Greatest Gifts

When I hear the stories about Black Friday and hear how folks are crowding through the entry ways knocking each other over to get through the doors, I am shocked. The goal of hitting these special sales is to obtain gifts for Christmas, gifts that are to celebrate the birth of Jesus by showing love for others. In the process of obtaining these gifts, people are literally stomping on each other to obtain items to simply save money. I venture to say, if you have to lose your self- respect in the process, maybe the savings is not worth it.

I know that times are tough right now in this downtrodden economy but this is not the only time in the course of American history that this has been the case. In the Depression, money for Christmas gifts was almost non-existent. Folks had to be resourceful or bypass giving during the holiday season all together. But they managed to retain the true joy of Christmas without the splendor of all the gifts, the Christmas cards, the lights and the trimmings. In spite of this, families found the holidays joyous. This must be surprising to all those Black Friday shoppers knocking each other down for the best deals!

Commercialization of Christmas does not make it complete nor better, just different. The spirit of Christmas originates from the heart. Christmas is not from a dollar bill but found when one reflects on a manger in a stable of an inn keeper in Bethlehem. Do not forget that a poor couple with no place to stay was where the first Christmas originated from. Hardly the picture of wealth as we see in today’s world of holiday splendor!

I enjoy the holiday lights, shows and fanfare as much as anyone. I do not intend on giving that up. However, losing sight of the true meaning can make the 25th of December nothing more than a one day holiday and not something to reflect on the entire year. Jesus’s birth was meant to be a starting point for giving, that spirit is meant to continue. That salvation we were given doesn’t end after Christmas.

My immediate family has chosen this Christmas to make ours about our family. We want to focus on what Christmas is really all about, being together. That, to us, is the one of the best gifts of all, the love we have for each other and the love for what the original Christmas is about, the birth of Jesus. Times are tough right now in this financial crunch. It does not make sense to indulge on each other unnecessarily to express our feelings for each other. The size of the gift or the value of the gift cannot equate to how we feel.

I love both of my children, my daughter-in-law and my son-in-law and no gift will do that love justice. They know it is there regardless of a gift. We are all blessed to share this sentiment and would prefer to celebrate that, being a true loving caring family more so than opening gifts with each other.

We are trying it out this year, this concept of no gift giving other than buying for the children, though our family is not large. Who knows, it may become a tradition. It seems odd to many, including us, but I am so proud of our family for doing this. It shows that our hearts are in the right place. It allows us to not worry needlessly over what to get each other, how much to spend and all that unnecessary stress that goes along with gift buying.

My family is dedicated to the spirit of Christmas and it makes us eager for Christmas day to just spend it together. Our morning will be spent sitting back watching the children light up as they open up their gifts and scream with glee seeing what wonderful toys Santa brought them and the gifts we have showered them with.

I am sure we will each, individually reflect on our own moments we had, as children. Somehow, in seeing Christmas though children’s eyes puts us all in touch with the child inside of ourselves as adults. No one can truly forget the wonder of being a child and experiencing Santa’s generosity!

Sitting by the tree, huddled as a family, I know we will no longer feel we need those moments to be lavished with gifts to feel special, to feel loved. We know that the love is all around us when we are all together as a family. around us also, for that is truly what the holiday is about. Christmas signifies God’s love; For God so loved the world that he gave his only son……

May you always remember that the best gifts in life can’t be found in a retail store!


Bad Love

I am not sure I understand,
I am not sure I even know why,
But I know that look in your eyes,
And I can see you trying not to cry.

I heard a car door slam,
I heard a tire screech as a car drove away,
I heard you yell please wait
And then I saw you begging him to stay.

But he looked at you out his car window
With an empty look in his eyes
And I could not help but wonder,
Was the relationship built on a lie.

Sometimes we want things so badly,
That we envision what is not really there,
We over look the problems,
Or assume they will disintegrate in thin air.

Was this what happened,
Were you led astray,
Or was he never really yours,
So reality was he never was going to stay.

Did you want love so badly that
You’d do almost anything to keep him near,
Is that why you always panicked when he got angry,
When he left upset, your face was full of fear.

Didn’t you realize,
The day you put your hands through the glass door,
And were bleeding on the floor,
That desperation was not going to win you his love,
Because he loved himself quite a bit more.

Does it really matter the answer,
Its passe, who cares, it’s no more,
Get off the curb you are standing on,
Some times in life, it is best to close the door.

His loss, one day, you will find, will be your gain,
You do not need all this emotional strain.

Head back to your home,
To the safe haven of the ones who love you for you,
Remember the next time you find yourself a lover,
That to yourself and to your heart, always be true.

Note: I remember, years ago, witnessing a teenage girl upset with her boyfriend doing the unthinkable, putting her hands thru a screen door in anger. As I reflected on this, as an adult, this poem came to mind.


They are My Feelings!

Too many times in life, we think we know how others feel. We experience similar things and assume we know what the other person is thinking. We can be at the same place, at the exact same moment in time and witness the same occurrence and yet, see it completely different.

