feeling of great anticipation. This is not to say I don’t understand that people get older, family dynamics change, and finances get tighter. I do understand those things. Completely. This is more of a realization for me… when you grow up with this feeling of Christmas, of how it is supposed to be. You feel like it has to be this way for it to truly feel like Christmas to you. I’m having to readjust, to come to terms, to realize that it’s not about what we do, what we have around us. I know what you’re thinking… “Has she never seen the Grinch? Or know the real reason for Christmas?” Yes! I have and yes I do! As much as I would like to say that isn’t an issue for me! I shouldn’t struggle with the “traditions” of Christmas because I know the real reason we celebrate and it has nothing to do with eating Christmas goodies and hanging gold balls on an evergreen tree. But truth be told, it is an issue, it’s hard to continue to celebrate, do traditional things when all I can think about is how it used to be. How it used to feel! So, I will remind myself of the real reason, because the struggle is real and it is something even I as an adult must remind myself of constantly…

Instead of thinking of the Christmas music we all used to listen to, I’ll remind myself that He listened to cows moo, sheep baa, the sounds of bugs buzzing, and hay rustling the night He was born.

Instead of thinking of the Christmas decorations we use, how we must find that one light-up snowman that someone spilled hot chocolate on one year or Christmas just won’t the be same, I’ll remind myself that the night He was born there was nothing familiar to any of them. No remnants of home, no comfort, nothing to make them feel like everything would be ok.

Instead of thinking we have to have these Christmas treats to make it feel like Christmas Eve, I’ll remind myself that that night, He became a God in flesh and drank milk from a human breast so he could come save me.

Instead of thinking of the gifts I might receive, I’ll remind myself of the dirty stinky shepherds that came that night bringing nothing but themselves to glory in His presence.

Instead of thinking of who is missing at Christmas, I’ll remind myself that Mary and Joseph had no one. No family there to rejoice in their joy. No one there to say congratulations or “Mary you look so good for just giving birth.”

Instead of thinking of what Christmas used to feel like, I’ll remind myself that the only thing that should ever give this day meaning is Christ becoming flesh, to save me from my selfish, sinful ways.

I do not write this to say how awful our Christmases have been. Although, now I’m the one who cries watching It’s a Wonderful Life every year. I know there are  families who go through worse. Who have never had a “good” Christmas. I wrote this for everyone who has a hard time dealing with the Holidays and hoping it encourages someone else.