Are you looking to have an awesome Christmas this year? A Christmas that will move you? One that has meaning behind it? I know I am. This past month I researched Christmas, that’s kind of funny to say. But I sought out answers to this holiday. After I put some of these pieces together, I was reminded of how to make this holiday a meaningful one. And who knew it has to do with identity? Before we get to that let’s have a short history lesson.
What’s up with ‘Merry Christmas’?
Tis the season to be Merry, fa la la la laaa, la la la laaaa! In 1843 it was Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” that introduced the word ‘Merry’ for “Merry Christmas”. Did you know that? I didn’t. The dictionary defines Merry as cheerful and lively. Occasionally you’ll hear “Happy Christmas”, but “Merry” fits the bill.
The word “Christmas” originated from “Christ’s Mass” which literally means a group of many people gathering to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. In fact, this celebration started in 313 AD, three centuries after Jesus’s crucifixion.* Interesting isn’t it?
Let’s talk about gifts.
How did gift giving come into play on Christmas?* Well, it’s not a black and white answer:
1– It started in Europe as a pagan custom around Winter Solstice, a celebration to mark the shortest day of the year. It falls in the range of December 20th-23rd each year. At this time ancient Rome would celebrate this day by gift-giving.
2– Around 336 AD December 25th was established as Jesus’s birthday in which the solstice gift-giving tradition leaked into the Christian holiday. Some believe that the gift giving started with the three Magi (wise men) giving gifts to baby Jesus.
3– On top of that, Santa Claus was introduced from a fourth-century Greek bishop who was a gift giver, Saint Nicholas. His legacy gradually blended into the Christmas celebration.
So “Merry Christmas” is a combination of things, but one thing is for sure, “Christ’s Mass” has stood the test of time. Jesus came to save us from our sins so we would have the opportunity to have life after death. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”, says Jesus. And in Mark 10:45 Jesus also says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
How identity comes into play
A few years ago I read Matthew Barnett’s book The Cause Within You. He talks about his experience of listening and obeying God’s cause that He placed in his heart. Based in LA, he tells great stories about how people off the street, the homeless, the drug dealers and prostitutes have completely turned their life around by focusing on Jesus and the cause God placed in their hearts. How serving others, rather than serving themselves and their addictions has changed their life.
He says, “As soon as you start thinking about the needs and burdens of others, and what you can do to alleviate them, or how you can bless and build up others, you begin to establish a new identity for yourself – your true identity. “ (page 38)
Think about that for a minute. Christmas is the most popular time of year to give; not just presents. Just look at the Christmas movies: It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, or even Die Hard. Yes, I just referenced Elf and Die Hard in the same sentence. But hear me out, they all have something in common; do you know what it is?
Let me ask you this, what do you think would be a powerful way to celebrate the birth of Jesus this year? Sure we can give tangible gifts or donate money to a cause, those are fantastic ideas! But what about your time? Your precious time? What about sacrificing a slice of your time and put your talents to work to take the burden off someone else? What about using your strength to help a neighbor out with a project? What about turning on your personality to lift someone up with a little encouragement? You might say, “But I do that already Christy” But do you do it with Jesus in mind? Do you consciously say, “Hey Jesus, let’s bless someone today! Use me. Work through me. Let’s do this!”?
I love this statement from Rick Warren, “What matters is not the duration of your life, but the donation of it. Not how long you lived, but how you lived.” In the Bible, 1 Peter 4 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” But here’s a bonus in all this. If you think serving is just for the person being served, you’re missing it.
What does serving do for you? It produces being Merry.
- It gives significance. Putting our talents to work to help someone else is meaningful for us. It warms the cockles of God’s heart. And generates joy in your own.
- It produces gratitude both for the servant and the person being served.
- It brings us back to earth. Serving helps take the focus off what’s going on inside us, to what’s going on around us. This helps us put our own lives in perspective.
Here are a few tips that have worked for me on serving others:
- The Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- Vision yourself helping.
- Pray for opportunities in which you can help someone out.
I have an experiment for you to try this month. I bet you know what it is. Serve with the mindset as giving a gift to Jesus; use your time, talents, and strength to give back to Him. Not sure where to serve? Don’t make this complicated. Open your eyes and pay attention to your surroundings. He’ll tell you.
