A Holi Holiday: Clearing the past, coloring the present

A Holi Holiday: Clearing the past, coloring the present

By Laurie Campbell, FaithCounts.com Contributor

holi
I’m a trauma queen. My therapist says I’ve been through a greater variety of trauma than anyone she’s ever worked with. Jokingly, I “brag” about it. In reality, I’m surprised I’m still alive. And, miraculously—with heaven’s help—my past is becoming the strongest part of my present and the brightest part of my future. It is in this same spirit that I’m celebrating Holi this year, for the first time.

Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday celebrated mostly in India and Nepal. It starts the night of the full moon just before spring—this year starting March 12th. People gather round a Holika bonfire that symbolizes the burning away of the bad and the victory of good. It’s a time to let go of the past, to forgive and forget. The following day, people gather together and celebrate by “coloring” each other. Brightly colored water and colored powders are thrown on each other until everyone’s drenched in color. It marks the beginning of spring. A time of peace and harmony. A fresh start.

We each have things from our past that can interfere with the present. Whether they’re mild or severe, we’re prone to collect them and the negative emotions attached. Like when someone has said or done something hurtful. Or, when we’ve done something embarrassing or hurtful to someone else. The more upsetting the event, the more likely we are to remember. And, the more the emotions can make us feel worse, over and over again.

So, using a fire to symbolize the burning away of the bad and the victory of good can be healing. Fire is often used to purify, cleanse, and change. In nature, fire makes room for new vegetation to grow and the resulting ashes provide nutrients. So, as a Holika fire symbolically burns away emotions from the past that weigh heavy, it can make room for new growth. Allowing for a celebration where we can enjoy the present.

A few years ago, I was in a group therapy discussion where we were working through difficult issues from the past. The instructor had us write down, on a piece of heavy paper, those memories that kept coming up and troubling us. Then, we went outside, walked off by ourselves, and each burned the list. The paper was thick, so it burned rather slowly. I watched as each troubling emotion was consumed, disappearing into the sky as smoke and falling to the earth as ashes. I was making room for new growth and providing important nutrients for that growth to take place.

I’m looking forward to my first Holika fire. And, the next day, where I can welcome a colorful new season of life.

Laurie Campbell can be found, on the first night of Holi, watching past burdens turn to smoke and ashes. Her celebration of spring the next day will likely be a “Westernized version” where she’ll enjoy Peeps of all colors.

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

By Ariel Szuch, FaithCounts.com Contributor

dealing-with-lossI’m going into my third Christmas after my mother’s passing from cancer. Sometimes I ask myself if I really know how to “deal with” these things called loss and grief very well. If “dealing with” loss during the holiday season means coping with my grief in a healthy, proactive way, the answer to that question sometimes is, “Yes,” but often is, “Not really.”

I’m grateful for the principles I’ve learned in the last three years from friends, family members, and helping professionals about living with grief and loss, especially during the holidays. I’ve come to realize that putting these principles into effect is a practice—a daily effort over time that has peaks and valleys, but ultimately moves upward.

Principle 1: It isn’t possible to shut out grief during the holidays. You have to make a place for it.

I feel like articles like this tend to promote band-aid solutions to “feel better” during difficult times. The truth is, the pain of separation from those we love will never go away during this life, and sometimes it just hurts. I’ve realized that over the past few years I’ve often run away from my pain or tried to shut it out. However, stifled pain doesn’t go away—it just builds up until it comes out, often at inconvenient times and places.

One of the best pieces of counsel I received from a friend whose father passed away was to create space for grief. Build time into your life to go to that place where you allow yourself to feel that pain, and it won’t pop up and surprise you as much. This can take the form of counseling appointments, rituals like a special candlelight vigil, or an evening in to write about your feelings. Creating this space is always important, but especially at high-emotion times such as the holidays.

Principle 2: Be willing to be present with circumstances as they are and create new traditions.

Tied up in grief is pain of separation and pain of unmet expectations. The separation I can’t control, but I can adjust my expectations of how holidays should go based on my present circumstances.

My kind stepmom and I recently had a conversation about allowing things to be as they are instead of clinging to expectations of how things used to be. I went home for Thanksgiving this year and had a much better experience. I let go of some of my expectations that things would be the same as they were before my mom’s passing as well as my assumption that my family should take the initiative in making sure I had a good time.

For Christmas, my goal is to create new traditions for myself to honor my mother and help myself have a positive experience. My friend who lost her dad said that her family always hangs a special ornament in her father’s honor on Christmas Eve. That idea rang true to me—instead of holding our pain inside, we honor the past while making our loved ones a part of our holiday celebrations moving forward.

Principle 3: Be kind to yourself and reach out for support from those you trust.

During the holidays, some days are going to be painful—perhaps for the rest of my life. Some days I do well, writing about my feelings and reaching out to friends for support, and some days I binge-watch Jane Austen movies and cry in my room. I’m learning how to honor my grief as part of my story without letting my pain drive everything I do. I’m practicing, and my process is okay. Having a friend who can hold space for me without judging, whom I can reach out to day or night, has been invaluable in my healing process, and for anyone going through a similar situation I would wish the same.

