Christians, Let’s Get Back to Basics

You know, sometimes I wonder how often Christ rolled his eyes at his followers while he was here on Earth. I imagine that he was imminently patient with the frustrations of dealing with people who had spent three solid years with him, listening to everything he said, but were still just not getting it. But there is no sin in a sigh as you have to restate the same things over and over, an occasional head shake, maybe pinching the bridge of the nose, or even an eye roll. He was, after all, human.

He tried repeatedly to simplify things for them (and for us). He used parables in the hopes that the important things would click, and because he knew people have a tendency to remember stories far better than lectures. And he tried to break things down to basics. Probably the best example is this: love God, love your neighbor. Three of the four gospels have a version of this quote (John is a little different from the other three, but I’m not gonna get into that–it’s for Biblical scholars). Bear with me as I give you three copies of the same fundamental idea.

First, a little background for the passage. A teacher of the law asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. Now we don’t know much about this guy other than that he was a Bible scholar (which for him, would have been the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Old Testament) and the books of the prophets). It says that he “tested” Jesus with his question. We don’t really know what his motivation was; it could be that he was a true seeker, and wanted to know if Jesus measured up to the hype, or that he was trying to trick Jesus into some objectionable offense (this was a pretty common occurrence). But it doesn’t really matter why he asked the question. Jesus used it as a teachable moment, one I’d dare say was one of his most important. Here are the three versions of his response, in the NIV (please don’t be upset if I didn’t use your favorite translation–I’ve read lots, and they really do come out the same; you can read yours if you prefer). Note that in the Luke quote, Jesus turned the question back to the enquirer, and the words are his, but then Jesus said he answered correctly.

Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mark 12:30-31

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Luke 10:25-27

27 He {the scholar} answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

Both of these quotes come from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5[a] and Leviticus 19:18[b], if you want to look them up). While we modern day people think of the commandments as “the big ten”, he was talking about far more than that. There was a huge list of laws, some applicable to the entire nation of Israel, some specifically for the Levites (who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation), and some even more specifically for the Levite priests. But with all those rules to choose from, Jesus felt these two were the most important, and they even managed to capture the essence of all those other laws.

Basically, Jesus said, “There is too much, let me sum up.”

If you boiled everything down to its most basic roots, you’d have two categories in which all the other laws fit. Loving God involves not worshiping other gods (even things or people we treat as gods). It also includes a desire to please God by behaving as he wants us to behave. And the most important of those behaviours, what Jesus said was the biggest thing in all of the laws and guidelines God set out, was “love your neighbor as yourself”.

And what happens next? The scholar asks what all of us want to know: Who is my neighbor?  That’s right, I want to know exactly whom I have to be nice to. Jesus follows up with one of the most recognizable parables in scripture, the story of the Good Samaritan. The point he’s trying to get across to the people is this: everyone is your neighbor.

Wait, do you mean the meth addict in the line at the pharmacy? The gay couple sitting together at the coffee shop? The single mom on welfare who’s pregnant again? The girl with tattoos and facial piercings who visited the church last weekend? The unemployed man begging for change at the entrance to the shopping plaza?

Yep. All of the above. And everyone else too.

But don’t I get to decide whether they’re worthy?

Sorry, nope. That’s not your job.

There is absolutely no encouragement to do so. In fact, one of the primary points of the good Samaritan story is how lowly the Israelites thought Samaritans were (for cultural reasons), but HE was the only one who was a good neighbor.

Read the next part of the passage: (from the account in Luke)

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he {the scholar} wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I think it’s kinda funny that Luke added “the scholar wanted to justify himself”. Common disease of the human race.

