When You Want to Find the Perfect Gift

Aletheia's PresentsThis Monday marks the start of a beloved Christmas tradition in my house: Chris’s Ten Days of Christmas. Every year starting on December 15th, my husband gets to open one present each day (sometimes two when he get’s snoopy) leading up to Christmas.

It’s a tradition that’s become rather legendary. Year after year our friends and family look at Chris, and all his presents, and think him completely spoiled. Honestly he is. But as his wife, I don’t mind. Chris spoils me all year long, and I love the chance to make him feel loved and special, to speak his love language of gifts.

This year, our oldest daughter is joining in the fun. This week, Aletheia and I went shopping at the dollar store for our “Honey.” With money from her piggy bank she made a list of items to shop for, got her gifts with a little help from mom, and came home to wrap them all by herself. It was awesome fun to watch her go. To watch her purchase and prepare gifts for her daddy and other people she loves.

MaryThe love language of gifts is a big deal in our family. My husband loves to give, and like a little kid on Christmas morning he also loves to receive. And now, what a joy it is to see our little girl following in his footsteps.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the idea or the pressure of finding the perfect present. Something tangible, something bought, something wrapped and stuffed beneath the tree. But the art of giving is so much more.

I n his book, The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman explains that everyone has one or two love languages that resonate more deeply than others.

According to Chapman the five love languages include:

Acts of Service

Words of Affirmation

Quality Time

Physical Touch

and Gifts

Our strongest love language not only determines how we best receive love from others but also impacts how we are most likely to show love to others.

When it comes to Christmas giving consider each person on your list. How do they often show love to the people around them? What sort of ‘gift’ would most likely speak love to them?

Personally a gift that speaks volumes to my heart isn’t a present under the tree but the chance to go write for a few hours. For my birthday my mom watched my girls for a whole day so I could do just that. It was the best present she could possibly give me.

When we take the time to observe the people we love and find what really makes them tick we can often give to them in ways that are far more lasting and far more meaningful than anything bought from a store.

NativityThe best gifts are gifts that speak to the heart, that say, essentially, “Hey, I noticed this about you. I saw this need or sensed that unspoken desire, and found a way to fill it.”

These are the gifts that echo the One Gift we celebrate at Christmas. The One Gift need wasn’t placed under a tree but inside a manger. The One Gift that came and met the need of a lost and broken world, that filled the deepest desire of every human heart.

When it comes to love languages, Jesus speaks them all, and He speaks them straight to our hearts. He is the master of gifts. The master of all we enjoy.

This year, don’t succumb to the pressure of finding the perfect gift. Succumb to His example.

Be the gift. Meet the need. Fulfill a heart’s desire.

Speak the language of Manger Love. The language that swaddles everything in billowing folds of grace.

The Gifts that Make God Happy

Purse“Don’t peek, Mama,” my little girl said as her daddy helped into her the car.

“I wouldn’t dare,” I said covering my eyes with my hands.

Her arms were full with a shopping bag, which was full with a present she picked just for me. A birthday present that was her idea. A present she bought with piggy-bank quarters and chore earned dimes.

Together we drove home where her five-year-old hands wrapped up her gift.

“Here, Mama, open it,” she said. With the family gathered round I ripped into the paper and uncovered a beautiful purse. A perfect pursue, just for me.

“Aletheia! I love it!” I said as I reached for my girl and held her tight. “Thank you so much.”

“I picked it just for you,” she said her voice full of happiness.

Now, I really do love my purse. It’s a color that matches everything. It’s big and holds all my stuff. But, to be honest, that purse could have been camouflage with rainbows and unicorns. It could have been as big as tent or as small as a napkin and I would still think it the greatest purse in the world. Because my daughter gave it to me. My daughter, with her precious, little girl heart, chose this gift to show me her love.

As Aletheia helped me fill my new purse I thought of how this gift reflects the gifts we give to God. I considered how loved I felt in that moment and wondered if that is how God feels when we give Him gifts that come from our hearts. When we give to Him, not out of obligation, or duty, or routine, but simply because we love Him, because we want to give Him something special, something we hope will make Him happy.

We are His children and perhaps it’s never really about the gift itself but the heart and the love that comes with it.

There are stories in the Bible about women who gave special gifts to Jesus. One woman took a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it over his feet. Another took the only pennies she had and gave them to God at the temple.

In both stories, God accepted these gifts and was greatly pleased. He honored these women not so much for their gifts but for the extravagant love behind them.

