A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘gifts

After a long absence, I’m returning to the workforce. Those who have been there and done that know what a daunting prospect it is: preparing a résumé, lining up references, creating profiles on job search websites, chasing job leads, and trying to land that elusive interview to get a foot in the door.

Recently, I’ve made a few visits to the Y Employment Access Centre in my area. I’ve discovered a lot of helpful resources there. But besides the handouts on CVs and cover letters, job boards, and workshops, I found something more valuable: encouragement.

When we’re feeling discouraged—about our weight-loss efforts, job search, and so on—hearing people say they believe in us can give us that boost of confidence we need to start believing in ourselves.

I found that positive “You can do it” attitude in everyone from the receptionists to the career counsellor to the job developer. And in my husband and son, my mother and mother-in-law, my piano teacher…

How often do we have the opportunity to offer someone else that little bit of encouragement but fail to seize it? How beautiful to help others see they have it in them to pursue a dream or goal that makes good use of the gifts and talents God has blessed them with!

Society respects people with confidence but is quick to condemn those who seem to think too much of their abilities. No wonder we can struggle to believe we have what it takes to make our plans a reality!

Whether we’re young or not so young, we can all use a word or a note or an e-mail of encouragement to help us take that next step. I pray that, the next time we have the opportunity to encourage others, we take it.

I believe in you

I can’t even count the ways that

I believe in you

And all I want to do is help you to

Believe in you

~ “Believe in You” by Amanda Marshall

As a child, I loved How the Grinch Stole Christmas, both the book and the animated special. In fact, I still watch the show each December.

Remember how the Grinch was mystified that Christmas had come to Whoville without decorations and rafts of presents until he realized that, perhaps, there was a little bit more to the celebration?

As Christians, we know there’s more to it, even if our culture doesn’t always reflect it. Flyer bundles become fatter as December wears on, each ad describing that store’s amazing deals. Evening traffic is heavier than usual as people try to fit in a little Christmas shopping on their way home from work. Shoppers scan parking lots, normally only partly full, in the hopes of finding a convenient parking spot, or any spot at all.

A CBC story last year on “Christmas traditions: Why do we give gifts at Christmas?” tells us that “The common explanation is that gifts are given at Christmas to remind those celebrating the holiday of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus to celebrate his birth.” We read about this in Matthew 2:10-11*:

When [the Wise Men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Too often, we forget the worship part. We skip over Advent services, church pageants, and Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Mass and head straight for the gift giving.

But we don’t need to buy into the pressure to bury our loved ones in presents. We can give fewer gifts that will truly mean something to the recipients, thinking about their interests and likes. For example, last year, I gave my father a huge frame filled with old pictures of his parents and extended family, and this year, part of his gift will be some homemade rye bread; I’ve also made some other presents, such as an apron decorated with hand-drawn pieces of sushi for a niece who likes to cook and is interested in Asian cultures.

And we don’t need to buy into the pressure to cram activities into every moment leading up to the big day. We can decorate and entertain the way we like, not the way the magazines tell us we should. We can bake a few kinds of cookies or have a cookie swap or skip the cookies entirely. And we can give our loved ones the gift of our time in making gifts for or with them; wrapping presents, doing holiday baking or decorating the house together; going skiing, sledding or skating together and enjoying a hot chocolate after; or hunkering down on a cold day and enjoying a movie or game night as a family. My husband usually takes some time off work at Christmas, and over the years we’ve gone tobogganing, enjoyed the Christmas Treats Walk at the Toronto Zoo, taken in a Disney on Ice show or two, and had lots of game and movie nights and dinners as a family—something we don’t always get to do in an average busy week.

reindeer and geese

Reindeer (and Canada geese) enjoying a snack during the 2007 Christmas Treats Walk at the Toronto Zoo.

We don’t need to make it our mission to bring stores into the black by charging purchases till we approach our credit-card limit and then hitting those Boxing Day sales. We don’t need to shop or run errands or attend holiday parties till we drop. But if we decide to enjoy the social events, baking, decorating and gift giving, we need to keep our holiday preparations and expectations manageable and reasonable so that we focus on the true reason for the season: celebrating our Saviour’s birth.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

On Wednesday, I found myself waiting for a haircut and feeling pretty nervous. I’ve been growing out my crazy, curly hair, and the previous haircut had left me with layers that I’d grown out again.

Yesterday, the stylist listened to me, gave me a wonderful cut, and left me with lots of curls. And the barista at the coffee shop served my mocha with a smile. And the friendly bookstore staff helped me find a book my son wanted and store my purchases at the front desk until I finished browsing.

Which might sound like nothing special. But as those who’ve waited for a bad haircut to grow out or been treated by restaurant or store staff as though serving them was a headache know, good service isn’t a guarantee; it’s a gift.

But do we treat it like one?

We might assume people owe us good service because that’s part of their job. I don’t know about most people, but I don’t always do my tasks with the best of grace. Mustering enthusiasm for dusting and laundry challenges me on a good day.

We should consider instead that those who provide excellent customer service may be choosing to bless others with a smile despite dealing with chronic pain, with the best of their skills when they’re worried about loved ones, with efficient and courteous help even though they’re tired after staying up late to look after sick children.

We can choose to treat good service as though it’s our due—or we can bless others by thanking them for their help, giving a good tip or a positive survey review, recommending businesses to others through social media, and continuing to shop and eat where we receive great service. And we can carry this further by blessing others with the best of our skills and expertise, taking a cue from 1 Peter 4:10-11*:

As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

May we be thankful for good service and likewise bless others by serving them with a giving spirit, not a grudging one.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

~ Hebrews 13:16

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Like many people, I don’t enjoy pulling weeds out of the lawn. Possibly because they seem to spring up again as quickly as the stubble returns to Homer Simpson’s face. Needless to say, my backyard has more dandelions than I’d like.

