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Christmas Eve Musings: Creating Kindness in our world

24 Dec


Many of us this Christmas season have had the shootings that occurred in Connecticut on our mind.  When I first read about the shooting at the Elementary school I went through a variety of emotions that day.  I started out angry at the shooter, and then real deep sorrow for the victim’s families, and then came fear for the Nation that we live in.  I found  myself fearful for my own husband (who is a teacher), and also hesitant about the public schooling system for my own children.  As all of these emotions were taking toll on me throughout the day I  silently reflected and began to wonder if there was anything positive I could take from any of it.  And that’s the first time throughout the day that I began to feel compassion for the shooter.  I began to wonder about his life and what miserable things might have taken place to get him to that point in his life.  I began to wonder if I had known him in high school, would I have reached out to him?

And then my mind took me to one of my favorite books that has changed my life forever.  It’s called The Message and it ends with the most powerful message on the importance of loving and serving everyone around us–even complete strangers; because, really we are all more connected than we think and each act of kindness has an effect with no known end.  For instance…let’s say you are checking out at the grocery store and you notice the checker appears a little unhappy.  You approach the check out with the most happy demeanor and compliment her as you have a pleasant conversation.  You then hand her a chocolate bar that you just purchase and let her know that you bought it with her in mind in hopes that she have a wonderful day.  Not only does this effect the checker and future people who come into contact with her, but you also leave a little bit more cheerful having made her day.  This “ripple” that was created from one small act of kindness could potentially keep “rippling” and effect hundreds of people that day as everyone tries a little harder to show kindness.  In the book that I mentioned, this family goes on a “service vacation” with the intent of spending their family vacation in search of ways they can serve their community.  It’s a powerful story and it led to me going on my own “service vacation.”  But one of the greatest things I learned from this is that you don’t have to travel to find people who need some love and compassion–they are all around us; and that is how I feel we can change our nation.  As we increase love, compassion, and kind acts that occur nationwide, we also decrease violence, hate and anger.  And yes, one person can make a profound difference!

When my husband and I got engaged, one of the biggest things we discussed that was of large importance to us was that we teach our children to fall in love with serving other people.  If we heard of someone who needed our help we wanted to make sure we take our children along with us and let them feel what it feels like to influence another human being in small but kind ways.  It takes a new pair of eyes to start to see these kinds of opportunities, but here are a few ideas we brainstormed to get started:

1.  Always have gifts wrapped and ready.  These can be small and inexpensive, but if you have them ready you will more readily find opportunities to give them out.  You never know when you will come upon someone who needs just a little boost to their day, and a small gift from a stranger could be the perfect fit!  My neighbor once told a story of a teenager rear-ending him and what a mess the teenager girl was in and she pondered what her parents would do when they found out.  He pulled one of his pre-wrapped gifts from his trunk, and comforted her with the words, “we all have bad days occasionally, here…I hope this helps.”  This man could have been angry but he understood that human beings are far more important than our material possessions and I will never forget that story.

2.  Make up holidays as a family as an excuse to serve others.  “Mailman Appreciation Day” or “First Responder’s Day” are fun ways to help the children appreciate those that render invaluable services to our community.  Write cards or make cookies and deliver them as a family.  Imagine the difference it could make for the mailman when he goes to give you mail and finds a gift just for him waiting in your mailbox.  Everyone enjoys being appreciated.

3.  Teach your children to love and respect the elderly.  Once in my teens I went to an assisted living center with a youth group and was surprised to see how many of my friends and peers felt uncomfortable around the elderly.  Quite a few of them were glued to the wall and refused to interact with them.  This was surprising to me because I grew up loving and visiting with the elderly as a family.  We went at least once a year growing up and it was always one of my favorite memories.  Sometimes we would put on a little “musical production,” and we would sing or play an instrument and sometimes we would just talk or share pictures we had colored for them.  It was because of these special experiences that my parents gave me that I ended up minoring in Geriatrics and later working at one of these homes.  The elderly have had a lot of valuable life experiences, and they really do have wonderful advice to share!

