12 Days of Kindness


Someone once asked Michael Jordan to what did he attribute his success on the basketball court and in life.  Jordan answered:  “You have to expect great things of yourself before you can do them.”  While most of us can never achieve what Michael Jordan has, his advice is excellent advice for us in this new year of 2019.  Michael Jordan lived his career in the present tense and we need to live our lives the same way.


“I don’t expect you to except me, but I do expect you to accept me.”  This quote from Jarod Kintz may seem like a perfect example of how confusing the English language is but it also is a great example of  how most of us should live.  Life is the quintessential on-the-job training experience.  No matter how hard we try we cannot fully prepare for tomorrow because it is always something of a surprise.  Each hour offers a chance to succeed or fail. 


Why expect anything other than success?  In a world where our differences seem amplified, it has become commonplace to expect the worst.  We do not turn to the news expecting the program to be full of happy thoughts and joyous happenings.  We have become slaves to depressing expectations.  What if we expected goodness?  What if we expected greatness in ourselves and then realized it when it occurred?


Few of us will ever win the championships Michael Jordan won but he can’t cook my special breakfast gravy like I can.  In that, I am the great one.  We all have talents that make us special.  The other day I sat in front of a toddler, an adorable baby only five months old and together we listened to a guest speaker.  The baby understood little about the speaker but gurgled at all the right times and smiled throughout.  She made me happy I was present and her smile still brings a smile to my face several days later.   In expecting a great time of life, the baby was as much a pro as Michael Jordan.  For sure the baby was great at smiling.


Perhaps your talent isn’t cooking but it is in cleaning a house or repairing an engine.  Some of us are loving caregivers while others are detailed researchers.  We all have a uniqueness that makes us great.  Perhaps yours is in expressing joy or gratitude, organizational skills that keep things rolling, or maybe you are a dreamer that envisions great projects.  Everyone has something to offer the world. 


Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing our supposed faults, what if we looked in the mirror and expected to see our greatness?  William Shakespeare advised “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  The actress Judy Garland summed it up best:  “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”  Expect to be you and expect that you are not only a person of value but greatness.


This ends our twelve days of kindness and, if you have been paying attention, you will have figured out that each day’s title was a clue.  The titles, in order of the twelve days, were Generosity; Respect; Acknowledge; Clemency; Envision…  Accept; Need; Dare …. Laughter; Open; Veer; Expect.  These are ways to experience and live kindness:  G-R-A-C-E … a-n-d … L-O-V-E.  When we are generous, show respect, acknowledge one another with forgiveness and clemency, we are then able to envision a better life.  We should accept and need each other, daring to laugh, be open, learning from life’s detours when we veer off course, and expect good things.


The Christmas season has reached its end with the twelfth day of Christmas being today.  Tomorrow begins Epiphany, a season of revelation, expectation, and presence.   It is a good lesson for us all to expect ourselves to be present in each moment, reveling in what life offers us, and expecting to make today great and tomorrow even better.

Time to Learn

A Time to Learn
Christmas Nine

There are twelve days between the celebrations of feasts of Christmas and Epiphany or Theopany. Everyone agrees on that. However, exactly when one is to start counting those twelve days is not a subject of agreement. Technically, today, New Year’s Day, January first is the eighth day of Christmastide, the period between Christmas and Epiphany. However, does being the eighth day of the season make it Day Eight? Yes….. and no.

Some traditions start the counting of the days after the first main celebration of Christmas, ending with the twelfth day being Epiphany. Other religious traditions end on January 5th and then January 6th is the Feast of Epiphany. For many people Christmas is simply a winter excuse for partying and gift-giving. For the religious who believe in the Christian tradition, however, those twelve days are full of meaning and celebration. It should be noted that for many Roman Catholic dioceses, Christmastide goes until the first Sunday after Epiphany which celebrates the baptism of the prophet known as Jesus the Christ messiah.

Interestingly enough, Epiphany was celebrated long before Christmas was. Not until the fourth century in Africa were celebrations held on December 25th to commemorate the birth of the baby Jesus. In the ensuing years, many symbols have been attached to Christmas, so many in fact that some churches are now advocating their members not celebrate Christmas but rather concentrate of the meaning of it instead.

A great deal is made of how people greet each other at this time of you. Those believing in Christmas feel the correct greeting to be “Merry Christmas”. Others with a larger view of humanity feel the “Seasons’ Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” is more politically correct. What really matters, though, is that we are greeting each other.

A family stood in line to view a movie during the weekend after Thanksgiving. The grandmother leaned down to the three-year-old and asked if Santa Claus was going to come visit her and bring her presents. The little girl shrugged her shoulders and firmly said “No.” The grandmother looked over at the mother and again asked the child if Santa Claus was going to come bring her presents. Once again, the child looks up at her grandmother and this time patiently repeats “No.” The grandmother turns to the child’s mother and starts asking what type of modern parenting and religion she was teaching her granddaughter when she felt a tug on her sleeve.