And after the story, Jesus asked him who he thought was the neighbor. The (potentially imperious) student of the scriptures knew the right answer. Even if he didn’t like it, it was glaringly obvious. And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus said, Don’t be like the priest, who was supposed to be one of the highest spiritual leaders of all Israel. Don’t be like the Levite (the tribe from which the priests were selected) who were in charge of being support staff for the priests, and caring for the temple and the other spiritual needs of the nation. Pause and think on that for a second. Don’t be like the “spiritual” people, but instead be like one of the lowliest outcasts, and put someone else before yourself. Because the “spiritual” people refused to do so.

The Samaritan didn’t say, “He shouldn’t have been walking through such a rough neighborhood.”

He didn’t say, “He must have been up to no good, or he wouldn’t have been here.”

He didn’t say, “He doesn’t deserve my help. He’s probably in this predicament because of bad choices, and now he’s suffering the consequences.”

There was no victim blaming anywhere to be found in this story.

He didn’t even say what I think might have been most understandable: “His people and my people have hated each other for a long time, and I doubt one of them would help one of us. Why should I?”

It just says, when he saw him, he took pity on him. I think an even better translation of that word, in the context of the passage, is that he had compassion.

At that moment, it didn’t matter how or why the man was in the condition he was in. It didn’t matter what his race, upbringing, or fundamental beliefs might have been. All that mattered was that the Samaritan saw a need and did everything he could to help. He had compassion. In fact, he went above and beyond. He not only lifted the guy out of the disastrous situation he was in, he made sure there was enough money to help him recover fully and get back on his feet. He didn’t offer his help based on whether the man deserved it, or earned it after the fact, or groveled at his feet in thanks for his marvelous generosity. He also didn’t let the innkeeper bear the expense of a decision that he had made. He offered to cover any additional expenses the next time he was around. He lived out his convictions to the fullest. He put his money where his heart was.

So I ask you: Is this how Christians behave? Is this what the rest of the world sees when they look at people who claim Christ’s name as part of their identity? Sadly, it has been far too often not the case. We definitely have a tendency to be more like the priest and the Levite, turning our heads to people in need. And it seems to have gotten even worse lately. This is something that desperately needs to change. If the majority of non-Christians see the majority of Christians acting in ways that are the exact opposite of what Christ called us to do, in fact, the opposite of what he said was one of the most important concepts of all, it’s no wonder there is animosity towards us.

So how can we turn this around? I truly believe it starts with each individual. If I claim that Christ is important to me, then my behaviour should reflect that. I should be willing to reach out to those in need, regardless of whether their need is a result of their own mistakes, or whether their beliefs align with mine. All of the people. I should be prayerfully considering how God can use my own special gifts and abilities to show his love to a hurting world. I should be working on me, not dictating how others should be spending their own money and gifts. I’ll ponder on this, and I ask that you do as well, and next time we’ll delve a little more deeply into specific instances, because there are so many people in need in this world.

I Am Heartbroken for My Country

It’s less about the outcome of the election and more about how we’ve been responding to that outcome. At this point, it doesn’t matter much whether you voted Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, Little Green Men, or no one at all. The fact of the matter remains, Donald Trump will be our president. But whether we are elated or distraught, the thing I think we’ve most forgotten how to do is truly listen to one another. I was desperately hoping that after the election we would start to get back to a minimal sense of unity, as is usually the case after elections, but it seems most people are only interested in talking over one another instead of listening and carrying out a truly productive dialog.

The problem is, fear is one of the most powerful motivators there is. And people who have been whipped up into a frenzy of fear tend to make irrational, emotionally biased decisions.

The people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are frustrated because so many white people aren’t truly listening to their concerns and grievances. They feel marginalized because saying “all lives matter” in response doesn’t acknowledge that there is a definite issue that needs to be dealt with. If we can’t understand why the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated so strongly with so many people, we’re never going to be able to address the issues that brought it about. While there are plenty of white people who have lived their entire lives in poverty, living in dangerous neighborhoods, they still don’t fully comprehend how it feels to know that you have a much higher chance of being shot and killed if your skin is dark, or what it’s like to be “guilty until proven innocent”. It’s even harder to understand for white people who have grown up in middle class or affluent neighborhoods.

