I love Christmas and Advent and preparing for Jesus's birth. I despise shopping and picking out presents and fighting crowds. And did I mention shopping? One of the most glorious things that has happened in recent years has been that my husband and I no longer purchase any gifts for each other or for the adults in any of our families. Unsentimental? Unfeeling? Perhaps, but I choose to call it the greatest blessing. 

But one Christmas tradition that we participate in exposes my direct conflict with my desire to celebrate Jesus's gifts with a cheerful and happy spirit, along with my almost equally strong desire to avoid all things retail this time of year: Adopt-A-Family. One of the local women's groups in our community sponsors this program every year, which provides the opportunity to sign up to provide Christmas gifts for children and families in need in our community. Families that meet the criteria sign up and fill out a "wish list," and are then matched with other families/organizations who purchase all the Christmas gifts for the family that year. All gifts are tangible items (no cash or gift cards are to be given), which means that shopping is a necessity.

We have participated in Adopt-A-Family for a number of years now, but no year has broken my heart quite like this year's family. Usually, we have been matched with a family that has a number of enjoyable toys or fun gift ideas for their children on their list. This year, our family was a single mom with two kids - a teenager and an elementary-aged child. On their list were items such as boots, winter coat, pants, tops, and sheets.

So here was a family whose children's desires for Christmas were items such as a warm coat and fresh sheets, but did I have a servant's heart while out shopping? Oh, hardly. We went to Target yesterday to procure all of the items, and I think that every single person in our town must have been visiting the store at the same time. It was crowded, and hot, and nothing was available in the sizes that we were looking for, and I was grumpy and stressed that I would pick out items that the children would hate and I would ruin their Christmas. I even thought to myself, "Maybe next year we should just donate money to this organization instead," because the pressure of trying to pick out items of clothing that a teenager might like was evidently too much for me.

Just like every year, though, I think that God was at work in my heart again. He gently reminded me how our family is incredibly lucky to have all of our needs met, and we have an abundance of resources to share with others. And there is no need to travel to Africa on a mission trip to meet the needs of others in our world. There are people in our community, right next to us, who we can give to and hope to make their lives better in some small way. 

I am not sure why there is a tradition of giving gifts at Christmastime to celebrate Jesus's birth. But I am certain that Jesus calls us to give to those in need with a cheerful heart year-round, and what better time at Christmas than to practice that act? And I am incredibly thankful for this reminder, and for the joy that is found in giving. And even in shopping. ;)

Amy spends her days as the world's most unorganized accountant professor, and her nights chilling with her crazy, equally unorganized family. She is blessed to be part of a wonderful church family both near and far who pushes her, challenges her, and loves her. Amy loves chocolate, reading, running, and ignoring the dishes.