A Giving Party and other Ideas for Teaching Kids to Give at Christmas

The Christmas spirit is still going strong around my house. I didn’t have time to share these ideas before Christmas but I’m hoping they will make it to your Pinterest boards and be there ready and waiting when next advent rolls around.

So much of a child’s experience of Christmas in America is around receiving gifts. There is no denying that it is truly delightful to watch a child’s eyes light up with the arrival of a long desired special toy.  But we tend to underestimate the joy that our kids can experience by giving gifts as well. We adults know far better the anticipation of watching a loved one open a gift that we have worked hard to bring them.  Our kids can participate in the satisfaction of giving too and the more we practice the more pleasure they will find in it. Below is a list of some ideas that we did in my family or that our friends did this year.


A Giving Party:

It has become popular among adults to gather together for fundraisers or to even use one’s birthday as a chance to raise money for a good cause.  But these sorts of events usually require that the kids stay home with a babysitter. This year we decided to get our kids together and have them make a simple gift they could give away themselves. They all brought ingredients for a trail mix.  We read A Baker’s Dozen,

which is a story about generosity  and St. Nicholas. Then they mixed their ingredients and assembled gift bags. Each child made three bags. They also had a chance to make a card or label and choose who they were going to give their bag to. It was a simple idea and both kids and parents enjoyed it. There are so many different types of giving parties the possibilities are endless.

A Giving Party and other Ideas for Teaching Kids to Give at Christmas

A Giving Party and other Ideas for Teaching Kids to Give at Christmas

Buy a Gift for a Stranger:

Around the holidays there are always opportunities to buy gifts for a stranger. Talk to your local foster home, family shelter or other social service agency and they often have lists of children and adults who won’t have anyone buying for them. Take your child along, encourage them even to spend some of their own money towards picking out something really special for someone they don’t know.

A Nursing Home Visit:

My daughter and I took candy canes to a nursing home this year on St. Nicholas day (growing up this was always a day that we did a church service project so I wanted to maintain the tradition).  It took essentially zero preparation we just showed up with a smile and had a wonderful time visiting with the residents.  It was a good reminder that even little kids who can’t do much in the way of work can offer a lot just through their presence.  This is something we are hoping to start doing with our moms group a few times throughout the year.


A Secret Secret Santa:

One of my daughter’s friends brought over an unexpected gift. His mom had written the names of their friends on slips of paper and had them each draw one. The kids then got to pick out a gift for their person.  There was no gift for them in return just the fun of delivering a surprise package to a friend.


Include Kids in Shopping:

It  may be as simple as bringing a child along to shop for a sibling or parent. Or encourage them to save a few dollars and purchase a thoughtful gift on their own.


Random Gifts for Neighbors:

Another friend had her kids assemble small gift bags mostly of candy and cookies that had begun accumulating around the house. Once they had 15 or so bags they went door to door knocking and introducing themselves to neighbors, many of whom they had never met before and passing out the gifts.  It was a simple way to connect with new people and spread some Christmas cheer.


Making Gifts at Home:

Including kids in the creation of gifts is one of the best ways to get them excited about giving. If they are small they can make a card or drawing. As they get older they can create ornaments and all sorts of handicrafts. Getting started on these early in the year is key so that a child actually has time to finish a gift themselves.


What else have you done to encourage your kids to give around the holidays or any other time of year?



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God with Us Even in Our Mess

God with Us (even when we are a mess)


“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us)”.

Mathew 1: 23


God with us.

God incarnate. A  God- baby living and growing right here on the dirt of the earth.

All of Christendom stands on this reality. Most of the time I don’t stop to let these words sink into my soul. Mostly I try to put the incarnation into a box that has more appeal.  In a breath I move from God with us, to us with God. It’s a subtle switch but a far more  alluring concept.

I desperately want salvation to mean being whisked up to heaven to float around on clouds playing harps with angels. I want  an escape or at least a world where there is no infertility, no miscarriage, no sudden death, no Aleppo. And I want to be angry with God for not making it the way that I think is best.

But Mathew insists on, God with us. He starts his book out with a painfully tedious genealogy (which I usually skip over if I ever come across it) towards this point.

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, etc. etc. etc.

This year I’ve been reading the Bible stories with my daughter, so some of these names are starting to feel more familiar than ever, some because we read them, others because I carefully edit them out.

Characters like Rahab the prostitute are difficult to explain to a four year old. Then there is Tamar, twice widowed and so desperate for a child that she dresses as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law (who is the kind of guy apparently that frequents prostitutes).  Then the famous King David who takes Bathsheba to bed and when she gets pregnant has her husband  Uriah killed in battle to cover up his offense.

There are good stories too, stories like Ruth, a foreigner brought in and made part of a new people. But none of the stories are simple, few of them are what we would look at today and call “christian”. They are stories of a messy people, of real failures, of genuine pain and this list of names is recorded here so we don’t forget it when we come to this next passage,

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.


An unmarried  pregnant teen who swears she is still a virgin. Her fiance  deciding whether to call it off quietly or have her publicly stoned (which would have been a reasonable option back then).

