2018, The Year of ______

I recently had coffee with a friend who was looking forward to 2018 as her year of adventure. Adventure was a word spoken over her coming year from a trusted friend, and a word she has embraced as a guiding principle as she approaches decisions in the New Year. This may be as simple as embracing adventure of learning how to cook a new dish or as life changing as choosing to move to a new city and explore a new season of life.

My friend’s full embrace of this word spoken over her reminds me of the power of words. Words can speak both life and destruction. Choosing a word or theme has the great potential to speak life preemptively into this new year, knowing that curveballs and unexpected challenges will come. Perhaps choosing a word can provide an anchor within the storms that may arise.

Her word has prompted me to reflect on what word I would use to describe the theme of my 2017, and wonder what I want the next calendar year to embody. So often I head into the New Year with excitement and personal goals or resolutions that I only half-heartedly commit to because I know my track record is not great. And yet the process of reflecting and goal setting is an important one nonetheless, so I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As you reflect on 2017, what word would you use the describe the months, memories, lessons learned, personal growth, challenges, etc.? 2017 was the year of _______.

As you look forward to 2018, what hopes do you have for yourself, career, physical health, relationships, mental health? What do you hope to learn next year? What traits do you hope to grow towards?

2018 will be the year of ______.

Curbing Consumerism: Creative Holiday Shopping Ideas

In our affluent area, it's not uncommon to hear parents lamenting of their children's materialism but unsure of how to change it. With the constant barrage of ads, marketing, and social media, we fight an uphill battle. Adults get easily sucked into "more, more, more" and the upward comparison of keeping up with the Jones', too. The best way to give your children's perspective and a healthy relationship with money is to model it. Talk about spending, companies you believe it, budgeting, giving, and saving. Help your child learn to save, spend, and give with money they receive as well. How you structure your holiday shopping is a great way to put your money where your mouth is, pun intended! A few ideas to mix it up:

  • Adventure gifts. Give gifts of time together rather than crossing things off your list. Create family memories by going to the zoo, trying an escape room activity, go wine tasting, head up to the mountains, go for a hike, out to a show, etc. Think of what your family may enjoy together. The possibilities are endless!
  • Pick names. Lesson the load by encouraging each person to shop for one other person. This may allow for more creativity, thoughtfulness, and intentionality in gift giving.
  • Set a limit. Make a budget for each person and stick to it. This can limit overspending and shift the culture of expectation in the family.
  • Serve together. In lieu of gifts, give your time and money to organizations in need. Adopt a family to gift, serve a hot meal to those in need, spend time partnering with those who already have boots on the ground in your community.
  • Donate to non-profits. Give money to an organization in your loved one's name. Find something he or she is passionate about or provide a micro-loan to a developing entrepreneur around the globe. 
  • Buy socially minded products. There are many organizations that offer high quality goods that also contribute to the makers living with empowerment, dignity, and purpose.
  • Give homemade gifts! If you're crafty or handy, make your own gifts for family members. 
  • Balance the scales. In our family, we have created a tradition of giving a gift, donating to a charity, and gifting one adventure gift to each other. Each category has a set budget. This forces us to live within our means, not overspend, buy intentionally, and think outside ourselves.
  • Get creative! I recently heard of a family who goes downtown, gives each person a set amount of money, draws names, and then has an hour to shop for their person. There are points given for staying within budget, time limits, etc. At the end of the hour, everyone meets up for dinner to exchange gifts and stories.

Try new things that will help your family embrace a balanced relationship with money and spending this holiday season!

Home for the Holidays? Practicing New Skills in an Old Environment

Heading home for the holidays can conjure the warm fuzzies of nostalgia and anxiety of old patterns or family conflict. Whether heading home from college, returning to your childhood home with your own family in tow, or hosting family yourself, spending time with family can often pull us into old patterns. It's like running into an old family friend who eternally views you as your 18 year old self.  Change can be hard for people to accept.

It is often in these early relationships that we learn many of our relating habits, whether through modeling, family rules, parenting styles, or life circumstances. When you have been working on improving your self and relationships, going home can feel like the ultimate test. Family systems want to keep the status quo. When you start to act differently, hold boundaries, or question the family dynamics, people react to restore the balance. 

