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Surviving the Holidays

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    The Gift of Forgiveness

    Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a classic holiday story known and loved by many, but are you familiar with the inspiration behind it? 

    When Dickens was 10, his parents could no longer afford his schooling costs. He was sent to work in a London blacking factory where they made polish for metal surfaces. The conditions at the rat-infested factory were horrible and his co-workers bullied him. 

    When his father John, his mother and younger siblings were sent to debtors’ prison, 12-year-old Charles stayed with an elderly family friend so he could continue working at the factory which he hated.

    Throughout his life, Dickens harbored anger and bitterness at his father over their family circumstances. When writing “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens used his bitterness toward his own father as inspiration for the character of Scrooge. 

    It has been said that the chains of relationships go with us to the grave.

    Whether through complicated family circumstances, divorce, deception, business dealings gone wrong, betrayal by a best friend, abuse or some other situation, many struggle with ushering in the holiday season because they find it hard to forgive those who have hurt them. And, what’s really crazy is that while bitterness, resentment and lack of forgiveness have a stranglehold on the offended party, the other person has often moved on. 

    Although there are tools to help people get past hurtful incidents, it can be hard to move forward. Refusing to let go of grudges, they replay grievances repeatedly and allow negative thoughts to dominate their thinking. This type of behavior is destructive on so many levels. While seeking justice, they are essentially drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Lack of forgiveness casts a shadow over every aspect of a person’s life, and viewing life through the lens of unforgiveness can make life look like a black and white photo instead of living color.

    Many fear that forgiving someone lets that person off the hook for their behavior. The truth is, forgiveness sets you free to move on with your life. Even though you can’t control another person’s actions, you can control what you do. You can choose not to be held hostage by a situation or someone’s behavior. Forgiveness is really not about forgetting, it is about moving on.

    If you are struggling with unforgiveness as you approach the holidays, these suggestions can help you move forward:

    • Start out with some self-examination. No one is perfect, and everyone has regrets. Some people who are very hard on themselves are also hard on those around them. Recognizing that everyone is capable of making mistakes can help you move on with your life.

    • Stop waiting for an apology. Often people say they will forgive when the other person apologizes for their behavior. They spend their whole lives being bitter and resentful, basically allowing themselves to be held captive over an apology that never came. If you want to be free, you can make an intentional decision to let it and them go. This doesn’t mean you are excusing the other person’s actions, but that you are choosing to get on with your life. You may or may not want to let the person know you have forgiven them.

    • Consider what you have learned. What did you learn about yourself? Do you need to do anything differently as a result of this experience?

    • Forgiveness is more for you than it is for the other person. The ability to acknowledge what happened and choose forgiveness takes power and control away from the other person and places it squarely in your lap. Instead of being tossed to and fro based on what someone else does or doesn’t do, you can decide to be in the driver’s seat.

    Writing “A Christmas Carol” became a very cathartic experience for Dickens as he dealt with his feelings toward his father. Perhaps this is the year where you give yourself and someone else the gift of forgiveness this holiday season. It may also be a great time to seek forgiveness from others and restore fractured relationships in your life.

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    3 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During the Holidays and Beyond

    Have you ever noticed that many of us run around as if our hair were on fire because of all kinds of commitments? Then just for the thrill of it, we tend to add more activities to our holiday calendar. Some of us do this because it feels like a challenge. Others do it because everyone expects them to. Besides, if they don’t do it, who will? 

    Whatever the case may be, we often find ourselves sitting in carpool line, at class parties or sitting with friends commiserating about the insanely busy holiday season, how exhausted we are and how we can’t wait for it to all be over.  

    Plenty of us have said yes to activities, thinking, “What’s one more thing? It’s really not that big of a deal.” A couple of weeks later, we find ourselves irritated for saying yes and waking up in the middle of the night wondering how we will get it all done - and we only have ourselves to blame.

    One mom found herself completely exhausted from all she had said yes to while she tried to have the house perfect by the time her kids made it home for the holidays. When they headed back to school, her daughter said, “We really don’t care about a spotless house, we come home to spend time with you. It’s a lot more fun when you aren’t irritable and sleep-deprived.” That was a moment of awakening for the mom. She realized that not taking care of herself had cost her precious time with her family.

