Sunday, November 25, 2012

Even More Relational Gift Ideas

Spend Less...Give More. 

I'm not anti-gift giving. I'm not even against the usual store bought gifts, as long as they're not things nobody needs or things that cost so much they put you into debt. And as long as you still have some money to "Love All" by giving to neighbors in need. 

But I love the Advent Conspiracy's concept of relational giving. Not just because it frees up funds that you can give to worthy causes, but because it brings people closer together. 

When Covenant first joined the Advent Conspiracy in 2009, I searched the web and collected ideas for relational giving. The other day I stumbled upon some of these in my notes--way too many to share in a sermon. So I've been posting them here. Check these out, and see if they lead to ideas of your own...

"The most wonderful gift I have ever given (it’s still talked about years later) cost me almost nothing. I spent a few months contacting friends and family members and asked them to send me memories and old pictures of my grandfather. Then I wrote one memory (or printed one picture) on each of 365 business card sized pieces of card stock. I folded each in half and secured it with a bit of tape, then placed them all in a big jar I decorated. Every morning for the next year, my grandfather would take out a paper, open it, and see what other people cherished in him. He loved it.”

“We are now writing a chapter of our family history each year. We’ll pick a topic, and each family member will write about it. One person plays ‘editor’, collecting the stories, and presents them all together for Christmas. We’ve written about our favorite Christmas (seven differing perspectives on the same year), the house we grew up in, and this year we’re writing about how we met our spouse. Last year, my Mom sent out her first draft of her entire life history. This gift costs nothing, unless you choose to make fancy copies or books. It does take a little time if you want to contribute quality. It will, however, carry a lasting value unmatched by any tangible gifts we’ve exchanged, or even experiential gifts!”

I (Claude) really like this next idea. The writer shared the idea before actually doing it. I wish I knew how it went. It sounds like a blast...

Typically our Christmas morning is a round-robin of opening gifts, then we eat a light lunch and then folks start to drift off home. This is certainly less than celebratory and not memorable in the least. Every year's Christmas pics look the same as the last. Because our finances are limited anyway we've been cutting back for years as it is but this year we are considering a new option.  

( I can't believe someone hasn't thought of this before. Stop me if you've heard this one.)

We set two rules:
1. Each person is expected to bring one gift. That one gift must be something the entire group can use/eat/play/experience together.
2. All gifts must be experienced before the end of Christmas Day.  

This eliminates the lengthy "opening of gifts" and it immediately changes Christmas morning from a passive event to an active experience.

So maybe one person buys a game (say Catchphrase) and that gift is opened and the family spends an hour or so playing the game. It must be played, everyone must participate.  Maybe someone brings home-made cinnamon rolls as their Christmas gift for everyone. so at some point everyone sits down and eats a roll and coffee together- unrushed. I do a little hand-drumming and was thinking how fun it would be to make my gift a drumming lesson for the whole family. I think my wife is planning on making everyone finger paint. 

The gifts might mean spending some money but not necessarily.  

Suddenly Christmas day moves from the mundane to an amazing world of creativity and fun!. At least in my imagination.

We'll see how it goes. 

OK, folks, that's all the relational gift ideas I've got for now. But maybe you have some. LEAVE A COMMENT and share it with others!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More Relational Gift Ideas

The Advent Conspiracy fosters "relational giving," where someone gives a gift that brings the giver and the recipient closer together, rather than focusing on the cost of the gift. Yesterday I shared some ideas for this kind of giving, hoping to spark your own creativity. Here are some more...

Give the gift of experience. The Gift Weblog suggests, “There’s nothing like giving someone the gift of experience, it is something they will always remember.” Sample gifts of experience: sky diving, scuba lessons, hot-air balloon rides, cooking school, lunch with a hero, etc.

Time or Skill
Brad suggested giving the gift of time or skill. Brad has given music lessons. He has colleagues who have given bike tune-ups and wine advice. What skills do you have? Can you help somebody set up a blog? Plant a garden? Learn to change the oil in their car?

Family Trip
A few years ago we decided that our three kids didn't need more stuff. So, I really thought about what they did need and that was more time together as a family. In lieu of gifts for the kids we take a small two or three day vacation around Christmas. It can be as simple as renting a cabin and sledding or playing board games for a few days or taking in Christmas sights within a car trip of our home. Now instead of making a Christmas list they ask, "where are we going this year?"

