My Own Advent Conspiracy

*This blog is not for everyone, if this just sounds awful to you, read the disclaimer at the bottom. I am positive this is not right for every family, but it is for mine. I am simply presenting an alternative to the common celebration for those who feel they want something different.*

I tend toward minimalism, not as some deep philosophy or set of rules to live my life but just because I find that in almost every case having less is actually easier. Less to clean, less to put away, less to spend, less to waste…just less.

So last year as we sat in our church listening to them explain their Advent Conspiracy my heart was pricked. We didn’t buy gifts for the kids when they were babies just an ornament and a stocking then as they got toddler age a stocking and a $20 or so gift. It still felt like I was buying them stuff just to buy them stuff because…I was supposed to buy them stuff.

The “Advent Conspiracy” our church does is to push against the buy, buy, buy of the season and encourage families to maybe cut back on what they give their kids or family and donate a portion of that money to the Advent Conspiracy fund. Instead of giving in to the societal pressure to buy more they suggested we spend more time together, pray more, focus on Christ more and give that extra cash to a worthy cause.

Last year’s substantial fund was enough to help support some humanitarian efforts in central Asia and a good start toward renovating a building in Turkey so that Syrian refugees will have a community center/school. It will help students, who are not being welcomed into the public schools easily in the area, to continue learning, have a safe, clean place together and regain a sense of community.

Our extra $10 here, $20 there helped do that. This year the funds raised will finish the support needed for the community center and send workers and funds to Corpus Christi which still has hundreds of displaced families who simply can not rebuild alone. (Getting insurance in a known hurricane zone can be more expensive than their mortgage so sadly many did not have any at all).

I decided just doing this little bit was not enough this year. This year I wanted to take on our own advent conspiracy project. What if instead if buying any gifts for my own family we chose to give Christmas to a family in need? Well, I can tell you it’s been fun. Each family member will still get their small red stocking stuffed with trinkets, socks, underwear and snacks but that’s it. My kids are excited to see what we buy the other family, help wrap it and put it under the tree until I meet the social worker next week to pass off the now giant pile.

I don’t share this to pat myself on the back, on the contrary I am now convinced we can do even MORE. We can adopt a family and give to Advent Conspiracy and do Operation Christmas Child and something else I don’t know yet because we still manage to get fast food a few times a month and we still don’t go without one single thing we need so there are still places to tighten our belt and help our fellow man.

I DO tell you this because I want to encourage those of you who felt like me but haven’t taken the leap yet. You worry what people will think and say but you are convinced this season is so much more than presents. You are right. You worry your kids will be resentful. You worry you will look cheap giving smaller gifts to your family members. I can’t promise none of those things will happen. But I can promise you will find joy in the giving, joy in the absence of commercial trappings, joy in the spirit. My kids are more excited than ever… and they still have multiple grandparents to spoil them so even without me they will get plenty. I don’t think our family has cared at all what we buy them, they seem to like that we put a lot of thought and creativity into our low budget gifts. I can’t promise you it will be the same for you but I want to encourage you to try it.

My kids don’t believe in Santa but they do believe in God and it has given them a heart for their fellow man. If I can encourage that compassion and sacrifice, teach them to live below their means and share their excess then this little experiment in going against the Advent Conspiracy is beyond worth it.

*****If you are not interested in this that’s ok too, this blog isn’t so much for you. To some people the idea of presents or santa or X tradition is so tied to Christmas that what I’m saying feels wrong to them. If that’s you that’s ok, you do you, no judgment. But for those who feel like me there shouldn’t be any judgment either.******

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More isn’t Better & Good isn’t Necessary

Do you have opportunities to do good things all week? I know I do! Do you have opportunities to do more all week? I do!

Good is good, right? So…. I should do it…because it’s good.

And more of good is even better so I should do more, right!

Wrong.

More isn’t always good and good isn’t the same as necessary. Good must always be examined in light of best. Your good may be someone else’s best. Your saying yes to good may also hurt your best.

Let me explain.

