A Soft Place to Land

Holidays are times intended for celebration. And as we prepare, we hope that the gathering goes well – even though in some families, some version of the dreaded Uncle “Smart Mouth” will be there.

We all want to avoid family division and strife. We all want to nurture and retain lasting relationships. And whatever their ages, we all want to stay connected to our children’s hearts.

But for some families, strife is a reality. And it is the time before and after the meal that contain the most volatile interactions.  One key word can strike the heart of its target and open wounds not visited for 12 months. Like sharp arrows, the words of well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) relatives can pierce a soul.

As hosts, parents, or watchful guests, what can we do to minimize the damage that cryptic and subtle jabs can bring?

I once heard a man in his forties talk about when he was a teen. He would come home drunk and as he stumbled through the dimly lit living room, his waiting mother would quietly engage him in conversation. She would say, “Sit with me here a moment while I tell you the most amazing thing I just read.” There was no lecture. No reprimand about his slurred speech or unkempt appearance. No condemnation. Just whispered gentleness.

The man said that it was this example set by his mother that made him the man he is today. He said, “I knew I had done wrong. And I knew she was disappointed in me. But she made sure that she was a soft place to land. She wanted my heart and protected it at all cost.”

As we walk through the holidays, let us remember that our focus is to capture hearts by being a soft place to land. It’s a predetermined choice. A mindset surrounded by kindness and gentleness. To listen, encourage, and yield to compassion. Let us be a soft place to land. Our children, and their friends, are watching.

Making Memories

The holiday season fills us with warm memories. Grandma’s butter cake. The smell of cinnamon. But not every home experiences the joy of the season. Not every family gathered around the dining room table on Thanksgiving experiences unity. Not every house knows peace. And although you and I cannot fix every family, we CAN make a difference in what a child remembers about this season. How? By helping to make a memory. Because holiday memories are made by design.

As you know, holiday celebrations differ, depending upon a family’s heritage and faith. Inside our homes we all have the right and the privilege of expressing our faith or lack of faith, with conviction. But outside of our homes, the space is reserved for the children. For every child’s eye should delight in the joy and happiness that the holiday season brings.

Inside our home in 1957 – the year the Soviet Union launched the first orbiting satellite, Sputnik – my Aunt attached a small gold covered gift to every box she wrapped. She said it was our “Sputnik.”

But outside of our home – the space which was dedicated to neighboring children – my father built a life-sized manger and nativity scene. Whole families would make the trek through the snow up to the grove of hemlock pine to view the holy scene. Under the low-hung branches stood a concerned Joseph, while Mary knelt at the baby’s side. Animals were scattered in strategic spots peeking out from behind the hay.

Across the street, a sleigh waited for gifts while next door, blue stars were suspended to light up the landscape. Up and down the street, candles glowed in windows, flags flew, and snowmen proudly stood at attention. And in this rich and diverse heritage of celebration, our neighborhood thrived.

If you have not yet added the holiday spirit to your front door, consider sharing the joy of the season with those in your midst. Add a little bit of who you are to the scene. And in the process, you may just be making a memory.

Editor’s Note: If you need a little help explaining Santa to young children, here’s a letter from the man himself that will do it for you.

Halloween’s Open Door

Halloween is day that people either love or hate. There is not much middle ground here. Either folks go all out dressing as witches and vampires, or they avoid it at all cost, preaching the origin as pagan and demonic.

No matter what side of the issue you stand on, it’s a holiday we all have to deal with. Your children may be dressing as biblical characters and going to church, or they may be plotting their course through the neighborhood. No matter which direction they scatter, it is important we remember that this is an opportunity to minister love.

On the other side of your door will be innocent young children, or the worldly souls who may be lost and forgotten. They may be scared or greedy. Too young or too old. Too timid or too aggressive. Whatever the case, they are ALL God’s children and in need of love. Kindness. And generosity.

This is our opportunity to plant seeds of kindness in children we may never see again. It is a once-in-a-lifetime open door to add value to a little life and a not-so-little life. So plan a strategy in which they will never forget your house and the love that lives there.

The world will come to our doors. They will be looking for candy. The question is, what will they find? Will it be a smile and gentle conversation, or will it be a dark door with curtains drawn. From that night on, our houses will be labeled. Will they be known as the houses where love dwells? The choice we make will last a lifetime.