God Is A Good Gift Giver

gift

“God is a good gift giver.”

Tahni Cullen’s son, Josiah, had typed those words on his iPad. As a toddler, Josiah stopped talking. Tahni wrote a book to explain how autism stole his words, but God gave him a voice. As Tahni spoke at our women’s retreat in 2015, she shared this story, and the incredible profound wisdom from her son Josiah since.

I’ve remembered those words, and her story, frequently since hearing them.

Recently, I was in Dallas, TX with my client to help organize one of his events and participate in the mastermind I’m a part of. It happened to be about 10 days or so after my birthday, and my client and his wife treated me to a very special birthday dinner to celebrate. I have a soft place in my heart for fried catfish. Not just any fried catfish, but tasty, crispy, mouth-watering southern fried catfish. They took me for some fried catfish and hushpuppies (and fried pumpkin pie. My life changed forever!) and as we walked to the restaurant, I noticed Sabrina’s arms were full of gift bags.

I gave her a curious look but kept walking. Sure enough, the gifts that filled her arms were for me.

After we ordered and sat down waiting for our food, I was encouraged to open the gifts. First, a gift my client had chosen himself. A true-blue Nespresso cup and spoon set. About a year ago, he had me try a cup of his Nespresso coffee. Oh my word. People. We’ve been doing coffee all wrong! I took my Christmas bonus check last year and we bought a Nespresso machine and lots of coffee. Nespresso is the besto. Unlike my compliments or praise of it.

As I reached for the next gifts, Sabrina explained, “Holy Spirit led me in picking all this out for you. I didn’t know what to get you, so I just prayed Holy Spirit would lead me, and He told me what to get.”

I had never heard that before. It made so much sense, yet I had never heard – or thought – of asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in picking gifts.

We’re getting closer and closer to the holiday season. Gift giving is about to run rampant again, especially in our nation and day and age of total materialism. The year Harlynn died, my priorities and desires changed and shifted dramatically. That Christmas, when I looked around at our living room piled high with stuff we had just unwrapped, I was completely overwhelmed. We were loved, we were blessed, and we were under a pile of stuff, a lot of which was completely useless to us.

What we, especially as Americans, tend to do when choosing gifts is let our purchase be dictated by price, convenience, and appearance.

Not by guidance from Holy Spirit.

Incredibly curious, I started to unpack the gifts she had felt led to purchase, as she continued to explain, “I got the sense you take care of your family before you take care of you and you needed to spoil yourself some.”

Those words caught me off guard a bit. I hate shopping. It’s no secret. When I do shop, I do it for practical reasons because my husband or my children need something. If I need something (other than groceries, specifically – chocolate) I put it off. Not because I don’t feel like I deserve it or anything, but because shopping drains me so much mentally and I can’t bear to spend my energy spending money for things I don’t know or realize I want or need.

I started pulling out item after item. Jewelry. Gorgeous, bold pieces of jewelry I would have been too timid to buy for myself, but always secretly want to try to pull off wearing.

Boot socks. Fun, comfy, cute boot socks, even. Not the boring, black nylon boot socks I’ve had for three years.

Leggings. Mine had holes worn in them and weren’t even comfortable to wear anymore. These leggings are the most comfortable I’ve ever worn – and I was short a pair of leggings for my trip, so they were also quite timely.

Comfy pants. Y’all, when I say “comfy pants” I mean quite simply: I WANT TO LIVE IN THESE PANTS. They aren’t bulky sweat pants. They’re the coziest cotton I’ve ever slung a leg into.

Pajamas. Comfortable, adorable, warm (I live in North Dakota…) pajamas. I don’t remember the last time I’ve worn actual pajamas.

Underwear. Not just any underwear, but the exact size and cut I wear.

In fact, everything fit perfectly. She had no idea what size I was. But Holy Spirit did.

A gorgeous sweater (when I had just thought, “I wish I had a nice sweater to wear.”) and lovely scarves. Chapstick. Lotion. Hand sanitizer.

