Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

The holidays can bring such joy — families gather together to share specially prepared meals, exchange gifts, and savor the particular magic that seems to permeate the air. Frosty windowpanes frame displays of trees and candles whose lights dance about merrily. The cold makes noses jauntily pink, and hot cocoa and spiced cider warm everyone back up. The scents of cinnamon and pine waft through the air.

Of course, that’s the ideal, what sparkles in our memories of favorite holidays. It’s also possible, with busy lives and the demands of work, kids’ last days of school before the winter break, and just trying to get ready for the expectations of what the holidays should be — grocery shopping, endless treks to the mall to get the toys and gadgets on the kids’ wish lists, getting lights strung around the house — to lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays.

Here are a few ideas for ways to bring back that wonderful feeling that can be the hallmark of this special time of year.

Get ideas from Grandma.

Ask an older member of your family, such as a grandmother or great-uncle, to share a tradition from his or her childhood and incorporate that this year. Grandma may tell you how when she was little she put her shoes outside the front door to have them filled with goodies from Santa Claus, instead of in a stocking next to the fireplace. This might work particularly well if you don’t have a fireplace and the children worry how Santa can get to their stockings without one!

Shake the family tree.

This free land of ours is a melting pot of many countries with their own unique practices surrounding the holidays. Your family may be a mixture of Russian, British and Norwegian, for example. Look up Christmas traditions that are common in Norway, perhaps, and pick one or two to incorporate this year in your celebrations. Christmas Eve dinner there usually features pork or lamb ribs or even cod, according to visitnorway.com, followed by the opening of gifts waiting under the tree. Get a recipe for Norwegian-style ribs and try that as a main course, and do the same for the traditional cookies — goro, krumkaker or berlinekrans.

Plan to volunteer or give back somehow as a family.

Depending on your family’s size and the ages of your children, it may be easy to find some way to give back to your community in some way or it may be a bit more challenging. Little ones won’t have a long attention span or may not be old enough to help out at homeless shelters or places that provide free meals, for instance. But anyone can find some way to serve others. Donating cans or boxes of nonperishable food items is a simple option; children can help Mom pick out vegetables they like and want to share with others. Take a box or bag full to your local food pantry. A more one-on-one way to brighten someone’s day is to visit a nursing home. Share your talents, such as music, or just sit and visit and ask an older person about his or her life. Ask him or her about long-ago traditions or holiday memories, even.

Re-emphasize your faith.

lightOur holidays are based on religious events, after all. Find a way to focus more on “what it really is all about.” Make an advent calendar that takes the whole month of December leading up to Christmas Day to remember miracles Christ performed. I’ve been enjoying the LDS Church’s #lighttheworld initiative this month so far, which gives an idea of something to do service-wise every day of the month leading up to the 25th, based on what Jesus did in his life.

Gift a memory.

It can sometimes be difficult to find just the right gift for a loved one. This year, try “throwing it back” by finding an item that reflects a favorite toy or experience the recipient had as a child. Children of the ‘80s had Atari game systems; try giving him a classic video game set in the form of an app. Maybe your grandma misses the beautiful farmhouse she grew up in; give her a framed photo of it or an ornament that harks back to it. Or try a charm for a bracelet or necklace. Have some fun!

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I think about the idea of “enough” so often that I considered using it as part of the name of this website. In the end, obviously, I didn’t, but the concept comes to my mind frequently.

I’m not the type of person who wants more things. In fact, I’m usually working to get rid of things. Years of moving have taught me to pare down wherever possible. (I’m not a minimalist, however: I love my kitchen gadgets, and I use them. That’s a topic for another post.) I’m satisfied to keep a computer for seven or eight years or a TV for 10 or 15 years, even if they’re getting snazzier, wider and thinner. I have some clothes I’ve worn for years; I have a sweater I just adore that I bought in high school (guess it’s stretched out over the years…). So “enough” doesn’t apply to stuff. Well, it does, actually: I can say with confidence I have enough stuff.

No, “enough” applies to actions. I worried in high school if I had enough on my list of activities to show my dream university I was fit to enter. (I did.) Mostly, I’ve worried over the years if I’ve done enough. As a mother for about 16 years now, I think I worry the most if I’ve done enough for my four daughters, who are truly the most precious gift I’ve been given. I have generally been of the opinion that children will do best if given plenty of free time to find their own way, to keep themselves occupied and use their imaginations and their own inner resources. I haven’t scheduled them in lots of activities or sports or lessons. I haven’t spent all of my free time finding ways to keep them busy or happy. Even knowing that this strategy seems to have worked pretty well for them so far, I have moments of wishing I could just do more or be more for them because they are so amazing, so talented, so delightful. Because they are my only offspring, and these years I have of them living at home with me are my only chance to raise them: I just get this one shot. Because they deserve everything I can offer, everything the world can offer. Again, not stuff, but opportunities.