Looking forward

So how will the holidays go this year for me? Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing after a particularly emotionally trying episode, I say, “I’m good.” And I mean it. Growing, refining processes are not always fun and often painful, but they are good. They make me kinder, softer, and more compassionate to others and to myself. They give me the opportunity to come to know myself and come to know God. For me as a Christian, that is what Christmas is all about—hope in Christ and His power to overcome all things.

Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.

What You Need to Know About Vaisakhi

What You Need to Know About Vaisakhi

Today, millions of Sikhs (members of the fifth largest religion in the world) around the globe are celebrating Vaisakhi—a centuries-old tradition that commemorates the spring harvest in Punjab, the homeland of the Sikhs, and a deeply significant religious holiday. Since 1699, Vaisakhi has taken a special significance for Sikhs after the tenth Sikh spiritual teacher, Guru Gobind Singh, used the occasion to create a formal Sikh brotherhood called the Khalsa Panth.

Every year on Vaisakhi, Sikhs give thanks, renew their faith and commitment and celebrate their identity and reaffirm core values including community service, equality, and humility. Sikhs mark the occasion with family, friends and the community primarily by decorating and attending Gurdwaras, Sikh houses of worship. In the Gurdwara, Sikhs sing traditional hymns with their sangat, or community members, and afterwards partake in a simple, communal, vegetarian meal together.

Sikh Americans will share these festivities with the New York City community and celebrate Vaisakhi with the annual Sikh Day Parade next Saturday, April 23. Thousands of Sikhs from across the country will gather to celebrate the collective values and history that binds them together.

A non-Jewish Guide to Purim

A non-Jewish Guide to Purim

Many people are familiar with the story of Esther and her incredible faith, but did you realize that there is an entire Jewish holiday dedicated to honoring and celebrating her story? Purim is the celebration of Queen Esther and how she miraculously saved the Jewish people.

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Esther, a humble Jewish girl, caught the eye of King Ahasuerus—who had just sentenced his previous wife to death for not following his orders—and soon became his new queen. Esther did not reveal her nationality to the king at this time. The current prime minister of the empire, Haman, was an anti-Semitic who sought the death of Mordecai, Esther’s cousin. Haman was angry that Mordecai refused to bow down to him and convinced the king to issue an extermination order against the Jews. The name Purim, or “lots,” came from Haman choosing the 13th day of Adar as the date of the extermination by doing a lottery.

Mordecai convinced all of the Jews to repent, fast and pray while Esther asked the king to join her for a feast. Approaching the king without being summoned was not allowed and if the king had been unhappy with Esther for doing this she could have been killed. With great faith, Esther revealed her Jewish heritage to the king during the feast and pleaded with the king to stop Haman’s plans. The king listened to Esther and instead of killing her, he had Haman killed and issued a new decree allowing the Jews the right to defend themselves.

Purim begins this year on the evening of March 23, and many Jews will participate in the following ways to commemorate the holiday.

Reading the book of Esther (the megilllah)

Jews head to their synagogue to hear the entire book of Esther, or the megilllah. The megilllah is read from a handwritten parchment scroll, using an age-old tune. The story should be listened to once on Purim night and again on Purim day. When Haman’s name is mentioned, noisemakers (graggers) are twirled and people stomp their feet to eradicate his evil name. Purim is the only time when there is a mitzvah (commandment) to make noise!

Send food to friends (Mishloach Manot)

Purim emphasizes the importance of community and friendship by sending food to friends. Observers are expected to send a package with at least two different ready-to-eat food items or beverages to at least one Jewish friend during the daylight hours of Purim. A traditional Jew might send “Haman’s pockets” or hamentaschen, which are triangular, fruit-filled cookies to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. Men send to men and women to women. Gifts are usually delivered by a third party and children are also expected to send their own gifts to friends.

Giving to the needy (Matanot La’Evyonim)

Another one of Purim’s primary themes is Jewish unity, because the Jews were persecuted and saved together. Purim’s special emphasis is on supporting the less fortunate and observers are asked to give money or food to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim. Even small children are asked to observe this mitzvah.

Feast

Prior to Purim, Jews will fast to commemorate Esther’s three day fast before approaching the king. During the Purim day, families gather and invite guests to enjoy a festive Purim meal. The meal begins before sundown and lasts into the evening. The tables are festive with nice tablecloths and candles. The family washes for bread (challah) and enjoys the meal with meat, wine, Jewish songs and words of the Torah.

The Jews also include special prayers on Purim that describe the Purim story and thank God for the redemption of their ancestors. The Torah is read in the morning and Exodus 17:8-16 is read, which describes the battles of Haman’s ancestral nation almost one thousand years before Purim occurred. Children often dress as Mordechai and Esther and participate in a masquerade party at the synagogue.

“And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.” (Esther 8:17)

10 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Holiday Movies

10 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Holiday Movies

By Maddie Wiley, FaithCounts.com Contributor

The holidays are a perfect time for staying in and watching a classic holiday movie. We can learn a lot about faith, family and love from our favorite holiday movies. Here are a few of our favorite life lessons:

lessons from holiday movies

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch teach us that Christmas is not all about the gifts—we need to forget about the presents and learn how to enjoy the holiday season with our families and friends. Cindy Lou Who also teaches us an important lesson on including others and not being quick to judge!