God with us. God enters into a  mess that has been growing for generations. He does not rescue us out. He  gives us His Spirit. And in the face of our deepest darkness and our ugliest failures He gives us light.  He so transforms the world that in the simple act of loving another person we see His face and hope begins growing out of every broken place.

This year has left me lonely, I long for more children, for the growth of a church, for a deep sense of community. Still compared to many my griefs have been small. I have stood alongside of friends who have watching their children and parents and grandparents cross over to death. I have seen bodies that I love wrecked with illness.  And I have grown ever more aware of the fragility of the world as I’ve heard the stories of immigrants  fleeing violence, traveling by foot through central America to reach our border.  I want it to be “Us with God,” I want to escape this pain.  All I can do is pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”  And He has come, and is to come and will come again, Immanuel, not us with God, but God with us.


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Marriage, Our Wedding

How to Keep Your Head Above Water Cultivating a Marriage, Our first 9 years

My husband and I married 9 years ago today in the dusty border town of Piedras Negras, Mexico. We made our vows at sunset in an old Spanish Mission and then celebrated with Greek dancing, a live donkey and bottomless margaritas.

The weekend ended and I found myself back in the lecture hall instead of on a honeymoon.  Over a few short months my husband watched the fun loving, easy going girl he married quickly dissolve into a irrational medical student who could not even begin to unwind on a weekend get-away. He who had once been considered a bit of free spirit found his creativity quickly confined by the lifestyle required by his medical student wife.

It probably didn’t help that we dated for only six months before we married and even during that time we were living in two different countries.

We had neither a blissful first year nor a wretched one.  We got along and enjoyed each other, it was just that being together took a lot of work.  We both did our best to be supportive and kind but it took every last drop of our emotional energy to keep the wheels of our marriage turning.  Overtime we moved onto residency, a home remodel, a church plant and a baby. We came to see our patterns, our weaknesses, our unrealistic expectations and all that helped. We continued to grow, but we had to agree with all the premarital advice we had been given, marriage was hard.

I finished residency and then worked for another year which kept me busy and kept his options for work pretty limited.

Finally two years ago we did an about face, he took a job which moved us onto a 7,000 acre ranch, an hour from the nearest grocery store and shortly afterwards I stopped working entirely.

It took a while for me to unwind, as in it took the better part of a year.  But somewhere in there our tense and tearful discussions which had been part of our routine for years disappeared. And we began finding common ground where we never expected it.  After 8 years of striving we woke up and realized that we had a great marriage, one that was far easier than I had ever imagined.

I share this story as a celebration. Marrying my husband is undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made. But I also share it knowing that some of you are struggling. Nearly half of marriages end in divorce and I can’t help but think that some of them are people just like us who wore out before they got to the other side of the struggle.

Every marriage is unique and complex and so I hesitate to give advice after my 9 short years of experience.  But I want to share some habits, some intentional choices you can make no matter the state of your relationship. These alone won’t totally transform your marriage but they can give you some goals to work on and  to help carry you through hard times.

Of course all of these are written assuming there is no abuse or addiction involved. Certainly if you are in danger get somewhere safe, if you find that you or your partner can’t implement some of these it may be a sign that you could benefit from professional help. And please do seek it, the joy of a healthy marriage is so worth it.

Habits for Cultivating a Marriage

1. Be kind. It sounds simple enough. But it is easy in the heat of the moment to resort to name calling or under your breath comments about how much your partner reminds you of their mother. Resist those urges. Much of the damage that comes from disagreeing comes from hurtful words that have nothing to do with the original discussion. Agree to be kind and hold the other accountable to this.   If you can’t argue without saying unkind words it is probably a sign that you need professional help.

2. Stay connected physically. It is natural to want to physically isolate yourself when you feel emotionally alone. It may feel safer but most of the time it does not help build a marriage. Part of marriage is being vulnerable and physical intimacy lets you do this even when you can’t agree on what color to repaint the bathroom.

While in the midst of an argument you may need to retreat and be alone for a bit, always make sure you come back together. Try finishing the discussion holding hands on the couch. Make hugs and kisses part of your daily routine even if you aren’t especially affectionate. Don’t withholding sex until everything is worked out, sometimes physical intimacy is exactly the key to helping you find a connection with your spouse. Of course if you have had past physical or sexual abuse this is going to feel different for you and you may want to get help to work through these issues.

3. Talk it out. At the end of an disagreement you should have both had the opportunity to be heard.  Don’t stop talking it through until you have both expressed how you feel.  You don’t have to agree with each other entirely but you do need to respect each other enough to hear the others’ side.  This process is exhausting but overtime it will give you insight into your own and your partner’s behavior. If you can’t do this go to a counselor who can teach you better communication skills.

4. Don’t underestimate the effects of stress.  At the time I thought we were handling our stress well.  But over the last year I have seen how much we were affected by stress every day.  There was so much about our work that we loved but it wore us out emotionally and we had very little capacity left to deal with each other.

If you aren’t getting along and you have significant stress from work or family recognize that this, rather than your partner, may be what is taxing your marriage.   Often we hold ourselves together for the folks at work or even for our kids but by the time we are alone in the evening we are exhausted and it just takes something minor to have us up in arms with our spouse. Perhaps the most important piece of advice in this whole epic of a blog post is this: Be willing to walk away from just about everything for your marriage.

