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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love is… not easy.

We had an incident today.

Let me break it down for you…

Here was our morning:

After the boys’ speech therapy session, we ate some sandwiches in the car and drove straight to ShopRite for a marathon shopping trip. I needed both staple items (paper towels, canned goods, diapers, etc.) and food for vacation the following day. I found a whale-sized 3-seater cart that would accommodate my 100 pounds worth of children and after an hour of shopping, it was piled high with groceries. By the time we reached the checkout, a pack of 12 paper towel rolls was balanced precariously on the girl’s head because it didn’t fit anywhere else. (Helpful hint: when coupons print for “a valuable customer,” you have clearly bought too much.)

Plastic-grocery-bags-grocer

Then we got home:

We were all tired, so baby girl went straight to bed. But ice cream was melting, so I asked the boys to help me carry groceries inside. They agreed without much of a fuss. I was surprised and impressed.  The first load made it to the kitchen successfully.

And this was the incident:

I gave J two bags because he handled the first trip so well. Mistake #1. Then I loaded up my arms with as many bags as I could carry and followed him inside. Mistake #2.

J stalled out on the stairs, dropped his bags, and plopped facedown on the carpet. Now my bag handles were cutting into my fingers, my legs were holding up two additional bags of groceries, and my child was blocking my way. I started ordering J to stand up, get his bags and get out my way. He just lay there and looked at me like a sad little bloodhound. I yelled louder and with more anger and impatience. What was this kid’s problem?! Move!  How did he not see that he was causing me pain and bringing all of our efforts to a screeching halt? Move!! I yelled louder, anger bubbling up inside of me. Why did my children do this so often??

Finally, J conceded and grabbed one of his bags (an intentional rebellion) moaning and whining as he came. I furiously scooped up the final abandoned bag in my already overburdened left hand and plowed past J, knocking him on the head with a bag in the process.  (A total accident, I assure you. *ahem*)

And then that annoying whisper came. (Fair warning: if you memorize scripture, it will come back to haunt you at the worst possible times. The Holy Spirit’s tricky like that.)

“Love is patient…”

Okay, I was anything BUT patient with J, but he was being disobedient and lazy and selfish  and…

“Love is not self-seeking…”

Alright, I was being a little selfish too.

“Love is kind.”

Fail.

“Love is not easily angered”

TOTAL fail.

I think, sometimes as a parent, I tend to excuse and justify my impatience and irritability towards my kids because, well, they are making poor choices so they deserve it. Don’t they? I tell myself that my anger shows them just how disappointing and wrong their actions are…

But what about love?

If I am not acting in love (and I am clearly not in those moments), “I am nothing” and “I gain nothing.”

Crap.

So, I will do two things instead.

First, I will ask my kids for forgiveness when I am impatient and unkind. I will admit to them when I am too easily angered and find myself tallying up wrongs. My mom was always so good at doing that when I was a kid, and I will never forget the life-changing impact of a parent’s humble apology. It often ended up convicting and humbling me in process.

Second, I will pray for the strength to love my three little people more fully each day. I pray not for the emotional, ooey-gooey kind of love, but for the real, difficult, active, even-when-I-don’t-feel-like-it kind of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
                        -1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13