Which turned out to be a blessing for one brave bunny.

I happened to look outside yesterday morning and spotted a rabbit happily munching on dandelion leaves and then biting off stems, nibbling them almost to the seed head. Something I thought was an eyesore—a nuisance, even—was useful for that creature.

wild rabbit

A wild rabbit selecting dandelion stems in my backyard 

And that made me think of how we might view ourselves. Do we ever see ourselves the way I saw those dandelions—something out of place and not useful? Do we ever think that we’re too weak, too young or too old to serve God? That we lack the strength or talents or skills to accomplish good works for him?

We should never feel that God can’t use us. He has plans to use us. He created us for a purpose:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

~ Ephesians 2:10*

True, not everyone has the strength of Samson or the wisdom of King Solomon or the preaching ability of the apostle Paul. Instead, each of us has a unique set of gifts and talents, as we read in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11:

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

We all have gifts that can be used to worship God, to build up the body of Christ, and to share God’s love with others. But if we aren’t sure just what those gifts are, we can ask our family or friends about the things they’ve noticed we’re good at; look into exploring our gifts through volunteer work, classes and workshops; talk to our parish priest about ways we could serve in our parish; and notice the times we think to ourselves that we’d like to serve in a certain way. For example, since joining the Church, I’d often thought that I’d like to serve as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Last fall, at our parish’s ministry fair, I finally found the courage to sign up for this role and received training as an EME.

May we remember that, just as we pray for gifts such as knowledge, understanding and wisdom, so we can pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal our gifts to us and show us how God would have us use them.

(*Scripture references taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Some people have the gift of persuading others of their opinion or the wisdom of a course of action. Others draw people in through their charisma.

And some people use these God-given skills in harmful ways.

I’m referring not so much to con artists and cybercriminals as to those who engage in extremist causes and encourage others to do the same.

Increasingly, we hear and read about the recruitment of young people from around the world by terrorist organizations. Drawn in by charismatic and persuasive individuals, they put their technical, athletic and other gifts at the service of groups that spread fear and create only destruction and chaos.

I recently read these words in 1 Peter 4:10-11* (the italics are mine):

As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

I wish the members of these organizations were using their God-given gifts to promote hope and love instead of fear and hate, compassion and peace instead of contempt and violence, charity and cooperation instead of murder and mayhem. I wish they were recruiting young people to build schools, homes and infrastructure and not to wield weapons abroad or to carry out violent acts in their home countries. Because what these groups do brings glory to no one.

I pray that none of us would be vulnerable to the misused gifts of those promoting terrorism but that instead, seeing that their words do not line up with God’s truth, we would be good stewards of our own gifts and use them for building up—not for tearing down.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;

before the angels I sing your praise;

I bow down toward your holy temple

and give thanks to your name for your mercy and your faithfulness;

for you have exalted above everything

your name and your word.

~ Psalm 138:1-2*

As we celebrated the feast of the Ascension yesterday, I noticed something wonderful: many people in the congregation were singing the praise songs and sounding joyful.

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is the singing—the hymns, Kyrie, Gloria, psalm responses, and all the rest. When a cold or allergies leave my throat scratchy or sore, I really miss singing during Mass.

The Scriptures encourage us to praise God in song, no matter what our circumstances may be. For example, in the Old Testament, Exodus 15 tells us that Moses and the Israelites sang praises to God after he delivered them from slavery; in the New Testament, Acts 16:25 tells us that “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” while they were in prison. And as the apostle Paul reminds us, we should sing with the spirit and the mind (see 1 Corinthians 14:15).

Many of the Psalms encourage us to praise God in song, as in these verses:

O come, let us sing to the LORD:

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:1-2)

Sometimes, though, we can worry too much about whether we sing well. I think the point is to sing out of our love for God and our desire to thank him for the ways he has blessed us and cared for us, and not to be concerned about whether our pitch is perfect—the way young children sing at Mass.

As Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 remind us, everyone has different gifts. I’m not really comfortable praying out loud or leading others in prayer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t offer prayers from my heart. By the same token, although we may not have the gift of a beautiful singing voice, we should still use our voices to praise God. People around us may hear the wrong notes, but God hears what’s in our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

I pray that we would sing with joy at Mass—even if we believe we can’t carry a tune in a basket.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!

Serve the LORD with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2)

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Sometimes the Christmas season is stressful. Not only because we worry about dividing our holidays between various branches of the family or serving a wonderful dinner, but also because we want to find the perfect gift for everyone on our shopping list.

Crocheted doll

The doll Nan made for me

While we can control whether we stick to a gift budget, we can’t control how people will react to their gifts. As I know too well. The story goes that when I was little, my great-grandmother crocheted me a doll. As much as I treasure her now, I said, “She’s beautiful,” and threw her over my shoulder to move on to the next gift. Clearly, the fact that you’re a cheerful giver doesn’t mean you’ll have a cheerful recipient.

To reduce our seasonal gift-giving stress, we need to remember that God showed his love for us by sending us Jesus and that we give gifts to others as just one of the ways we express our love for them.

I pray this season that we can all be cheerful givers (and, when we need to be, patient ones too). And if you’re still working on your Christmas list, I have a few simple, budget-friendly suggestions to share: Read the rest of this entry »


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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