Elf

Aside from Buddy the Elf teaching us how to get into the holiday spirit, Elf is about finding and accepting who you really are. We shouldn’t hide our passion and excitement for the things we love—we should embrace them.

The Santa Clause

What would you do if you were suddenly left with the task of being the new Father Christmas? The Santa Clause teaches us to embrace the trials life throws at us and how to get through them in a jolly manner.

Home Alone

We can learn from Home Alone that holidays really aren’t the holidays if you’re alone. Hold onto your families and friends tight and make sure you invite the older neighbors over too. You never know who needs your kindness this holiday season.

The Polar Express

From the perspective of a young boy, we learn that if you can keep the faith then the wonders of the world will never fade. We are taught to have an open heart and to be brave when faced with uncertainty and the reward will be great!

Miracle on 34th Street

Unhappiness and doubts turn into joyful smiles and a lot of faith in this classic movie! Even when the world is telling us something isn’t true, you just got to have some faith and then something magical can happen.

A Christmas Carol

Learn from Scrooge this season and embrace the magic of the holidays. We learn that we all can have a huge impact on people and if we take some time to be kind we can change lives!

The Holiday

The Holiday teaches us that love is always out there—but sometimes you have to go looking forward. Sometimes an unexpected twist can bring you the happiness you are looking for… you just have to have faith!

A Christmas Story

This classic comedy teaches us the importance of listening to your parents because you really might shoot your eye out one day! Have faith and listen to the words of advice from those around you.

It’s a Wonderful Life

What would the world be like without you in it? It’s a Wonderful Life truly teaches us how important we are to each other and how much one person or even an entire community can be richly rewarded through sacrifice and love.

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Bidding Goodbye to Busyness: Finding Faith at Christmas

Bidding Goodbye to Busyness: Finding Faith at Christmas

By Anna Delamerced, FaithCounts.com Contributor

Outside the mall, the wind gently swirled around the falling snowflakes. But inside was chaos. Every floor teemed with children and parents, teenagers and college students, and I was one of them. I thought I was spending time with my brothers as we browsed through the stores a few days before Christmas last year, but it turned out that we were spending more time trying to find the best deals for the “Titanfall” video game. And everyone all around me was hurrying from one place to the next.

christmas busyness

The holidays seem to be defined more and more by “busyness.” People are busy buying gifts, students are busy studying for final exams, families are busy catching flights and trains to visit relatives.

As the year comes to an end, the story of Christmas bids us to something different, something better. As I read about the birth of Jesus Christ, I feel the cool breeze of a night sprinkled with thousands of stars. I hear the soft sound of sheep and the quiet footsteps of shepherds. I see a family rejoicing over the birth of a baby.

To me, Christmas is about celebrating faith. The birth of Jesus Christ represents hope in a broken world, a world consumed by busyness. He was born in a humble manger, wrapped in a simple cloth. There were no ornaments or candy canes, no Santa Claus or marathon TV shows, no flash sales or BOGOs.

Jesus invites us to lay aside for a moment our wish lists, to pause the holiday movies, to dry our hands from washing too many cooking pans, and to follow Him. To take a moment to remember who God is and who we are as His children. As we do, we will find the true light in the winter darkness. At the root of our human identity, I think we are all searching for something, or someone. Christmas reminds me that I can put my hope in something that lasts: faith. Sales come and go. Even the Christmas tree won’t last forever. But God does.

When we finally did find the video game on sale and bought it, we returned home from the mall. But what I remember most about that day wasn’t the shopping, but the dinner afterwards, when it was just my brothers, my parents, and I holding hands around the table, heads bowed down in prayer and in gratitude.

Take time this holiday season to reflect, relax, and rejoice.

christmas busyness

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Holidays Are about People, Not Things

Holidays Are about People, Not Things

By Karen R. Trifiletti, FaithCounts.com Contributor

I remember one holiday ten years ago, thinking “I’ll keep this simple and faith-focused.” Then I thought of the flute and the violin and the sewing machine and the new guinea pig that my children would love—along with a raft of stuff that was unnecessary and over-much.

I could feel the pull between wanting to offer love-laden gifts, fueling my girls’ talents—and over-indulging. How easy the world slips in, and holidays, or “holy days” are tainted by too many things. That year—though we had a warm time and felt and shared our love and God’s in many ways—I still wanted to take visqueen and duct tape and put it over the need-to-get-stuff basket forever.

holidays-about-people-not-things

Image Copyright Tim Pannell / Mint Images / Offset.com

I don’t think I’m alone. Many of us have had long lists of shopping items for holiday meals, lists of gifts for some holidays, spent time looking for inexpensive flights and special deals, the right décor, or known the overwhelming feeling of holiday craziness.

Certain stress, though, is self-inflicted and often revealing. It happens when we place things over people, stretch beyond our means or worry that our means are never enough, or strive to people-please rather than to genuinely serve or meet a need (see 2 Corinthians 3:5). What we crave most is connection, not things. Holidays are about people—not stuff. So it’s good to remind ourselves and “renew our minds” about what matters and what does not (see Romans 12). As we do, we will seek less to fill our minds and stockings with things that do not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2).

