How to S-T-O-P Christmas - P

No one sets out to be a Grinch about Christmas - not even the Grinch!  But somehow, the pressures and demands and expectations of the season can shrink the  heart of  even Cindy Loo Who into  Grinch-sized proportions.  A heart that views the holiday with dread and angst instead of joy and anticipation.  A heart that secretly wants to "stop Christmas from coming, somehow!".

So we've taken a few days to examine ways to change a Grinch heart into one that spreads Christmas cheer instead.  To one's own self....and to those all around.  We're learning how to S-T-O-P Christmas so that we won't want to stop Christmas :)

S- simplify.  Realize that less really can be more.  That the stress involved in some of the season's expectations simply do not have to rule us.  Simplify.  And enjoy!

T-thankful.  This conscious change on the inside shows up in delightful ways on the outside.  Cultivating a heart of thankfulness requires being intentional about it - indeed it's a choice.  One that must be repeated over and over and over.  But eventually, a Grinch heart gets stretched into a Who-heart by the exercise of thanksgiving.  And the result is the spreading of genuine joy to all those around us.

O- opt out.  Admittedly, this one is hard.  "FOMO" ("fear of missing out") is a very real phenomenon that can paralyze us into overactivity, overcommitment, and an under-sized heart.  If we want to enjoy the holidays, we must choose to limit our choices.  For our kids, for our selves, and for our wallet.   Opting out of even some good things can result in opting in to a season of more significance and value.

What about P?
One of the greatest contributors to a Grinch heart (and the unfortunate spreading of Grinch-ness to all nearby....) is the lack of this factor.  Its absence causes stress and overspending and angst for family and friends.  We need to make P a priority......

P - preparation.  This aspect delivers powerful dividends - it is most certainly worth your investment!

Preparing for the holidays takes many forms.  Material (as in gifts and decorations and food), physical (diet, exercise, and rest) and spiritual (the mental and emotional components of the soul!)

At this point of the season, you may feel that it's too late for preparation.  Not at all.  There are lots of things you can do in order to successfully prepare for Christmas even on December 20.....and you can make it your priority to plan ahead for December 2015 ASAP :):)

Let's start with food since everyone has to eat, even on Christmas morning.  Easy, quick and mildly healthy are my objectives.  (And after one of my kids singlehandedly ate the entire bag of Reeces in her stocking before breakfast one year, I decided minimal sugar was probably a good goal for Christmas morning breakfast!)  So in my freezer already are cheese grits casserole, apple -sausage breakfast bake, and plenty of Suzie's rolls to eat with my annual Chambers Christmas Jam.  And since my children are all old enough now to exercise a bit more discipline in devouring the contents of their stockings, I will also serve an overnight coffee cake which is sort of like monkey bread but easy to prepare the night before. 

You probably already have definite plans of where and with whom your holiday meals will be so you can also decide to do as much in advance as possible.  You can deliberately choose to serve foods that allow prep work to be done early and leave little to be finished at the last minute.  So that you can enjoy the time with your family instead of in the kitchen!

Although you can't do much "preparation" in the realm of gifts and decorations at this date, you can do a whole lot immediately after Christmas that will pay off plenty next year.  Take advantage of the post-holiday sales and get the wrapping paper, paper products, and extra decorations for a great deal.  Then store it all together so that when you pull out the boxes next year, you'll already have your supplies right there!
And for gifts, well, these can be purchased all year long!  This helps spread out not only the time element but especially the money factor.  Although there are some gifts that need to be selected close to December 25, there are lots and lots that can just as easily be bought in July.  Presents for teachers, hostess gifts, stocking stuffers, etc.  I already have a reminder on my June 2015 calendar to get the jars I will need in December for my Christmas Jam!

Next, physical.  Now any of you that know me know that I am the last person on this earth to preach diet and exercise to you. You can see that "diet" is simply "DIE" with a "T" and my personal life verse is 1 Timothy 4:8 ("bodily exercise profits little........) but my dear friend Caroline has obviously infiltrated my brain and I therefore acknowledge the benefits of wise food choices and not being a couch potato.  Be intentional about preparing yourself physically for the demands of the season - it can be as extreme as a weekly fasting day for a few weeks prior or as simple as being sure to fill up on fresh fruits and veggies and down adequate amounts of water.  Even if you have a regular fitness routine, the holiday season can throw schedules to the wind.  But since we know this, we can plan ahead to incorporate short bursts of physical activity into our day.  It might be 15 minutes on the treadmill or a game of bench jumping with your kids.  Don't think you have to have time for a "full" workout - just move!
And, let's talk about rest.  I know how easy it is to shortchange this component of our lives.  There are always more things to do and less time to get it done, especially the closer it gets to Christmas Day.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  If you get up early, you can accomplish more with less stress.  Truly.  But in order to do that, you have to get to bed early.  Seriously.  Now I know some seasons of life make this a challenge.  I know all about newborns and sick kids and hormones.  But you don't have to make that the norm nor use that as an excuse.  Your best morning begins the night before.  And if you make a decent bedtime the priority on a regular basis, then you will be physically prepared for the curveballs that come from time to time.