4.  Same goes with the mentally ill.  If we teach our children from a young age that the mentally ill or challenged are special and unique, then they will not feel “uncomfortable” around them later in life.  I also worked jobs with individuals that had cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury and these remain some of my most special life experiences.  Once again, I owe these experiences to a mother that taught me from a young age that just because someone can’t talk, walk, or do things just like me, doesn’t mean they are less valuable.  When she saw me show fear towards someone with Down Syndrome, she specifically made an appointment to take me to a developmental center so that I could interact with these kind of individuals and learn to love, serve, and appreciate them.

5.  Teach your children to be grateful.  Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget to thank people in our life for their valuable contributions.  If it means setting a time aside like “Thankful Thursdays,” to remember these moments, do it.  Teach your children to be on the constant “lookout” for someone to thank.  They might have fun making cards of appreciation, or just learning to say the words.  Not only will this effect those that are receiving the thanks, it will also teach your children to live happier lives as they focus on their blessings.

6. Teach your children to go the extra mile.  Help your children be excited about returning someone else’s cart rather than just your own.  Teach your children that they can throw away a piece of trash even if it’s not their own.  Make a game out of them taking their sibling’s plate to the sink.  Teach them to do more than “their part.”  These are the type of people who are ready to change the world.

7.  Leave a trace with Kind Notes.  One of the things the family did in the book that I mentioned, was leave kind notes wherever they went.  It was something as simple as, “sometimes it’s just nice to know someone cares, have a great day!”  After reading this book I had fun doing this at the college I went to.  I usually tried to find someone who looked like they were having a rough day, but one day I was headed home and realized I had not given one out yet.  I walked in to one of the offices on campus and just set it on a girl’s desk and quickly walked away before she had a chance to say anything to me.  A few weeks later a random girl walked up to me and said, “can I give you a hug?”  I was a little confused because I did not recognize her but then she said, “You gave me that note on a day that everything seemed to be going wrong.  I was having a really hard day and that note made me feel so loved.”  I walked away trying not to let any tears form, but it touched me to know that one of these simple nice notes had actually made a difference for someone.

8.  Make a habit of asking your kids, “Who did you help today?”  Teach them to watch for opportunities at school to reach out to other children and be kind to them.  Teach them to watch for kids that are alone, sad, or being made fun of.  Teach them to make a difference and have the courage to reach out.  Chances are, other children will join in on the fun.

9.  Find Ways to Serve Others at Christmastime.  What a great way to teach your children to focus on what they can do rather than what they want.  Adopt an angel or drop off something to a needy family.  If finances are so tight that you have no way of even providing a Christmas for your own children, then volunteer at a soup kitchen as a family.  Help them to see that there are others in much harsher circumstances.

10.  Teach your children to sincerely compliment others.  Teach them that everyone on this Earth has something to offer, and it’s our job to help them see their talents and gifts.  A good way to teach this is to start by finding these qualities in your own children.  Focus on their strengths as a parent and point out good and unique qualities in other people.

In what ways does your family enjoy showing love to others?  Please share in the comments

Here are a couple Youtube videos that were meaningful to me on this subject:

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Fun and Meaningful Christmas Traditions

15 Oct

Currently at my house I am hearing the violent sounds of thunder and lightning outside my window. It’s days like this that I want to cozy up in my pajamas next to the fireplace and eat a warm bowl of soup. Since we don’t have the luxury of a fireplace at my house, and pajamas isn’t an option today, I’ll write about Christmas instead. How in the world did I jump from thunderstorms to Christmas? Must have been the word fireplace! 🙂

Anyway, I’m in love with Christmas and although I haven’t checked to make sure, I think Christmas loves me back. Growing up in a low-income single-parent home didn’t offer lavish or expensive gifts but maybe that’s why I love it so much! I usually went into Christmas with low expectations as a kid but it always proved its magic. Christmas to me is about family, it’s about fun traditions, and its about celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Right now I want to talk about traditions because they are one of my favorite aspect of Christmas!

