It’s the Thought that Counts

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My Christmas post was inspired by the sermon delivered by my pastor this past weekend. The message really resonated with me and I want to pass it on with my own personal take. I also wanted to give credit to Pastor Wade Mikels for the inspiration.

At this time of the year, people are always talking about gifts and analyzing what the true gifts in life are, and so on. But, Pastor Wade talked about the actual process that we all go through when purchasing gifts for other people. To some people, buying gifts for people is a chore and they get the first thing they can grab. They might throw it in a gift bag or quickly wrap it up. And, even that is more energy then they want to spend. It’s not that they are thoughtless. It’s just that while they want to give something that will be enjoyed; they haven’t a clue what that would be. Planning the perfect gift is truly an art form and not everyone is good at it.

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I’m one of those people who LOVE finding the perfect gift. If I do say so myself…I have a gift for picking the perfect gift. Part of it is that I am observant. I pay attention when someone says they like something or they collect something or they need something. When I was younger, it was only necessary to make a mental note. But as I’ve aged, I’ve found I need to maintain an actual list of possible gift ideas. I also know that a perfect gift doesn’t have to be expensive or over-the-top. It can be something simple or quite practical. The perfect gift is not about the actual item but rather that it shows the recipient that he or she is loved, valued and important to the giver. When our son was working full time AND going to school full-time, my husband and I gave he and his wife the gift of a gardener for the year so he didn’t have to worry about it. Would some people think this a good gift. It wasn’t something that one could hold. But, this was the perfect gift to them.

I also believe that how I package the gift is part of the gift itself. I love making beautiful packages. Everyone knows when I have wrapped something because I take particular care to use beautiful paper and make gorgeous bows out of coordinating wired ribbon. I also will embellish packages with appropriate decorations in addition to the ribbon and bow.

This love of making the present look beautiful goes back to when I was a young teenager. My mother was quite busy and asked me to help her wrap some presents. She took some time showing me how to do a good job and she passed on many of her artistic gift-wrapping tricks to me. From then on, I was the one who wrapped most of the presents in our house…even my own.

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While I worked at Disney, our department had great gift givers, particularly at Christmas. At one time, everyone gave every other person a gift, albeit a small one. But, over the years, our department outsourced several of the functions and our staff was reduced significantly. We changed our gift exchange process. Rather than each person having a gift for each co-worker, we got together and came up with one group gift for each person. And these weren’t small gifts. Most of us had a Disney character that was our favorite and we would frequently receive a very valuable collectable of our favorite character. As a group we worked together and looked hard to find just the perfect item for each person. And finding that perfect gift went on all year. And, as the recipient, we all felt loved and valued. I cherish each and ever item I received over the years and I display them in my home.

A gift serves two people…the giver and the recipient. It is a means for the giver to show just how important the recipient is to him or her. And, it’s a way for the recipient to understand just what they mean to the giver.

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And here it is Christmas, where the exchange of gifts between friends and family seem to dominate the day. But, it is also where we celebrate the greatest gift of all. When God sent His son to die for us, He was sending the perfect present. He sent us what we truly needed. And, He valued us enough to make this gift so very significant and important. He gave us the gift of salvation. And it just wasn’t a general gift for mankind. It was a personal gift for Kelsey Ramirez-Raub. It was a personal gift for (insert your name here.) He so loved us that He gave His only son. When I think of the effort I spend in finding the perfect gift, I fall so sort of what our God did.

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So, as you give gifts this year and receive them, what are these gifts saying to you and about you? Do you think about your gifts back to God the same way you think about gifts to family and friends? Are you even giving back to God. God should be at least as high on my gift giving list as my family and friends. How high is He in your gift giving priority? Consider praying about it. I know I will.

Merry Christmas!!

Christmas Cards? Absolutely!

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I love getting the mail this time of year. In addition to the usual bills and junk mail and all the various catalogs, there are the multi-colored envelopes which hold Christmas greetings from friends and family. Sometimes, there are beautiful cards and sometimes there are photo cards. Sometimes, it’s someone’s annual Christmas letter. I love getting everything…including those letters…probably because I’ve been sending a Christmas letter for over 20 years. But, I also sincerely love hearing what’s been going on in people’s lives.

We seem to be connected to people electronically. What with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we do keep in touch with people, if only superficially. But, how nice is it to actually have a piece of mail in hand that someone took the time to prepare? According to Psychology and Aging, receiving Christmas cards boost happiness, particularly with older people who aren’t as tech savvy as many of us.

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed a significant reduction in the cards we receive. I know the cost of cards and postage is a major contributor. It has certainly reduced the number we send. And, it also seems to me that the holiday season just seems to get busier and busier. And, sending cards does take time. But, I’d like to make an argument on why sending cards doesn’t have to be a chore nor does it have to break the bank.

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Now, if you are a fan of Pinterest, you have probably seen all those ideas of great homemade cards. And, I used to make our Christmas cards. I hope to be able to do it again someday…but not this year. This blog is about things one can do to reduce the cost of sending cards as well as make them less time-consuming to do.

