Merry Christmas Wonder to All and to All a Great Year!

Christmas is a time when I’m at my most nostalgic, having grown up in Norman Rockwellian Americana. I can remember the littlest things from 50 years ago like they happened yesterday, but somehow forget why I just went downstairs into the den. Christmas had such a wonderful intensity back then and that included baking everything from scratch as a family to shopping in the falling snow in downtown Appleton to meeting my brother Rick at the train depot when he was on leave from the Navy. One year, the night before he would return to base, I even asked him if he was God. Now, that’s what I call intense wonder!
Everything seemed so filled with wonder back then through the lens of a child. Some of it was because I was younger and firmly believed in everything (you should have witnessed my “debate” with mom involving the existence of Santa!). Some of it was that the decorations and festivities didn’t start until after Thanksgiving so the excitement was much more concentrated in time. All that said, we were never hurried, even though it seemed we were baking or decorating or playing in the snow 24-7. I think it was because most of it was spent together as a family around the house rather than on the plethora of errands and shopping stints that are more prevalent today. Perhaps writing this will prove as motivation to simplify next year!
I love the word “wonder.” When we’re young, we experience it a lot because there are so many “firsts.” Then, as we age and grow busier, we sometimes miss the wonder that’s right beneath our nose. It can also happen when we let cynicism distort our perspective. I think this is why one of my favorite quotes in my book is “Some things need to be believed to be seen” by Ralph Hodgson. It is SO true.
So, how is it that, at the ripe old age of 57, I just experienced one of my favorite years of my lifetime? I think it’s because I experienced “wonder” on almost a daily basis, capturing that same, intense feeling of awe as I did as a kid. Only this time, it’s in an entirely different context than a visit from Santa. Rather, it’s a sense of wonder about how my life experiences, passions, and relationships were, in retrospect, a preparation for this new life mission and purpose. A wonder of how in this entirely new context, I’ve been blessed to meet such incredible people who would serve on my team or become ambassadors for our mission of offering honorable life wisdom to young people. A wonder of how so many introductions to amazing people could not be happening by “chance.” Or, the wonder of how God would answer my prayer of some eight years ago that my life could become more centered on kids and relationships. Unreal.
Honestly, I think I experienced “wonder” more than ever this year. On the other hand, I also know that I was more intentional in looking for it. Maybe that’s my “lesson learned” for 2011…a renewed commitment to see wonder and blessings in everything I do.
So, as I look ahead to 2012, I do so with an expectation that I will again be filled with wonder about all that is good and amazing about life. And, about the opportunities that God has given me to make a difference in the lives of others, just as He did in mine.
May you experience untold joy and fulfillment and wonder in the year ahead.
Merry Christmas with Love and Anticipation,

Be a Wise Steward and Cheerful Giver

During my childhood, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always “Santa Claus.” My reasons were simple: 1) he has a fun job and 2) he spreads joy to children. What’s not to like about that? As funny as that seems now, I think I knew myself pretty well back then. 
How is this relevant to my life today? Thankfully, I’m now at a place where my greatest joy comes from cheerfully giving to causes that help kids. It may not be in the same league as Santa, but I get a little taste of it just the same.
Each of us has three things to offer the world: our time, talent, and treasure. In business lingo, these represent our assets. Like a business, we need to be good managers of our assets in order to maximize their value and impact.
Take a moment now and reflect on your assets—in each of the above categories. In order for your life be one of significance and impact, you’ll need to be a good steward of your assets. This means being:

  1. An excellent manager and generous giver of your time
  2. A person committed to developing your talents
  3. A wise manager of your financial resources

Anyone who does these well is halfway toward becoming a person of significance. Why only halfway, you ask? To cross the finish line, you need one more attribute—the heart of a cheerful giver. That means proactively seeking opportunities to demonstrate generosity. Oh, the joy that comes in return.
If you commit to becoming a good steward of your assets and a cheerful giver to benefit others, you’ll be well on your way to a life brimming with impact! Maybe not quite in Santa’s league, but pretty darn close.

Take a few moments to list your assets (time, talent, and treasure). Which of these do you actively use to help the world around you? Share your thoughts with our online community of parents, educators, and youth organizations by commenting below!


Count Your Blessings!

