It is Christmastime and there is excitement all around us. The whole world is a flurry with baking, brown paper packages and ribbons, Jesse trees, laughter, sending and receiving Christmas cards, Christmas parties, traveling, intentional stillness and reflection, generous giving, reconnecting with family, carols, and Christmas programs.
Our world can seem so quiet here at times of the year when everyone else is super busy. My friends are linking articles about cutting back at Christmas time and focusing on what’s important while I search the web for Christmas activities hoping for something to make it feel more like the Christmas season. The mission has a few Christmas activities, but they are mostly program based and served by volunteers rather than the church and staff families. There are no school Christmas programs, organized caroling, work Christmas banquets, or Christmas parties with friends. We stay home a lot. We don’t have a huge Christmas shopping list. It’s Silent Night for our family in Atlanta.
Every year God has sent Christmas gifts in the most beautiful ways that are unique to our family’s needs. This year was no exception. Early in December someone offered to decorate our house for Christmas. For two weeks I had a mother’s helper who improved our family’s life 300%. Today, when we can’t be with family, an extended family is driving from South Carolina to share Christmas dinner with us and pass out packages to the homeless. Our life is still very rich.
Because things are so quiet I love finding at least one event for our family to make December feel a little more Christmas-y. A week ago we got to listen to the Atlanta Boys’ Choir. I was Quite tickled because tickets are normally $20 and we heard them at a church for free! :)
Last evening we headed out for a Christmas Eve service. Last week on my way to a dentist appointment, I had noticed a church sign on a Presbyterian church that there would be a candlelit service at 6:30. We arrived a few minutes early and the sign said eight o’clock instead!!! That’s a rather heart sinking moment when you have three little boys who just loooove sitting in church (heh-heh).
We swung around to a Target parking lot and figured out where we could drive to see some of the Christmas lights. We found a few neighborhoods. It turned into one of those evenings that started out dreamy–our little family happy and driving to a candlelit Christmas Eve service to worship Jesus–and turned into squabbling about the light being on or off and the baby wailing because he wasn’t allowed to have his window down the whole time we drove around in 30 degree temperatures.
Things settled down after a reminder from Daddy and finding a nice neighborhood. I loved the houses we saw and their beautiful lights outside. Inside some homes we’d see someone cooking up some food in the kitchen and there were gatherings of people in the dining room of others. It gave me such a cozy feeling.
Originally we thought we’d swing back to the 8:00 candlelit service, but by that time we were a good twenty minutes away from the church and weren’t really feeling like braving a church service after all that driving. We headed home. Steve took a scenic route and we happened upon a mini live nativity scene in front of a church!! The boys and I quickly hopped out of the van and Steve found a parking spot.
Such a sweet surprise!!
And then..well we noticed that the church was also having a Christmas Eve service so we went inside. The church was just GoRgEouS and grand and festive. It was much more formal than what we’re used to, but I just held my breath that the boys wouldn’t do anything super embarrassing and smiled at them and shook my head when their wriggling got a bit much and smiled at the people who turned to to see. There were only a few other children in church, but people were really kind even if they noticed Paxton and Zachary fencing with their candlesticks.
The service was lovely–the singing and music so beautiful it filled my spirit with the bit of Christmas that had been missing. I LoVe beautiful congregational singing and the unity you feel when hundreds are singing with one voice. Singing Christmas carols there was really another one of those surprise gifts that seemed so planned by God even if we just happened upon it.
During the announcements the pastor asked that all visitors fill out the visitor’s form and drop it into the offering plate. We didn’t bother, but soon I noticed our firstborn dutifully following instructions. :) It was soooo adorable. He wrote his name at the top then crossed out Mr., Mrs., Ms., Single, and married. He also crossed out all the age brackets since none of them applied (18+) :)
He filled out our address then each of the boys’ names under “Your children.” Next there was a space for prayer requests. “How do you spell wonder?” he asked. I couldn’t wait to see what he would write.