Here are 5 ideas that have spurred me on to focus more on people, not things, during the holidays—gems from my own and others’ experiences.

1. Slow down 

C.S. Lewis reminds us that “the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” And Kissinger said, teasing about over-planning, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” We laugh. We relate. Sometimes we slip into a gear that is too high for too long. Psalms 31:14-15 reminds us of another pace, a pace set as we count on faith, trust in and rely on the Lord and look to Him in our plans to bless others and build lives, not just to create pandemonium: “I trusted in You, O Lord. You are my God. My times are in your hands.” With God in mind and allowing Him control, we may be less inclined to micromanage everything and to overdo to satisfy others rather than glorify Him through serving others.

2. Embrace imperfect

Sometimes we have rigid expectations that straight-jacket us, like Tigger in Pooh Party who loses joy as he fusses to over-orchestrate it. We can become so focused on “the schedule” and what we’re doing next (How will I get the turkey done at the same time as the casserole or the chairs out before the next set of guests arrive?) that we miss the party or are locked out by our emotional absence or sense of distraction. It can happen to all of us—but being aware and being present; allowing others to help; allowing messes in our tidy home; having children get in the kitchen and create a traditional family recipe; and making memories, can enable a closeness and focus on each other, rather than on externals and performances.

3. Think of the gifts you remember most

For me, it was the CD that my daughter and her friends created from a simple set of Christmas lyrics I’d written, or a piece of used furniture my son-in-law personally painted for me. Another was a small special notebook that another daughter wrote in each night for months, penning a thought from her day, and then wrapping and sharing it with me. That 3×5 notebook holds a kept place in my heart and my nightstand. Additionally, some of my fondest memories include sitting around the fire or lit-up-tree talking or playing word or picture games with family, reminiscing, having late night snacks and sitting around in our PJs.

Reflecting on the memories that have meant the most to you and that have reflected faith, hope, and love can light up your life during the holidays and can help you deflect the messages of the media and the commercialism around the holidays. We’re either impacted by the Word, which moves us to lift and stirs our faith, or by the world, which strives to weigh us down and dilute our faith by pushing our fleeting want button.

4. Give purposeful and time-centered gifts

When the holiday involves gifting, reconsider giving things that can influence a person’s character, forward their life purpose and gifts, and not that satisfy yourself or eliminate old gifts in your recycle stash. People can feel the spirit behind our giving. A subscription to an interest magazine, tickets to a special event that will be long-remembered, setting up a time to have dinner together or providing a certificate for teaching your loved one or friend a skill you have, can personalize a gift and replace the last-minute desperate search for that tawdry plastic-laden gizmo that doesn’t fit on the kitchen counter or in the cabinet anyway. Gift-giving doesn’t need to take on a life of its own—it exists to reflect our love and the love of the Source of all love.

A Cornell psychologist and consumer researcher, Thomas Gilovich, says that new things are exciting to us at first, but then the novelty soon wanes. So rather than buying the latest model car, or newest tech gadget, he suggests we know more happiness spending money on experiences like attending concerts, engaging in in-or-outdoor recreational activities, conversation, developing a new skill, or sight-seeing. “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. He adds: “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” Giving experiences is a way to invest in the future of your relationship with someone. Consider ways you can do so this holiday season.

5. Consider the less fortunate

For those who love giving, considering the less fortunate is a daily affair. Yet the holidays provide additional opportunities to render special service to those who might be lonely or disadvantaged. As KidsHealth.org records,

A group of friends in a Vermont snowboard squad like to go to their local homeless shelter and give the homeless a day to remember. They begin preparing at the start of the snow season by asking people who come to the mountain to bring old winter gear like jackets, boots, gloves, and hats. Then the group visits the shelter to distribute the gear — along with a little extra. Says Jay, 18, one of the organizers, “‘We tell them, ‘Now you guys are coming with us and we’re going to teach you how to ski or snowboard all day for free.’” It’s awesome to know that we are able to take their minds off the stress in their lives for one day.

Observe and seek out your own ways of serving and giving to those who need comfort, strength, or relief consistently, including during the holiday season. It helps to match your gifts and talents with a need in your community. You can also choose a fund to donate to as a gift to those in need.

Serving others diminishes our own need to want more ourselves. Happiness expert and University of Illinois psychology professor, Ed Diener, said, “Materialism can lead to chronic feelings of dissatisfaction. It is open-ended and goes on forever—we can always want more, which is usually not true of others goals such as friendship.”

Perhaps each of these ideas can help us engage a different mindset in relationship to giving, material things, holidays, and happiness. One spiritual leader says it succinctly: True happiness comes only by making others happy.” With that in mind, and our hearts full of abundance and gratitude for the gifts of life and hope given us by our Creator, we can reach out to serve with real holiday spirit.

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Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful Music Video – Faith Counts

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As another holiday season comes upon us and life seems to speed up in a frenzy of party planning and gift buying, take a few minutes to slow down and remember the real reason that makes this season so joyful.

