Presence Over Presents

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I feel like turning thirty has allowed a side of me that’s always been there (nerdy, kind of quirky) to be set free. I don’t think this is just the magic number of thirty. For years in my twenties, and teen years, I wrestled with a deep desire to be known, but a fear that if people really knew me and could see where I came from, they might not want anything to do with me. I know now, after 10 plus years, it’s so the opposite. The more people know you and see your quirks, the more it means when they accept you for who you are.

When I turned thirty, it was after a move, another baby, a year of postpartum anxiety and depression, quitting a job I loved to relocate and become a stay-at-home mom, and leaving several communities of work, neighborhood, church, school, to become part of ONE solitary community in southern MN.

I was no longer able to hide in my own suburb of the city. I was now right on one of the main streets “in town”, seeing people from church at my child’s school, the grocery store, the library, and the park. I think part of me thought, “Well, there’s nowhere to hide, so here I am!”

Deuteronomy 11:19 image

Here I am.  A 30-year-old who likes to be home. A 30-year-old who likes her natural color hair (even though my husband prefers it blonder, so, it is, again). A 30-year-old who would rather read almost any book than watch a movie. A 30-year-old who dreams of going back to school just to learn again and be around intellectuals and talk about books!  Maybe these aren’t nerdy at all, but a little voice told me forever that they were, and 30 told me I no longer had the energy to care!

I grew up in a small town, my dad was a pastor, my mom sang on the worship team, taught Sunday school, led kid’s ministry, led bible study, etc. If you were to ask me, as a kid, what my favorite holiday was, I would have wanted to say Thanksgiving. I knew it was more popular to say “Christmas” because it was easier to answer the follow- up question: “Why?” As a kid, it was easier to say “presents” than “I’m a quality- time person and I get my family more to myself during Thanksgiving than at Christmas.” So, not being 30 yet, I maybe would have said “Christmas,” but it was really Thanksgiving.

Fast forward 25 years later, I’m married to a full-time pastor, I sing on the worship team, I study the Bible with young women throughout the week, I help with student ministry, and my favorite holiday is that time right before Thanksgiving. The calm before the storm, when no one is really celebrating anything yet, people are bracing themselves for “The Holidays” and there is a level of excitement in the air when the first snow falls.

That’s when our family decided to get our Christmas tree this year. The week before Thanksgiving.  We can blame that on commercial Christmas culture, but really, it’s because we had a day off. The following weekend, we knew we’d have something every night. We’d travel, come home happy, but exhausted. I would sing, my husband would preach, and we would not have the time or energy to get a tree, and if we did, it would be in hasty preparation for hosting a meal and wanting it to be festive for our guests.

I can feel my chest tightening at the thought, because so often I have done the traditions for others, instead of for my own family. I have shopped, cooked and baked for others, with that tightness of necessity and duty coursing through my veins, to make sure others were “blessed” (read: “impressed”) while my girls tried to keep up in the store, tried to keep out of the way of the vacuum, or tried to make me look up from my phone as I texted with friends or family about last minute details.

You guys, these are what we call “The Holidays” (Holy Days) and I’ve made them anything but holy.

Merriam Webster Definition of Holy – | ˈhō-lē

  • set apart,
  • Devoted entirely to the Divine

The realization came while I was packing groceries into my car frantically telling the kids to “hurry up, get in the car,” and breathing like I’d just run a marathon. I texted a friend that was coming to my house, to just let herself in as I might not be there yet. She responded, “Why don’t I come 30 min later?”  Why not? Made sense, but I was tempted to feel guilty. The 25-year-old me would have, because keeping up appearances would have meant bending over backwards to cover up the fact that I’d lost track of time when someone else stopped over needing to talk, and I’d been an hour behind schedule ever since.

I took a deep breath, looked at my kid’s smiling faces from the back seat and typed, “Thank you. You’ve just given me a chance to catch my breath. See you in 30.”

30 minutes. That meant 30 extra minutes to unload my Thanksgiving groceries with my kids and their feeble attempts to help by handing me items one at a time. It meant 30 minutes to pick up toys with my kids instead of for them. It meant 30 minutes to prepare my mind and my heart to be fully with my friend when we were able to sit down for a few minutes and talk.

And having her come 30 minutes late didn’t ruin my reputation. If it had though, it would have probably been worth it for that opportunity to model for my kids that being with them was more important than doing things for them.

I was present. And it changed the feel of the entire day. My husband even commented on it when he got home.

“The kids seem so happy and peaceful. You must have had a relaxing day.”

