Tag Archive for gifts

What I Miss About Christmas (& What I’m Doing About It This Year)

Do you know what I miss? I miss those simple Christmas holidays of childhood. Remember those? We sang Christmas carols and even went “caroling” in the community. We enjoyed the magic of “good ole St. Nick” somehow bringing gifts to everyone in a single night. And we experienced the joy of watching someone’s face light up when WE gave them a gift. I also remember the hugs… oh the hugs. We were engulfed in hugs. And the laughter that rang out throughout the season. In the midst of all these activities, a nativity scene adorned the table and filled my mind with wonder. I often pondered, “All this for a baby born so long ago in a town so far away?”

As I grew, the very tangible hope and joy of the Christmas celebration remained with me. Sometimes I still look at that little Baby, his parents, the shepherds, an angel, and the wise men (yes, they were always at the nativity scene early) and just wonder, ponder the mystery of it all. The hymns and songs and laughter and gifts and food and family are all still there, but I miss the innocence of those childhood Christmases.

I’m not sure the world was any better “back then.” There were wars and protests on the news every night (the Vietnam war and the Cuba Missile Crisis, for example). Leaders were assassinated (MLK & JFK). The end of time was near (or so many “prophets” proclaimed). Nuclear threat loomed as we practiced “what to do” in case of nuclear disaster and watched movies about the fallout of nuclear disaster. Pundits predicted overpopulation and famine as imminent threats. Still, in the midst of it all, there I was with many other young boys and girls, celebrating the magic and mystery of a joyous Christmas.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words. “Unless you become as a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself [accepting their lack of knowledge and wondering at mysteries beyond our wildest imaginations] like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven!” This year, I’m choosing to return to “become as a child.” I’m choosing to return to the childhood Christmases I miss, the Christmases of innocence and wonder. How?

First, I’m going to look afresh, with the eyes of a child, at the Child in the manger. I’m going to consider with wonder the amazing gift we’ve been given. I think I’ll listen to Handel’s Messiah: “For unto us a Child a given, unto us a Son is born….”  I’ll ponder the marvel at the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” all wrapped up in that little Baby lying in a manger. What an amazing love to give up the glories of heaven to take the form of a Baby born in an occupied country to a poor family.

Second, in celebration of that great gift, I will give gifts. The gift of the Child in the manger is so astoundingly generous that I will strive to give generously in return. And I’m going to start with giving of myself, just like that Child in the manger “gave Himself” for us. I’m going to give myself to my family and friends in service. I’ll give my ear to listen. I’ll give my hands to serve and my mouth to encourage. I’ll celebrate by giving myself to others in love.

Third, I’m sharing hugs this year. If you’re around, I might just hug you. It’s Christmas. Jesus spent His life touching others (both metaphorically and literally). I think I’ll do the same. Instead of simply being engulfed in hugs, I might give a hug or two…or three or four. I might even engulf a few people in hugs. After all, we need hugs to thrive.

Fourth, I’m going to sing. I’m singing in the shower, in the car, in my home, with my family, with my friends…. I’m singing all the songs I loved as a child and still do as an adult. Maybe others will join in, and we can sing together. There truly is something about singing that brings people together. It brings us in sync. So I’m singing with everyone who will sing with me.

Know what else, I think I’ll put out some cookies for Santa Claus again this year. We actually put out pizza. We haven’t done it since our children left home for college…but I’m doing it this year. I’m going to enjoy the magic of a mysterious guy dressed in red bringing gifts in the middle of the night. Who knows, while I wait I might “see Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” I might also see a star that shines in the East announcing a new King rising in our hearts.

Will you celebrate the innocence of a childhood Christmas with me this year?

The Perfect Christmas Gift

I love Christmas and I love giving people gifts…but I really struggle trying to figure out what gift to give. It seems like everyone has everything they need. My wife and children put together Christmas lists and I look at the list. That helps. I can choose from the list. But sometimes I want to give them something from the list and something more, something that can really express my love for them.

This year, as I contemplate just what to give each family member to express my love, I decided to follow the example given on that first Christmas day. God knew the perfect gift to give. He loved us so much that He gave Himself. He emptied Himself of heavenly privilege and entered into the lives of those He loved. He became Immanuel, “God with Us.” He gave Himself in service stating that He had come to serve, not to be served. He gave Himself to ransom us (1 Timothy 2:6) from the evil that had kidnapped us. He gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4) so we could receive His righteousness. He gave the perfect gift. He gave Himself.