Psychologists have known this for ages as have investigators. That is partially why, in court cases, many eye witnesses are called to testify. Often times there are real differences in their stories of what they witnessed. In the perspective of the witnesses, they are each telling the truth, as they recall. But recollection is based, frequently, on their own personal filters and biases. This is unavoidable. Thus they vary.

This same factor is true when it comes to relationships. It is not uncommon in arguments with friends, siblings and spouses for one party to play the spokesperson for both parties feelings. This is not healthy. Each of us experience life differently and we each need to be given the opportunity to own our feelings and our reactions to life in an individual way.

In trying to control the reactions of people you care about, it really only serves to distance them from you. Resentment will build and no matter how well intended you may be, it will fall on deaf ears when you attempt to tell others how to feel even if your intent is good, to safeguard them from pain or offset issues. The best lessons in life are self taught often times. Stating unsolicited viewpoints directly such as be less reactive, more caring, less sensitive, more vocal, less competitive, more positive, less negative, etc… can trigger the opposite reaction than what one would expect. Instead of being grateful for your input, you may find your recipient very irate.

Most of want the freedom to react to live on our own terms and the support of our inner circle to do so. When asked opinions about how one should feel, it is completely different to respond as that is not unasked for but even then, a word of caution must be adhered to. Giving out recommendations when you are emotionally connected to others and are not a licensed counselor can be hazardous to your health and theirs. This is especially true if you are not saying what they want to hear and they are holding back internally what they are feeling. The cost of your outspokenness could be a major roadblock in your relationship. Listening is invaluable, mirroring what they say and feel is priceless and allowing their individuality is what builds bridges among friends.

I always find it amazing how children can come from the same home, same family dynamics and yet see the world so differently. I see this very clearly when I look at my three grandchildren. The oldest is just turning four and already they have uniquely different personalities and react to stimuli differently. At times, it is unpredictable too, just like the rest of us. These children cannot be put in a box or labeled as to what they will say, what they will do and cannot be completely controlled. Thus, they are human. They will continue to see their home, their family and their lives through their individual perspectives, each uniquely differently. This is the creativity of God at work.

Why do we kid ourselves and say to others “I understand exactly how you feel?” In reality, unless we have walked the same footsteps in life someone else has, how would we know? No one has walked in someone else’s shoes and seen the world through someone else’s eyes nor been inside their head to read their perceptions. We can never really assume we know truly how someone else feels and tell them that honestly. To assume otherwise and state that is to belittle a human being’s true emotions.

This is especially true in times when someone is going through an event traumatic, such as the death of a loved one or remembering something horrific. To say aloud that you know how they feel is to imply you understand all of the history and dynamics of the relationship over the years or what it felt like to go through a particular event they went through. I ask, how could you, you are not uniquely them? I believe in showing compassion and empathy but I believe in honesty also. Honestly, there is only one of them, and one of you; you can’t know all there is to know about their feelings and reactions. Let them own their emotions and not feel you are trying to control theirs. They have the right, you do not.

It is important to remember that each of us is indeed unique. Allow for that individuality in others you care about so that they can experience the world differently and express it in their own unique way. You may find their journey of self discovery will aid you in yours!


Give to Lift to Project Angel Wings

When my children were little, we started a trend right after the holidays. After seeing the surplus of toys stashed in the bedrooms with literally no place to put them, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on what the season was all about, the gift of giving.

The time I am referring to was when my children were 5 and . I had been recently divorced. We had plenty of love in the house and enough money to pay the bills but we were short on money for about everything else. However, when the holidays rolled in, the kids capitalized on gifts from two different sides of the family. It was as if everyone on both sides, their father and mine, wanted to compensate for the lack of my kids not having two parents at home anymore thus, overspent on the Christmas gifts. Even the kids commented on the abundance of toys. That is when you know it was excessive!

Well, I knew for years there was an orphanage not far from where we lived. I called them up, on a whim and asked them if they took any donations of toys. I learned they took donations of any kind and that they had elementary aged children in the home. Then and there, we began a tradition. My kids, every year, would go through their toys, after the holiday season and pick out the old toys they no longer played with and pack them up nicely in a box. They knew those toys were going to children they had no parents to spend the holidays with. Quite often they both put in toys that I knew they still really liked but they felt that pull to give to the less fortunate and I felt that surge of pride. There were even times when they gave away new toys, as they understand Christmas is about giving.

One year, my daughter and I were dropping off a load of girls clothes after she had hit a growth spurt. When I ran the bell, they asked me to pull around the back of the orphanage. I had also collected, for this drop off, an excessive amount of girls clothes. For the first time, as normally they did not let us see the children, they let us come in and meet the girls. When my daughter walked in with the clothes, the girls literally swarmed around her at the clothes she had in a huge laundry basket like kids who had just been given their favorite toy. They were screaming, smiling and hugging each other as they grabbed one thing after another and thanking her over and over again. As we drove away, my daughter could not take her eyes away from the home. She looked at me and said, “I made them so happy and all I did was bring them clothes. I wish I could have brought them a mommy and a daddy.”

