Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, from the Howertons!

I’m up early, and it’s still dark out. The only light on in the house comes from the Christmas tree. The Howerton house is peaceful and calm. Even the dog is still sleeping (which is how I like him best). I mention the peace only because it’s so rare. Chaos is closer to what everyday looks like, so moments like this one I try to celebrate, and remember, when the volume level goes north of healthy.

In a few minutes I’ll wake my daughter, Alex, so she can get on the bus that will take her to her morning violin practice at school. She loves playing Soccer (a fierce mid-fielder), she’s School Vice President (which she won on the slogan of “I’m organized, kind, and I like puppies”)…I’m very proud of her. She does a great job with friendships, and with being a judicious big sister. She’s got a great sense of humor too, and a growing familiarity with pre-teen “sass,” I believe it’s called.

My son Caleb is an early riser. He’ll probably get up when Alex does, just so he can spend time reading before he has to launch into the day. He destroys books. I mean that literally. I don’t know what he does with the books in addition to reading them, but my guess is rugby. Caleb’s stepped out into Basketball for the first time this year, and dad doesn’t even pretend to know how to coach him. Everything in his life is high adventure, including Lego creation, skateboarding, and his zany third grade friendships. He’s also adjusting slowly to his role as big-brother. He seems to approach it from a love-hate perspective, which might be fairly common among siblings. Fortunately, there is a bit more love than hate, and Caleb has discovered that his younger brother, in addition to being competition, might also be his biggest fan.

This morning, I’m guessing that Duzi will sleep in as long as mommy will let him. He’s our snuggler, who can’t quite snuggle with mommy and daddy without kicking them. Hard. Sometimes in the head. Of course, the big news from our clan this year is his arrival, and the trip over to South Africa in July to pick him up. Adjustment has been good. Hardly pain-free (read: many tears and anxious moments), but honestly, good. One of things he’s noticed is how BIG Americans do things…he knew what Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were before coming here. But each holiday, he was wide-eyed at how MUCH Holiday was enjoyed. Oh buddy, just wait until Christmas morning. Prepare to be amazed.

Jodie is incredible, as always. I’m blown away by how she manages to stay on top of a very active family schedule, work a bit from home, feed her family gourmet meals on a budget, and hit the gym regularly. She’s my hero (which I repeat to myself when we’re at each other’s throats). And she’s hot. I’m just saying. She could be a part-time model.

As for me, life seems to be cranking along, meaning I turned 40 this year. I’m still not the person I want to be, but I’m one more year along on the journey. I love my family, I love my wife, I love my life. Ministry at OCC is a hurtling roller coaster (read: equal parts thrill and terror), with folks breathing deeply the joy, hope, and love that Jesus came to bring. In fact, that’s really the reason for this letter, and for any Christmas cheer it offers…I’m just one more finger pointing to Jesus. One more seeker pursuing the infant king, born in a stable. One more heart shattered and reformed by his arrival, heralded by the wisest men. One more life undone by the grace of our Christ, illuminated in the darkest night by a celestial light. One more voice adding my flat and tremulous melody of praise to join in with the choir of heavenly hosts.

We love you dearly. We’re amazed by Jesus’ love. Merry Christmas,

Mike, and the whole crazy Howerton Clan

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Cost/Low Cost Christmas Celebrations

Gearing up for this week's message, titled "Punching Consumerism in the Throat," we thought we'd start with some amazing and helpful No Cost/Low Cost ideas to celebrate the birth of Jesus!! Thank you Overlake for submitting these ideas!! We received so many suggestions that there was no way to incorporate all the ideas into this weekend’s message…so here are a bucket-load on the front end! We’ll tackle a few more key thoughts during this Sunday’s Service…SEE YOU THERE!! And thanks again, for being as generous and giving a church as you are!! If you have more suggestions, please leave them as comments…THANKS! Merry Christmas!!

Encourage your loved ones to create something: knit, write a letter, paint a picture.
Since Jesus was a carpenter, I would we should give lovely, handmade gifts from the heart.
Make things – create a coupon with gifts of service.
Write notes of encouragement to each other.
Make photo calendars, pens, or mugs.
Make (create) as many gifts as possible. My wife gave homemade jam and scone mix this year, and it was delicious!
Instead of buying gifts make cookies and send them to family.
Make gift baskets for family instead of a gift for each member.
Create fun memories as a group.
Bake & frost cookies together.
Get messy, play in the snow.
Donate food and serve at a Mission this Holiday Season.

Give a gift to Jesus in honor of His Birthday.
Rather than buy gifts for extended family, purchase gifts for those in need through World Vision website.
Give through World Concern.
Giving gifts that help others - World Vision offers such practical gifts as cows, goats, chickens that provide income for families.
Instead of gifts, my husband and I are doing a donation to Toys for Tots.
We host an open house for all our friends/co-workers in the area. In lieu of gift to us we ask they bring a cash donation for World Vision.

White elephant gifts! Bring 1 gift (new or used), especially an oddity, and the entire family always has fun!
Eliminate one thing we can do without.
We chose a friend in need to bless this Christmas instead of buying gifts for each other.
Adapt a family instead of exchanging gifts.
After candlelight service, we get kids in their pajamas, put them in the car and drive all around looking at lights.
Read the Christmas story in Luke.
Have the kids in the family act out the Bible story with nativity set.

Give your kids or someone special the gift of undivided time.
Spend less on things and more giving of your time.
Volunteer time together as a family to serve.
Adopt a family in need to minister too.
What you would spend on yourself "give away" instead.
Reduce the amount of money spent on gifts by some percentage, and give that instead.

Visit nursing homes and spend time caring for those who might be lonely.
Set a budget for Christmas gifts.

For every gift received give an item or possession to charity.

Give the gift of planning, and invite a person over for dinner once a month for the year. Make a radio station especially for them.

Think of what someone else is going without that you have multiples of, and connect the gift to their need.

Give to shelters.
Make a gingerbread house together.
Have fun family nights, watching some holiday classics together.
We go caroling to our neighbors houses with kids from school, then have a coco & cookie potluck after.
Draw names and give gifts to them, instead of buying for everyone in the family.
Use newspaper for wrapping paper.

Save, and pay cash for presents, instead of using credit cards.
Make memories instead of giving stuff
Give gifts from the heart: kind words mean morn then anything.
Stop reading ads - remember I have all I need in Jesus!

We pick names.
I buy used toys, and the kids like them better because of the lack of crazy packaging when they open them!
We set a per person dollar limit on gifts.
My friends and I spend a fun evening together instead of spending the time trying to buy the right gift.