5. Don’t assume that a weekend away will cure it. For us, during the long stretch of medicals school and residency, a weekend away was certainly going to involve an argument, I just could not decompress the way I needed to in that time-frame.  It took us about a year after we changed our lifestyle to feel like we fully embraced a new way of functioning. Weekends away are great but if you are dealing with significant stress and a challenging relationship you will probably need to make more dramatic changes to see improvement.

6. Don’t complain. While it is important to have mentors and people we can go to for advice (specifically those who have successful marriages).  It is also equally important that we avoid complaining about our spouse.  Depending on your environment this is not always easy. We love to share our misery and in this case we probably make it worse by doing so. If you need help seek it, but refuse to engage in conversations where you end up complaining.

7. Keep Learning. When we first married we made it a routine to read some sort of marriage enrichment book or go to a weekend seminar every year around our anniversary. While I didn’t love every book there was at least some nugget of helpful information in each one and  it gave us a great neutral place to start a conversation about areas that we needed to work on in our own marriage. Scroll to the end of this post for a list of a few books that we found helpful.

8. Pray together. If your spouse is open to it make it a habit to sit down in the morning or evening for a few minutes, be quiet and pray together and for each other. You can do this even when you aren’t getting along. Trying to stay on the same page spiritually is a huge asset to a marriage.

Start by simply reciting something like this together:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou
have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

9. Don’t bottle it up but don’t let it explode. Make a habit of bringing up small issues as they arise. Bottling up feelings can lead to resentment. At the same time be mindful of when and how your bring things up. Use affirmative language not accusatory, “I felt neglected,” not “you neglected me.” And be considerate don’t bring up an issue in the car on the way to a party, right before a big exam, right before bed, or especially in front of other people if you can help it. Talking about issues regularly can be exhausting but trying to ignore them can lead to more hurt feelings and more intense discussions when they finally surface.

9. Create a common life. While we were never able to schedule a regular date night we were intentional about inviting over friends for dinner and trying new hobbies together. In our hectic lifestyle doing something like reading the same book or just making sure to sit down for meals together is a step towards keeping a family unified.

10. Take care of your health.  This is probably the most overlooked area and it is so important. We have been, for the most part, healthy, and have probably always eaten healthier than the average American. But I still look back and realize where we were failing to take care of ourselves.

Most of us need 8 hours of sleep, not just on Saturday but everyday. We need a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, we need to be active during the day. We need to drink water and avoid pesticides. We need sunshine and time outside. We need to limit sweets and starches that affect our blood sugar and we probably need to limit caffeine too.

Chronic stress can deplete many of our essential vitamins and minerals and exacerbate physical and emotional issues.  Taking 400 mg of Magnesium everyday is a simple and valuable start to rebuilding health that has been affected by stress but there is so much more that can be done.  Don’t overlook this.  There are some things in our health that are out of our control but much of it isn’t.


For Further Reading

No book, or blog post can really do what it sets out to do, giving meaningful advice on marriage in this format is almost impossible.  Each marriage is so unique that it’s rare to find a book that feels entirely applicable. Still from each of these we gained some insight that helped us along the way.


Boundaries in Marriage

Love and Respect

For Men Only

For Women Only

Marriage Takes More than Love

Passages in Marriage

The Five Love Languages

Marriage, Our Wedding


For some more of my thoughts on marriage check out:

Why Practicing Hospitality is Good for my Marriage

Marriage and the Long Haul

On Marriage and Mystery Celebrating 8 years of Living Sacramentally (last year’s anniversary post)



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For the Kids: Books on Nature, Food and Farming To acompany the grown-ups reading Babara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable Miracle

It happens that some of my daughters favorite books are on the subjects of food, farming and nature and I’ve found that the ideas resonate with most kids.  Children love to be outside (maybe not so much with the temperatures are over 100, but still sometimes even then) and to watch the natural world unfold before them.  If this is a new area of interest for you, or if you are just looking to expand your kids’ reading list here are a few of our favorites.

The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi:

A simple story about a New York City Bee Keeper and the way he cares for his hive and his community.  It also has a lot of information about how honey is made.


Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson:

The story of an urban family and their tradition of getting apples from the farmer’s market and making apple sauce together.  It shows how something as simple as cooking a pot of apples together can become a cherished memory. It also has a recipe for applesauce that I use all the time.


The Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson:

A story of how apples become apple pie. This is a sweet father-daughter book and is always my daughter’s pick to give out as a birthday gift for friends.


All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant

One of the biggest challenges in modern culture is accepting the limitations of a day and it seems that I always try to cram in too much.  This is a book about cherishing the small things of one day.


Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock:

This is actually a textbook developed to help teachers take kids outside and learn about nature. It has a beautiful perspective about letting nature speak for itself and has sections on birds, animals, insects, plants and weather. You can look up for example, “mocking bird” and read some of the natural history of the bird and then learn to listen for its call or discover it’s nest, it is a great book to take out to the back yard to deepen your experience of the natural world.


This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.