Category Archives: Family and faith

Falling in Love Again

flowers

I grew up in Nebraska, went to school in Arkansas, and moved immediately after college to Texas.  I birthed all of my kids in Texas and created a lovely suburban life in Texas.

Then, in an act that MANY thought was crazy, we moved our family to the northeast to experiment with life a bit.  After several months years of massive culture shock, I found a rhythm.  I fell in love with a city.  With her people.  With a region.  With an honest, raw life.
* We lived on an unusual street populated with people passionate about making their neighborhood better, committed to each other, and endlessly creative with ways to do both.
* We found a crazy-good church filled with open armed, lovely people who spent their energy attempting to draw my kids to deeper things, and attempting to radically transform our city with acts of service and love.
* My husband started a business that was flooded with accolades and honor, with nothing but fulfillment and financial potential.  It was the completion of a long-held dream and was a source of continual expression of his relational and professional gifts.
* We benefitted from the culture and brilliance of a town that was the home of Yale University.  We regularly attended jazz festivals in the town green, participated in arts and idea festivals in various venues around town, went to concerts and plays, got our kids golf lessons at the Yale golf course and found a Yale graduate as a Spanish tutor for our boys.
* And don’t get me started reminiscing about the breathtaking seasons, orchards, and ocean.

WE changed – were transformed by this place.  We were reintroduced to a reality from which we had insulated ourselves.  We were challenged by the tough questions of faith.  We were encouraged to rethink community, social mission, politics, social transformation, hospitality, traditions, among many, many others.  We aggressively worked to break down the “us” versus “them” mentality.  We fought fear, financial lack, and culture.

And then God asked us to leave it all.  Just when this foreign land became familiar and I became fluent in the language of the region, when the work that we’d invested was beginning to pay off and life wasn’t such a struggle, we were uprooting.

When the initial job offer was received and I quieted myself enough to ask God what His vision was for us, the direction He gave me was, “If this earth is your home, of course you’d stay and reap the benefit of your years of toiling; however, if heaven is your home, then I’m asking you to take what you’ve learned and build up another work of mine in Dallas.”

I fully believe that my investment on this earth is to build God’s kingdom, meaning that my efforts are directed towards eternal things.  To me, it is pretty clear delineation – this earth is not my home.  There were other reasons that formed a case as to why we felt that we should move, but this directive was always in my mind.

So we moved.  We hit the ground running and I felt really hopeful about what might be here for me and my family.

downtown-dallas-from-the-trinity-river_l

But the other day as I was reflecting on our short time here, the Lord stopped me and exposed a part of my heart to me that I had effectively covered. I’d moved – but if I was really honest, I hadn’t allowed room in my heart for ALL that Dallas is.  On the surface, I was helping my kids land well, showing them the joys of living in a large metroplex, exploring our new environment and investing in our church community.  But on the inside, I realized that I was looking over my shoulder quite a bit.  I was resenting the warm temperatures in winter and was envying my northern friends every time that it snowed.  I was allowing myself to be cynical when I shopped for produce, recognizing that it wasn’t as fresh as if I had picked it myself.  I was realizing (and didn’t like the fact) that it is way too easy to be isolated in this spread out city.

I know those are silly and/or petty issues, but my lack of wholehearted investment left room for resentment to creep in.

HOWEVER, I recognize that I’ll miss out on SO MUCH that God has for me and my family if I don’t fall in love again with this city.  I will never really connect if I am looking over my shoulder.  I’ll not be effective in our new mission if I don’t intentionally put myself fully in.  If I’m looking back to what was, I’ll put out a vibe that I’m not really available.  A part of me will be withheld from truly investing, and that missing part will be noticed.  Relationships will stay shallow, and I’ll be a fraction of the person I am intended to be.

All of the above is not to say that Dallas hasn’t warmly welcomed us, or that I haven’t connected with people here.  I really have, and I see the potential for such deeper relationships.  I know that God is in complete control of my growth, and that this new place has as much to add to my journey as the former place did.  In fact, I believe that the parts of my heart that became awakened to His love for His people and His earth will be some of the gifts that I have to give to this new place.  I just recognize that for all of this to happen, to a great extent, it is up to whether or not I fully embrace this city.

