Christmas stuff

There are two beautiful things that my kids do not know are counter cultural:

1.) We visit toy stores and treat them like libraries. Look at toy, check out the buttons and sounds, comment on how cool it is, return to shelf. If you shop with us, you will hear me repeat over and over again as we browse through the aisles, “Let’s see what else we can find.” Even just turned 2 year old Sariya knows the routine. If she asks for a baby or stuffed animal she means that she wants it to ride in the cart with her for a few aisles. Then we work together to remember where the baby “lives” or “sleeps” and put it to bed on it’s shelf. For the Miller kids, toy stores are for borrowing, not buying.

2.) Christmas is about love, joy, peace, hope, and giving…not getting. We spend the Advent season leading up to Christmas with a fun family activity for each day. We eat treats, we make crafts, we pray for people, we serve each other (in fun ways…like making someone else’s bed after you get a chance to jump on it), we watch movies, we act out the Christmas story, we go for winter walks, and drink tea together. At some point along the way, we also make a big deal of a family trip to the Dollar Tree where they get to carefully choose several items to give to family members. They pick them, they pay for them, they wrap them. It’s all very top secret and very fun. So, when Christmas morning comes, what’s often the most exciting thing? Watching someone open the gift that you have been keeping a surprise and are SO excited to give them.

I love these ways we’ve “brainwashed” our children. We are attempting to teach them lessons that many adults have yet to master, and in the process, we are experiencing firsthand the joy that comes from giving, serving, loving, and living simply.

We know these are fragile constructs. It’s not the way our Western world works.

And this week, I was so tempted to conform.

Sariya has a mid-December birthday and the boys hadn’t had a chance to pick out gifts for her, so the three kids and I braved the Christmas shoppers and hit up Five Below (I was too chicken to visit Toys ‘R Us). Each kid wanted their own mesh shopping basket, so I distributed baskets and we started wandering through the store. Initially, Sariya was super thrilled just to be carrying such a cool basket. Did you know you can wear them on your head and see through the mesh?! Super cool.

But then she noticed something…The boys were actually there to shop and were putting things in their baskets. Oh, yeah. She could get into that.

Collect what I like? Got it. Done.

I looked at my little girl and realized that our carefully constructed “toys are for borrowing” policy was about to crumble. She was on her very first shopping spree. I knew it would NOT fly to have a double standard and let the boys collect while her basket remained empty. There is a limit to what a 2 year old can understand. So, the new policy became only one thing in your basket. If you want to keep that new thing you picked up, then you have to put the other thing back. And she did. After changing her mind three times, she walked out with only one item.

But it wasn’t just Sariya that was affected by our trip.We spent over 30 minutes browsing that giant room full of toys and I found myself succumbing to the Sariya-syndrome…I wanted to buy it all too!

Ky and Judah would LOVE that game.  Sariya would be so cute in that hat.   My kids would be so happy to play with this. They would be so surprised to receive that. And it was only $5! Or $3! Or $1! What’s one dollar??!

I wanted to spend and wrap and give. It could be so fun to shop for them and it could be so easy to just buy buy buy.

Then I remembered that all three kids get fully celebrated (and fully gifted) on their close-to-Christmas birthdays. And I remembered the pile of toys we just got rid of and the pile of toys we still have. And I remembered that for most of the morning they played with my kitchen broom instead of their toy pile (true story). And I remembered that miraculously, we have been able to keep Jesus’ birthday about love, joy, peace, hope and…well…His birth. And I realized that if I give in now, if I let the stuff win, it could all crumble.

I don’t want a Season full of wish lists and “I wants” and packages torn through and stuff they don’t need and gifts discarded and “why didn’t I gets.”

I want a Season full of celebration and family and friends and simple joys and cherished gifts and Jesus. Lot’s of Jesus.

That’s what I want for Christmas.

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Peeling carrots in Zambia

It is in the moments of lack that I am the most creative.

Don’t have baby wipes to clean up muddy feet? Strip baby, wet dirty clothes with water bottle, wipe away mud. Brilliant!

Don’t have a book or toy for the restaurant wait? Build salt shaker towers, play guessing games with the menu, and tell stories together. Genius!

But, I live in upper-middle class America. We have plenty of wipes, books, and toys; I just forgot to pack them. We are rarely lacking in anything. Not only do we have everything we could possibly need, but almost everything we want.

What a sad state we are in. Without lack, there is no need for creativity. Without need for creativity, we forget we have the capacity to be creative.

If you’ve ever seen or used a gift registry you know that there is so. much. stuff. we. think. we. NEED. How could you get married and not receive a panini press? And it would be impossible to raise a child without at least 2 SwaddleMe blankets?  Right?

The consumeristic American lifestyle has brainwashed us. Looking over the baby and wedding registry checklists online I realize just how many of these things I have and just how many of these things I use and just how many of these things I am convinced truly are essential. But they’re not! Barely any possession is truly essential.

I will never forget being handed a carrot while in Zambia and (as a full grown, married woman) having no idea how to peel it. My host didn’t have a vegetable peeler! I hesitated awkwardly, carrot in one hand and paring knife in the other. Maybe Zambians didn’t peel their carrots…Without my kitchen drawer full of registry items, I was at a loss. Thankfully, my wonderful, patient, Zambian host showed me how a simple angling of the paring knife could turn it into the perfect peeling tool, scraping off just the carrot’s exterior layer without losing large slices of the carrot. One tool for two jobs?! Astounding!

So, I have a challenge for my fellow Americans. Let’s recapture the meaning of “need.” Go through those registry lists again or simply look around your house. Not with your “American brain” but with your “creative brain.” Look at each item and ask yourself- “Do we really need that? What could be a creative alternative?”

Then (after you retrain your brain) ask yourself these questions at the store BEFORE you buy something. Think of the money you’ll save, the junk you’ll avoid, and the creative genius you’ll turn into!

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