I often speak to MOPS groups. They are my people. Moms who are exhausted and don’t care really what I say because they’re so happy to be eating a plate of food that is still hot when they sit down that they don’t have to share with anyone else. So no matter the topic, my larger message tends to be the same for my weary sisters: you are doing important work and God sees you in it. If I can convey any seed of that while they eat their egg casserole I’ve done my job.
Last year I spoke to my home MOPS group. The one I went to on Thursday mornings, or at least as consistently as I could, to sit and listen to my friends. I’m going less and less these days as my youngest is marching out of the preschool years, but when I do I joke and cry. It’s my place to be 100% me. Not the speaker or the writer. I’m the one with four girls who is married to Derek and lives across town.
So giving a talk at my own MOPS group was a bit different than usual for me. In a good way of course. Because I knew stories from the faces that were looking back at me. Though I can imagine the struggles of moms in other MOPS groups I visit, I know the actual details of women’s lives in my own group. They are precious to me.
The topic for the morning was Keeping Christmas Meaningful and I shared my best money saving and scheduling tips in order to avoid added stress the season can create. We talked about family dynamics and telling our kids the Christmas story over and over so it is engrained in their hearts when they leave our homes. And we asked ourselves What do I want to remember 10 years from now about this Christmas? What do I want my children to remember?
But the place that got emotional for me was the idea of the Christmas service project. Because though I don’t want anyone to stop giving, I do want us as moms to check our motives when we sign up for one more activity with our kids this season. I want us to ask, Am I giving at Christmastime because it’s one of the items on my family’s to-do list? Something that will make my children more well-rounded? Am I doing it to appease my own guilt because I’m buying my child a $200 ipad (or however much ipads cost) for Christmas knowing kids right in my neighborhood don’t have food? I want to be a generous person and I want my children to be generous, but not because we feel guilty, but because we are grateful.
Why did I get emotional talking about this with my friends? (And by emotional, I mean tears were involved.) Because I reflected back on that question of What do I want my kids to remember? What do I want to teach them about giving? What kind of adults do I want to grow? Do I want them to feel like others’ unfortunate circumstances are a means to us feeling better about ourselves? Or do I want them to see, truly see, people? And what I want more than anything else in the world is to teach my children to see people on the margins. Ones who might not get the glory by our culture’s standard, but who God sees and loves.
I want to make sure when we give money it is done with a spirit of gratitude for God’s provision and that we want to share the abundance we’ve been given. And more importantly I don’t want my kids to see service as a box to be checked off a list to make their college applications more complete, I want to model a LIFE of service in all areas, all year round.
So for my family I’ve put a hold on “projects” for this season, we won’t be doing any service “projects” this Christmas. Instead we will be trying to truly see the people right around us. Instead of simply standing at the check stand at the grocery store and zoning out while the clerk rings up my groceries I can ask how he’s coming on his Christmas shopping. I will let him know he I see him as a person and not just a means for me to get my groceries. Instead of waving at the school secretary as I run out the school doors in the morning with a “Hey, how are you?” but not even slowing down to hear if she answers (because you know I’m so busy getting ready for Christmas), I will stop, look her in the eye and give her as much of my undivided attention as a mom with little ones wrapped around her legs can and listen to her. I will let her know she is important to me. Instead of avoiding contact with the person at the stoplight holding the cardboard sign asking for cash, I will look her in the eye and offer a sympathetic smile. I can let her know she is not invisible to me. This is what I want to model to my children this Christmas.
Because here is the crux of the Christmas story, God came to the earth in the form of a baby to remind us that he sees us and to offer hope and new life. As that baby grew into a man he demonstrated that this was a message for everyone, especially those others looked past. I want to live out of gratitude so that my whole life reflects this story. My finances, my attitude, my lifestyle, my work, all year long.
As I finish this I’m realizing I really do have a Christmas service project this year. It’s my own heart. I want to keep it in check amidst the craziness of spending, sending, eating, drinking, decorating, wrapping and opening. I want to remember it all with the lens of gratitude for that baby that changed the trajectory of history two thousand years ago.