I came to the conclusion today that I am NOT normal. Yeah, I know, it probably shouldn't have taken me almost 30 years to realize this, but there it is. I said it, and I'm not taking it back. So there. Nanny nanny boo boo.
What preceded this realization was the dreaded talk of Christmas (or if you're PC, "holiday") parties. I don't dread the parties. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy getting together with people and eating waaaaay too many calories. What I dread are the gift exchanges. The first mention was at my monthly women's group. We're 20 and 30 somethings that belong to various churches in the area. We officially gather together to find ways to raise a little moolah, and we give it to those in need in our relatively poor and rural county. With a lack of resources and overwhelming needs in our neck of the woods, we figure every little bit helps. So we do yard sales and sell cheeseballs and do other odd things we deem worthy. I'll have to dedicate a post to the time we did concessions at the gun show.... Anyway, it's a super fun group and we all share the ups and downs of life in the process. And of course, where 2 or more women are gathered, there must be a Christmas party. So we're headed to the Mexican restaurant on the second Monday in December. And there's a gift exchange. Bring a gift that is valued at $20 or so. You don't HAVE to participate. But usually everyone does. Gift exchange decision number one. I am on the fence at the moment, but I don't have to decide until the day of the party.
Then I get to the preschool office this morning. The HOLIDAY PARTY SIGN UP SHEET is posted next to the mailboxes. "Please respond whether this date and time works for you and whether or not you will be participating in the gift exchange." You mean I have to make the decision NOW? Well, I only know these women from seeing them one morning a week for a little over a year, so it was a little easier this time. Gift exchange decision number two. Even though EVERY single person had put "YES" under gift exchange, I scrawled a little "NO." What an outcast I am. I used to get the same feelings when I worked for Girl Scouts and the staff Holiday Gift Exchange reared its ugly head. Gifts stress me out.
Do I hate gift giving for some theological reason? Do I hate other women? Do I have some undiagnosed disorder that renders me unable to wrap presents? No. No. And no. I like giving gifts. I like other women. I like picking out things that will make somebody say "Awwwwww," or "How did you KNOW?" And I REALLY like wrapping presents. It's an art form to me. A lot of the time, I'm not particularly great at giving gifts, but not horrible either. My husband is very sweet about putting up with my average gifts. My repugnance of the Gift Exchange comes from something deeper....
The real reason I don't like them is because 99% of the time I don't have the extra cash to spend on people who aren't nearest and dearest to my heart of hearts. It upsets me a lot that I would end up spending more on a co-worker than I would my dad or mom. I feel like each year we scrape together as much as we can, and we offer silly little gifts to family and friends who deserve so much more. (This is hugely embarrassing and I try not to talk about it much, but I'm going somewhere, so stick with me.) I wish I could buy the figurine or candle that's all the rage for that gift exchange, but I can't. I wish I could buy my mom and dad an island in the tropics for that matter, but I can't. Instead I pout on the inside and try not to feel like I'm wearing a giant sign that says "I'M BROKE, SO NO GIFT FOR YOU!" at parties when everyone else exchanges gifts.
When this happens every year, a part of me really wishes that I had more money. LOTS more money. Then I wouldn't have to be embarrassed so often. Things would be so much easier. I wouldn't be embarrassed about the house I live in. I wouldn't be embarrassed about the rusty van I drive. I could just blend in and be normal.
Part of this angst probably stems from guilt over bad decisions with money. If we had just done x, y, and z, we would be so much better off. Think and rethink. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. But you can only beat yourself up so many times over a mistake made. You can't go back and change things. You just have to sigh and admit that you made a dumb mistake and do the best you can with the circumstances at hand. Ask God for forgiveness and wisdom and move on I say! So, moving on!
The other chunk o' angst comes from the lifestyle I have chosen. I could have gone after a career path with bigger paychecks I suppose. Non-profit jobs don't exactly lead to big tanks of gold coins a la Scrooge McDuck. I could have put off having a husband or a family for awhile. I could have kept working a full time job after Baby Jay was born. And none of those things are wrong. Financial security is not wrong. But those things were wrong for ME. That is not the path that God had for ME. God specifically put me into jobs where I could use my gifts to help others and at the same time learn the things He wanted me to learn. He's done the same for Frank. I am very grateful for that. We have never been hungry. We have never had a financial disaster of epic proportions despite our dumb decisions, although some seasons have been tougher than others. And I now I choose to stay home and try my hand at instilling God's truth into my own children before they jump into the wide, wide world...which has been my hardest (and least paying!)job to date by far. I'm trying to live out God's will for my life, and many times that's amounted to having less material wealth compared to those around me.
I am reminded of Romans 12:2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." If I'm following God's will for me, will I be normal? Uh....no. I might stick out like a goth at a Kenny Chesney concert. Or like salt in a bland meal. Or like a light on a hill. Wait...two of those similes sound familiar. The other one is just weird.
If I'm a little embarrassed about my economic status at a gift exchange, that's a small price to pay for learning my ultimate worth comes from who I am in Christ, not from my bank account. That's the bigger picture that God has to remind me of pretty much every day. So I am trying to have a better attitude this year. I proclaim 2008 the Christmas of Contentment and Thankfulness! Besides, Jesus coming to this earth was the best gift ever. There's no way I'm going to try and compete with that!
P.S. I just realized why I love Thanksgiving so much. All of the family, friends, and calories. None of the gift exchanges! :)
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