Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"It's a Book"

There is seldom the need to guess what the content of a Reyes family Christmas present is. It's a book, what else? Some people take that as fact, and some consider it to be a boring fact at that. Yet behind that fact is a simple story over the years.

My parents began to give books as Christmas presents once upon a time when they had access to good Christian books from the United States. It was an experiment, and somehow, it worked enough for them to try it again, and again, and again.

Since then, it has become a tradition. Every year, the family would visit OMF, go around different book stores, or order books on the internet. Then it would be time to list down everyone's names and their corresponding presents, wrap up the books, and label and give away to our heart's content. It is a very happy tradition for the bookworm me.

This tradition comes with its conveniences. We don't have to visit many places to do our Christmas shopping. My mother and I don't need to learn to wrap anything other than books. The price bracket of books is just right for the economic position of a pastor, not too much and not too little...and so on and so on. Yet behind all the conveniences, there is a mission that we hold close to our hearts.

Every year, choosing books becomes a responsibility for our family, a duty that we take on with passion and delight. Whether we are surfing an online catalogue or going through a bookstore, there is a certain excitement in trying to find the right book for every individual. Sometimes, we choose a book because someone would love it. Sometimes, we choose a book because it addresses the very need of someone (and silently wonder if it would offend). And sometimes, we choose a book because it entails the hopes that we have for the receiver.

There are people who seem suited out for so many books, and we have a hard time choosing. There are also people who wouldn't seem to read anything we gave, and we scratch our heads. It's all part of the package.

Over the years, we've had different responses to our presents. There are people who smile every year and say, "Yey, I'll have a book to read again." There are others who set it aside as soon as they get home, knowing that it's something they wouldn't use anyway. There are also people who tell us they count upon receiving our devotional books every year, and they even use those same materials to lead their employees in Bible Studies.

Some people think the system is wonderful and meaningful, some others consider it strangely impersonal. Yet regardless of the response, we shall continue with our tradition.

It's not because of convenience, nor because of affordability. It's not because of tradition's own sake. Why do we give books for Christmas? Because it is our mission, our passion, our particular way to show how we care.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Time to Love

I've been neglecting my blogs for quite a while. Yet now as I finally squeeze some time out to write a post, I'm being forced to re-think Christmas.

Christmas is a time to love, people always say. Yet somehow, I've observed that a person's definition for the word love is always changing, either for the better or for the worse. Therefore, Christmas, the season of love, represents different things to a person every year. For me, I've never had more thoughts to challenge me before than I have this year.

Love is not a feeling, love is not conditional, love does not seek selfish gain, and love keeps no record of wrong. Love is kind, love is patient, love is not easily angered...the greatest of all things is love. I could quote endlessly about love, yet truly living love and manifesting it through words and actions proves to be a much more challenging matter.

Very often, I found Christmas to be a time to love and to feel loved. People give the pastor's family many, many presents. People treat us to both family and ministerial Christmas gatherings. Christmas is the time to see colorful lights and hear joyful music everywhere. Christmas is the time for people to smile and greet each other "Merry Christmas." That's what I used to feel.

Then these few years, Christmas started to add on different things. Christmas means exhaustion. Christmas means having to do programs and attend events that I might not enjoy. Christmas means receiving gifts that I might not like anyway. Christmas means having to keep a cluttered house as un-cluttered as possible. Christmas starts to show things that aren't as nice as tinsel and ribbons and universal happiness. I still like Christmas...but there seems to be an element of stress added to the occasion. Some people call that outgrowing Christmas, but could anyone really do that?

No one outgrows love, but we could outgrow some definitions of love. If Christmas is the time to love, then our definition of love has to grow along with our years for us to have the true spirit of the season every year.

Love means giving up personal pleasures to spend time on church activities. Love means stepping out of my comfort zone to celebrate the holidays with people who aren't my favorite crowds. Love means moving out of my room to accommodate Christmas visitors. Love means understanding how family and friends lessen contact not because they like each other any less. Love means giving gifts to people who might not or cannot give in return.

Love means forgiveness...compassion...and even a willingness to discipline. Love means bearing with others' weaknesses, even when it hurts. Love means making a fool of oneself, just to help others. Love means self-sacrifice.

It might sound boring, but at the end of the day...a better definition of love brings a better ability to love. And a greater ability to love leads to a greater reward for loving.

Oh the joy of seeing those smiles over unexpected presents! Oh the warmth of knowing that my presence could have made someone smile. A better knowledge of love brings a greater understanding of God's love...and that's the greatest reward this season could bring.

May God help me to always love Christmas: a time to love.