How to give back during the Holidays in 8 different ways

How to give back during the Holidays in 8 different ways

Every blessing counts

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Around this time each year, I think that it is common to find ourselves wanting to do more. There are so many people around the country and the world that have a tough time over the holiday season. It could be because of tight finances, stressful family situations, or the loss of a loved one.

I try to give back each year during this time. I know that I have everything that I need, and want. It is fun for me to give to others and try to make someone else's holiday season. If this sounds similar to you, here are some organizations and ways to give back this season.

1. Operation Christmas Child

This is one of my favorite things to do each year. I started doing it in high school when the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club at my school was collecting for them. My church also participates and I did it this year. Anyways, this organization is run by The Samaritans Purse, and the goal is to distribute Christmas presents to children around the world. It is a faith based organization that delivers the gospel along with the gifts. All you have to do it pick an age group and gender of a child. You can choose boy or girl between the ages of 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14. You then pack a shoebox with various presents for the child. After that, you drop your box off at one of the 5,000 drop off center around the country. Unfortunately, the drop off week was November 12- November 19. This is a great organization and I would consider making a box next year.

2. The Salvation Army Bell Ringing

I am sure that you have seen the people outside of Walmart with the red buckets and the bells. You can be one of those people too! The bell ringing season starts in November and runs until Christmas Eve. The money put into the buckets goes right back into helping the community. It helps with the work that The Salvation Army does throughout the year. This includes basic needs, housing, youth services, rehabilitation, counseling, and spiritual care. On average, bell ringers get about $30 in donations every hour. If you are a smiley and cheery person, I suggest you spend two hours this winter as a bell ringer.

3. Marine Corp Toys For Tots

I love Toys For Tots. I had donated many toys throughout the years at the big white boxes at stores and at my schools. When I was in high school, my Girl Scout troop started volunteering at the warehouse near where we live. This completely changed my perspective on the organization. They need volunteers to sort toys that are donated and to be "runners" for toys when people come in. How it works is people come to pick up toys. You get a ticket with the number of children, their ages, and their gender. Then you go around the warehouse picking up toys for the family. It's like shopping -- except you don't have to pay and it's not for you. It was a lot of fun to do, especially If you have friends with you. Since it started in 1947, there have been 548 million toys distributed. Keep donating toys and sign up to volunteer behind the scenes at Toys For Tots.

4. Make-A-Wish Foundation

Each year, the Make-A-Wish foundation partners with Macy's in a fundraiser. Each Macy's stores has a big red mailbox for letters to santa. With each letter that is put in the mailbox, Macy's donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish foundation. $1 doesn't seem like a lot, but if 1,000,000 people write letters, then $1,000,000 gets donated to help children battling cancer and other diseases. It is so easy to write a letter. It can bring you back to when you were little and wrote letters to Santa Claus with your Christmas list enclosed. This is also a fun activity for school teachers to do with their classes, a way to practice writing and also give back.

5. Visit a Nursing Home

I have done this many times and it is really fun. Residents in nursing homes don't always get visitors and they can sometimes get lonely. Each time I have gone, we have sung Christmas carols through the halls and talked to the residents. You can also make ornaments for the tree or centerpieces for the table. I usually bring cookies or something for the staff as well. This might not always be doable. I usually have had to call ahead to ask permission. An organization called The Holiday Project helps to organize visits to people in nursing homes, hospitals, or other institutions. This is one way to spread some cheer in a not very cheery place.

6. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen or Donate to a Food Drive

This is something that is easy to do, and I am sure almost everyone has done it. Canned food drives are popular during this time of year. You can donate to these, or drop some groceries off at your local food pantry. UMD has their own food pantry right here on campus. You can volunteer and donate to this one, or at one of the countless others around us. Soup kitchens are something that is easy to volunteer at. These are both things that I think are done during the holiday season, but kind of forgotten about during the rest of the year. If you can't get around to it during the next month, I encourage you to try it another time during the year.

7. Donate Hats, Scarves, Socks and Gloves

Every year that I was in school, we would have a Christmas tree that we would cover with hats, gloves, socks and scarves. It was always a goal to cover the tree in as much winter apparel as possible. The garments on the tree would then be donated to a homeless shelter. You don't need a christmas tree to do this. It is easy to do. You can donate new or gently used items. Get some friends involved and make a trip together to drop them off. It is going to get cold and there are always people that could use a little extra warmth.

8. Blessings in a Bag

Blessings in a bag is something that you can do at home, and don't need to go to an organization to do. I first heard about these from a friend at my high school. These are bags that you can keep in your car to hand out to homeless people you might see at stoplights or on the side of the road. Inside the bag are things like snacks, water, socks, soap, chapstick, toothbrush, toothpaste, and other small necessities. If you belong to a church, you can put a business card in there so they know they have a place to go if they need more help. The business card can also be for places like homeless shelters or other organizations that can help them. This is something that can be done on the spot to help someone during this time.

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You Are NOT Enough

We will never be enough, but God is always more than enough.

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Society and even the church seem to constantly encourage us with the saying "You are enough," and their intentions behind this statement are totally innocent. Something about this phrase has always bothered me, though, but I never understood why. In a sermon I heard one Wednesday night a week or so ago, the verses Proverbs 30:7-9 were used, and these verses stood out to me in a big way.

