What a ham, Santa and a girl from Pakistan taught me about Christmas

snowflakes

When I was younger my grandfather was Santa. No lie. He was. Every year at midnight mass Silent night would begin to play and from the back of church “Santa” would silently walk down the aisle. He would remove his red and white hat and with one knee bent kneel before the manger. I tear up now just thinking about it. How beautiful and precious that was. I know theologically it wasn’t perhaps right. But for the reverence it displayed it was exactly what Christmas is supposed to be.

I mess up Christmas every year. Flat on my face mess up. I do. I get anxious about not having enough money. Or no money at all. I get overwhelmed with schedules that seem to double three weeks before the magical day. I am paralyzed with the amount of people around me all the time. Talking and wanting me to respond. I am exhausted with trying to be enough for everyone moment of every day. And like today I am hiding in my house with tea and books surrounding me because my soul knows that I am getting it all wrong.

And when I am getting it wrong I missing the manger. I am filling it with bigger presents. And louder music and bigger productions. And saying yes to everything that is “Christmasy”. I am spending money on more things instead on things that matter. I am forgetting who I am and what I believe.

I believe that Jesus came simple. He came as a baby. Quiet. Bloodied in a manger with animals and dirt and hay. There was no big production. He did not come with crowned jewels on his head. He came a bloodied mess and left the earth the same way. And when we turn Christmas into a big production we miss him. I miss Him.

And so He needs to remind me. He needs to quiet my soul again and whisper “I am here”.

Every morning we pick up a little girl from Pakistan to go to school. She has been in the US for a few months now. It is just she and her parents. She doesn’t answer when I ask her about other family still in Pakistan. I have learned there are subjects and conversations I need to earn. And so I will wait. A few weeks ago we were waiting for her outside of her apartment building and I was feeling rushed. My entitled self-had no time to wait. I had things to do that day that I am sure were extremely important. Except for the life of me I can’t remember what they were now. I turned around to see what was taking her so long to walk to the car and there she stood. Perfectly still, in the middle of the courtyard not moving towards the car.

Mouth open.

Tongue out.

Catching snowflakes.

I had to catch my breathe.

This was Christmas. This was silent night.

In the simple. In the snowflakes on the tongue of the little girl from the Middle East who had never seen snow before.

And then just last night. I needed to be reminded again. By a nine year old neighbor boy from across the street. Standing at my door with a ham and boxed mashed potatoes in a torn plastic bag. He said that his mother did not know what to give us for Christmas so she gave us this ham. The ham from the food pantry that she stood in line for hours before to feed her family. The ham that was their best. And they gave. They gave everything they had.

This is Christmas. This is silent night.

 

I just stood there and cried whispering “thank you’s…”

I needed to be reminded of what my soul craves. What your soul really craves. It is not the more and better. It is the enough. It is the hard conversations. It is the folding of the laundry. It is for the ringing of the bell. It is for the red bucket. It is the paying for someone’s gas. It is for the cookies we never bake. It is for the sister we drive hundreds of miles to comfort. It is for the letter that we need to write. It is for the forgiving we need to receive. It is for the hot cocoa we need to sip with our children. It is for the groceries we help carry in. It is for the asking questions. It is for the slower mornings. It is for the saying no to really good things. It is for the grace that we lavishly give. It is for the prayers that we pray over those in our homes. It is for hearing when our friend says she is overwhelmed and not leaving her alone. It is for the games that we play on the floor.

It is for the quiet and the simple.

The here and the now.

The snowflakes and the ham.

It is the midnight mass with candles. It is the one knee bent to our savior.

This is Christmas. This is silent night

curling irons and refugees

When I was in middle school I curled my brother’s bangs with a curling iron. I told him that it would look cool. Not so cool. Not so cool to curl your brothers hair. Ever. He says it was that point that it was very clear my future would not be in cosmetology. But I just wanted him to be his best. Apparently I thought that meant some funky hair and aqua net. But that is how we love.

