Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 3: #GivingTuesday

advent card red tree

Welcome, everyone who has made Ana’s Advent Calendar your home for this month.
First order of business: Nina, as the first commenter on the first day, you win a limited edition Advent Calendar card. Congratulations!
Second, don’t forget to keep track of your participation points. Links to handy-dandy attendance sheets are at the bottom of this post.
Finally, thank you for making time for the Advent Calendar! It’s a hectic time of year, so spending this month together becomes even more precious. We have a terrific line-up of posts that I hope you will enjoy and take to heart.

Giving Tuesday

It’s almost 3 AM on Giving Tuesday, and it’s the first time I’ve had this week to sit down and work on my post. I’ve written and re-written this post in my head and on my computer screen, trying for various tones of humor, nostalgia, pragmatism, and optimism. Instead, I’ll tell you the truth.

I’m tired. Over-committed. Under-slept. Stressed. Worried about everything from careers to finances to family and friends. I go to bed tired, and it seems I wake up even more tired.

Right now, I have nothing to give.

That’s not what we’re supposed to say during this holiday season, and it’s not the message I planned for today. Last year, Giving Tuesday was a grand celebration of raising thousands of dollars’ worth of Kindles and LGBT books for homeless young adults. Two years ago, I told the story of “Annie” to prompt a soul-searching discussion on ways we could make a difference in people’s lives. I wanted an uplifting post this year, something wise and thoughtful and inspiring.

Instead, I find myself searching desperately for words to voice a nameless exhaustion. Part of it is physical. I’ve worked or attended a (grueling but rewarding) conference for all but three days of November. Three days, period, including weekends and holidays. I’ve gotten caught up in the drama of a woman dying of ALS, and today she lashed out at me with the venom of someone unaware of how her words hurt others. I ache for estranged family members who may, for my own safety and sanity,  need to remain estranged until the end of time. I yearn for loved ones who have passed on, and I mentally light a candle for those I love but who live too far away for regular contact.

I’ve dipped my pen into my writer’s inkwell the past month, only for it to return dry. Writing takes a well-nourished soul (albeit, in my case, a sleep-deprived one), and too often I’ve come to the table running on empty. I did turn out a sweet (i.e. non-kinky, non-spanky, and absolutely G rated) Christmas story about a little girl who grows up to love the boy next door. (Yes, I said boy. Shocked me more than any of you, but the payoff was writing the glorious moments when a little girl transforms into a teenager, young adult, and finally a woman.)

I’ve allowed pettiness and meanness to hurt more more than it should, and random strangers’ baffling poisonous words have stayed in my heart longer than they should have.

My body throbs with the unfairness of so much going on in the world right now. Sarah Bessey said it best a year ago:

I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards a third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow, the one that picks up a small stone to move the mountain in small acts of faithfulness. Advent is one small stone.

People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I often feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. Ferguson. Aboriginal women in Canada who are targeted for abuse and attacks in such devastating numbers. Syria. Ebola in west Africa. Shooting in our capital city of Ottawa, right in the heart of our government. One of our oldest and best friends lost his beautiful wife to cancer this year, it’s his first Christmas alone with their two little girls.

I need my Saviour* who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

When I read these words this morning, my heart sighed in recognition. Sarah tells us that Advent, for her, is sitting with the uncomfortable tension of wanting something without receiving it. We are waiting, waiting, waiting for a promised moment that seems as if it will never come.

We do our good deeds. We wash the blasted dishes and laundry only for the dirty ones to re-spawn the second we turn our backs. We tend the garden of relationships with our loved ones, only to be blindsided by miscommunication and misunderstanding. We grow apart. We lose faith, even as we donate to our charities of choice and work for a better tomorrow.

That’s what Giving Tuesday is really about, isn’t it? We tell ourselves we want to make a difference in someone else’s life, but really we mean our own. When life seems filled with ugliness, we need affirmation of its beauty in order to keep on.

Giving Tuesday began as a pushback against the crass commercialism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was about saying no to MeMeMe Entitlement and yes to making lives better.

Sometimes, though, the giving needs to start with a quiet moment with ourselves.

Discomfort.

Grief.

Sadness.

Frustration.

Hopelessness.

Fear.

When we face the demons inside of us, we emerge stronger, more honest, and more able to face the challenges ahead.

Even more importantly, we sort out our issues so we don’t unintentionally inflict them on the people around us.

How many of us have a parent (since this has so far been a female group, likely our mothers) who had unresolved issues we got to experience secondhand? How many of us have been appalled at how our own issues hurt those closest to us?

