I live on what most people jokingly refer to as. "the compound." It's 65 acres in the rolling hills of the Middle TN countryside and is divided up between my family members and a close friend. My son is growing up next door to half of his cousins and in the same home as his grandparents. When people find this out about us, they generally have one of two reactions. Either they gush about how great that would be, or they recoil in horror and tell me they could never ever, ever, EVER live that close to their family.
There's rarely any middle ground.
Being close can exacerbate any issues in relationships. The holidays tend to bring out those issues as well for much the same reasons. Depending how your family relationships are, you'll might be dreading the time spent in close quarters over the holidays. Even if your relationships are healthy, extended time together can strain anyone's patience.
Let's talk about three ways to ease some of the relational stress and bring peace into your relationships this season.
Basically these all fall under the category of. "Yes, it's possible to be an adult and choose your actions and attitudes intentionally."
Choose your own peace. You can't control anyone else. I can't make your crazy relative say any fewer hurtful things. And neither can you.
The only thing you can control is your own response.
Choose peace. Choose to ignore the subtle manipulating, the not so subtle jabs and the outright hostility. Choose to respond in gentle, quiet peace. Choose to give the benefit of the doubt. Choose to walk away if necessary.
Give yourself (and others) an extra measure of grace. I made a remark the other day in a chat conversation about needing to be more organized about getting my giveaway prints shipped, because I'm crazy far behind. And the gal I was talking to made a sympathetic remark about single working mothers always needing more organization.
It stopped me in my tracks.
I'm a single mom. Running a business full time. And running a second one on the side. And producing a weekly podcast and artwork. And coaching my son's Destination Imagination team, running him to piano, art class and scouts and a thousand other things. I tend to forget that. No wonder I don't have time to keep up with all the details, like getting the laundry from the basket into the dresser drawers. And I was able to give myself some grace about those details. In this season especially, there's added stress in everyone's life. Toss grace around like confetti. And remember to let it fall on yourself as well as others.
The people you'll be seeing...focus on enjoying their company now instead of reliving past encounters, old hurts, previous conversations or your own need for something. What if you simply looked past that this season and enjoyed what you can of the present moments.
Be aware, I'm not suggesting you be a doormat, that you suffer abuse or that you ignore your own needs. If you're in that kind of situation, you need more assistance than this article can provide and I strongly suggest getting it.
I'm talking about putting peace in the midst of garden variety problems and those caused by the stresses of the season. And letting that peace simmer between you and all of your relationships.
This week's artwork is a Christmas star. It stands in the center between a background of green on one side and blue on the other. The green and blue represent you and the people you're in relationship with. The star is the peace we need to place in the midst of those relationships. The star is imperfect, it's uneven, it's messy. And it's flawed. Relationships are like that too. But, when lit with the glow of peace, they can shine with beauty despite their imperfections. They're unique and special because of those imperfections.
What if there was peace in your relationships this season?
I wish that for you in the coming days.
Coffee Talk Worksheet & iPhone Lock Screen
I love giving gifts. And I love giving unexpected gifts. Not just the kind tied up with a bow at Christmastime, but small and large generosities of time, talent or money throughout the year. This is one reason why I give away prints of my podcast art each week. Generosity is life-giving to the soul. But, it can also feel stressful and full of pressure.
Gifting can be stressful for a whole bunch of reasons. There are an awful lot of you out there in the very midst of a frenzy of gift-getting in order to create the magic of Christmas morning. If you've ever agonized for weeks over the perfect gift to give someone, ever worried how someone will receive a gift, ever blown your budget or bought gifts you couldn't afford you've dealt with gift-giving stress. Most of us have been there at some point. And right now across our country, it's rampant. So, let's talk about a healthy gifting strategy, one that brings you peace.
Instead of talking about things you already know, like "Choose a budget you can afford and then stick to it." I want to talk about two things that I rarely hear discussed. Your motivations and responsibilities when giving and receiving a gift and alternative gifting.
