Blessed to be a Blessing: Giving at Christmas

3 December 2013

bucky with wreath

Photos of Bucky in full finery were requested — I aim to please.

Hello, friends! Some of you may know that John and I are BIG fans of Adam Hamilton. We worship online with Church of the Resurrection every Sunday in addition to our local church, and we never cease to learn from and be inspired by his messages. Last year, I was moved to post 25 acts of kindness after listening to one of his sermons. (Here’s the list — we’ll be doing some of these this year, and I still think it’s a GREAT way to shine a light outward this season!)

Last year, COR’s Christmas season campaign encouraged members to give a Christmas Eve offering equal to the amount they spent on Christmas gifts. John and I were inspired by the boldness of this challenge, and ended up making a larger-than-anticipated offering ourselves. (Most churches give away their Christmas Eve offering to a particular cause — for example, COR splits theirs between building wells in Africa and working with low-income schools in Kansas City, and our church gives it to one of our main missions, Zoe.) We eagerly awaited the results of COR’s offering, knowing it was going to be exciting, but we were still blown away when they reported raising $1.2 million in one night — far surpassing the previous year’s amount of $650k. I actually cried when they announced it, I was so moved. Isn’t it amazing what God’s people can do when they lean into what He is calling them to?


We immediately set the goal of giving away as much as we spent on Christmas gifts in 2013 (in addition to our normal pledge). There are so many ways to be generous, selfless, and un-materialistic at Christmas, but there are a few reasons why I particularly love this way:

1) It infuses the spirit of Christmas back into our giving, and gifting. This way, they’re not two separate things — they’re interconnected. As we shop and plan, we keep in mind that we have three ways to meet our goal: we can either a) reduce the amount we spend on gifts, b) increase the amount we give, or c) do a little of both. It reminds us that there are trade-offs for every choice we make with our money.

2) It doesn’t require us to stop giving gifts. I LOVE giving gifts! I love selecting things the people I love will love, something that will make their lives a little happier or prettier or easier. I love supporting small businesses, and making handmade goodies, and I also LOVE wrapping presents.

3. It allows us to tell a new story. Signing on for this might require you to make some changes in the way you’ve traditionally given gifts — I know it did for us — which provides an opportunity to explain why you’re making said changes. We’re planning to include a little card with our gifts that says something along the lines of, “This is only half of your present! We also made a donation in your honor to help empower kids in Africa.” What story are you telling with your life? I want my story to be about generosity. I want it to spread light in the world. I want it to be about something much larger than ME.

4) It’s legitimately exciting! For me, it was an almost giddy feeling to drop that check in the offering plate on Christmas Eve. There’s something exciting about being “counter-cultural” and saying YES to what matters most in a tangible way. I believe God’s messengers are everywhere, in everyone… in you and in me. He’s just waiting for us to step into our role, and there’s nothing more exciting than making a small move in that direction.

And then there’s this:

Christmas starts with the poor and the nobodies. I think part of the reason God sent the angels to the shepherds first is because they didn’t have anything to celebrate. Let’s start with them. Let’s invite them to Christmas. We can celebrate every day if we want, and we have lots of reasons to celebrate. But to celebrate Christmas the way God celebrates it, we must start with the poor and the nobodies.

(That’s from Adam. See why we like him?)

In what ways are you planning to make light shine in the darkness for someone else this season? Would you consider joining in this challenge? Whether or not you think you can do it this year, I would love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. It turns out that after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, today has been termed Giving Tuesday. Appropriate, no?

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December 3, 2013 9:11 am

Wow – I absolutely love this post & the idea behind it! I too love giving and gifting, and this model is such a great way to emulate the spirit of Christmas. The idea of boldly giving is powerful.
It’s wonderful when so many people want their story to be about generosity and living a life larger than just for ourselves! Thanks for sharing.

December 3, 2013 9:34 am

I love the thought and act of giving! Whether giving monetarily or giving through your actions. Giving in any way you can is always a beautiful gift.

December 3, 2013 9:38 am

Wow, Emily! I love this. It really makes me evaluate my heart in giving.. and want to make this a goal of ours for next year! Thank you so much for your boldness in sharing what the Lord has called you to do. I am certain that He will use this post to make much of Himself.. you are being used, friend! XO

December 3, 2013 10:38 am

Great post, Em! Love talking about giving around this season. It’s absolutely some of the most fun you will have with money. God can do incredible things with our money if we will just release some of it! And it’s so cool how giving changes who we are – like it changed your entire approach to Christmas! We move closer to the heart of God when we let go of some of what he’s given us to bless others.