The police force is frustrated by the public perception that they are bullies, and they are worried every day that they might be sacrificing their lives in the line of duty. If we can’t understand the fear that motivates policemen to respond to threats of violence with violence instead of deescalation, we will never be able to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality that has resulted in so many wrongful deaths recently.

The LGBTQIA community is frustrated because they are being discriminated against with very specific, confrontational legislation, and bullied or attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If we can’t understand why people with a different sexuality or gender identity are genuinely afraid for their safety and sometimes even their lives, and that all most of them really want is to be accepted members of society, we are not ever going to be able to be allies and make sure that they are treated with fairness and respect.

Muslims, and indeed anyone who even looks like they might be Muslim or from a “terrorist country” are legitimately afraid for the safety of their families. There is still so much residual distrust and suspicion haunting us since 9/11. We need to understand, acknowledge, and attend to the fears that they have, as well as the fear that non-Muslims have about another potential terrorist attack.

The Christian right is frustrated because they fear they are losing ground on what they see as moral issues: abortion, gay marriage, etc. I’ll talk about Christians and the culture war in another post. Or several. Probably several.

Women are afraid that our country indulging a man who has repeatedly disrespected women will send the message that appalling “locker room talk”, sexual harassment, and even worse behaviours are perfectly acceptable, even expected.  Young boys will grow up seeing women as objects instead of equals.

People on both sides of the gun control issue are frustrated with, well, the adamant stance of the people on the other side. If we don’t even attempt to understand the fear that motivates both sides, we’re never going to be able to meet in the middle.

I hope you’re starting to understand what I’m getting at. Each of the major issues I’ve listed has at least some element of basic fear involved, and there are many more that I didn’t list. The thing about fear is that it’s hard to overcome. Many of these fears are quite justified; some, in your mind, may not seem justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that some people do feel them. We can’t really dictate to people what they are and are not allowed to be afraid of, nor should we want to try. It’s also pretty counterproductive to tell someone that their fear is ridiculous, unnecessary, or overreacting. That just shows more clearly that we’re not really listening to their concerns. If we don’t come together, acknowledge that there are some major issues that need to be dealt with, and start working toward some resolutions, we are going to continue to have ghastly, horrific, divisive political campaigns like the one we just endured. We have to realize that the majority of Americans are not acting out of hate, but out of fear. Unfortunately, fear has been responsible for some particularly reprehensible actions (consult the annals of history). The thing is, it just doesn’t work to tell someone that they shouldn’t be afraid, or that they shouldn’t act in response to their fear. It’s part of the human condition.

But we’ve forgotten how to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. In fact, most of the time it seems like we’ve forgotten how to, or perhaps lost the will to even try. It’s so much easier to click share on that smug article gloating about the outcome of the election, or the one bemoaning how horrible it is, and that it’s the end of our country. We’d rather lash out at our opponents, instead of remembering that ultimately, we’re all in this together. While it’s true that there are certainly some extremists on both sides of every issue, the majority of people are somewhere in the middle, in spite of the way it seemed during the election. This is somewhat easier to recognize when we view people as individuals rather than groups (i.e., those people), and if we try to refrain from using exceptionally inflammatory language like calling one another evil, Hitler, Antichrist, etc.

I’d like to propose something. If you see something on social media that makes you feel affronted, afraid, defensive, defiant, incensed, indignant, offended, or outraged, stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Pause and try to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, and why you feel that way. Then, take a second to fact-check and make sure that the objectionable story, article, or statement is founded in truth. Please, please do not pass on misinformation or opinion pieces as fact, or worse yet, pass off satire as truth. Next, take a moment or two to try to see where the other person is coming from. Sometimes this is the hardest part of all. There are simply some aspects of another person’s state of mind that we can’t ever truly comprehend. But at least give it a shot, for the sake of the country. Then, consider what you’d like to accomplish by passing something on. Are you trying to help people understand one another, or are you really just trying to engender outrage at the actions of a few unrepresentative obnoxious individuals. Are you pursuing unity, or are you deliberately encouraging division?

