The Gift of Presence

Candy blogs: Everyone wants Christmas to be meaningful. We say it every year. I certainly have. We long for Christmases past. I have very strong memories of Christmases at my grandparents’ house in northern Idaho, with all the aunts & uncles and cousins. After eight hours of driving … down the last stretch of dirt road … past the general store … past the grove of pine trees … we all leaned forward as far as we could … there! We could finally see the lights of the house! And once inside we were lost in a wave of hugs and kisses and smiles. Christmas had begun!

The first order of the day would be for us kids to go to all the familiar places where Grandpa put his home-made hard candy and caramel popcorn. There was always a hammer in the pan so you could crack off a piece small enough to get in your mouth. It took forever to suck on it long enough to get it soft and chewy. And then there was Grandma’s fudge and candy to find … and the boxes of oranges and apples.

snow angelThe days were spent sledding and making snowmen and snow angels and playing snow games. The evenings were spent singing and praying together, playing games and feasting on Grandma’s incredible meals. It was very noisy.

I hardly noticed that we had a gift exchange. That part was almost meaningless to me. I don’t remember a single gift I received there (well, I do remember one). It was always about honoring the birth of Jesus and time spent with family that we couldn’t wait for, and that’s what I remember and long for now.

We all WANT Christmas to be more meaningful but our Christmas celebrations don’t change or become more meaningful just because we want them to.

Did you know that Christmas hasn’t always been a happy, joyous holiday? It’s come to us as a result of many transitions and decrees and combinations of other celebrations … not all of them positive. Christmas used to be a loud, rather raucous, celebration. Some Christians wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

Christmas is not Biblical. Sounds pretty radical, doesn’t it? It’s really just a tradition; a wonderful one, but still a tradition. But anything that encourages us to pause and remember and celebrate our life with Jesus is wonderful. And over hundreds of years, that’s the meaning that American Christians have given to Christmas … to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With that said, did you know that, according to the Advent Conspiracy movement, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas … EVERY YEAR? That is astounding to me.

I used to get that “sick” feeling in my stomach when the middle of November came around. You know the feeling I’m talking about. The “only four paychecks until Christmas” feeling? We bought the lie. We dragged ourselves to all the stores on every available day off, buying cartloads of toys and games that were eventually broken or lost or discarded. Never to be remembered again.

frantic womanAs soon as the political ads stopped, the Christmas commercials began, showing frenzied parents driven by the indulgent “I want” lists of their children, and wide-eyed shop-a-holics literally in a shopping coma and feeling fully justified in their decadent spending aqnd making us think that should be normal.

We shake our heads in distaste for these commercials, and yet our Christmas celebrations remain unchanged and undistinguishable from those who don’t honor the birth of Jesus as we do.

We all WANT Christmas to be meaningful … but what would that actually look like?

The Gift of Presence

Last year I was introduced to the Advent Conspiracy. It started several years ago in a church where the leadership felt compelled to DO something about having a meaningful Christmas. It’s a movement “restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption.”

Here is their bottom line:

Worship fully … spend less … give more … love all

To re-state that …
• We are encouraged to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ to the fullest extent
• and out of that worship spend less on ourselves
• so we can give more to others
• which is showing love to all in very practical ways.

The organization shares lists of ways to do this. I’m not here to advocate their list. What absolutely grabbed hold of my heart was the thought that it was time to stop shaking my head at the commercials and overstocked store shelves, stop wishing and hoping and wanting Christmas to be more meaningful … and actually MAKE it so.

So last year instead of meaningless gift certificates and shopping from Amazon Wish Lists, I gave much thought to what would be the most meaningful tomy family. And everyone was pleased and even moved by their gifts. I’ve been scheming again this year to search my relationships and give gifts that showcase their value as a person rather than on materialistic things that will likely never be remembered. I am concentrating on gifts of presence.

After all, the gifts the Magi brought to the Christ child were very carefully chosen … chosen more for their meaning than their value.

The presents we give our loved ones give a very temporary sense of happiness. It flares up quickly and dies down quickly, rather like that holiday meal you slaved over all day and was consumed in minutes. In the scheme of things, very few of these presents will ever be remembered.

large family christmas dinner imagesCAUKONHCBut when we give the gift of presence, when we spend time eye to eye and heart to heart, having conversations, continuing traditions, teaching skills, building relationships … we build memories. We build a foundation beneath our families, a sense of knowing where they came from and giving them a reference point when they set the direction for their lives.

When we talk about King Jesus and His gift of eternal life, we help others stop … and worship … and celebrate this gift. And in the busyness of this season … even if just for a few moments … we can all touch eternity by connecting with our Eternal God.

What do you want your Christmas to look like? Have you thought about intentionally making it more like you wish it was? It’s not too late.

