The song to sing when you don’t feel like celebrating the holidays.

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Christmaslist

“Do you remember me?

 I sat upon your knee

 I wrote to you

 With childhood fantasies”

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a favorite Christmas carol every year. I pretend that I select this song myself, but really the song selects me. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I fire up my holiday playlists and wait to see what song I start singing in the shower or while standing in an elevator. This year that song is definitely “My Grown Up Christmas List.”

 “Well, I’m all grown up now

 And still need help somehow

 I’m not a child

 But my heart still can dream”

For many people, this holiday season is bittersweet. In the midst of a season known for peace and love we are bombarded with grief, sorrow, disappointment and even rage. For some they are dealing with personal tragedies and heartaches. Many others are fighting injustices. Even more are struggling with the painful loneliness that accompanies a guarded or closed heart.

“So here’s my lifelong wish

 My grown up Christmas list

 Not for myself

 But for a world in need”

I’ve been questioning the best way to celebrate my Christmas this year. Can I ignore those in pain and dive blindly into gift giving and decorating? Should I condemn the holiday festivities I love as trivial in a world with much more serious problems?

“But heaven only knows

 That packages and bows

 Can never heal

 A hurting human soul”

Yet, I need holiday spirit this year more than ever. I need to remember what we are actually celebrating. Christmas marks the start of Jesus’ life, but as we all know, that life was not easy. It is a story with birth, enormous pain, death and ultimately renewed life. I need the reminder that our world can and will heal as we learn to love and serve each other better.  I need to be reminded to celebrate the start of change even if the journey is just beginning. And most importantly, I need the reminder that there is a divine order that goes beyond my own understanding.

 “No more lives torn apart

 That wars would never start

 And time would heal all hearts

 And everyone would have a friend

 And right would always win

 And love would never end”

This year, it’s helped me to focus on what I’d add to my grown-up Christmas list. I’m celebrating believing that those things will one day arrive. Are you ready to celebrate the holidays? Is your heart open to the promise of healing and the promise of change? Are you inspired to serve?

What’s on your grown-up Christmas list?

 

How to up the impact of your holiday giving.

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HolidayCooking

I do a lot of cooking around the holidays. But most of my life, I hated to cook. It was a chore and something I thought I wasn’t good at. When I started dating my husband, I realized that home cooked meals were acts of service for him. Cooking for him has become a key way I remind myself that love requires action and work. I cook for him (and our family) regularly and with a joyful heart. I even dare to say I’ve gotten good at it over the years. Once you get motivated to do something, you usually get better and better with practice.

This is how I’d like you to think about your holiday giving strategy this year. You may already be feeling motived to give, but not sure how to do it in a way that has real and lasting impact. Some years you may have been content with kind acts of charity that reaped immediate rewards. These acts include things like toy drives and providing food for holiday meals. These are generous gestures and clearly quality ways to give. But this year, you may be ready to go a step further.

You may be asking yourself the following question:

  • Do I want my impact on families to last longer than one holiday?

Which may lead to you to a question like:

  • Why don’t the parents have enough money for food or toys?

Which may lead to you to a question like:

  • Why don’t the parents have jobs that provide them with adequate financial resources?

Which may lead to you to more questions like:

  • Are there quality mental health services in place to get parents employable again?
  • Can parents truly focus on employment and education if they don’t have secure housing?
  • Are there laws and systems in place so parents can earn a living wage?

This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the paths your questions could lead you to. It is just meant to show you how “peeling the onion” on needs may lead you to a giving strategy that goes beyond the holidays. It may lead you to a greater focus on social change and not just charity. You may still want to give food and toys to needy families which is great. Just give in a way that best aligns with the love and impact you hope to provide this holiday.

Happy Giving Tuesday Everyone!

I hope you will take a moment to share online how and where you give using #GivingTuesday. As a close friend of mine said this morning, “Let’s break the internet with something that matters!”

 

“Keeping it real” at Thanksgiving.

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RealThanksgiving

If you only read your Facebook feed you might forget about the Thanksgiving dinners held in the shadow of grief or in the aftermath of divorce. Television commercials seem to forget about the lonely Thanksgivings, the sad Thanksgivings and the angry Thanksgivings happening all around us. Life is not about constant happy moments and there is a good chance you have or will experience a tough Thanksgiving in your lifetime. Which presents an opportunity to “keep it real” with others that are having a difficult time this week.

As you experience the holiday of gratitude, remember to reach out to those dealing with life trials you’ve faced and overcome.  Maybe they’re making the same mistakes you’ve made. Maybe they’re struggling with the same grief process you’ve had to make peace with. For me, I’m reflecting on the times I failed myself. I’m reflecting on the times I failed to be who I hoped I was and the shame that came along with that. I’m inspired to tell someone else at that same point of despair that I understand. I’ve been where they are and the pain is not permanent.

