This Christmas there were many firsts for our family. The first time the boys met Santa and the contagious excitement that follows. The first time they helped decorate the tree. The first time they went shopping, picked out and wrapped gifts for Mommy and Daddy. It’s also the first time that we ran out of money BEFORE all of the gifts were purchased. Ahem, like I said all kinds of firsts.
Why so broke you may be thinking. It’s a combination of things. My husband spent the last part of the year successfully campaigning for local office. The amount of time and money he put into the election left no extra time for the consulting work he does building websites for local businesses. This normally brings in the extra money we need for “little” things like Christmas, food and gas. We knew things would be extra tight this Christmas so we cut a lot of corners. We had faith that it would work out because it always has in the past.
The faith I had in mind looked something like an unexpected check in the mail or some minor windfall to monetarily save our Christmas. Not this year. We were in the middle of buying for the kids on a very tight budget when we ran out of money with a handful of people still on our list. At first I panicked. We CAN’T just not get people anything for Christmas. Then I pouted which made my husband feel guilty and put even more pressure on him. Eventually it sunk in that we weren’t going to be able to get Christmas gifts for everyone on our list. Period. Admittedly, I thought to myself, “Geez God, what the hell?”
Somewhere in between frantically searching Pinterest for gifts I could make and going through my closet for re-gifting options I hit holiday rock bottom. As I sat looking around at the old scarves and picture frames strewn about our bedroom a question came to my mind, “Why is it so important that you have gifts for everyone on your list?” I thought hard about it and realized that it was mostly about people pleasing, my pride and my ideas of proper Christmas gift giving etiquette and very little about showing the people that I care about how much I love and appreciate them. My main thought, “If I don’t give them anything what will they think of me?” I was afraid of looking cheap and selfish or worst of all, broke.
Once I realized how selfish my thoughts and motives were I stopped and did what I always do when I’m feeling helpless. I prayed. I asked him to remove my pride and ego and to help me to be the person that he intends me to be. I asked for help in accepting my life and our circumstances as they are so that I may do his will. Then I took a deep breath and let it go.
In letting go of what I thought Christmas was and allowing it to be exactly what it’s supposed to be for our family I learned several things. First, people are generally very giving, caring and loving beings if you let them be. Second, receiving a gift from someone with no concerns about how their gift measures up to yours is a beautiful thing. Third, it’s oh-my-goodness-like-being-a-kid-again FUN opening presents!
After my prayer I made a pact with myself that I would not whine and grumble about money or lack thereof to my husband. I would not tell everyone how broke we were then apologize for not getting them anything. I would give the gifts we were able to give and refrain from making excuses at my perceived lack of value in them. For those family or friends whom we weren’t able to give a gift I vowed to let them know personally how much I truly appreciate and care for them.
My let it go prayer was tested a few days later when a good friend of mine came over for dinner to do our annual gift exchange. In the past we would exchange small gifts with one another and she would bring a gift for each of my boys. This year I watched as she unloaded a car full of gifts for my boys as well as a few gifts each for my husband and I. My first reaction was to feel self conscious about the comparably lackluster gift we got her and I had to fight the urge to apologize or make excuses. Instead, I remembered my prayer and let those feelings come and then go focusing on the boy’s excitement as they happily opened their gifts.
As I let go of my pride and graciously accepted her gifts it occurred to me that it’s not about how much money she spent on us or how many presents she got us, it’s the time she took out of her busy schedule to think of us and find the perfect gift for each of us. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to have such a loving friend in my life. I realized in that moment that I want to be that kind of person, that kind of friend who gives freely and lovingly. Since I wasn’t spending all of my time worrying about how my gift to her would measure up I was able to be in the moment and see it for what it was.
Rationally I know that giving a gift is so much more than matching the price or size of the gifts I receive. It’s just that somehow over the years my good intentions got overshadowed by obligation, longer gift lists and overthinking my good intentions. My judgement became clouded with thoughts like, “If I buy her a gift then I have to buy her sister a gift.” or “If I spend that much on him then I have to spend the same on my other friend.”
This Christmas I was reminded that you don’t need a gift to let others know how much you care about and appreciate them. Making time for the people you care about in the middle of crazy holiday schedules, accepting gifts from others graciously without reservation or apology, and listening and following up with them on important events in their lives. That is what’s important. That is what matters and what will stick with them much longer than the monetary gifts given this holiday season.
I’m sitting here typing this post on New Year’s Day. Feeling so grateful for this past year and looking forward to 2016. Things are looking up for my family in the coming months. My husband starts his elected position in January and will receive an increase in pay so that we should be in a much better position financially next year. Should, of course, being the operative word. I look forward to being on better financial footing next Christmas but I hope that I don’t lose sight of the valuable lessons I learned this year.
I am so grateful to the wonderful friends and family that I have in my life today who show me by example the type of person I hope to be someday.