My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Spreading Joy By Giving At Christmas

Each Christmas Season brings new memories and new lessons learned. A thread that came through this season is that part of the Joy of Christmas is in giving. Giving touches upon the true meaning of Christmas in God sending His son to the world as the greatest gift. There were many ways this came to mind this year and I will simply touch on a few ways that stood out to me.

Recently as a family we went to a concert of the Tran Siberian Orchestra for their Winter tour. If you ever have the opportunity to see them in concert they put on an amazing performance. Their talent as artists and performers is superb. (Click on this sentence to hear a short video of their music). We thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of their music and light show. What does this have to do with giving as we were on the receiving end? Well, something else I appreciate about the Trans Siberian Orchestra is their performance always tells a story. As I listened intently to the mesmerizing voice of the narrator and the lyrics of the singers the message became clear. The story was emphasizing one important part of Christmas was that of giving and being open to give to strangers in their time of need. They were also getting across that this aspect of Christmas should be a year round lifestyle change in us. So we went to the concert simply to enjoy their music but came away with an important lesson as well.

During the Christmas season as I shop, I am also reminded of the importance of giving as I hear the familiar bells of the Salvation Army. They are a Christian based organization that does so much good around the world. By placing spare change into the red kettles it is a way to give to the needy that the Salvation Army helps.

Then a few days ago while my wife and daughter went shopping, I spent the day baking small gingerbread cakes and Christmas cookies. From the memory side of Christmas there is nothing better than baking cookies while listening to Holiday music. Since we are new in the neighborhood I thought of making up plates of cookies and giving them to our neighbors who we are still getting to know. When they came back from shopping my wife helped me plate the cookies which you see at the top of this column. She creatively wrapped them up with plastic wrap and red and green ribbon so they were ready for delivery.

Christmas Eve morning I walked them around to our surrounding neighbors. I could see joy in their eyes as their gazed at the decorated tray of baked goods. Who would think that giving a simple tray of cookies would brighten someone’s life? We hope in the New Year to know these neighbors better.

Reflection: What are some ways you practice giving during the Holidays? As you look into the New Year are there ways you can keep Christmas alive by giving through out the year?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Savoring Fall in Texas

The diverse colors of the Fall season is one aspect of the Chicago area my wife and I had missed in our living in the Texas, Rio Grande Valley. I’ve never missed the bone chilling snowy Winters of Chicago, but Fall is a season I missed. There is a relaxing freshness for the spirit in taking a Saturday stroll through Lincoln Park with the trees full of a mixture yellow, oranges, and red leaves. Or driving up through Southern Wisconsin and viewing the changing colors of creation. In Brownsville we missed the diversity of the seasons.

With our move up to New Braunfels we noticed Maple trees in our neighborhood and with plum trees in our yard we thought we might be able to enjoy Fall again. A week ago we took a weekend to go to nearby Lost Maples State Park . We rented a cabin that overlooked the Frio River in Leakey, Texas. The drought had taken its toll on the river yet in the area where our cabin was the water was so clear we could see the catfish and turtles swimming.

On early Saturday morning we went over to Lost Maples. It was sprinkling lightly so we worried that would hinder us taking photographs. As we started up one of the trails, by then it had stopped raining. After about a quarter of a mile we came to an open field area that was perfect for photographs. The colors in the maples were spectacular oranges, yellows, and reds. The rest of the hike gave us a good healthy workout. I was thankful that it was a cooler day as we walked the miles of the hike.

Savoring is deeply soaking in experiences as you are going through them. It is taking time to reflect on the present moment so as to imbed the moment into our memory. When we are savoring, it often also brings up corresponding memories. The time at Lost Maples with my family and taking photos that afternoon allowed me to reflect on memories of Fall trips when I was young in Ohio to the various state parks Ohio is noted for. Those were positive times with my mother, brother and family friends growing up. The colors also brought back memories of the many Fall weekend hikes in the Chicago area. Many a Saturday I would hike from Peterson Avenue on the far North side and follow the lakefront parks to the North Avenue Beach area.

Back at the cabin in the late evening I marveled at all the stars sparkling on the clear backdrop of a black cloud free night sky. It had been many years since I had seen so many stars. Then in the early morning I sat out on the cabins patio to read. I would glance up from the book listening to the sound of silence and marveling at the expanse of trees on the other side of the river. I breathed up a prayer of thankfulness to the Designer Creator behind all the beauty around me.

Taking short breaks to savor the wonder and beauty of nature helps to revive us from the humdrum boredom of life. Opportunities like these help to slow down our pace so we can savor new time moments with family and renew older memories that make life more meaningful. The voices in our minds can tell us we are too busy to take a break or we don’t have the money. We almost allowed those voices to stop us from going to Lost Maples. After the weekend experience we were glad that we made the choice to go and get away.

Reflection: Plan a getaway for yourself and your family -- even if it is a one day picnic at a park or beach. During the time use 20 to 30 minutes to soak in the experience and savor what getting away means for you.