Giving Presence this Christmas

by Laura DiFatta

December 8, 2016

All Images
Jennifer Hagler Photography

By Buffy York

By Laura DiFatta

I’m busy, you’re busy.  We are all busy.  It’s really funny how the inherent “busy” in the season of  peace and joy can drain the peace and joy right outta the Christmas picture.  Sure, there are some individuals who’ve been ready for Christmas in every way since before Halloween. Shopping: check.  Christmas cards:  check.  All the holiday outfits planned and pressed:  check.  Menu for all the holiday events: check.  I’m in awe of those “together” people (I suspect there.Anyway, for the rest of us, there’s the possibility of a mental list so long that we are so deep in thought that we are tripping on things and putting the milk in the pantry and the cereal in the refrigerator and such.  There are the furrowed brows and snappy words, loss of sleep and things

Anyway, for the rest of us, there’s the possibility of a mental list so long that we are so deep in thought that we are tripping on things and putting the milk in the pantry and the cereal in the refrigerator and such.  There are the furrowed brows and snappy words, loss of sleep and things forgotten.   We are so focused on the perfect picture of Christmas day that we are missing the possibilities in the here and now moments.

My kids think this time of year that they want presents more than anything.  But what they really need and honestly really, really want is my presence.  I’ve recently gotten irritated with my youngest because he asked me to play with him.  Here’s how that less than merry Christmas moment went down in my head:  “Argh!  Can’t you see I am busy and I don’t have time to play Legos with you?!  I’m trying to order you Legos for Christmas!!”   That is some crazy irony.  My little boy wanted me.  The Legos were just with me.

And even though my teens act like they don’t necessarily always want to breathe the same room air I’m breathing, I know deep, deep down they want time with me.  Deep deep down.  Whether they consciously realize it or not, I know they need my intentional presence.  Our eyes meeting.  They need to know I really see them; that I am here,  mentally as well as physically.

And so, I am taking a fresh look at presence.  I am shooting for the daily goal of making sure I have practiced giving the gift of presence to each of my guys from the 47-year-old to the 6-year-old.  Mind you, I’m not committing to Scrabble or Monopoly (that is the territory of the aforementioned one person who finished all her Christmas prep before Halloween.  And if you know who she is, I just might send my littlest over to play a game of Monopoly.  It’s his fav.)  I am just committed to being intentional to give each one some focused time each day.  This is not a perfect science and no day is identical, but I have a goal.

Some examples of giving intentional presence to my guys that have worked recently:

Playing ping-pong and shooting hoops.

Taking a “hike” through the “deep woods” (which amounts to the trees between neighbors yards) with my youngest son.  Oh, the adventure and the treasure trove of sweet conversation and imagination!

Rubbing shoulders that have been hunched over school work and homework for hours.  (moms of boys take note:  This is a sure fire way to get conversation flowing.)

Getting up for coffee a few minutes earlier than usual to assure time for conversation with my husband before time to start prep for the day.  (This is a practice we have been enjoying for many years and is treasured time for us both.)  Getting up early is harder during the holidays because of the pace, but the benefit of this time together is so worth it.  And the best thing as a primer for all my intentional good is my choice to spend time with my Lord every single morning.  His presence is my treasure.  The perspective from this time with Him informs my motivations, my attitudes, my actions and my relationships.

As you can tell, most of those suggestions involve effort and all involve sacrifice.  I can think of endless “other things” I could be doing that are useful, but most of these busy things— although good (like laundry) can fill some spaces of time that may be better used relationally.  I know, laundry doesn’t get done on its own, but sometimes there’s a better choice to make.

As a Christ-follower, something that motivates me is knowing that Jesus left glory, perfection, being constantly praised and in the constant Presence and communion with a perfect Father to come and be present with us.  What sacrifice!  One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Luke 10:38-41.  It involves two busy sisters.  Jesus came to their house for a visit and brought his friends along.  Martha was understandably busy because of this unexpected visit.  While Martha made the necessary preparations, Mary plopped herself down at Jesus’ feet and listened to him.  Martha was irritated that Mary had left her to do all the work by herself and she told Jesus so.  Do you know what Jesus said to her:  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset by many things.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.”  Wow!  Mary had chosen Jesus’ presence and He was her great reward.  Time with him was the better choice and He was promising a lasting benefit from it.  Could it be that each and every day, consciously choosing to spend time in His Presence is our best?  Philippians 4:4-5 says that we can “Rejoice in the Lord, always and that we can be gentle with others because “the Lord is near.”

We can give ourselves the gift of time with the One who says of Himself:  “I am… your very great Reward.”  (Genesis 15:1) and “I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Perhaps this is the very best gift we can give ourselves this Christmas season and anytime for that matter: time in God’s Presence;  the Presence of the Holy One who loves us with an unfailing love and promises to give us what is better.  Having spent time with Him, we can give the gift of our presence to others knowing we give as we’ve received.

