Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

The Littlest of These

Last April, after attending a business function downtown, I was stopped by a woman as I approached my car. She was tousled and a bit unkempt, though clean. Strapped to her chest was an infant.

April weather here is incredibly unpredictable and on that day there were snow fluries in the air. She looked cold and desperate as she explained her situation. she asked for a few dollars to help her find shelter and food for her and her baby that night while she waited for her name to rise to the top of an affordable housing waiting list. Her baby slept peacefully on – unaware of his circumstances.

I ached to give her more than I had – a few dollars and a clean fleece blanket from my car’s emergency kit – yet she received them as if I had given her far more. Tears misted both of our eyes. I returned home that day deeply changed.

That incident has stayed with me the last seven months, especially since I gave birth to my second child in August. As the weather begins to turn cold again, I find my thoughts frequently turning to that young woman – so desperate to provide for her baby that a few dollar bills and a blanket were received as if they were life’s grandest treasures. I have since learned that with the economic turmoil of the last year, shelters, food banks and other providers of basic necessities are in dire need of supplies for infants and young children – formula, diapers, wipes, blankets and the like. As a group, babies are among the most overlooked by those donating items to emergency shelters and clinics – and yet they are among the most vulnerable, especially during the harsh winter months.

As a result of last spring’s experience,  my husband and I have decided this holiday season to provide some much-needed necessities to the local March of Dime’s Teddy Bear Den – a community based prenatal health program for low-income pregnant women – in lieu of gifts to family members. I cannot fathom the hollow ache that must fill one’s soul when the necessities are beyond one’s grasp.  I don’t want to have to meet another mother and her baby on a snowy afternoon with nothing to eat and nowhere to go.

As I put my children down to bed tonight – in a warm home, with their bellies full – I am thinking again of the woman and the baby who are wrapped up somewhere in my purple fleece blanket. This year, my Thanksgiving holiday is dedicated to them and others like them – may this winter bring better fortunes, a warm place to sleep and enough food to not have to put your little one to bed hungry.

If you have a warm place to sleep and enough food to satiate your hunger during this season of giving, count your blessings and join me in sharing what extra you might have with the littlest of those among us.

-Sara Brueck Nichols

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What You Give Away

This past Friday I had the pleasure of attending an event where Amy Grant and Vince Gill received the Jack C. Massey Leadership Award for their substantial efforts in assisting the work of the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee.

The evening was as emotional a gathering as I think I have ever attended. The reason being, as is often the case when people give so deeply, there was a personal connection for Amy and Vince that was beautifully conveyed.

Each of them have had experiences with mental illness in their family circles that they were generous enough to share. And they are not the only ones. According to the National Institutes of Health, An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. The holidays can be the toughest time of year for families who struggle with mental health issues, and it seems appropriate to comment.

I have always thought that songwriters must experience some outlet or release in expressing themselves in lyric and song. I can see that when it comes to Amy and Vince, this is indeed the case.  Each sang a couple of songs that were even more meaningful when the “back story” was revealed. One example (or maybe two):

Vince sang a beautiful song entitled “Bread and Water” chronicling the last hours of a homeless man. Vince said the song was inspired by his brother, who followed a downward trajectory after a near fatal car wreck and months in a coma, but according to Vince, “possessed more character than anyone he has ever known.”

He then revealed a great deal about himself with a song entitled “What You Give Away.” I must tell you this song takes on an entirely different emotional level when delivered in that beautiful tenor voice, but the lyrics are worth a visit regardless of your religious affiliations or lack thereof:

You read the business page
See how you did today
You live up on the hill
You’ve got a view that kills
Never wonder why

After you’ve counted everything you saved
Do you ever hit your knees and pray?
You know there’s gonna be a judgment day
So what will you say?

[Chorus:]
No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away
What you give away

There’s people on the street
Ain’t got enough to eat
You just shake your head
The measure of a man is one who lends a hand
That’s what my father said

No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away

A timely message as we approach the season of giving. As you rush about preparing for seasonal observances, be aware of those around who may be struggling. If you sense someone may need help, be the one to help. There are resources all around. You may want to check the website of your state or local mental health department, or here are a couple of suggested sources for you or a loved one, neighbor or co-worker, you can get information at:

The Mayo Clinic

National Mental Health Association

For highlights of the evening I would encourage you to visit TheLostLyrics.com and share in the stories.

-Rick B. Larsen

 

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I give to charity, but I am not a philanthropist….or am I?