Material, physical, and now, spiritual preparation.  We need to make spiritual preparedness as much as, if not more than, any other aspect of planning ahead.  Filling up our hearts with Truth and worship will overflow into peace and joy and serenity. But we have to purpose to do that because the demands we feel during this season will threaten to convince us we don't have time for spiritual preparation.  We will be "too tired" to get up early enough for devotional time.  We will be tempted to ignore the nudge to set apart time for reflection, worship, contemplation.   We will instead occupy our minds and hearts with frenzy, busyness, even panic.  When the soul is depleted of spiritual food, it cannot respond to the season's challenges with anything but stress. The heart will shrink to...three sizes too small!  In short, Grinch-ness.
  If we want a season of Christmas cheer, then we must prepare for it with determination.  That's the whole idea of the Advent Season.  Some ideas our family has enjoyed are Advent wreaths, Jesse Trees, and service to others.  And always always always, reading the Christmas story and attending worship services!

And that makes for the greatest Christmas cheer of all.

BTW - I am quite aware that I have included this photo numerous times.  On purpose.  Because Jonathan was my inspiration to not "stop Christmas from coming" but rather to "S-T-O-P" Christmas! 

AND because I think these two are da bomb.  And I think you should, too!

How to S-T-O-P Christmas - O

So, in our quest not to be Grinch-like, we are striving to S-Simplify and T-have a thankful heart.  What is "o" for?

Opt out.

Not out of Christmas, mind you, but out of anything that doesn't add value in some way to the season. Value of time or meaning or relationship.

That includes some "good stuff".

With "simplify", we reduced some things that didn't have to be elaborate.  Food, decorations, gifts, and the like.

Now, we are going to opt out - as in eliminate, not participate, decline - a lot!  I warn you, some choices will be painful.  Others will be pure delight and you'll wonder why you never crossed them off your inclusive list before!  But some things that you opt out of will require some courage.  And a commitment to your overall goal - a blessed season.  And you may need some accountability to help you stick to your choice.

A few years ago, I decided to not to Christmas cards.  And I thought I'd die.  I wanted to send out cards to let folks know I wasn't sending out cards just so they wouldn't think I'd forgotten them.  Or worse.  But the time required to get us together for a picture, order cards, and address envelopes before the season ended --- not to mention the expense -- was better allocated elsewhere.  And guess what - in spite of my angst, the sun still rose and Christmas still came...and no friends de-friended me (at least not on account of my lack of Christmas cards, anyway!) 

One year I kept my kids out of the humongous and wildly popular church Christmas program (the one that required weekly practices from Labor Day through mid-December....whew)  That choice was really tough.  But it wound up being an absolutely lovely season with much less frenzy and haste and we got to do some things that we hadn't had time to do before.  Christmas lights at Lake Lanier.  Cookie decorating parties (that lasted more than 30 minutes because that was all the time we previously had!) Stay up late and watch Christmas movies and drink hot chocolate.  Visit retirement homes and love on some lonely folks.  On and on....and I'll bet if you ask my kids about missing that performance, they don't even remember........

I remember when we lived in North Carolina away from family.  The first Christmas there, we busted our tails to get "home" and spend it with all sides of everywhere.  Not because anyone pressured us -- that's just what we thought we should do.  It was crazy.  Didn't feel like much of a celebration.  So the next year, we had our own Christmas at home.  Home for our family unit.  And it was sweet.  We were able to include some folks that didn't have anyone to spend the holiday with.  And build our own memories.  (and just in case grandmothers everywhere are about to hyperventilate, thinking I am going to convince their babies not to come home this year, relax.  We did get "home"  a few days later.  And as far as I know, everyone is still speaking to us.....)

There are some things you can opt out of.  Doesn't have to be Christmas cards or church musicals or travelling far and wide.  It might be saying no to the 6th neighborhood soiree or the 11th kids caroling event.  It might be that you decide not to prepare homemade caramels for 100 friends or not to volunteer at the soup kitchen 4 times during the month of December.  But whatever it is, make your choice....and tell someone else to help you stick to it.  It took me several attempts to take a break from Christmas cards and the only way I finally opted out was the year I asked my husband to help me stick to my choice. 

I don't know what you need to opt out of in order to S-T-O-P a Grinch Christmas at your house.  But there are some things that can go.  And you can figure it out.

And you can have a really Merry Christmas, as merry as all the Who's in Whoville!