We don’t always love the right way but we love the only way we know.

I don’t live near any of my siblings. I have Michigan envy they all get to be within an hour of each other. Holidays are hardest when I can’t be with them. Grateful this Christmas we can all be together. We love each other well. In all the mess we are learning to love each other better.

So todays challenge was all about loving your sibling well. For me that meant sending letters of love to each of them. I communicate best that way. And I didn’t want another day to go by without them knowing how much I adore them.

My kids….well let’s just say they have had better days at loving each other. I have seen them love better. But it’s ok. That is what grace is. Another chance. Another day.

Day 20: Stand in the gap for the vulnerable!!!! This challenge is the beat of my heart. And now you are asking what do you mean? Who are the vulnerable? The vulnerable are those that need someone to speak for them, teach them, lead them, and love them where they are at. I wanted to focus on a couple of my favorite organizations. I am sure that you have ideas as well. I can’t wait to hear what this looked like for you.

World Relief– Can you imagine? Can you imagine being in a whole new country and not knowing anyone? Or the language? Or the social norms? Or even how to get from one place to the next? Friends we need to be the church. We need to invite refugees into our homes this year. We need to not just give but give of ourselves. I asked one of my dear friends who works for World Relief some tangible needs that could be met this Christmas. Here is what she had to say…..

Here is also a link to all the ways people can support or give to World Relief. If people are interested, they can donate financially to support adults and children in ESL class or to help refugee reach self-sufficiency. Or, there is a link for donating household items (or a car if people have those lying around!)

http://worldreliefdupage.org/give-wrda-for-christmas/

I have helped with World Relief for years. I love it. Absolutely love it. I love having friends from all over the world. Who love, and live so differently than we do. But that is the best part of it. We laugh and learn to do life together….and it’s better that way.

Kids Hope– I have the privilege of being a mentor through Kids Hope. It is an amazing opportunity to spend an hour a week with a child who just needs a voice. They just need someone to come alongside them and meet them where they are at. To extend grace and direction in a life that seems so out of control. It really will change you. Talking to our leader of Kids Hope at our church today she mentioned that of course they always need volunteers or mentors. Those that is willing to just give up one hour a week to meet with their mentee. We also need other churches to come alongside schools and partner with them. It is usually one church per school and they provide them mentors for that school. So call your church, ask them if they are involved and if not….ask why. We need to be the church my friends.

Tomorrow our family will be coming alongside with other families in the community and loving on a few refugee families. We cannot wait to give them Christmas this year. To know that they have enriched our lives, our communities and our schools, it’s the least we can do.

So friends…..how can you stand in the gap for the vulnerable tomorrow?

#25daysoflove…..go love BIG!

p.s. after tomorrow….#25daysof love goes to Michigan….and my siblings are getting in on it! It’s going to be awesome!!!!

flowers,firefighters and gooey butter cake

I don’t even know where to begin. This afternoon as I was cleaning up vomit once again the doorbell rang. The sweet delivery girl had no idea that I would end up a crying mess as she handed me a bouquet of gorgeous Christmas flowers. She asked if I was ok. And all I could get out was….”yes, someone just loved me BIG” . Whoever you are…..thank you. My heart is just melting on a day when I could use some love.

The day ended amazing as well. We had baked up some peanut butter blossom cookies and ooey gooey butter cake to bring to a few local fire stations. We were ready to give out some goodies and hugs to those that serve our community so well. We were not prepared to be loved on so BIG there. They dressed the kids up in full gear. Took them on the trucks. Showed them around the station. And the best part…..took the kids on a ride around the block. Kennedy sat in front seat and the firefighter driving told her that he has worked there for 14 years and this is the first time they have ever done anything like this before for a family. I am just chalking  it up as a gift from Jesus tonight. I have not seen my Emme smile that big in a long time. And that in itself made me a melty mess all over again. This mama’s heart is beyond grateful. You not only made my kids the luckiest on the block. You dear firefighters let us feel loved BIG.