One more thing, I encourage you to experience a “Christ’s Mass” and attend a Christmas Eve service at church.
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By CT Copyright © 2018 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved
*2 Corinthians 9:7
*Mark 10:45, Luke 19:10
Is it me, or is it true that the last six weeks of school are insanely busy? Every year I say to myself, “I can handle May and June; I’m prepared for it.” But when it hits all the neat and tidy thoughts explode into chaos. Seriously! What am I doing wrong? The answer to this question is not what I’m doing right or wrong, the answer sits before my action.
My margin in the next four weeks is narrow. Some people see busy as a badge, some see it as a weight. And if you’re like me, I actually like to be busy…its fun for me…most of the time. But right now, it’s no joke; I am too busy to enjoy ‘busy’. I feel like someone should slap me in the face and say, “Get a hold of yourself Christy!” There are probably a lot of issues in this paragraph, but that’s a different post.
Don’t get me wrong I’m excited about having fun this summer with my family, but since I work from home, balance and harmony with projects and play can be super challenging! So I have a choice during these anxious weeks on the edge of summer: I can work on these things every spare moment, or I can embrace this time and live in the moment.
Right now I’m supposed to tell you that I chose to live in the moment. That I am skipping down the sidewalk smelling the lilacs, singing the words Carpe Diem, and hosting a butterfly on my shoulder. Yeah, that’s…not…happening. Yes I want to smell the lilacs, yes I want to change the world, yes I want to love on my family, and yes I want to get things done for church, the community, my job, the school fundraisers…yes, yes, yes! Um…hmm…so…this is when you see me draw circles in the dirt with my toe. Yep. I just realized what’s been happening. “Yes.”
It’s my fault. My expectations and my make-believe expectations others have for me weakens my stance. The answer to ‘what am I doing wrong’ sits on one of two words: YES or NO. I need to pick one when someone asks me something. More importantly, I need to pick one when I ask myself of something.
So which word is going to hold the most weight?
It depends. It depends on your personal values. Values? According to Dictionary.com, values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. Let me ask you, do you know what your values are? Have you ever really thought about it?
If we want to be true to ourselves, values hold a lot of weight. So check this out, if people could use their values as a guide to their ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then life would be so much more enjoyable, don’t cha think? Isn’t that what were after? Joy? Then why is it so hard to use our values? Why have I collapsed these past weeks? Because I FORGOT to use my values to hold me up. I forgot!
If you were a knight geared up for battle, what piece of equipment protects you from arrows? What piece of equipment gives you a little more confidence when running towards the battle field? Do you remember that scene in the movie 300 when all the soldiers used their shields to protect themselves? That’s what values do.
I wrote this post to remind you to not lose sight of your values; to put your values in-front of your YES or NO. And to not forget the power and protection that values hold. Young eyes are watching you.
Here’s a worksheet to help you define your values.
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By CT Copyright © 2018 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved.
There have been recent conversations in our home about what it means to ‘work hard’. Different generations have different definitions, I get that, but I think we can all agree that hard work takes:
– Integrity – Sweat – Humility – Sacrifice
When I put an image to ‘working hard’ I picture the Brawny Man in the red flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up. Or I picture Pa from Little House on the Prairie; again he had his sleeves rolled up. Why do I associate rolled sleeves as hard work? It seems I’m not the only one. According to the Cambridge Dictionary to roll-up-your-sleeves signifies a person is ready to work. Further in my research rolled-up-sleeves are apparently sexy. Guys I have just solved your girl problems…you can thank me later.
Let’s work hard, not to necessarily get a date, but more so to experience life. There has been a lot of chatter about Millennials (people born between 1982 – 2004) not knowing how to work hard. This disturbs me.
Working hard gives me pleasure. I feel good about myself. I accomplished something. Are Millennials missing out on this natural high? Have they never experienced it?
In a study by Vanderbilt scientists they discovered that people who were willing to work hard had higher dopamine levels than those who were not keen on the idea. ** Remember dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy and good. In other words…a University of Connecticut researcher, John Salamone states, “Low levels of dopamine make people…less likely to work for things.** So this work-hard-bit has to do with your brain.
How do we teach our Millennials or any generation to work hard? Here are four tips to weave into the lesson of how to work hard:
- Make realistic attainable goals.