Scripture for the Year
We put everyone's names in a basket and each of us draws one out and this becomes the person you give a scripture to. (We typically do it at Thanksgiving but anytime BEFORE Christmas is perfect, just as long as you have a few days to pray it over.) You pray and ask the Lord to give you a specific scripture for this person that will speak what the Lord wants to speak to them. It has been amazing over the years to hear the scriptures read aloud by the person and to see how it speaks to their spirit, many times in ways you would never imagine! 

On the night or day that we celebrate Christmas together we start with the youngest person first (yes we include EVERYONE no matter the age, even if mom or dad have to help) and whoever had picked that persons name gives the scripture to them and it gets read out loud to everyone. It's a great way to keep the focus on the Lord and give Him opportunity to speak a word to you for the coming year. 

The fun part is how you present it. We've painted ornaments and put the scripture on it. Given it on paper written or typed out so it can be put somewhere to be seen all year. Made it into a magnet, or a bookmark, or even a frame... the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination and creativity will let you go! Oh and something that I started doing a few years back was writing down the reference in a book that is kept for the family to bring out each year (oh and I've also scrapbooked them, for those of you who like to do that!)

We never intended for this to become a tradition in our family but God did. It all began one Christmas over 15 years ago when we all had little to no money and we were trying to give something that costs nothing and it has turned out to be one of the things that we look forward to each year and has become a tradition for our family ever since. Hopefully you will like the idea and want to adopt it as your family tradition as well. It costs you nothing but a little time in prayer and as much creativity as you can muster!

Check back tomorrow for more!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Relational Gift Ideas

A couple Sundays ago I spoke on the middle two of the Advent Conspiracy's four tenets: Spend Less, Give More. (Missed it? CLICK HERE.) 

I talked about the AC's concept of Relational Giving. Relational giving brings the giver and recipient closer together. These gifts may cost less in terms of money, but they often cost more in terms of time, energy, effort, and thought (hence the concept "spend less, give more").

In that message I shared some of your ideas for relational giving. I recently stumbled upon some more ideas from folks around the country. I'll post some of these over the next several days. Let them spark your own creativity...

Coupon Book
We have four kids and are trying to "rethink" Christmas this year for Advent Conspiracy.  We usually will do 4 or 5 gifts per kid.  This year, they each get one gift on Christmas and then I thought it would be fun to give a coupon book...personalized for each child.  Each one will have a coupon to redeem each month.  It may be "breakfast in bed" or "go out for a milkshake w/mom" or "hit a bucket of golf balls w/dad."  You can go real simple or get more detailed.  The key is that they get to redeem only one/month.  This spreads out your cost over time.

The Real St. Nick
Our first Re-thunk Christmas, I was terribly afraid that my children wouldn't get to experience the MAGIC of Christmas. The Christmas mornings that my parents helped me to experience when our living room was completely transformed, waking Mom and Dad with "come see what Santa left!!!" and how did Santa know how much we wanted those bicycles? But the magic was there... more magically than ever... this idea put the magic BACK in Christmas for me as an adult.

At the beginning of the Advent season, I wrapped a BIG open box and put it in the living room. My children (then 2 & 5, now 6 & 9) were to carefully to think about what toys they didn't need anymore. They cleaned them up, and put them in the box to give to Santa. "Santa has a lot of children to give gifts to, let's see if we can help by sharing the gifts we don't need." They really got into it. If they were hesitant to give an item, I reminded them that if it was too hard to give it away, they could take it out again. They put so much thought into what they still needed, and what they thought would be better enjoyed by someone else... and into what might be considered "junk" that no one would want. On Christmas Eve, we sealed the box and put a note on it, "For the children who have nothing." 

That night, Santa came to my children. All of the "just what I wanted!" things. The living room transformed. And when the children woke me up Christmas morning, running into the room with enthusiastic giggles, I didn't hear "come see what Santa left!!"  I heard, "Come See! Come See! He took it! Santa took our gifts to the children!! The box is gone!" They hadn't noticed their stockings full or the specially wrapped gifts. They were thrilled with the magic of the Real St. Nicholas, who's legend we tell every year:  A priest who sneaked to give gifts to those who were without gifts. THAT's Santa Magic.  