If there is one way I’d encourage you to serve this week, it would be to lovingly open up to someone going through a challenge you uniquely understand.  Turn your gratitude into an opportunity to serve.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

The four most important ingredients in your most important recipe.

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Thanksgiving pie

This is the time of year when family recipes are anxiously awaiting their holiday arrival. Usually there are several family favorites that stand out on any Thanksgiving menu. For us it is my mother’s sweet potato pie and her baked macaroni and cheese. These recipes require a lot of labor – peeling sweet potatoes and grating cheese until our arms go numb! But we press on. We’re certain that those dishes are worth the extra effort.

I read a quote recently by Brené Brown in which she said “Love requires tenacity and grit. It’s work. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” This quote can almost sound scary, but it isn’t. It is just making clear that the ingredients of love are not things easily prepared. Sweet potatoes don’t peel themselves and the ingredients of love won’t come to you without effort.

Preparing Love’s Ingredients

  1. Vulnerability: We are starting here because vulnerability is where love begins and how it deepens. Vulnerability takes courage and it takes action. You have to dedicate time and effort to discovering and expressing your true feelings, dreams, passions and fears. You have to build the courage to show someone who you really are (not who you think they want you to be). In doing so, you bravely face potential rejection and/or judgment. Not an easy ingredient to prepare but absolutely essential in the recipe of love.
  2. Respect: Many people think respect is a feeling you have for someone. As an ingredient of love, respect is more about your actions than your feelings. Take a moment to think of someone you respect. Ask yourself, do you allow them to get their full thought out before you start speaking? Do you value their opinions enough to let it change your mind? Do you value their judgment enough to let them make choices without any of your input? If your answers to these questions are consistently “No” you may want to evaluate whether your actions are matching your feelings. Love requires that you “show” respect to those you love not that you simply “feel” it.
  3. Service: Service is all about action; it’s about work. That might not be sexy, but it is the backbone of love. You cannot love someone and be unwilling to do things for them (big and small). Regularly evaluate if your actions are helping and supporting the people you truly love.
  4. Gratitude: One of the many benefits of love is that it reminds us of our value as human beings. When someone loves us, they give us the reminder that we are special and we are worthy. When we love someone else, we are to be actively reminding them of their value. To do that task, we have to cultivate and express our gratitude for them and the things they do for us. Is there anyone you love that doesn’t know how much you value them? Tell them today.

How did I do?

Are these the four most important ingredients in the recipe of love?

Turn your thanks into giving. 70 ways to act on your gratitude.

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FallThanks

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I have to admit it; I’m one of those people that doesn’t wait until after Thanksgiving to start my holiday season. I’m singing carols and thinking about Christmas decorations already. I know it’s wrong since Thanksgiving hasn’t passed yet. I just can’t seem to help myself. I know that Thanksgiving deserves better.

Thanksgiving is a tremendous holiday marked with amazing food and thoughts of gratitude and community. If you want to put the spirit of Thanksgiving into action right now, below are 70 simple ways to get started. Why wait?

70 Ways to Live Your Gratitude

  1. Send encouragement to someone taking care of an aging parent.
  2. Rake your neighbor’s leaves.
  3. Donate coats and blankets you won’t use often.
  4. Register to be an organ donor.
  5. Be bold enough to ask for help. Let someone else experience the gift of giving.
  6. Get to know someone on a deeper level. Who did they love? What did they lose? What matters most to them?
  7. Be a connector. Introduce two people with mutual interests or career pursuits.
  8. Multiply the impact of your donations by joining a giving circle.
  9. Share this post to give others ideas on gratitude in action.
  10. Brighten a teacher’s day. Send in an unsolicited treat or thank you.
  11. Treat your spouse to an unexpected display of passion.
  12. Do online research about the distinction between charity and philanthropy.
  13. Encourage someone to share their faith with you in a place where it is normally kept quiet (work, school, etc).
  14. Grant someone the freedom to parent differently than you without judgment.
  15. Bring a neighbor an unexpected gift.
  16. Register to vote or correct your voting information.
  17. Offer an elderly pet owner peace of mind by suggesting you care for their beloved pet whenever they are unable.
  18. Choose to share something shameful or painful in your past if it will help another feel less alone.
  19. Rally around an acquaintance going through a difficult time. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected acts of love that touch us the most.
  20. Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a problem that seems hopeless.
  21. Cut a neighbor’s grass.
  22. Donate school supplies.
  23. Offer support to a grieving soul long after the funeral.
  24. Share a piece of wisdom that only comes with age.
  25. Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
  26. Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
  27. Give someone a gift you made yourself.
  28. Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
  29. Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
  30. Admit you’re biased. We all are. Facing that we have biases (racial, class, religion, etc) helps us to better address our issues and to serve more sincerely.
  31. Loan someone a book you love.
  32. Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
  33. Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
  34. Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
  35. Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
  36. Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
  37. Give someone more credit than they deserve.
  38. Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
  39. Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
  40. Fight indifference. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
  41. Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
  42. Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
  43. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
  44. Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
  45. Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
  46. Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
  47. Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
  48. Listen carefully. Many people yearn to be heard.
  49. Thank a healthcare provider for their service.
  50. Tell someone a joke.
  51. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
  52. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  53. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  54. Pray for someone.
  55. Teach someone something. Anything.
  56. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
  57. Give someone you love your undivided attention.
  58. Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
  59. Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
  60. Hug someone.
  61. Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
  62. Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
  63. Leave change in a vending machine.
  64. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  65. Thank a solider for their service.
  66. Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
  67. Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
  68. Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
  69. Serve this service blog. Send via email or social media one idea to quickly put the spirit of service into action.
  70. If you love them, tell them.