- This is a small example; my son was shooting hoops. I said you can’t come in for dinner until you make 5 shots in a row from where you’re standing. I gave him a realistic goal. What happened when he made his goal? He jumped up and down and cheered! Dope.
- Focus on your dreams. What drives you?
- If you want it bad enough, you’ll naturally work hard to get it. How bad do you want “it”? That diploma, that promotion, that certification, that house, that small business, that weight loss?
- Exercise and eat healthy foods.
- This one has to be one of the easiest ways to get motivated to work hard. If you feel good, you’ll be more confident, make better decisions, be more alert, and be more creative…and probably make more money.
- As I mentioned before, have integrity.
- By simply having strong moral principles, being honest, knowing what it right from wrong, and following through will help you. It’s hard work to have integrity, but when you do the right thing you again trigger the dopamine.
Let’s hold each other accountable to use our gifts, abilities, and morals to work hard, to make a difference, to be driven, and to be part of the big picture. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to roll-up your sleeves.
By CT Copyright © 2017 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved.
I’ll never forget the time when I was 10 years old; I reached for the flour in an overhead cupboard. My fingertips were millimeters away from the canister. One… more… bit… CRASH!
I was successful in getting the flour down, but it wasn’t in the canister… it was on my head. I stood there and sulked as my older sister laughed at me. She called me “Casper”.
Back then my dream was to become a baker. I loved making cookies, more so eating the dough… but I enjoyed mixing simple ingredients to make something quite delicious.
My baking dream might have fizzled away but my need to create has not. To truly feel alive I need to create something; whether it’s cookies, a garden, a writing piece, or simply drawing a picture on my son’s lunch bag. It is gratifying to see what my imagination can create.
Being creative isn’t just for fun. Creative thinking can solve problems, help us perform better at our jobs, help with depression, and it can help make a difference in peoples’ lives. Look at music, art, dance, and literature… what are those talents trying to do? Matthew Barnet has a great answer: “Fulfilled artists do not paint or sculpt for the sake of creating more art. They do it to move people and challenge them to see the world differently. “*
Want to know what’s scary? From CreatingMinds.org they say our creativity fades away when we don’t use it. As in the Bible it says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything…” Matthew 5:13. (NIV)
In our busy lives, it’s important to take a time-out to be creative; to take a small step in becoming the unique person we were intended to be. Not just for ourselves, but for the sake of others.
The creativity light still has a glow in us. Let’s blow on the flame to make it brighter. There is no better time than now to get our hands busy; our minds will love it, our hearts will feel good, and we may incite someone’s perspective.
*The Cause Within You, by Matthew Barnet
By CT Copyright © 2016 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved.
I admire people who can share openly what’s going on in their life; I’m not talking about people boasting about themselves, I’m talking about people genuinely reaching out for help. Why? Because it makes me feel human and it gives me a chance to help in some way or form.
It takes courage, confidence, and bravery to open up and expose our hearts to the world. We weren’t made to go through storms alone, so why do we try at keep it quiet and pretend everything is “fine”.
Recently, an old friend of mine was going through a difficult situation. She had a choice; keep it to herself or share it. She chose to share it on social media. She didn’t do it for sympathy or for attention. She shared because she needed help getting through the storm.
My heart went out to her and her family. I took time in responding to her post, I could hear she felt alone. And that struck a chord in me. Whether it was emotions, hormones, the Holy Spirit, or a soul connection, I started weeping for her broken and confused heart. I thought back to my storm I endured years ago, how alone I felt. From experience, I knew the best thing I could for her was to pray, and I gave her that promise.
I believe my friend posting the updates about her situation was meant to not only keep everyone informed, but for her to know who was sitting by her. Sometimes you have to just exist with someone… to do more.
Here are some ideas:
- Visit them
- Send them a card in the mail
- Pray for them
- Call them
- Just let them know you’re thinking about them
“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.” – unknown
By CT Copyright © 2016 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved.
It’s not about the adventure, it’s about who you share it with.
“Mom, I’m bored,” my son says.
“It’s okay to be bored,” I say.
“But Mom! What am I going to do?” he replies.
“Why don’t you go outside and play,” I suggest.
“Na, there’s nothing to do outside,” he ends.
That conversation was an eye opener for me. When I was his age I was outside ALL the time. So when I heard MY son say there’s nothing to do outside, I realized something had to change.