    If any of this resembles your life at the moment, it isn’t too late to hit the pause button, take a few deep breaths and recalibrate. 

    In her recent article, This is What Self-Care Really Means Because it’s Not All Salt Baths and Chocolate Cake, Brianna Wiest asserts that true self-care is about choosing to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. Surely she wasn’t talking about the holidays. Consider her point nonetheless. 

    When we intentionally make healthy choices instead of sprinting to the next thing, we can actually take in the moment and enjoy it instead of wishing for it to end so we can move on.

    So, how can you practice good self-care during the holidays and beyond?

    Determine your best yes for this season of your life. From seeing relatives you don’t normally see to organizing the annual cookie swap or attending festive holiday shows, there is no shortage of things to fill your calendar. But in the interest of bringing your best self to the party, the million dollar question is, what are the best yeses and what should you pass on - even if it’s only for this year?

    Let go of guilt for saying no. This is probably one of the biggest struggles for many people. “If I say no, what if no one steps up?” Or, worse, “What if they do a terrible job?” On the other hand, what if saying no actually gives someone else the chance to step up? What if saying no means you can enjoy being part of the experience instead of directing it? 

    Make a plan for how you will take care of yourself through the season and beyond. This isn’t just about self-care for the holidays. As West points out, the goal is to make choices that help you create a life you love versus one you want to escape from. We all know exercise, getting enough rest, and watching what we eat are components of good self-care, but so is surrounding yourself with healthy relationships, setting boundaries, walking away from toxic people and doing what you are passionate about.

    Has the unexpected loss of someone close to you ever caused you to evaluate how you live life? Instead of looking back and saying, “If I had my life to live over again I would… ” make some tough decisions now that will help you take good care of yourself. There is a big difference in being selfish and being self-aware.

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    The Importance of Holiday Traditions

    Believe it or not, most people – young and old – find comfort in traditions. There really is something special about kicking off the holiday season with a ritual you look forward to each year, like running as a family in Families on the Run, the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven, going to pick out the Christmas tree or watching It’s a Wonderful Life. It gives you a warm, comforting feeling on the inside.

    Traditions are usually activities that a family does now, has done in the past and plans to continue doing in the future. Research indicates that they are important for a number of reasons.  Traditions:

    • Help pass along cultural and family values to the next generation;
    • Provide a sense of family history and define the boundaries of the family;
    • Give each member of the family a sense of identity, strength and belonging;
    • Provide a meaningful purpose for coming together;
    • Help build strong family bonds.

    If you think that traditions don’t really mean much to your family, try making a change and see what happens. One mom encountered extreme protests when she arrived home with an artificial tree. Her children informed her, “We don’t do fake trees.”

    Sometimes the things you think matter the least to your family are the very things they hold near and dear. The food you serve, the Christmas puzzle that takes the entire season to complete, cookie decorating, drinking hot chocolate, decorating the tree while watching Charlie Brown Christmas, volunteering, and opening presents together are all traditions that are important to families.

    Perhaps your family is steeped in traditions that have been carried out for decades; you love the old, but you think it’s time to create some new traditions of your own. No need to be intimidated. New traditions don’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Here are some ideas to get you started:

    • Build a gingerbread house as a family. No time to bake the gingerbread? No problem. Purchase a gingerbread house kit or use graham crackers, cake icing and candy.
    • Make Christmas cookies and take them to friends. If you don’t want the mess of making them from scratch, buy the pre-made dough in the refrigerated section.
    • Do the jigsaw puzzle thing and have it framed for your wall. They make great Christmas decorations and bring back fun memories through the years.
    • Volunteer as a family. There are lots of places that would appreciate help during the holidays and throughout the year.
    • Start a Secret Santa project for a shut-in or a family in need. This is a great way to teach your children about the importance of giving.
    • Pick out a favorite family holiday flick. Make some hot chocolate and enjoy the movie together.
    • Invite other families over to play charades using Christmas carols and songs.
    • Take the family to look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve.
    • Attend the Children’s service or the 11PM Christmas service at church.

    When your life is hectic, it is easy to let traditions fall by the wayside. Instead of throwing everything to the wind, choose a couple of things you can do to create traditions for your family. Time-honored traditions often bring us comfort and joy during the holidays.