Day 18: tomorrows challenge…..see a need, meet a need. That’s it. If you see a need that needs to be met. Meet it.I promise you. You will be blessed more by loving others where they are at than those you love. #25daysoflove

day16: flowers and baristas

Today started out awesome. We were on time for school and even a little early. So we decided to bring flowers bright and early. Last night the kids decided who would be the recipients of the flower love. First was an amazing family who display such strength and faith throughout this very difficult year. The kids all agreed that if we could we would bring flowers to them every day. The second recipient was nominated by our littlest one. He may or may not have a little crush on the Starbucks barista. She woos him with free hot chocolate, so she most definitely deserves some yellow mums! And the third was our neighbor. She is more like a grandma to the kiddos. Since their grandmas are hundreds of miles away she has for years loved on the kids like they are her own. And we love her so much. So purple mums needed to be delivered to her today.

Tomorrow may be a little tricky. I am crossing my fingers that we can make it happen. At this moment I have one home from school puking. Apparently the stomach bug is going through the school like rapid fire. Which is awesome, seeing as none of us have anything to do this week before Christmas. I really do feel bad for my little one, this is her second time with this in the last two weeks. We are blaming her brother for passing it back to her. Those silly brothers. At this point I am asking my kids to take baths with use Purell and wash their hands constantly . We are on a leaving for Michigan countdown and no silly vomit is going to get in our way.

So anyways….tomorrows challenge.

Visit your local fire department and say thank you. Thank you for going out in this freezing cold weather and spraying water while getting soaking wet. Thank you for risking your life everyday you come to work. Thank you for being such an important part of our community. And we know from experience that if you say thank you with cards and cookies its very much appreciated.

So here is to a vomit free night and more love spread tomorrow!

#25daysoflove……keep spreading the love friends!

day 15–hot cocoa love.

Well…sometimes things don’t go as planned, especially when it comes to loving people. Today was one of those days. The challenge for today was to bring hot cocoa to the Salvation Army bell ringer. Apparently they do not ring the bell on Sundays. Oops. So we headed out after church with a bunch of hot cocoas and rode around our town trying to think about who would be out in these crazy cold temperatures. The kids saw a police man sitting in his cruiser and shouted out from the backseat. “Mom we can love him today!” So that is what we did. We continued to ride around our neighborhood looking for our amazing police officers and spread some hot cocoa love. Everyone deserves some love but our officers have a really hard job and do an outstanding job keeping us feeling safe. I can’t wait to hear how you and your family spread some love on this chilly Sunday!

Tomorrow the challenge is to bring or send flowers to someone you know is really struggling this Christmas season. Christmas can be extremely hard for some. I know. That was me last year. Flowers and a hug can bring such love to someone’s sorrow. So friends…..go spread some love! #25daysoflove

Be sure to leave what you did today in the comments or on my Facebook page. It’s amazing to see love spreading ……

when love spreads- join us in loving BIG

 

This idea of 25 days of love was inspired by someone I have never met in person. In my head we would be the best of friends and bake together all day. But in reality I have never met her face to face, yet her heart is contagious.

When we launched the idea with our family years ago we did it because years before we had no money in our bank account, no Christmas presents, and barely anything in the cupboard. A mom I had just met at my daughter’s school had invited us to church and we had recently been attending. It felt like home the moment we walked in. It was the first time I had heard that Jesus would take me right where I was. Broken, lost, confused, prideful, angry…and the list goes on. That December that same sweet woman showed up on our doorstep with gifts for our girls and steaks for Christmas day. The ugly cry came out. I stood there and just cried. She had no idea how bad things were. No one did. We didn’t know where or how to ask for help but that didn’t matter in that moment. This family gave to ours with no strings attached. Just LOVED BIG. Throughout the years we have been astounded at the generosity of those we love who have loved us big. And those we will never meet this side of heaven whose simple acts of love have changed our family forever.