I’ll give you an example. In my childhood, I was targeted by a few boys in my class. I’ve told the story before, but the short version is that I learned none of my “friends” would stand up for me against bullies. I learned that, instead, they would laugh and join in, thinking it was a joke.

For the rest of my life, I have been determined never to become that kind of “friend.” Or human being, really. But in the effort to always stand up for the underdog, often I’ve gotten too involved in situations when I should have walked away. I took a woman and toddler into my home because she told me she feared for her life, and in the process I may have unintentionally helped her launch false accusations against her husband. (I still don’t know the whole story, and I never will.) I’ve spoken up when the wiser course would have been to keep my counsel, and I’ve learned–at bitter cost–that trying to fight other people’s battles will only result in drama visiting my own home. Also, trying to fight other people’s battles leaves me drained and unable to focus on my own life. It’s a hard lesson, one that needs an unfortunate repetition every so often.

It’s important to give to others, and it’s important to think of others. But today, perhaps Giving Tuesday starts with us.

This scene from Inside Out may or may not make sense out of context, but the story is about finding strength in sadness and negative emotions. It’s a powerful message (go watch the film!) and one that fits well into the Advent Calendar theme this year.

Where are you at today? How are you holding up?

What about you, in a broader sense? How will you observe Giving Tuesday?

(As is traditional for Giving Tuesday, please do feel free to talk about your favorite charities and causes as well. If you do, post a link to information in case others want to find out more.)

 *Because I am a Christian, these words of a Christian have deep meaning for me. This is not an attempt to proselytize. While I respect that not everyone celebrates Christmas and not everyone believes in a Christian God, today I would hope that this quotation is accepted in the spirit it is given: words of hope written in one unique language that may or may not speak to every reader. Thank you for continuing the Governing Ana tradition of respect for our diverse beliefs and faith systems.

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Keeping the magic alive (Advent Calendar, Day 5)

Wow! Can we say tear-jerker? Your comments yesterday for Giving Tuesday were amazing, inspiring, and sniffle-inducing. You came up with an unbelievable wealth of ideas, actions, and promises to make this world a better place. Please bookmark yesterday’s post and go back to it to read and re-read the comments whenever you need a reminder of why we should believe in humanity.

Please remember that prize winners need to contact your prize donor within four days of the public announcement. We’ve had so many surprise day and special posts that we’ve had a prize announcement every single day plus more scheduled today, tomorrow, and Saturday. 🙂 So far, the prize winners have been:

Roz Harrison
Minelle
Erzabet Bishop
Joelle Casteel
Ria
Tessa
Abby
Michelle Willms

Michelle, you need to contact Kathryn Blake. Erzabet through Abby, you need to contact Sue Lyndon. Contact information here.

Also, don’t forget you need to sign up here for your comments today to count as prize entries. So far, a whopping 39 people are in contention for Perfect Attendance! Way to go! If you’ve missed one or two days, don’t despair. There will be plenty of other prizes, and grand prizes drawings (in addition to daily drawings) are separate.

Be sure to check the main page now and then because I add new prizes and prize donors almost every day. Some new prizes (not yet listed) will include a second paddle donated by Nickie Flynn and a gift certificate to Adam and Gillian. If you go to their Loopy Johnny product description page, you’ll see what I think of that product! 😀 If Mrs. Claus ever shops at Adam and Gillian, I am DOOMED!!

Tomorrow we will celebrate St. Knickerless Day. Yes. Underwear. You’ve got to see this to believe it, I tell you. 😀

Ria, we would love to know how the intervention went. Many people held you in prayer and positive thoughts yesterday.

Today’s post is brought to you by Dinah McLeod, who will be responding to your comments. She will randomly pick one lucky winner from today’s commenters to receive a book of your choice. Be good to her…or I’ll send Mrs. Claus after you with a switch!

 

My parents tried as hard as they could to keep the Christmas spirit alive for us. Well, at least the myth of Santa Claus. I think I was about ten when I told my parents, right before Christmas, that I no longer believed in Santa Claus. It’s an interesting dilemma: I think most kids secretly want to believe, but logically, it doesn’t make much sense that one man can deliver presents to all the children of the world, much less know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. (I’ve been nice this year, I swear! And if not, well, I’ve paid the piper.) My reasoning was far more simple: we had no fireplace and I’d never seen any proof of Santa, so therefore… you know how kids think they know everything.