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    Christmas Magic and Wonder

    We have all experienced a tragic event, and its ripple effect impacts everyone in some form or fashion. Many are approaching Christmas with heavy hearts – and they’re in no mood to celebrate.

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow seemed to be in a similar place when he wrote the carol known as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. On Christmas Day in 1864, Longfellow received word that his son, a soldier in the Civil War, had been wounded. Just two years before, he lost his wife in a fire.

    As he was grieving, he wrote words of hope to challenge his own despair. He called the poem Christmas Bells.

    “I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

    …And in despair, I bowed my head ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’

    …Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.’”

    Longfellow had no idea that his words would be a comforting gift to so many who find themselves in grief and despair.

    In the midst of tragedy, there is hope. People hit the pause button and examine their lives. Many will be moved to act in some way. Families who were moving at a fast pace and taking tomorrow for granted will hug each other tighter. They will choose to cherish their time together this Christmas. Perhaps some will try to restore broken relationships or have conversations they’ve put off for too long. Others will advocate for changes to enrich each of our lives.

    It’s possible that in a loud, hectic, material and high-tech world, the greatest thing to give and receive this Christmas is something you can’t purchase or download. Maybe we need reminders that life is precious, and that we really do need each other.

    Stop fretting over whether or not you have exactly the right gift under the tree. A lasting gift is a willingness to be in real, transparent, wholehearted relationships.

    As you gather in the coming days with friends and family, don’t underestimate the power of making connections. Even with the inconveniences of planning holiday gatherings, quirky relatives and awkward moments, spending time with loved ones is important.  For starters, it provides an irreplaceable type of connectedness for generations to remember.

    Finally, when you give thanks at your family table, please remember that families who have suffered tremendous loss need your prayers.

    And as Longfellow said, 

    “…’the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.’”

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    5 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive the Holidays

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    Take Time to Give Thanks

    Many around the Thanksgiving table will barely have time to give thanks and finish dessert before rushing to shop for the best Christmas deals.

    However, despite the lure of making more money, one store will not be in that mix. For years, Nordstrom has notified customers that they won’t be decking their halls until Friday. Why? Because they like celebrating one holiday at a time.

    Do you remember when Christmas decorations didn’t come out until after Thanksgiving, none of the stores opened until Friday and families actually took the time to celebrate Thanksgiving and consider all the reasons to give thanks?

    Somewhere along the way, the commercialism of the Christmas season hijacked Thanksgiving. Instead of enjoying a leisurely Thanksgiving dinner with lots of laughter, family stories, football and good old-fashioned naps, many will schedule their day and meal around store hours and the best Christmas deals.

    Are you surprised that a Nordstrom flier was shared more than 17,000 times in 24 hours on Facebook? Believe it or not, sharers were not complaining, but applauding Nordstrom for waiting and not giving in to the craziness.

    While some may view the stores opening on Black Friday Eve as a great gift and opportunity to get away from crazy relatives, others may want to push the pause button and ask themselves if they will really miss all the best deals if they wait until Friday morning. With the busy schedules most people keep, perhaps there is something to be said for setting aside this day to give thanks and relax. If you’re wondering how to handle the extra time on your hands, here are a few ideas:

    • Walk as a family in the Grateful Gobbler Walk and help the homeless, then head home to start cooking and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
    • During your Thanksgiving dinner, ask each person to share a line of gratitude for each person seated at the table.
    • Watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving together as a family.
    • Use this time to sit down as a family and establish a new holiday tradition.
    • Write thank you notes to people who have made a difference in your life.
    • Set out a jigsaw puzzle for everybody to work on throughout the weekend.
    • Post an “I Am Thankful For…” list on the refrigerator and ask everybody to contribute to it. Write each item from the list on colorful strips of paper.  Then let your kids make a paper chain to decorate the table. Let them read the list at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Some may think these are the “old-fashioned” ways of celebrating Thanksgiving, but it’s truly a special day for our country and for families.

    Don’t let the stores fool you. There is plenty of time to celebrate the Christmas season. Take this moment in time to savor what it truly means to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!

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    Giving Thanks is Good for You

    Each year, it seems like stores decorate earlier in an attempt to get the jump on holiday sales. In October, you can actually look at Halloween costumes, then stroll over to the next aisle to check out the latest in Christmas decorations, candy and gifts.