CHRISTMAS STALKER: In our family every year we draw names and whoever has our name is called our “Christmas Stalker” meaning you should “stalk” the family member you have to find out what gift would be most meaningful for them to receive. Another reason we were called “stalkers” is because our gift was to fit in a stocking….large or small…bought or made. We had themes every year; sometimes the gift had to be hand-made, sometimes it had to be from the classifieds or a yard sale, sometimes it had to be something we already had, and sometimes it was purchased but had a spending limit.

CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS TREE: A few years back I babysat for someone who had a neat Christmas tradition and I have decided to carry it on in my own little family. They had a separate “mini” tree for the kids that they were welcome to decorate and re-decorate over and over. Underneath the tree were Christmas books all wrapped up. Each night the children got to pick a present to open and they read that book as a family that night. This tradition kept the kids from messing with the decorations on the larger tree because they had their own, and it also kept them from getting into the presents under the big tree because they got to open one everyday from their own tree anyway. I saw on Pinterest the other day a kid’s tree using felt. I prefer an actual tree but you might find this way fun as well.

CHRISTMAS PAJAMAS: I know of many families that do this one and have decided to do it myself. On Christmas eve, there is a knock at the door and Santa’s elves secretly leave new Christmas pajamas for everyone. This always makes for fun pictures.

SANTA’S FOOTPRINTS: Growing up I loved to go over to my best friend’s house on Christmas morning to see Santa’s “footprints”. A cookie sheet with flour was left at the fireplace so that in the morning the kids could run to the fireplace and see that Santa really did come because his “boot prints” were imprinted in the flour. Very cute tradition.

SLEEP OVER: Another fun tradition is to have all of the kids have a sleepover in one room and know that they can stay up as late as they want together watching Christmas movies and playing games, but they have to stay in the room (usually the furthest room from the Christmas tree so they don’t over hear “Santa”). This also keeps them up late and makes them tire, hopefully keeping them from waking up mom and dad at 4 AM.

CHINESE: I have a friend whose family goes out for Chinese in their Christmas pajamas every Christmas Eve. Traditions like this are fun because the kids look forward to it every year and the pictures are priceless. This wouldn’t have to be Chinese, you could adapt it to your own family’s preference.

SANTA vs. PARENTS: I really, really like the idea of marking most of your children’s gifts from mom and dad, and having one special gift be the gift that Santa brings. This way children don’t feel entitled to a bunch of toys from a magical being and they learn the principle of gratitude. The magic isn’t taken away because Santa still comes, but they know to ask for one special item they would like from Santa, and the rest comes from mom and dad if they are able to do so. This way you don’t have to always wrap presents in such secrecy either. It doesn’t ruin “Santa” if kids walk in on you wrapping presents because they know that they get gifts from you as well.

REINDEER NAMES: This is a fun way of tagging Christmas gifts. Rather than put the child’s name on each present, assign each child a reindeer name. This keeps the children from running to the tree and pulling out all the presents with their name on it because until present opening starts, no one knows who’s nickname is “Dasher” or who is “Prancer.”

SERVICE: Although it sometimes happened a few days before Christmas, my mom would usually try to arrange a service for us to accomplish on Christmas morning to help us understand the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes this was volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting an old folks home, playing “secret santa” to another family, or singing to a group of kids with special needs. These were always tender and special moments that made my Christmas memorable.

GIFT FOR JESUS: We did this one several different years. We would write up a gift that we were going to give to the Savior over the next year and put it inside of an ornament. The next year we would read what we wrote and hopefully smile that we accomplished our goal.

NATIVITY: My mother always did some type of Christmas Eve “devotional”, and part of it usually consisted of us dressing up and acting out the story of Christ’s birth from the book of Luke. Now that a lot of us are older, the grandchildren now act out the story.

I enjoy falling in love with new traditions and making them my own because family traditions are extremely important for family unity. Traditions contribute to healthy family life because they give children a sense of belonging–that they are part of a group rather than a solitary individual.

What are some of your family’s favorite traditions?

Also…..if you have children, help other parent’s out this upcoming holiday season by sharing what toys have been the biggest hit over the years. Share your thoughts on my post here