In God’s eyes, pennies can be extravagant, perfume a lavish gift, when they come from a child He loves, from a child who loves Him.

I love the thought of making God feel the way I felt as I watched my daughter count out her money, shop with her dad, wrap her present, and give it me.

Our gifts to God can be so much more than money. They can be time spent with him. They can be writing a blog or helping in the nursery at church. They can be extravagant, they can be simple. They can be anything and everything that comes from our heart, anything that is given as a passionate expression of love for Him.

In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 8, Paul refers to the ‘grace of giving’ and while I’m not exactly sure what he meant when he wrote these words to the Corinthians I think there is a certain grace that flows through the gifts we give to God.

That God can take our gifts and makes them enough is grace.

That we, His children, can receive His gifts and give back to Him is grace.

That we can make Him feel happy and loved with big things and little things, with pennies and perfume, with what we have, with what’s in our hearts is grace, upon grace, upon grace.

And this, too, is grace that I can be the child who loves my Father so much, I can’t help but give Him something special. Something I chose just for Him.

The purse my daughter gave me, it is a treasure, it’s a symbol of her love, and a reminder of how I want to give to God, of how I hope my gifts make Him feel.

May all the gifts we give to Him come with such passion, such joy, such love.

May He find such pleasure in us.

When You Want to Feed More Than Stomachs (Plus Recipe)

I love the chance to bless the socks off of someone I love. And while I’m not a baker or an expert chef, I love to bless with food.

A few weeks ago my neighbor and friend left for a two-week vacation with her family. While she was away I happily agreed to water her flowers, pick up her mail, and keep an eye on their house while they were gone.

About a week into their vacation she sent me a text saying their plans had changed. Her husband’s father had been scheduled for surgery to treat a cancerous tumor that had been found in his brain.

Feeling deeply for my friend and her family I wanted to do more than water plants and pick up their mail so I started to consider other ways we could bless our friends in their time of need.

Before my friend left for their trip she mentioned to me that she was trying her best not to go to the grocery store so food wouldn’t spoil while they were away. With this in mind I knew they were coming home to an empty fridge and pantry.

The last thing I want to do after being away from home is head for the grocery store. And I didn’t want my friend to have to do this either.

As I did my own grocery shopping I picked up a few basics to get them started upon their return. Milk, eggs, bread, fruit, and juice for their kids went into my shopping basket and home to my kitchen to await their return.

Still I wanted to do more. I knew they had been through two hard weeks. Having a long awaited vacation interrupted by a serious family emergency is trying on so many levels and all I wanted was to show them we care.

On the day before their expected arrival my husband mowed their lawn and I baked zucchini bread. I added a fresh loaf to the grocery pile and planned a supper to take over to their house for their first night home.

As I boiled pasta, chopped veggies, and sliced up bread for their supper I thought about food and how it so often seems like the most natural way to comfort the people we love.

When babies are born, when friends are sick, when loved ones pass away food may be the number one way we show our support and care.

A meal taken to friend seems to say far more than even the best Hallmark card. Essentially it says, “I can’t fix this, but I can fix a meal. I can bring you food that nourishes something basic, something core to who you are. I can show you, in a fundamental way, that you are loved, and cared for, and taken care of.”

The gift of food is also amazing because it nurtures not just the receiver but also the one doing the cooking, the baking, the taking of the meal. As I cooked for my friends I felt drawn to God as if I were taking on a part of Him, a part of who He is, a part of what He does by nourishing far more than physical needs. While I cooked I also prayed that through these groceries, that through this meal, my friends would be drawn to Him as well, that their stomachs and hearts would be filled.

When the groceries and food were delivered my friend’s reaction was priceless. As I fussed over whether or not I got their preferred type of milk, and how I should have thought to bring cereal, or how I forgot to grab their mail, my friend stopped me and said, “Jen, we feel so loved. Everything you did was perfect.”

These are words I’ll always cherish, not as a pat on my back or boost to my own ego, but as evidence we accomplished our goal. We made them feel loved. In the midst of a crisis we saw a need and met it. We became Christ with pasta and brownies.

I love the chance to bless the socks off someone I love because, really, it blesses my socks off too.

The Perfect Take-Over Meal

This recipe is one of my favorites when it comes to a meal that is easy to prepare and easy to transport. It is delicious, perfect for a new mom, kid-friendly, and has become a favorite amongst my family and friends. I love to round out the meal with a tossed salad, a loaf of Italian bread, and brownies for dessert.