    What happened to Thanksgiving – the holiday between Halloween and Christmas that celebrates things for which we are thankful? Has this important holiday been completely overlooked for money’s sake? Even those who truly love the holiday season would probably agree that things have gotten a bit out of control.

    Has the leap from Halloween to Christmas in some way encouraged greed? Have we forgotten to stop and consider all the past year’s blessings?

    On Thanksgiving, many will bow their heads to give thanks for their life after severe weather, natural events, unnecessary violence, sickness, etc.

    For them and their loved ones, it will be a day to recognize that even if they lost every material thing they own, they have something much more precious: the chance to keep on living life. One woman said, “This kind of experience makes you realize what truly matters. We lost everything, but we still have each other.”

    Believe it or not, research shows that giving thanks is good for you.

    According to extensive studies by Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, being thankful can improve your physical and emotional health.  It can also strengthen relationships and communities, too.

    “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” says Emmons in his book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.”

    Emmons’ more than eight years of research is telling.  It found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” experience multiple advantages, such as:

    • Placing less importance on material goods;
    • Being less likely to judge their own and others’ success in terms of possessions accumulated;
    • Being less envious of wealthy persons; and
    • A greater likelihood of sharing their possessions compared to less grateful persons.

    So, you might want to think twice before the holiday hoopla steals your chance to gather with loved ones and give thanks!

    What will you be most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

    Some will be thankful for rest and relaxation. Others will appreciate reconnecting with relatives and catching up on all that has taken place in the past year. Many have been too busy to think of what they are thankful for or to whom they owe thanks. Whatever your situation, it’s a great time to reflect and appreciate the people in your life.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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    Ideas for Celebrating Christmas

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    24 Meaningful and Frugal Family Christmas Traditions

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    A Parents Holiday Survival Guide

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    5 Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

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    New Year, New You

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    9 Ways To Help Your Kids Transition During the Holidays

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    What Kids Really Want for Christmas

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    How to Prepare for College Break and the Holidays

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    Holiday Traditions

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    How to Navigate the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

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    7 Tips for Setting Healthy Holiday Boundaries

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    Make Holiday Memories, Not Misery

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    Changing Family Holiday Traditions

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    How to Choose a Christmas Gift for Your Wife

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    Getting Engaged During the Holidays?

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    Grief and the Holidays

    In June of 2010, Cathy Brown unexpectedly lost her mother. While she was in the midst of grieving and anticipating the holidays without her mom, Brown’s son passed away.

    “Up to this point in my life, I had never lost anybody close to me,” says Brown. “When I lost my mom and son within six months of each other, it ramped things up to a whole different experience.”

    As a result, Brown has a real heart for people who are grieving, especially during the holidays.

    “Unless you have really experienced grief, you don’t realize how much it physically drains you,” Brown says. “I encourage people to be patient with themselves and to be very intentional about exercising and getting enough rest. People are better able to handle the emotional roller coaster of grief when agemaking healthy choices.”

    In navigating her own journey through the grieving process, Brown has led a Griefshare group at Signal Mountain Presbyterian. “People are often surprised at how long the grieving process takes,” she says. “Even if this isn’t the first Christmas without their loved one, people often describe the grief as being more intense than they anticipated.”

    If you’re preparing for the holidays after losing a loved one, Brown shares her own words of wisdom and experience to help you in the process:

    • Keep your expectations of yourself realistic – It’s okay to cry. People don’t expect you to have it all together.
    • Don’t be afraid to feel the pain – Some people try to avoid feeling the pain by keeping super-busy, over eating or drinking. Allowing yourself to walk through the pain is part of the healing process.
    • Make a plan – Give yourself permission to say “no” to some things. You don’t have to participate in every single thing you get invited to attend, nor must you do things in the same way you have always done them. Brown shares that some people find real comfort in keeping things exactly the same while others find it too difficult.
    • Surround yourself with people who are loving and encouraging – This makes it easier to be real. Try not to take offense at people’s gestures to show they care.
    • Give yourself permission to experience joy - There will be moments of laughter and joy. Some people feel guilty about this, but experiencing joy is not dishonoring to their loved one. Consider doing something in honor of your loved one that will bring you joy.
    • Faith plays a big part in healing - Brown described knowing that people were praying for her as huge. Being able to pray and rely on God’s Word helped her immensely. She had never felt the presence of God in such an amazing way.
    • Everybody handles grief differently – Just because another person doesn’t grieve in exactly the same way you do does not mean he/she is not grieving. This could be a source of tension in relationships.

