Make Your Christmas Decisions Now

We can all feel it coming. Walmart and K-mart are advertising their layaway plans. One aisle is already decorated for it at half the pharmacies in town, even though there’s another aisle exclusively devoted to Halloween costumes and candy. A friend or two on Facebook has already admitted to pulling out the music and movies.

Christmas is around the corner.

The inside cover of the November Issue of Southern Living has a beautiful close-up picture of a little girl hanging an ornament on an already heavily-laden Christmas tree. The photo is be-decked with the words:

You can never have too much Christmas!

(Christmas is in a ginormous font with a big happy exclamation point, of course.)

And the subscript: “Why stop with the halls? Deck the table, the tree, the bedrooms and everything in between. This Christmas at Belk.”


Call me Cindy Lou Who, but I wholeheartedly disagree with this idea. Because decorations, presents and Christmas are not synonyms that should be used interchangeably.

And I have a little suggestion to make. Well, maybe more than one. Because it seems by the time we’ve passed the 25th of December, we’re full of regret for what we’ve focused on and what we’ve let slide. For how our bank account looks and (sometimes) how our kids are behaving.

We spend a ton of money and then we return a ton of stuff we didn’t want to begin with, because other people have spent a ton of money, too.

So here’s the thing.

It seems like most people agree that the way we’re currently celebrating Christmas is, let’s say… less than ideal.

So before you walk out the door with “Christmas” in your mind or a list in your pocket, I’d like to suggest you do a few simple things.

1. Don’t let advertisers and good marketing call the shots: Decide ahead of time (like now) how you want your family to celebrate Christmas this year. And get specific. How can you make it more about what it’s actually supposed to be about? Want to bake Jesus a birthday cake? Maybe each kid gets three gifts because Baby Jesus got three?

2. Be A Blessing Without Cursing Your Wallet: Rethink relying on store-bought stuff for friends and family. Could you bake cookies with the wee ones or whip up some homemade salsa and put it in Coke bottles? What can you do with what you already have? What budget should you be sticking to? What is the budget per person?

3. How Big Does it Need to Be? If gifts are a must, think about drawing names in every possible scenario. Perhaps among the adult members of your immediate family? Among the brother/brother-in-laws and sisters/sister-in-laws in my family, we draw names and have a maximum spending amount. We ask each person to write down a list of a few things they’d really like to have, and then the person who draws their name can choose from that list, so that it’s still a surprise. But we’re not wasting money on stuff we don’t actually want. {Score!}

4. Change the Way You Spend the Day: Think about doing something special that has nothing to do with gifts or money, and more to do with Jesus this Christmas. Could your family help serve at a local soup kitchen? Could you find a family in need and bring them Christmas dinner?

5. Give the Giving New Purpose: Lots of charitable organizations offer catalogs (like this one at World Vision) so that you can give a tangible gift — an alpaca, a goat…a sack of rice — to a family in need. You’ll get a card to pass along the person you had in mind when you made the donation, and you can both smile that you’re meeting a special need instead. Some families let their children choose a gift to give on Christmas morning.

6. Bundle It Up, And Pass It Out: How much are you likely to spend on gifts this year? 500 bucks? Maybe more? Ya got no clue you’ll just do yer best? Last year the gallup poll reported that Americans estimated they’d spend $743 on Christmas gifts for the season. For about $450 you could sponsor a child with Compassion International for A YEAR. Which means a kid in poverty would be getting nutritious snacks or meals, educational opportunities, health and hygiene training and medical checkups, all in a caring, faith-based environment. FOR A YEAR. What if we looked around and said, “We got enough here…let’s give something away!”?

{And personal note: the more you get to know your child at Compassion, the more perspective you’ll have on how blessed you already are.}

7. Leave the Loot till New Year: Some families wait until after Christmas to give gifts (like waiting until New Year’s Day, for example). This means they save a lot on After-Christmas sales, and the 25th is reserved for doing something special together as a family, with Jesus in mind!

8. Whatever You Do, Make It Manageable: The one thing people seem likely to say about the Christmas season more than anything else? It’s stressful. We’ve got a party every night this week. The kids are in pageants at each of their schools and at church. We want a little tree with lights in every room of the house this year and I need extra lights and ornaments. I need to get a present for my second cousin’s third grade teacher’s wife. I can’t just send Christmas cards to close friends…I have to send them to everyone I ever met.

What if we decided for “Less Stuff More Love” to be the theme this Christmas?

In remembrance of the God who chose a peasant girl to bear His Son, in a barn. Who chose a trough horses and cattle eat from for a crib. Domesticated animals were probably the witnesses of the birth of our Savior. God announced the news not to the rich and famous city dwellers, but with angels, to shepherds out in the field.

