Here is my article from The Orthodox Home column of the The Handmaiden (Fall 2008 isssue) I hope you enjoy it!
Now I know that’s not a peculiar question coming from a five year-old, but I try very hard to teach my children to embrace simplicity and be cheerful givers. I always try to make a big deal out of picking out the little trinkets and candies that go into these cellophane bags of fun while trying to downplay the array of presents that will soon spill over the picnic table.
I often fear that my children will get lost in the selfishness and self-pleasing practices of today’s society and forget how important it is to love their neighbor, or worse how important it is to love their Lord and Savior. So I have to admit I was a little disappointed as I explained to Ace again that, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Whenever nostalgia strikes and I think back to all the wonderful memories of my childhood, I am always surprised that the moments I remember the most fondly are the very moments I paid little attention to. My parents always relished in the simple things life had to offer and were careful not to fall into the snares of materialism and vanity, a trap I myself often fall victim to. No matter how busy or difficult life became our home was always a safe haven of love, security, and faith.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to savor each of those moments, but of course I cannot. So instead I concentrate on making my house the home God intends it to be. I try to do this by taking time out of my infinite list of to-do’s to spend quality time with my children. I try to put aside any frustrations from my day and help carry some of the burden placed on my husband by working two jobs so that I can stay at home. I try to teach my children to pray, to love, and to give.
Every year during Advent I do a project with my children in hopes of teaching them how important it is to give to others. This is something that I think should be emphasized year-round, but it is especially important during the holidays when many people feel lonely or forgotten. I also think that it’s important for children to understand that you don’t need money to give. I remind them of the story of the widow and the mite-how she had the least but gave the most.
One of the most anticipated traditions in our home is making cookie clay ornaments. It’s a small project but my children are small too and I pray that as they grow so will their love of giving.
Throughout the year we take special care to notice people that we see on a regular basis that may need a little sunshine in their lives. Ace likes to pretend he’s on a secret mission when he’s looking for someone that deserves a little special attention. When we notice someone, we write their name or where they work down in my datebook. When we make our ornaments we pull out the list and decide whom we should give them to.
Last year we gave one to a woman who worked at the library and had lost a grandson who would have been around Ace’s age. When we gave her the ornament, we told her it was to thank her for the kind help she offers us every time we visit. Now whenever she sees us, she goes out of her way to tell us that she keeps it hung on one of her kitchen cupboards and that it makes her smile every time she looks at it.
Whoever the recipient is, they are always so grateful for such a small act of kindness. Ace always gets a smile from ear to ear, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I see him finding joy in showing love to others. It is in moments like these that I begin to understand why Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 19:14) It’s the innocence of a child, the love of a child, a love that knows no race or circumstance, which gives them ownership to Christ’s kingdom.
What a responsibility that places on us mothers! We are the ones that have been given these dear, little children of God to teach to live in the ways of the Lord. We do this not just through our instructions, but more importantly, through our example. That is why I not only want to tell my children how wonderful it is to give to others, I want them to share and feel that experience for themselves.
This year I encourage you to start your own cookie ornament tradition. They are so easy and cost-efficient to make, and the memories you make will be priceless. Sharing the experience of giving will be one gift your children will remember, not only next year, but forever.
The other day we were checking out at the supermarket and I noticed that the elderly woman ringing us up seemed very anxious and irritable. She didn’t utter a single word to us and threw our bags in the buggy. I couldn’t help but think how awful it was that she was being so impolite to customers.
I was still thinking about it as I reached the car and began to unload the groceries. My thoughts were interrupted when Ace said, “Hey Mom, do you remember the lady who checked us out?”
Thinking I remembered her more than I should, I answered, “Yes honey, I remember her.”
“Put her on our list. I think she needs an ornament.”
Ashamed of myself, I blinked back tears and in that moment I realized that these children were not given to me simply for my (usually inadequate) training but they were given to me so that I too may learn from them. “For to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.”
2 cups salt
3/4 cup water
1 cup cornstarch
½ cup cold water
paint, glitter and other decorative materials
Mix salt with 2/3 cup water in saucepan. Stir and boil. Add cornstarch and ½ cup cold water and stir. If mixture doesn’t get thick, set back on stove. Sprinkle some extra
cornstarch on the table, roll out dough with a rolling pin and cut out with cookie cutters. Use a straw to make a hole at the top for hanging. Put a small amount of glue on the back of the icon and press into center. Let dry overnight. Decorate with paint, glitter and so on. Insert ribbon and tie a knot at top. Recipe yields approx. 4 dz. depending on size. These also make beautiful gift tags.