This list has been building all year.

Which ones have you done already?

Which ones do you plan to try next?

Do you really want it? Three tradeoffs you’ll have to make for a sense of community.

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Community

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child” and I’ve always loved that expression. I love it not just as a parent, but as a person that wants to be part of a village. Many of us long for the acceptance and support that comes from being a member of a broader community. Having a sense of community is also known to fuel service. Yet this sense of community has become harder to have in our modern lives. There are many reasons for that, but we can easily change some of those reasons if we want to.

Below you’ll find a few personal questions. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers – only “your” answers. They will highlight the value you place on building community in your life when faced with the tradeoffs. Your value for community may be higher than you expect. That should inspire you to make space in your life for “community” to form. Alternatively, your value may be lower than you expect. That should give you peace to live without worrying that you’re missing out on something you really want.

Privacy vs. Community

Definitions:

Privacy: The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.

Community: A feeling of connection and fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Considerations:

Building the relationships that lead to community will require sharing personal information, authentic thoughts and genuine feelings. Choosing community will reduce your privacy.

Questions:

What’s more important privacy or community? How much privacy (if any) would you be willing to give up to build a sense of community?

Self-sufficiency vs. Community

Definitions:

Self-sufficiency: The state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction for survival.

Community: A feeling of connection and fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Considerations:

Building the relationships that lead to community will require dependency on others for emotional support, but also for help with tangible tasks. Choosing community will reduce your self-sufficiency.

Questions:

What’s more important self- sufficiency or community? How much self-sufficiency (if any) would you be willing to give up to build a sense of community?

Efficiency vs. Community

Definitions:

Efficiency: The ability to accomplish a task or job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort.

Community: A feeling of connection and fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Considerations:

Building a community requires effort and time investment that is often otherwise spent completing more tangible professional or personal tasks. Choosing community may reduce your efficiency.

Questions:

What’s more important efficiency or community? How much efficiency (if any) would you be willing to give up to build a sense of community?

 

Is community worth it for you?

 

There are no givers without takers. Are you brave enough to be the taker?

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Birdsfeed

Last week, I was talking to a friend about the rare and remarkable village she has created around her family. She has several friends and neighbors that play an active role in making her life work – like picking up her son from school when work meetings run long. If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are very willing to help out others and be the “giver”. But are you willing to ask for help yourself? Are you willing to be the “taker”?

Being a “taker” is a very important role in building your own sense of community and encouraging service as a way of life. Asking for help gives others opportunities to be the “giver”. And by being the “taker” you give your relationships opportunities to grow. You set the tone of support and community. It is not the giver that starts the chain of love. It’s the taker.

Many people struggle with the vulnerability of being takers. This is just natural. But if you’re brave enough to be a taker, here’s how to get started.

    1. Ask anyway. Start with a task you could use help on, but can easily take care of yourself if support is unavailable. For example, ask a neighbor to get your mail when you’re away instead of having it held at the post office. This has to be a conscious choice to ask for help even when another more self-sufficient option is clearly available. Don’t miss the opportunity to build community. Consciously, be the taker.
    2. Dare to be in someone’s debt. Be brave enough to owe someone. It sounds like a small thing, but fear of being in someone’s debt is why many of us never ask for help. Push through the fear and don’t obsess about how or when you will repay debts. Confidently, be the taker.
    3. Share service. It feels good when you know you’ve helped someone. Let someone else have that feeling too. If you think of it, always wanting to be the giver is a bit selfish because it hogs all the positive rewards that come from service. Kindly, be the taker.

 

Are you brave enough to be the taker?