For the incarnation of His only Son, God continuously invaded the ordinary with remarkable and miraculous. He brought the greatest gift ever to a world in need.

Got any suggestions for loving more with less at Christmas this year?


A Wee Three Years Ago Christmas Eve Discovery

Late one evening three years ago, on a chilly Southern Christmas Eve, two little elves scurried out on a last minute errand. They hadn’t forgotten a gift or a card or an ingredient for a Christmas treat. On a tiny inkling, they tip-toed the aisles of a Walgreens, until they found what they were looking for.

Staring at boxes boasting early results and better accuracy, the elves discussed the choices quietly amongst themselves and came to an agreement. They gingerly presented the goods to the cashier, made their purchase, and hurried home.

Half an hour later they stood in an upstairs bedroom, staring at two pink lines for the second time in ten minutes. They laughed and cried and wondered and marveled at this special gift from above. The timing of this surprise discovery could not have been more magical. To this day the elves agree: that gift is by far the best Christmas gift they’ve ever received, bar One other Gift of immeasurable significance, which actually arrived in a similar fashion, around 2000 years earlier.

It feels safe to say the very best gifts don’t come in any boxes at all.

Merry Christmas,

Christmas, Interrupted

Merry Christmas, guys and gals! Are you A) getting excited for the joyous celebration of the most important birthday ever, or B) stressed out by your to-do list? {If you answered B, can I suggest there might be a few things you need to drop from the to-do list so that you can better enjoy the joy of the season?}

I’ve been enjoying considering how Jesus interrupted time, coming down into humanity to show us how to live and to save us from our sins. This video demonstrates some different options on how people might handle the “interruption” of Jesus in the storybook of history, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Notice that some folks are eager to move on and get out of the way, but others take the time to appreciate the special moment unfolding before them. (Even if that means taking video with an iPhone.)

May we also soak in the Reason for the Season, focus more on the Presence than the presents, and appreciate the joyous moments at hand!


Hoekom is jy moeg? {And a Brand New Sentence}

Hello, you five delightful people curious enough to click on this post who don’t know Afrikaans! We are probably a lot alike and should hang out more often. I’ve mentioned before that I’m often asking Hero Hubs how to say something in Afrikaans and I’m also picking up words along the roadside. (Because news is posted with English and Afrikaans headlines along the roads in South Africa, I can quite literally pick up the language on the side of the road.)

I digress.

The delightful phrase which conveniently titled this post for me is Afrikaans for “Why are you tired?” And that last word — moeg — means tired, and sounds kind of like mooh, with a thick helping of “hhhhuh” on that ‘h’ sound at the end. Maybe I should’ve recorded Hero Hubs saying it for you, but I’m too moeg to be bothered.

It is such a good word for tired, and just sounds more tired than the English tired, or the Spanish tengo sueño, which literally translated means “I have sleepy” and just doesn’t sound as tired as moeg. And I love a good word.

All that to say, I’m about to create a sentence that has perhaps never been created before: Y’all, I am moeg.

Hoekom is jy moeg, Caroline?, you ask? {Well done for using your new vocab!}

Well, we’ve been driving all over these beautiful Carolinas over the past few days, and I am so moeg as to be shattered, my Scottish friends might say.

We drove the five hour schlep to Charlotte for a meeting on Friday and drove back to Eastern North Carolina (stopping off briefly to visit a friend in Durham) on Saturday. Most of Saturday’s driving, almost the entire time from Charlotte to the Original Washington included lots of this:

Which is pretty to look at, but stressful to drive in!

And after returning from the ton of driving that the past two days held, we were off to Kinston bright and early this Sunday morning, another hour’s drive each way, to visit a church and share for a few minutes.

And I have thus been made truly moeg, with all the adventures of the past couple of days.

But in case you’re getting moeg of a post that seems full of complaint, there’s Good News!

Good News Part One: Remember how I’ll be thirty weeks preggers when I’m a bridesmaid in about two weeks? Well, the bride and I found a great, and suitable, pregger bridesmaid’s dress for the occasion while we were in Charlotte, and I am very thankful. I was getting a little nervous, ya know.

Part Two of the Good News: We gathered for church this morning, and sang to the Lord and talked about His goodness, and about the glorious revelation of Christ, even in that First Noel to Shepherds in the field, and I was reminded of the Very Good News. Despite our circumstances, whether we are worried or scared, in pain or stressed, or even just plain tired, God is still on the throne. He is so great and so worthy, so deserving of honour and praise. He is sovereign and in control. And He is so good. And all this means that

Part Three of my Good News is that there is grace for an occasionally grumpy, occasionally overwhelmed pregnant lady who might be so baie (very) moeg that she’s easily discouraged by things not going according to plan or by the discomfort around her S.I. Joint (pregnancy thing) or by the darling little Bear who suddenly thinks every minor disappointment is just cause for gently but dramatically throwing himself on the floor in silent protest.

