I am seated at my desk this morning, awash in gratitude as I think about this Christmas season and what may be one of the most spiritually, mentally and emotionally profound Christmases that I have ever experienced.
Our Christmas this year, as always, has been focused on giving back, especially to people who themselves have little if anything to give to others. In a time when the media is reporting financial gloom and doom, cutbacks in giving and other symptoms of the economic crisis as they like to call it, we have witnessed more giving this year than ever.
The program that we participated in for battered mothers and their children went way above expectations this year as friends collaborated with us to make a phenomenal difference. The number we helped this year, either directly or through inspiring others to help on their own, is up 700% from last year.
We were blessed to have an opportunity to help feed the homeless, the lonely and the stranded over the holidays, cooking food on Christmas Eve and helping with the distribution on Christmas Day.
On Saturday, the local blood donor clinic was open and I was able to make a contribution that will save up to three lives.
All great stuff.
However, what took place in my heart was even more profound.
This Christmas, a number of events took place within close proximity that impacted me mentally and spiritually.
This season, I witnessed profound stories of personal giving - giving that was taking place under the radar to help take care of others during the season. I witnessed last-minute miracles for good people as they struggled to make ends meet or worked diligently to help overcome sudden incidents of misfortune.
So many people sent me emails expressing personal testimonials of receiving help at the last minute, just when they needed it. We started referring to them in my house as "Jimmy Stewart endings" in reference to heart-moving, wipe-your-eyes, Hollywood style endings appropriate for the season.
Get-togethers with family and friends were more powerful than ever this year as I took the time to really savor the feelings of goodwill that filled the air.
As if that wasn't enough, I was overcome with profound gratitude as friends and strangers from all around the world, including Europe, New York and other parts of the US, Canada and Australia reached out to us with open hearts when they read my blog about some of our current adventures (and misadventures) - found here if you would like to read it.
During the midnight Christmas Eve service, I found myself powerfully moved as the congregation sang Christmas carols, as the true meaning of the season seized my heart and overwhelmed me.
As I experienced all these feelings of gratitude, I didn't need to ask what it was all about - I knew all along.
For many years, my family and I have experienced what many know as the abundance of the season - unlimited food, unlimited gifts, etc. However, for all of those years, I felt something was missing in all of this and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
This year brought the perfect storm of events, generous, loving people, opportunities to share and opportunities to receive to help me discover what I was missing.
Despite my insistence in years gone by that I knew what the Christmas spirit was about, I think I was merely going through the motions, simply checking off the holiday obligations. Make annual donations to various organizations - check. Buy gifts for everyone - check. Organize opportunities for giving to others - check. Be happy during the season - check. Check, check, check.
Looking back, I realized that it had gotten too mechanical.
This year, I savored every single action. I savored every single project that I was involved in and I was grateful for the opportunity to do so.
I was also grateful for the opportunity to do it with others who really cared.
And so as I sat in church service on Sunday and listened to the Christmas carols being sung, I looked up and said a prayer of thanks to God - a prayer thanking Him for my friends, for complete strangers (met and unmet), for the opportunity to share with others, for the opportunity to be humble enough to receive from others and for the strength and courage to continue to follow our intention to make a difference in this world.
Contrary to what the media would like us to believe, the unselfish, giving spirit of people is alive and well. We see what we choose to focus on.
A number of people came to mind as I sat there in gratitude. While many came to mind, I will mention some of them here. Things they have said or done in the last month or so have had a profound impact on me and my family and the sense of deep gratitude we are experiencing during this season. There is always a danger of leaving people out but if I listed everyone that I was grateful for, the list would be very long (my LinkedIn network alone is up to 16.5 million people at the time I wrote this). :-)
The people who come to mind include my family (of course), Andrew B., Roberto L., Jonathan S., John C., Jim L., Estean L., Hilary R., Tim S., Bruce MacN., Joseph S., Casey W., Gabriel M., Keith B., Don H., Gary J., Daryn K., Ken B., Mac P., Frances H., Marilyn B., Debra P., Peggy C., Lauren M., Iris P., Peter T., Gerald C., Barry G., Peter D., Doreen C., Peggy M., John G., Bret D., Evan G., Tim M., Lew M., Emily H., Jeremy R., Paul S., Deborah W., John Paul W., Gerry O., Ros O., Gina P., John L. (and the gang), Marvin C., Alex T., Kevin F., Dave M., Ed N., Heather and Mark U., Bill G., Ray J., Larry F., Jackie H., Sharon C., Tony R., Steve B., Linda G., Cathy F., Paul L., Jenifer F., Nick S. and John M.
I am grateful for everyone in my life and grateful for their spirit of giving and sharing, their commitment to others and their passion to make a difference in the lives of people around them - even when it means sacrifice for themselves or a sense of swimming against the tide.
As 2009 draws near, we have a choice to make. We can succumb to the sense of despair as the media would like us to embrace or we can choose to see phenomenal opportunity in everything and everyone around us.
There are incredible opportunities around us for growth, for sharing, for learning and for receiving with humility and gratitude - phenomenal opportunities for each one of us to leave a legacy of hope and love to the generations that are coming behind us.
2009 will bring interesting challenge and opportunity for me and my family. We are contemplating a number of programs in alignment with our purpose and passion, including children's education in North America and service to the needy overseas.
Whatever you decide to do in 2009, do it with passion, purpose and a sense of making a difference. If you want it bad enough, you will be successful, regardless of the challenges you face.
Remember that you are not alone - you are surrounded by people who want to help you be successful. Be open to their help just as you expect others to be open to yours.
Above all, keep your faith alive. Whatever you believe God is, remember that in your darkest moments, faith in God will lead you to victory in your efforts to make a difference.
I wish each one of you, a phenomenal 2009 filled with personal victory, a fulfillment of purpose and a legacy that others will learn from and multiply, for the benefit of all.
Yours in service and servanthood.