Thursday, December 31, 2009

Giving Joyfully

Being a pastor's family, I don't know if I should admit this, but Matt and I disagree over whether one's tithe (the traditional 10% of gross income one "gives back to God" through religious or other charitable organizations) should all go to the church, with other, smaller donations to other charities on top of that, or whether the tithe should be distributed to a variety of missional causes, including the church.

Matt feels strongly about tithing specifically to the church, but being the gracious, egalitarian husband that he is, he suggested that since I feel differently, we each give our tithe as we see fit. So long as 10% of his income goes back to the church, I can distribute 10% or more of my income to a variety of ministries that meet real human needs around the world. We started this new system in August (basically, when I bought my new 09-10 planner, because before that, I wasn't keeping very good track at all of when we gave what to whom), and after organizing our giving this way for a half-year now, I have to say, I LOVE IT!

Viewing my giving almost like a debit account ("ok, I have X amount left to give in the next year") rather than like a bill to pay ("ok, we have to write this month's check for X amount") makes it flexible and fun. When I hear about a sudden, urgent need (like a church's clothing ministry being robbed) or Stuff Christians Like building kindergartens for orphans in Vietnam, I can respond immediately, generously, and joyfully.

There is certainly something to be said for the discipline of writing a monthly check to your local congregation (and we do that as well), but I love being able to give spontaneously and more generously than I would if I were already giving 10% of my income to the church. One of the main scriptures that drives my giving (in addition to "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me" Matt. 25:40) is "Give to all who ask of you" Matt. 5:42. I don't really give to ALL who ask of me (in fact, I avoid answering the phone when I think it is a telemarketer), but I do like to respond to a wide variety of needs.

I don't know how you organize your giving, but if you're looking for a great cause to sponsor in 2010 (or a place to make a last-minute tax-deductable donation in 2009) here are a few of my favorites:

The Sudan Project. The civil war, genocide, and subsequent lack of food and clean water in the Darfur region of Sudan is considered by the U.N. to be the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio started The Sudan Project in 2004, raising money with its Christmas Miracle Offering. Every Christmas, Ginghamsburg’s pastor Mike Slaughter asks people to spend less on Christmas for their own families, and give an amount equal to one's family spending to the church’s ministries in Darfur (schools, water yards, sustainable agriculture, etc.) I have given to The Sudan Project for a while now, but this was the first Christmas we did the "equal amount" thing, and I'm so glad we did.

Sponsoring a child through Compassion or Worldvision. We just started doing this recently, and we got our first letter and drawings from our child (a boy in Tanzania) last week. It's cool how these organizations make the needs and the results "real" by fostering a long-term connection between you and your child. Our sponsorship funds his schooling and medical care, and we can maintain this relationship with him as he grows up.

Your local homeless shelter. Ours is the Nashville Rescue Mission. Homebody that I am, I simply cannot imagine not having a place to retreat and recharge, much less basic protection from the elements and a place to store food, clothing, and other belongings. Homelessness is a big issue for me, and the benefit of supporting your local shelter is that you can participate more fully in its ministries by serving there in person. When we lived in Nashville, we frequently served dinner at NRM, and I miss that.

I often feel that I'm using my job, my commute, and my child as excuses not to get out and physically serve others more often. I work full time, spend two hours a day in the car, and want to spend every spare moment with Kate! Some people say that young adults can give their time, more financially-established middle-aged adults can give their money, and older adults with limited mobility and funds can give their prayers. I hope we'll always try to give all three to those in need, but during this time-strapped stage of our lives--physically able though we are--we can still give of our money, and I am glad to have found a way to do so with great freedom and joy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

1DoH: Christmas Joys

"... all for the little ones' Christmas joys.
Ho ho ho, who wouldn't go..."

It's no secret Christmas is more magical with young children. Yes, the less-spiritual aspects (Santa, cookies, presents, etc.) may get more attention than they should, but it sure is fun.