Several Thanksgivings ago, my wife and I found ourselves at Arlington National Cemetery.  As we stood conversing near Robert E. Lee’s old mansion, admiring the view of the Potomac below, we were approached by a woman.  She wished us a happy holiday and then went on to tell how she had traveled to DC the day before so that she could attend the funeral of a son who had been killed in action in Iraq and buried at Arlington.  I was surprised by the sudden appearance of the woman and by the recounting of her grief.  Not quite sure what to say, I expressed some generic statement of sympathy and we quietly parted ways.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself this Thanksgiving eagerly waiting for the return of a family member who is serving in Afghanistan. It has been an incredible year for our family as we have watched this young man transition to military life and depart on his first tour of duty. While his time with us on leave will be short, our Thanksgiving together this year will be particularly meaningful. But with his homecoming, I am reminded of that experience at Arlington. Looking back, there was definitely more that could and should have been said. I am not one to live in the past; I simply wish that I had understood the woman’s loss with the same clarity that I do now. If I had, I would have done more to share my sincerest gratitude for her son’s service and my heart-felt grief at his sacrifice.

It is amazing how age and life experience can deepen our understanding of the value of people and blessings in our lives. And it has been my experience that with that self-reflective discernment comes an enhanced capacity to take action.  There is certainly reason enough this year for us to be particularly grateful for blessings that we might have taken, more or less, for granted in years past.  You don’t have to look far to find many that have lost jobs, lost homes and lost hope. Unfortunately, at the same time, the nonprofit sector finds itself in an interesting predicament.  While the needs of many have grown, corporations and foundations have had to cut back their funding to accommodate their own financial losses.

This year, more than ever, we need philanthropists – individuals who value clarity, effectiveness, and significance in their giving.  And philanthropy is not something reserved for only those of high net worth.  It is the distinction granted to individuals who are grateful for their material capacities, who personally identify with the needs of people and causes that parallel their own experience, and who wholeheartedly pursue their self-perceived charitable duty. So this year, as charitable opportunities abound, take a moment to reflect on what inspires your giving and volunteering. In doing so, not only will you have a much more rewarding experience, but you will also ameliorate the circumstances of those around you.

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Teaching Children to Give

Our founder and board chair Dennis Webb addressed an audience in Connecticut this past week hosted by the Family Office Association. The conference was designed for the benefit of high net-worth families, but Dennis addressed an issue that we should all consider, regardless of income level.

Whether we are wealthy or just getting by, it is quite typical that we as parents or perhaps grandparents, experienced struggles that our children have not. When parents or grandparents make the necessary sacrifices for education or to build wealth and security, the children and grandchildren are the beneficiaries without a full perspective of the efforts made on their behalf. Without dismissing the challenges of youth, many kids today live lives of relative ease, complete with cell phones, cars and laptops – sometimes failing to understand what it takes to be productive and independent or to act for the welfare of others. They are often spared the struggle and experience only the fruits.

A wise quote says, “We work so hard to give our children everything we didn’t have, that we sometimes forget to give them what we did have.” Dennis addressed this concept of instilling in our children the values that created the lives they now live. This includes a work ethic, a sense of caring and an ability to sacrifice for others. He spoke of personal experiences in taking his children on humanitarian aid missions and the differences in their lives as they experienced real need first-hand. As one of his then teen-aged sons said on a flight back from one such mission, “I had to go half way around the world to understand how blessed I am.”

There is hardly a parent who, in an effort to get a young child to finish their vegetables, has not used this line: “There are starving children who would love to have that food.” The fact is, there really are. About a third of all the children in the world would give anything for the leftovers we discard from our tables. Our children may know this, they may read about these things, but it is very easy to miss the point unless they have seen it first-hand.

The point is this: we have a great deal in this nation. Even if we are struggling at times, we are, relatively speaking, rich. I had the distinct privilege of spending some time with Marc Lubner, a gentleman and philanthropist in the truest sense of the word, from South Africa. As he so powerfully stated, “I have seen people in South Africa who are desperately poor, reach out to help others who are even poorer. That is their wealth; that is their method of coping – to reach out to another in even greater need.”

Wherever you may fall on the income spectrum, you and your children live better than most. We have so much, and while the current credit crunch may round some edges off of our self-indulgent society, we need to dig a little deeper and live with gratitude and awareness of those who have less. We need to teach this to our children so that we can have a hope of changing things. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the key to changing the circumstances of the less-fortunate. We would do well to teach our children that caring for others is less about “helping the poor” in the abstract, but more about our global community.

Lila Watson, part of an Australian Aboriginal group said (although she resists taking credit for a thought she claims was born of a collaborative process),

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, the let us work together.”

An interesting thought as we approach the Thanksgiving season.