This Christmas I’m going to follow His example. I’m going to “re-gift” myself to my family. The gift of myself won’t simply be opened on Christmas day and set aside. No, it will be an ongoing gift; one I will give to each one for the rest of my life. I’m going to set aside any perceived privilege and selfish tendencies so I can enter their lives and serve them, listen to them, encourage them, and support them. I’m going to give them my time and energy to help them reach their dreams and goals. I’m going to give them my love. Maybe, in the gift of myself, they will be inspired to live a more loving life themselves. That just makes the gift all the better. Yes. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m giving the gift of self…it’s the perfect gift.

Gifts, Experiences, & Your Child’s Happiness

We all know it’s true…so why do we do it? We know we can’t by our children’s happiness with material goods & gifts, but we try. Our children look upset and we buy them something to “lift their spirits.” We feel guilty because they seem so angry and disappointed after we discipline them, so we assuage our guilt and their anger with a gift. We hope it will make them happy. But a recent study demonstrates that giving gifts does not increase our children’s happiness. Well, sort of….

Specifically, this study demonstrated that children over 12-years-old derive more happiness from experiences than from material things. In other words, our children over 12-years-old are going to experience more happiness if we do something fun with them than if we give them a gift.

Children between the ages of 3- and 12-years-old, on the other hand, did derive more happiness from material things than experiences. But there is a caveat. This age group still loves experiences (just consider the joy of Chuckie Cheese, amusement parks, and trampoline parks). Developmentally, however, they need a physical reminder to jump start their remembrance of the experience and so experience the happiness it gave them. In other words, experiences provide an enduring happiness for children between 3- and 12-years-old as well…IF they have a picture or a small token to remind them of the experience. For children over 12-years-old, these reminders are not necessary. They simply find more joy in the experience than in the possession (see The ESSENCE of Adolescence & Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior for More).

All this being said, our children will find greater happiness when they enjoy experiences with us. While you enjoy the experience, take a picture or two. Buy a souvenir. Talk about the experience and replay the happiness often (Learn How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime). Do this and children of all ages (0 to 99-years-old) will experience greater happiness.

Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Are you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift? If you are, forget the new shirt or the latest gadget. Research suggests that experiential gifts are more “socially connecting.” They  strengthen relationship more than material gifts. Experiential gifts allow us to experience more intense emotions like adventure, relaxation, or excitement than do material gifts like clothing or the latest coffee maker. Even more, when the experiential gift allows you to engage in the activity with the recipient, you will draw closer together through the emotion of that activity. So, if you want to buy a gift that can enhance intimacy with your spouse or strengthen your bond with your child, try an experiential gift. You will definitely get more memories for your money, more “bang for your buck.” If you’re not sure what to get, here are a few ideas:

  • Tickets to an amusement park
  • Dinner dates. You might try a book of homemade coupons for “one a month.”
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical, or dance.
  • A membership to the museum or the zoo.
  • A date night jar filled within expensive dates and an opportunity to add to the jar.
  • A promise to attend family game night once a month for a year. (Of course, you have to keep that promise.)
  • A carrot, some coal, and a hat so you can run outside this afternoon and make a snow man together.
  • A picnic box with plans for family picnics. 
  • Family dinners.
  • Walking maps for family walks.

You get the idea. Give a gift that will allow you to have an enjoyable experience with your family. You’ll love. They’ll love it. Your relationship will love it!