The child patted her grandmother’s hand and asked; “Didn’t you ever learn about Christmas?” The mother hurriedly interceded and asked the child to tell them all about Christmas. “Well,” said the child, “Christmas is about celebrating the birth of a baby named Jesus who loved everyone and wanted us to be kind and giving to all. But he’s dead. Dead.’ She stopped and looked up as they moved forward in the line. “We can’t give him birthday presents because he’s dead. He was born a long, long time ago. We can give each other presents to remember him. And we do!’

The grandmother, however, was not yet willing to give up on the commercial culture of Christmas. She asked her granddaughter a third time “What about Santa Claus?” The toddler reached up and gave her grandmother a hug. “Oh, nobody did ever teach you about Christmas, did they? Christmas is about love. That’s the Jesus part. It is also about fun. That’s the Santa Claus part. Santa Claus walks around and visits people to make them smile. Christmas is about love and smiles; love and joy. Jesus is the love. Santa Claus is the joy.”

Whether or not you agree with the toddler, it is a pretty good rendition of what Christmastide is all about. So, if you are now finished with Kwanza, go ahead and take part in the twelve days of Christmas. The song, which we will discuss another day, is all about love – i.e., gifts – and joy – imagining all those gifts.

Winter is a time of cold for many. People suffering from seasonal affective disorder have a difficult time during the winter months with reduced sunlight and more foggy, gray and cloudy days. When we greet each other pleasantly, regardless of what is said or whether or not it specifies the particular holiday one celebrates, the very act of greeting brings a ray of warmth into the landscape.

You might have celebrated something earlier in December and perhaps you don’t really celebrate anything at all. Perhaps you think twelve days is silly but really….How does sharing a smile and friendly greeting hurt anyone? How could it possibly offend? Regardless of your spirituality, it never hurts to take a few days to remember the love and joy that comprise our living. Even if you don’t recognize a man named Jesus as being anything other than a simple carpenter, even if you never have attended a church, or maybe believe that which can only be proven by science to be true, take a second and enjoy the laughter from this video. After all, even science has yet to figure out the perfect formula for a smile… or love… or happiness. Maybe that is the real magic of Christmastide: It exists.

Time to Go Forward

Time to Go Forward
New Year’s Eve
Christmas Seven

New Hampshire author and conflict resolution trainer Dr Tammy Lenski is an expert at helping families diffuse holiday stress. But what about the holiday stress that we take into the New Year? At a time when a great many people are celebrating the birth of a prophet who preached universal love, we see people being bullies and harsh in both their judgments and their behavior towards others. Right after another religion has celebrated a miracle of one day’s worth of oil burning for eight days, we hear nothing but despair and negative expectations for the upcoming New Year.

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight, to watch what one eats. However, this can often led to conflict. “The self-control needed to deal with anger and aggression takes energy and our brains get that energy partly from glucose,” Lenski explains. “If we haven’t eaten properly, low blood sugar makes it harder to deal with confrontations and can cause us to lash out.”

Ina world that seems to require us to do more and move faster, the term “multi-tasking” has become synonymous with living. The fact is that we can do a great deal but we can only do some well. No one is everything nor can one person do everything in a short time span. We often set ourselves up for failure. A tip borrowed from the dog-training world, “trigger stacking” is the gradual build-up of anxiety from a series of events. It’s why otherwise mild-mannered dogs unexpectedly bite, Lenski explains.“Research has shown that trying to regulate our thoughts and feelings all day saps our willpower, and eventually we run out of it,” Lenski says. “When that happens, we can snap, too, just like a dog.”

We need to be aware of our environment and how we react to it. Similarly, we need to expect criticism. After all, no one human being is perfect. We all have those things that stress us and knowing what they are can help us prevent them and better react to them when they are unpreventable. “We see ourselves as competent, likable, dependable, having good character, and capable of standing on our own two feet,” Dr. Lenski explains. But when someone suggests we aren’t, we can get ‘hooked’ by conflict. If we have a difficult history with someone, we’re more likely to interpret their comment as a deliberate insult, when the same comment from someone else might not even register on our internal Richter scales,” she says.

Another buzz word of the twenty-first century is “venting”. While it is good to acknowledge one’s feelings, let’s get real. Venting is just another word for complaining but calling it “venting” seems to make it okay. The notion that venting reduces anger is a myth,” says Lenski. “The venting myth persists because we associate feeling less angry and aggressive with actually being less so,” she says. “Research has shown when you just sit quietly for two minutes after an angering event, without thinking about anything in particular thing to think about, anger and aggression levels decline.”

What we need to do is take the beauty and meaning of this season of holidays into the New year without adding any stress to them. Fortunately, none of us exist alone. Whether you have a deep-rooted spirituality or faith or consider yourself simply a member of the family of man, you are a part of a family. None of us walks alone along the path of life. Find a local charity to volunteer. Every city has either a Red Cross chapter, Salvation Army, or locally-sponsored soup kitchen that could use your help. If construction is your forte, offer to help winterize the homes of senior citizens or low income families. If teaching was your career, volunteer at a local college to help adults receive their GED or be a reading tutor at a local elementary school. Humane societies welcome “petters”, those people who simply come and pet the dogs and cats awaiting adoption.

