Minimizing distractions, maximizing Jesus

This year, I think I’ve really mastered simplifying the holiday season. But as every American knows, there are many distractions from the religious aspects of Christmas, most notably the obsessive desire for possessions.

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious & adding the meaningful.” ― John Maeda, graphic designer & computer scientist

In ” A Charlie Brown Christmas,” ol’ Chuck opines, “Even my own dog has gone commercial.” The consumer-crazed spending of the season was already occurring back when this classic hit TV in 1965. My how far we’ve come since then.

To counter this irreverent frenzy, Stephen and I are intentional about minimizing the materialism. We do participate in gift-giving to the kids and a few other family members. After all, this is one of the strictly Christian aspects of the holiday.

The dudes & I cozy up high on the mountaintop @ Sugar Plum during our annual outing to the choose-and-cut tree farm.

As our lead pastor explains it, Jesus is the incarnation of God as man, and He’s humanity’s second chance at a redemptive world. Jesus is the gift for healing our brokenness and sealing our salvation. It’s God’s love through a divine man.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one & only Son, who came from the father, full of grace & truth.” ― John 1:14

Of course, gift-giving in our consumption-obsessed culture should be done lovingly, but also carefully and in a financially sound way (i.e., not spending more money than you have in the bank).

Hence, Stephen and I capped the amount at about $100 for each boy. Plus, I avoided toys (with walkie talkies being the exception), instead buying more useful things, like clothes, books, gardening tools, a baseball glove, a watch, etc.

Santa has been a (semi) point of contention between Stephen and me. If it were up to him, St. Nick wouldn’t visit our house. He just thinks it’s all a bit too excessive.

Zeke looks like an adorable little elf in a Christmas-tree forest during our hunt for Myrtle (our Frasier fir for 2013).

But I pushed for utilizing gift-giving as an exercise in being appreciative and grateful, and to learn to give to others willingly. And, despite their youth, the 3 Amigos have already nailed the latter vital lesson!

For their Lottie Moon donation at Awana, the dudes gave $10 each from their piggy banks. Counting all those coins served as a great math activity, but more importantly, helped solidify the importance of charity and selflessness.

The boys were surprisingly mature about handing over what is a large amount of cash to a kid. Their ungrudging giving also included another $5 each to our church’s Generous December offering, which goes 100% to supporting missionaries.

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Moreover, we’ve done Santa in year’s past, so I figured we should just let it all unfold naturally. I mean, most of the kids’ CC friends know the truth about the man in the red suite and are quite vocal about it.

Plus, I don’t really push the mythology too much. I try to answer their pressing queries in vague, open-ended ways that let them ponder the possibilities on their own, while still keeping in tune with some of the fun Santa-centric traditions.

Despite their inquiries @ the farm, like “Is that the real Santa? … He looked different than last year … How can he be here and other places at the same time? … Maybe this guy’s just an elf,” the 3 Amigos still believe!

Interestingly, despite their skeptical questions and all the mounting evidence against the existence of a real Santa and his flying reindeer, the 3 Amigos are still avid devotees of the  jolly old elf. And I think it’s simply because they want to believe.

When the dudes sent letters to Mr. Claus, Houston requested the Lego Death Star, which runs about $300! “That’s very expensive. I don’t think Santa will be leaving that under the tree,” I said. “But the elves will just make it,” he commented.

“Even Santa has to pay his elves,” I explained. “He does?” Houston asked with an air of shock. “Of course, they’re not slaves,” I continued.

After some deep thought, he finally replied, “Well, I think he pays them in candy.” Hmmm, not the economic response I was hoping for, but it shows that the anything-is-possible wonderment of childhood is alive and well for Houston.

Steady-hand Houston snaps this nice shot of Stephen, Gabriel & me heading back to Granny’s from Sugar Plum.

Then the boys received postcards from Mr. Claus and were awestruck that the return address actually said The North Pole. Houston immediately declared that he was going to show this special mail to Asher to “make him believe in Santa.”

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. ― E.F. Schumacher, economist

I cherish this time so. Innocence is a rare thing and it will be gone soon enough as the kids grow up in this jaded, corrupt world of ours. But man, is it a cool thing to behold when you’re lucky enough to catch it!

Most importantly this holiday is putting into action the wise words of Tammy Wynette: “Let’s Put the Christ back in Christmas.” Her 1970 country classic called for folks to remember Jesus, despite the the increasing secularization of the season already happening some 40 years ago.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” ― Psalm 46:10

Again, simplifying has been essential. For instance, we had planned to trek downtown for the Holiday Parade earlier this month, but opted instead to stay home in order to finish decorating Myrtle. And hoot chocolate and cookies helped enhance the relaxed, cozy mood!