The Greatest Christmas Gift You Can Share

businessman holding giftThe Christmas season has definitely arrived. I see it in the overwhelming traffic. I hear it in Christmas carols ringing in my ears. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, baking, and decorating, I watch children count down to the “big day.” If you are like me, you love the anticipation of Christmas. Advent Calendars, the “Elf on a Shelf,” and journeying wise men help us build the expectation of Christmas. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, I like to sit down and contemplate the long awaited Christ Child and the new life He brings. It helps raise my own expectation and anticipation of the Christmas season. I am often struck at the contrast between our current Christmas priorities and those of the first Christmas. Maybe you are too. Jesus did not come to earth as one of the economically privileged, a member of the ruling class. Instead, He arrived in poverty, a member of a conquered and oppressed people. He could have entered the world as royalty; but, He came as a Servant.  Rather than setting His Son up in a position of power, God delivered Him to us in a stable, to a family with little resource and no influence. Unlike those of us who live in the “Land of Opportunity,” God did not try to give His Son privilege, prestige, power, or material wealth. Those things did not seem to make it onto God’s priority list for His Son. However, He did give His Son a family. Jesus did not just “pop up” in the desert as a Man with the power and influence to change the world. He arrived as a baby, born into a family, nurtured by a mother who “pondered all these things in her heart” and cherished her Son. He matured under the guidance of an earthly father who was willing to act swiftly to protect his family. Surely the family is one of God’s top priorities—not power, prestige, or material wealth, but family. God, the Father, made the gift of family a priority on that first Christmas day by giving Jesus a loving family to guide Him and nurture Him as He matured. Even more, He gave us Jesus (“unto us a Child is born”), a Brother who willingly gave His life so we might become part of His eternal family! Let’s follow God’s example this Christmas and share the gift of family with our parents, our spouses, our siblings, and our children. No other gift will make Christmas as meaningful as the gift of a loving, intimate family!

A Family Fun Night of Holiday Preparations

If you’re like me, after reading that title you’re probably thinking, “Family fun and holiday preparations? Yeah right? What planet do you live on?” I mean really. We haven’t even African American father and mixed race son making Christmas cardscelebrated Thanksgiving and I am already hearing Christmas music in the stores. But, I believe I have rediscovered a way to have family fun and prepare for the holidays! Not only can we have fun while preparing for the holidays, but this Family Fun Night will make the holidays less hectic while building family intimacy. Sound too good to be true? Well, this family celebration can do it! Celebrate your family with a family craft night. Think about it. You can make tree ornaments, table settings, wall decorations, or crafty gifts to give to the in-laws (or anyone else for that matter). If you struggle for ideas, check out Craft Gossip or the Etsy Blog. Remember, as you work on your masterfully creative crafts, talk to one another. Share ideas. Recall holidays past and the fun times enjoyed. Dream about future holidays. Make a wish list for gifts you’d like to receive. Talk about gifts other people might enjoy receiving. Laugh. Have fun. Oh, don’t forget to throw some hot chocolate and other edible goodies into the mix. When all is said and done, you will have had a wonderful family night of fun while preparing decorations, gifts, and ideas for the holidays!  So, slow down, enjoy one another’s company, and prepare for the coming holidays with a family fun night of crafts.

Charlie Pride and Four Secrets to Life-Long Marital Bliss

I constantly search for secrets to a better marriage and family life. I need all the help I can get. Recently, I rediscovered a profound lesson for creating a life-long marriage. I had heard this advice as a child, even learned it in the car with my family; but, I did not realize the wisdom behind the words until I was married. Of all the places, I learned this lesson singing along with the radio…and Charlie Pride was my teacher. You may have learned this song as well. He called it “the secret to his happiness.” It goes like this:

Senior Couple - Kiss on the Cheek“You’ve got to…kiss an angel good morning

And let her know you think about her when you’re gone.

Kiss an angel good morning

And love her like the devil when you get back home.”

(Click here to listen to Charlie Pride sing the whole song)


This little chorus offers four secrets to life-long marriage bliss. Here they are:

  1. “KISS…” Show physical affection. Kiss your spouse in the morning. Kiss your spouse to greet her when you get back home. Kiss your spouse goodnight. In John Gottman’s “Magic Five Hours,” he recommends giving your spouse physical affection for at least five minutes per day. Kiss, hold, grab, and touch. Show some physical affection to your angel (AKA-spouse).
  2. “Kiss an ANGEL….” View your spouse as an angel. In other words, nurture your admiration for your spouse. Take time to recall what attracts you to your spouse. Think about those traits you admire in your spouse, those unique characteristics you adore. Then communicate that admiration to your spouse on a daily basis.
  3. “…let her know you think about her when you’re gone.” Keep your spouse in mind, even when you are apart. Text you spouse a message or two (“I love you,” “What are you doing?” etc.) just to let her know she is on your mind. If you see something your spouse likes that is small enough to buy, get it for her. If it is too big to take home (a sunset, a bird she likes), take a picture and text it to her. Little things like this can let her know she is “always on my mind…” (Oops, wrong song).
  4. “Love her like the devil when you get back home.” Don’t come home, sit in your chair, and vegetate. Let your actions reveal your love. Spend time with your spouse. Share what happened in your day. Help her with a project around the house. Watch a show together. Interact. Communicate. Serve. Oh yeah, show some physical affection. “Love her…when you get back home.”