The comedian Craig Ferguson, former host of The Late, Late Show, has a stand-up routine themed “Does This Need to be Said?”. I think we would all be well-served to try this approach as much as possible; it boils down to this:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I might even add a corollary: Am I using the most effective, least divisive language and tone that I can, while still getting my point across?

Regardless of whether you were for or against Hillary, if we want to Make America Great Again, we have to acknowledge that we are Stronger Together. United we stand, divided we fall. Those are not trite platitudes, it is an absolute necessity, especially if we are to surmount the challenges that will face us from without.

We’ve got some pretty ugly tears in the fabric of our country. Let’s start the process of mending them, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.

With utmost hope for our restoration,

Karen

A Ray of Sunshine Instead of a Rain Cloud

Let’s talk about cooking for a bit, shall we?  Imagine a big pot of your favorite comfort food slowly simmering on the stove.  It might be stew, or chili, or potato soup, or gumbo, or veggie soup.  You’ve been working on it all day, and you just taste tested it; it may be your best batch ever.  Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, perfect blend of ingredients.  You can’t wait to sit down and have a nice big serving, maybe two.  But then someone comes along and throws in a big chunk of rancid meat.  Or a tiny vial of poison.  Or a ladle of sewage.  Suddenly you’re not so apt on eating that perfect bowl of comfort food.

There are a lot of phrases we use to symbolize this idea:  one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, a little yeast leavens the whole batch, etc.  While I’m not sure it’s quite as absolute as my above example (would you just scoop out the offending item and eat a bowl anyway?), I truly believe that even little bits of negative garbage can have a drastic effect on our lives.  And if it happens often, it becomes a real problem.

If we surround ourselves with people who put us down, put others down, or put themselves down, we’re going to end up being down.  That’s just how it works.  It’s even worse if WE’RE the person putting everyone down, including ourselves.  Think about the things that come out of your mouth (or end up as your Facebook status): I hate my boss; he/she is horrible.  I can’t stand so-and-so; they’re so intolerable.  I hate my body; I wish x-y-z was different/prettier/better.   The reason the country is being ruined is because of (insert least favorite politician here).  If you find that statements like these outweigh more positive statements, you may want to rethink that choice.

Do you really want to be the one who chucks poison or sewage in everyone else’s stew?  Do you want to continue to throw those things into your own stew?

Perhaps your boss IS horrible.  But if you do in fact have a boss, that means you’re employed.  And while circumstances are not an excuse for being horrible to another human being, you don’t know your boss’s back story.  There may be something going on that is consuming his life right now, or something in his past that has left him like that.

Maybe your body is not exactly how you’d like it to be.  Stop focusing on what you hate about it.  Change the things you can (and be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight), and stop whining about the things you can’t change.  Find something about your body that you really like, and think of that when another self-berating thought pops up.

I know everyone gets sick sometimes, and I don’t have the least bit of problem with the occasional, “Ugh, this illness is really kicking my butt” statement.  But if every single post is whining about every single ache and pain, people begin to wonder if anything good ever happens to you.

And I said I was pretty much going to avoid politics on this blog, but I have seen so much negative garbage lately, it makes me ill.  I have seriously considered “un-friending” some people just because their status updates are nothing but constant political poison.  Regardless of your political affiliations, there are two things you need to get through your skull:  one person cannot single-handedly destroy our nation, nor can one person single-handedly bring it out of the difficulties we’re in.  Nobody has that much power.  If you disagree, you were clearly not paying attention in government/economics in high school.  I invite you to educate yourself–there’s this really cool resource called the internet that’s great for that sort of thing.  I might recommend that you avoid sites that pat you on the back for spewing poison, though.  That’s not really going to help the issue.  Nor is it likely to educate you.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy habit to break.  You have to completely retrain your mind.  And hijack your mouth, most of the time.  And then you’ve got to nail those internal thoughts as well.  Like I’ve said before, you can’t control when a negative thought pops into your brain, but you CAN decide how long it gets to stay there, and whether it makes it out of your mouth (or onto your FB page).