Creamy Pesto Chicken

Ingredients:

2-3 Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (Cooked)

16 oz. (1 box) Rotini pasta

1/3 c Basil pesto sauce

1 jar Alfredo sauce

Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Oven Temp: 350 degrees

While chicken is cooking, boil and drain pasta. When chicken is fully cooked remove from the oven and cut into bite size pieces. Mix cooked pasta in large bowl with Alfredo sauce, basil pesto, and chicken.

Pour mixture into a 9×13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until hot. Top with shredded parmesan.

I Like Books (An I Like Giving Giveaway!)

A few weeks ago I wrote briefly about the cry room at my church. The cry room is a small room adjacent to the main sanctuary that is reserved for nursing moms or moms with infants and/or small children who struggle to sit through service.

My two-year-old Tenley and I fall into category number two. Week after week Tenley and I head to the cry room whenever she gets too loud and wiggly.

Tenley loves the cry room. She loves seeing the other babies and emptying the contents of my purse to her heart’s delight.

To be honest, I don’t really mind our trips to the cry room either. I love how it’s quiet and cozy, and I love getting a chance to see other moms even if it’s just to say, “hi.”

Throughout my time in the cry room I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe the moms around me. Many of them are first time moms or moms with tiny newborns. I can’t help but notice the look of supreme joy mixed with supreme stress and fatigue written across their faces.

There are also moms with toddlers who come in exasperated when their child has chosen the middle of service as the best possible time for a meltdown. On their faces I see signs of physical and emotional exhaustion mixed with assuring smiles and gentle eyes.

My heart goes out to these moms because I’ve been there; I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to be needed by a newborn or small child every hour of the day. I know what it’s like to feel like motherhood is an endless, sometimes thankless job. I know what it’s like to feel as though no one sees, no one knows, no one understands just how much you love, just how hard you work, just how much you pour into your children.

And more than anything I want these moms to know that they are not alone. I want them to know that someone does see, that someone does know, that someone does understand. I want to encourage them, build them up, refresh their hearts, infuse them with strength.

I want to point them to God, remind them of His love, and help them know we have an ally, an intimate friend, who is always with us as we mother and grow our families.

But how? How do I nurture these moms who nurture their children so faithfully?

I Like GivingWith this question in mind I recently came across a book titled, I like Giving by Brad Formsma. Full of stories and creative ideas, Formsma’s book has launched a movement that encourages people to give in all kinds of ways.

I Like Giving is a fun, entertaining, and helpful book that inspires its readers to give generously and effectively, not just occasionally but as an ongoing and world changing lifestyle.

Within the first few pages of Formsma’s book I knew I had my answer: books! Free books, in the cry room, for moms.

Books are a huge encourager for me. Books like Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts, or Stasi Eldredge’s, Captivating, or Lysa TerKeurst’s, Made to Crave don’t just bolster my heart, they change my life.

So what if I took all those books sitting on my shelf, books I’ve read, and loved, and cried over because they spoke so deeply to my heart and gave them away to fellow moms with hearts just like mine?

Armed with newfound passion, excitement, and my husband’s blessing to scour bookstores, garage sales, and our house, I grabbed a wooden crate and went to work collecting books. In no time I had a crateful of titles ready to give away.

I placed the crate in the cry room, with the message: A free gift for you. I said a quick prayer and trusted God to get these books into the hands and hearts that need them most.

As Tenley grows and gets better at sitting through service, I find myself visiting the cry room for a completely different reason: to give to moms who never stop giving.

To fill and refill my box of books.

To join with God in filling and refilling the hearts of moms.

I like books. I like giving. I like taking one of my passions and using what I have to be a blessing, to make a difference, to lift a fellow mama’s heart, one book, one gift, at a time.

The giving doesn’t stop here…True to his word and the message of his book, Brad Formsma has generously given me three copies of, I Like Giving, to share with you, my wonderful readers! (Thanks so much, Brad!)

Simply leave a comment below, post to my Facebook link or share this post with your friends and your name will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of I like Giving by Brad Formsma. (If you share this post from my website, be sure to email me at jenniferallen@onceuponawriter.com /Subject:Giveaway/ so I can enter your name in the drawing.)

The drawing will be held next Sunday, June 15, and winners will be announced on Wednesday June, 18th.

I hope you’ll enter, check out Brad’s book, and join the I Like Giving movement to change our world one gift at a time.

For more information on Brad Formsma and his book, I Like Giving, please visit www.Ilikegiving.com.