On Giving, On Receiving

We’re almost there, gang. It’s Christmas Eve Eve (historically noted as the longest day ever in the history of long days, especially if you are a child or the parent of small children). We’re *this* close to the culmination of all of our Advent waiting and there’s much hustle and bustle to finish up last-minute preparations.

All of that looks different this year, of course. Added to the anticipation of the holiday is some extra heartache and anxiety…you know, just to keep things spicy. It’s always easy to get caught up and swept away by this time of year and to lose focus of the bigger picture but this year has added stress in places most of us haven’t previously navigated. The shadow of the pandemic has created an environment of panicked searching of tracking numbers and shipping notifications. Many of us won’t be seeing our family and friends this holiday, so more emphasis is placed on exchanging gifts in a different way, more stress is put on the fear that things won’t make it in time, or there are too many gifts for one kid and not enough for the other one so now we have to take our lives into our hands and go back to Target, and why are we even doing a secret Santa this year anyway, and what’s even the point, and on and on and on.

To which I say, “Woah Nelly.”

Be still. Take a breath.

Let’s take a minute to break it down together and consider our relationship to giving and receiving in general.

Here’s what my pal, Henri, has to say.

A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support. When you know yourself as fully loved, you will be able to give according to the other’s capacity to receive, and you will be able to receive according to the other’s capacity to give. You will be grateful for what is given to you without clinging to it, and joyful for what you can give without bragging about it. You will be a free person, free to love.

Henri Nouwen

Okay, so why are we giving gifts? The obvious answer is that gift giving is a way to communicate love to one another. Taking the time to curate and research a lovely gift for someone is tangible proof of our thoughtfulness and consideration for them. Gosh that’s beautiful. It is such a good and valuable thing.

And yet.

As with many good and valuable things in our world, giving and receiving can so easily be twisted. Somehow what was initially a physical act of love toward our father-in-law becomes a competition with our spouse’s siblings. What was a way to show our boss how much we appreciate her becomes an opportunity to advance our career. What was meant to be a helpful gift becomes a physical manifestation of the way we think someone ought to be living their life. Worse, we often give out of obligation not real generosity, a motive that is easily communicated to the recipient.

The same goes with receiving. What was meant as a helpful gift from our parents is received as commentary on our lifestyle. That gift that is not equivalent to the one we offered is a physical manifestation of our value in the eyes of the giver. Perhaps we receive an extravagant gift and feel somehow less than, unworthy, or worse exploited. Did they really want to give me that huge present or are they using me to show off?

What was meant to be a good and beautiful thing for the other becomes about us: If he likes this gift enough, I’ll know that he’s really into me. If their gift is better than mine, my gift was not enough. I am not enough. If I give them this cleaning system, maybe they’ll actually take care of their home the right way. If the kids love these toys, they’ll love me. If they gave me this huge gift it means I will owe them something. I can’t accept that expensive thing because I don’t deserve it.

Deep breath.

Remember what’s true.

No amount of gifts or any signs of generosity can define us the way Christ does. Gifts do not serve to be trophies or monuments that prove our belovedness. They are, rather, tools to communicate that we see and love others right where they are.

Receiving an extravagant gift has nothing to do with our inherent value. It is not a commentary on our financial or social status. It shouldn’t challenge our view of our own worthiness. It is, perhaps, an opportunity to receive and by receiving, bless the giver. Allowing others to love us in the way that they are able is a gift in and of itself.

When we don’t feel worthy to receive a gift or don’t feel deserving of extravagance from loved ones, we must consider what “deserving” even means. None of us is getting what we deserve…at least I pray that we aren’t! We are all sinners, all fall short of the glory of God. Christ never gives us what we actually deserve, praise God. The entire point of Christmas is that we are given exactly what we do not deserve, the ultimate extravagant gift: salvation. So “deserving” shouldn’t really play into receiving gifts. It can be a humbling thing to receive a gift that we don’t feel worthy of. Let’s use it as an opportunity to embrace humility, remembering our Savior who offers us His precious body and blood specifically because we are not deserving.

The reaction of the recipient to our gift is not about us. We should give, not out of an expectation of approval from the person to whom we are giving, but purely to bless them and love them no strings attached. It sounds silly, but we need to give to one another with open hands. We need to give without expectation. Generosity doesn’t follow up two months later to see if they’re using that new Roomba properly or scan their social media posts to see if they’re sporting that new scarf. Generosity is giving with open hands, trusting that our identity and value does not rest in whether or not someone appreciates what we have to offer.