We teamed up with two talented a cappella groups, BYU Vocal Point and BYU Noteworthy, to create a beautiful reminder that we hope inspires people of all denominations to look inward and reflect on the value of faith in their own lives this holiday season. Watch as the young girl in the music video decides to “come,” as the faithful are encouraged to do. Let us all celebrate the journey of faith we make.

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Hanukkah Handbook for Beginners

Hanukkah Handbook for Beginners

The holiday is just beginning and you have yet to taste a single latke or sing a verse of “O Hanukkah.” Faith Counts shines a light on the Jewish Festival of Lights with this refresher course.

Starting from the Top

The top with four sides: the dreidel. A catchy tune and traditional toy, it has serious history. Custom has it Jews in ancient times pretended to play the dreidel when they were actually studying the Torah to throw off their captors, who had forbidden the holy book.

Looking to take the dreidel for a spin? Learn how to play.

Back to the Maccabees’ Miracle

But let’s take a step back—two thousand years back—to how Hanukkah started. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

When the Seleucids had taken over Jerusalem and its temple, forcing the Jews to worship their Greek gods, a band of faithfuls known as the Maccabees revolted and reclaimed the city. Within temple walls once more, they discovered only a dollop of oil, enough to keep sacred lamps burning for one day. But the lamps burned strong for eight days, long enough to produce more oil and to spark the tradition of Hanukkah, a time to celebrate the overcoming of odds and and to give thanks for miracles big and small.

Learn more about the origins of Hanukkah.

Hold a Candle to the Menorah

The curvy candelabrum known as the Hanukkah menorah holds nine candles—one for each of the miraculous nights the temple oil lasted, plus the shamash, used to light the others and as a spare. On each night of the festival of lights a new branch is lit and a blessing recited.

fc_hanukkah_article

Menorahs are typically placed near windows so passersby can admire the glow—except, perhaps, when size is an issue. The world’s largest menorah in Brooklyn weighs in at 4,000 pounds and is 32-feet—or approximately 768 latkes—tall.

Like a Donut Full of Jelly

Celebrants of Hanukkah fry foods in oil in memory of the temple miracle—and because it tastes delicious. No fasting on this holiday.

Round as the o in oil is the sufganiyot—a donut filled with jelly or custard and dusted with powdered sugar. Go ahead, try out a recipe or two. No one’s counting calories here.

You Say Latke, I Say Potato Pancake

For the gluten-free faithful, there’s also the latke. Like the donut, the potato-made pancake is fried in oil. Make yours sweet or savory: top off with applesauce or sour cream. Or taste the rainbow of the rainbow latke.

Channuwhat?

However you spell it, the name comes from the Hebrew חֲנֻכָּה—which translates to “dedication” or “establishing” (referring to the Jerusalem temple). Variants include Hanukkah, Chanukah, Channuka, and even Hanuka. For those of us who never won a spelling bee, we can play it safe with “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication.”

Hanukwhen?

Like Christmas, the first day of Hanukkah falls on the 25th—but of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which is based on a 353 to 385–day year, depending on sun and moon cycles. The holiday hops between November and December to those watching the Gregorian calendar. In 2013, the start of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving, resulting in a gloriously rare Thanksgivukkah. Celebrations included menurkeys—turkey-shaped menorahs—and the pardoning of a kosher turkey by a rabbi in Long Island.

Play Us Out

Jewish or not, few make it through childhood without humming at least a bar or two of “I Have a Little Driedel.” Other Hanukkah staples include “Maoz Tzur” and “Sevivon.”

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#FaithServes December

#FaithServes December

By Maddie Wiley, FaithCounts.com Contributor

faith serves december

The year is coming to an end and the holiday season is here! Take some time between present shopping and dinner making to do some service. As you hurry to get everything on your to-do list done, look around for someone who might need a helping hand or words of encouragement. Whether it’s big or small, every act of service counts this holiday season.

Let us know what service you see and do by tagging #FaithServes in posts and pictures! We hope to inspire everyone to serve this holiday season and your posts will help.

#FaithServes is a social media event to inspire people to serve their friends, families and communities. Pick service ideas from the following list to complete throughout the month of November and you can also follow @MyFaithCounts on Twitter for daily service reminders!

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Ghandi

Service Ideas

  1. Put wreaths up in a cemetery
  2. Help someone carry their groceries
  3. Donate cans to a food pantry
  4. Hold a door and tell someone to have a nice day
  5. Bring treats to a neighbor you haven’t met yet
  6. Sit with someone who is eating alone
  7. Email your boss/professor and say thank you for their time
  8. Pass out hot chocolate
  9. Leave a kind note for your mailman
  10. Give up your seat on public transportation
  11. Volunteer to walk your neighbor’s dog
  12. Donate toys to those in need
  13. Help a neighbor put up/take down holiday lights
  14. Compliment a server to their manager
  15. Bake holiday cookies for friends/neighbors
  16. Help someone put up/take down a Christmas tree
  17. Sing holiday songs to neighbors
  18. Offer to babysit your neighbor’s children so they can go holiday shopping
  19. Help clean an elderly neighbor’s gutters
  20. Stuff warm socks with treats and pass them out to the homeless
  21. Help a hospital or nursing home decorate for the holidays
  22. Pay it forward by giving money to a Christmas tree farm to help pay for a needy family
  23. Send holiday cards to soldiers overseas
  24. Buy phone cards for soldiers so they can call their families
  25. Cover pinecones with peanut butter and bird seeds for your backyard wildlife
  26. Buy groceries for a friend or neighbor returning from a trip
  27. Frame an inspiring quote and give it to a friend
  28. Pay for someone’s dessert at a restaurant
  29. Share your umbrella with someone
  30. Help a single parent out in the airport security line
  31. Trade your seat on the airplane so a family can sit together