This week, I wrapped up work for 2009 (taking next week off) and enjoyed a wonderful several days with family. This is the last full week of our "100 Days of Holidays." While Advent and Christmas mark the beginning of the liturgical year, I love how Christmas celebrations (and vacation, for some of us) provide a time for relaxation and reflection before beginning a new calendar year.

89) Monday 12/21: Kate took a tin of cookies for the teachers in her class at day care. They adore her and have made these past six months in day care much better and easier than I imagined they would be! 90) Tuesday 12/22: I know I promised I wouldn't talk about breastfeeding again until my pumping days are through, but I had to celebrate finally wearing an outfit to work that couldn't be unbuttoned or lifted up! Yes, I'm weaning myself down to the point that I'm not even taking my pump to work anymore. After eight months avoiding most dresses (button-up dresses are hard to find!), I can finally wear whatever I want to work!

91) Wednesday 12/23: Knowing that Kate will be receiving new toys for Christmas, I boxed up some of her infant toys (including the little push-cart she used in learning to walk!) and put them in the attic :0(

92) Thursday 12/24: Christmas Eve! Kate donned her "My 1st Christmas" bib for dinner at Granna and Opa's, and showed off her new front teeth (they were "all she wanted for Christmas," after all).

93) Friday 12/25: Christmas!!! Kate's stocking was made to match mine, and it was filled with a few new bibs, hair-clippies, books, and Tadoodles (Crayola's baby-markers, officially marked 18+ months. After playing around with them some, we found that indeed, she is not quite ready for coloring!)

94) Saturday 12/26: I introduced Kate to the cup today, starting with just water. She actually did very well, knowing to put the rim between her lips and tipping it back. She had the motion down, but spit most of the liquid out--partially because she's never had water, and partially because (even with milk, I found) too much liquid goes in, not controlled, like the bottle.

95) Sunday 12/27: Nala and Popi are still here with us, enjoying their time with Kate (they only see her once a month, so the time is precious!) Popi has been helping Kate learn "Mama" and "Dada" by pointing at the pictures on the fridge. (She says "mama" a lot, but we don't think she associates it specifically with me yet.)

We're looking forward to a lot of nice family time this week, with me taking the week off work. It's still Christmas, remember (til January 5) so I hope you enjoy your four calling birds, five golden rings, and all those milkmaids, dancers, drummers, etc.!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baby's First Christmas

Kate was sick with an ear infection, bad cold, and cough for her first Christmas, but despite some wheezing and having to get her nose aspirated a couple times a day (absolute torture to her) we had a really fun and special holiday.

We started the celebration Christmas Eve at Granna and Opa's house (Matt's parents') and opened gifts with them and Matt's brother Andrew and our sister-in-law Alexis. Kate was more interested in eating crackers and cheese than in opening her gifts, but she did enjoy playing with her new giraffe riding toy. While she hasn't figured out how to propel herself with her feet yet, she does enjoy being pushed on it and can do a very deft dismount without falling!

After gifts with Matt's immediate family, his grandmother, aunt and uncle, cousin with wife and kids, Alexis' parents, and my parents arrived for a big family dinner. Kate had her own little plate, which she dumped on her high chair tray when we weren't looking.

After the church's Christmas Eve service, those who made the trek back to Clarksville with us came over for coffee and cookies, and Matt read The Night Before Christmas to Kate (and the rest of us).
Poor Kate was up a bit in the night (as she had been the night before) due to her cough and congestion, but was chipper in the morning as we all checked out what Santa brought us. Nala and Popi (my parents) were with us, and Santa found them here too! (here's Kate looking like Aretha Franklin at the Inaugeration)
When I was still pregnant, I asked my mom to make a stocking for Kate similar to the one she made for me when I was a baby. I had so much fun filling it with treats. I think that was my favorite part of Kate's first Christmas--finding and wrapping gifts for Kate. I didn't spend a lot (finding many of them at consignment sales, on eBay, and on sale at Target) but I really enjoyed doing that for her. See some of the fun things Kate received from her parents and other family members:

