12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (9)

 

A couple of months prior to this one, I asked for service project suggestions. Although I received some great ideas, one stood out. Ann from Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50 mentioned collecting duffel bags for foster care children because they’re always in transition and rarely have luggage. First, I contacted a couple of friends to find out if they could point me in the direction of a foster care home specifically for minority children. They could not. That’s when I used trusty Google.

nineThrough a simple search, I found Family Support Services of North Florida. Their community service liaison, Dani said they actually needed diapers. A light bulb literally went off over my head. For October, I decided to host a virtual diaper drive. I’d planned on buying a pack of diapers each week anyway, but it seemed that including others would be even more helpful.

I was quite surprised by the outcome. A friend of mine from Illinois immediately sent $15 through Messenger. I transferred the money and purchased my first box. Other friends ordered diapers through Amazon or Walmart and had them sent to my home. Another friend who lives here in Jacksonville physically dropped off a box. A few bloggers participated by also mailing them. Wanda is one. And Michelle was another. Four weeks later, I was able to deliver 2,212 diapers.

I am grateful that, together, we were able to support a baby or family in need. I know I said number seven (paying it forward) was my favorite one, but this diaper drive has replaced it. I really believe we need to encourage each other to be more giving in multiple ways. I hate to get all preachy, but a lot of times we expect someone else to help out or we think “help” has to be a grandiose idea. Or, we believe we have to join an organization to impact society in positive ways. Well, I’m here to say that support can be as simple as dropping off or sending a box of diapers at your local foster care home. If you don’t do it, then who will?

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (7)

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

7For August, I paid it forward. In case you’re unfamiliar with this concept, the idea is instead of paying someone back for a good deed, you pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. For example, during one of this summer’s vacations, our friends paid for all of our meals and museum exhibits. Instead of paying them back, we would just pay it forward by doing something for someone else. Typically, people associate this with literally paying for something for someone. So, that’s where I began.

I learned a few years ago that strangers tend not to accept face-to-face help. When I tried to pay for a guy’s groceries, he vehemently declined. This time around, I simply paid for the person behind me in the Starbucks line. It was done and I could zoom off before the driver knew what happened.

But paying it forward in that way seemed cliche. So the following week, I was more in tune with my surroundings and looked for ways to pay it forward without money. I suppose it’s just called helping someone. This worked out perfectly. Instead of ignoring the bewildered lady who’d never signed into the library’s computer, I stood beside her and patiently explained how to log in and find her name. Someone once had to do this for me too.

I continued paying it forward in this way by holding the door for a lady at yoga. I’d noticed some time ago that people are all Namaste while they’re in yoga, but will let that door slam in your face when it’s over. Instead of silently complaining, I decided to be the change I wanted to see. Another opportunity presented itself the following week. A lady in my Bodyworks class was running late, so I helped her set up her space by getting her dumbbells for her.

“Thank you so much! I was finishing my quinoa and fruit in the car,” she said.

Then, you know what happened? I was running late the next week, and she didn’t hesitate to help me set up so I could begin on time.

img_4623This month, I also participated in our citywide “Stuff the Bus” back-to-school campaign. I normally don’t do this because we have our own children’s school supply needs to fulfill, but again, there was that one year D and I needed a little extra help for our own daughters. Instead of paying that person back, I gave freely to support the children in my community.

So far, this month is my favorite way to maintain the Christmas spirit after Christmas because paying it forward really is just about being present and giving of oneself in ways that someone once gave to you.

Let me know what you think about this one. Also, tell me if you’ve ever paid it forward to return a good deed, or just to be nice in the moment.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (5)

Because I’m human, by June 2017, I’d forgotten to formally give in some systematic way. However, I’m happy to report that I was still service-minded…it was just more natural.

dreams_nashvilleMy goddaughter and I traveled to Nashville the second week in June. There, we hung out on Broad Street with a friend of mine who we’d visited. I’d noticed the homeless population almost immediately and the busyness of the area allowed me to take some candid shots. Well, one man wouldn’t let me take a photo, unless I gave him some money. How much was up to me. I paid $2.00 for a shot of his sign. This, however, isn’t it lol I must’ve deleted it. But this is representative of the types of signs we saw that day.

transient_8A couple days later, we rented a car and drove to Memphis to visit my cousin. Here, people party on the infamous Beale Street. The evening wore into morning and clubs began to close. People began to filter back into the street. This is when I met a guy in a wheelchair. He explained to me that it cost $7.00 to enter one of the Memphis shelters. He had one dollar, so I gave him six more. And just as I’ve written before, I didn’t worry about if he actually used the money for housing; that’s none of my business.

Later that morning, my cousin had a breakdown where she revealed her disappointment in our relationship. She’d been suppressing these feelings for a few years. From what I could tell, she wanted more of my money, time, and affection, seemingly in that order. A former part of me would have dug deep and matched her hurt feelings with my own. But I’ve lived long enough to know that doesn’t help. Instead, I hugged her and listened. Later that day, I maintained my own silence and thoughts. Don’t get me wrong. I was mad; however, I chose not to allow my anger to drown out her opinion. Furthermore, when we went to lunch, I also chose to pay for her meal as an act of kindness.

The lesson I learned for Christmas in June is that sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow and give when necessary or as you can. Additionally, I’ve learned to give without worry. Many times I’ve not wanted to give to the homeless because I might need that $2 or I don’t want to pay for someone’s food because I’ve already paid for the last five meals when we were together. But in a way, that’s the opposite of an abundant mindset. Giving this year has shown me that I always have enough. I have so much that I can give time, money and resources freely without stress. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

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.