This is a lovely city filled with lovely people.  I am eager to see what God has in store for me as I learn to put myself out there even more!

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Fasting and Writing

IMG_5238Our church is beginning the new year with a 21 day corporate fast.  They believe that when we humble ourselves in this manner, God is lifted up and can transform His church and His people.  The new year is always an opportunity to reflect on the trajectory of our lives, to dream about the coming opportunities, and to shift our priorities.  It makes sense to set aside the first few days of the new year to reflect on why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, to press the pause button of our life-pace and allow ourselves to reflect on something other than the urgent.

But that really isn’t what this blog post is about.  Well, kind of.

About a week before Thanksgiving, my husband (who is on staff of our church) asked me if I would write a 21 day devotional for the fasting time.  It would be a booklet that gets into the hands of our members so that we are able to share this fasting experience with each other.  That way, we’re focusing our times of prayer towards the same targets, linking our hearts towards the same needs, and receiving the same kinds of encouragement. We will all be walking through similar struggles, experiencing victories and breakthroughs, and able to lean on each other.  It will allow us to form deep bonds and stay connected as we journey.

That isn’t even really what this post is about.  Maybe a little.

What this is about for me is stepping into who I am.  It is about putting myself out there for people to see.  Blogging to a limited audience is one thing.  Never really seeing peoples’ reactions to what you write, not sitting across from them as they read what you’ve written and scrutinizing their faces, and then, realistically, being forgotten soon after they read it, has grown to be a part of my comfort level.

But stepping out in front of my church community, caring about what they think about my identity as a writer, intimately being a part of their lives for 21 days, guiding this process that is so sacred…that is a whole other level of vulnerability.

Since I was a young girl, I knew I was supposed to write.  I had all kinds of dreams, and each one of them hovered around crafting a good story.  Not verbally telling one, in which one shoots from the cuff, but writing a story, playing with the words until they evoked an emotion or a memory.  Working on the cadence of the words so that the beat of their rhythm drummed up a connection between people.  I dreamed.

And then a guidance counselor triggered an avalanche in my heart that buried those dreams.  He proclaimed over me (and in front of my classmates) that I wasn’t creative.  I believed.  I took that declaration, compared myself to others, and deemed that he was correct.

What that did for my future was to redefine my identity.  To write original works, to tell original stories, one must be creative.  And since I clearly wasn’t a creative, I must be relegated to editing.  I would still be a part of the writing community, but be the one that takes other peoples’ creativity and makes it polished.  I wouldn’t be illuminating my own ideas, I would be translating other peoples’ ideas so that they were clearly understood.

I didn’t write.  Ever.  Not even journal.  A well-crafted thank you card every now and again, but that was the extent.

And then, over time, that strongly-held belief started to crumble a little.  Very slowly.  I would hear something about the character of God that made me realize that He was creative – and if He was creative, I just might be.   A little piece of the foundation wavered.  Or I would read something that was published and realize that I just might have been able to produce something as good or better – couldn’t I?  A tiny rock of foundation dropped off.  Then, someone who loved me would challenge my belief on my creative-less-ness and call out deep reserves of hope that I might actually be able to produce creatively, well-written material.  And the foundation started swaying.

writing

It was at this point that my blog began.  I figured that I could safely experiment with writing in a forum that was quite shielded from the general public.  There are so many blogs in the cyber-universe that I knew mine would go unnoticed.  And yet, it gave me a reason to practice, a chance develop my writing style, and an opportunity to see what would come out of me when I disciplined myself to try.

We’ve now come back to the 21 day devotional.  A public expression of a private discipline.  An encouragement for a practice that I believe and hold so dearly.  And a request to create something that could be of benefit to several.  I couldn’t pass it up, and yet I couldn’t really do it.  Could I?

I said “yes”.  I told him I would give it a shot, and spent the next 3 weeks pulling away every chance I got, creating space to research and read, to outline and write.  Just this morning, I sent the finished document to our church for layout and publishing.  Holy smokes. What have I done?