Some thirty years ago we didn’t have ipad’s or cell phones, heck; we didn’t even have TV remotes or garage door openers. Back then we didn’t think twice about walking home from school. Change happens, I get it, and unfortunately it has affected the time we spend outside. Whether it be electronic devices or overall safety there are loads of statistics on how staying inside is affecting our kids’ health, learning, social skills, and appreciation of the outdoors.
How am I going to get my son interested in going outside? For some reason, I thought kids were born with an attraction for the outdoors, but not all are. According to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), back in 2014 they did a report about youth outdoor participation (6-24 years old). What they found as the two major deterrents: were lack of interest and lack of time.*
My answer to my son ‘Why don’t you go outside and play’ was an easy answer. I should have said, “Let’s go outside and play”. Let’s face it; school recess isn’t the kind of outside play I’m talking about.
I recently read that the Michigan DNR is going to help schools who have forest land make the best of their natural resources by putting together outdoor education programs. It says, “[Educators] say taking students outdoors to learn and apply math, social studies, art, science, language arts and physical education outside…is more engaging and meaningful.”
The OIA states from their study that, “Reconnecting youth with the outdoors has become critical to the health of future generations and the health of our natural landscapes.” The future of our natural resources will someday fall into the hands of our children.
What am I going to do about this…right now…today? For starters I’m going to carve out some time and say to my son “Let’s go outside to play”. It’s then that I can show him how fun and rewarding the outdoors can be. Not just playing baseball or soccer. I’m talking about building a fort out of snow or sticks, making a scavenger hunt or obstacle course, doing yard work together, exploring the park, teaching survival skills, or cooking hot dogs by a campfire. That’s the kind of stuff your kid will remember about the outdoors. Most importantly they’ll always remember who brought them to it.
“Must we always teach our children with books? …. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”- David Polis
Copyright © 2016 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved.
Not too long ago we, as a nation, recognized Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. Banks were closed. The Post Office was closed. Public schools were closed. Dr. King believed in non-violence, he was determined, he knew his purpose, and he acted on it.
My 7-year-old son HAD school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His school honored Dr. King by teaching the students about him…what better way to celebrate this day. His teachers explained what Dr. King was fighting for. The students experienced his “I Have a Dream” speech. My son came home excited yet a little confused.
At dinner our son started the conversation like this, “Guess what?”
“What?” we respond.
“Did you know… that some people had to go to different schools? They couldn’t ride the same bus or use the same bathroom because they were tan? That’s so crazy.”
We respond, “Yeah, we know. Thankfully, it’s not like that anymore.”
I pause. “Did you guys talk about Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech today?”
For you to understand the next question I asked my son, you need to know that we live in a diverse neighborhood. Our neighbors come from all over the world; we exchange smiles, conversation, and a helping hand. We look after each other and even pray for each other. Our next door neighbors and our neighbors across the street happen to be African American.
“Honey?” I ask. “Do you know anyone who is African American in our neighborhood?”
Our son says, “No.”
My husband and I look at each other and smile. I wink at him.
“It doesn’t matter what people look like, does it?” I ask.
He says, “No, that’s silly.”
“That’s what Dr. King was trying to tell the world.” I explain.
“Yep,” he says, then continues to eat his apple sauce.
What I took from this small yet huge conversation was that our son has lived seven years on this earth and hasn’t seen skin color.
Children have this awesome power to look beyond the surface and see the heart. They are more concerned about how people make them feel, rather than what they look like. In Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech he said this:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I was simply in awe of my son’s observations. And I hope and pray his views will continue as they are.
No matter how we were raised, it’s never too late to start looking at the world with child eyes.
Whether our skin be light or our skin be dark; Peace only looks at the character of our heart.
“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently I visited my old stomping grounds where I graduated from college, Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I have many fond memories of college life. Needless to say, I was very excited to go back and visit, for it had been seventeen years since I was there last. However, what I saw on campus in mid-November made a big impression on me; even more so than when I walked to my first class twenty years ago and saw three naked women riding bikes.
As I drove up 7th street to go to the Student Union all I saw were frowns. It was between classes and no one, I mean no one, smiled. It was very noticeable and very unlike IU the way I remembered it. I even did a smile test in the women’s restroom, you know….you smile at someone and they are suppose smile back. No one smiled back. It wasn’t even smelly in there! Wow and they are our future? I thought.