Conversation Jar
Write down some probing questions and put them all on strips of paper in a jar.  Go around the room and have each person draw a question.  Spend some time going down memory lane, hearing dreams for the future and celebrating each other’s lives. 

More tomorrow...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving comes around once a year to remind us just how blessed we are as Americans. Despite all the struggles we’re having right now, we still have so much to thank God for – and so little to complain about.

Some time ago I read an article encouraging Christ followers to give thanks. It included these lines:

If you have food in your refrigerator,
clothes on your back, a roof over
your head and a place to sleep,
you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank,
in your wallet, and spare change
in a dish someplace, you are among
the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If you attend a church meeting
without fear of harassment,
arrest, torture, or death,
you are more blessed than almost
three billion people in the world.

If you have never experienced
the danger of battle,
the loneliness of imprisonment,
the agony of torture or
the pangs of starvation,
you are ahead of 20 million people
around the world.

If you can read this message,
you are more blessed than over
two billion people in the world
who cannot read anything at all.

Wow. And to think I complain because I get stuck in traffic for ten minutes, or because my coffee isn’t hot enough, or because my favorite TV show is on hiatus. I’ve got a lot of growing to do.

Giving thanks is not only commanded throughout Scripture -- it’s a better way to live. Did you know medical studies have shown that people who give thanks more and complain less are less likely to contract infectious disease? Remember: “The surly bird gets the germ!” 

(I got that awful pun from Rick Warren. Blame him, not me.)

I hope you're having (or have had) a wonderful thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Praise of Dressing (and Cranberry Sauce, and Giblet Gravy)

Today's post is a bit like yesterday's. It's another story of how I refused to eat something, then after years of turning up my nose finally gave it a try--and found that it was one of the best things I'd ever tasted.

There's a life lesson in there, you know. Pretty obvious, I'm sure, but just in case: Try things! Well, not everything. I mean, there are definitely some things you should leave untried--drugs, pornography, Honey Boo-Boo, etc. But in a lot of cases, we miss out on something great because we're afraid to step out beyond what we're already familiar with. We church people are some of the worst.

Growing up I was never that excited about Thanksgiving. For one thing, I had my sights set on what the man with the bag was going to bring me on Christmas. For another thing--I didn't like the food.

Turkey, by itself, roasted in an oven with no brining or basting, has to be one of the blandest foods on earth. And every year at Thanksgiving, that's what I had to look forward to. Dry, tasteless turkey. And maybe some green beans and some dry mashed potatoes.

See, the problem was that I just couldn't stand the sight of the other stuff on the table. There was gravy, but it had little turkey guts floating in it. I wasn't gonna touch that with a ten foot pole. There was some slimy red stuff that was still shaped like the can it came out of. It looked like wet Play-Dough.
And then there was "dressin'." I think people from other parts of the country call it stuffing (although most people now know that stuffing a turkey is a really bad idea--it keeps the bird from cooking all the way through).  For us southerners, dressing is made in a glass casserole dish and baked after the turkey has already come out of the oven.

The problem I had with dressing was that I saw it made. Mom put a whole bunch of strange stuff in a bowl and squished it all together with her hands. Eggs, celery, bread crumbs ... some years she got really gross and put in oysters -- oysters! What does a slimy mollusk have to do with turkey?

And so I never touched the giblet gravy, which would have moistened my turkey and added flavor to my mashed potatoes. And I never tried the cranberry sauce, which would have added a wonderful burst of tartness to my plate. And most of all, I never put a big hunk of homemade dressing next to my turkey to add that spicy, seasoned goodness that makes that otherwise bland meat come alive.

I can't remember when I finally broke down. Maybe, like with pumpkin pie, it was while I was in college. You know, I tried a lot of stuff in college 'cause I had to. Those were tight budget days. I ate whatever was cheap.

Maybe all that experimentation (with food, not with drugs or alcohol!) emboldened me to try all the Thanksgiving foods I'd been avoiding. The gutsy gravy ... the canned cranberry ... and most of all, the delicious dressing.