How to S-T-O-P Christmas - "T"

Hopefully you've read the first two posts in this series and realize I'm not all about being a Grinch!  If not, please take a moment and read them here

I don't want to "stop Christmas" - I want to S-T-O-P Christmas!

First, there is the concept of "simplify".  It really can make a difference in what you are trying to do and what you are letting stress you out.  Simplify instead of stressing - oh yes!

The next thing to S-T-O-P Christmas is something that goes on inside.  In the heart.  A seemingly small choice that will work its way from the inside out.....into big results.


For "thankful".

Wait.  Don't stop reading.  This really will make a huge difference in how you view Christmas. How you approach your "to do " list. How you treat other people.  And especially how much you and yours enjoy the season.

It's all too easy to pretty much skip over the spirit of Thanksgiving and slide right into "stuff to do, and give and get" .  I mean, really , think about how "Black Friday" has practically eclipsed the day set aside for gratitude!  Instead of a time for thankful reflection, we spend it packing our stomachs and unpacking our wallets.  Hardly a way to set the tone for a grateful heart.

An lack of thanksgiving shows up as impatience.  Fretfulness.  Irritability.  Disappointment over unmet expectations.  In short, the Grinch.

What a difference it can make if we are intentional about cultivating a thankful heart!  Instead of focusing on what we want to get, or even give, if we concentrate on the blessings we already have, our heart is soothed.  Enriched.  Content. 

A grateful heart changes the atmosphere not only of its resident but also of those around it.  I vividly recall one time a group of wives were sitting around complaining uh, sharing, about their husbands and one woman completely changed the whole conversation by gently praising her man.  Nothing showy.  Not even a rebuke of her friends.  Just a quiet humble giving of thanks for something she appreciated about him.  Every single woman changed her tune.  It evoked in all those around her to realize the things they, too, were thankful for.

Being thankful is possible, even in the most difficult  of circumstances.  Some of the most thankful folks I know have experienced the greatest of all heartbreaks.  They have hurt and grieved and wished things could've turned out differently....yet they still have chosen to give thanks.  To find blessings in the midst of pain.  Intentionally.  In so doing, they have found contentment.  Satisfaction.  Even joy.  A thankful heart,

How can we be thankful, genuinely?  How can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude?

John Piper says that "gratitude rises in proportion to how undeserved we perceive a gift to be".  Wow. That's a lot to ponder.  Think about the converse.  If we are not grateful, it is likely because we think we deserve the good we get....and more.  And if we don't get all the good that we think we deserve, not only are we not thankful, we are likely angry and bitter and envious.

How to S-T-O-P Christmas?

Not only simplify.....but be thankful.  Thankful to God for His indescribable gift of Jesus.  For His unmerited favor.  For the countless blessings of life and relationships and beauty.

Thankful also to the people we encounter every day.  In little ways and big ways.  Give thanks.

And change the atmosphere of the season for those around you!

How to S-T-O-P Christmas -- "S"

In case you didn't read the previous post and are about to report me to the Christmas police elves, please STOP and check it out here

And now, let's talk about what we do to S-T-O-P Christmas........

"S" is for SIMPLIFY.

Before you quit reading and say you already know that, let's think about what you can really do to simplify the season.  To make it more enjoyable.  More meaningful.  BETTER.

"Simplify" can apply to all areas:

1.  Food
If you spell "LOVE" like my family does (F-O-O-D) then this is hard.  But it's possible.  You really don't have to serve prime rib, 8 side dishes, homemade rolls, and 6 hour prep desserts for Christmas dinner.  You really don't. Even if the spread makes a great instagram post.......  Sometimes we assume everybody wants all this stuff and we feel obligated to make it so they will all be happy when, in reality, that's just not the case.  We are feeding their gluttony if it is!  I have a friend who says her grandma stresses herself out every Christmas making a huge spread for all 30 family members and then is so worn out she can't even enjoy having everyone there.  And they eat it just to keep from hurting her feelings.  Not good.  For anyone. 

Simplify your food plans.  When my fourth child was born, I scratched the crown pork roast dinner I was used to preparing and served lasagna instead.  Since then, I've stuck with simple meals and lately we've decided to go to Steak n Shake or Waffle House!  On Christmas morning, I serve overnight coffee cake (which is a cinch to prepare the night before ) and a couple of casseroles that I've stashed in the freezer. 

If you can't give yourself permission to simplify food, then I'm giving it to you.  Cut it out!!!

2.  Gifts
This area might be harder than food.  Gift-giving.  But we make things harder for ourselves (not to mention our finances and the hearts of our kids.....) when we are excessive in this area.  It takes a lot of courage to make a change here but it's worth it. 

When it comes to extended family, consider drawing names or doing a family gift or limiting gifts to those under 18 only.  (If this is something you'd like to implement, I suggest you broach the subject in, say, July - not during the holiday season.  Emotions are usually more objective a few months away from the Black Friday fever!)