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By Maddie Wiley, FaithCounts.com Contributor

share faith

The holidays are all about giving thanks and sharing—sharing a plate of cookies with a neighbor, sharing your home for a turkey dinner and even sharing your faith with those around you. Sharing what you believe with your friends, neighbors and even family can often feel awkward. After all, you don’t want to preach, just share what’s important to you. Here are five ways to share your faith more easily this holiday season.

1. Let people know what you are thankful for

Whether it’s during a football game or around the dinner table, find opportunities to share what you are thankful for. Tell your loved ones how grateful you are to have them and for everything they do for you. Being thankful is not only an outward expression of faith, but it will also help you be more aware of the blessings in your life.

2. Share inspirational and faith-related stories on social media

Use your social media influence to share your beliefs by “reposting” faith-related stories or even tweeting about your own faith experiences. You can also use social media to express what you are grateful for and to inspire others to do the same. Keep these short and personal to you. Don’t tell others what they need to feel or know, just share your own experiences.

3. Invite friends and family to attend worship services with you

Inviting your loved ones to your worship events may seem intimidating, but if there is a special musical event or holiday worship service coming up then that could be the perfect time. Make sure they feel comfortable attending and make it clear that you are inviting them so they can enjoy uplifting activities during the holidays, not to convince them to follow your faith.

4. Display your faith through your actions

One of the best ways to share your beliefs is through your actions. When you are kind and caring to others, everyone can feel and see your inner faith. Look for big and small service activities to set a good example for your friends and family. Suggesting and then organizing a trip with friends to the local food bank, shelter, park clean-up, etc. is a great way to share the feelings true service brings.

5. Ask your loved ones about their beliefs

The best way to get comfortable with sharing your faith with friends and family is to ask about their faith first. You can better understand people when you understand their beliefs. By learning about your loved ones’ faith you will be able to find some things you may have in common and you will be able to talk more openly about faith in the future.

Sharing what you believe is not always easy but you can have a great influence on others when you do. “The more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy

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Photo Credit: Tim Robbins / Offset.com
#FaithServes November

#FaithServes November

By Maddie Wiley, FaithCounts.com Contributor

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The year is almost over and the holidays are fast approaching. Find some time this month to do some service, big or small, and make a difference in someone’s life. Whether it’s service for a family member, a military member or a random person—you have the opportunity to do some good and create a good example of service.

Let us know what service you see and do by tagging #FaithServes in posts and pictures! We hope to inspire everyone to serve this month and your posts will help.

#FaithServes is a social media event to inspire people to serve their friends, families and communities. Pick service ideas from the following list to complete throughout the month of November and you can also follow @MyFaithCounts on Twitter for daily service reminders!

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Ghandi

Service Ideas

  1. Write letters to military members
  2. Leave an extra big tip for a waiter
  3. Tell a family member how much you love them
  4. Cut and donate your hair
  5. Feed the homeless
  6. Smile at a stranger
  7. Encourage someone at the gym
  8. Donate to your favorite charity
  9. Bring treats to work
  10. Say something nice when others are gossiping
  11. Pay for someone’s expired parking meter
  12. Donate clothing that you no longer wear
  13. Make an extra pie to giveaway to friends or neighbors
  14. Call your grandparents
  15. Take a friend out to lunch
  16. Send a thank you letter to policemen
  17. Donate blankets to the homeless
  18. Play board games at a nursing home
  19. Say thank you to a janitor
  20. Read books to children at the library
  21. Hold the door for someone
  22. Volunteer at an animal shelter
  23. Knit scarves or hats for the homeless
  24. Donate old stuffed animals to a fire station
  25. Support a military family by helping with their yard work
  26. Make fall themed centerpieces for nursing homes or hospitals
  27. Participate in a charity run/walk
  28. Bring hot chocolate out to garbage truck workers
  29. Help someone move
  30. Leave extra tennis balls out at the dog park
  31. Lend an ear to a friend

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The One Thing That Tastes Better than Pumpkin Spice

The One Thing That Tastes Better than Pumpkin Spice

By Sarah Shepherd and Katrina Lynn Corbridge Hawkins, FaithCounts.com Contributors

Faith: the one thing that tastes better than pumpkin spice

Pumpkin spice is back for the season, bringing all the warmth and comfort of a wool sweater. But enjoying all the pumpkin spice concoctions is about more than feeling that fleeting warm fuzziness. It’s like having faith during tough times.

Fall represents change. And many people see change as a bad thing. It could mean growing up, being more responsible, and having less fun. It could mean larger gas bills to pay, more school papers to write, or countless lunches to pack.