Say I could volunteer at a women’s shelter and I could work with college age students and I could help in my church nursery. All great things right? But which one am I going to be best at? For me it is the work with the college age students. Can I invest time there and also volunteer at a women’s shelter or work in my church nursery? Maybe if I didn’t also have a full time job and two young children….but I do. But guess what? Someone out there doesn’t have a full time job and two young children OR they do but their best is helping at a women’s shelter so they are passing on the college students I am heading for.

Busy is the enemy or growth, especially for a Christian. There is a reason for the cliche saying that if the enemy can’t make you bad he will make you busy. The reason is it’s true.

People all need love, young people, older people, babies, rich, poor, religious and not, nearby and far away. They ALL need the church to show them Christ’s love. But I can’t be the church alone and I need to stop trying! I had gotten to a place where I wasn’t doing my best. I was a stay at home mom so I felt I HAD to help everywhere help was needed so I was volunteering in a children’s class and the nursery and awana and on special projects and I wasn’t really investing anywhere. I wasn’t spending time praying for, thinking about and fellowshipping with those I was ministering too. That’s where the real growth happens, relationships that encourage discipleship.

I had to learn, all over again to say no to some things. To walk away from many good things. To turn down more things. But i’m not saying no to protect an idol of time or self interest, I’m saying no to prevent an idol of ME. When we believe WE have to fill every need we are thinking too highly of ourselves. Saying no is an exercise in humility. I pride myself on being capable of a great many things (i’m a jack of all trades, master of none) but just because i’m capable does not mean I should. Instead of agreeing to mediocrity in many areas I am striving for excellence in one.

To be the wife, mother and teacher I have been called to be I must be very selective, protective even, of how I use my time. I must choose wisely the things I can do well and still continue my callings.

I know this problem is not unique to me, or women, or even Christians.

Tonight I pray, Lord help me to be a Mary in a world that encourages me to be a Martha. Help me to see the important tasks set before me and focus on them, leaving the things which can wait to wait. May I be consumed not by busyness but by glorifying you through all I say and do. 

A Halloween Conviction

I used to love Halloween. I would dress up, sometimes making elaborate costumes for myself other times putting together multiple costumes per year (like 3 or 4). I also never missed a haunted hayride..or a few… and would drive an hour or two to go to my favorite haunted houses. I really enjoyed it.

Notice all the past tense?

I’m not sure when it happened but slowly I became increasingly uncomfortable with Halloween. It’s not just my faith, although that plays a part, that changed how I see the holiday. It’s a combination of my faith against the backdrop of an increasingly dark world and a society that seems to embrace evil, hatred, and all manner of unseemly things.

Looking back, I think it started years ago when the “Saw” movie franchise was popular. It did not seem at all like something I would enjoy so I didn’t not watch them..until 2006 when they had released a third so I decided to try the first one and just see what everyone was obsessed with. I was left in shock. Did people actually enjoy this? Revel in seeing humans tortured? Pay to see people murdered, maimed and tormented in disturbing ways? Why? What does this say about them? I’m sorry I couldn’t get past the idea people saw this as “entertainment” and I will openly admit I judge people who enjoy those movies. I honestly don’t trust people who do, I wonder what dark part of them embraces that.

It was that peak into an ugly part of humanity that began my journey to breaking up with Halloween. Slowly I noticed more and more themes of disturbing adult content being pushed down for children, murder and gruesome acts being trivialized and even celebrated and an intolerable focus on evil.

In a world full of evil and pain and murder and hate I, for one, do not want to give any more energy and time to darkness. I don’t want to surround myself with negative, sinister, wicked imagery and I don’t want my children exposed to it. 