We give gifts to show love, affection and appreciation. Well, that's why we're supposed to be giving gifts. But, we can let an awful lot of other motivations sneak into that action. We can get competitive about it. We can get selfish about it. And we can get prideful about it. Have you ever been concerned with your gift being the best, the most expensive, the favorite or the most impressive? If so, then you've turned that giving into something about yourself. There's pride, self-centeredness and ego all wrapped up inside that gift. Have you ever bought a gift to impress someone? To manipulate someone? For example, "If I buy her skiing lessons, she'll let us take that skiing trip to Vail I've been trying to talk her into for years." You can see how manipulation could creep into gift giving?
When we give a gift, we need to be really careful that our motivations are simple and uncomplicated. And we need to keep the gifting responsibilities in the right corners. Your responsibility as a gifter is to choose a gift to show your appreciation or love. A thoughtful gift. A gift appropriate in the context in which it's given. So, a gift to a spouse should be more personal and intimate than a gift exchange at the office.
Keep your ego, pride and self-centeredness out of it. Your job is to give a gift. This is the part you can control. You can't control whether the recipient will like it, love it, treasure it...or hate it or be indifferent about it. As the giver, your responsibility ends with the giving. If you've given with thought and appreciation and appropriate context, your role has been fulfilled. Of course, having someone be delighted with your gift is fabulous and you should obviously choose something you think they will like (that's the thoughtful part), but your responsibility is in the giving.
If you're receiving a gift, it's your responsibility to accept it with graciousness and appreciation of the thought and the act on the part of the giver. Seriously, they went to some degree of effort, you need to acknowledge that even if you aren't fond of the gift. So, let's talk about that for a moment. A gift should be given with no strings attached. It's a gift. It's not a contract. If I give a gift and it's not right for the recipient. they have every right to do with it what they want. When I give a gift, I release it to them freely. It's now theirs to do with as they will. So, if you've received a gift that you can't use, don't like or doesn't fit you...you do not have to keep that jacket in the wrong color and style in your closet for the rest of your days.
Quick rules of thumb? Remember: You're only responsible for your own actions and attitudes on either side of the gift giving equation. And kindness, thoughtfulness and appreciation go a long way.
True in gifting and in life.
Holiday gifts don't always have to be under the tree. They don't always have to be given to people you know and they don't always need to be traditional. Buying experiences instead of things for family and friends is one way to experience alternative gifting, but that's not what I want to talk about today. Here are two projects we do each year that help our family focus on giving rather than receiving.
First, we do a project that we call the Giving Jar in honor of the woman who originated the idea - at least the one who started us down this path years ago [Find Jamie Schultz's blog here and search for "giving jar" posts] . It's an advent project that involves a daily giving task. Sometimes we give money, sometimes it's time, sometimes it's attention. We've sent Christmas cards to servicemen and women, cleaned up trash at local parks, held doors for people, left money for strangers to find, done chores for family members, delivered cookies to school staff members, made phone calls to distant loved ones, provided Kiva loans and donated spare change. Countless random acts of kindness and generosity later and our holidays have been transformed from getting to giving. It's a beautiful process.
This year, we're getting a late start. Usually, we do it for the whole month of December. This year, we'll get in two weeks. But, it's the process and not the perfection that counts! It's how it affects my heart and that of my son. It's how the season is given meaning in small moments in each day. Next year I need to put it on my calendar to organize it in October, because it does take some work.
On the practical end, I've done it several different ways. Rolled paper in a jar with the daily task. Simple stacked, numbered cards with the tasks written on them. And my current favorite that probably won't get used this year: sewn paper mittens strung on a string with daily tasks in each mitten.
My other favorite alternative gifts are the ones we choose from Heifer International. If you aren't familiar with Heifer, they're an organization that has projects around the world with the purpose of ending hunger and poverty. They provide training, economic change and income in areas of need by providing livestock and farming practices. They also require recipients of their gifts to pass along offspring to others, furthering the reach of your gift. Here's what we do: we choose an animal or portion of an animal to gift each year. This is normal for people donating to Heifer.