Proverbs 30:7-9

7 "Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

The speaker was specifically focusing on verses 7-8, but the Holy Spirit kept drawing me to verse 9, even days and weeks after. So I decided to dig into it. This verse focuses on Agur (the speaker in the passage) and his tendency to sin. When he asked God to provide "only [his] daily bread," and then when he continued on to speak about the specific sins he was afraid of committing, Agur was completely and wholly surrendering his struggles with temptation and sin to God, because Agur knew he couldn't do it on his own.

Aren't we all like Agur? Because we are human, we mess up all the time and fall into sin more than we would like to admit, and many times because of this, we fall into guilt and shame. This is because, on our own, we aren't enough. If we were enough on our own, we wouldn't sin. If we were enough on our own, we would be able to save ourselves. If we were enough on our own, we wouldn't need God. But none of those statements are true, are they? In fact, it is the exact opposite because God is enough, he calls us out of sin. Because God is enough, He sent Jesus to save us from our sin. Because God is enough, He is with us in every situation because we call to Him.

How do we know that we aren't enough? Because no one is!

Every human sins, even great heroes of faith. David, one of the most well-known biblical figures: the one who killed Goliath and one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, said in Psalm 51:5--

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

The beauty in realizing that you aren't enough on your own is that you don't have to be! Never in the Bible does God call us to be "enough!" He never expected us to be enough because it is impossible. God does call us to depend on Him, though. This is because God is ultimately more than enough. When we depend on God to help us keep away from sin and put in the work necessary to keep away from sin, it will be much easier. We will never be enough, but if we continuously search for our identity in worldly things and not Christ, we will be upset when we realize that we are not enough. Guess what, though, when we find our identity in what Christ says about us, we will find peace and hope because just like 2 Corinthians 12:9 says:

9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

God is the only one who is enough. When we depend on God for everything we will begin to see that HE is enough, and that's all we need.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender Is Still Iconic, And Here's Why

Although it's a children's cartoon from the 2000s, ATLA remains one of the greatest shows ever made.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender ended in 2008, but I've watched the full series at least ten other times since then. I was a big fan of ATLA when it was first airing, but sometimes I marvel at how lasting it's impact is over a decade later. I've seen ATLA bumper stickers and tattoos depicting the four elements, not mention that I myself have a "Jasmine Dragon" sticker on my laptop resembling the Starbucks logo. ATLA was incredible. It's witty, fun, emotionally impactful, interesting in plot, and filled with relatable characters. "Korra" was a nice attempt to follow up on a passionate fanbase, but it ultimately didn't resonate with viewers to the same degree. That said, sometimes people wonder why I'm still so invested in a kid's cartoon from the 2000s. Here's why.

The show referenced a variety of cultures from around the world

If you've watched the show, you've probably realized that there aren't actually any "white" characters in the Avatar-verse. Not that European cultures aren't valid, but it is notable that the show was created as an appreciation of cultures that often go overlooked. The art and music were heavily influenced by East and South Asia, and the different nations clearly reference Asian and indigenous traditions. Earth Kingdom cities were based off of real cities in East Asia, and the culture depicted drew from various East Asian nations as well. The same applies to the fire nation, which was originally modeled off of Japan and China. The water tribes have their foundations in Inuit and Sireniki cultures, and the air nomads are based on Tibetans, Sri Lankan Buddhists, and Shaolin Monks. There are many other historical references throughout "Avatar," including a nod to ancient Mesopotamia in the Sun Warriors.

The characters were complex and relatable

"ATLA" didn't just give us a typical group of teenage heroes, with each one fitting into a typical mold. They were complex and realistic, and that's what made them relatable. We saw Aang balance his role as Avatar with his personal moral philosophy, all while experiencing the onset of puberty and young adulthood. We watched Katara struggle with responsibility as the main female role model in her family after her mother's death. We observed and related to Toph and Zuko's complex relationships with their families, including the influence that an abusive parent can have on a young life. We experienced the struggles of inferiority to "better" friends with Sokka, and even learned about toxic friendships with Mai and Ty Lee. These were all growing kids and teenagers, and nothing could have been more genuine.

"ATLA" gave us some incredible, strong female leads to look up to

Katara was truly the first feminist I ever encountered on television. Not only did she become a master waterbender in the span of weeks, she also taught the Avatar! And the whole time, she reminded us that strong fighters can be feminine too. Meanwhile, Toph showed us that just because a person has a disability, doesn't mean that they are defined by it. In fact, Toph's blindness only enhances her abilities, rather than holding her back. We also encounter powerful female characters like Azula (I know, she's evil, but that doesn't make her any less of a prodigy), Ty Lee, Mai, Suki (and all the Kyoshi warriors for that matter), Smellerbee, and even Princess Yue (who literally died for her people, mind you).

It made a deep, dramatic topic witty and fun

It occurred to me recently that "Avatar" is basically about imperialism and genocide. The Fire Nation decides to take over the world through military force, and it does so by exterminating an entire people and occupying and colonizing everyone else. For such a deep topic, you wouldn't think the show would be quite as fun as it is, but it is. I've restarted watching, and I find myself constantly laughing. With Sokka's sarcastic comments, Iroh's oddities, and everybody else's regular quips, "ATLA" is regularly lighthearted and never takes itself too seriously.

There's some real wise advice throughout

Finally, what "ATLA" is really known for, is its heart. Uncle Iroh provides us with a regular understanding of the world around us, encouraging us to see the world in balance and look for our true selves. His wise words ring true throughout childhood and adulthood. The underlying themes and messages of the show, including balance, friendship, love, and loyalty, all serve the greater purpose of advising the audience.

In summary, "Avatar" was amazing. If you haven't, I highly recommend you do. If you have, maybe go rewatch!

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