    “My hope is that those who are grieving will take these suggestions to heart,” Brown said. “I also would encourage people to go to griefshare.org and sign up for 365 days of inspirational emails. In addition to trying to do all of the things listed above, the daily emails were uplifting and encouraging, especially on the toughest days.”

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    7 Habits of Contented People

    Think back to last year. What was happening in your life? What things consumed your mind? Did you worry a lot?

    Now, fast forward to the present.

    Of all the things you spent time and energy worrying about, how many of them actually happened? So often, we spend time worrying about the future and what may happen. Honestly, no one can predict or control the future, and much of what we worry about never actually happens. Yet we spend precious time wondering about the “what ifs” of life.

    When we place so much emphasis on the future, we often forget how to be content in the present or allow ourselves to see each day as a gift. People who focus on contentment have discovered how to:

    • Live in the present. Instead of wishing for what was or what could be, actually learn to enjoy where you are at the moment. If you are stuck on the dreams, you can’t embrace what you have today.

    • Be grateful. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be thankful for what you do have. The vast majority of people in America are richer than 75 percent of the world.

    • Take responsibility. Content people don’t have a problem being responsible for their own actions.

    • Do everything to the very best of their ability. On your job, with your family and in the community, have pride in what you are doing and give it your very best.

    • Stop comparing themselves to others. People who are content in life don’t waste time trying to keep up with everyone else. They are satisfied with what they have.

    • Connect. People who are content value connectedness with family and friends.

    • Live out their faith. A broad survey of American adults (15,738 Americans between the ages of 18 and 60) conducted by the Austin Institute found that people who attend weekly religious services are nearly twice as likely to describe themselves as “very happy” (45 percent) than people who never attend (28 percent). The 2004 General Social Survey showed similar findings. Forty-three percent of religious people said they were very happy with their lives, compared with 23 percent of the non-religious. This connection between faith and happiness holds - regardless of one’s particular faith expression.

    Socrates once said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

    Since we usually grow personally through our good and bad experiences, try reflecting on the circumstances of the past year. Although the time we spent fretting over uncontrollable things is gone, a new year is dawning.

    Remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Don’t fret over what could happen. Live each moment to the fullest and make this your best year yet.

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    It's the Thought That Counts

    During hard economic times, many might think more about "it’s the thought that counts." But somehow it seems like people’s definition of a meaningful gift has changed. In fact, some people don't think a gift is meaningful unless it is new and/or expensive.

    Have you ever wondered what to give someone, because honestly, they don’t need a thing? What if you asked for each person on your list, "If it’s the thought that counts, what's the most meaningful gift I could give?" You might find yourself giving something entirely different than you first anticipated, and it may not cost you anything but your time.

    One mom shared that each Christmas she and her husband require their kids to go through their toys and find something exciting to give each sibling. Even though it isn’t brand new, it is new to the recipient and it requires the giver to think about what another person would really enjoy.

    If the thought truly counts, what's the best gift for the most important people in your life? Does it really matter if it is new or not? Or if you spent the same amount on another family member?

    Here are some ideas to help you get your list going:

    • Rake an older neighbor's yard.

    • Give your friend’s 4-year-old a stack of lightly used books from your now-grown child’s library.

    • Set aside a day to spend time with your parent.

    • Organize a mystery destination adventure for your kids. Maybe you could end up at your house for hot chocolate made from scratch with candy cane stirrers.

    • Give your grown children the fondue pot you used when they were kids.

    • Make your spouse a book of homemade coupons. Include things like a date night, a time out from the kids or a commitment to complete an ongoing honey-do list. You might even compile all of her favorite recipes from various sheets of paper into a cookbook for her.

    • Take extended family members some yummy homemade goodies or special handmade cards put together by your children.

    Does this sound a bit more complicated than buying a gift they'll only enjoy for a few hours? The answer is probably yes, but there is something about giving a gift from your heart. While the giver means to bless the one who received it, they giver often says they get the biggest blessing.

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