Just before we left for summer vacation I got a call from Jeanne McKinley asking if I would write up our family's Advent Conspiracy story for a book they were putting together. I recently got a copy of the book and found an except of our story...how exciting is that?
It was January of 2007, and we were driving home from Oklahoma in a flurry of wrapping paper. We celebrated a late Christmas with my brother and his family in Tulsa and the van was loaded down with loot. I remember feeling so frustrated that I had to remind my children to say thank you after tearing open their gifts. Something didn’t feel right. Looking back, I think it was all a crazy God-Set-Up!
Usually my husband, does all the driving but on this occasion he jumped in the back with the boys to watch Facing the Giants…a present from Grandpa and Grandma. David set up his ipod for me and said “You gotta listen to these podcasts”. So, I drove along listening to a collection of speakers from the Imago Dei Advent Conspiracy series. There was a woman with a swanky accent talking about drums….then I felt like I was just having a conversation with Pastor Rick as he talked about the empire of the day. But the thing that really got me was Chris Seay's story about a dad and his kids. I thought about my own children, two great boys. One wants to play football in the NFL…so my mind just ran with that. What if he makes it really big…hmmm…maybe I’ll get a new house for Mother’s Day! But what if my younger son struggles…living on the streets…eating out of trash cans….cupping his hands in the duck pond for a drink of water. Wouldn’t I want his big brother to get out of his Hummer and do something! I was wrecked. I was balling in the driver seat and David was in the back wiping away tears from the movie…we were a mess!
The truth is, that I have brothers and sisters in the family of humanity all over this globe who would be shocked at all the stuff I’ve accumulated in my cushy suburban life. I realized that our Christmas budget is actually enough money to really make a difference on the earth. I spend it and it’s gone…with not much to show for it…not even an unforced “Thank You”. How had I moved so far away from the humble story of the season? That day, I vowed that Christmas for the Cherry family would never be the same. When I got back to work…I sent out the link to the podcasts to all my co-workers planting a seed for Christmas 2008. You see, we are actually professional Christians, both my husband and I are employed by our church here in Austin.
Later on that summer…I was set-up again. My oldest son had a touch of something. A little flu bug, upset tummy. No big deal, right? I actually said to him "I'm sorry you don't feel well this morning, but you have a strong healthy body and you'll feel better this afternoon." And he did.While he was at home recovering, I went to the YMCA to work out with my favorite work out partner…my ipod. I listened to another story about global water needs. Something like 80% of the diseases facing people in undeveloped countries are related to water. Mothers in these countries are not so cavalier about things like vomiting and diarrhea. These are life and death issues for them.Anyway, I couldn’t stop thinking about the statistics I heard, that one in six people on our planet do not have clean water to drink. That children are dying each day due to water related diseases. I knew we had to do something; we wanted to bring the message Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All to our local church family.
David and I brainstormed on our Monday off. We pulled together some information and made a presentation to one of our executive pastors. He loved it and felt like out senior pastor would love it too! It sounded like everyone was on board but then things just went silent. It was challenging in that quiet season to wonder what was going on. Would Christmas for our church be any different than years past? We had to trust God that he was working out his plan for our body of believers!
During that season, I met with a creative genius in our Children’s department and pitched the idea of a relational gift fair. We decided to go ahead and set a date to provide whoever would come with options for relational giving. The gift fair was a blast. We demonstrated 5 hand-made gift ideas and then had 8 tables filled with a wide variety of items that we felt expressed relationship. We gave away worksheets to help them really clue-in to the people on their Christmas list. We put together pages and pages of ideas organized by roll….spouse, child, and friend …to inspire them in their giving. Our goal was to empower them to resist the spending frenzy and give the gift of themselves. To challenge them that if they were feeling stressed out and frustrated with Christmas that perhaps they’d bought into the wrong story. Our hearts know that there is a deeper truth than shop till you drop.
It is easy as church staff to get caught up in the season, there is so much to do. There are special services and rehearsals for special services and meetings about those rehearsals! My husband and I made an appointment to meet and plan what Christmas would look like in our home. We decided to cut our spending in half. We also gave bottles of water from Charity:Water to our friends and family with a note that one $20 bottle of water would provide clean drinking water for one person for 20 years. We bought 12 sleeping bags for the homeless in our community and the whole family delivered them to our East Austin outreach pastor. We were amazed by the response of the people who saw those sleeping bags. I know my children were deeply touched, I could see it in their eyes. But I have to admit that it was really hard to not slip back into our spending habits when it came to the boys. There was a lot less wrapping paper this year, and as typical American parents that was not easy. I remember sitting in our home office with David late one night wrapping gifts. We looked at the packages and thought, this is it? Everything is wrapped? We wondered how the boys would respond. We bought Legos this year because we all enjoy them. Mom and Dad usually get to help build that very first creation and then the boys rebuild and create all year long! We got an Uno Flash game that has provided some wild family game nights! David also made a year full of fun coupons for each boy. They LOVE those and eagerly await the first of the month when they get to cash in a new coupon. These are gifts that last. When we first talked with the boys about changing our Christmas budget I think they were a little disappointed. But looking back now, I don’t remember seeing any of that on Christmas day. In fact, it was at Thanksgiving that I started to see evidence of change. We each wrote down what we were thankful for and I noticed the boy’s thoughts were so simple, so basic. “I’m thankful for food, for my bed and a warm home.” I'm not sure they had every realized before that these were things to be grateful for. It was a shift in the right direction.
As the holiday season drew nearer, I got an email from our senior pastor requesting resources from Advent Conspiracy. So I did what any part-time administrative assistant would do. I printed out EVERYTHING from the website…even Rick’s thesis! I made copy for our family too and devoured every page. Pastor Rob shared beautiful messages and it was incredibly humbling to sit in the congregation, hear these truths and feel like we had a part in it all. Then just days before Christmas we got word that we would be receiving an offering at our Christmas Eve service for clean drinking water. We were overwhelmed. Our beautiful church family redistributed about $44,000 of their Christmas budgets to make a difference in Sudan. It was the chocolate icing on an already sweet, moist, gooey, made from scratch cake!
David and I are so grateful for Advent Conspiracy. We knew things didn’t feel right, that there was something askew with our Christmases….but we couldn’t pin point exactly what was wrong. I remember thinking something must be missing…maybe there was something more….now I know that More for us actually means a whole lot Less.