12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (3)

Here is the third way I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

three-2032511_1280This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to clean the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.

“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”

That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.

img_3054“Can I have that orange?” he asked

I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely pleased, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.

The third week, I was battling allergies and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.

I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.

“God Bless you hun.” He said it twice.

“You too luv,” I replied.

With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.

Let me know what you think about this one. Do you think you could pack a goodie bag for the transient population in your city? Is that demographic high where you live?

 

 

 

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (2)

Here is another reflection on how I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

no_2The second thing I did was send people gifts (February). I began with my little sister friend’s birthday. I ordered Wandas from Two Dough Girls and had them delivered to her home. I also sent my little cousin a care package. She was completing her first year at my alma mater, Western Michigan University. I asked her what she wanted/needed and she sent me a list. Dwight and I added her requests to our groceries and shipped them off. If you’ve ever been away from home, then you understand how exciting it is to receive free snacks and toiletries. Her older sister didn’t need anything, so I sent her a handwritten card with well-wishes and a copy of my book.

This seems to be a simple way to show people that you’re thinking of them. Let me know if you try it.

 

Reflections on 12 Months of Maintaining the Christmas Spirit

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year ~ Charles Dickens

If you’ve been following my blog for the past 12 months, then you know I’ve been experimenting with different ways to maintain the Christmas spirit, which I’ve defined as being of service to the community.

To that end, I have to say that giving back for 48 weeks helped me in ways I didn’t know it would. Volunteering helped to improve my core self. Here’s how:

1494606711233Connecting with people felt intimate. Whether it was the children I tutored, or the men to whom I handed goodie bags, connecting in these ways felt more genuine than making small talk about someone’s day. Spending time with the Congolese student included more than just my supporting her literacy. It required my listening to stories about her older sisters. By the time they picked her up at the end of the hour, I felt as if I knew each one. Similarly, handing a stranger fruit and toiletries, and then having a 30-second conversation yielded a heartfelt exchange. There was no pretense in any of these situations; there was no need for either of these people to pretend to be anyone other than themselves. Consequently, there was no sifting for the truth in the moment. Each instance was authentic.

img_3054Giving symbolizes abundance. If I give something (time, money, attention) to someone else, that means that I possess time, money, and attention. I’ve mentioned this before. Many times in the past, I didn’t want to release that $1 because what if I need this dollar for fill-in-the-blank? This has been a solid lesson for me. The reality is we always have an abundance of everything if we do one of two things: (1) stop and take account of our excess or (2) shift our priorities. Most of us have careers and families; however, there are many ways to be of service that occur on the weekends, or allow you to bring children of all ages. It just takes a little research.

Caring about people in society added a dimension of compassion for me. It opened up a heart space that’s different from showing consideration for family and friends. Sometimes it’s easy to do things for friends and cousins because there’s still a bit of obligation there, plus you just want to. However, it takes an open heart to give time and energy to a seemingly random person you may never see again who is not labeled “family.” One thing that helped me from the onset is that I believe we’re all connected reflections of one another. Caring about so-called strangers reinforced that idea. You don’t have to be biologically related to me to receive care. We don’t have to have history for me to help out. This is a distinction that I think will shift how we relate to one another in general.

The past 12 months began as a “project” to determine how and if I could maintain “the Christmas spirit.” While I’ve discovered both unique and traditional ways and learned the answer is yes, I’ve also uncovered a way to consciously live in the world. We can’t care about all of society’s ills, but we can focus on one human issue and deliberately give our attention to it.

Thanks for riding along with me this past year. I appreciate it.

How to Talk to a Doc Student During the Holidays

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Do you have a doc student or candidate that’s visiting for the holidays? If so, then trust me on this one. They probably won’t tell you, but I will. Don’t ask them these three questions.

 When are you graduating?

This seems super harmless, right? It’s not. Refrain from asking any doc student, no matter where they are in the program, when she is graduating. She doesn’t know. Traditional full-time undergraduate students could probably answer this question. May, 2017, they might proudly announce. A full-time student pursuing a master’s degree might also be able to tell you. But a doc student? Unless she has successfully defended her dissertation and submitted it for university publishing and approval, then the likelihood of her knowing an actual graduation date is pretty slim.

What is your research about again?

What’s wrong with this question, you might be wondering. Well, the problem is the doc student has already spent countless hours revising and refining two or three questions that explain this very thing. She has probably been asked by nice and not-so nice committee members to consider the time of year, re-word the sentence after the comma, change the participants, or re-think the study altogether. She might even have a handy three-minute explanation of her work. But she probably doesn’t want to talk about it while scarfing down her mac-n-cheese.

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What’s taking you so long?

This question is not easy to answer. The response could be any number of reasons. She could’ve lost a committee member, or maybe her proposal wasn’t accepted. Just those two reasons alone could average a one or two semester delay. Most institutions, colleges and programs are totally different. Some doc students finish in three years because of the prof’s personal mantra; whereas, others finish well beyond five years because of the same reason. Does the doc student have a spouse? Kids? Other responsibilities? Reasons why it is “taking so long” are plentiful.

Maybe this holiday season you can ask the person a simple question, like how’s it going? Or how are you? If she wants to discuss her graduate studies, then she’ll probably slip in a success story or gripe, but if not, then just let her enjoy her eggnog and your company. The reduced stress will be a welcomed change.