While I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution (not really my thing), I do intend to continue working to improve myself in this area.  I have a ways to go yet, but I think progress has been made.  It’s very important to me that I am a source of positive input to my friends and family instead of being a constant rain cloud.  Excuse my Pollyanna moment for the day, but I’d rather be a ray of sunshine.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite episode of Doctor Who:  

The Doctor, after Amy is heartbroken that they couldn’t save a friend: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.  We definitely added to his pile of good things.”

May I always be mindful of whether I am adding to others’ piles of good things, and may I not add to their pile of bad things.

How to Stay Healthier This Winter

On the heels of the nastiest storm we’ve seen in quite a while, we may be bracing ourselves for a pretty harsh winter.  To minimize our chances of getting sick, we know that we should wash our hands often, try to avoid people who are sick, and take our vitamins (because no matter how much we TRY to eat well, it’s likely we’re still missing something).  We might supplement with vitamin D and a few others, or try to boost our immune systems with Echinacea and zinc.

But how much does our attitude affect our health?  This article on the Mayo Clinic site discusses how positive thinking can have a dramatic effect on your health.

How do you react when you first start feeling like you’re coming down with something?  Do you try to stay positive that you might have caught it before it got too bad?  Or do you bemoan how terrible you feel, and how certain you are that it’s only going to get worse?

I’m not trying to say that positive thinking can keep you from ever getting sick.  A virus is a virus, and sometimes they just get us.  That’s what they’re designed to do, of course.  But keeping a generally positive attitude can do several things for you.  First, it gives a boost to your immune system, thus making it harder for the invader to get a foothold in the first place.  Second, it allows that heightened immune system to fight the invader more effectively and evict it sooner if it actually does manage to get through your defenses.  Third, it makes the recovery time more pleasant for you and those around you.

Positive people also generally tend to be kinder to themselves and take better care of themselves.  They eat better, get up off the couch and get moving more (but NOT obsessively exercise), and make healthier life choices (such as not smoking).  All of those things are certainly going to have a positive impact on your overall health.

“But I’m just not naturally a positive person!  I can’t be Pollyannna all the time!”  I call bull.  While some people do seem to have a naturally positive attitude, and some seem to be Eeyore, when it comes right down to it, most of your attitude is a conditioned, trained response.  Which means that if you WANT to, you CAN un-learn your bad habits.  Again, this may come easier to some people than to others.  But I truly believe that everyone can improve their outlook if they are willing to give it some work.

It all begins with self-talk.  We internalize everything that happens to us.  Those things that pop into our heads, unbidden, are often not very positive.  The stuff we say to ourselves has far more impact on us than anything that comes from outside.  True, we may be hearing bad stuff about ourselves from the outside, but it’s not until we believe those things to be true about ourselves and beat ourselves up about them that they really begin to harm us.

We may not have much control over the fleeting negative thoughts that pop into our minds without invitation, but we certainly CAN control how much we dwell on them.  We can decide whether we kick them to the curb immediately or allow them to take up permanent residence in our thoughts.

When faced with the thought “I am a horrible person because of X”, we can choose whether we agree with that mental negative and berate ourselves for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or we can choose to contradict that thought with this:  “Yes, I may have made x mistake, but I have also done x, y, z, etc positive things”.  Counter the “Oh, I’m so miserable because I have this disease or that illness, or I’m just sick all the time, or I have no motivation or willpower or blah, blah, blah” with “no, I don’t like where I am right now, but I don’t have to stay here forever”.  Temporary illness will pass, and lifelong illness can be dealt with.  Sometimes life sucks.  It is what it is. But there are also plenty of things that don’t suck.  You can choose to constantly complain about all the suckiness, or make the best you can of a bad situation.

