When All You Can Give Is Not Enough

Nothing beats the thrill and excitement of experiencing Christmas as a child. I remember counting down the days nearly all year until the long-awaited morning would dawn. Thrilled beyond belief, my brother and sisters and I would race to wake up mom and dad and drag them out to the tree, overflowing with gifts. The magic was so thick you could nearly taste it! Oh to be young again.

grtkids1.jpgBut by far, the most exciting part of the day was giving those gifts you had keeping secret for days and days. Giving in my family was one of our greatest pleasures. And the more unexpected, the better. Yet, even we were sometimes unable to finagle the grandest of gifts, and that’s when God would intervene, showing his blessings to always be superior to even our best efforts.

There are two things I always knew I wanted to instill into my children when I grew up. Number one, I wanted them to have thankful hearts; grateful hearts; hearts full of the joy to serve and bless others.  Secondly, I wanted them to know, beyond any doubt, that God is the ultimate giver. Not only his gift of his Son on the cross, but even now in our every day lives, he continues to pour his blessing on us in the most beautiful ways, if we’ll only take notice. The most incredible moments in my childhood where when I knew my God had singled me out to show me his favor and blessing in a way no parent or sibling ever could. Those were the moments that led me to know and love my heavenly Father the way that I do today. I felt special to him and important to him and I knew that I truly the best gifts come from God.

grtkids4One of my toughest quandaries, however, was how to relate that to my kids. How do you start growing a grateful heart in your children? I know some people are naturally born givers, while others have to work very hard at it, but the principle of having a grateful heart applies to both kinds of personalities. I knew we would probably go through a selfish stage with all of our children, but I wanted to make sure that when they emerged from their inwardly focused world, they knew how to be grateful – and knew why it was so important.

We’ve spent the last several months having precious conversations about love and giving and serving and thankfulness. Her beautiful little soul is beginning to search for not the easiest moral solution, but the best. And although there is still a tiny bit of self-absorbed toddler working its way out, her sensitive, perceptive heart looks to bless all those around her in anyway that she possibly can.

So imagine my surprise when we turned the corner to run headlong into the Christmas season and her little ‘me me me’ came back in full force.

“Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY! Look! Look at that, it’s beautiful! I want it, please?! PLEASE can we get that? We have to!” What’s a mom to do besides furiously shush and move along quickly, avoiding eye-contact in an embarrassed escape from all the other adults in the store?

On one hand, though, who can blame the kid? From Walmart to Bloomingdale’s every inch of every display is bursting with Christmas magic and allure. No kid could keep their head with the awe-inspiring Frozen Ice Castle on display! (Which happens to be the size of some 1-bedroom apartments, I might add, not to mention the price!)

I tried to remain patient and remind her gently of her manners, but after a few of these episodes we decided it was more than just Christmas excitement. We were seeing a heart issue. grtkids2

How do you mold your kids hearts?

With prayer for wisdom, my husband and I began initiating casual conversations with her about the importance of a grateful heart. We went to God’s Word and showed her how the Bible says it’s better to give than to receive, how the first will be last and the last will be first, and that Jesus himself was a servant. We tried our very best to teach her over the weeks that followed that although it’s alright to like and want things, we need to be careful to have a thankful heart and to not be selfish or angry if we don’t get them.

We discussed endlessly how fortunate she was to have so many beautiful things, and that there are so many kids in the world that don’t have as much as she does.

We put money in the bell-ringers’ buckets, picked out gifts for friends and family, sacrificed our preference for that of a friend, and gave the very best we had to our guests while taking the lesser.

I could not be more proud with the change this little one has made in her own attitude. Her decisions every day take her closer and closer to having a grateful heart, a serving heart, and she is so appreciative of the little gifts she has now come to recognize, instead of take for granted.

When you can’t make it better.

It was with this in mind that I had planned to reward her recently with an unexpected surprise. We were taking a day trip which meant lots of time in the car. I explained at the beginning that if she could make good choices and be patient on our trip, there would be a big surprise at the end! I had planned our stop around a Chuck-E-Cheese we had not been to in ages, but one of her all-time favorite activities (Germ-X anyone?!).

We finally arrived at the end of our journey and I pulled out my phone to refresh my memory on my directions. My heart sank down to my stomach when I realized that this particular Chuck-E-Cheese had been permanently closed, and anything even remotely similar was only open on the weekends (not a lot of choices in the winter time in Maine!).

Plan B. There must be something! No indoor play places, no special stores. What on earth would we do?! That’s when it hit me: Santa Claus is always at the mall this time of year!

