Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Christmas Part of Thanksgiving?

I have heard a lot of people lately complaining about the fact that town Christmas lights are already going up and Christmas decorations are already in the stores. This is something I personally have never had an issue with because, to me, Christmas and Thanksgiving are part of each other. The more I get to talking to people about it, the more I realize how intertwined it is for a lot of other people, even if they don't realize it.

Photo by Diliff, through WikiCommons. 
I've had several conversations lately that go something like this:

John Doe: Christmas is getting so commercial. It's not even Thanksgiving and it's taking over the stores. They shouldn't have the Christmas decorations out yet.

Me: When does your family put up your tree?

John Doe: Oh it's this great tradition. After we eat Thanksgiving dinner we all go out and cut the tree and we decorate it and stuff. It's great.

At this point I stand there dumbfounded. How in the world can someone expect to put their tree up on Thanksgiving if they can't go buy the stuff to do it before then? And yes, I had someone say "We store it all from the year before." The problem is that you had to buy it some time.

For many Christians, the top thing on their Thanksgiving thankfulness list is the gift we receive from Jesus Christ. Our eternal life assurity, guidance from the Holy Spirit, and the sacrifice He made in order to allow all of that to happen. That means Christmas (and Easter) are embedded in a Christian's Thanksgiving celebration.

Photo from WikiCommons, work of the US Government.
So now I'm wondering why. Why do we get mad that they put up the city Christmas decorations (even if they don't turn them on yet) before Thanksgiving, but Friday when we go shopping (another tie in of Christmas to Thanksgiving for many people) we expect to see all the Christmas decorations?

Maybe it's because I love Christmas so much, but the blending of the holidays doesn't bother me at all. I feel like it heightens both. If I join Thanksgiving and Christmas, then I enter the Christmas season with a spirit of thankfulness and giving, focused on the blessing God has given me.

If we fight to separate the two completely, I'm afraid we'll start seeing Christmas as more of the hustle and bustle and presents and lights, instead of a celebration of the most precious gift of all.

The other thing is, that while Christmas Day doesn't occur for a whole month, the Advent season starts, usually, within a week of Thanksgiving. This year it will be a week and a half before the official start of the Christian Christmas season. That's still a very short time in the grand scheme of things.

How do you see it? Do the opening notes of Jingle Bells turn you into a Grinch if you hear them before the turkey is relegated to sandwich meat? (By the way, if you're looking for a few different songs for your Christmas playlist, check out my posts from last year on the Best Christmas Songs You've Never Heard.)

Do you hold off everything Christmas-y until after Thanksgiving? Does it bother you when others don't?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wanting to Make A Difference ~ Life Lessons from The Voice

I've mentioned before that I enjoy reality television. I've been really enjoying The Voice this season - they've made some good changes to the format, I think.

One thing they've done is added more rounds and more opportunities for the judges to compare and cut/save people on their team. The most interesting thing I've noticed about these judges decisions is that frequently, when faced with a hard decision, they said something along the lines of "I think I can have more influence on so-and-so."

Taking them at their word, it seems that the best singer wasn't always chosen. They picked the person who was almost there, but needed a little coaching, a little this or that, a little nudge to be a success. I found this curious, since, in theory, the point of the show was to have the person who had the best voice on your team.

The conclusion I came to is that one of two things were happening:

1. They didn't think the other person had done too well and wanted a handy excuse.

OR

2. Making a difference was somehow more important than winning.

I think it was probably a combination of both, but in the end, wanting to leave a mark on the world tipped their decision.

Most people have a desire to change the world, even if it's just their own little part of it. We want to leave a fingerprint on the lives of those around us. The drive to be noticed and remembered colors more decisions than we realize, sometimes.

Some people choose to become infamous. Others become activists. One person might seek to leave a mark by changing laws and policies while another wants to enrich and inspire through art.

It made me think about what type of mark I want to leave.

Recently, a wonderful, amazing woman that I knew from a former church I attended passed away. We were unable to arrange things so that we could attend the funeral, but it was packed. When her husband died five years ago, his funeral was standing room only.

I don't think you have to make a name for yourself to make a difference. This couple never did anything extraordinary. They just loved people with the love of God and it impacted everyone that ever met them.

There have been moments when someone I've taught or counseled has a life changing break through, an a-ha moment when they realize that God loves them more than anything. I treasure those moments because in that space in time I know that God used me to make the most important difference of all - I loved someone.