We do know that when given the opportunity, generosity uncovers such an authentic place in our soul where vulnerability meets love that it draws us closer every time. Closer to what joy resonating in us feels like. When we give without ever expecting anything back it is an act of love. And we all have the deep desire to love and be loved.

These last eleven days of #25daysoflove I thought it would be amazing to see just how far love can spread and how much is already spreading. At the end of each day I will post on my blog and on Facebook what our plans are for the upcoming day. If you would like to be a part of this, do what you can in your community. Spread love and kindness in the community that surrounds you. Love on people big. Then post what you did and what happened. I love watching people’s reaction when you try to love on them and they have no idea what to do with all the love being poured out. But I also love to see my children’s heart change and begin to initiate love without prompting. So here we go friends…..lets love BIG and see what happens….who’s with us?

p.s. wait to see what the idea is for the new year…..love BIG in 2014.

Today’s love……Pay for a strangers meal…..

25 days of love…..so put away that elf…..

santa

We don’t do Santa. We used to so don’t be a hater and hear me out. We used to stand in line with our crying toddler and make her sit on a large bearded strangers lap. We used pay through the nose for pictures of a large man who claimed he was from the north pole holding our crying red nosed Rudolph child. Things change though when you start to see the world through the eyes of a child who wonders why this Santa type man never came to visit them. This is a personal choice that we have made as a family. So you can stop the hate mail of how I have “stolen “this from my children. And don’t get me started on the stupid elf on a shelf marketing scheme tradition.

We have a tradition as a family that we started five years ago. I had seen another blogger do this and I was humbled and inspired that we as a family could do this. So I gathered all four blessings (at the time) and asked them what they thought of 25 days of kindness. Or 25 days of random acts of love. Now don’t assume that this is the only time of year that I ask my children to be kind and love other people. Yet I believe especially during this month that their focus as well as mine needs to be focused on the King that was born. And our King is all about love, kindness, grace and mercy and gives these with reckless abandonment. Through these acts I hope to instill some of these traits into my now five children even more. We believe as a family that the most important thing about their lives is that they desire to become more like Jesus every day. Not what their GPA is, or what team they are on, or what college they will go to. But how they treated others around them. How they loved. How they showed mercy. How they gave kindness. How they bestowed grace. With reckless abandon.

As a family we have sat down and decided on 25 different things we can do. One person or family each day will not only be blessed but prayed for. So today we start our 25 days…….of random acts of love.

Some of the things we will be doing or have done in the past range from quite simple to more thought out acts.

– From buying coffee for our school crossing guard along with a big hug. Because seriously we have the best crossing guard. He is nothing but love bursting out of that orange vest every morning. And we just need to love on him for a bit.

-We have made up about 100 sandwiches and passed them out to the homeless men and women. This is one of the kid’s favorites to do, we ride around a couple of blocks from where we live and just walk the streets loving on some of the strongest people we know. The kids also like bringing them to the library where we find some individuals just trying to stay warm. A simple sandwich and conversation brings us more joy than we can ever express.

-The kids would like to tie balloons to grocery carts at a local supermarket. Because who doesn’t smile when they see a balloon?

-Buying a meal for a family in a restaurant that we don’t know. We know as a large family that this can bless the socks off a large family. And we just want to pay it forward.

-One evening we will spend writing encouraging notes to those we know are hurting during this holiday season. We can all relate to some time in our lives when the holidays did nothing but remind of us the pain and loss we try and forget the rest of the year. And who doesn’t want a hand written note in crayon from a little girl who spells everything backwards?

So for the next 25 days we will be out and about trying to spread a little love. Will you join me in this? Can you commit to spreading some joy 4 times this Christmas season? Or maybe even once?

Be a part of spreading some simple love…..not deciding where that stupid elf is going to go.