1. I know this seems obvious, but buy cards after Christmas to use for the following year. Cards are a fraction of the cost after Christmas and there are still lots of really good cards out there. And, don’t worry about fancy cards with matching gold-lined envelopes…although those are also available for at least half off. Instead, look for cards in local drug stores like CVS, Rite-Aid, or Walgreens. I’ve also seen a nice selection at the local stationary box stores like Office Max and Office Depot. And, don’t worry if your cards don’t all match. Who of your friends and family are comparing your yearly card anyway?

2. Review your mailing list and see what names can be dropped. Yes, it’s kind of like ‘unfriending’ someone on Facebook, but if you really are no longer in contact with that co-worker from two jobs ago, it’s time to stop sending them cards.

3. Hand addressed cards are lovely, but I’ll take an envelope with an printed address label any day. Who keeps the envelope anyway? Create your Christmas mailing list on your computer so that you can just print it out each year. I update mine throughout the year as addresses change. I bought a box of plain white address labels several years ago and I’m still using them. If you are really creative, you can insert a holiday graphic on the label. Or, you can also buy decorative holiday labels at half price AFTER Christmas.

4. Lots of people now send a Christmas photo card. I love getting those. And, unless you are a photography pro, don’t worry about having professional photographs. I think some of the cutest cards I have received are those which have a collage of natural, real life snapshots. There are lots of sites which print these cards inexpensively. I recommend Shutterfly, Snapfish or Costco. This year I received several e-mails from Shutterfly alone offering 10 free photo cards. I probably got these offers because I ordered a photobook last month. But, if I had been going that route, I could have gotten almost all my cards for the year for free. The cards don’t need to be ordered all at once. Once you have uploaded your card and picked your design, you can order a few at a time.

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5. Postage is a significant expenditure and a real concern. But, you can spread out the cost by buying postage a little at a time. Every year the post office issues special Christmas/holiday stamps…but they don’t get your card to the sender any faster than a regular stamp. Most supermarkets sell stamps so buy a pack each time you do your grocery shopping. And, if you know postage is going up (as it seems to do every year), buy “Forever Stamps”. These are stamps you can get at the post office at whatever the current price of first class postage. Then you can continue using them until you run out…even if first class postage has risen in cost several times.

Another thing you can do is take advantage of those times when you can hand-deliver a card. Do you normally send cards to co-workers? If so, bring them to work and deliver them by hand.

We set up a system at our church called the Christmas Mailbox which also saves a lot of money on postage. It’s simply a series of plastic boxes that we purchased at the Dollar Store. (We got the idea from our former church which actually had wooden boxes built for this purpose.) The boxes are labeled alphabetically. Any cards that you would normally mail to friends who attend the same church are, instead, dropped into the appropriate box. And, you can pick up any cards addressed to your family. It’s a simple, inexpensive, cost-effective way of getting a lot of cards out to friends at almost no cost to you. And, kids love checking the boxes each week to see if the family has received any cards. If your church doesn’t offer this, suggest it. We did and it’s been a big hit!!

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6. Maybe getting out Christmas cards before Christmas is just too difficult to squeeze into your schedule. Consider sending a Thanksgiving card before the time crunch hits or sending a New Year’s card when things have settled down. We have some friends who do that and, I love receiving those cards just as much as if I had gotten them at Christmas.

7. If you have children, let them help in the process. They can stick on address labels or stamps. Depending on their writing ability, have them sign the family’s name to the cards. They can even stuff the card into the envelope. Anything they can do is just one less thing off your shoulders.

8. Consider doing a Christmas letter. It doesn’t have to be a full narrative of the entire year. Don’t make it a blow-by-blow narrative of every single success of your family. Do make it self-deprecating and share some of the humorous blunders of the year. Try a newsletter format with a column about each person in the family. Or…better yet…have your children write their own column for the newsletter. Maybe you just have a top ten list! The options are endless. Print it out on red or green paper and put it in a similarly colored #10 envelope. It’s easy peasy!

(As an aside, I’ve kept copies of all my yearly newsletters. Someday, I’m going to bind all the letters and give them to my children for Christmas. It’s amazing how you can be reminded of a year simply by reading an old Christmas letter.)

9. Lastly, when addressing cards, address a few and send them to our servicemen and women. It’s a little thing which can bring a lot of happiness to someone far away from home. The Red Cross suggests spreading some cheer by sending to the following:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Or, you can send a card to:

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue
NW Washington, D.C. 20307-5001

 

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I also want to share one thing I do with the cards I receive every year. Christmas cards have beautiful graphics of all sorts of holiday images. My mother didn’t waste anything and she taught me this little trick. Save the cards, cut out the graphics, and attach them to the front of Christmas presents. It’s amazing how this simple (and free) embellishment can really add to a package. I know this sounds like just one more thing to do, but I cut up the cards throughout the year while I’m watching television. Then, when Christmas comes, I already have this nice selection of Christmas embellishments. These can also be used as one-of-a-kind gift tags!

I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider sending cards this year. And, if not this year, maybe next.