The reason for the season, regardless of what you call your season, is living. Move forward into the New Year with as little stress and as much hope as possible. The family of man needs you and has a place for you!

Time to Rejoice

A Time to Rejoice
Christmas Day Two

For many who celebrate and even for those who might partake of some of the celebration but not really the reason, Christmas has passed. After all, it was two days ago. However, for the religious for whom the holiday is based upon a religious tenet that it represents the birth of their prophet and messiah Jesus, the holiday should really just be starting. The season of Christmastide did not end, in olden times, with the stroke of the clock at midnight. It was just beginning and it continued for twelve days. Just as Kwanza has seven days, Christmas has twelve, ending with the church season called Epiphany.

Isaac Watts was something of a precocious child. As a young lad, he once was found to have his eyes open during prayers. When asked why he had not closed his eyes to pray, as was the custom and religious instruction, he replied: “A little mouse for want of stairs… ran up a rope to say its prayers.” Not really appreciating his talent for rhyming, Isaac received a spanking for what was seen as his impertinence. After his punishment, Isaac reportedly replied: “O father, father, pity take…And I will no more verses make!”

Living in England from the latter part of the seventeenth century to mid-eighteenth century, Watts declined the opportunity for an Anglican university education and was known as a Nonconformist. However, that moniker is not really accurate either since he was more interested in the universality of what having a belief system could offer a person. In many Anglican and Episcopal churches, the reading of the psalms is done as a type of partner song. It was Isaac Watts who proposed the metrical translations of the psalms from Hebrew into English which allows this to occur. Watts believed theology had two main divisions: emotional objectivity and doctrinal objectivity. The translating of the psalms was an example of emotional objectivity since it allowed the English-speaker to relate to them. The partner type of singing further enhances to emotional aspect of the religious experience being both give and take as well as communal.

A well-known carol, “Joy to the World” is another example of Watts’ emotional objectivity. While it is also an example of doctrinal objectivity since it does include the birth of the messiah, it really is evidence of Watts seeing the larger picture of why man has any spirituality at all. Written about just one word, the first word in the title, Watts realized that life is about finding the joy. Watts wrote a book entitled “Logic, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth with a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences.” Watts divided his content about logic into four parts: perception, judgment, reasoning, and method.

The partner song type Watts made popular with his psalms translation is also used for another element of the period of Christmastide. The twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany is the basis for one of the most popular seasonal songs and is often used as an example of gift-giving at this time. We will discuss the song and its origins during this season of twelve days of Christmastide but perhaps the focus should really be on the act and reason of gift giving.

Gifts were once given only to those who worked for their living. Boxing Day, December 26th, was that day set aside for people to show their spiritual charity to others. Exchanging gifts between family members or friends came fairly recently to the world. As many are putting away their candles of which ever religious season they celebrated or perhaps are simply putting up their winter festive decorations, the gifts received and/or given are probably also on the mind.

We give gifts for a number of occasions, regardless of our spiritual or religious beliefs. It is one way we celebrate; we rejoice; we find the joy in our living. Most of us, though, have little need for essential things. Perhaps you might consider giving a gift that won’t be put on a shelf but will be used. The season for giving may seem to be over but really, with New Year’s Day just around the corner, it hasn’t stopped at all. In fact, a new season of giving, a new year of reasons to give is just about to begin.

There are agencies like Save the Children who offer an entire catalogue of gifts that keep the giving going and celebrate life. You can donate to start a library in a village in an underdeveloped nation for the cost of taking four teens to a fast food restaurant. You can give the gift of a sweater which will probably become one of many in someone’s closet or, for less money, you can go to Heifer, International and give a goat to a family to ensure they will have necessary dairy as well as wool. If you consider giving gift cars to restaurants a great gift option, consider giving a chicken to a family and feed them not just for one meal but for several years. In this way, your gift is remembered to the person in whose celebration you are giving it and the spirit of giving continues longer than the twelve days of the season. This is one way to continue the joy for a very long time and sometimes, is the giving of life to a very needy family. BOth agencies offer these gifts year round.

Watts recognized the universal appeal of believing and most of us do indeed believe in something. Whether or not you are celebrating the birth of one particular child or just the essence of life itself, it is also a season for finding the joy in your life, the joy in the world. There is the misery that exists in life and Watts was well aware of this. In his poem “Against Idleness and Mischief” written for children Watts wrote: “In books, or work, or healthful play; Let my first years be past; That I may give for every Day; Some good account at last.” In case that sound a bit familiar, you probably know the parody of this poem written by Lewis Carroll and included in his work “Alice in Wonderland”. The opening lines of this poem, though, are the real secret and the way we should all go about finding the joy and rejoicing in our living: “How doth the little busy Bee; Improve each shining Hour…”. Regardless of one’s spirituality or religion, we need to go about life seeking to improve and finding our own joy.