-Rick Larsen

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Giving Thanks: A Wealth Perspective

It’s hard to believe the Thanksgiving season is upon us once again. Everyone I talk to says the same thing … “Where did the year go?” “How can it be the holidays already?” Which is inevitably followed by some expression like, “I just don’t have enough time anymore.”

For anyone who has ever uttered the words, “I don’t have enough time…or money,” may I recommend a great read for the holidays? Author and activist Lynn Twist talks about this feeling and other misunderstandings about resources including wealth and talent, in her book The Soul of Money.

I must admit that when I first started reading the book at the urging of a respected colleague, I was in the middle of three other heavy reads on strategy, finance and global politics. When I began the book, my initial thought was nothing more than, “I am reading this as a favor to a friend so we can discuss it over lunch.” That was until I began to absorb the profound truths in the book.

Just one thought to whet your appetite and perhaps cause you to pause and reflect this busy season:

“When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have, When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.”

Lynn and I share the common experience of asking those with means to help those with less. Along the way I began to sense what she has so beautifully articulated. Wealth is not happiness assured. In fact, if not used properly, wealth can be a prison of sorts; an isolating demographic prison. On the other hand, wealth that flows from your hand to a hand in need, creates a balance and joy that really cannot be fully described. And lest I be less-than-true to Lynn’s writings, wealth is not always money. I too see people who have no more than anyone else…often less, give of money, time and talent in a way that belies their income level.

We can all help others. There is always someone less fortunate than we are. We all have something to give. We can all experience a richer life through lending a hand to others. This holiday season, as we consider the challenges, the economy, the world unrest, please do not forget to take the time to consider all that you do have. You will discover wealth. And if you cannot see this perspective, you must read Lynn’s book without delay!

Happy Thanksgiving.    

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Relative Thanksgiving

“Thanksgiving” and “relative” in the same sentence may conjure up images of a crazy uncle, or the in-laws or any of the many family holiday scenarios that provide such fertile ground for comedy writers. This is not that kind of relative or thanksgiving I am referring to.

This week I’ve done a lot of thinking about the relative importance we put on things and what it is we are actually grateful for.

I spent many weeks of 2005 in Phuket, Thailand. I was there to survey the residual damage from the Tsunami and determine ways to help. Like most everyone else, all I knew of the ’04 disaster came from coverage via the evening news. That was no preparation for what I experienced. I saw people and circumstances that no picture, live or televised could fully capture. I saw families with very young children living in tent conditions and people surviving in filth beyond description.

I saw spare wooden coffins, now serving as the family dinner table. I got some sense from seeing compacted walls of sand and linens and shredded clothing, how impossible survival was for those in the wrong place when the wave hit. I saw hunger, need, pain, suffering and amidst it all…gratitude.

I spent months of 2007 in New Orleans: again, to survey need post-Katrina and find ways to help. I saw devastation that I, along with the rest of the country apparently, thought had been cleaned up! I saw the faces of so many children; some making huge sacrifices just to attend school and trying to force life back to something resembling normal while others have given up on the notion of life ever being normal again. I saw determination alongside sorrow; commitment side-by-side with despair. And I saw… gratitude.

This is my point. Those of us who live in areas untouched by disaster and extreme poverty find a lot to complain about; and we should. That is how change happens. But we eat too much, we spend too much, we consume too much; all because we can! Our kids carry cell phones and play video games and skip school while half a world away, or in some cases just a few states over, there are children who would give anything just for a meal and a day in a classroom.

How blessed we are. How accustomed to relative abundance we have become. I realize people everywhere have their struggles and I am not for a moment minimizing those. But how thankful we should be for the freedom that allows complaint without retribution; for the opportunity to work and progress and become a success.

How grateful we should be to hope, as only Americans dare hope, that even our struggles and trials may someday come to a positive conclusion. We live in relative comfort; far more comfortable than most people around the world.

I once heard a good friend and humanitarian say, “if you didn’t go to bed hungry last night, you were better off than most of the children in the world.” A sobering thought.

To me, gratitude implies service. It means giving back and taking some responsibility in making things better – even if it’s just your corner of the world. I struggle to see how one can be genuinely grateful for what one has, and not have also some urgent sense to help, to share a small portion of the relative wealth one has – to give thanksgiving through giving back. Or, maybe it’s just me.

I know children in Thailand who were so grateful for the smallest gift; cheap sunglasses, bubbles to blow, a pencil. I know kids in New Orleans working so hard to find a future, and yet they are grateful for whatever they do have.

It is all relative, I guess. But I know this Thanksgiving season, I am working a little harder to give a little more, complain a little less, and be a little more thankful.

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