But with these changes come the pumpkin spice. However, as you savor pumpkin spice coconut milk, M&Ms, ice cream, yogurt, hot chocolate or lattes, and everything in between, do you think about all the changes you don’t want to face? Nope. You just enjoy the pumpkin goodness.

It warms you from your heart to the tips of your fingers.

So what is it about this flavor that gets everyone all excited?

Perhaps it’s how it makes us feel during this season of change. Perhaps it’s all the good things about fall mixed in a single flavor: the colorful leaves, the mittens and scarfs, the hay rides . . .

Pumpkin spice teaches us that we can still soak in the moments of contentment while everything changes around us.

And that’s the same thing that faith teaches. There is a difference though. Faith gives us more than a moment of reassuring contentment. Faith can help you even more than pumpkin spice can, because faith is served all year round. And, even better, with faith there is no sinking feeling as you finish that last sip or swallow that last bite. Faith’s supply is endless—if you allow it to be.

So, this season savor the pumpkin spice. Even experiment with more ways of enjoying it. But spend more time savoring and experimenting with faith, and just how warm it can make you feel—all the time.

Celebrating Passover: What You Need to Know About the Passover Seder

Celebrating Passover: What You Need to Know About the Passover Seder

As the Jewish college student organization Hillel International explains on hillel.org, “Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday throughout the world, commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from a life of slavery in Egypt to freedom. On the first two nights of Passover, many Jews hold a seder (literally ‘order’), consisting of a series of readings and rituals, and we retell the Passover story. The seder is an annual Jewish ritual in which groups of people—families, friends, communities, and even groups of strangers—gather for a time of reflective conversation about freedom.”

The seder encompasses 15 steps laid out plainly in the Haggadah, the text read during the ceremonial meal.

15 steps of the Passover seder from the Haggadah

Despite the seeming meticulousness of the steps, within the text modern Jews find room for improvisation, discussion and adaptation. And though the ritual varies by both geography and time period, themes of freedom, gratitude and faith permeate.

MODERN OFFERING

T.K. Stark, a 30-year-old Jew living in Salt Lake City, UT, says his experience with the seder may be different from the more Orthodox interpretations, but the focus and feelings it evokes are universal.

While they follow the order of the seder he says they modify it a little. “We have a shorter version,” he laughs.

This sort of personalization is built into the structure of the Haggadah, says Josh Lipman, in his last year of college at the University of Utah. “Every traditional seder has its own spin.” The point isn’t just to follow the rote steps but to “use the Haggadah as a basis for conversation. Following it is in essence to stray from it,“ he adds.

Despite alterations, the emphasis remains the same: the deliverance of the Israelite slaves and its modern day parallels. These parallels can be made with broad strokes, “really anywhere that you feel or someone at the table feels empowered to start a conversation,” Lipman says.

Stark has participated in seder discussions ranging from overcoming personal bondage to societal issues like human trafficking.

For Lipman, the adaptability of the text helps bolster his belief. “The seder in many ways encapsulates what Judaism is about—in critical thinking and asking hard questions and not necessarily finding the answer. And for me that’s really important.”

The ritual as found in the Haggadah goes back centuries, but the seder as followed in Biblical times varied in marked ways, all centered around the historical Jews’ most sacred space.

HISTORICAL PRACTICE

Were you to find yourself roaming the streets of Jerusalem on the first day of Passover around the first century C.E., you may be drawn in with crowds pushing towards the centerpiece of city and faith—the temple. Faithful Jews from all across Israel streamed into the Holy City carrying an unblemished lamb to offer God. The sacrificial offerings were slaughtered en masse by priests and lay Jews alike in the Outer Alter while men and women gathered in the grand courtyard to worship and celebrate amidst joyful sounds of prayer and song. The whole city was alight with a “feeling of sacred joy,” says Maeera Shreiber, Chair of the Cross Cultural Jewish Studies Initiative at the University of Utah.

Only after the completion of the main festival were the offerings taken to homes and smaller communities. You’d still find matzot (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs and hear of the miracles of the deliverance from Egypt, you’d still sip wine and munch on the sacrificial lamb and avoid leavened bread, but it would not follow the stricter rigors or full symbolism of the modern worship.

The change has its roots in 70 C.E. After a rebellion and a lengthy siege, Jews watched as Roman legions set their priceless temple ablaze and dismantled it brick by brick. “A lot of what happened in Judaism is trauma of the loss of the temple,” Shreiber says. ”The big question is how are we going to go forward in the wake of this loss that was the pulse of our identity?” Some might have guessed it would have shattered the religion, but the Jews adapted. The rabbis shifted the focus away from temple ritual and over the next centuries worked to formalize belief, tradition and symbology, including writing scripts like those found in the Haggadah.

The modern seder may not take place in a holy temple, but it has been adapted and expanded to, as Shreiber says, “make it a lived experience.”

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St. Patrick: Who Was the Man That Inspired the Holiday?

St. Patrick: Who Was the Man That Inspired the Holiday?

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St. Patrick’s Day has come to be known for many as a time to wear green clothing, to feast on corned beef and cabbage, and to put green food coloring in practically everything. But what and who are we celebrating? Who was the man—the Saint—that inspired St. Patrick’s Day?