{Disclaimer: Yes, you knew this was coming. We do not believe in Santa Claus. We have no problem if you do, but we have told our kids the truth from the beginning and they are very comfortable with that. However, with all of the hype and excitement of the season, we see no problem going to see a person dressed up like Santa Claus in that magical court yard outside of every Macy’s in the United States. It’s the equivalent of seeing Mickey Mouse at Disney World, and she looks forward to it every year. My biggest headache is making sure she doesn’t blab to some starry-eyed kid that he’s just a regular person dressed up in a suit…!}

So we set off to find Santa. We marched right through the mall and landed at the magical spot and… he was nowhere to be seen. 45 minutes until he would make a re-appearance, thanks to his unionized lunch break. {I know, I know… but really?}

While we were waiting, a sign caught my eye with photo packages and prices. I asked the attendant what the most basic option was, seeing as we were in wrinkled jeans and sweatshirts with messy-travel-hair, and absolutely in no way willing to pay an arm and a leg to have pictures taken with an old man dressed in a red suit {end rant}.

To my dismay she informed me the most ‘basic’ package was $35 per child. Nooooope. You may think I’m being cheap… and I absolutely was! That’s a half a dozen gifts for a 5 year old! I don’t think so. And so, as the practical side of my brain meshed with my sentimental side, I found myself with quite the dilemma.

“We’re not going to be able to see Santa today,” I began, dreading the teary eyes I thought for sure I would see. But they didn’t come. Her little brow furrowed and she produced the slightest pout, but all she said was, “I’m a little disappointed.” Of course you are! So am I. 

I was so enormously proud of how she handled it, that I made grandiose promises of balloons and frozen yogurt as we headed to the restrooms before getting back on the road. And that’s where we saw it.

It took up nearly an entire aisle, an aisle we had to walk through… a huge, beautiful, sparkling display of the Frozen Anna dress – the dress! – she had been asking for for months. Her eyes grew big as she ran a few steps to get closer.

“Mama!” she gasped, and I inwardly groaned. No! No! No! Not another thing to disappoint her!

I used my usual line, “We’re just looking today, not buying…” blah blah blah.

She reluctantly moved away and I could see her resisting the urge to beg.

“Maybe I’ll get it for Christmas…” she resolved as she obediently walked by the display and followed me to the bathrooms.

A half hour later as we threw away our frozen yogurt cups and prepared to head out, I found myself second guessing my decisions. Was I being to harsh? Shouldn’t such excellent behavior be rewarded? Why did this have to be such a hard lesson for her to learn?

As we walked down the mall corridor to head to our car I quietly wrestled, as all moms do, with the difficult task of allowing my child to learn a hard lesson. We don’t always get what we want. It’s painful at any age, but especially at such a tender year. I found myself praying, as I had many times in the past few weeks, for God to give us wisdom as we carefully raised our daughter. She had endured some difficult learning experiences recently, specifically trying to understand why bad things happen to us. I had reminded her earlier of our memory verse that tells us that God works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We had also talked recently about how we can give and receive good gifts, but God’s gifts are so much better.

And now, in the middle of one of her more trying learning exercises, I found myself asking God to show this precious girl that he really did have everything under control.

grtkids3That’s when I saw him. All dressed in red, the beautifully detailed suit, the beard, the hat – the whole nine – walking directly towards us on his way back from lunch. I stopped. She stopped. She’d seen him to.

And then he stopped. Yes, this elderly gentleman who gets hired for 5 weeks out of the year to dress up and take pictures, stopped, stooped and pointed directly at her.

She gasped in excitement and shyly proceeded to meet him.

“Ho, ho, ho,” he chuckled in greeting. “Hello there, young lady,”

“Hello Santa,” she squeaked out, her eyes dancing as he took her hand and gave it a gentle shake. “I’m so glad I got to see you today, ” she said, and he laughed and gave her head a pat before wishing her a very merry Christmas and continuing on his way.

And as we watched him walk away, our giggles and squeals echoing behind him, I found my eyes welling up with tears. Here was a little girl who, through every trial thrown in her path today, had chosen to have a thankful heart, a heart filled with gratitude. She had accepted her disappointments with grace and patience. I was unable to keep her from experiencing it, and although I could have fixed it, I found the value in allowing her to learn the lesson. But her Heavenly Father – he saw her and chose to use that experience to show himself to her in a new way. It was so beautifully precious, I just had to take it all in. It is truly one of those moments I will always treasure in my heart.

As we walked to the car she babbled on and on about how fun it was to see Santa – even though he’s just a man dressed up and pretending – and how special it was and that God always has better surprises for us then we could give ourselves. So sweetly she had come to know her Savior in a new way that day, an experience she will not soon forget.

My heart is full as I retell this beautiful story! Yes, I’m sure I’m slightly biased, but I also have a front row seat to this little darling every single day. I know her struggles and her strengths, and I know how significant this event was in her life.

We’ll continue to prayerfully journey on teaching our kids how to have hearts of gratitude, but for the moment it is a sweet little victory we have found for ourselves, given by the hand of our Heavenly Father.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

(Romans 8:28 NIV)

He loves your kids so much more than you can even comprehend, and in those times when you see them experiencing one of life’s harder lessons, point them to look for the hand of their Father and remind them of His promises. It is our most sacred trust and privilege to lead them to their loving Creator who never fails or disappoints.

Christmas Blessings!

❤ Jasmine


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