Of course, it's still better to give than to receive, and Kate made mugs for each of her grandparents, to celebrate their "first Christmas" as grandparents. (Sooooo hard to do baby handprints! Try the foot instead, add eyes and a red nose, and you've got a reindeer--the toes are like little antlers!)
I'm looking forward to so many more Christmasses as a family. We hope you all had a very merry Christmas, whether it was your first or your ninety-first!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I don't have anything profound to say today. Last year, I wrote some about the whole "Merry Christmas" v. "Happy Holidays" thing, and the year before that, about the "Real Meaning of Christmas" (hint: in my opinion, it's not "family," "kindness," or even "love").

This year, I am just so filled with joy and excitement to celebrate this festive occasion as a family with our sweet baby girl. (Still not saying family is the meaning of Christmas, but having a little family of our own sure makes this holy-day even more special!)

We're headed down to Matt's parents' house soon, where we'll visit and open presents with Granna and Opa, Uncle Andrew and Aunt Alexis, and great-grandma Mema. Then my parents, Matt's aunt and uncle, cousins, and their kids will all join us for dinner. Our Christmas Eve service is at 7:00, so some of us will leave soon after dinner to get back up here for that. My parents will be staying with us for a couple days, so we'll enjoy presents, a nice breakfast, and dinner with just them tomorrow.

My heart feels full, my soul at peace, and I wish all of you a very, very merry Christmas. I hope you are able to spend it with those you love, and spend some time in prayer and praise to the God whose son's birth we celebrate today.

Monday, December 21, 2009

1DoH: Loose Ends

As we approach Christmas, many people are tying up loose ends at school and work--taking final exams, submitting proposals and projects, filing paperwork, etc. Here in the Kelley household, we're nearing the end of both 2010 and Kate's first year. This means not just holiday/winter fun events, but transitions in Kate's eating habits and schedule that signal a growing-up girl.

82) Monday 12/14: Kate likes to hold her bottle herself most of the time, so her breakfast bottle is the only one I get to actually cradle her and feed to her like when she was younger. I cherish that time each morning, snuggling against her soft head as she drinks her mommy-milk. 83) Tuesday 12/15: Matt "won" Predators tickets in the silent auction at our church Advent Festival, so we enjoyed a great game of hockey in which the Preds beat...those other guys... 7 to 4. My favorite part was when they showed a baby in the audience on the jumbotron, and then it's nose started running into its mouth, and the crowd of 15,000 fans went from collectively saying "awww" to "ewww."

84) Wednesday 12/16: Kate loves going to school. A couple times this week, she has picked up her backpack and carried it around the house. It's adorable. She's such a quick little devil, this is the least-blurry picture I could get. Starting in January, she will be at a new school, and in their toddler room already (eek!) even though she'll only be 11 months. Big girl!
85) Thursday 12/17: Daddy-Daughter Day! Daddy sometimes underdresses Kate for the weather--like in this tie-dyed onesie Opa got her at his Mecca--the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont. So cute, and they didn't go outside, so it's cool.

86) Friday 12/18: Matt and I spent the afternoon serving at the 61st Ave. UMC Last Minute Toy Store, where poor families who haven't received aid from any other agency this Christmas can get a few gifts for their children. We were "restockers" in the 5-10 year old boys and girls' sections, and I think I was born for that job. Organizing and straightening all day long?? Awesome! 87) Saturday 12/19: Finishing up the last little bit of gift-wrapping. Kate enjoyed pulling the paper shreds out of the bag, strand by strand. It was great fun! Fortunately, Daddy picked them all up! (I also went to a Nashville women-bloggers gathering this morning, but forgot my camera! Oh well!)
88) Sunday 12/20: Kate enjoys flipping through the scrapbooks on the coffee table. She literally flipped the pages from front to back, and then back to front, at least five times (in each direction). I don't know if she's a born scrapbooker, or just likes looking back at pictures of herself, but this activity bordered on compulsion!