Nancy and I love to find something “for the person who has it all” in the Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog, where you can give things to people in need overseas in someone’s name or honor. Nancy and I also love doing some research and finding people in need in our church or community and blessing their socks off!

December 3, 2013 11:30 am

What a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

December 3, 2013 3:06 pm

I love this idea! Thank you so much for sharing!

December 3, 2013 8:49 pm

This warms my heart, Em.

December 3, 2013 10:37 pm

Twice a week when I blow my hair dry, I open my “favorites” folder in Feedly and read 2-3 posts as I get ready. This post popped up this morning and I’ve been thinking about it all day. Thank you so much for sharing this idea for me, as it perfectly captures two things that I want to strongly emphasize in my own life: frugality and generosity.

We’re living in a really expensive place, and even though my husband’s income is generous we are still just breaking even (and we’ve gone over the budget many times, we don’t feel like we are being extravagant in any areas, though we are certainly having many of our wants met along with our needs). I really want to give, but I don’t have the mental fortitude to sacrifice my own pleasures (buying nice coffee and $10 bottles of wine, babysitting for girls nights out, haircuts at a nice salon, etc) in order to give to those in need. I recently decided to go through some things and sell some stuff on ebay, which not only allows me to give charitably, but cleans out the clutter as well! You’ve inspired me, and I’m going to chart my spending for Christmas and make sure that I don’t spend any more gifts than I give to charity. Or if I want to spend more on gifts for loved ones, I need to sell more stuff so I can give more to those in need! I think that is the strange part about existing in families where everyone has their needs and most of their wants met – I want to give gifts to show people I love them, but I also have to live with the guilt that comes with the knowledge that the money I spend on those gifts could be better used feeding those who actually need my help.

I’m rambling now, this is something I think about a lot. But I love this principle, and would like to adopt it in into our budget generally. Someday I hope we are financially in a place where we can give large amounts, but for now we are making it work. This is a way I can motivate myself to simply in what I give to my loved ones, and feel confident that I have a system in place that will help alleviate some of that guilt I feel all (year, really) season long.

December 4, 2013 11:54 am

Emily, you have such a wonderful heart! We are having a very simple Christmas in that we aren’t spending a lot….Our budget is very small. We are giving back this season by doing the Emily Ley advent calendar with Random Acts of Kindness.

kristen o. {southerndoe}
December 5, 2013 10:01 am

This was such a wonderful post to read this morning. I really like what you said at the end, “But to celebrate Christmas the way God celebrates it, we must start with the poor and the nobodies.” Such a true point of view.
PS- I adore the deer!
Merry Christmas! :o)

December 6, 2013 12:40 pm

This has inspired me to do something, however small, for Chanukah. Thank you xx

December 12, 2013 2:19 pm

This idea is so awesome!! I’m currently attending a church in Wine Country, Sonoma County specifically, and we have done something this year called “adopt a vineyard” where we choose a needy neighborhood each month and hold a service once a month and give out food and small things for the children. We’re doing a toy giving “vineyard” for December and I’m so excited about it!!

I’m also participating in Dressember and while I don’t have cash money to give to a cause, raising awareness through what I’m wearing is a good reminder every day about what more I can do!! I LOVe this post and can’t wait to look up more about COR!!

[…] and I have been particularly inspired by our good friend Em in a giving post last year, to consider giving as much money away as we spend on gifts.  That’s a great challenge that […]

December 3, 2014 7:22 am

[…] But I want to push and challenge myself to give abundantly. Em of Em for Marvelous wrote this Blessed to be a Blessing post last year, something I’ve bookmarked and mulled over for a year now. Along with hearing from […]

[…] candlelight Christmas Eve service (still the thing I look forward to most every year), our Christmas Eve giving has become an important part of our family’s […]

[…] $30 (1000 people and we’d reach the goal) $300 (100 people and we’d reach the goal) $3000 (10 people and we’d reach the goal) The Christmas challenge: Give away as much money as you spend on Christmas this year (like my friend Em). […]