With the holiday season upon us, these are beautiful and inspirational messages we can all take to heart. I wish for you and your family a healthy, happy and safe 1999.
It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas - oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it - overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma - the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike.
The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was anon-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black.
These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.
Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids - all kids - and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.
On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.
For each Christmas, I followed the tradition - one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas.
It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.
The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.
The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope...
Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
Top 7 Ways To Be Thankful This Holiday Season
1. Spend some time thinking about how good you have it. We know this, but we don't often spend time pondering it. Doing so will shape and mold your attitude and develop healthy thought patterns that will make you more thankful all of the time.
2. As the old hymn goes, "Count Your Blessings, Name Them One By One." Take some time and write down every single thing you have in your life to be thankful about. Do this with your children if you have some, and you will all be astounded at all the good things in your life.
3. Look down the socioeconomic chain instead of up. Focusing our thoughts on the things we don't have, while being a motivator, can also be a source of envy and greed. Focusing, at least on a semi-regular basis, on those who have less than us, causes us to be thankful for what we have.
4. Go work at a food bank. The more success we achieve, the more apt we are to live our lives around others who are successful while eliminating or drastically reducing our contact with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Working at a food bank will open your eyes once again to a world you may have forgotten about.
5. Send a good-sized check on a regular basis. To whatever charity you choose, of course. Richard Foster says in his book Money, Sex, and Power, that money desires to be loved, courted, desired and hoarded. Giving money away breaks the power money can wield over us. Remember, money isn't the root of evil, the love of money is the roots of all kinds of evil. Giving a good chunk away on a regular basis keeps things in perspective.
6. Simplify. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the true measure of a man's wealth is in the things he can afford not to buy. When we simplify, we realize how we can make do on so much less. It makes us thankful for all the extra's we have most of the time. Read the classic "Walden." If you really want to get radical, fast for a day or two. You will really be thankful when you get toeat again!
7. Remember, ultimately what we have has been given to us. Yes, we work hard, but Someone allows us the breath to breathe each moment. Billy Graham was asked what surprised him most about life and he answered "The brevity of it." Life is short. We can't take it for granted. We should remember that life, and success, is a gift. That is something to be thankful for.
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