As for the motivation and willpower thing, ask yourself if you really don’t like that aspect of your character.  If it’s not something that really bothers you, then quit bemoaning it.  If it IS something that you don’t like about yourself, then CHANGE IT.  Don’t keep talking about how much you don’t like it.

It’s not going to happen overnight.  It will not be easy to overcome years of conditioning.  We may have fallen into the negative self-talk habit so often that we aren’t really aware of it any more.  But we can retrain ourselves out of even the most ingrained of bad habits.  Is it going to take a lot of work?  Probably.  But it’s so worth it.  Your health and well-being depend on it.

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget

This is another great post by Becoming Minimalist.  It helps to redirect the focus towards what really matters in life, not stuff, but people and our relationships.

Read on…

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

I have countless holiday memories. Most of them center around faith, family, and traditions.

Very few childhood memories actually include the gifts I received. I distinctly remember the year that I got a blue dirt bike, the evening my brother and I received a Nintendo, and opening socks every year from my grandparents. But other than that, my gift-receiving memories are pretty sparse. Which got me thinking… what type of gifts can we give to our children that they will never forget? What gifts will truly impact their lives and change them forever?

To that end, here is an alphabetical list of 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.

  1. Affirmation. Sometimes one simple word of affirmation can change an entire life. So make sure your children know how much you appreciate them. And then, remind them every chance you get.
  2. Art. With the advent of the Internet, everyone who wants to create… can. The world just needs more people who want to…
  3. Challenge. Encourage your child to dream big dreams. In turn, they will accomplish more than they thought possible… and probably even more than you thought possible.
  4. Compassion/Justice. Life isn’t fair. It never will be – there are just too many variables. But when a wrong has been committed or a playing field can be leveled, I want my child to be active in helping to level it.
  5. Contentment. The need for more is contagious. Therefore, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is an appreciation for being content with what they have… but not with who they are. (I think I know what he meant by this, that we should strive to continually improve ourselves, but I’m not sure I liked the word choice here.  Our kids need to learn to love themselves just as they are, even though they know there’s always room for improvement and growth.  We just don’t want to encourage stagnation.)
  6. Curiosity. Teach your children to ask questions about who, what, where, how, why, and why not. “Stop asking so many questions” are words that should never leave a parents’ mouth.
  7. Determination. One of the greatest determining factors in one’s success is the size of their will. How can you help grow your child’s today?
  8. Discipline. Children need to learn everything from the ground-up including appropriate behaviors, how to get along with others, how to get results, and how to achieve their dreams. Discipline should not be avoided or withheld. Instead, it should be consistent and positive.
  9. Encouragement. Words are powerful. They can create or they can destroy. The simple words that you choose to speak today can offer encouragement and positive thoughts to another child. Or your words can send them further into despair. So choose them carefully.
  10. Faithfulness to your Spouse. Faithfulness in marriage includes more than just our bodies. It also includes our eyes, mind, heart, and soul. Guard your sexuality daily and devote it entirely to your spouse. Your children will absolutely take notice.
  11. Finding Beauty. Help your children find beauty in everything they see… and in everyone they meet.
  12. Generosity. Teach your children to be generous with your stuff so that they will become generous with theirs.
  13. Honesty/Integrity. Children who learn the value and importance of honesty at a young age have a far greater opportunity to become honest adults. And honest adults who deal truthfully with others tend to feel better about themselves, enjoy their lives more, and sleep better at night.
  14. Hope. Hope is knowing and believing that things will get better and improve. It creates strength, endurance, and resolve. And in the desperately difficult times of life, it calls us to press onward.
  15. Hugs and Kisses. I once heard the story of a man who told his 7-year old son that he had grown too old for kisses. I tear up every time I think of it. Know that your children are never too old to receive physical affirmation of your love for them.
  16. Imagination. If we’ve learned anything over the past 20 years, it’s that life is changing faster and faster with every passing day. The world tomorrow looks nothing like the world today. And the people with imagination are the ones not just living it, they are creating it.
  17. Intentionality. I believe strongly in intentional living and intentional parenting. Slow down, consider who you are, where you are going, and how to get there. And do the same for each of your children.