So I think we should all take a page from the coaches of The Voice. Let's seek out those we can help, those we can build up. Encourage those who are past the need for you. Pray for them and be there for them because they need the strength to help someone else. But don't get caught up in the search to be or attach yourself to the best. Get captured by the desire to make a difference.

When you live life like that, you'll see the world become a better place.

Who has coached you in your life? Has anyone ever poured God's love into you in such a way that it changed your life?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Gift Of Reading

Brace yourselves. I have an announcement of epic proportions.

Christmas is coming.

I know, I know, it's completely shocking that it is showing up again on December 25. If your family is like mine and highly values the written word, there will likely be a book or two underneath your tree.

It's a tradition for us - there is always reading material in the stocking. Always. One year it was the only thing in mine and my husband's stocking, but there is always a book or occasionally a magazine subscription.

Last year, I got my Kindle. I love it. It's fabulous and amazing. I love having so many books in my purse at one time. But it does make my husband's job a little more difficult. Because I've been watching digital deals all year and been able to utilize Amazon's Prime lending feature, I've kept up with a lot more books than I normally would.

So I don't know what he's going to get me. I hope it's actually one of the books on my writing craft wish list... hint, hint... The list is in the notebook underneath my desk in case anyone wanted to know... Like my hubby... who reads this blog... But I digress.

Since this is the second Tuesday of the month I would normally highlight a particular favorite book of mine, but since Christmas is coming, I thought I'd share some gifts you can give to the reader in your life. If you're like me, you're already shopping and hoping to get it all out of the way so you can enjoy the holidays.

A BOOK

This is the first and foremost gift idea for any book lover. But how do you pick the perfect book?

1. Ask. If you don't mind giving up the element of surprise, you could just ask them if there's a book they've been wanting. This is easiest, but for some people it takes a bit of the fun out of gift giving.

2. Check their bookshelf. You want to do this for two reasons. First you don't want to buy them a book they already have and second you can find out what type of books they like. If you're checking out a bookshelf, look for two things:
       - recurring authors - sometimes it will be very clear that there are one or two authors that the reader loves. You can check to see if that author has a new book out (that they don't already own) but you can also use book reading sites to find authors similar to their favorites.
       - recurring publisher - This is one I didn't realize until I started writing. Publishers tend to have individual styles. And without intentionally doing so or even realizing it, your reader might gravitate toward a particular publisher. I was surprised to find two particular publishers encompassed about 75% of the Christian books on my shelf.

3. Look for something new. Maybe your loved one is adventurous and likes trying new books. There are several places you can go to strike out on your own with book selections.
      - Bestseller list - Some books are really popular. If your reader is someone who likes to see what the buzz is about, this could be a good route.
      - Bookstore employees / Librarians - These people live and breathe books. They will likely have a good suggestion for you.
      - The web - American Christian Fiction Writers has a site called Fiction Finder that will help you find books by genre, author, and many other search criteria.
      - Awards - Nearly every genre of book has an award or two. Get on the web and find the list of winners. ACFW's winning book list can be found here. The Christy Award, another prestigious Christian fiction award, has a list of winners here. 

4. Go back to something old. Check backlists of some of their favorite authors. Are there any older books they don't yet have? I've highlighted a few of my favorite older books this year. You can find those articles here.

AN E-READER

I have my Kindle and I love it, but there are other who love their Nooks, iPads, and other various electronic readers. Even if you know you want a Kindle you have several choices to make. Some things to consider when selecting an e-Reader:

1. Other Electronic Devices If your loved one has a iPhone, iPod, and a MacBook, then most likely they would want an iPad. They already own compatible apps and know the device. On the other hand if they carry an android phone and despise all things Apple, they probably don't want an iPad. Think about what fits in with their existing digital accessories.

2. Price It is a major thing to consider. Determine your price point before you shop. You can find something for any budget.

3. How will they use it? I play games on mine and do a lot of things besides just read, so I have the Fire. My father-in-law reads. That's it. He has the basic Kindle and it's perfect for him. He never goes anywhere without it. Since he got it, I think he reads more than I do.

4. Where the content comes from Many readers are connected to a content source. And while there are ways around it sometimes, you want to make it as easy as possible for your gift receiver. If they love Amazon and buy things constantly from Amazon, get them a Kindle. If they don't want to be tied to anything and want more control, you may want to look at a Windows tablet.