I can’t adequately express what an act of faith this has been. What an act of obedience this has been.  And when the new year rolls around and this devotional is placed in the hands of my church family, you might just find me hiding under my bed.  Wherever I am, I know I’ll be a little closer to being who I was meant to be.  I’ll be a little closer to living out the expression of who I am. I’ll be one step nearer to expressing His identity in me.  And that is amazing.

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Saying Goodbye

When we left Dallas years ago, one of our last events was to take our family to a spot in the city that overlooked downtown and thank  God for all of the favor He had given us during our time there.  Our children had been born there, we had matured through most of our 20s and 30s there, and had seen an enormous amount of blessing and love come.

When we arrived in the northeast, one of the first things we did was to take our family up to the highest spot in town and ask God to give us the favor and blessing that we’d seen in Dallas.  We knew nothing would be accomplished if He wasn’t guiding and touching our efforts, and we committed ourselves and our adventure in the northeast into His hands.

So as we decided to move from New Haven, we returned to that city-overlook to thank God for all of the amazing favor we had received.

Seriously, this was the sky on that day.

Having been in Dallas now 6 weeks, I see daily how much my time in New Haven changed me and my family.  I am eternally grateful for the years that God allowed us to be there.  They sure weren’t easy, but times of growth and change rarely are…

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We’ve Arrived!

After all of the packing, all of the prayer, and all of the miles logged into our van, we have moved into our new home.  The journey was so intricate that one might be discouraged to make it; however, we were sure of our decision and took the complications one step at a time.

The first bump in the road was the house itself.  My husband had driven many miles and hours with a realtor to find us a rental home in Texas.  While he found one on which we put an application (and had the application approved), less than a week before we were to begin our drive to Texas, the home owner pulled out. That left us scrambling to find a place in Texas, while Ken was back in Connecticut.  Our amazing realtor, knowing what kind of home we were looking for, found us another home TWO days before we were to leave.  It is lovely, and has room to fit our big family!

Now that we’ve been here about two months and I’ve had a few quiet moments to reflect, here are a few of my unedited observations of Dallas.

Dallas is HUGE.  I mean, populated, spread out, and intricate.  Thank GOODNESS for GPS on my phone.  It has saved me.

Dallas is BUSY.  The energy with which people travel and move is dizzying.  One of my sons said, appraising of the massive road system (during a non-rush hour time frame), that it looks like there has been a mandatory evacuation of downtown and people are fleeing home.   There seems to be an unspoken sense of urgency that my family is feeling and observing, but in which we are not participating.

Dallas is DIFFERENT.  The city that I left seven years ago feels foreign.  I attribute that to several factors:
– I/we have changed so much.
– We’re living in a different area of town.
– The city has grown and changed quite a bit.
– Very few of our former friends have reached out and talked to us/invited us over.  (I don’t say that resentfully or with hurt feelings…just stating a fact.)
We’re making great new friendships with the community with whom my husband is working, but it isn’t like stepping back into a familiar set of old clothing.  One other element to this feeling could be that, when we lived here before, my world was very small.  I didn’t travel very far outside of my neighborhood, and certainly didn’t travel downtown.  This time around, I am living in every inch of the city, venturing to places that I would have never dreamed of journeying before.  (Thank you New Haven for making me brave!)

Dallas is BARREN.  This is probably the only point that really is a criticism, the only point that has been soul-crushing (at the risk of sounding too dramatic.) After having lived in New England, complete with more trees than can be counted, an ocean as a landmark in town, bicycle lanes wildly used but taken for granted, orchards and pick-your-own places less than 1/2 hour away, and hiking as an ever-present option, Dallas is lacking.  The problem is that we moved at the beginning of Fall, when New England comes alive, when all activities are centered around the outdoors – acquiring pumpkins, picking apples, going through hay mazes, driving around to look at the stunning backdrop of changing leaves and enjoying the crisp temperatures – to be dropped in a region where the climate doesn’t sustain orchards, there are very few outdoor activities (it is still to stinkin’ hot!), a sweater is the last thing you’d think of, and the leaves on the trees don’t change colors – they just burn up and drop off.  It is surprising to me how much I breathed in the activities of that region, and how I find that don’t breath quite as deeply down here.