Whatever the next few days look like for you, I pray that you will take Truth deep into your core and settle into it. Giving and receiving are not about you. No pile of presents, no number of lost packages, late arrivals, or any offering that doesn’t quite hit the mark can touch the truth of who you are in the eyes of the Creator. You are good. Full stop. You are lovely and loved. Period. You are valuable and worthy just as you are, just where you are. So are the people you’re giving to this Christmas. The gift of yourself in all your imperfect humanity is the most beautiful offering you can give. Receiving the ugly, imperfect, confusing, frustrating humans in your life and loving them despite all that is receiving Christ’s call to us all.

I pray that we’ll all be able to give and receive with open hands this Christmas. My prayer as we round out this year is that we’ll find Him. In the absences at the table and the disappointments and the anxious fears about being good enough or making the right choice to travel or anger over how that uncle voted or worry that these people we’re related to don’t actually really know us, I pray that we will feel His presence.

He’s there. He really is. In the piles of wrapping paper and the beat up boxes that arrive three days late. In the sibling arguments and the absolutely awful presents, He’s there. He’s waiting for us. The baby will be born and laid in a manger and He’s waiting. He will grow up to be beaten, bruised, mangled, and murdered for us. He’s here in the midst of the hurt and the mess, in the giving and receiving of gifts, deeply present in these presents we’ve chosen that try to hijack our worthiness. He’s there quietly repeating the foundational truth of our belovedness: He came specifically for us. He chose this. He chose us.

Merriest Christmas, my beautiful friends. You are so, incredibly loved.

Mary Susan

Homemade Play Dough!

Guys. I just made homemade play dough and I seriously didn’t know what I was missing. Seriously. It’s awesome. Go make some. Now!!!


Do I seem a little eager? It’s just that I’ve been up since 4:30 am eating cookies and finishing Christmas gifts. And speaking of gifts, homemade play dough is the perfect gift for any sweet kid in your life. Heck, give it to the un-sweet kids in your life, too! They’ll benefit from it, I assure you!


Here’s how to get started:

First you must visit The Imagination Tree and subscribe. You’ll thank me later when you, too, are up at 4:30 am making play dough or salt dough or a thousand other incredibly frugal/educational/awesome things for the kids in your life (sweet or otherwise).


While you’re there, check out the post from which I got my play dough recipe. There are a ton of good ideas about ways to use play dough in imaginative and creative ways that can only come from making it yourself. Lavender play dough, anyone? How about cinnamon clove sparkle dough? Yes, yes, and yes, please!


The basic play dough recipe goes like this:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 3 cups of plain white flour
  • 1 1/5 cups of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil***
  • 2 tablespoons of  cream of tartar (apparently you can also use a big squeeze of lemon juice here)

***I need you all to know that it took me about seventy tries to correctly spell “vegetable.” Clearly 4:30 am is catching up with me…

Other optional ingredients are:

  • a few drops of glycerin for stretch and shine – I cheaped out/couldn’t find it too easily/didn’t want to go to anymore stores because it was snowing, so I didn’t use this. I can see how it would make the dough extra shiny, which would be nice, but we did without quite happily.
  • Glitter!!! Use lots. It’s good for your soul.
  • Food coloring – We went with black because I thought it looked so cool. And that’s just how I am: cool.


You just mix all of your ingredients over low heat, keep stirring, don’t acknowledge the moment of panic when you think it’s going to be a gloppy mess and persevere til the dough pulls away from the sides of your pan. Let it cool a bit and then turn it out on a board to knead til it’s done. Easy as pie! Only easier, ’cause I stink at pie. Mine was a bit too sticky towards the end, so I just kneaded in some more flour and it was perfect. This recipe made 6 half ounce jars of dough.


Here’s how it turned out!


Like I said, glycerin probably would’ve made this super-shiny, but I’m feeling good as is.



Please disregard the creepiness of my hand and focus on the dough. Thanks.
Please disregard the creepiness of my hand. It was only, like, 5 am at this point and my hands just really aren’t themselves until 5:30…


The possibilities with this are endless. I think this would make an awesome party favor for a birthday if you could find the right containers. Anyway, I’m pretty sure we’ll be making play dough a ton because Mags loves it. I can’t wait to see how she likes it with glitter!


Hope your last few days til Christmas are merry and bright! Love to all!