The God of the Universe who neither tires nor grows weary loves me even when I feel like a struggling straggler, and even when in my tired discouragement I make mistakes.

And that is Good, Good News. Like the Shepherds in the field, I’ve found myself low, but thankfully the First Noel has been followed by many more, and I’ve found the humility to say Grace, I need You. And in that place, I find contentment easier to come by, hope closer to home, and I’m even surprised by joy.

So moeg or not moeg, I’m thankful to get back to enjoying the joy of this season, the joy of my surroundings, and I’m going to sign off this post to enjoy the joy of one darling little Bear, playing with his toys on the floor with his G.C. When you think about Who’s on the throne, thankfulness is not hard to find.


Life Lessons from Left Behind Chapstick

Hi friends, I started this post just after our most recent trip to Bloemfontein in October, but it stayed in the drafts folder until this evening. Hopefully that suitably explains the anachronisms!

While our recent trip to Bloemfontein was a very special one, with some highlights that I hope to share with you soon, there was one “downer” that I struggled with a bit during our visit.

I forgot my chapstick.

The air in the “high veld” is very dry. While Bloem is a beautiful, flower-filled city, it is also a comparitively dry place, and for a gal who grew up in the hot and humid South, and then spent four years in a country that on average receives precipitation 317 days a year, I significantly feel the difference when we arrive in Bloem.

What’s the difference, pray tell?

Well, my legs get so dry and itchy I want to scratch them off, my nose dries out and bleeds a little, and my lips absolutely feel like they’re gonna fall off. While I had lotion for the legs and could just keep a tissue around for red nose goblins, sorry, I know that’s kind of gross, I did not have chapstick to help me survive the dry lip battle. And lip stick just wouldn’t cut it.

Normally a quick trip to Clicks (that’s a pharmacy kind of like Boots, dear Brits, or like Walgreens, dear ‘merkins) would solve this crisis. But that just felt contrary to something I’ve been trying to work on: the I-need-it-so-I’m-gonna-go-out-and-buy-it-right-now-Syndrome. After a couple days passed and the opportunity to run-out-and-buy-it hadn’t presented itself, (or else I just forgot to go to the store when we were out and about) I kind of felt for some reason, that I needed to tough it out and let the chapstick issue go.

Opening up the honesty box a bit, when I was a kid, I can remember half-accidentally-half-on-purpose not packing something for a weekend away and hoping that would mean I’d be able to go and get a new whatever it was I’d “forgotten.” I know that’s cheeky, I’m being real honest. Sorry, Mom. Nine times out of ten, that little experiment ended with me toughing it out without getting a replacement for the thing I’d forgotten but “desperately needed.”

Finally we arrived back in Gordon’s Bay after a twelve hour road trip. It was long and we were tired. After dinner and putting the Bear down, I began hunting for some chapstick. A few minutes later I’d found four or five different types, some HH’s and some mine, scattered about in a big tub of toiletry goodies that I keep in the bathroom. I’m pretty sure there’s more somewhere around here.

This made me begin to consider how much I have, with regard to things great and small, and to be reminded that while I’m debating something as frivolous as an extra tube of chapstick, there are desperately hungry people without the money to buy food. And while I’m convincing myself I need this or that or something else, the money I waste on the stuff I’m unwittingly convincing myself I need could be put to much better use.

And the heart issue beneath all this is a deeper one than the purchase or non-purchase of a tube of chapstick. It has something to do with goals, with priorities, with discipline and with those delightfully challenging fruits of the Holy Spirit, Mrs. Patience and Mr. Self-Control.

And, now here in the States, while I’m tired and my heart is tugged in lots of different directions this evening, with plans for an early road trip looming on tomorrow’s agenda, the affects and consequences of being blessed enough to be 29 weeks pregnant catching up with me, and the delights and sparkle of being here for the holidays mixed in, I thought I’d take a moment to finish a post from the drafts. Why? If nothing else, I hope to simply be a voice in the midst of the looming advertising and the jingle and jangle and the bright lights and dazzling displays to share a few quiet words:

We need His Presence more than we need these presents.
We need a lot less than we think we do.
And unto humble and lowly shepherds, watching fields by night, the glory was revealed. Not to princes and kings or academics and presidents. In still, in quiet, where humble space was made, so the Light made His way into darkness.

We too, must be still.
We too, must get low.
We too, must make room.