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This Holiday Season: Choose Love

As I was teaching this week, one courageous mom cried out: In this time of polarization and tension, what tips do you have for navigating the holidays with others?

Here is my response:

1) Begin by making a choice.

· Decide with whom you want to gather.

· Decide how you want to reach out to people in your circle of love – from the past, those whom you see today and those with whom you want to cultivate relationships in the future.

· Decide what is most important to you, what you are willing to compromise and what is a deal-breaker and/or non-negotiable.

· You DO NOT have to do what has always been done – with whom you have always celebrated. Just because it’s always been that way. You CAN use courage to change the dance in your circle. If you decide to change the dance, be prepared! Others will continue to do the same steps and get frustrated that you’re not there. But, this too shall pass.

2) Choose to prepare well! To fail to plan is to plan to fail.

· Invite each person to contribute: This is a core element of strong intergenerational engagement. What is one menu item that each person wants? Who will bring what dish? Who will help setup and who will help cleanup? Even a 5-year old can help set the table. The rule in my house is you help setup or cleanup – including “guests”! There is the opportunity for a lot of rich conversation and laughter as small groups collaborate at either end of the meal – and many hands do make light work. Ask each person what is one tradition they cherish and then try to incorporate those into the gathering – or do them at some other time in the holiday season.

· Plan some activities that are fun and encourage people to engage with one another. Consider: As people arrive inviting them to write something for which they are a grateful on a leaf and hanging it on a branch or pasting it on a poster. Decorate sugar cookies together or make a gingerbread house or village. Together, make a playlist of favorite songs. Play a game where each person writes 3 things for which they are grateful on a slip of paper, folds the paper and puts it in a basket. Once everyone has put their papers in the basket, the papers are drawn and read aloud. Everyone guesses who wrote that gratitude list.

· Think about some questions that you can ask each person who gathers. What has brought you joy this month? What was a highlight of your week? What have you enjoyed learning about over the past year? What’s your favorite tradition? What are you most looking forward to this holiday season? What’s a cause you have supported over the past year – by volunteering or donating money or goods?

· Consider people’s grief. If you know that someone is grieving, how will you honor that? If someone has passed on, would it help to have a framed picture of the person visible? Or prepare their favorite dish? Or ask each person to share one thing they loved about the person or one way the person’s spirit lives on? Would you want to go to the cemetery together?

· In preparation, pray and meditate. Tap into the Divine Spirit of Love that unites us. Invite Spirit into your space and to prepare the hearts of those whom will gather. If your tradition includes holy water, oil, salt, sage or the like, use it – in your cooking or to prepare the space.

· Ask for forgiveness. If you become aware of a way that you may have caused pain – in what you said or didn’t say – reach out to the person and ask for forgiveness. You may do it verbally or in writing. Keep the focus on your behavior – not what the other person did or didn’t do, not on what prompted your reaction. My husband often reminds us: If I am pointing the finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at me.

3) Choose to show up in love with an attitude of gratitude and a servant’s heart on the day of the gathering.

· Before you begin eating, invite people to gather for a blessing AND invite each person to share one thing for which they are grateful. You may start with a disclaimer: “we are all grateful for our health, family, faith, the opportunity to gather… let’s keep the list going!” In doing so, you help to set a tone that will hopefully continue! Also, you may lay down some ground rules. “Our views are all so different and so powerful – today, we are refraining from discussing politics and religion. Also, at any point, any person can stop the conversation by saying – ‘We agree to disagree. Let’s move on.’”

· In love… seeing the Divine in each person who gathers – even the grouchiest - as a bearer of love. As a light in the darkness. As a mirror that reflects the goodness of the Divine and the best of each person gathered.

· With a servant’s heart. This is a choice to serve, to assist, each person who gathers. Perhaps someone needs help walking, or needs someone to listen, or someone to affirm their experience or someone to hold a crying baby or help washing dishes. To serve.

· Put your focus on the commonalities you have with each person gathered – instead of the differences. Most people are doing the best they can do. Remember: hurt people, hurt people.

· Be compassionate. To have compassion literally means to breathe with another. Can you breathe with the most troubled person gathered – entering into their pain? Or breathe… in order to regain your peace. Breathe in Spirit – Peace – Love.

· Be curious. What prompted someone to do something? What informed their decision? Oprah and Bruce D. Perry just co-authored a book: What Happened To You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing. They invite us to shift the question from: “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

· If (and when) things get heated, turn to humor. Blurt out a “Remember when…” with a funny memory. Ask everyone – or at least the funny person at the table – to share a humorous memory.

· Speak your truth in love. This is a big one. Use “I statements” – begin your sentence with “I”. Consider this 3-part format: I observe. I feel. I wish. “I observe that you regularly make comments about [a group of] people. When you do that, I feel so sad and so torn because I love you and my child who is part of that group. I wish that you not make comments about [that group of people] in my presence and that you will look for the commonalities you have with my child.”

· Take a moment to ask Spirit with whom you should connect. You may be the bright light someone needs…. Or maybe someone has a nugget to share with you.

· An attitude of gratitude. For a warm home. For people to love – and whom love you. For the freedom to gather and express yourself. For the person who is driving you nuts because you are learning… and developing patience! Let the list roll on! Can you name 10 things for which you are grateful – one for each finger on your hand or toes on your feet?

Divine Love, thank you for each person who is reading this and committed to gathering your people! Please fill all of our holidays with moments of profound love, peace, joy and hope. Please guide us as we strengthen and expand our circles of love! May we be instruments of Your healing love and grace. Amen. So be it.

Enjoy this song which has been vibrating in my heart…

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