Now Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Of course, it's not just the food. It's the people, the time off from work, and the reminder to stop and give thanks. But I have to admit that right now, that turkey and those trimmings are calling my name.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Praise of Pumpkin Pie

When I was a kid, I could not imagine eating a pumpkin pie. For me, pumpkins were something you made Jack O' Lanterns out of. Every October my brother and sister and I would get a pumpkin and cut off the top. Then the grossness began. Somebody--and in my memories it was always me--would have to stick their hands down into the poor pumpkin and pull out his insides. Yeech!

We would plop the gooey mess down on old newspaper, and then use a serving spoon to get all the stuff off the sides. Then one of us--and in my memories it was never me--would have the honor of drawing the Jack O' Lantern's face with a marker. Then somebody--in my memories, it was usually Dad--would carve the pumpkin--while I took the gunk that had been inside the pumpkin and threw it in the garbage.

This was my primary experience with pumpkins. So when Thanksgiving rolled around and people talked about eating a pie made out of the internal organs of a Jack O' Lantern, I thought, What is wrong with you people? You don't eat that stuff! You throw it out with the garbage!

Thus it was that for years, I  missed out on one of the true joys of the holiday season.

And then one Thanksgiving when I was in college, I decided to give the unappealing confection a try. I can't remember why. It may have been because I had recently tried carrot cake. Carrot cake is another dessert that makes no sense. Who'd have thought you could make a dessert out of a tasteless vegetable that my mom used to force me to eat? And who'd have thought that a dessert with such strange origins would be so incredibly good?

I must have reasoned that if they could make an absolutely scrumptious cake out of rabbit food, then maybe a pie made out of pumpkin wasn't such a stretch.

So I cut myself a small slice of pumpkin pie and added a generous dollop of Cool Whip (I figured it would hide the flavor of the pie.)  I took a small bite onto my fork...I brought it to my mouth...and...Wow! This stuff is good! 

I've been a pumpkin pie fanatic ever since.

Today I've been baking pumpkin pies for the Thanksgiving meals that Covenant is going to deliver tomorrow to DSS Kinship families. We've been working with the Bair Foundation to come alongside these folks throughout the year. I figured since this is one of my favorite parts of the meal, I'd volunteer to make some. A dozen, to be exact.

Early attempts were crude.
Only problem is, I've never done this before.

The first two were a disaster. I read the ingredient list, but not the directions. So I just dumped everything in a bowl, then realized I was supposed to beat the eggs first. So I did my best to push the eggs over to one side of the bowl and give them a decent beating before mixing everything together.

Then I filled the pie shells way too full. I spilled filling all over the floor on my way from the counter to the oven. I splashed filling all over the oven. I completely forgot about putting the unbaked pies on a baking sheet!

After the pies had been in the oven for five minutes, I looked at the recipe again and realized I had left out the sugar! So I took them out -- spilling them again -- and did my best to mix the sugar into the filling after the fact.

What came out an hour later looked...OK. But they smelled pretty good.

Now that I knew what I was doing, I went on to attempt four pies at once. This time I remembered to beat the eggs, mix the sugar and spices, put the milk in slowly... and use a baking sheet to protect the bottom of the oven. And it worked! Don't they look awesome?

OK. Six down, six more to go. Boy, I love the way my house smells right now!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Yes, Christmas Can Still Change the World!

I love the Advent Conspiracy!

The movement started in 2006 when three young pastors asked this question:

Can Christmas (still) change the world? 

Six years later, the answer is a resounding YES. Churches all over the world have embraced the idea of an upside-down Christmas. Millions of dollars have been released from holiday excess and mindless consumerism, and redirected to meeting people's real needs--physical and spiritual--in the name of Jesus. Countless lives are being changed, both in the here and now, and for all eternity.

Today I saw a video on the Living Water website that blew me away. It features a pastor in India telling what it's like to share the Gospel in a place where people are overtly, violently hostile towards Christians and Christianity. The pastor relates powerful stories of miraculous healings. You can actually see some of the people who were healed in the video! 

He goes on to tell that despite these signs and wonders, he still encountered fierce opposition to the Gospel, until something happened that changed the face of his ministry. 

So what was it that happened? CLICK HERE and watch the video to find out...