As you venture home for the holidays you will be pulled to act in the old ways of the system. Here are some reminders as you practice new skills in an old environment:

  • Remember that you can only be responsible for yourself. You cannot control what others do or say, nor can you take responsibility for them. Speak for yourself, your experience, your needs, your feelings, and your hopes. Be mindful to make healthy choices for yourself and let others make their own decisions.
  • Trust that everyone is doing the best they can. All families have disappointing moments, say hurtful things, or miss the mark. The stress of this time of year may increase these moments. Even the most unhelpful relating styles, both in ourselves and in others, usually come from a place of good intentions. The tactic may have helped early on in life, but now may be backfiring. Remind yourself to assume the best in others, it will help you be more gracious to yourself and your family.
  • You are not the family therapist. After gaining awareness of yourself or your family issues, it can be tempting to point out the dynamics or challenges others face. Be aware, speak honestly, and be gentle. Remember your own growth happens slowly and with gracious support, and so it will for others if/when they are ready to see it.
  • Self care, self care, self care! If you are anticipating a challenging day, schedule some down time before and after to take care of yourself. Excuse yourself for a walk. Drink a cup of coffee in solitude. Go to bed when you need to. Call a trustworthy friend. Schedule a massage when you get home!
  • You will fail, and that's okay. Practicing new skills is clumsy at first. Imagine a junior high girl wearing heels for the first time, it's a little awkward! Eventually you will grow into these new practices and they will become second nature. Use this time with family to increase your awareness of yourself. Be gentle with yourself when you fail. Journal about your findings and use it as an opportunity to try again next time.

Finally, find joy in these moments with family! Here's to a healthy & happy holiday season!

Practicing Gratitude in the Midst of the Struggle

Practicing gratitude when life is smooth sailing is easy, but practicing gratitude in the midst of struggle is where new muscles are developed. Celebrating Thanksgiving can be really challenging for those who are grieving or in the midst of a painful season of life. When pain is in the forefront, offering gratitude is often the last thing we want to do. Try a little experiment with me -- put your hand directly in front of your face with your nose touching your hand. What can you see? Just your hand! Now gradually move your hand away from your face. Notice how your vision changes. Similarly, expressing gratitude does not erase pain, but it does help provide a larger perspective. Here are a few challenges to try to help you practice gratitude:

  1. Keep a daily gratitude journal. Fill the pages with moments small and large that you are thankful for. Even on bad days, push yourself to find at least 3 things you are thankful for -- for example another day of living, health, the sun rising, a favorite song playing on the radio, a smile from a stranger, etc. This discipline will become more natural over time as you continue to practice gratitude daily.
  2. Tell someone you love the reasons you enjoy and appreciate them. Be intentional and specific.
  3. Go on a nature walk to enjoy the beauty around you. Leave your phone at home and let yourself stop at whatever catches your eye. Savor the textures, smells, sights, sounds, etc
  4. Write down as many things you can for which you are thankful for about a trying situation. In a particularly hard season of my life I used this challenge as a discipline. I pushed myself to write down 50 things I was thankful in the midst of my pain and anger. I was amazed to see the small ways hope and healing and joy were surrounding me, but how often I struggled to see it. Writing down the names of people that had come into my life, deeper relationships, more awareness of myself, engagement with my feelings, etc. was a great reminder of the growth I was experiencing in my pain.
  5. When a negative thought invades your mind, intentionally reframe the thought to find the positive. For example, if angrily stuck sitting in traffic, I may remind myself that I now have some extra moments to myself or to prepare for my day.
  6. Create a visual gratitude board. Cut and paste images, quotes, or drawings that represent gratitude or things you are grateful for.
  7. Share your moments of gratitude daily at the dinner table with family and friends. Create a daily rhythm of practicing gratitude in a community. Not only can gratitude be contagious, but sharing together also provides accountability for this new practice.
  8. Thank people for a job well done. Whether this be a barista after a good cup of coffee, the grocery store clerk, coworker, friend, your partner, or your child, be intentional about thanking them for their effort.
  9. Volunteer for an organization that uses your gifts and passions. Volunteering with others in pain can also provide a wider perspective on life.
  10. Remind yourself of ways previous struggles and challenges produced growth of character in your life. Reflecting on the ways you have overcome previous struggles can enable you tap into strengths and skills that will help you cope with your current struggles.

Remember that practicing gratitude does not necessarily mean that you feel grateful, and that’s okay. Keep with the discipline and your thoughts and feelings may change over time.