Wednesday, November 12, 2008

If You Love Reading for a Long Time, You'll Love This Post

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? 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! :)


Sherri said...

Great post. I agree it is getting out of hand. We've been discussing the cutbacks as well as I now work from home and have taken a HUGE cut in pay.

As far as your feelings being
"normal", I would say YES. (for a TALL person, it's VERY normal)!

Even as a generous short person, I am having to draw the line.
We're all just trading dollars so why not 1 person bring in a $20 bill, hand it to someone, then they hand it to someone else, and so on. Say Merry CHristmas and go home.

Who brings the initial $20? The crazy lady that started the exchange. She'll get it back anyway.
Let me ask...Is she tall?

Mare said...

ogh. been there...nothing like telling people upon receiving their gift, "i'm so sorry...i'm seriously broke." not embarrassing at all. nope.

glad there are not christmas parties in nigeria. =)

Helen said...

First of all, what you are doing for your kids is priceless. How is that play dough statue commerating the time you went to McDonald's twice in one day coming along? Can't say your not appreciated now, can you? Seriously though, they are blessed to have you.
Could you maybe suggest that instead of a $20 limit, it might be "fun" to express "creativity" by making say a $5 limit to find the nicest thing you can find for your grab bag partner at that price. Or maybe the funniest (though not inappropriate) gag gift? Maybe insist that would be more fun than passing $20 around in a circle. If they say no, remind the Church group why they exist, and suggest the money saved per capita would be a nice donation for the various needs of the community. Sacrificial giving and all that. You probably would feel better giving $15 dollars for others needs than for a grab bag gift anyway.

BTW, did you ever do a Church recipe book for a fundraiser. I love Church recipe books, and would love to buy one from you if you did. I'll pay the shipping! If you didn't do one, but do one later, let me know, and I'll contribute my favorite recipes. I love Church cookbooks, but you could read Sherri's comment section to find out how much! :-)

katdish said...

I really like giving gifts with one sad exception: my family.

Not my immediate family mind you, but the family I grew up with. As Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride" would say, "Let me splain...

After my father left (on Christmas Day, no less) he felt incredibly guilty. Because he made a good living, he showered us with gifts on Christmas and birthdays as a way to "make up" for leaving. Somewhere along the line, this behavoir became part of the DNA of the entire family. So year after year we would go into debt in order to give really lavish gifts. The better the gift, the more you were loved. Then I met and married my husband -- an extremely generous but frugal man. It's weird that you can be both. When it comes to giving to those in need or to a good cause, he truly gives sacrificially. But he can be stingy when it comes to giving gifts to people who have more stuff than they know what to do with (i.e. - everyone in my family). Early in our marriage, this caused a lot of arguments about money. But I finally had to admit he was right. (Hopefully, he doesn't read this -- don't want him getting all cocky.) The first Christmas I didn't spend tons of money on my family was a little akward for everyone, but after they realized that I wasn't going to go all out on gifts anymore, the gifts my husband and I received began to reflect the types of gifts we were giving. We still have to remind them not to go for broke on the kids, and they actually ask permission before they spend more than $50 on a gift for them. A big improvement from the days when my sister would inform me, "I think I'm going to buy Cameron a puppy for Christmas." To which I replied, "Well, I'm sure he'll love visiting that puppy at your house!" Needless to say, it was a puppy-free Christmas.

I love Christmas, but I HATE that it often becomes all about material things and not about Christ, or even simply spending time with friends and loved ones. Sorry for the long comment. I get all worked up about this kind of stuff.

Beth said...


Yes, she IS tall...


Glad in all the craziness that is Nigeria, at least you are spared Christmas parties.


Thanks for the suggestions! I totally agree with you here! In years past I've suggested similar ideas with some success. Although the group exists to help, most of the group hasn't had firsthand contact with those in poverty like I have. I sometimes feel like I have to pick and choose my battles, or I will always be the one trying to stretch the group before they are ready to be stretched. Does that make sense? I fear that sounds arrogant... Anyway, I chose not to fight this particular battle. But I won a huge battle the month before. :) And will definitely suggest a cookbook!


Haha! Your comment is not nearly as long as the post. When I posted it, I just kept scrolling, and scrolling. I too get fired up about this. Sounds like your family and my husband's have similar gift patterns. They go nuts at Christmas. This year they vowed a $5 limit since everyone is pretty broke. But presents have already been bought far exceeding the limit. Presents have already been requested far exceeding the limit. So what am I supposed to DO??? And your husband and I sound like best financial friends. One year instead of presents for my family, I sent donations to World Vision from their Christmas catalogue. You purchase ducks and goats and stuff in people's name. It's awesome. But not very fun to unwrap! I think they were a little confused. It was awkward.

Mare said...

Beth, I did the same thing through World Vision for my grandmom who used to talk about helping people allllllllll day long. I thought it was perfect! I found the envelope and little plastic representative chicken unopened in the trash. I tried to explain that was the Christmas present and she was confused...and I felt quite awkward. Good intentions...but maybe the world isn't ready for those gifts yet. =)

Annie K said...

Well, between the three of us kids in my family, my parents have 19(!!)grandkids. No one expects extravagance (because they wouldn't get it) and we still have a great time. I think Christmas (I am not PC) gift 'giving' has become more of a gift 'expectation' and I can't keep up. I don't know that I would even if I did have the $$.

Put a big fat YES by your name, and have your little kiddos draw some Christmas pictures and give those. THAT would be a priceless gift! ;)