LOTS OF BOOKS/DISCUSSION

If you're a fan of the gift that keeps on giving, consider enrolling your loved one in a book club. Books will arrive on their doorstep all year long, just waiting to provide hours of escape and enjoyment. If they like short, inspirational romances, Love Inspired has three lines to choose from for monthly reading deliveries. 


There are many other book subscription services though. Simply do an internet search for monthly book subscription and look for your favorite service. Sometimes these subscriptions are tied to book forums and clubs. If your reader is into that, consider giving them one that would provide conversation and discussion as well as a good story.


THE GIFT CARD

If all else fails, give them the gift of picking their own reading material. They'll still appreciate it.


Have you ever been given the perfect book? Do you like giving books as gifts? What tips would you add to this list?


All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

Not bad doesn't mean good ~ Life Lessons from my keyboard

I finally broke the F6 key off my keyboard. It was bound to happen. In fact, F5 is probably eventually going to meet the same fate. It's almost inevitable.

Right now you're probably wondering what I have against those poor, innocent function keys. The answer is nothing. My desk, on the other hand, thinks they're evil.

My keyboard, sans F6 key. See how much better it fits now?
See, I use an ergonomic split keyboard. It rises up in the middle, making F6 and F5 the tallest keys on the board. They are just slightly higher than the clearance for my keyboard tray when it slides into the desk, which means those keys depress just a little (not enough to activate the key though) when I push my keyboard in.

Occasionally, they wouldn't depress and my keyboard would stop instead of sliding neatly into it's home.

This week, the desk had it's revenge. I went to push my keyboard in and F6 flew off, never to be seen again.
Since F5 was a little lower than F6, my keyboard is now moving with considerable more ease. It's great. Makes me wonder why I didn't pop off that F6 key a long time ago.

It also makes me wonder if there are other F6's in my life.

There's nothing wrong with having an F6 key on your keyboard. In fact, computer standards indicate there needs to be one. It even has a functional use, though I never use it. I didn't even know what it did until I looked it up out of curiosity when I no longer had one.

Some uses of the F6 key:

        - Highlight/Select/Activate the address bar in your web browser
        - Move to the next pane in Microsoft Power Point
        - Open the color selector in Photoshop (at least, I think it's the color selector. It's some type of color window)
        - Adjust the keyboard backlighting if you own a Mac

The poor little F6 key where it landed after the desk rejected  it.
I might have turned it to make the picture better... maybe. 
All of these are useful things for a key to do, but the fact is, I never used it, I don't need it, and my life is really just as simple without it. Simpler, even.

Life is full of things like that. Things other people tell us we need in our lives, things that do good and useful things. But we don't use them. We don't need them. They may even cause physical, mental, or emotional clutter in our lives.

I think I need to look for those and pop them out. Watch a little less TV. Play a few less computer games. Make more time for the things that matter, things that make my life simpler and easier and better. Just because it isn't bad for you or someone says it needs to be there doesn't make it good for you.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Guerrilla Warfare ~ Kindness Style

As the jack-o-lanterns disappear, turkeys and cornucopias slowly take their place. Thanksgiving is just around the corner with Christmas right behind. For many it is a time of love and celebration, but there are also a whole lot of people that dread this time of year because they feel alone, unloved, and depressed. Even more feel stressed and stretched with all the busyness of the season.

While you're giving thanks for all the blessings in your life, try to take some time to give someone else something to be thankful for.

About a month ago, I was privileged to hear a woman speak who really reminded me that the ultimate in selfless giving is an act of kindness given with no expectation of anything in return. During a season of giving, that can be very difficult. I know I always have a generic gift or two under the tree in case someone shows up at my house with an unexpected present.

This woman, known on the internet as The Kindness Girl, has made it a main and vital part of her life to spread kindness in other people's lives in such a way that they can't pay it back, so all they can do is sit back and be loved. It's been called Random Acts of Kindness, Paying It Forward, and countless other things, but the idea remains the same. I like how Kindness Girl phrases it - Guerrilla Goodness.

Guerrilla warfare is a form of combat where small groups of combatants ambush their adversaries, catching them off guard and then disappearing as quickly as they came, leaving devastation in their wake.


