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?

 

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.

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?

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?

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?

 

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?

Light

Imagine this:

Scene 1: It’s nighttime and the lights are completely off in your house. You turn on a flashlight to navigate your way to the kitchen. The light from the flashlight prominently cuts through the darkness. There is no missing that the flashlight is on.

Scene 2: It’s daytime. The windows are uncovered and bright light is shining throughout the entire house. You turn on a flashlight to navigate your way to the kitchen. The light from the flashlight seamlessly blends with the bright light of the room. You can barely tell that the flashlight is on.

In which scenario is the flashlight playing a more important role?

BUT what if…

What if the goal was to see the clearest path to the kitchen?

In which scenario would that be easier to do?

What if you needed to know what color the flashlight was?

In which scenario might you have noticed?

 

These two scenes are meant to mirror our experience with the people we choose to love and the company we keep. We may feel more important in Scene 1, but we thrive more in Scene 2. Imagine that you are the flashlight in Scene 1 and your close friends represent the darkness in the room. When your friends are down in life, down on themselves, or generally a downer to be with “their darkness” allows your light to be much more noticeable. You’re the bright spot in a dark room and that might feel good at times. You’re much more significant in this scenario.

In Scene 2, imagine you’re the flashlight surrounded by close friends that are succeeding in their life pursuits, growing more confident every day, or generally wonderful to be around. In the company of this group, your light is less distinct. You blend in even when shining your brightest.

As servers, it is important to be there for people in hard times. But it’s also important to surround ourselves with positive people and to know how to celebrate their successes. At times their achievements may surpass what we are destined to accomplish. Still we know that our lives are important just the same. We even have additional impact by being part of their journey. I’m blessed to have many “bright lights” in my life. I’d be lying if I said I was never intimidated by them. I am because they’re amazing. Still, I’d rather stand in their shadows than standout in a dark room. I know it is the power of their lights that will show me the most beautiful version of myself and my clearest path to service.

Are you comfortable standing in bright light?

Explosion

This weekend my husband and I had some extended time with a young man that we consider to be a part of our family. He wasn’t brought into our lives by birth, but he was bought into our hearts for a purpose. He’s going to start a revolution and he’ll need our support.

When I picked this title I thought I better make sure I knew exactly what the definition of revolution was, so I looked it up. Here’s what I found:

Revolution: A forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.

At the ripe old age of 19, I see the spark of revolution in this young man. His particular revolution involves overthrowing the social order that views almost anything that is synonymous with the inner-city as “hood” and “ghetto” and therefore inferior. This is a very complex issue. Like most revolutionary campaigns it will be hard work and require a massive commitment to service.

I’ve never been someone to start revolutions, but I think it’s important to support them. Revolutions don’t just make things better, they change the world. They introduce concepts and systems that were previously off our radars all together. Revolutionary people are often very passionate about service, but they need to be served as well. Supporting them fuels the fire that sets the revolution aflame. Here are three things to consider when offering support to a revolutionary thinker in your life.

  1. Don’t be afraid of crazy. Try to let your mind think beyond our current realties. There was a time, not that long ago, when the internet did not exist. Even democracy was once a brand new concept. Were these things crazy at the time? Yes. Were their founders crazy? Yes. Would you have been able to support them?
  2. Embrace naivety. In most cases being naïve can be a detriment, but in a revolution it’s a strength. People that are well grounded and informed often get deadlocked by the complexity of finding a reasonable solution. But the naive get right to action. They start trying because they believe they can make a difference. And they do, because they are actually working on it. We can offer them wisdom, but it’s important not to crush the innocence that’s fueling the revolution.
  3. Be a safe place. Believing passionately in something (anything) opens you up to examination and judgment. Grant them your unconditional acceptance. Make sure they know that if they make mistakes along the way, they will be learning moments. Let them know that any learning moments will just make them better prepared to serve.

Are you starting a revolution or supporting a revolution?

Risk

I resigned from my job this week. It feels odd to even be sharing that. But this may be the best place to do it. I often feel as if we’re on an intimate journey together. So I want to be transparent about what my journey looks like right now. I hope you’ll do the same.

I’m leaving a good job. I knew where my career path was leading. And I felt supported. I don’t take lightly what a blessing it was to have that job (or any job).

The decision is made, but it still feels risky and sometimes foolish. That is why this post is about the concept of risk. Risk is on my mind. To me, risk feels like a series of questions that begs each and every one of us to answer. If we don’t take time to contemplate the questions, our lives will still reflect the answers. Even in the most conservative of gambles we reveal our relationship with risk. Ask yourself:

  • What should I be willing to risk?
  • When is the right time to take a risk?
  • Why should I be willing to take a risk?
  • Who is worth taking a risk on?
  • Am I strong enough to risk failing?
  • Do I have enough faith to lean on when I’m afraid?

There is one distinct pattern I’ve noticed about the readers here – you instinctively know that you are needed in this world. You know that you have powerful gifts inside and a destiny to follow. Some of you definitely know what your gifts are already. Others are just beginning your journey to reveal them and walk into your purpose. I’m somewhere in the middle.

Either way, the journey to live a life of service requires that we get comfortable with risk. Whether that is risking emotional vulnerability or risking financial security. Risk takes many forms and what’s right for me definitely may not be right for you. But whenever you feel the pull of purpose and the greater call to serve, you will likely feel the pang of risk. And you may hear risk’s questions being whispered all around. I hope you will take the time to deliberately and thoughtfully answer them for yourself.

What are you risking right now?

Truth

I’m late getting this post out because I spent my writing time having a firm conversation with my soon-to-be 12 year-old son. It was a conversation that almost all parents have at some point. I’ll call it the “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” talk. Often how we say things makes a greater impression than the words and points themselves. By the time we reach adulthood, we tend to be well aware of this fact. We may actively try to monitor things like tone, body language and facial expressions in hopes that our communications will be received more favorably. This is critically important because it’s almost impossible to serve others if we aren’t able to connect and communicate well.

I was passionate about explaining this to my son. I pointed out the visual cues that revealed his mixed emotions. And I explained how those visual cues created more hostility in me than his words alone warranted. But I’ve been thinking about it more since then and in hindsight I think I missed an opportunity to teach him something additional. Correcting his tone or body language is important when showing respect, but it can also lead to suppressing the truth. Covering things up will make his conversations more palatable, but true emotions have a way of being felt and known even if not fully observed or expressed.

When I revisit this talk with him again, I’m going to do a better job of pointing out that he should also try to identify and deal with how he feels. Because directly dealing with his feelings will actually help him manage them better. It will also allow for a more open and honest exchange. I’m going to encourage him to examine his emotions and intentions even if it’s still appropriate to display them more calmly. I need him to know that tone and deliver definitely matter. But if the relationship matters – the truth about how he’s feeling matters too. So I want him to have some tools to identify his feelings because sometimes he won’t even be sure what they are.

Feelings that speak loudly

So these are the 10 questions I’m going to encourage him to ask himself. The truth behind any of these answers is often hard to hide. I’m sure he won’t remember them all but I hope he’ll try one or two. They should help him come to a conversation knowing what he’s feeling and if he’s being genuine or not.

  1. Am I angry with this person?
  2. Has this person hurt my feelings?
  3. Do I like this person?
  4. Do I trust this person?
  5. Have I tried to see their point of view?
  6. Do they remind me of anyone that may have hurt me in the past?
  7. Does this situation remind me of anything that’s happened before?
  8. Am I open to changing my mind?
  9. Am I willing to hurt this relationship to make my point?
  10. What is the outcome I’m hoping for?

What is missing from this list?