Christmas Shopping: “One for you and one…”

I was shopping at Target, when a dad entered the store with his two kids, pushing a big red cart.

The kids, who were very enthusiastic shoppers, darted over near me to look at some of the displays with bright-eyed expressions. You could tell that this dad had done a wonderful job of building up the moment.

The little girl looked like she was about six, and was very, very excited to buy a gift for her mom. She said, “Ooooh! Look, Daddy! We should get her these! Hot pink and leopard!” She held up a hat and glove set that was obviously meant for a little girl. I hid a small smile, and watched as discretely as I could from my spot over by the gloves.

The dad feigned enthusiasm and said, “Yea? You think Mommy would wear that?”

The girl looked thoughtfully back at the set she was holding up and said, “Well… would.”

“I know honey,” her dad said kindly, “but we need to think about what Mommy would like.”

A few seconds later the girl found a charm bracelet and said, “Oh, Daddy, look! It has little charms… There’s some tiny scissors! And an owl!”

Again the dad said, “But Mommy doesn’t really sew. And I’m not sure she’s into owls…”

The daughter said, “Well, it’s a nice owl. I like it.”

“Ok, let’s look over here..” said the dad, moving his eager shoppers to a different jewelry display. But a moment later, he was saying, “Uh… well… that one’s just a little loud for Mommy.”

Last thing I saw, before their cart rounded out of sight, was the little girl holding out a glittery tulle skirt from the girls’ section of the store. And the dad was saying, “Honey, that’s just a little small for Mommy.”

I had so much fun chuckling to myself over this little girl’s enthusiasm for the things that she liked. But then, as they drifted out of earshot, I realized what I had been doing the whole time: Looking at scarves and gloves and earrings that I liked. I was enjoying the pretty things and wondering if I should put a few in my basket–not for those on my list, but for me.

I had come in to the store to purchase some gloves for the homeless shelter our church is donating to, but how quickly I had deviated to my own wishlist. My sister and I laugh about the way we shop for others (and often each other) with our own tastes in mind, saying, “one for you, and one for me,” as we put duplicates into the cart.

It’s so easy to make Christmas about me–my wishes, my tastes, and my hopes and plans for our family. It irritates me that my husband just wants a nap. I irks me that my kids don’t want me to take their picture. And it bothers me that no one appreciates just how hard I’ve worked to make our Christmas celebration match the Pinterest images dancing through my head.

But these reactions of mine indicate how far I’ve drifted from Christmas. Christmas was the day our Lord Jesus veiled his glory and became a man. Christmas was the day he humbly emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Our servant.

How then, can I celebrate Christmas if I’m focusing on my own interests? How can I celebrate Jesus when I insist on my own agenda? These are the opposite of celebrating Christmas.

As we spend the next few days shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping, may we truly celebrate Christmas. May we reflect Jesus, our Lord, as we, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than myself…“, looking not to our “own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phillipians 2:4-7)

(an updated post from 2012)

I Returned His Christmas Gift

(An updated repost from 2013). 

I was a new wife. He was my new husband. And I returned his Christmas gift.

It was a jewelry box–one of those big wooden ones–and he spent a fortune on it. But he encouraged me to take it back if I didn’t really like it.

I thought I was being reasonable when I took his word for it and exchanged it for something I ‘needed’. But now I think I was being foolish.

In fact, if I could talk to my twenty-six-year-old self, here’s what I’d say:

“Ok, I get it. You like to shop for deals. You only buy things on sale. You feel good when you prove that money has elastic in it. And yes, money is tight right now. I get that you want to be conscientious about spending.

But here’s the thing. You weren’t the one spending. You didn’t buy jewelry box. He did.

And yes, of course he said that you could take it back. He did that because he’s a great guy. But did you see that little searching look in his eye, when you opened his gift? Did you see how he watched you, carefully measuring your reaction, as you pulled the paper away from the box? He wasn’t looking at the price tag. He was looking at you. He was loving you, and trying to please you.

Now, here’s something that you don’t yet know about yourself. You’re a Control Girl. You naturally gravitate toward wanting to control. And guess what? Gifts are one of those things in life that you can’t control. You don’t know what will be under the wrapping paper. You can’t control what he’ll buy.

That won’t stop you from trying, though. In the coming years, you will return so many gifts that your sweet husband will lose heart and quit trying so hard. He’ll just go to the store and buy whatever you circled in the sale ad, wrap it up, and hope to see you smile. But by reducing him to a circled-ad gift buyer, you stamp out some of the glowing embers of Christmas.