That same year, my parents wedged a ripped piece of red felt in the closed door and innocently told me that Santa must have gotten his suit stuck in the door on the way out. I don’t know why I bought it, but I did. Like I said, deep down we want to believe. It bought me another year or so before I could no longer dispute the sad truth: Santa wasn’t real. Christmas changed after that. It no longer seemed as exciting or as memorable. I also noted that the amount of presents beneath the tree began to dwindle, too. Coincidence? Seems like Santa was the one responsible for most of the loot.

Now, as a parent myself, I have to admit I never liked the Santa myth. I wanted to tell my kids the truth right away. Not because it’s dishonest, or anything like that.  No, my reason is much more selfish: I simply want the credit for all those great gifts! Well, my husband won the Santa battle and I have to admit (maybe not to him, though) that I’m glad he did. Every year my kids grow more and more excited about Christmas. Sometimes they are so full of joy and wonder that it makes me laugh at loud in delight. Corny, right? But so true.

My favorite part of Christmas is waiting downstairs with the camera and taking pictures as they come down the stairs. Those first few moments of childish awe and delight can never be completely captured by lens and film. I still keep trying, though, and I don’t think I’ll ever give up. We all need something to believe in, so why not something that brings us happiness and eager anticipation? I have to admit, sometimes I think I look forward to this time of year more than my kids do! Tomorrow I’m going to sit them down and we’re going to write our first ever letter to Santa. They’re going to tell me what they want (I will mentally reply that all their presents are already bought, so there!) and the magic will live on just a little longer. None of us know when the dreaded “Santa” conversation will come, and although I think I have a few more years, I’m determined not to take a single second of this season for granted.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Today’s question: Did you believe in Santa as a child, and did you teach your children (if you have children) to believe in Santa? Why or why not? What is your favorite memory related to Santa? (For me, the attraction has always been Mrs. Claus rather than Santa. She bakes, she makes people happy, and…she brandishes a wooden spoon! What’s not to like? I don’t remember believing in Santa, but I do remember my parents telling me how I liked to count the number of Santas I saw each year.)

#GivingTuesday and making a difference (Advent Calendar, Day 4)

Yesterday, a successful grown woman told me a story. I’ll call her Annie. To look at her, no one would suspect she had encountered anything but a good life. Professional, well-spoken, and respected in her field, she has always seemed a friendly and loving person but “put together,” meaning she has her life in order.

Annie told me about a Thanksgiving in her childhood when a strange man came up to her house and dropped off a sack of food. She didn’t know who it was, and she never saw him again. She didn’t even learn his name.

Annie started to cry as she told me, “Later, my mom told me that our food stamps had run out for the month and we had no food in the house. We literally had not one thing to eat. She called a local church, desperate, and they found someone willing to donate food so we could eat on Thanksgiving.”

I didn’t hold her hand, but it was because I wanted to respect her emotional space. I wanted to hug her, to wipe away her tears, or to pat her hand. Instead, I bobbed my head in agreement as Annie came to her final point.

“When we talk about being kind and giving to others, we usually mean our family and friends. How many people are willing to give to a complete stranger? That one act changed my entire life. He didn’t end world hunger or cure cancer, but he changed my whole world for the better.”

Yesterday, the entire nation filled social media with “Giving Tuesday,” an initiative to stamp out some of the greedy, crass commercialism of the holidays and replace it with a focus on what’s most important.

Today (I know, it’s really Wednesday instead of Tuesday, but work with me), I’d like you to help me make a difference.

Making a difference is not just about money! We can:

  • offer to help someone
  • offer friendship
  • stick up for someone who has been treated unfairly
  • listen to someone who is lonely
  • rethink our prejudices
  • bite our tongue when tempted to speak harshly
  • open our hearts to someone who is not like us

Please choose one or more of the following options (or come up with your own idea) and tell us in the comments how you will make a difference today.

(Disclaimer: I chose causes that I have long supported and/or that have come up during the first few days of Advent Calendar discussions. It is not exhaustive. If a cause that you hold dear is not in this list, please add it in your comment!)