Worship fully … spend less … give more … love all

Husband of My Youth

Candy blogs: Sunday is a milestone for my husband and me. We will celebrate 35 years of marriage. Neither of us can believe it. How could it possibly be? Just yesterday that drummer from high school jazz choir with the big ‘fro and the rust colored cords and jean jacket was kissing me good night at the door for the first time.

He was different from the other guys in high school. He was kind. He didn’t have a dirty mouth. He was a gentleman. And so talented! I knew anyone I was going to marry had to be a musician. Scott was that. He played the drums and sang like a angel.

Scott & Candy

When we decided to marry, our pastor told us that our commitment to the relationship was more important than our commitment to the other person. He told us this is what real love was … to choose love more than feel love because feelings come and go and can’t be trusted.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”   Jeremiah 17:9

It was this counsel above any advice we were given that has carried us through these last 35 years. When we let our feelings dictate our actions, it can lead to poor choices. When our own happiness is the goal instead of what is best for the relationship, that’s where marriages go wrong. Marriage can’t be based on happiness. When he works too much or doesn’t catch the importance of something I’m involved in, I am unhappy. Does this mean I no longer love him? Of course not. Happiness comes and goes with circumstances, like feelings do. We can’t always control circumstances.

And it’s never just about us. Life decisions we make affect those around us … those we love. Our decisions send ripples out into the future.  When you’re married, life become “we”. We becomes more important than me.

If I am choosing love, not always demanding my own way, doing what is best for my spouse because I love him and not just because it will make me happy, I WILL be happy. And I’ll be loved. And 35 years later, it’s more true than ever.

Scott ~

On our wedding day,
I called you “husband” for the first time,
and since then I’ve discovered that word means
much more than I first imagined.

It means “friend” because you are the best one I have.
It means “partner” because we share life’s journey together.
It means “blessing” because you are one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me.

The more years go by,
the more it means to call you “husband”
because the longer we are together,
the more I discover all you are to me.

choosing love,



Candy blogs: I used to have a list of things to check off to verify that I was a good Christian. Prayer was on that list. It was right up there with a daily quiet time, going to church, reading the Bible and tithing. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things. But for a long time I had it backwards. I always thought that DOING them would MAKE me a good Christian. But I discovered that they are the RESULT of BEING a person in right relationship with God.

Prayer was one of the things I always had backwards. For most of my life I viewed prayer as me speaking carefully to God, careful to get all the official parts of a proper prayer in there. ..  careful to get a good balance between telling God how wonderful He was and my list of prayer requests. When I prayed publically I was way too aware of how others viewed my prayers and my ability to pray. Another performance. What a waste of breath.

In reality, prayer is just a fancy word for conversing with God. It’s really that simple. We make it so complicated.

My first breakthrough about prayer was finding out it included listening. LOL! I had to learn to spend enough time at Jesus’ feet, consistently and over time, for his voice to became familiar. I was used to doing all the talking.

My most recent breakthrough about prayer was being truly aware that I was actually talking to the Living God. “Prayer” or “praying” sounds so religious. Like a religious activity. But just “talking” to God brings the reality of Him in close. He becomes real. He is infinite and mysterious and so much more than we can fathom. He is outside the box of what we know in our universe because He created the universe and the box.

And yet He makes it possible to know Him intimately…. like He’s sitting right next to you.

Now when I pray, I focus on who I’m talking to. I’m no longer concerned about the others in the room. I’m talking to the Living God! If I could see God manifested in material form or truly perceive the depth and breadth of who he is, would I really let the cat or the knock at the door or the telephone interrupt our conversation?

Prayer is not telling God stuff He already knows or reguritating tired, over-used phrases.

“Dear Jesus, thank you for this day.”
“Dear Jesus, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”
“Dear Jesus, help us have a good day.”
“Dear Jesus, we pray for traveling mercies.”

Much of public prayer is less about actually communicating with God Almighty and more like a commercial for things that are coming up or things that have happened … more to tell the others in the room some piece of valuable information.

If I had to wait in a long line to speak to Billy Graham, when I FINALLY got up to him would I say, “Rev. Graham, pray for me to have a good day”? Not on your life. If I had moments with Billy Graham I would want as much of all that wisdom as he could pour into me. I would ask honest questions. I would tell him my honest struggles. I would ask for real answers. And I would believe what he told me because he’s  Billy Graham, for heaven’s sake!

But he isn’t GOD …

… and yet we interact or don’t interact with God as though earthly “celebrities” have more impact on us than God himself. We live as though we can  meet God on our terms … when we get around to it … when it’s convenient … when he fits into our lifestyle.  How’s that workin’ for ya?

Listening and talking … being aware of the other person and interacting with them. That is conversation. That is praying. That is part of living in relationship.

Love it. Have a conversation about it.

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