Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Gift of Simplicity

Published in Light and Life's December 2011 online issue.

I love home makeovers.

I keep a picture of the best home makeover I've ever seen on my refrigerator. The “before” shot shows a ransacked, skeletal A-frame that was clearly smashed to pieces with great force; the “after” shot shows a completely restored home, covered in white paint. A family of five stands by the front door, smiling and radiant in traditional Indian clothes.

In a small way, I helped flip this family's house into something worth living in. Last year the Wabash Conference chose to re-examine the Christmas tradition of giving each pastor an elegant, inscribed keepsake ornament. Instead, our conference sponsored the roofing of five homes in Orissa, India – a region where hundreds of Free Methodist families have been persecuted for their faith. Rather than a sparkly decoration for our Christmas trees, we took home a simple before-and-after picture for our fridges. Sure, it's in a dollar store frame, but the worth of this image is so profound and lasting, it causes me to ponder the value of all my holiday purchases.

Don't get me wrong: I like the Great-American Gift Exchange as much as the next person. I like crowding into the living room, sitting beneath a colorful tree, and passing pretty packages to my loved ones. I like shopping for the newest gadget for my techie-husband, and watching my daughters' faces light up at each unwrapped toy. Being simpler in my gift-giving might alter these images, and that makes me uncomfortable. Breaking from tradition can be downright painful.

But on further examination, I have to wonder if that pain is due to the loss of a meaningful tradition, or due to a tradition that's lost its meaning. A few Christmases ago, one extension of our family traded in its usual gift exchange for an exchange of words. It works like this: we go around the room, sharing about the charities and organizations that our dear to our hearts and the good each is doing in the world. It's understood that the money we would have spent shopping for each other is paid out in the form of a monetary gift to these noble causes. The end result is creative pre-holiday shopping, and a rich family tradition that focus on the blessings we so often take for granted. Rather than driving home with a carload of store receipts and soon-forgotten toys, we leave those family get-togethers grateful for the simple things in life . . . if even just the sturdy roofs over our heads.

Simple, meaningful gift-giving ideas:

  • Take a hearty soup or a basket of fruit to a financially needy family. Food pantries have an ample supply of cookies and sugary foods – especially around the holidays – so families short on money often lack healthy, nutritious foods in their homes.

  • Contribute to FM or FM-affiliated organizations that provide jobs, education, and food for people around the world. A few Christmases ago, we challenged ourselves to donate the same amount of money we'd spent on Christmas presents, to worthy causes like International Child Care Ministries and the Bishops' Famine and Relief Fund. As you can imagine, the size of that check was much larger than expected.

  • Give loved ones the book, CD or movie that had the greatest spiritual impact on you this last year; include a note of personal reflection. One year our family gave Elie Wiesel's book “Night” to our friends and family. It was a $5 paperback that could be read in a single sitting, but that story had changed our lives, and we wanted to share it.

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