There have also been a few lovely surprises.

The new community that we are developing is welcoming and warm.  We have jumped into a new church meeting in downtown Dallas that has welcomed us with open arms, and I feel the potential of a few great friends here.

Our kids have found friends pretty quickly within that new community.  They’re not linked as heart-friends yet, but at least they have found kids their ages with whom they can spend time and be accepted.

Our home is great, and our landlord is amazing.  He has permissioned us to really live in the home and make changes if we wish, and greeted us with a welcome basket and a $50 gift card to a local restaurant.

The area in which we live is diverse and convenient.

We have enjoyed visiting some of the places that were familiar when we lived here before.  We’ve visited parks, our former homes, and favorite restaurants, watching the kids’ faces as they stretch back in their memories for anything that they recognize.

No change is easy, and yet, we are thriving pretty well.  I am challenged to completely embrace my new city and see what God has for us in this new environment.  I’ll keep you posted along the way!

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The Journey Continues

Well, its official – – – we are moving.  We are leaving the northeast and making a new home in Texas.  And while I am tempted to say that we are moving back to Texas, that phrase really doesn’t express what we’re doing. Yes, we’re returning to the city from which we moved 7 years ago.  BUT, we are moving as completely different people than when we last moved.  It would sell short the impact that the city of New Haven and her people have had on us if we simply looked at this move as a return to where we’ve come from.

My family has been so transformed by this place.  Our worldview has shifted. Our vision has broadened.  Our definitions of community and family are changed.  Our love has grown richer. Our spiritual roots have grown deeper.

The city of Dallas has some huge shoes to fill.

I can’t say that, as of yet, I am excited about this development.  Who leaves a very successful business?  Who leaves a life-giving, authentic church family? Who leaves dozens of amazing people, and a handful of really great friends?

But the case to move was made solidly, and we are being received into a loving group of people – both familiar relationships and new ones.

When our lives are lived by the numbers, we have 5 years until all 4 of our children are either in college or have completed college.  When the job offer was presented and we were talking through the aspects of this decision, one of the points was that we want to end well our active parenting years.  We want to be intentionally present in their lives and their discipleship.  Where we’re at now, my husband is having to keep several plates spinning just to make sure that our most basic needs are met.  He is consulting for several organizations, is running his own business and non-profit organization.  One of our kids recently said that they don’t even remember a time when their dad wasn’t either stressed or tired. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t get the numbers to work out to make enough money and do fewer things.

So the process has begun.  I’m sure you’ll hear more about our thoughts as boxes get packed and details are hashed out.  In the meantime, pray for us, and pray for those that remain in New Haven that will be impacted by our departure…

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Life Transitions

Our lives never stagnate.  We either are going forward or backwards – even if we feel that we’re staying in one place.

Recent milestones:

This morning, I drove my 17 year old to his first SAT test.
I watched while he stood in line outside the building as it sprinkled on him and 100 other test-takers.
I waited in the car to see if the student I.D. that I’d created at 4:30am for him was accepted.  (The instructions were very clear about what forms of I.D. the students needed to provide to be allowed to take the test, and this was brought to my attention the evening before the test.  Of course, none of the accepted forms of I.D. did he have.  On the list of acceptable forms of I.D., one option was  a student I.D. from the school that he attends.  I decided to give it a shot and to create an I.D. for him using the passport photos that we’d taken over a year ago, but never used.  This inspiration hit me around 4:30am.)
I prayed for him as I drove away.

Today is my mom’s birthday, and later this month, she and my dad celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  Huge stuff.  I’ve personally been the recipient of the blessings of their hard work, and many, many others have grown stronger and been encouraged by the years of example they’ve created.