The Boy

Although St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, he wasn’t even Irish. Accounts vary but he was born somewhere in the British Isles, around the 4th century, to Roman parents. His given name was Maewyn Succat.

The Slave

As a teen, Patrick was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During his six years of captivity, Patrick turned to God and became deeply devoted to Christianity. At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream from God telling him to leave Ireland by going to the coast where he would find a ship waiting to sail to Britain. Acting on his dream, Patrick ran away from his master and travelled 200 miles to a port where he convinced some sailors to let him board their ship. He was finally able to make his way back to Britain where he was reunited with his family.

The Priest

After returning to Britain, Patrick went to France where he studied and entered the priesthood, and adopted the name Patrick. In another dream Patrick saw the children of Pagan Ireland reaching out their hands to him. He became increasingly determined to return to Ireland to free the Irish from their pagan ways by converting them to Christianity.

The Missionary

Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the next 40 years preaching, converting, and abolishing paganism. He and his disciples are responsible for converting all of Ireland to Christianity.

His Death

After years of living in poverty and enduring much suffering, St. Patrick died on March 17 at Saul, Downpatrick, where he had built the first church in Ireland.

The Saint

St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but many Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven.

 

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Faith’s Light in the Darkness: Ash Wednesday

Faith’s Light in the Darkness: Ash Wednesday


Three things you need to know about Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian season of humility leading up to Easter.

When you pass some of your Christian neighbors on the street, you may notice that they are wearing an outward symbol of their faith — a cross of ashes drawn on their forehead.

So what exactly is Ash Wednesday and why is it significant to Christians around the world? Here are three things you need to know.

What is Ash Wednesday?

ash-wednesday-foodAsh Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a time for penance and fasting. During the Lenten season, people resolve to do better and to be better. The days of Lent are meant to reflect Christ’s forty-day fast and resistance to temptation in the wilderness. Christians today voluntarily surrender something — a favorite food item, or maybe a not-so-great habit — as a small token of suffering in recognition of Christ’s suffering for mankind.
Ash Wednesday is also the day after Shrove Tuesday, a day meant for penitence in preparation for Lent, but which has now become a popular, secular day known as Mardis Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” — a sort of feast-before-the-fast celebration.

The last week of Lent is called Holy Week. These holy days represent important events in Christ’s life leading up to his death on Good Friday. Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, an event that gives them great hope. On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, Christians remember when Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and crowds gave him a kingly welcome. This reminds believers how fleeting earthly honors can be.

Why do people wear ashes?

ash-wednesday-palm-leafAt the Ash Wednesday service, the priest draws a cross on believers’ foreheads while he recites the words, “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” This is called the imposition of ashes.

The ashes are actually from palm branches that were saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.

The ash mark reminds believers of a solemn truth: Life is temporary, and everyone will eventually face death. Such a serious day draws people around the world to reflect on this truth.

How do people find faith as they acknowledge one of the starkest truths of human existence?

ash-wednesday-prayerLent is meant to be a dark time, but people endure the deprivation because they have hope in the resurrection. Christians find hope in Christ’s example — his life, ministry, and death.

This faith is a deep source of comfort, and Ash Wednesday uniquely highlights how people can find light in the darkness.

U.S. Presidents: In Good Faith

U.S. Presidents: In Good Faith

What do the leaders of the United States have to say about faith?

U.S. Presidents: quotes about faith

No matter their individual religious persuasions, the 44 presidents of the United States have tried in good faith to serve the American people. Many of these men have expressed their views on the importance of faith. Today we’re taking a look back at some of their remarkable words.

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George Washington

“I have often expressed my sentiments, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

To the General Committee, Representing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May, 1789

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John Adams

“But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.”

Letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

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Thomas Jefferson

“I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious as well as civil liberty.”

To the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut, February 4, 1809

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Abraham Lincoln

“Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.”

Remarks to Baltimore Presbyterian Synod, October 24, 1863

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John F. Kennedy

“We cannot depend solely on our material wealth, on our military might, or on an intellectual skill or physical courage to see us safely through the seas that we must sail in the months and years to come. Along with all of these we need faith. We need the faith which our first settlers crossed the sea to carve out a state in the wilderness.”

Remarks at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, February 7, 1963

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Ronald Reagan

“If we ever forget that we are a nation under one God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Dallas, Texas, August 23, 1984

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Barack Obama

“We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric.”

A Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, 2014

 

Learn about the religious affiliations of all 44 presidents here.

Which quote is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.

Faith in Film: Holiday Edition

Faith in Film: Holiday Edition

When the calendar flips to December and the temperatures dive, there’s nothing like cozying up by the fireplace with a favorite book or a fun movie. Whatever holiday you’re celebrating this month, it’s a perfect time to reflect on hope, joy, goodwill, and faith. We’re all nestled in at Faith Counts headquarters doing just that, sipping cocoa and compiling a list of our favorite movie quotes about belief.

So come in from the cold, pass the popcorn, and let us know in the comments what movies we missed.

The Santa Clause (1994)

Seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing

“Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.”

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to

“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt

“If you can’t believe, if you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”

The Polar Express (2004)

The thing about trains…it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on

“The thing about trains…it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”