The most incredible Christmas mistake I ever made

Robbie and I had been holding the line for six weeks. No way were we going to get our four-year-old daughter a doll that cost more than $100 for Christmas. Annesley would have to be happy with the $14.99 version we’d picked up at Target. That’s all there was to it.

Christmas case, closed.

But Annesley persisted. “The only thing I want is a My Size Barbie,” she pleaded. If we heard that request once, we heard it a hundred times, and I could feel my resolve slipping away faster than the shopping days. Robbie’s too. By Christmas Eve, we couldn’t take any more and (in what I still consider one of our greatest financial parenting fails), we caved. It took three stores (the first two were out of the in-demand doll), but we finally came home with the prize. And we couldn’t wait to see our little girl’s look of joy, in the morning.

Annesley squealed when she spotted the box. She tore off the wrapping paper like she was wanted by the FBI and then—after a forced photo op—she tore off Barbie’s sparkly pink clothes. And put them on herself.

And that was that.

Barbie languished, naked, in the bottom of the closet until—two years later—we found an old soccer uniform, got her dressed, and donated her to a youth ministry that needed skit props. Never (unless you count the seven head-spinning minutes we spent in the Monte Carlo casino) have Robbie and I gotten so little bang for our buck, or watched the joy factor vanish so fast.

I am one of those people who is all about Christmas, and I take the gift-giving thing pretty seriously. There had to be a better way.

I thought back to my own growing-up years. I had one grandmother who showered her grandkids with gifts (they were wrapped, tagged, and stored in her sewing room by October) and another who never gave us a thing. To her credit, Grandma Number Two never asked for anything either. All she wanted was for us to memorize a Bible verse every year and, in return for our effort, she prayed, bringing our names and our needs before God.

I have to tell you that, as a teenager, I definitely preferred Wrap-and-Tag Grandma’s approach. And I rolled my eyes at Bible Verse Gammy. Why couldn’t she just be happy with a scarf, or a framed photo of me, like a normal grandmother would be? Why did she have to make Christmas so…holy?

That was then. This is now. And now that I have four kids of my own—kids whose Christmas wish lists have included everything from designer jeans and fancy electronics to a Tempur-Pedic mattress topper—I can see the wisdom behind Bible Gammy’s gift-giving strategy.

For one thing, all of those verses she asked her grandkids to memorize—promises about God’s wisdom, his love, and his grace—brought perspective and context to my growing up years. They became the anchors that held my life steady.

And the gift Gammy gave us—the gift of her prayers—is still bearing fruit. I don’t know what, exactly, she prayed for, but I have to believe that my grandmother’s petitions opened the door to countless blessings I didn’t deserve—and protected me from untold evils I did.

And they set the stage for my own parenting (and gift-giving) style.

Because it wasn’t long after we dug Barbie out of the closet that my kids began to come up against some fairly life-shaping challenges—mean girls at school, peer pressure at parties, the whole maze of college admissions—and I realized they needed their own helping of things like wisdom, compassion, self-control, kindness, and grace.

I knew I was out of my league. I turned to the Scriptures to shape both my parenting thoughts and my prayers. When the kids bickered, for instance (which was, like, every time we got in the car), I ramped up my game. Instead of falling back on the old mainstay (“Stop it!”), I pulled out verses like Ephesians 4:29, and used them to invite God into the mix:

“Let no unwholesome talk come out of Annesley’s mouth,” I prayed, “but only what is helpful for building others up, that it might benefit those who listen.”

Not only were prayers like that far more creative than anything I could come up with on my own, but because they came out of the Bible—the words God invented—I figured they also had power. And, over the years, I saw that they did.

So this Christmas, let’s partner with God. Let’s slip our hand into his, and ask him to bless our children—wherever they are, whatever they need—with the gift of his grace. With his wisdom. His guidance. His protection. His love.

I wrote about my prayers—and God’s answers—in a series of books: Praying the Scriptures for Your Children (which became an Amazon Bestseller), Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, and the just-released Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, which is where my heart is right now, as I watch my grown-up kids chart their own careers, families, and dreams.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly 30 years of parenting—and of trying to give good gifts to my children—it’s that we don’t always know what our kids really need. We might not always be able to help them, or give them advice (and even if we could, they might not want to listen). And, when they hit the teen years or go off to college, we might not even know where they are.

But you know what? That’s okay. Because God does. He knows our kids—and he loves them like crazy. And when we tether our prayers to God’s promises—when we stake our trust in his Word—we can be confident that God is at work, giving his very best gifts to our kids. And, no matter how far away they may be (physically or in other ways), they are never out of his reach.

So this Christmas, let’s partner with God. Let’s slip our hand into his, and ask him to bless our children—wherever they are, whatever they need—with the gift of his grace. With his wisdom. His guidance. His protection. His love.

These are the gifts that can impact their lives. These are the gifts that will last.

But you know what else? Maybe it’s the spirit of the wrap-and-tag Grandma that still runs through my veins, but I can’t picture Christmas morning without a big mess of boxes and bows. You can pray for your kids, sure, but you might still want to pick up something fun you can wrap.

I did a quick online search, just in case anyone needs a three-foot-tall Barbie. And I’ve got good news and bad.

The good news is that her price tag has dropped. No longer is Barbie up there with the lower-end iPhones. I found a perfectly good “vintage” model on eBay for just $66.

The bad news?

The bad news is that Barbie does not have any clothes.