Yesterday, our family recognized the 7th year anniversary of our move from Texas to Connecticut.  We call it “Janke Day”, because the kids – seven years younger than they are now – thought that we ought to have SOMETHING to celebrate as we transitioned from everything they’d ever known to the harsh northeast.  Elections are held for positions within the family (we have a president/vice president, board, mayor, treasurer, etc) and gifts are exchanged via a secret drawing, that never seems to remain very secret.

Anyway, yesterday we celebrated together and remembered how we’ve been sustained, how we’ve grown personally, how we’ve launched a successful business, how we’ve educated our children well (even surviving the first one going off to college), how we’ve re-imagined family life, and how we’ve financially survived while living in the most expensive state in the nation in the middle of a recession.

I have no doubt that this season of our lives has been about going forward.  We’ve made huge steps of progress in so many areas.  We have amazing memories, have lived an adventure, have weathered many, many storms, and have unearthed a lot of gold.

– – – –

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the *fake* I.D. that I created for my son was accepted.  He texted me shortly after getting in the school building and passing their security that they called it “interesting”, but let him in.  🙂

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Cherry Blossoms

In 1912, a gift of 3020 Cherry Blossom Trees were given to the United States from the Japanese to be planted in Washington, D.C.  In 1935, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival was created to celebrate the friendship between the two nations and to draw attention to the trees’ beauty as they blossom.

As a kid, I always thought that being in DC during the festival would be one of the most romantic, beautiful places to be.  However, growing up in Nebraska made the possibility of attending a near impossibility.  Every year, though, throughout college, early marriage, and raising kids, I’d watch the news reports and pictures of the festival.  When we moved to the northeast, it became within range of thought that some day I could attend in person.  Each Spring, however, it was never the right timing for our family, or we didn’t have the funds to be able to travel to DC.

This year, I saw that dream realized.  My dear husband called me from work to tell me that he had heard that the trees were in bloom (a full 3 weeks ahead of schedule due to the extremely mild winter) and that I should take off with the kids the next morning to travel down to see them.

So, at 6am the next day, I loaded our van with my 3 younger kids to take a 6 hour drive to Washington, D.C.  Along with our luggage were my hopes, expectations, and dreams.

We arrived in DC around 2pm and stayed walking among the trees until 5pm.  It was a relatively short period of time, but an emotionally long time in coming.

What I didn’t realize until we were on our journey was that this was the 100th anniversary of the planting of the trees.  Once we arrived, we noticed scores of Japanese media filming the events, people, and scenery.

My observations:

* The effect of 1,000s of simultaneously flowering trees is staggering.
* The backdrop of our nation’s monuments is picturesque.
* The sheer number of people who swarm to the Potomac basin to walk among the trees is absolutely overwhelming.  I’m guessing that we chose the busiest time of day to visit. It certainly wasn’t the peaceful, romantic vision of my youth.  It is quite a commercial, port-a-potty-laden, energy-driven event.

I’m not complaining in the least.  It was an amazing fulfillment of a lifetime of hoping and dreaming.  I just would plan to visit a little differently if I ever get the chance again.  A pre-dawn walk or a visit right at dusk would probably be the perfect time to soak in the peaceful element of the natural display.  As it was, we got quite a few lovely pictures.

Besides the trees, we got to surprise my eldest at her university on the way home.  She didn’t know that we were in DC, nor that we would be traveling right through Philadelphia on our way home.  We scheduled a Skype visit with her at a determined time, knowing that she would have to return to her dorm to do so, and were standing outside her dorm when she came back from class.  It was such a delight to surprise her, take her to lunch, and spoil her with yogurt and pastries.

There are so many memories created from living in the northeast, and this right at the top of the list!!

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My Holiday Scorecard

I have felt quite a mixed bag when it comes to Christmas this year.  On the one hand, I have really enjoyed getting our Christmas tree put up and attending our city’s tree lighting ceremony.  On the other hand, I have found myself wanting to stop school a early and let my kids watch way too much Christmas TV.

Therefore, I thought I’d make a little log of the “goods” and “bads” of my behavior.

Ways I have fallen short:

Not enough consistent school.  This is always an issue, but especially during the holidays.  It always feels like there is so much outside of education that needs to be done.  I am tempted…and the kids aren’t complaining!