  18. Your Lap. It’s the best place in the entire world for a book, story, or conversation. And it’s been right in front of you the whole time.
  19. Lifelong Learning. A passion for learning is different from just studying to earn a grade or please teachers. It begins in the home. So read, ask questions, analyze, and expose. In other words, learn to love learning yourself.
  20. Love. …but the greatest of these is love.
  21. Meals Together. Meals provide unparalleled opportunity for relationship, the likes of which can not be found anywhere else. So much so, that a family that does not eat together does not grow together.
  22. Nature. Children who learn to appreciate the world around them take care of the world around them. As a parent, I am frequently asking my kids to keep their rooms inside the house neat, clean, and orderly. Shouldn’t we also be teaching them to keep their world outside neat, clean, and orderly?
  23. Opportunity. Kids need opportunities to experience new things so they can find out what they enjoy and what they are good at. And contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to require much money.
  24. Optimism. Pessimists don’t change the world. Optimists do.
  25. Peace. On a worldwide scale, you may think this is out of our hands. But in relation to the people around you, this is completely within your hands… and that’s a darn good place to start.
  26. Pride. Celebrate the little things in life. After all, it is the little accomplishments in life that become the big accomplishments.
  27. Room to Make mistakes. Kids are kids. That’s what makes them so much fun… and so desperately in need of your patience. Give them room to experiment, explore, and make mistakes.
  28. Self-Esteem. People who learn to value themselves are more likely to have self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. As a result, they are more likely to become adults who respect their values and stick to them… even when no one else is.
  29. Sense of Humor. Laugh with your children everyday… for your sake and theirs.
  30. Spirituality. Faith elevates our view of the universe, our world, and our lives. We would be wise to instill into our kids that they are more than just flesh and blood taking up space. They are also made of mind, heart, soul, and will. And decisions in their life should be based on more than just what everyone else with flesh and blood is doing.
  31. Stability. A stable home becomes the foundation on which children build the rest of their lives. They need to know their place in the family, who they can trust, and who is going to be there for them. Don’t keep changing those things.
  32. Time. The gift of time is the one gift you can never get back or take back. So think carefully about who (or what) is getting yours.
  33. Undivided Attention. Maybe this imagery will be helpful: Disconnect to Connect.
  34. Uniqueness. What makes us different is what makes us special. Uniqueness should not be hidden. It should be proudly displayed for all the world to see, appreciate, and enjoy.
  35. A Welcoming Home. To know that you can always come home is among the sweetest and most life-giving assurances in all the world. Is your home breathing life into your child?

Of course, none of these gifts are on sale at your local department store. But, I think that’s the point.

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially.  In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us.  With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds.  I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing.  But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November.  Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.

I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.

I’d like to make two points here:  First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity.  Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.  All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much.  Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.

Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth.  If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family?  My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity.  But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.

So try to go though your coming days with this in mind.  Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper.  Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while.  Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend.  And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations.  A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable.  After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?

Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!

The Video Every Mom Must Watch

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/31/the-video-every-mom-must-watch_n_4181007.html

This video is short, and it’s probably not anything we haven’t already heard.  It’s just that us moms need to be constantly reminded that we ARE doing something right, even  when we’re beating ourselves up about everything we’re doing wrong.   Don’t give up out there.  Our little ones aren’t keeping a tally of our shortcomings, they’re loving us just as we are.  Hopefully we’re doing the same for them.   And we’re their heroes, ladies.  Let that sink in for a moment.  And take heart.