Watched any good Christmas movies lately? This season is a great time for digging out the oldies. A great favorite among many people is the Bing Crosby classic, White Christmas. In one scene, Bing croons to Rosemary Clooney,

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

As I reflect on the people I’ve known, those who regularly count their blessings (big or small) seem to be the most content in life. They take very little for granted, appreciate life’s simple pleasures, and have the most joyful spirits. They also take life’s major challenges in stride because they remember what they’re thankful for.
Your disposition, outlook, and ability to handle life’s disappointments will improve if you take this bit of wisdom to heart.  And what better time to begin than during the holiday season, when we are more likely to be thinking about home, relationships, a new year starting, and the things that really matter in life.
Start your blessing list today by writing down everything you’re thankful for, and keep your list in a handy place. Refer to it often, especially when you’re worried and you can’t sleep.  Count your blessings instead of sheep!
Do you regularly count your blessings, even in difficult times? Who are the people in your life who do this the most? Do you notice the difference in their disposition and outlook on life?

Become a Masterful Decision Maker

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Some days (like maybe during this month!) your biggest decision is no larger than what gift to choose for that hard-to-buy-for person on your Christmas list. Other days, it seems the weight of the world is bearing down on your shoulders and the impact of YOUR decision could be life changing—for you or for others.
Often, people make important decisions impulsively and based on emotion rather than on a thorough and objective evaluation. However, you needn’t be this way. Making tough decisions is never easy, but if you practice the following six decision steps, your odds of making the right one will be significantly greater:
Step 1: Get the facts.
Gather all of the facts you can, along with any accompanying assumptions. In some cases, you’ll have to use your best guess.
Step 2: Determine your key decision criteria.
Identify the key factors in making your decision, prioritizing your criteria from most to least important.  
Step 3: Identify all of your alternatives.
Consider all realistic options without prejudging. No choice is a “bad choice” at this stage.
Step 4: Engage wise counsel.
Solicit the views of experienced and insightful people who know you well and understand the decision at hand. (If you’re a person of faith, this is a good time to pray!)
Step 5: Conduct an objective pro/con analysis for each option.
Record the advantages and disadvantages and weigh them by importance. This is a particularly valuable step for visual learners since the right decision often emerges when the pros significantly outweigh the cons.
Step 6: Consider your “gut instinct” or intuition.
Chances are, by the time you’ve completed the fifth step, your best choice will have emerged. However, the final test is what your intuition is telling you. If, after completing steps 1-5, you have a nagging feeling that your preliminary choice isn’t right, sleep on it.
If you’re still uncertain the following day, have a heart to heart talk with yourself and your most trusted advisors. This will either reinforce your preliminary decision (which will provide the needed conviction) or it will compel you to more seriously consider your other alternatives.
When I look back on my own life, I can honestly say that I’ve never made a major decision that was personally wrong for me. I think this is one reason that I have very few regrets—and that’s something I’m forever thankful for!

How have you approached major life decisions up to this point: Are you diligent and methodical or are you more casual in your approach? How might the six-step approach identified here help you make wise decisions? Share your responses below; we’d love to hear from you!


Put Relationships before Things


Have you recently considered what you really value in life?
What are your “non-negotiables?” 

The holiday season presents us with one of our greatest priority challenges of all:  relationships versus things.  As we wander through the mall, we can try to tune out a child’s plea of “I want this, I want that.” We can channel-surf on TV to avoid the constant barrage of commercials. We can even toss our stacks of seasonal catalogs into the recycle bin without so much as a peek.
But let’s be honest. Despite best intentions—if we’re not careful—the focus of the holiday season can easily drift toward THINGS.While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, we’ve gone backwards in this respect…BIG TIME!
Relationships are enduring—things are not. Not surprisingly, most regrets in life involve relationships and priorities—rarely possessions. The more this can be modeled and ingrained in our children, the more quickly they will develop lives centered on others and experience true richness in life. In fact, the holiday season provides parents and educators tremendous opportunities to instill the values of relationships and service in our young people. 
The holidays are not supposed to be about the presents—what you give or what you get.  Gifts will come and go and no one will think twice about them. But you can never get back the time you didn’t spend with people. That’s a life regret you want to avoid at all costs!

Honestly examine how you are spending your time, talents, and treasure,
especially in light of the holiday season.
Are you focusing more of it on building stronger relationships with family and friends?
Or, are you allowing other things to dominate your priorities?
Share your thoughts with us and with the LifeSmart community;
we’d love to hear from you!