When he finished I glanced over to see his prayer request. It was simple, but so heartfelt. “I was wondering about the poor.”
It’s hard to describe the happiness these moments bring to a mother’s heart. It’s the love for God that you pray for and try to teach. It’s the joy of watching your son thinking selflessly on Christmas eve when presents will be small and the daily wishes of seeing cousins won’t come true. It’s this longing to see the softness in his heart always. It’s simple. It’s pure.
I wanted to slip that paper into my bag as a keepsake of this time. As precious as it is to me now I’d probably think it was even more priceless once he’s a teenager. :) He seems so big and grown up, but sometimes I remember how little and innocent he still is. Even if I wanted to keep it I let him put the paper into the offering plate. I couldn’t help but hope the little boy handwriting would touch someone’s heart.
The boys did really well, but still we left before the service was quite over. They were excited because we were going to open presents when we got home.
So this is a story I wanted to tell you to encourage you with how God will provide for us when we ask Him.
Christmas presents at our house are always pretty low key. This year the boys have been dreaming about a remote controlled crane. They saw one at Toys R Us and have been talking about it ever since. After hearing about it .every.day. for weeks I was thinking what fun it would be to buy one for them. I could see their faces, their jumping, and hear the screams when they opened the present and saw just what they wanted.
I asked Steve how much I could spend per child and he said. $10.00. Ten dollars?! It seemed so small after dreaming about giving that truck crane. But I knew this was not a good year for spending. It was a wise decision, and I wanted to respect him even if it felt hard. I was actually sitting in parking lot about to go into a store when I asked him, so my mind was reeling. What could I buy for only $10 that they would even like? (Do you hear the pout-y attitude?):(
I stopped to pray that God would give me good ideas and help me find something that would be special. Immediately I remembered that I had been keeping a list on Workflowy (a most awesome list making site) of gift ideas. I checked it out and found several gifts for boys in the $10 range. Watch. Binoculars. Magnifying glass. Harmonica. Flashlight.
At the first store I found an umbrella for Paxton. He LOOOOVES umbrellas and wants to play with ours. After having two ruined and one stolen, I’m a little protective of it. A personal umbrella in his size would be perfet. It was $6.00. I have given child-sized umbrellas as gifts before and they can sometimes be closer to $10.00, so that was a good deal.
There was a stuffed triceratops that could be flattened out and used as a pillow. Zac is the biggest dino-fan and his favorite is triceratops. T-Rex is the dinosaur that is everywhere, so when I saw his favorite in his favorite color I knew it was perfect–not to mention that he adores stuffed animals. There was this niggling fear, though, that Zachary would be disappointed. He is seven now. Would this seem to juvenile for him? Would he be disappointed it wasn’t a truck or airplane? The dino was also $6.00, so I bought a harmonica for Ian to give to Zachary. His aunts had sent him one two years ago, and it’s been missing for awhile. He’s been wanting one for months, so I knew that would be loved.
I was a little stuck on Ian’s gift, but bought him a tube of sea animals and binoculars for Zachary to give to Ian. The sea animals were just under $9.00 (a little less than Amazon’s price while supporting a local store. yee-haw!), but I used the remaining dollars from Paxton’s allotment for the binoculars. Ian is happy with anything, and all the boys would love all the gifts, really.
It was just amazing to me that so very easily God had provided gifts that fit right within the price range we had set. I was still holding my breath a tiny bit because I so wanted the gifts to be well-loved.
The first present they opened was hats and scarves from our neighbor.
The present opening was a blur of jumping and screaming and plowing through paper. It was very merry for sure.
Zachary’s face when he saw the triceratops melted any reservations I might have had about the awesomeness of his gift.
The truth I’ve heard from God over and over the last several years is that we can trust Him. He is good. He will provide. Even in ways He wouldn’t have to, He has given us good gifts. These happy faces are proof that He’s done it again.