For your immediate family, you do not have to foster greed by piling up a mountain of gifts in an attempt to create a happy holiday.  You need to muster up enough self-control to limit the presents.  You set the example!! I borrowed an idea from my friend Kimberly a few years ago - "something to wear, something to read, something you want, and something you need".  I'll admit it was difficult to limit myself but it wound up being very freeing once I committed myself to it.  Other folks do three gifts, like the wise men brought to Jesus, even letting them symbolize the gold (something valuable), frankincense (something spiritual - like a worship CD or a book or a journal) and myrrh (something practical such as clothes, etc)  What a great opportunity to teach great truths!

Consider receiving no gifts for yourself at all - instead ask that donations be made in your honor to a charity of your choice.  This has been something that our family has treasured.  I cannot tell you how exciting it is to see your children gladly choose to give to others instead of receiving something themselves.  Now that's a gift I want to get!

3.  Activities
You just plain do NOT have to do every activity that is available.  You just DO NOT.  It is better for your healthy, your spirit, and everyone in your world for you to ensure that your calendar is NOT FULL.  Even with good things!  Honestly, church can be the chief culprit when it comes to over-activity.  Just don't let yourself participate in every activity offered - the same goes for your kids.  And don't let yourself believe you have to provide "meaningful" activities at home for every moment you are there.  Kids and parents alike benefit greatly from "down time", especially during a season that is so stimulating.  Be intentional about making that happen.

So that you can authentically enjoy the things that you do participate in!

If you are serious about wanting to "S-T-O-P" Christmas so you won't have to dread its coming, the best place to begin is to simplify.  But most of us are afraid to do so.  We fear that we will somehow cut out the enjoyment if we dare to cut back.  And since we women seem to universally feel responsible for everyone's holiday happiness, we keep piling on the food, the gifts, and the activities.  As though we think there's some magical amount that will ensure satisfaction for our people.  When actually, it's the converse that is true.

 Some years you might have the time (and the desire and the wherewithal) to adorn every surface in your home with festive lovelies.  But that doesn't mean you should every year.  And you get to make that call!  Last year, when little Mary Alice was due to make her debut at Christmas, I knew I'd want to be in Albany then and for days after.  Which meant I would need to relegate the task of taking down and putting away decorations to other family members.  (While I got to stay with Katie and read books to Jonathan and snuggle Mary Alice :)  Well, somebody has to sacrifice!!!) I knew that simpler would be easier/better.  So our Christmas décor last year consisted of a tree, stockings, and outside garland/bows. Takedown was a breeze for my capable peeps.  (And the fact that all boxes were already labeled with what went where helped immensely.  Just sayin....)

Simplifying the season means that we can focus and relax and engage.

And that's what makes for happy people.

Let's "S" together, shall we?

Lessons learned from The Grinch

When my Katie told me that Jonathan wears his Grinch shirt and walks around the house whispering "I must stop Christmas from coming!  I must stop Christmas from coming!" I thought about how many times I have felt the same way. Although it's one of my family's all time favorite movies, it has been known to evoke terror in my heart.  Like when I was a little kid and my brother would terrorize me with his "Grinch" voice all season. (After Christmas was over, he tormented me with his "wicked witch" voice and I was the only kid in my town who was afraid of "The Wizard of Oz".  Gotta love big brothers.)
Anyhow, back to The Grinch.

I just love that story. The songs, the characters, the message. It's timeless.

I've come to appreciate different things from this classic through the years.(The cartoon one is my preference, by the way.  The updated one leaves something to be desired)  As my love for Christmas has morphed and aged, the things I observe and appreciate have altered. I eventually outgrew my fear of the Grinch voice, but I always saw him as mean and pathetic and bad.

  Now I think perhaps I understand him.

Maybe he was just tired and dreaded all that Christmas seemed to demand that he do.  I can relate.


Now don't ban me from your inbox.  Don't shake your finger at me and remind me of what Christmas is all about and scold me to enjoy it. 
I get that.

I love the story of Christmas.  The meaning of God's plan being unfolded and my Savior leaving Heaven to come rescue us all.  I not only love that, I cling to it with desperation.

What I'd like to "stop from coming" is what we've done to Christmas.  Or what I can so easily let happen to it in my heart.

Things to do.  Places to do.  Stuff to buy and plan and fix.  Expectations to meet.
That's what turns me into the Grinch.

Although I can easily downsize my heart and miss the joy of Christmas as quickly as snowmen melt at the beach, I realized this season that I have learned some things through the years.  Some things that help me truly enjoy the season.  Some things that keep my heart the right size and in the right place.  Some things that "stop (the wrong) Christmas from coming"......

How to S-T-O-P Christmas..........

Over the next few posts, I am going to share some concepts that help me "STOP" Christmas and enjoy it instead.  I hope you'll stick around......