“Peace I leave with you : my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:27)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Bring Boredom Back

By Laura DiFatta

November 22, 2016

All Images
Jennifer Hagler Photography

By Buffy York

By Laura DiFatta

Boredom: It is a word that sends shivers down the spines of my kids. But the “B” word is a thing that I have learned to appreciate. I recently heard an expert on youth culture speak on the subject of raising kids in this culture. One of the most intriguing things he said was this: “Empathy and Compassion are developed in the brain during times of… boredom.”

A Benefit of Boredom
Wow! I’ve long thought that boredom was good for kids, but that is some solid encouragement! When our kids are bored, it doesn’t mean their brains are on pause. Their brains are actually actively processing and assimilating information and experiences, growing in empathy and compassion. More seeing from others’ viewpoints? More active caring moved by the needs of others? Yes, please.

A Blessing of Boredom
I’ve noticed that moments of boredom at my house are precursors to human interaction.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road for moms and dads. (You know what I’m saying, it’s easier to manage plugged-in kids. No guilt trip here. I get it.) You may have noticed this phenomenon too: shut off the devices and things get noisier, people start moving and talking and sometimes fussing. That’s ok! These moments are part of their necessary inter-relational learning. We parents get to speak into these moments when we allow them to happen. We actually get to be a part of and reinforce our kids’ developing empathy and compassion and their practicing behavior that is a blessing to others! It’s a beautiful (and sometimes messy) thing. But these moments are vital for healthy emotional and relational development. These are the moments they learn how to be polite, how to share, how to look someone in the eye when they are speaking, how to be helpful, how to negotiate and on and on. And if your kids are active learners like mine are, being bored will get them moving. And their brains will be processing even more!

A Boon of Boredom
Wisdom. The development of wisdom requires time for contemplation. Contemplation happens in moments of boredom/freedom to think. The definition of wisdom: “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge and good judgment (which is a sensible conclusion.) A person can know a lot of facts and be unwise. Wisdom is sensibly applying what you know. The aforementioned expert said that the millennial generation and younger have grown up with smartphones and easy access to technology has been a virtual firehose of 24/7 information coming at them.
My kids enjoy warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies. Of course, we love the sugar in a cookie recipe, but butter adds richness and balance to the flavor and it makes all of the other ingredients stick to form a nice dough. To have the best cookies you have to have all the ingredients. I like to think of wisdom as the butter of our lives and knowledge as the sugar/flour mixture. We love for our kids to have knowledge and to be smart, but they really need the necessary ingredient of wisdom in order to apply the knowledge they acquire in beneficial ways. This is where the older generational help is so needed— to help them process the vast amounts of information they are receiving in this age of technology.

They need our help. They do. We not only have to interact with them over the content of what they are reading and watching via their best buddy- the smartphone, but we also have to be intentional in helping them unplug.

We have to do the sometimes hard work of helping them be bored.

(I know the fear of a child’s reaction is a factor for many parents. It’s amazing but true.) They will not die, even though they may act like they will. I have tested this theory with my two teens (our youngest does not have an iPad, etc.) They’ll be fine.
IDEAS: Start small: 30 minutes tech-free a day. Another idea we use and have found successful: Tech-free Sundays dawn to dark. Kids never looked forward to sundown so much. Remember: You’re not hurting, you’re helping.

Like eating their greens, our kids won’t see boredom the way we do: as a good thing for them. But that’s why we are the parents. They need us. We have to keep our eyes on the prize when the tantrums (and let’s face it, kids of ALL ages throw tantrums of some sort) make the hard seem too daunting. The prize: wise, compassionate, empathetic children who are interested in others and can confidently carry on an engaging conversation. Our effort starts freshly today and continues tomorrow and keeps on the next day… it’s worth it! Guard your child’s moments and don’t let boredom get stolen by a device. They need our help to get free and find balance.

Device Free, Relational Me:
One way I am going to help/bless my boys this Thanksgiving break is to give them time without their devices, (this is going on as I type these words. I’m so popular here right now!) I especially want them to be device/distraction-free when they are with relatives they rarely see.
I also plan to suggest conversation prompts for fun interactions that I have a feeling will bless their grandparents and them.

Here are some of the prompts:
“Tell me about your favorite childhood vacation or memory.”
“What is your favorite holiday food? Did you like it as a child?”
“What is your funniest holiday memory?”
Or perhaps what might be the favorite for a grandmother to hear: “Do you need help with anything?”
Or my personal favorite: “Papa, will you go outside with me?” Music to my ears.

Over the break perhaps you, too, need some stillness, a break from the information stream and a chance just to contemplate, process and enjoy some peace. And to reflect on your many blessings. One of my favorite verses of scripture speaks to this need:
“Be still (rest, reflect, calm yourself) and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
The implied blessing of the “being still” in this verse is remembering the awesomeness of God and that He is for us, intimately caring for our needs!
You are not alone. There is more than just this moment. There is more than just this world and its current events. You are loved eternally by the God who made you, who has given you a hope and a future and who holds all things together. I hope you will remember those truths for yourself and I hope that you will remind your kids of the same. May the blessing of boredom be yours this holiday season.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Image by Jennifer Hagler Photography
Styling by Tonia Trotter
Wardrobe c/o Swoop

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