Our First New Years

Last New Years, Shane and I were going to leave a day later than my parents to head to Connecticut. I was excited to head up, and had an audio book at the ready for us. That morning, full of vim and vigor, we packed the car, but by the time we were thirty minutes on the road I was doubled over begging Shane to turn back. I had gotten the flu. So we spent New Years at my parents home, Shane kindly bringing me ginger ale and crackers and I really don’t remember much of the first day.

This year could not be the same! I doubled down on cinnamon and vitamin C and felt confident I would not be too sick to miss out on one of my favorite traditions of visiting my New England family. Family that could now be called our New England family.

So up we drove, listening to the audio book intended for last year, The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker. We left a half an hour before my parents, but by the end of the journey, they were following us as I navigated around traffic and eventually landed us on 95, though not before we passed through the town of Bethel, Connecticut, where we passed three bookstores. Three. Also a library. So many books!

When we arrived, we nestled in to my aunts home and the first night enjoyed hot buttered rums. The next evening was our annual gift exchange. It is amazing that we still keep up this gift exchange despite all us cousins being grown, starting families, and new little ones running around.

I think it is less about the presents and more about the presence. We have one night we spend all together, we blame it on the gifts, but in the end it is the togetherness, the food, the laughs that seem to keep this good thing going.

Many of the gifts, at least on the woman’s end, are handmade. This year, an end table I refurbished was bought by one cousin and given to another, meanwhile I painted a sign that read “Merry Christmas” on one side, and “Count Your Blessings” on the other for my aunt. In previous years, my dad has handmade benches, each year giving one to another cousin of mine. One of my aunts is great at knitting, so her talent is often given as a gift. It is this giving of your own gift, ones creativity or talent, that makes the gift giving so unique in our family.

With the men not often making something, it is fun to see their thoughtfulness. Honestly, to date, a gift card has not entered the gift exchange. This year, my cousin Meg’s husband had Shane’s name and got him a throwing ax. His reasoning was simple, he likes sharp things and he likes throwing sharp things, so why wouldn’t Shane? Shane loved it and got to explain how he has thrown axes at competitions and this started a whole new level of stories to be shared.

We have no price cap. We have no limitations. We have no expectations. We just appreciate what is given, because it is so often given out of love and joy, it isn’t some obligatory act. The only rule, get something for your name gift, for the person Kim’s computer randomly lines you up with. And it works.

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” -Desmond Tutu

The Gym

I brought up the numbers sixteen and forty-four in my blog post, “Being the Salt, Continued” for a reason. They are actions that can reach outside of our comfort circle, outside of the “handling fresh fruit” zone and can dip into delaying the decay. While I think it is important to encourage other christians, support them on their walks, have a mentor or be a mentor, or support our spouses by giving thanks to them to encourage and uplift them as I mentioned in my last post, when we are compared to salt in the book of Matthew, that’s an image that should cause us to reach beyond ourselves.

I have long been thinking about this salt idea since it was so repeatedly brought to my attention through a few different outlets, and since my routine is pretty set in stone, tucking in “gifts” as Ann Voskamp might refer to them has been on my mind. One place I regular is the gym. I could shrug off my time in the gym as everyone wears headphones and for the most part is in their own little world, but I didn’t want to shrug it off. Again, I’m shy, I might not be the one to go directly up to a stranger and invite them to church, but I do regularly wear hoodies to the gym.

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Over the years I have collected a good number of hoodies that have verses on them and bright images. I made them year after year for our VBS at our church and the little dance crew that would perform in the closing. As a gift, the dancers would get to keep their hoodies, and if I wasn’t dancing, I still kept one, usually just to make the minimum order it took to get them printed and because I designed them, so naturally I liked them. I try not to disguise their message, it’s a bold pop of encouragement.

One year the hoodies were a rich azure blue with bright white mountains and a cross. The verse was from Psalms 18. My cousin was one of the dancers at the time, and after VBS he still wore the hoodie. He was so excited to share with me his experience with it after VBS, and why he no longer had it, which I will now share with you.

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He was in another town with his friends, a day trip, just having fun, not out on a missions trip; they were stopped someplace when a woman came up to him and asked where he got his hoodie, to which he replied he hadn’t gotten it in a store and why he had it. For whatever reason though, the verse on the hoodie just really hit home with the stranger, and she told him it was exactly what she needed to hear, or see since it was on his hoodie. My cousin was so moved by this chance meeting that he gave his hoodie to the woman. She was so grateful. My cousin, in recounting the tale, apologized for not having his hoodie any more, perhaps thinking I would be offended he gave away a gift I gave him.

I was the complete opposite! My heart felt full and I wasn’t even the one who got to hug the stranger and give her the hoodie. I told him that was exactly what the hoodies were for, not that I or any of the other dancers have had experiences quite like this, but the message is big and bright so it can be noticed and shared.

Maybe someone will approach me about my hoodies when I wear them to the gym, maybe they won’t, but they’ll get to read them. Sometimes it is a silent connection, other times it can become a connection where you can literally give something away. Either way, again, I pray you can find a way to be the gift in our world today.

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Psalms 18:2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Being the Salt, Continued

Living on the border or coming into contact with decay are images we can rebuff easily. It sounds hard, it sounds dirty, it doesn’t sound like “living on an island” or “handling fresh fruit”. But if Jesus did it, why can’t we? He purposely walked the border, he washed the feet, he gave his life.

But I’m shy.

I get it.

I’m shy too.

I can sit for a whole evening enjoying conversation and not coming out of my shell. Then again, out of nervousness, I could talk your ear off over facts that are a little bootless for the current situation. Surprisingly, even though I am a teacher, a dance teacher no less, it isn’t my first instinct to get up and steal the limelight or make a scene.

So how can a shy person be the salt? Shy or not, how can we, creatures of habit, be the salt? My first excuse as to why I wasn’t “very good salt” was that I’m shy, but then I thought that is a poor excuse, so my brain promptly came up with a second excuse of I don’t have time to break out of my routine. My routine is generally wake up, tackle my to-do list at home, go to the gym some days, then work, then bed, repeat. But, another great book has challenged me the way “The Mercy Prayer” and the Family Talk podcast “Fight for Freedom in a Godless Society” have.

“Be the Gift” by Ann Voskamp is yet another beautifully written book by Ann that brings pictures to life with words and touches the heart. Though an easy read, I can only make it through a few pages before I have to stop and reflect. As it suggests, she challenges that we bring ourselves to be the gift, to give of ourselves, even through the brokenness. I could go on all day about her writing and this book, but what I want to look at in context to this blogpost is the “Gift Idea” pages in the back.

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What a perfect way to look at being the salt this time of year, a gift list. As you can guess, these aren’t things that are for yourself, but instead, it is ideas to give of yourself. With my love of all things list related, it seems conceivable to me that I could tuck a few of her ideas into my own to-do list. They are acts of every size, and depending on how shy you may or may not be, some that sound small may be very big, like number sixteen:

16. Choose the ministry of smiling at everyone today. It’s contagious!

Meanwhile, number forty-four makes it easier to live on the border while staying more anonymous:

44. Make a donation of any amount to a group or cause of your choosing.

Shy or not, routine oriented or not, I pray that these are some ways to kickstart your calling to be the salt and light in this world.

Matthew 5:13 ““You are the salt of the earth…”