Speaking of scrapbooking, Jessica Turner has posted two installments of her "Daily December" album, which partially inspired this 100 Days of Holidays adventure. I discovered this morning that her life is way more interesting than mine (or at least more social-event-filled) which may explain why my pics rarely include anyone other than me, Matt, and Kate. We're homebodies!

This next week, however, we will have several fun family gatherings as we celebrate Christ's birth. We are so excited for "baby's first Christmas," and wish you all a very merry Christmas as well!

You're the One

We babyproofed our family room and kitchen a while ago, as baby gates confine her to those two rooms most of the time. We have taken a while to get around to the bathrooms, though, since Kate is rarely in those areas of the house, and never without a close eye on her.

When we do let her toddle around the bedrooms and bathrooms, she always gravitates toward the cabinet with her bath toys in it, and pulls out her rubber duckies. (Other favorite destinations include the medicine cabinet, where she grabs and uses bottles of Echinacea and acetomeniphen as rattles, and one of Mommy's Russian matryoshkas, painted with who-knows-what-astronomical-lead-content paint...but we won't talk about those.)
Matt finally did install the latches on the bathroom cabinets today (thank you, sweetie!!) so now at least I don't have to worry that a "child-resistant" medicine cap will pop off in the split second before I can get the bottles away from her.
I will miss her stealthy snatching of the rubber duckies, though. There's something about a baby and her duckie. Sing it with me...
Rubber duckie, you're the one
You make bathtime lots of fun!
(and as we often substitute)
Katharine Barry, I'm awfully fond of you!

Monday, December 14, 2009

All the yuletide fun you can cram into one weekend

This past weekend, I think we did every stereotypical Christmassy thing in the book.

Friday, we went to the mall so Kate could sit on Santa's lap while we tried in vain to get her to smile, singing a holiday version of her favorite song, Old MacDonald ("with a ho ho here and a ho ho there"... hmm, maybe that's not such a good idea). We paid way too much for the smallest photo option you could get, then came home and scanned our overpriced 5x7.
Santa was about 17, by the way. And though Kate didn't smile, she didn't cry either. She's so comfortable with new people, she just sat there, looked at us, and occasionally looked up at him. (If you are disappointed that this is not one of those hilariously adorable scared-of-Santa photos, go here. Poor Megan has the funniest Santa photo I think I've ever seen.)
Granna and Opa came with us. Yes, Santa was right in front of Victoria's Secret ("with a ho ho here..." ahem. excuse me. j/k, I love VS.) We faced the other direction to take Granna and Opa's picture with Kate for their Christmas card. A mall security guard came over a moment later to tell us it is against the law to take pictures in a mall. I actually knew that, from an incident with my Passport buddies 6 1/2 years ago, but I forgot.
We then went over to the Christmas tree lot and picked out our tree. The last two years, our eyes have been bigger than our living room, and we've had to cut 6-8 inches off the tree in order for it to fit. So, this year we were more realistic, paid less, and found a great tree that won't wipe sap all over our living room ceiling.
The next morning, we were excited to show Kate the tree, all decorated with lights and beads and ornaments...
(Including her "Baby's First Christmas" ornament from Granna and Opa)
... but she didn't seem to care! We were expecting her to yank at the branches, try to pull off the few kid-safe ornaments we put near the bottom, etc., but she just toddled right past the tree, over to the area where I had been wrapping gifts, and immediately became preoccupied with a red marker. Oh well. That afternoon, I baked cookies! Hopefully, they're tasty, but honestly, I mainly do it for the joy of putting on an apron, turning on one of the XM Christmas stations via our TV, and playing happy--no, merry--housewife!

Sunday night, we rounded out our stereotypically-Christmassy weekend with a Christmas pageant at church, in which Kate played an angel! It was precious. Without even realizing it, we turned into those parents that pay no attention to the play at all because they are too busy photographing and filming their child. Check out the video!


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