Having never celebrated Christmas growing up, I really didn't think twice about it, because no one I personally knew would get a bunch of stuff in December, either. That didn't mean I was any more thankful...I think every kid struggles with wanting things they don't have. We didn't grow up with a lot of material possessions though. Expectations were fairly low, and rightfully so. I honestly don't remember a time growing up when my mom, herding all 6 of us through the store, that any one of us asked for something, and especially didn't go ahead and pitch a fit about anything not coming home with us. I actually was shocked when we took someone else's kid to the store and I saw it happen to my mother, from this kid. I was maybe 10, and was utterly floored. It stuck out so much that, I still remember the exact store it happened in, and what aisle, even though I haven't even lived in that part of the country for the past 10 years. So props, mom. You are a rock star. :)
Being a mom, it's so hard when it becomes SUCH a joy to give to your children, yet balancing that with preventing a materialistic attitude is fairly tricky.
Our childrens' birthdays have consisted of simplicity, and *what we can afford*. Arden's first birthday present was a kitchen we created out of an entertainment center. Her second birthday present was a secondhand bicycle from Weecycled, and her 3rd was ballet lessons and the outfit to go with it. Thayer's first was a sandbox made by his fantastic Daddy.
Why am I telling you this? Because it doesn't exist in my children's memories to shop for and open new or fancy presents. Therefore, when shopping with community group friends for some foster children a week ago, Arden became inconsolable when she realized the things we were piling into our cart at WalMart were *not for us*. I tried to explain that the bikes we were buying were for children that didn't have a mommy or daddy, and she blurted "I don't want to have a mommy and a daddy, I want a bike!" amidst giant, plentiful tears and sobs.
It about broke my heart. What do you even say? Part of you wants to scold them for the awful attitude. But another part feels sorry that their little three-year-old mind is so confused why you would be buying presents for other kids and not them. Not long after this experience, we needed to shop for gifts again, this time for a white elephant exchange game. So to the store we went, once again looking through the exciting world of *new things*, and Arden asks "what are we getting?" and I replied "presents". She was ecstatic again, and dancing in the cart basket dangerously at the sound of this news. Then I had to break it to her that these presents were for friends, as she sees things she finds exciting and beautiful, saying "I really like that, mama!". I said, "Love, we aren't buying presents for us, it's just for a party" (big mistake) "OH MAMA! Is Megan coming to my party?" (At this comment, a complete stranger gave her the look of utter pity)...to which I replied, "Well, it's actually just Mama and Daddy going and Miss Emily is going to come hang out with you and you can play together."
I don't know which was more sad. The complete lack of reaction to this news, that there was no party for her and that the presents were for other grown ups, or the previous reaction to the toys going to kids without parents.
So, the question on my mind was: how does a parent in this season teach their child about gratitude when the whole world around them is aimed at moulding them into consumers? From the displays, to the strangers who think you must be the most horrible parent in the world to not be buying toys for your children in December.
I've lived in this humble little home for almost a year now, and it's been some of the happiest months of my life. This house is old, looks totally ghetto from the outside, and has some functionality issues (an ailing refrigerator and washing machine among them). But as it's been said:
So even while living debt free, in a house that is the perfect size for our little family, no more, no less, and finding joy in the people around us, and the beautiful relationship with Him, do I still find the time to get stuck on STUFF??
I thought I had this one beat. I really did. I would even consider that it has been a point of pride for me, the fact that I'm not into stuff like I once was. I've found that driving a Tahoe felt no better than driving a minivan. That living in a three level, 4 bedroom 4 bath house with debt is a whole lot worse than living debt free in a 3 bed 1 bath *rental*. The desire to have, to hold, to gather pretties and place them strategically around myself, I suppose maybe to feel better? That "stuff" isn't what we are made for, and that our souls continue to crave, even with the most extravagant of surroundings. My soul has found rest and purpose in finding ways to love others, and not stuff. My heart has been completely satisfied with the things I have being functional, the home I have being warm, the clothes I have being the right size (and warm!), and being completely free from the bondage of religion.
So I was surprised when it struck again last night. After shopping for the perfect "useful but not utterly boring" gifts for the exchange game (because I couldn't bring myself to buy anything no one would need or want in this season of our life, when it was likely that these gifts might well be the only gifts our friends get from us), I was pretty satisfied with our picks. Looking forward to the game because I hadn't played this game in a long time and haven't received a random gift; something I would never buy for myself, for a while. The game was played, and I found my heart grumbling. So much that I feel it must have been visible, the ugliness of ungratefulness was shown on my countenance. Drew and I had both chosen those gifts that are good to get, but not something others grab out of your hands so you can get a new choice. As I was sitting there, I'm thinking "what the heck! It's just stuff!", reason trying to take hold...and yet Satan still kept at me, and I confess my mood was pretty downcast. I struggled with the thoughts that it always seemed that those that have more than enough, continue to accumulate the things they want on top of having more than they need. Your typical grumbly heart.
It wasn't until I got home, and my THREE YEAR OLD DAUGHTER, the one whom I had been so disappointed in about her ungratefulness a few days before, came to me and asked if she could have my new day planner and pens (part of my gift), that I paused for a moment, wrestling with the idea that it was wasteful and that it was brand new, then decided that yes, she would find much joy in this, and said "sure, love, you can have it."
The delight and joy Drew and I both witnessed in that moment put us both to shame. My eyes teared up and I realized this:
The enemy of gratefulness in our children IS NOT the things they see around them, the people that "feel sorry" for them, or the society and it's emphasis on materialism.
The enemy of gratefulness IS our *very own* attitude towards the world around us, the things we possess already and the attitude WE carry towards those who have more "stuff". The gratefulness they see us choosing to express is what will teach them that stuff isn't everything, and that our attitudes of gratefulness is what defines our happiness, not the quantity, quality, superiority or inferiority of our "stuff".
The threat is within our hearts. Not "out there".
It's a bummer I lost that one while I was in the middle of that moment, but it's a beautiful thing that the Spirit teaches us these lessons through our very own children, when it was us that thought we needed to do the teaching. Ironic?
Nope. The beauty of life in Christ. Unexpected and humbling.