The dudes in front of a “Dillingham Tax Service” advertisement in Avery County. This barn is on property, which served as the set for the 1989 film, “Winter People,” starring Kurt Russell & Kelly McGillis. Cool, huh?!?

I also decided to blow off a homeschool outing to Old Salem one day just so the boys and I could play hooky (a well-deserved treat ’cause we haven’t been slowing down on schooling this month). We watched Christmas shows and stayed in our PJs all day!

Then that evening, Daddy took us out for frozen yogurt to celebrate the kids’ mastering 12-weeks worth of CC memory work. Our slow-paced day enabled us to truly enjoy this chilled-out family outing — lots of nice and no naughty!

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ― Confucius

Our trimmed-down schedule has also allowed us more time and energy to do some planned Christ-centered things, such as:

  • daily Advent lessons and activities;
  • delving more deeply into the Christmas story, from the prophecy of Jesus’ birth in Isaiah, to the nativity account in Matthew and Luke;
  • the boys’ piecing together a Christmas care package to send to the veterans’  hospital in Durham;
  • me singing in the choir for Mercy Hill’s Downtown Christmas program last weekend;
  • and a five-day Christmas devotional for kids, which the boys started today.

Here I am (just the the right of the foreground singer in green) rocking it out for Jesus during our church’s wonderful Christmas celebration. Man, do I love making a joyful sound for the Lord!

Of course, many cool holiday memories are an impromptu thing, like Houston and I having a frank conversation about some of the season’s pagan traditions, from the tree, ornaments and mistletoe, even to Christmas’ placement on the calendar.

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” ― Leo Tolstoy

A low-key, less-harried calendar has also given us a greater opportunity just to be better Christians. We’ve allowed ourselves to be more joyful and hopefully spread that famous Christmas cheer.

Like the night night at the grocery store when we heard the beautiful voice of a singing Salvation Army volunteer. So, I gave Zeke a dollar, which he excitedly put into the donation bucket. The cheerful man chatted with us and let boys ring the charity’s famed bell, which is so synonymous with Christmas giving.

To top it off, a kind lady gave me a huge handful of coins to divvy out to the dudes, so they could drop money into the bucket, instead of her. She said she simply wanted to relish the 3 Amigos’ pure joy. Spontaneous happiness was afoot!

Gabriel has fun decorating an Advent box, in which we put notes of encouragement for one another to help teach compassion. This fancy container also doubles as a giving box, in which we drop little gems every time somebody does a good deed. We will put the box under the tree on Christmas Eve as our birthday gift to Jesus!

Take another night when I spotted a talented keyboardist playing Christmas carols outside the Dollar Tree. His festive music could even be heard across a busy six-lane road in another shopping center.

Although not on a huge spending spree or anything, I felt the need (and had the time) to hit multiple stores in two separate shopping centers to locate a retailer that would give me a single dollar cash back in a purchase. So, I returned to the Dollar Tree, thanking the keyboardist and gladly giving him a well-earned buck.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'” ― Luke 2:10-12

After all that, I ended up crashing my cart into a gnarly pothole in the parking lot. A nice young dad and his daughter helped me up off the pavement. And somehow in spite of my battered shin and utter embarrassment, I still had the holly-jolly holy spirit! Miracles never cease.

The Christmas-countdown chain was a favorite of mine as a kid, & my swash-buckling boys agree that it’s a winning holiday tradition!

A few other things we’ve been up to this December, include:

  • the kids and I attending Miss Christie’s 2nd annual Polar Express Party;
  • Asher spending the night and Houston losing yet another tooth (after an outing to the Children’s Museum with the J-Crew);
  • celebrating Stanley’s 11th birthday;
  • hitting the Science Center, where the dudes got to pet many friendly stingrays, the green moray eels and otters came out of hiding, and we even witnessed a shark feeding;
  • attending Daddy’s holiday work party downtown;
  • and officially wrapping up our fall homeschool semester this past Friday and looking forward to a gleeful Christmas week!

One happening that wasn’t so jolly was that Gabriel went missing at the conclusion of the Mercy Hill concert. Obviously, it was a short-lived scenario, but an extremely scary one nonetheless.

Turns out, Gabe quietly snuck away toward the stage to try to find me, as Stephen was helping brothers with their stuff. Gabriel was MIA for about 5 heart-wrenching minutes, until a sweet gal helped him locate his freaked and frantic mom in the lobby. Thank you, God, for protecting my child!