12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (10 and 11)

Here are the next two ways I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

10This year-long project really became a part of my being. I could tell because when Thanksgiving rolled around, I didn’t have the urge to do something nice for someone because I’d been of service the entire year. However, I did purchase a Barbie doll and give to Toys for Tots. This program runs from mid-November through December if you’re ever interested in giving. Toys can be dropped off at most Toys R Us.

A week later, when December 1st hit, I really hadn’t thought of a bang-up way to end the 12 months of service, so I combined two of the year’s ideas.

11I began the month with a random act of kindness, and I have to tell you, it was quite natural. An older woman pulled up behind me in the Publix grocery store line. She was in one of those motorized scooters with the baskets attached.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

I’ve learned to ask first because some people get super ornery if you assume they can’t do it themselves.

She kind of glanced up at me, and then said, “Actually, I do.”

I placed all of her groceries on the conveyor belt, and she was pleased. She thanked me over and over again, and told me how much easier that made her shopping.

Imagine that. One act that took less than two minutes made this woman’s day.

Next, I decided to end the year the same way I began it, at the Clara White Mission serving breakfast to those who need it. I’ve since learned that the people who frequent this mission are not always homeless. Sometimes they are newly released prisoners; other times they are simply people who can’t afford to eat.

Either way, I spent three December Mondays with them.

I wished there were some grand finale with fireworks or something, but I suppose the endgame is the internal transformation that has occurred. And you’ll have to wait until January for that reflection 😉

If you celebrate something during this holiday season, then Happy Holidays to you! If not, then I wish you well on this day. I do hope these 12 months have been an inspiration for each of you to contribute to society in some way.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (6)

Again, I’d forgotten to maintain the Christmas spirit after Christmas, so for this blog, I invite you to read the comments where others have made suggestions if you want to practice this for 2019, oooorrr add a comment and let us know how you give back throughout the year!

no_6Soooo…one day I looked up at it was July 25th aaannnd I hadn’t maintained the Christmas Spirit for that month! Turns out the summer is the time when I’m most forgetful about these things cause I’m out frolicking and stuff.

 

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?

 

 

 

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.

*RE-Defined: Thanksgiving

Saying, “thank you” after someone handed me a gift used to be my ultimate expression of gratitude. That’s how I was raised. Once I had a family of my own, my husband and I encouraged similar behavior for our own daughters. Make sure you say thank you we’d sing in unison. I thought it was a common cultural practice. As a result, I began to reprimand others for not making their children thank me for birthday or holiday presents. Things had gotten out of hand. Don’t get me wrong. There is significance in thanking a person when he or she hands you something. In fact, I still believe it’s a gracious response. But somehow my concept of gratitude was limited to just this act.

I needed a gratitude overhaul.

After careful soul searching, I figured out the problem. I was seeking gratitude when I should have been living in a spirit of gratitude. But how? How does one achieve this? I decided that one way was to send fewer material items and provide more authentic expressions of appreciation to people who had impacted my life. I decided to be gratitude.

The process was simple.

I chose a month and then told one person each day how grateful I was for him or her being in my life. Loved ones felt compelled to return the favor. As a result, it became a sort of gratitude exchange. My intention was to make them feel valued. But they also wanted me to feel equally loved. This even and immediate trade happened with all of the people that I contacted, except my goddaughter, Kotrish.

When I told Kotrish that I was grateful for her presence, this young lady’s response was, “Thanks. That was unexpected.” My old self wanted to judge the reply. But I remembered the purpose was to appreciate others, no matter the reaction. I accepted it and continued on.

So, the month of gratitude ended. Christmas had come and gone. A new year had begun.

The memory is still clear. I had just returned home from work. Waiting on the dining room table was a salmon-colored envelope addressed to me. Inside was a matching salmon-colored thank you card. Kotrish had handwritten a note filled with ten separate thank-you statements. I cried. It meant so much to me that I carried it in my inside purse pocket for weeks. The blurred blue ink shows how much I’ve held it. Its tattered edges reveal how much I have opened it. I thought this would be the only card.

But I was wrong.

Her testimonials continued. For the next year, she sent four more handwritten thank-you cards every other month. Each one is different. Each one is heartfelt. Each one is better than any other gift I could ever receive from her.

I know it is customary to exchange store-bought presents during this time of year. But perhaps you can gift your loved ones with an additional item. Maybe this holiday season, you can offer an expression of gratitude. Jewelry will fade and clothes will soon be outdated. Telling others how much you value them? Well, that could last an entire lifetime.

*This was originally published in Natural Awakenings November 2015.

My Role as a Mother

img_3358For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.

Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”

Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”

That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.

“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.

So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.

By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.

Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.

And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?

Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?

Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”

Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.

“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.

“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.

Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.

Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”

My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

img_1006And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.

On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?

Christmas Movies 

I’m starting to dislike the commercialism of the holiday season, but I love Christmas movies. And as long as I still own these DVDs and a DVD player, my family and I will watch at least five of them each year. The film has to have one of three criteria, though: (1) It has to be funny; (2) It has to be authentic; or (3) It has to be inspirational.

Funny Christmas movies are the best. My favorites are probably similar to other people’s. A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation are two that I will not only watch each year, but also laugh at as if it’s the first time I’ve seen either one. Humor is subjective though. While Clark Griswold’s antics are both absurd and comical, Billy Bob Thornton’s role in Bad Santa is not. I mean I laughed, but I don’t want to see Santa cussing kids out and acting crazy. It’s just not aligned with the holiday spirit.

Authentic Christmas movies are relatable. Who doesn’t have a crazy family member who has predictable and perhaps dreaded behavior? Also, each film seems to accurately portray the stress encompassed during the holidays. Coming home to family that doesn’t really know you because they haven’t seen you all year, or hanging out with family that treat you as if you’re a perpetual 12 year-old are common and real experiences. That’s why I always kick-off my holiday season with Home for the Holidays. Okay. I know I said Christmas movies, but the Thanksgiving theme is perfect to begin the following five weeks because it’s such a real portrayal of awkward family interactions. Four Christmases is another great one because it depicts two people who have avoided going home, but eventually have to. The experiences they have are priceless.

Inspirational Christmas movies probably speak for themselves. They always make me feel warm and fuzzy at the end. These movies perpetuate an idea of hope. A Christmas Carol, the Jim Carrey version is my absolute favorite. That’s what the world wants, right? Hope. Most of us want to believe that people are capable of transitioning from old and crochety characters to free-spirited and giving human beings. The Santa concept is similar. Although I know Santa is not real, I enjoy watching Polar Express, especially the part where they all gather in the town’s center and sing “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” The inspiring part is the act of believing in something greater than oneself, which I also tend to believe is a common human experience. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some jolly old guy who made everyone’s wishes come true?

I’m not sure about the other 47 weeks of the year, but if you happen to stop by any weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, then you’re bound to join me in watching one of these films. What’s your favorite Christmas movie? I’d love to ooh and aah about it with you in the comments.