It takes so little to put a smile on a child’s face.

My friend Karen Koeppe understands that only too well. A year ago she started a project called Project Angel Wings. This endeavor is for Christmas. This is not a giving of toys after the 25th of December but for children to receive new toys and gifts and for teenagers to receive gifts as well for the holiday. Not everyone is blessed with a home that can afford a Santa to fulfill the wish list even partially. This Project is needed to keep kids dreams alive.

Children without money in their homes still need to dream, the still need to wonder about Santa and they still need to have faith in their fellow man. Jesus was born as gift to us, we can give a gift back by helping others in need by simply helping this Project. Examine your heart; details are below.

Karen Koeppe proudly calls her program “a gift gathering celebration to benefit needy children.’ Toys and gifts need to be in the $10-25 range for children and teens and must be submitted unwrapped. Her goal is to see that each and every needy family with children in the Northern Kentucky area has their Christmas morning joy!

Please mail donations to:
The Koeppe Family
c/o Project Angel Wings
1936 MacIntosh Lane
Villa Hills, KY

*Email: kkoeppe@fuse.net with questions

Cash donations are also accepted. This will save some the trouble of packing and shipping. Please consider helping Karen make dreams come true. Her goal is to see their program expand to other areas of the country but she needs success one area at a time to expand. What is Christmas without children smiling?


Our Parents' Clock

It is funny how , when you age, it hits you that your parents are too. It is as if one day, you look up and suddenly realize, yes your parents are elderly. They look like your grandparents did when they were alive. With that realization also comes the fact, your days are going to be limited with them.

Many times, we take for granted that we can always pick up the telephone and on the other end is one of our parents to listen to our lives’ stories be they good, bad or indifferent. Their support is unconditional, at least most of the time. Over time, their opinions are often expressed. We hate to admit too how often they are right. It is so much easier to take their input when they agree with us, with what we want to do and with how we feel. But usually, in the end, sometimes after traveling down the wrong road and getting knocked around a few times, we do realize their wisdom prevails.

The circle of life is a given. One day, the phone will ring and it won’t be them calling. We will reach out, grab our phone and want to place a call but realize they are no longer there. Who can replace a parent? Who can care like a parent can about our lives? I am not sure anyone can. Except, of course, our heavenly Father, God.

Par for the course of aging parents ,unfortunately comes deteriorating health issues for them.. The calls we get and make are quite often filled with doctors’ appointments, diagnoses, updates on medical conditions and signs of aging that are not curable. One cannot help but wonder how many calls are going to be forthcoming, which call will be the last. Do you stand on constant red alert or do you just take it all in stride and take for granted they will be there tomorrow until the good Lord calls them home so you are not worrying unnecessarily. I think most of us simply hope they don’t suffer too much. The agony of seeing your parents live the last part of their life in pain and despair is one of the harder things in life.

Isn’t it ironic that the roles completely reverse. We come into the world being the child, the innocent ones and having our parents care for us. In the end, we become more the caretakers, the ones that are focused on our parents. We spend a lifetime focused on what we want, where we want to be and getting their undying support. Then, the tables suddenly turn and they need our focus to be on them.

I had a conversation just the other day with someone quite close to me. It was about those conversations that are hard to have but oh, so necessary . Finding the time to tell your parents what their presence in your life has meant to you. I think, if nothing else, this gift is priceless. We pray to God for thankfulness for His blessings, for what He has bestowed on us. Don’t our parents deserve this also? Too many times, a parent dies without their children expressing how they feel. There isn’t always the opportunity or perhaps even, in rare cases, the situation doesn’t warrant it. However when it does, take the time. Find the moment.

I have found, in my experience in talking to folks that are dying from cancer, openness and honesty is healing. These conversations bring people peace and lets them know that their legacy is a good one and will live on long after they are gone. They can leave this world proud and knowing they made a worthwhile contribution. Their time on earth was well spent and this sentiment cannot be expressed on some tombstone they will never see or a eulogy that will not hear. Our parents certainly deserve this type of praise and this type of peace as they one day face the inevitable, death. We need to find the strength to express this before their health goes and/or their completely.

When I look in the mirror, I see wrinkles. I see signs of live, of laughter and signs of years of living. I see in my eyes wisdom born of life’s experiences. When I look at my parents eyes, I see much of the same except deeper wrinkles, deeper wisdom and more signs of living and also signs of tiredness that implies much more aging than me. The health issues imply they are much closer to death than even I like to admit. Chances are we will not know when their final day will be. Who can predict when the hands on the clock of life will stop for our parents? We simply must take the time to speak from our hearts to our parents and let them know what they have meant to us.

As I looked up, as my parents walked towards me, approaching, as they always do, with a smile on their faces. I thought I saw someone else. But as they drew nearer, I realized the elderly couple was none other than my parents. And I was proud.