When husbands and wives both practice these four tips, you can enjoy an intimate life-long marriage…and thank Charlie Pride for the advice!

Priceless Christmas Gifts…Cheap!

I don’t want to say I’m a scrooge, but I do like to find a good deal, especially at Christmas time. In fact, I’d love to get each family member a great gift, one they consider priceless…and I’d like to get it inexpensively. Let me rephrase that: I’d like to get it down right cheap! If you are like me, I have good news. I have found a way to get priceless Christmas gifts on the cheap! How? I discovered it in a study that I reviewed recently (psychology does have life application—who would have thought?). This study suggests that “experiential purchases” produce greater happiness than “material purchases.” Experiential gifts include things like taking someone out to dinner or enjoying a concert together as opposed to material gifts such as a new shirt, a game, or toys. Experiential gifts bring about greater happiness than material gifts because:
     ·         They improve over time. We tend to forget the boring moments of an enjoyable experience and simply recall the fun and memorable highlights. That new sweater, on the other hand, slowly wears out until we throw it away.

·         They take on symbolic meaning. The shirt we buy remains a shirt; but the dinner and movie we enjoy together become symbolic of our relationship and common interests.

·         They outlive any comparison. Those lovely ear rings I bought my wife suddenly seem to appear in everyone’s ears…and some women even have more beautiful ear rings. But, our walk under the starry sky while holding hands remains our personal memory and, as such, is very difficult to compare…or beat.
I know that some of the experiential gifts I mentioned above cost money. But, the study was in the Journal of Consumer Science so they didn’t mention that many experiential gifts can be absolutely free! With this study in mind, maybe we can choose a few of our Christmas gifts from the experiential kind. These gifts can create lifelong memories that grow in value over time. The price for these gifts can range from dinner and a movie to a walk in the park. Whatever the actual price tag, the value remains priceless…and that’s getting a deal for my money! Here are a few ideas for experiential gifts:
    ·         Purchase a gift card for a local theatre. Make the movie contingent on sharing dinner or dessert together either before or after the movie. I know, this one costs some money, but the value far outweighs the price tag!

·         Give the gift of affirmation. Write your family member a blessing. Simply write them a short letter (about 1 page) that identifies three traits you admire in them. For each trait, give an example from the last year that exemplifies that trait. Finish with a statement of your love.
You can also create a homemade coupon book filled with experiential gifts such as:
     ·         The gift of touch by offering twelve coupons for a backrub or massage. That’s one for each month. Then, light some candles, warm up the massage oil, and enjoy time together.

·         The gift of extra hugs. Vary the coupons for a quick hug, an oxytocin hug, or a bear hug.

·         The gift of service. Include coupons that family members can cash in for you to complete their chore, no questions asked. 

·         The gift of quality time. Coupons for quality time can include a walk in the park, a rambling ride to the country, or any other activity you might enjoy together.

·         The gift of a day off—a day off from cooking, cleaning, lawn cutting, driving, whatever. Offer a day off so you can enjoy time together as a family. Let the work go and spend just one day practicing the philosophy of “play first, work later.” Don’t worry, the world will survive and your work will still be there.
Add your own coupons and ideas. Be creative. Have fun. Make it a memorable experience. The memories will bring great joy and grow in value as time passes on…and the relationship you nurture is priceless!

6 Ways to Celebrate Back to School

My daughters are back to school today…woohoo! Well, my daughters are not celebrating the return to school. They rejoice to see friends but moan about the return of homework. Me, I take any and every opportunity I can to celebrate…and my children returning so school is reason enough! So, what can a family do to celebrate the return to school? Here are 6 simple ideas to get you started.

1.      Pack a special note for your child in their backpack or lunch. Write an encouraging note on an index card and attach a piece of candy to the back–call it a “candy gram.” Or, sneak a funny card into their backpack. If your child does not like to find notes or cards during school, give them a card before they leave for school. Pick the card thoughtfully, make it one that will make them smile and express how proud you are of them.