I will let my children trick or treat this year but even that formerly innocent activity is wearing on me, last year I had to block their view from inappropriate costumes and decorations.  As I walk my Sleeping Beauty and undecided historical figure (he’s still torn) around for candy this year I am going to do some soul searching as I decide if it needs to be our last.  Maybe we will save our costumes for comic-con and the ren faire…

The halloween of my childhood was still largely one of vampires, frankenstein and witches. It existed in a world where terrorists were not beheading captives and posting the videos to youtube. A time when scary movies that bothered to show blood resembled something akin to a ketchup bottle spurting everywhere not the hyper-realistic, disturbingly intense fare of today.  Halloween no longer seems like campy fun and the scary, disturbing places it has gone are not roads I desire to walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be a September 12th American

When I think of an American I don’t think of the exceptions, I think of the rules. The media loves to find the outliers in any situation because typical doesn’t sell. “One dies from eating lettuce!!!” is going to get way more attention than “Millions of people don’t die from eating lettuce.” Sadly, the same is true in their coverage of the American people. Who leads the coverage? Racists, anarchists, looters, mobs, gangs, and criminals, these people don’t really represent America anymore than a death from a salad represents the typical risks of eating healthy.

I want to talk about REAL America. The America most of us experience every single day. Real America has a lot of hard working folks. Salt of the earth people who will quietly do what needs to be done and ask for no recognition in return. I’m looking at you first responders, farmers, factory workers, teachers, nurses and more. I’m talking about the kind of people who dug through the rubble on September 11th, 2001 or jumped in their boats to rescue strangers after a hurricane. These are the hands and feet of America doing what needs to be done.

Real America has a heart too, it is easy to find strangers helping strangers, rescuing animals, donating to those in need, giving their time to charities and just being kind to their fellow humans. These acts occur by the thousands in every city, every day, you’ve probably been the giver or recipient of one yourself. I refuse to let the identity of REAL America be stolen by a hateful minority simply because they get all the attention.

If you are old enough just think back to one clear September morning where we all remembered what it meant to be American, to grieve with those who grieve, to help those in need, and to recognize the good in our fellow man. We reached out and held hands across pews, across religions, across genders and races and financial divides and we were a stronger people for it. September 11th will live on vividly in my mind as a somber day but September 12th? That will forever remind me what it means to be an American.

Broken is Beautiful

“You’re a 30 year old mom of two who teaches elementary school; college students don’t want to hang out with you.” That’s what the mean girl in my head told me as I looked at the info for my church’s international student ministry. Not old enough to be motherly, not young enough to be hip. I am at a stage in life that can feel awkward, but I knew the mean girl was wrong, in fact God had called me to this church for this exact purpose. Knowing the mean girl is wrong and silencing her can be different things though.

Socializing is not something that comes naturally to me. I am a very confident person…until i’m not. Put me in a professional setting and I am self-assured and collected, certain of my God gifted abilities. Ask me to dig into a deep philosophical question or summarize a complex idea and I’ll jump at the opportunity, thankful to utilize my God given intelligence. Give me a practical need and I will strive to meet it assured of God’s calling for me as a servant. But ask me to interact with people I don’t know well in a social setting? Suddenly i’m in fifth grade again and the mean girls are watching for me to do the wrong thing so they can laugh. I have to fight the urge to withdraw and force myself to engage.

I am comfortable with who I am but I am not always confident in my value to a world I increasingly don’t understand…. It is only by recognizing I was not made for this world that I am able to embrace my deeply flawed person as a vessel of a holy and perfect God’s will. My brokenness is the very attribute which allowed me to be shaped into a new creation and so it is only in my brokenness that I can find beauty. When I reach out in spite of my inabilities and insecurities it is in that act of self-denial that I see Christ (because it is certainly not me). Each time I push against what the world has told me I am I find strength in the action and rest in the obedience.

I am very thankful I silenced the mean girl. I spent this afternoon hanging out with one of our lovely international friends and watching my children begin to understand another culture in a meaningful way. We would have missed a blessing God had for us.

Assessing Walt’s Worldview

Everyone has a worldview, a way of thinking about or perceiving the world through the lens of their own experiences, ideologies and misconceptions. I am a follower of Christ, as such I attempt to perceive life through a biblical worldview. I do not always succeed. I am, however, able with mindful examination to discern the way I *should* view things when I stop and try to run things through the filter of Scripture. Spoiler alert, I often get it pretty wrong before doing this and still likely get it wrong after but with each pass through I am hopefully getting closer to the truth.

Accepting that everyone has a worldview that changes the way they see reality & therefore the way they present reality makes it strange that I rarely stop to consider the worldview presented in my entertainment. Maybe it’s because in our culture entertainment is often prided as being “mindless” so of course thinking to heavily about it would be silly right?