Many folks say a way to look into someone’s soul is through their eyes; I am not one of those people. For me, it’s all about what the face says. If someone is happy they can’t “smile with their eyes” unless the corners of their mouth move up (I bet you just tried that). Smiling is a natural, automatic expression we reveal when we are happy or when we feel good.
Smiling is contagious because it is funny and it makes us feel good. In Psychology Today, it says that smiling releases endorphins, hormones that make us feel good. Years ago when I was walking through the Arboretum to class, a stranger smiled at me. I was startled and immediately smiled back. That incident changed my whole life, and I’m still smiling today! I even remember telling my roommates that some random guy smiled at me, not like a slimy-lets-go-on-a-date smile, but a ‘hey, hope you’re having a nice day’ kind of smile. It made me feel good.
The only other facial expression that is contagious like smiling is yawning; but who wants to see someone else yawn? I certainly don’t go through the grocery store yawning at other people because I want to see them yawn. I smile! I want to see what people are going to do when I smile at them. Are they going to smile back? Are they going to check if their barn door is open? Will I get ignored?
When I saw all these students looking like drones, they had no emotion just blank stares as if they were all suffering from vitamin D deficiency. At first I thought they were all depressed. Maybe they failed an exam, or they stayed at the bar a little too late the night before. But then I thought of a more educational reason, I blamed the frowns on social networking and their incompetence to know how to interact with people face to face. It was like they were afraid to smile or they didn’t know how.
When I was in kindergarten I didn’t know how to smile. My sisters tried to teach me but I just couldn’t get the corners of my mouth to go up. On school picture day I tried my best. I clamped my lips shut and the corners of my mouth… point down. I tried so hard! But I wasn’t going to give up. With lots of tickling by my sisters in front of the mirror I had finally got the smile figured out. By first grade I could smile on demand. Who would have known in my senior year in high school I got voted ‘best smile’.
When I got home from my campus visit, I told my friend, who is a recruiter that visits many college campuses, what I experienced at IU and how sad I was about the emotionless students. She told me that it isn’t just IU, the ‘no smiling’ thing is happening on other campus’s too.
In Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book every young twenty- something should read, Dale says “the expression on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back.” Not only that but Dale also mentions what Professor James V McConnell, a psychologist at the University of Michigan says about smiling, “People who smile tend to manage, teach and sell more effectively, and to raise happier children.”
Do more than exist today, smile at people. Brighten their day, they deserve it, you ought to have those happy hormones swimming in your head too! Who cares if they are not in your social network circle or if you ever see them again? Show those pearly whites or dusted yellows (in my case). Who cares if you’re missing a tooth, have broccoli between #8 and #9, have braces, never had braces, crowned, grilled, or jeweled. Teeth are not just for chewing, they are to show who we are. A smile says many things beyond what words, e-mails, tweets, texts, or instant messaging could say.
People will be curious of who you are, not because you look like a robot, but because you look happy and they want that happiness. Let’s put our phones down, take our ear buds out, and pay attention to people walking to class, smile and see what they do in return. Keep on smiling before you forget how to do it, it really does make life a lot more rewarding.
Copyright © 2014 More Than Existence All Rights Reserved.
Psychology Today, “Try Some Smile Therapy”You might be surprised how easy it is and how good it feels. Published on July 31, 2012 by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW in This Isn’t What I Expected
“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie, Pocket Books, 1981,pg 63, 64
September is the ‘back to school’ month. Back to routines, busy schedules, and extra activities. Going on an adventure is long gone right? Not a chance. For me this is the time of year when a special get-a-way mission is critically needed.
Stepping away from the daily routine is healthy for sanity purposes and great food for our souls. I’m not talking about booking a flight to the mountains and spending a bunch of money we don’t have. I’m talking about hiking at the nearest park or walking down a beautiful dirt road, picnicking in the backyard or at the nearest recreation area, canoeing or kayaking down a local river, or camping for a night. Why? Because these little get-a-ways in the middle of our craziness will bring richness to our lives and flavor to our reflections.
I challenge you to go on at least one little adventure once a month during the school year. Get out of the hamster wheel and actually go somewhere to breathe and be refreshed.
My family and I have a camping trip planned for both September and October, I hope you do the same.
Do more than exist.