Too much Band Hero.  Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, my elder son bought Band Hero for our Wii, complete with a guitar, a drum set, and a microphone.  And this confession is that it isn’t just the kids who are spending too much time conquering Band Hero, but I am right there with them!  I am wicked on the guitar…just saying.

I haven’t purchased or made a single present.  There are a lot that need to be done, but I haven’t found the ability/motivation/joy in doing so yet.

Not getting our Advent activities ready.  Every year, I create an activity-a-day based around a Christmas theme (i.e. crafts, baking, holiday movies, driving to look at Christmas lights).  For some reason, I haven’t been organized/motivated to do so this year.  Maybe it is because the kids are so busy that we don’t have many evenings home together.  It doesn’t seem as worth it this year.  But, my eldest has specially requested that I get them organized for her when she comes home from college…so I have to create the activities by then.  Yikes!

Just today, I mailed my daughter’s college finals care package to her.  I’ve had it in the car for well over a week – maybe two weeks.  I just haven’t made it into the post office to get it sent off.  I’m sure she’ll get it right about the time that her finals are over and it is time to travel home…

Ways I’ve been stellar (I like this list much better!):

I created the whole Thanksgiving dinner all by myself.  I know this is a little out-dated, but I still am giving myself credit for it.  In year’s past, we’ve had tons and tons of guests, each bringing a dish to share.  This year, with it being just our family and two guests, I did it all.    You’ll have to ask my family if it was any good.

I edited a pamphlet for a friend.  This one probably shouldn’t count, because I really enjoy editing, I really enjoyed what he had written, and I really like him.  But, it did take a chunk of time, and I need all of the stellar moments that I can count right now.

I got the Christmas tree lighted.  For some reason, this job always falls to me. This year, however, when I pulled out the lights, EVERY strand wasn’t lighting. I wrap and pack them away meticulously, but somehow they lost their ability to light over the year; therefore, getting the tree lit this year meant a bit more work than usual.

I am hosting a party for the teens in our church.  Our church is very new, so there aren’t THAT many teens, but I wanted them to have a chance to all get together to celebrate.  So this Saturday, we will welcome them over for Christmas movies and snacks.  There will probably be a little Wii Band Hero going on, but I will refrain from showing them all up on the guitar…

I have run driven/waited/eaten/read/slept/written in my car as I have shuttled my younger daughter all over the stinkin’ universe for Nutcracker practice.  The performance is on Dec. 17th, and I am eager, both to see her dance, and to have the rehearsals over!

I have drug myself out of bed early every morning to exercise at the gym.  That is huge, considering that I hate every part of the exercise process.

I have kept this blog going!

I guess that’s all.  I hope that my cathartic exercise relieved you of some guilt, or gave you someone to which you could compare yourself so that you could feel better about how you’re doing!

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Tradition!

Having family traditions has been a key element in our family being and staying close.  I wrote a series that begins here on the necessity and how-to of creating Family Language – the special connection created that draws your family members together when they want to be understood.  Part of that journey to creating a sense of family through shared experiences are traditions.

Our family has traditions built around birthdays, seasonal holidays, and religious holidays.  Each one carries a little bit of the DNA of who we are as a family.

Christmas has a lot of traditions for our family.  The season for us begins on the day after Thanksgiving, bright and early.  Since our eldest was 3, we’ve set aside “Black Friday” for leaving urban, commercial civilization and driving to the countryside to pick out and chop down our Christmas tree. Since we’ve lived in New England, it has been one particular farm that spans several acres.

During this Christmas tree trip, we plan enough time for a romping game of Hide n Seek.  For a couple of hours, hidden among the trees just hoping to be cut down for some family’s pleasure, you might just find my children and/or husband.  They’ve made an art out of sniffing out the best places to hide, creating nature-ish calls to stealthily communicate with each other while hiding or seeking, and living for the thrill of being found last.

   

After having made sure that we had enough budgeted for a tree this year, we made our way to Jones Family Farms to chop down the newest addition to our family decor.