  1. Read about Invisible People, an outreach program for people who live without a home.
    “Since its launch in November 2008, InvisiblePeople.tv has leveraged the power of video and the massive reach of social media to share the compelling, gritty, and unfiltered stories of homeless people from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The vlog (video blog) gets up close and personal with veterans, mothers, children, layoff victims and others who have been forced onto the streets by a variety of circumstances. Each week, [they’re] on InvisiblePeople.tv, and high traffic sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, proving to a global audience that while they may often be ignored, they are far from invisible.”
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  2. Learn more about Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia at Alzheimer’s Association. If you have a loved one with dementia, consider using a registry such as MedicAlert: Safely Home (Canada) or MedicAlert: Safe Return (US). For $62 plus $35 annual renewal fee, your loved one will be entered in a national, 24/7, generator-backed-up, worldwide-recognized database complete with his or her medical/personal history, emergency numbers, and a hotline should he or she ever wander off or get lost. The information hotline operators could not be more professional, helpful, or reassuring.
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  3. Read about this mom’s experience with taking her autistic child trick-or-treating and coming to terms with her parenting of a child with special needs. Sometimes it’s nothing about money and everything about compassion.
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  4. Watch this video (“Silver Line Caller: Not Lonely Anymore”) about Silver Line (UK and Scotland), a program where volunteers call elderly folks, especially those who are isolated, to chat and offer friendship. (Thank you to Ami Starsong for making me aware of this organization.)
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  5. Consider purchasing an item on the registry for Lost-N-Found Youth, an Atlanta, Georgia (US) organization that helps LGBT youth who are on the streets. Read more about their objectives on their website. You do not have to live in Atlanta to donate; you can buy an item online at My Registry (click on the first link) to have it shipped to Lost-N-Found Youth. (Thank you to Jade Crystal for contributing #5 and #6.)
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  6. Consider purchasing an item on the Amazon registry for the Ali Forney Center (New York City, US). Learn more about their work on their website, and find resources in fifteen other areas in the US.
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  7. Learn more about organ and tissue donation, and consider registering (driver’s license registration is not enough). If you have registered as an organ or tissue donor, tell your family of your wishes. They will have final say.
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  8. Make a living will. Don’t know what it is or why you need one? Read this article by the Mayo Clinic. You are never too young to make a living will (at least if you are old enough to read this blog!), and laying out your wishes in a clear form will make things easier on your loved ones should anything happen to you. 18-year-olds can (heaven forbid) become paralyzed in accidents or slip into comas. It may be hard to think about the end of your life, but your family will appreciate knowing your wishes when the time comes.
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  9. Read about the work of Covenant House Toronto. (Thank you to Michelle B. for the Canadian links.)
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  10. Consider donating to SickKids Foundation (Canada).
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  11. Browse through this list of charity organizations in Canada.
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  12. Read this list of “Random Acts of Kindness for Kids,” a list of ways for kids (and adults!) to do something nice for others. One of my favorites: Sit with someone new at lunch today. We all can appreciate someone sharing a meal with us.
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  13. Read or re-read Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary, one of the great authors of children’s fiction. It’s a wonderful story of a little girl whose family manages to survive through Dad losing his job and the children worrying whether their parents will be able to take care of them. During this season of overspending and appallingly spoiled children, reading Ramona and Her Father is a breath of fresh air. For those of us who are struggling financially (especially when children are involved), it’s a way to take comfort.
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  14. Read or re-read Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, another book about three young children growing up in genteel poverty. Their struggles to make life interesting and worthwhile never fail to put a smile on my face.
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  15. Read about the creation of Luna, the story of a girl who was born a boy, and how people have been killed because of their sexual identity.
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  16. Learn more about and/or consider donating to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (US). This comprehensive site offers a hotline, informational posts, support, and other resources for those who have been affected by sexual mistreatment. One of their recent public education campaigns was to discourage “rapeface” as a social media joke.
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  17. From Tara Finnegan:
    Here there is a Christmas shoebox appeal, and you fill a shoe box with things like soap toothbrushes, underwear, sweets and toys and these get sent to places outside Ireland, to children who get nothing else, We do this in November, in the hope the parcels will arrive near Christmas http://secure.teamhope.ie/csa
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  18. Volunteer, sign up to foster, or donate to your local Humane Society or SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
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  19. Check out this website (courtesy of Michelle B): https://abusehurts.com/
  20. From Tracey Horton:
    Contact your local schools. The school nurse knows the families in need. They will tell you ages and if it is a boy or girl. They will do it anonymously.

    Also during summer vacation remember the hungry. A lot of kids get free breakfast and lunch at school. When summer comes they are at home and they don’t have the food. Your local food shelf needs spaghetti O’s, peanut butter, jelly, Mac and cheese. Stuff like that.

Won’t you make a difference today? Go and do it right now, and come back to let us know how it went.

P.S. A special note: Please keep Ria and her family in your prayers and thoughts today.

Today, my family is preparing an intervention for one of my siblings. They are flying in from abroad and across the US. Mental abuse is so very hard to overcome. Thankfully, no children are involved. We have prepared a place for her (furnished with ongoing support). Our challenge is to make her believe how very loved she is and to support her in all her decisions now and in the future. She knows she is loved but does not believe she is worth it. Pray for us!!

Ana Xmas Pic

Artwork by Penelope Hasler