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the best Christmas present ever…

I ran into an old friend the other day at the grocery store–and instead of catching up and sharing how we were doing…she asked me if I was done with my Christmas shopping. You know–your “go to” conversation piece during the holiday…right? Before I could answer, she excitingly told me she was relieved to be all done with her present shopping and she was NOW completely ready for Christmas. When the “How about you?” came–I totally stood there–awkward silence–because…I didn’t know how to answer. Because–there is not ONE gift yet under our tree…and I, too, feel so excited and ready for Christmas.

What I really wanted to say was, “I haven’t really bought gifts…yet–this year–I feel like that priority is oddly off my radar. Are we weird if we don’t make that a priority this Christmas or even get around to it? And I’m totally not even worried about it. And I’m certainly not going to make my kids sit down and make a list of all the things they could dream of wanting. How crazy is that? Yes–maybe our culture…but this momma is NOT going to go there. Cookies, however, oh now–that might be added to our fun…we will totally get around to more of that! (Gluten free this year of course;). We really have everything we need. Our kids haven’t asked for anything (maybe because we haven’t reminded them that that’s what this time of year can be for–or because we don’t really watch tv so they don’t see the commercials and they don’t think they need anything other than time to play together). You know, we are just soaking in the sweetness of Christmas and everything it means this year…and THAT makes me so ready for Christmas. The Jesse Tree each night…hearing Frank and Isaac talk amongst themselves in their 2 and 3 year old vocabulary about baby Jesus…spending time together snuggled up on the couch…working on memorizing Luke together so we can recite the story together on Christmas morning in front of the fire…dreaming of how we can convince the McBrayer’s to pull off the Christmas story play with us (wouldn’t that be fun!?). Yes–these are the things making me ready for Christmas. This is our crazy list. Honestly–the gifts when we already have so much…truly, I feel like I’m forgetting…but thank you for the reminder…”

Now–I did NOT say that. Not sure that would have gone over too well. But that is what went through my mind. Instead I told her that was awesome she was done…and I haven’t started–and so good to see you…and we went on our way.

As I got in the car, I sat there thinking about the gifts. And how thankful I am for how I grew up–how thankful that my parents were not in a place to give us everything on our “wish list”…and how this impacted my heart, my character, my future–more than any other think in the JCPenny catalog could have.

Do you want to know one of my most favorite gifts I ever got for Christmas as a child? (Mom, are you reading this?? ‘Cause this might even surprise you!) It was an old Barry Manilow tape.

We were living in Fairhope, Alambama–and my mom was taking night classes at college to get her college degree so her income could help our family. My dad was working hard to provide for our family–yet to say times were tight…is probably an understatement. At the time though–I didn’t even know–or maybe I did a little–but because my mom had (and still has) this incredible gift for creativity–she taught us to find joy in one another, being together and how to make things out of just about anything. She could turn a pile of junk into something magical–and we learned to take pleasure in the simple things. We learned that while others might get every material thing on their list–that it really didn’t matter because a month later they weren’t playing with those things and they were still wanting to come over to our house to play. And I couldn’t tell you NOW what gifts I got or what gifts I didn’t get–but I do remember one that did impact me…even 25 years later.

That year–things were especially tight for my parents. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I do remember on Christmas morning our gifts were very simple. One of the gifts–was a tape from Walmart by someone I had never heard of. I remember mom telling me later that she’d gotten the tapes we received that year for $1 at Walmart in a clearance bin.

What I love about this–is…I was just a little girl–and I can promise you that I didn’t know who Barry Manilow was. I can also promise you that this was NOT on my wish list. But I was thankful that morning. It was a gift–from someone I loved. And that was all that mattered. Sitting there in my pajamas–I was not disappointed…I was thankful.

Today, I don’t remember what the other gifts where. I don’t remember if I got what I wanted. And I don’t remember being disappointed if I was. What I do remember–is having an idea that things were tight–and seeing the sweet smile on my mom’s face when I pulled out that tape. I wonder how many people look around at the world and feel they HAVE to do this gift-buying thing to an extreme because this is what our culture does? I wonder how much pressure is put on those going through hard times by those living in plenty or by advertisers…ultimately diverting us from basking in the gospel–the real reason for Christmas. I wonder if we took all the gift-giving AWAY–how many would STILL celebrate Christmas? How much more light would shine into the manger? How we would be freed to fill our hearts and home with the story and how our lists of how we spend our money and time this season and in the year ahead might change?

That year–I am taking a stab that I didn’t get whatever I asked for. I wonder if my mom and dad felt sad about that. But I know and believe God uses all things for His glory. I’m so thankful that my parents were fortunate enough to NOT be in a tempting situation to meet our wish lists when we were little–but instead–to give us small things, to keep our focus on the season and to teach us to rejoice in the giver instead of just the gift.

I know if I had gotten what I’d wanted–it would just be in a landfill I’d guess today–and I am quite sure those things wouldn’t have shaped my heart, my character or taught me to look into the hearts of people during this time rather than hit the catalogs. I can tell you that getting a $1 tape from Walmart that Christmas impacted me MORE than my getting whatever it is I wanted. I listened to that tape over and over and over again–and I even grew to like it.