We even had time for a little posing for pictures…

Creating moments like this are so important to capturing memories that give your kids a real sense of family and belonging.  Traditions are simply an avenue to marking precious moments with your family.  Even if it isn’t a trip to a Christmas tree farm, be intentional this holiday season to create memorable experiences for your family!

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Christmas with No Money

My heart really aches when I interact with society these days.  Sometimes I feel like the world isn’t really talking to me – it is talking to people who have money.  When I watch advertisements, news stories, or consumer reports, I tend to tune out.  The news seems to be all about when the best time is to Christmas shop, whether this item should be purchased now or closer to Christmas, or about strategies to getting your Christmas shopping done early – to me, it sounds like a foreign language.

We’ve never really had a lot of money.  It has always felt lean in our home, and we’ve always been on a budget.  But I must admit, we’ve gone overboard for our kids’ Christmas in years past, and we’ve made gift-receiving a big part of the celebration of the season.  Our stated limits have been one big present per kid (something that would truly thrill their hearts), and then other little presents as we see things that would make them smile.

But this year, we really don’t have money.  We are behind in our mortgage and are struggling to balance keeping bills paid and keeping food on the table.  My husband’s business is amazing and fruitful and satisfying, but as of now, isn’t profitable enough to generate a salary for us.  For months.  And months.  We are so buried that it takes a lot of mental energy not to fret all of the time.

It is under those circumstances that we approach the Christmas holidays.

I’ve been forced to stretch myself to think outside the realm of normal when it comes to honoring the traditions and joy of Christmas without money.  To me, the key is finding tangible ways to share the love that I feel…not by my money, not by the limited effort exerted from buying a present, nor by filling a gift card.

As I have racked my brain to come up with virtually free ways to make Christmas special for your family, I thought I’d share a few.  I’ve implemented most of these ideas over the years, and have found them to be really fun and festive.

Making Presents:  Almond bark covered pretzels, coupon books for services/time together, potato chips dipped in chocolate, taking your child’s art and cutting it to fit on blank notecards, etc., are all ways to be creative and frugal at the same time.

Making Service a Present:  Serving food at a shelter, sponsoring a Compassion International child as a family, choosing a neighbor and being their “secret Santa” for the month (or even the year).

Check out the free section of Craigslist or take advantage of Freecycle: There are a lot of great items that have served their purpose at one family but are ready to begin a new life in another family.

Redecorate your kids’ rooms with simple changes:  A new coat of paint, reorganizing a closet to make it a reading space, adding a new pillow or two can all really make a big difference and help the kids feel special and loved.

Buy a family gift instead of individual gifts:  One suggestion is a subscription to Netflix/Blockbuster.  For around $8/month you have access to a myriad of movies that you can instant stream into your home.  Other family gifts could be a board game that everyone could play, a family membership to a health club, movie tickets, or a read aloud book.

Make gift giving an event/activity:  Give everyone in your family a dollar and make a trip to a Dollar Store near you.  Tell your family members that the goal is to buy the biggest or smallest, or most outrageous or most thoughtful gift that can be purchased for a dollar.  When we did this, we made a night of it by making the goal to find a gift that represented the other person (either silly or serious), and then during the gift exchange time told the stories and explanations of why that gift was purchased.

Do a family activity together:  Sing Christmas carols or go caroling, drive around the city to look at lights, snuggle in for an evening of Christmas movies, or have a board game night.

Talk with your kids:  Letting everyone understand the “why” behind the minimalism gives them the tools to understand the choices being made.   Preparing them way ahead of time can reduce the amount of disappointment or complaining, and allows them to join in the creativity of present giving.

I don’t want to be in this position, at Christmas or at any time.  It isn’t comfortable or secure; however, I also know that being here is working great things in me:  Creativity, compassion, understanding, humility, etc.  Because of those benefits, I wouldn’t trade this season for the world.  If you find yourselves in the same place, I pray that your needs are met and that you are provided for.  If you aren’t in that position, I encourage you to find someone who is, and shower them with Christmas blessings.  We all need each other.

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