I couldn’t think of a more opposite adjective to describe my day, but my decision to be present instead of rushed–to let my kids at least be part of the many activities– changed the climate of our home so much that my husband thought it was one of those “stay in your sweats and cuddle” days.

Presence over Presents. This is a line our family is adopting this season to preserve a healthy climate of peace in our home while “The Holidays” threaten it. This year, instead of the central focus being getting all the shopping done, we pray our central focus is to be fully present with our kids, while we shop, while we bake and while we entertain.

This concept was challenged already today as I paused from writing to bake, during what was supposed to be nap time. Of course, she didn’t nap. Of course, my 5 -year-old didn’t want to do the fun activity I had planned so that I could sneak away to the kitchen, sip coffee alone and bake in precious solitude.

Instead, I baked with babies around my ankles, chasing each other around the half-wall while I carefully timed the opening of the oven door in my tiny kitchen. They wore aprons and looked adorable. They dumped their precious contributions into the bowls. There was no coffee drinking and there was hardly room to think let alone bake, but when daddy got home, they were beaming from ear to ear and he assumed, again,

“Looks like you’ve had a fun, productive day!”

I accomplished only half, if that, of what I set out to do today, but I pray I embodied all of what the Bible tells us to do in our homes every day.

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them as long as the heavens are above the earth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 ESV

God is speaking to the Israelites in those verses about holding tightly to His command: to love God and serve Him. He explains that if the Israelites would keep this on the forefront of their minds and hearts, they would have exactly what they needed to flourish.

And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.

Deuteronomy 11:13-16

God is going to bless and provide the Israelites with their essentials. Their crops and their oil and their wine. Everything they needed to survive and be well, He said he would provide for them when they chose to keep Him central in their lives and in their homes.

Now check out verses 18-21 again.  He tells them to teach and model this to their children in the daily routines.  When you are at home, when you are running errands, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up!

Real quick, that sounds like a nice and natural rhythm except that I have to repent and am tempted to question my salvation at, like, every bedtime since 2013.  So, there’s a growth area. I digress.

Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.”

Deuteronomy 11:16

How easy is it to let our hearts be deceived, though?  I turn aside. I turn aside at bedtime, and during the holidays, and at various times all throughout the day and the year by worshiping and serving the god of personal comfort, the god of people pleasing and the god of material things.  Instead of modeling to my children that worshiping God and serving and loving Him is what the Holidays are about, I show them that the house being immaculately clean is. Or that the food being perfect is–so “Get out of my kitchen!” (Actual quote) — Or that getting everything done as quickly as possible, so I have “me time “is most important.

I’m not saying that self-care isn’t important because it absolutely is. But I am going to come at this from another angle:

God knows what kind of care we need, better than we do, and He, in His abundance of complete resources, is able to provide that.

Today, as I pulled myself out of bed, I just knew all I needed at 1pm was a nap for myself, and time alone to bake.

But I didn’t get that. And I’m not going to tell you it was still a perfect afternoon because it wasn’t. I cried, I yelled, and we baked. I apologized, we cried some more, I got frustrated again, and asked for forgiveness…again.

What I thought I needed was time alone. What God knew I needed was an opportunity to model humility to my kids and for them to practice grace.

Being present today meant that life got messy.

Being present today meant submitting my will to God’s will.

Being present today meant that we didn’t take pictures of how cute we looked in our matching aprons.

Being present today meant that I walked with God in the presence of my kids.

This is the kind of presence we want to focus on giving our kids this holiday. It’s what they will remember.

Growing up in a ministry family, I remember few years where my Dad didn’t prep us with something along these lines:

“This year is going to be different. There might not be that many presents, but what’s important is that we are together celebrating Jesus’ birth and what an incredible blessing that is.”

My brother and I don’t remember ever feeling a lack of presents. Not ever. We were the only kids we knew who had a skating rink off our front porch. We skated around that thing to Petra music until the sun went down. Together. Fully present. And we still remember it as one of the best Christmases.

I want to leave you with a practical tool that is helping me maintain the goal of being present and maintaining a climate of peace in our home this season.

A wonderful resource I listen to is the “Revive our Hearts” podcast with Nancy Leigh Wolgemuth. One of her topics a few months ago was “What’s the Climate in our Home?” Is it life-sustaining or not? I took these notes and keep them on my refrigerator as a litmus test.

May your home be filled with the Presence of Christ this Christmas season and all year!

About Autumn Anderson

Autumn Anderson is an introverted- extrovert, recovering people-pleaser, wife to John, stay-at -home mom to Afton and Hallyn.

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