Mom and dad–I bet you both really WANTED to get me exactly what I wanted…but that particular year–you couldn’t–or rather that you didn’t. Isn’t it funny to realize THIS is the gift that I remember most? The one that I feel really impacted me? And honestly, I’m so thankful. Sure I went to school, church and even family gatherings and I heard wild stories about the loot my friends got. And while I am sure my parents considered this might make us sad–but the NOT getting everything shaped me too…in such a good way. Sure I might have felt a tinge of jealousy for a moment. But while that lasted for a moment and I knew it was wrong to feel–even at the young age of 10–I was able to mature and see and recognize really what Christmas was all about. Getting material things and receiving the things on my list would have probably taught me differently…

But as history so often repeats itself…I find myself sitting on the floor with my children–making ornaments out of nothing…meek into miraculous…making cookies from scratch with the kids lined up standing in little chairs…and not a single preoccupation with the gift buying–that actually seems a bit out of place and even silly for this time of year. Sure, we’ll give our children something on Christmas morning. Two or three things will be plenty…I always say it’s Jesus’s birthday and would it make any sense for the children to receive more gifts than He did in the manger on His birthday? Their 2 or 3 gifts–might not even be things on their list…that is–if they were ever prompted by someone to actually make one. And maybe this year, for old time’s sake–I’ll even find a moment away to stop by Walmart to see if they have a $1 bin of old tapes…or I guess that’s cds rather;)…to treat them to.

May your time in preparing to celebrate His birth be filled with togetherness and joy. May you see Him brighter than any other thing in this world. And may your homes and hearts be filled with the story of Christ…the BEST Christmas present the world ever received.



Kris - December 8, 2011 - 11:24 am

This is absolutely the most wonderful thing I have ever read!
Your family is so blessed!
I cannot wait to read this to my 12 and 10 yr old after school.
Thank You, Thank you, thank you!

Carisa - December 8, 2011 - 12:24 pm

AMEN!!!!! Love this so much!

Deborah - December 8, 2011 - 12:57 pm

This is my goal every year and then I get caught up in buying way to many presents to show my “love”, which is how I was raised. Beautiful Post Andrea. Thanks for reminding me what I already know. Merry Christmas.

Sandi - December 8, 2011 - 11:20 pm

It warms my heart to see those words about Christmas. We really try to make Christmas about “giving” to others in need. My 5 yo told his Grandpa that he really needed to earn some money quickly to give to “the Orphans” along with some toys when asked about what he looked forward to this Christmas. It made me smile. PS We made a beautiful Jesse tree by doing mod podge wooden ornaments with your scrapbook paper idea! This is our 1st year to use a Jesse Tree & we love it!

missy - December 9, 2011 - 9:49 am

thank you. i have been really struggling this year with presents vs. preparing my heart and this most was so beautiful and challenging. AND i am a huge fanilow, so there’s that too. 🙂

MArci - December 9, 2011 - 3:21 pm

Andrea, how is it possible that we have never met …big age difference …but,such similair thoughts . Went for a jog Wednesday and was contemplating everything you just wrote. There is nothing under our tree (doesn’t matter to me at all~I know a few things wil appear)yet,it is so filled with remembrance of days gone by…handmade ornaments,pictures of Trey and Shockley on an angels…such sweetness and the glory of Advent ,being in the Word ,JT time,being with each other,hearing the boys play piano and guitar together….Listening to where they are in connecting Christ with their daily life. Each of us sharing …hearing SHockley share that a classmate needs to get together …the classmate feels he is getting off track(his dad is in Afghanistan)…we prayed for this young man and SHockley will give him the gift of “fiendship”…those are the gifts I like to give ..prayers for friends,praise to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to grace me. Today I have been going through a cedar closet to create another giving away box. I asked Doc about a coat and he said it was one of his favorites on me …I let it go. For a minute it hurts…but, I’ll be smiling big thinking how special someone will fill in it and warm. Girl…you are needing to shout this message today on the mountain tops. Creating with what you have and nice crayons and pencils and “dressup ” closet clothes …there is the magic….it doesn’t need to be too much . I believe it makes children sad. Maybe how we grew up is why we are connected.You are a remarkable person. I believe you just gave each of us reading your blog a GIFT ! Thank you.

debb - December 12, 2011 - 3:15 pm

Girl, you have SO done it! AGAIN!!! I so LOVE your heart and your powerful example of what it is to be a loving Christian momma!!!! You are such a beautiful mentor for me, as I excitedly {and not so patiently} await the arrival of our boyS!!!! I share your heart, though I am not confident in my ability to communicate to our boys this very message…..the true meaning of Christmas!!! Reading this post inspires me. And reminds me that God has this covered. All I have to do is let Him lead me in my parenting! As long as I keep Him the focus ~ at Christmastime and otherwise! ~ on Him, He will help me mother in the way I hope and dream to do!!!! You are such a blessing, Andrea. Not only to your family, but also to your friends and blog family too!!! MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEAR FRIEND!!!! Keep on keeping on!!!! <3