I also happen to be a huge Disney fan, a Disney Nerd if you will, who loves that shining beacon of capitalism and wholesome family fun; from the parks to the movies and everything in between. But what if the worldview of my favorite mouse creator is at odds with my own? What if, by sharing my favorite films and stories without deeper discussion, I am slowly indoctrinating my children to see the world in a way I believe is false?

I was reading an article in the current issue of “The Classical Difference” called “The Jungle Book Unearths Cultural Treasure” that used Kipling’s Jungle Book & the 1967 and 2016 Disney movie versions to highlight the underlying worldview shifts that subtly change the message of each retelling when it hit me that good ole Walt Disney and I don’t see eye to eye!

****I am using Walt Disney as a figurehead for the Disney corporation, obviously he did not write each movie and he himself was purported to be a Christian but the Disney corporation is made of members of society and therefore reflect the worldview of the time and place around them in their work.****

As I started thinking through many of my favorite Disney films I found big ideas I just can’t get behind when taken out of a cartoon context…so why I am I cool with them as long as they are voiced by a colorful, non-existent character?

Some of these ideas include:

Aladdin: The End Justifies the Means, I mean we are cool with Aladdin stealing to eat because he’s poor but then we are cool with him lying and creating a fake identity because… well i’m not sure why?

The Jungle Book: Life is about having fun and a friend you can trust, we can all get along if we just ignore the parts of each other’s lives we don’t like.  Not “bad” stuff but from a Christian perspective pretty false.

The Little Mermaid: You can make deals with the devil, run away from home, turn your back on your family, marry strange men and it will all work out! It’s about love right? You know love between a teenage runaway and the 1st random sailor she sees usually is a great idea! True love conquers all, also true love can be found simply by looking at someone!

I could definitely keep going but you get the idea. See the fact that I am looking at the world as a place with very clearly defined good & evil means I am going to have different ideas about what is right and wrong than someone who thinks it’s open for interpretation.  We can’t see eye to eye because we are starting from totally different places.

This doesn’t mean I can not enjoy a Disney movie or even find good messages in them! (There are many messages that can be reconciled with a Christian worldview) What it does mean is that I absolutely MUST examine the worldview and the messages and even more importantly I have to discuss them with my children. I have to model critically thinking about even “harmless” entertainment. I have a responsibility to show them that even if something is enjoyable it can be false and truth must weigh more than pleasure in our valuations.

I will continue to enjoy Disney, and other types of entertainment, with my children but hopefully with a bit more intentional discussion and calling out of wrong thinking when I see it. I look forward to building bridges between the stories they enjoy and the Word!

 

 

 

 

 

Shoebox Packing

One of my favorite charity activities every year has long been packing shoeboxes! I LOVED the advice I got last year from this blog “Unsolicited Advice About Shoeboxes” and it changed WHAT I pack but not so much HOW I pack.

If you have tips share them in the comments!

Here is a diagram of my box for a 5-9 year old boy:

The bottom layer: pack of 8 colorful ink pens, box of colored pencils, unsharpened neon pencils, blue bandana, comb, bar of soap, fat 4X6ish notebook & turned against the side of the box a pouch with a toothbrush, toothbrush cover & toothpaste in it. 20161029_185810

Top Layer: Melamine bowl with cars on it (least weird design I could find) and a matching sturdy cup turned sideways to fit in bowl. Inside the cup is a blue led flashlight with batteries in it and a three pack of new extra batteries, a pencil sharpener and 3 large erasers. Next to the bowl is a green string backpack folded up, a 3 pack of green washcloths folded, a squishy ball that looks like Earth, a pair of sunglasses with a 3 pack of decorative striped and polka dot socks folded through the middle and finally hard candy and bubble gum sprinkled everywhere it can fit.

Tucked in between the backpack & washcloths (so hard to see): a small squishy soccer ball, plastic gold coins, 2 self inking stampers.

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Lid can close securely but will still be rubber banded for extra closure. To be added is a personal note from my son & our prepaid shipping form.

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