But, then, we also purchase a stuffed version of that animal to live under our tree with our own gifts each year as a visible reminder to us of how fortunate we are and how our own gifts are not the point of Christmas. We started when my son was born and have 10 animals of various sizes and types that make their home under my tree each year. Actually, the bag where the animals are stored has come up missing this year and I'm trying not to panic since it's one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
The art this week is a gift. Not a lot of interpretation needed here, but know that giving should be a beautiful thing both for the giver and the receiver, regardless of what the gift actually is. I wish you many blessings of giving this season and hope that you think through your gifting in new ways after listening today.
What if your gift-giving was full of peace?
If you'd like to see our two week schedule of Giving Jar tasks this year, I'll attach that to this week's coffee talk emails in a printable form, so hop on the Coffee Talk email list to receive that. You'll also receive a few questions each morning about the podcast topic and a version of the week's art in a phone lock screen.
It's the holidays! Welcome to a beautiful season of peace! A merry, joyful season of silent, holy nights! Is that what yours looks like? Or is yours more like refereeing fighting kids while decking the halls, frantic rushing, stressful family gatherings and the stress of compulsive gifting? What if we could change all of that?
What if you are the change?
Last week I talked about the first step in a peaceful season - being at peace with myself. This week I want to talk about the next step. Sharing that peace around me. The quote from Ghandi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." has been running around inside my head and heart ever since the election. I want peace in my holiday season. So, I'm going to be that peace.
As much as I can, I'm going to be a light of peace for the world around me. But, how do I do that? How can I (or you) be the light of peace when I'm in the midst of family emergencies, a busy schedule, Christmas chaos and a more persistent than usual round of depression?
First, we need to understand that peace is possible in all circumstances. A few years ago I read a description of an art show. The theme was "peace" and the show was full of beautiful images of tranquil scenes. Except for one painting. It showed a pair of birds building their nest in the branches of a tree overhanging the raging rapids of a river below. It was a windy, stormy scene. But, the birds were going about building their nest despite what was going on around them. I'm not going to comment about the wisdom in their choice of real estate. But, you get the point. Your circumstances don't control your sense of peace. You do.
3 Steps To Peace
Here's my plan to brighten the world around me with peace this season. There are three steps. The first is internal. I can't extend peace from a heart and mind in turmoil. Second, extending peace to my family and third to my community.
My internal step: I've started a 30 day yoga and meditation challenge. With myself. And if I can recruit my son, I'll include him as well. The first quarter of the year, I was consistent in a 30 - 45 minute yoga practice every night (yay, me, that was a big deal!). When I started back at the gym in April, that fell by the wayside and it's the missing piece of my exercise routine. In December, I'm planning on doing 20 minutes of combined yoga and meditation daily. If you're not aware of all the benefits of meditation, check out the following articles:
As a sneak peek, if it goes the way I think it will, I'm going to do the 30 days again publicly after the first of the year and would love for you to join me! If you think you might be interested, go to my website and get on the list to be notified when it's ready to go.
Peace At Home
Second, My family. I'm going to institute a Christmas hour each night with my son. We'll cuddle up in front of the Christmas tree with no devices and hang out together. We'll do a devotional. We'll drink cocoa. We'll talk about life and the holidays. We'll make ornaments. We'll do our giving jar project (I'll talk about that next week). Now, my son doesn't know about this plan yet and there's a good chance he's going to have a fit given the "no devices" portion of the scenario. But, we've already decided that a regular time together would go really far in making our season meaningful. So, he'll get over it eventually. If I'm not back with an episode next week, you can assume mutiny.
Peace in Community
I commit to being a messenger of peace in the world in some pretty specific ways. The one I want to mention here is a conscious effort to bring intentionality and kindness to each interaction I have this month. This means slowing down. Smiling. Caring. Noticing. Treating each person I interact with as worthy of careful handling and attention. Don't you wish every UPS and FedEx driver handled every package shipped this season with extra care? They don't though do they? When we're overloaded, busy or distracted, it's easy to treat each other like objects or hurdles to get through to reach our goal. As means to an end. Not me this season. I want to be present and life-giving. My goal is to handle every interaction like I'm being paid to take extra special care.
I knew I wanted to do a candle piece similar to the one I did a few weeks ago. It represents being a light in my world. It's a reminder to me to light my way with peace. And a reminder that even a small light can shine brightly and light the way for others.
What do you want to see more of in the world this month? What if you are that change?