How do you create more joy this holiday season? Obviously the holidays are a time of celebrating, feasting, relaxing with family and friends, and reflecting on the bounties of the season. I have found what adds to our joy is to recognize and receive the gifts that are given and in return to give them to others.
You may be aware of a situation that occurred in late October here in Utah which received national attention on the Today show. Ethan Van Leuven was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 22 months old. From that time on he underwent the use of experimental drugs, full radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and even a bone marrow transplant. His cancer went into remission and then returned. In October of this year, the doctors announced that he had only, “two days to a couple of weeks to live.”
Because Ethan loved holidays, his family decided to celebrate Halloween, his birthday and Christmas all in the same week. Ethan’s community, family and friends went to work and mobilized to make his last days memorable.
Halloween was held on October 21st. Ethan dressed up in his Superman costume and went trick or treating with friends and family in his neighborhood. All the families were ready with treats for the young boy.
On October 23rd a parade was held in Ethan’s town to celebrate his birthday one month before his actual fifth birthday. The parade was led by a police officer in his cruiser who announced from the car’s loudspeaker, “Ýou are our hero. Thank you for being part of our lives, Ethan. Our hero.” Over one hundred people participated in the parade and included characters like Darth Vader, Indiana Jones and the Black Angels. Also marching in the parade were local police officers, firemen, a man playing a bagpipe, the Belgian Malinois from the Max Cares 4 Kids Foundation, and other mascots from local sports teams.
In addition, a 13-year-old boy, who didn’t know Ethan, donated his stuffed animal collection to Ethan for his birthday. The boy had spent years collecting the animals that he had won from inside claw machines that are frequently found at arcades and supermarkets.
For Christmas Eve, celebrated on October 24th, everyone decorated their homes with Christmas lights. Santa and Mrs. Claus showed up in the town’s big, red fire engine to give Ethan a ride around town. In the evening, someone showed up with a tractor to give Ethan and his family a hayride around town to view the Christmas lights. Later that evening 150 people showed up on the Van Lerven’s front lawn to sing Christmas carols and act out a live nativity scene, complete with shepherds, wise men, angels, and even a live baby representing the baby Jesus. A local radio station even played Christmas music for three hours for the family to enjoy. After all the festivities Ethan and his family returned to their home for the remainder of Christmas Eve and Christmas that they celebrated the next day on October 25th. Ethan passed away three days later.
Everyone was uplifted by their own acts of service, kindness, sacrifice, ministering, and love that they gave. The joy that everyone experienced was the result of deliberately forgetting themselves and giving the gifts that they had been given.
What Gifts Can You Give?
Here are a number of given gifts you might give this holiday season:
A Life—This is not a gift that is frequently given, and yet our mothers laid their lives on the line to bring us into this existence. Our service men and women and other public servants willingly and courageously risk their lives to defend and protect us.
A Moment of Time—Time is a valuable commodity to many of us. Simply stopping and being fully present with another person demonstrates care and concern for them. Set aside some distraction-free time.
A Listening Ear—Have you ever noticed those individuals who seem to talk to you at the most inopportune times? Or perhaps you are confronted with those who always have a story to tell, and they tell the same story over and over again? Understand that they are seeking acknowledgment and a personal sense of value or affirmation from others. Be fully present and truly listen.
A Kind Word—There are too many words of hate, rancor, complaint, and frustration that are expressed today. These words create a dark spirit of negativity that drag us down. As hard as it seems, choose to offer a kind word to those around you. We could do a better job of expressing appreciation to those who do things for us. Speak kind words to others.
A Helping Hand—There are ample opportunities to pitch in and make another’s burden lighter. You could help clean up the kitchen, make a meal, rake up leaves, shovel some snow, wash a floor, clean a bathroom or wash a floor. At work you could help someone finish a report, offer to send out an agenda, help with a frustrated customer, or run a meeting. Helping is a wonderful way of connecting and spending time with those around you and improving your relationship. Do something with someone you love or care about.
A Token of Esteem—Perhaps you have some cherished item that means something to you that you could give to another. My father used to pick avocados from our tree in the back yard in December. Then he would put them in small, brown lunch sacks and deliver them to everyone on our block. Everyone loved to see him coming. Give something away that means something to you.
A Smile—Many people are highly stressed this time of year because of the year-end projects that are due at work and with holiday preparations. Smiling at people and looking them in the eye will brighten their day. You’ll notice them do a double take. Just keep smiling and you’ll notice that they will smile back. Find people to offer a bit of sunshine to.
An Unexpected Visit—Many older folks are shut in at this time of year or their families are far away. Identify someone who is alone, get out of the house, and go knock on their door. When they answer the door with surprise just tell them that you came for a visit. Talk to them, show interest in them, and tell them that you are glad they are there. Give people the gift of your presence.
A Touch—Touch is a powerful tool to make us feel connected to one another. Find ways to connect with people by shaking their hand or touching them on the shoulder. Where appropriate, give them a hug or hold their hand.
I said something supportive recently in the airport to a young mother who was struggling with her young child. Out of nowhere, she grabbed me, hugged me, and thanked me. I have to admit that I was moved. Where appropriate reach out and touch someone: a family member, a son, a daughter, or someone you highly cherish. Look to connect with those you care about.
A Word of Appreciation—We don’t thank each other enough. Start to notice the things, the small but simple things that people do, and then say, “Thank you for… ” to them. Express appreciation to let people know that you care.
I am sure that there are many more gifts that are given to you that you could give to others. You are probably wondering what this article has to do with REAL Conversation. I hope that you realize that your life *is* the conversation, and I hope that you are living it deliberately. My gift to you this holiday is the story of Ethan Van Leuven and the reminder that you have the power to lighten and lift others.
Happy Holidays to you wherever in the world you may be!!
 “‘Overwhelming’ Community Support for Little Boy with Cancer,” Shara Park and Whitney Evans, October 24, 2014, http://www.ksl.com/?sid=32083427.