I cried. Right there at the table, I said thank you over and over again and I cried. This wasn’t just someone getting me something for the sake of celebrating my birthday. This was a person walking through a store, praying to be led by God for exactly what I needed and what would lift my spirit. I was completely overcome.

God is a good gift giver.

As you begin, or maybe even finish (over-achievers!) your Christmas shopping this season, pray about the gifts you’re giving. Let God – who has given you multiple gifts – steer your gift-giving for others. You might be as surprised as they are.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. ~ James 1:17

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Forever ago, when hubs and I walked down the aisle, food was the last thing on my mind. I had salmonella, after all, and had contracted it from food I didn’t even eat. (Thanks, cross-contamination!) When we opened gifts, however, we received this cookbook.

I think. It could have been a shower gift? I don’t really remember. I don’t remember who gave it to us. If it was you, you’ve saved our mealtime more than once. Thank you.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I’ve owned and gotten rid of so many cookbooks over the years, but I consistently return to two of them. This one, and the Betty Crocker book I stole graciously given to me from my parents.

Growing up, Mom was never excited about cooking. She could make a killer meal, but she never really liked to cook. I enjoyed dabbling in it now and then, but it wasn’t until I took Home Economics in the 7th grade, that my love for food reached an entirely new level. (Mrs. Stubblefield, you’re a saint.) When I started learning I could make food – ridiculously tasty food – and fairly simply, I was hooked on cooking.

I used to ask my parents if we could invite people over, so I could cook a meal. I baked goodies after school all the time. I perfected recipes and loved nothing more than making food people would rave about. Mostly, I loved the attention. But cooking extra tasty food was a great vehicle for said attention. So it stuck.

Brent has always been a fan of my cooking. He hasn’t always loved what I cook, but he loves that I actually cook. A growing family and a crazy schedule later, I don’t cook every single night. But when I do, it’s pretty tasty.

This cookbook, however, has been the inspiration behind many a meal. And dessert. And bread. For the last almost-13 years, it’s been my go-to for recipes and ideas on feeding my family.

Last week I was feeling especially domestic and had all kinds of adventures going in the kitchen. I made pot roast, and apple cake, alongside a couple of apple pies and cooked some pumpkins to use for the famous pumpkin pie I make each fall. This book saved my tail in the way of the apple cake.

Yum & Yes, Please!

It never gets put away – it stays out on the kitchen counter for how often I reference its pages. After we were married, I made my first-ever Chicken A La King from this cookbook and catered our first (of many) Superbowl parties with appetizer recipes from this book as well. It truly has been the gift that never stops giving.

I’m kind of a rare bird when I cook in the sense that I really don’t want anyone’s help. I need the kitchen to myself, else you’ll most likely just end up in the way. I also had to learn to offer my assistance to others in their kitchens, since I want to be alone in my kitchen turf, it took me a long while to realize not everyone else is the same way.

Holiday meals are my favorite to prepare, and I love the fact every time I cook a big holiday meal, my husband puts himself on clean-up duty without being asked. Another reason on the long list of why he is my favorite person on the planet.

I am sorely disappointed I am the only one in my household who has deep love for sweet potatoes, though. They are a holiday staple for me, but my husband and children don’t share the same enthusiasm. Pray for them to be healed from this malady.

One holiday meal tradition for us has been prime rib at Christmas. The first time I made it was for my family Christmas five years ago. I was incredibly nervous. Prime rib is an expensive hunk of meat, and one you can’t really afford to screw up. Thankfully, it turned out deliciously. After a few bites, my brother-in-law turned to my husband and asked, “Did you ask Val to marry you after you tasted her cooking?”

Yes. It had nothing to do with my personality, my hilarious wit, my love of music or not murdering him when he quoted every line before it was spoken during the movie Tombstone. He didn’t really love me until he put a fork full of homecooked goodness in his mouth. And they lived happily ever after.

There is something to be said, though, for people enjoying the fruits of your labor of love in cooking a giant, hearty, tasty meal. It’s a gift I love to offer, a skill I’ve enjoyed mastering, and something I’ve grown to appreciate even more over the years.