2.      You can also get your children a little “trinket” to make the first day of school. For instance, they might enjoy a key chain that they can attach to their backpack or, if they are old enough for a cell phone, a charm to attach to it. Make it something fun…something that sparks their interests…something that will make them smile and think of home.

3.      Before your children leave for their first day of school, take a few pictures. I know my daughters moan about this somewhat; but we love to document the transition to each new year, noting how our children and our family grows and changes over time. So, take a picture or two. Let your children model their new clothes, backpacks, and hairdo’s. Take serious pictures, funny pictures, and family pictures. Take enough pictures to document the successful transition to a new school year.

4.      After your children leave for their first day of school, have a brunch with your spouse or a group of other parents. This will give you and your spouse some time to relax together, enjoy adult conversation, reflect over the summer months, and plan your schedule for the early part of the school year. Even more, it will give you and your spouse time to enjoy one another’s company.

5.      Make the evening after the first day of school a special treat. Plan a meal that includes your children’s favorite dishes. You may also want to watch a family movie or play a family game. Do something as a family to celebrate that family remains, even though school begins. If you are not sure what activity your children might enjoy the most, ask them…and then work to prepare for that activity.

6.      One more thing it important as our children return to school…pray for them. Pray for them as they go to school, while they are in school, and even after school. Bathe them in prayer for safety, wisdom, humility, and fun.
Six simple ways to celebrate your children starting a new school year, have fun, and watch them grow.

5 Christmas Gifts Your Family Will Love

Every Christmas I have the same dilemma-what gifts do I give to my family? Like an episode of Hawaii Five-O, I begin an investigation to discover the perfect gift. Moving from person to person and place to place I make quiet observations and ask not-so-subtle questions in search of a gift that is desired, needed, and useful at the same time. This year I think I hit the jackpot. My investigations have uncovered 5 gifts, all needed and desired, that family members will love and enjoy all year.

Eat dinner with your family as often as possible. Turn off the TV, don’t answer the phone, gather around the table, and share a meal together. Eating as a family keeps the doors of communication open. In addition, teens that eat frequently with their family are three-and-a half times less likely to abuse illegal drugs. Girls who eat with the family five or more times a week are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits. And, eating together can be fun. You can talk about the day, make plans for upcoming events, joke around, share funny stories and memories, and learn about one another’s interests. Eating together is a great gift with great benefits for the whole family.

Have a regular date night with your spouse. The strength of your marriage sets the standard for honor, grace, and celebration within the whole family. How we treat our spouse influences the intimacy and respect shared among the whole family. When children see their parents going on a dates and genuinely expressing love to one another, they feel safer and more secure. So, a great gift to your family is to make your marriage strong. A regular date night with your spouse gives you the opportunity to talk, have fun, and grow more intimate. It tells the whole family that relationships are important.

Have family fun nights at least two times a month. Get together with your family for an evening of fun and games. Families love this gift. And, it provides the opportunity to teach important social skills, academic skills, and family values in the midst of laughter and play. I know I learn better when I’m having fun. Family fun nights provide the added benefit of building closer family ties. In fact, “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a year of conversation” (Plato). All this while engaging in a fun, relaxing activity.

Encourage each family member in public and private forums. Encouragement expresses your love for that person. Even God recognized and encouraged His Son. The Gospels tell us of three instances in which God acknowledging and encouraging His Son in a very public manner. Encouraging our family members will help build their self-confidence, confirm your loyal alliance, boost their know-how, and strengthen your relationship. Gifts don’t get any better than this.

Take a genuine interest in what interests each family member. This gift is often overlooked, but is still a tremendous gift. Take the time to learn about something that interests your family member. If they enjoy music, learn about the music they like. If they enjoy cooking, learn about cooking and cook with them. If they enjoy the ballet, learn about the ballet and go watch a ballet with them. Whatever the interest, make a genuine investment in learning about that topic…not because the topic interests you but because your family member interests you. This gift will enrich you, your family, and your relationship for years to come.

Wrapping these ideas in a homemade coupon book that includes a coupon for each of these gifts will bring a smile to anyone’s face. It will definitely provide a gift your family will enjoy for years to come.

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