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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

Hello! Is Anyone Listening?

There are so many opportunities during the next few weeks to connect with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. Some of these gatherings you look forward to, and others bring with them a sense of dread.

After my mother died in December 2006, the day we were putting up the Christmas Tree, my brothers and sisters and I felt like fifty-year-old orphans. All our family traditions revolved around our parents and now that both mom and dad were gone we didn't have anyone to brag to about some accomplishment, or ask for advice when we had a problem, or just find a sympathetic ear. At Christmas time we felt the loss.

We kept getting together trying to keep old traditions alive; the carry-in dinner, presents for the grandchildren now coming from Aunts and Uncles, and the treasured "white elephant gift exchange." The fun we had choosing, losing, and stealing gifts from one another helped us to relax and enjoy being together. But as time went on the white elephant gift exchange started to become a chore as we bravely tried to recreate what we had experienced all those years. Sometimes the fun turned into hurt feelings and disappointment. The day just never lived up to our expectations.

One Christmas, Mary, my wife, and I decided to try something different at our family party. I announced to everyone that instead of the gift exchange I had a new idea. No gifts. Bring food! My brother and sister and their families were a bit anxious about the change.

“Think about it as a gift from Santa,” I said, “you don’t know what Santa’s bringing until you open the gift. Don’t anticipate. Participate!”

They all grumbled but were secretly glad they didn't have to come up with a white elephant gift. We hosted the family party in Lima on the Saturday before Christmas that year. We set time to begin at 1:00. My brother and his family arrived at 12:30, characteristically early while my sister and her family showed up at 1:30, characteristically late. But no one cared, we were just happy to be together and to have that "elephant" off our backs.

For the next hour we ate and talked and then ate some more; my sister's hummus and grape leaf rolls, my sister-in-law's cookies and pies, my wife's chicken wings. We gorged on every food we loved.

At 3:00 I announced that it was family game time. Grumbling, complaining, and gripping, everyone assembled in the living room unsure about what was going to happen next. Mary had a basket filled with torn scraps of paper upon which she had written numbers from 1 to 20. After everyone chose one, I produced a large poster with lottery tickets taped to it –

"There are at least a billion dollars in prize potential on this poster," I said. Now I had everyone's attention. "Here's the game. Everyone has a number from 1 – 20, when your number comes up, we want you to tell us something that happened to you this year. It could be at work, at home, a vacation – good or bad – you choose and tell us about it. Or you can choose the "crowd-sourcing" option. We get to ask you five questions about your life this year, and you must answer each one truthfully."

Mary and I had rigged the numbering, so she had #1. She started and told a story about getting a new job at Heavenly Stitches Shop which she loved. Then she put her number in the basket for the grand prize drawing. As we went around the room each one, bold or shy, told a story, some a story they chose, and others wanted the crowd to ask questions.

Three hours later we were laughing, asking questions, and enjoying ourselves just like the days when mom and dad were still alive. After everyone told their story, the grand prize winner was picked from the basket of numbers. My niece netted four dollars in prize money.

Such a simple idea. An opportunity to tell your story uninterrupted to people who care about you and are listening to only you. What a gift! The gift of our attention without expectation or judgment. I'd love it if you gave it a try this holiday season.

Tell us your story – Rules:

  1. No phones – put the phones away!

  2. Pick a number from the basket – have a grand prize of questionable value.

  3. Tell a story about something that happened to you this past year

  4. Your choice, or

  5. Crowd Source it

  6. Pick a winner for the grand prize.

If you decide to try this – upload a picture of your family to our new Let’s Talk Facebook Page – here’s the link: - then tell us how it went. We will be giving gift cards to a few lucky families as a thank you for trying our game and sharing your story with us.

By the way, you can play this game anytime.

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukah!

Joyful Kwanza!

Happy New Year!

Mike (Hope you like my little snow people)

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