This cookbook has become an important part of my kitchen. It’s a wedding (shower?) gift that has kept on gaining. Er, giving. Giving us pounds. Of love.

Parenting Is Not My Spiritual Gift

Parenting is, by far, the toughest job there is. Not only are you developing a relationship with your child, but you’re teaching them, protecting them, instructing, disciplining, holding them accountable, cleaning up after them, cleaning them, cleaning yourself because of them, kissing boo-boos, playing with imaginary toys in imaginary castles, feeding them, loving them, investing in them….and then it’s time to think about lunch, and how you’re going to spend the rest of the day with your kids.

It’s exhausting. And rewarding. And not at all my gift.

Parenting Is Not My

To be clear, parenting isn’t listed in the Bible as a spiritual gift. But it is a holy assignment, and does come more naturally to some than others. I am not a natural-born parent.

I’m not a bad parent, and I’ve sworn off wearing that hat or beating myself up for not being the Pinterest mom of the year. I love my kids, love spending time with them, and am so very thankful God chose me to be their mama. I also get pretty short with them, have a hard time being hung on constantly, and the less me-time I have, the more I require to recharge.

There was a time when being a mother was nowhere on my radar. I was far too selfish, too independent, and too comfortable to imagine having everything in my life (and my home) turned completely upside down by having a child or three.

Seven years into our marriage, I birthed Little Miss. Our lives have since become a happy “little mess”.

Little Miss was essentially the perfect child. She was content, happy, playful, adorable, and thrived on her own routine. She wanted to be rocked and snuggled, she rarely fussed, she was rarely sick, and she was an awesome traveler on long road trips to see family.

This also instilled in me the false perception that because she was such an amazing kid, I – obviously – was an amazing mother.

After we lost Harlynn, life as I knew it came crashing down around me. My perception was changed, my priorities changed, and I knew the aches and pains of motherhood on a level no one should ever have to experience. I was able to mother her for 37 all-too-short weeks, and she changed my life. I now parent beyond the grave, honoring her memory – and her life – at every opportunity. I’ve tasked myself with ensuring she remains a tangible part of our lives, and of our family.

After we buried our daughter, I no longer believed at all I was an amazing mother. What kind of mother lets her own body betray her? What kind of mother lets her child die within her womb? Shouldn’t I have known something? Shouldn’t I have been able to stop it? Done something differently? Kept her alive? I couldn’t even bring a full-term child into the world. My mothering failed before it ever began.

I’m still recovering from that betrayal. I still struggle with all that losing her robbed me of. I no longer operate under the false pretense anything I did as a human being led me to being an amazing mom. If my kids turn out, it’s because of God’s grace.

I’m not amazing. But the miracle of life sure is. The fact that I get to be a parent at all….is pretty amazing.

Little Man arrived after a hellaciously agonizing pregnancy. We nearly lost him as well, and five weeks premature, he was delivered in to life and safety.

He is now comprised of brute strength. He climbs over – or through – whatever blocks his way. He refuses sleep. He eats more than I do. He loves to wrestle. He’s very physical, very active, and very tough. He uses his head to plow through most obstacles, and is totally unfazed by it. This whole boy-raising thing is totally foreign to me.

Some days I feel completely incompetent. Parenting is more than loving my kids. It’s raising them to do right. Be right. Choose right. It’s helping them discover their individual meaning in life. Keeping them from eating power cords. (Little Man!) Answering their tough questions.

I want to make memories for them other than me losing my cool, or speaking at them through gritted teeth or raised voice. I want them to believe me when I tell them, “I love you”, no matter how tough I have to love them at times. I want them to know I’m doing my best, but my best is only because I have to work really hard at it – not because it comes naturally to me.

Parenting isn’t my spiritual gift. But it IS a gift I’m able to parent at all. It’s something I don’t take lightly. And on days I’d rather put my head in the sand or find an easy button, I have to turn to the ultimate parent: the Father who created it all in the first place.

Start children off on the way they