I’ve given my girls time. I’ve read with them, countless hours curled up on our beds, usually at bedtime, with countless books, many of which are now well worn, pages slipping out of their bindings, bits torn off corners. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve just sat and listened to them talk, telling me about their days, about their friends, about all kinds of thoughts swirling in their heads. I’ve not generally considered that a sacrifice, especially now that I have a high-schooler. She in particular has so much to say, so much that’s entertaining and interesting, at turns humorous and sweet. I cherish these tete-a-tetes. We’ve had “the talk,” we’ve talked about life and the big things, about faith and family; we’ve also talked about all the hilarious things that boys do and all the tasty morsels she ate for lunch. It’s been a pleasure; it’s been a treat.

Perhaps it’s a direct result of that time I’ve spent with them that I feel the urgency to do more, to give my girls the world. I’ve seen inside their souls and seen all that is possible, and I want to give it to them. Now that my oldest has realized how much she enjoys dance, she’d like dance lessons. But when would we fit those in among the band concerts and rehearsals or church activities or that extra class she’s taking in the evenings? Or as I see how much is lacking in our educational system nowadays (thanks to legislation, lack of funding and the bad economy, you name it…), I wish I could home-school or supplement with some somewhat structured lessons of my own. Oh, there’s so much I wish I could do.

But time limits me. Energy certainly limits what I can give. My budget limits me. My own needs, weaknesses and limitations keep me from being able to give all. (If you read about my struggles with my mental health, this will seem even clearer.) The number of children I have limits how much I can give to each, in some ways (I can’t be two or three places at once, sadly). But those things don’t limit how much I love.

At the same time, I know when I think about it seriously that my limitations are just part of life, even part of my children’s lives. They live in the same world I live in, where you can’t get everything you want, where you can only do so much, where the people around you aren’t perfect. No one should be handed everything on a silver platter, now or ever. Life isn’t perfect. There are always disappointments, always choices to be made between two or three good things. Giving my children everything would be doing them a disservice.

So I know in my head that I really am doing pretty well by my girls, that they are happy and well-adjusted, that they truly feel loved and secure. It’s just I struggle on some days when particular things crop up that I wish they could have or do. I wage a battle in my mind and — eventually — conquer my feelings of “not-enough” with the knowledge that they are happy, that they are loved.

I also struggle with that feeling of doing or being enough outside of my small family sphere, with the wide world around me. Every day, I see people and organizations that desperately need help, that need money, that need volunteer hours. There are children all around the world who need food; who need clothes and shelter; who need a strong, loving parent. And I don’t have to look far to be aware of those children. Teachers I know have those children in their classrooms. My daughters have these children as peers. Every time my oldest, in particular, mentions to me how grateful she is that I cook healthy food for her, that she has a comfortable house and plenty of clothes, that she has two parents in her home who love her, it’s because she has been reminded at school that all too many other kids don’t have those things. And my heart breaks, it just starts opening wide and trying to send feelers out to all those other children who don’t live in my home, to show them that someone cares. Oh, how I often wish I could parent so many other kids. Practically, however, I know I’m at my limits with the four I have right now.

There are so many worthy organizations out there that I could give time to. It’s hard to limit myself to just a few. Even as I say yes to one, I know there are many others I simply must say no to. It makes me feel bad to have to choose, to say no. It breaks my heart. The need is great so many places right now, especially, with our economy the way it is, but the need is always great in terms of hearts that need healing, souls that need to be nurtured.

I can only keep reminding myself of a story that I’ve heard a few times over the years. A man goes walking on a beach early one morning and finds a young man on the shore, bending down and picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. He keeps bending to the sand, grasping one starfish at a time, and throwing. The beach is just covered with starfish, who are likely going to die if left where they are, washed up on the sand. It seems a ridiculous endeavor, this picking up starfish one at a time and throwing them back. So the man asks the thrower, “Why? Why do you bother? You can’t possibly save them all. This won’t make a difference.” The young man’s reply, as he threw yet another starfish wide into the ocean, “It made a difference to that one.”

That’s the philosophy to which I cling in those times my heart breaks because I can’t possibly save the world. There are so many people in need, so many causes that are worthy. But I have to tell myself, what I do matters to “that one.” I just read about Mother Teresa’s similar thinking: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.” I am making a difference to the four children with whom I’ve been entrusted. I hope to make a difference to the women I’ve been assigned to watch over in my church’s visiting teaching program. I hope to make a small difference in what I write here, that if what I say helps just a few readers, I’ve spent my time wisely. You, my friends, are my starfish. I wish I could rescue all the starfish lying on the beaches of the world, but I’m throwing back one at a time.

I watched this video for the first time yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that I can just make one person’s burden lighter each day because I’m willing to share. Enjoy this beautiful, inspiring message.


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