Here’s my advice: Keep the jewelry box. Keep the sparkle in his eye. Enjoy his choice, and let him choose how much to spend on it. Don’t be a Christmas Control Girl! Be a cheerful, grateful wife, and let yourself delight in your husband’s gift! By doing so, you’ll be a delight to him–both on Christmas Day and the days following, as well.”

Now that I’ve given my younger self some adivce, I’m thinking it might apply to my older self, as well. How about you? Are you a Control Girl at Christmas? If so, let me just say that I get you. I know you’re not trying to exasperate anyone; you’re just trying to make everything turn out right!

But let me ask you. When you clamp down on everything from who will buy what for whom to who will open what when, does this fill your family with Christmas cheer? Or does it make everybody miserable?

I’m learning that the only way to conquer my control problem is to do the opposite of taking control: surrender. To give up control, rather than lunging for it. In my soon-to-be-released book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, I talked a lot about surrendering to God, and His plans for our lives. But there’s also something to be said for surrendering to the people that we love.

When we doggedly insist on keeping the same menu or having the Christmas party at the same place as last year, the people we’re most trying to make everything “right” for–our husbands and children and cousins and aunts–are only getting frustrated and discouraged.

Christmas is a great time to practice surrendering. It’s a great time to give up control and put someone else’s wishes above your own. So what’s one thing you can let go of this Christmas? A tradition or an expectation? The guest list or the order of events? What’s one thing that you’d like to control, but won’t?

Perhaps like me, you need to rethink how you respond to your Christmas presents. Gift receiving is a great way to practice surrendering control. When you open a gift from a loved one, this Christmas, why not give in to his or her preferences?

Wear the scarf.

Read the book.

Plug in the appliance.

Delight in both the gift, and the giver. Surrender yourself to the joy of others, and you’ll find more joy for yourself, too! I should know; I’ve tried it both ways.

PS. (I have no idea what my husband will get me for Christmas this year. I haven’t even made a suggestion! But here’s one thing I know: I’m going to keep it, and enjoy it, and savor the time with him.)

“It’s not a competition.”

As I strolled through the room of tables, which were all decorated and ready for our ladies’ Christmas event that evening, I heard someone say, “It’s not a competition.”

Of course we were all aware that no one was scoring or ranking the tables, but I knew what she meant. Nobody wants the be the table that everyone walks past, thinking silently, “That one isn’t very pretty,” or “… isn’t very original,” or “…didn’t require a lot of creativity.”

Probably nobody would say any of those things, but if you see everybody walking past your table to ‘ooh and aaah’ over another table, it does give rise to little pangs of jealousy–even if you’re the one saying“It’s not a competition.”

Competitive edges are sharp. You get scraped and cut. Your cuts can get infected and cause extreme tenderness. You have to heal up before you’re ready to contribute again.

Even at Church, competitive edges create a lot of wounds, and not just during table decorating season. Everybody wants to be the one who’s admired or appreciated; and no one wants to be the one who is subtly passed over.

This year, as I decorated my table, I discovered the secret of protecting yourself against the sharpness of the ‘competitive edge’. Want to hear my secret? I partnered up with a friend.

My friend Sarah is incredibly classy. She’s got good taste and a good eye for style. But she’s also very flexible and sweet! When she opened her suitcase full of table decorating supplies, the first thing she said was, “Ok, so I’m not emotionally attached to any of these things…”

What a beautiful thing to say. In essence, she was telling me that I mattered more than her decorations. And I felt the same way about her! Both of us brought things that were used, and we each packed away things that didn’t work. We were careful to defer to each other, and neither of us sat back while the other worked. We cheerfully tackled the project and worked together on it.

That evening, when a lady commented on how pretty it looked, I said, “Oh, I didn’t really do much. It was all Sarah.” The lady laughed and said, “Well, Sarah just said the same thing about you!”

That’s the fruit of collaboration. We each brought our gifts and supplies ‘to the table’, and surely the end result was prettier than if either of us had worked alone. Yet because of that, neither of us wanted to take full credit!

And isn’t that like the Body of Christ?

We all know that when we serve Jesus, ‘It isn’t a competition.’ But sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it? But when remove rivalry and conceit from our hearts, and simply bring our gifts to the table, laying aside preferences, we accomplish more than we ever could individually. In the end, no one can take full credit. And no one wants to!

Are you getting scraped or cut by any ‘competitive edges’ this Christmas? Do you have old wounds that need healing? Here’s how to bandage up your hurt, and protect yourself from new cuts: invite someone to work with you. Collaborate! Rather than rivaling against other people, team up with them!

In this way, you remove yourself from the ‘competitive edge’ and you reflect the message of Christmas:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who… made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:3-4)