Guerrilla Goodness follows the same philosophy - Pop up, spread some love, then run away leaving only the love behind, without any guilt or stress to return the favor. It's good for you, too. Because when you are engaging your brain in finding ways to be kind, you aren't focusing on the bad things. You'll start seeing others with gentler eyes, looking for ways to slip them a smile and remain anonymous.

Love the idea but need some ideas? Try one of these:

Ding Dong Ditch Your Neighbors

We did this with our kids recently. They. Loved. It. This works the same as the childhood prank except that you leave a small gift behind before you ring the bell and run for your life. You can see examples and videos at GuerrillaGoodness.com.

Deliver Cookies to Civil Servants

Police Station, Brunswick, GA, via Wikimedia Commons
This one is a little bit different because you'll actually be seen, but they won't know who you are. Stop by a fire or police station with a platter full of baked goodies. I absolutely love doing this because they are always so appreciative of the gesture.

In my experience, police stations are a little harder to deliver to than fire stations are, but it just depends on how the ones in your area are set up. If you have small children with you and they aren't busy, the fire stations will frequently give you a tour and let the kids see the fire engines. They don't always have time for this so don't be bummed if they just thank you and let you leave.

Mow a Lawn / Rake Some Leaves / Shovel a Sidewalk

The actual act may vary depending on where you live, but the gesture of anonymous yard work is always a good one. It can be a bit difficult to pull off - after all anyone who drives by will see you - but the act is huge. If you really want to be sneaky, do theirs but wait a day or two before doing your own. Then they'll never suspect you, assuming someone did it while they were doing their own.

Pay it Backward

This is really popular right now. When you're sitting at the drive thru, pay for the person behind you. Our McDonalds use the dual window system, so you would get totally caught doing it at one of those drive thrus, but there are still plenty of places where you could be on the road before the person behind you knows what you did.

Looking for more ways? Check out GuerrillaGoodness.com for loads of other ideas for spreading kindness around your life. She even has a Family Kindness Kit that you can download to start the kindness ball rolling right within your own family.

Have you had an experience giving or receiving an anonymous gift of love? What did you do or how did it make you feel?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Make It Happen ~ Life Lessons from Yoda

Do. Or do not. There is no try. - Yoda

In case you missed the news this week, Disney now owns Lucasfilm, which I suppose makes Leia an acceptable nomination for the next Disney princess. Whether or not you are a maniacal Star Wars fan, elements of the movie have made their way into your life as they seeped into our culture over the last forty years.

The above quote from Yoda is one of those things.

I've heard it, I've used it, and I'm guessing you probably have to. If you haven't, then you've at least seen Nike's version at some time in your life, Just Do It.

The mentality behind both of those famous statements is that "trying" makes failure an acceptable option. By saying "I'll try" you are saying that part of you thinks you won't actually succeed. Yoda and Nike both think that's a recipe for failure.

Think of something you've always wanted to do. How many times have you started? How many times have you quit?

I've been thinking about this a lot this week as many friends of mine gear up for NaNoWriMo.

If you've ever wanted to be a writer but aren't sure if you have it in you, I encourage you to tackle NaNoWriMo. You're only a day or two behind right now, so there's no excuse not to jump in. The idea is that you write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.

It's doable. That is what got me started writing (though I did it in June, not November, but still). Because if you nail your butt to the chair and hammer out 50,000 words, you can look at it and say, "I did it. Now is it any good? Is it something I want to pursue?"

If you never get those 50,000 words down? Well, you don't have the option of moving forward.

(One note here, if you do hammer out a novel this month, DO NOT assume it's ready to go come December. The only way you can throw down 50,000+ words in a month is if you ignore editing and rewriting entirely. Please don't assume a publish-ready book will spill from your fingers in 30 days unless your name is Nora Roberts. I think she spits books out in her sleep.)

I'm not in a position to write a new novel this month, but I have other things I want to do. So I'm making November Anti-Procrastination month for me. I have friends doing NaNoWriMo, so I intend to utilize and join in the encouragement but with some slightly adjusted goals.

Won't you join me? Throw try out the window and let's get it done. Where do you want to be on December 1. Break it into mini-goals - one for every day of the month of November. Not do them. No try, no maybe, no we'll see.

I think it's time we all take advice from a small, wrinkly green muppet in swoosh decorated sneakers. Let's do it.

This month I'm getting back into my favorite jeans and finishing some book proposal submittals that have been sitting on my desk for a while. What are you going to tackle this month?