Nov 212011

Craig: Wait…what are you doing?

Me: Nothing. Nothing at all. Go away.

Craig: You’re writing a post! You’re writing a post, aren’t you?

Me: No. I’m writing a grocery list.

Craig: Okay. If you’re gonna lie, you should say something believable.

Me: Fine. I’m writing a post.

Craig: What? You told everyone you quit for the holidays. You are the worst quitter ever.

Me: Hm. Well. Maybe I’m the BEST quitter ever. Ever think of that? Maybe I’m such an incredible quitter that I even QUIT quitting. Done. Just like that. I EVEN Quit Quitting. Who does that? I’ll tell you who. Me and only me. Yeah. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. Don’t call it a comeback, buddy, I been here for years.

Craig: (gone. watching football)


I’m back because I had an important conversation with my friend, Ashley, that I had to share with you.

Ashley and I were talking about Christmas, and all the presents, and the hustle bustle business and consumerism and excess of it all . . . and the parts we love about that and the parts that leave us feeling exhausted and guilty and a little silly, even. Like maybe we’re missing out on something important. It’s almost like somebody’s purposefully trying to distract us from something happening that is of great, huge significance – and we’re allowing ourselves to be dazzled away. And we’re left….wanting. It’s like with all the stuff to decorate and do and buy and wrap and hide and deliver, there’s no room left at the Inn.

Then Ashley told me her plan to prepare her family’s hearts for Christmas this year. How she’s planned to make room in her life and her home for Christmas. For real Christmas. For the celebration of God, who is LOVE, coming to Earth to be with us.

Cause it’s a big deal, when you think about Christmas in terms of THAT, instead of just in terms of Kohls Cash and Black Friday deals and turkeys and where the hell is the scotch tape???? I mean, if you’re a Christian, you believe that GOD came to EARTH. And if you’re not a Christian, I can totally understand how you’d think we’re a little wacky because WOW. I mean, that’s WILD. GOD, as a BABY. On EARTH. IN A BARN. But I am. I am a Christian and totally obsessed with Jesus, and so Christmas is a big deal for me. A really big deal. I mean when I stop shopping long enough to think about it.

Anyway I found Ashley’s Love idea so do-able and so beautiful that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. We prepare our homes for guests, usually. And Ashley found a way to prepare her home for God’s arrival.

Monkees, Meet Ashley.

A Mini Mission to Spread a Little Joy…

Every Christmas, my boys and I donate cans, coats, take an “angel” or two from the tree at church, but it somehow hasn’t been enough for my blessed boys to truly make the compassion connection. What I needed was a way to drive home the message in a variety of ways in the hope that something will stick. I’ve heard that it takes at least 21 days to form a habit…so Advent should at least be a start, right?

When my oldest was a baby, my Mother-in-Law gave us a beautiful wooden Advent cabinet with 25 tiny doors. This year, along with the gifties that Granny sends, there will be a note with an act of kindness to be carried out that day. Some will be strategically placed…like on the 10th when we’ll be joining my husband’s Rotary group to lay wreaths on gravesites at Arlington Cemetery. Or, on the 20th when we’ll be volunteering as a family to organize donations at the Salvation Army warehouse. But, others will be less grand…like picking up litter anytime you see it throughout the day. Or, feeding the birds

And there you have it— a simple plan for 25 days of serving, giving, and helping others. A fun way to experience the true MAGIC and JOY Christmas first-hand. My hope is that they get it…and maybe even want to continue beyond Advent season.

Love, Ashley


You know, we all want the same things for our kids during the holiday season. We want them to experience great joy. So we ask them what they want and they think of stuff that maybe they want, or maybe the TV just told them to want. And we buy them as much of what they maybe want as we possibly can. We put ourselves in debt, even. Because we want them to be full of joy.

But we know what bring US the most joy. It’s not stuff. It’s connection. It’s love. It’s finding out how powerful we are by discovering what a difference our little selves can make in the life of another little self. It’s in emptying ourselves out that we feel full. It’s the only way to feel full, I think. Offering yourself. Your insides. Showing up and pouring out.

Pour it all out –and feel full. So weird.

And so we know what we know. And even though we know what we know, we still try to fill ourselves and our kids up with stuff. I do, anyway. But this season, I think I’ll take my own advice and Step back, Slow down, and Focus up. Because maybe more stuff isn’t what will bring my Littles the most joy. Maybe Ashley’s right.

Maybe what brings me joy would also bring them joy. Maybe my kids don’t need more plastic crap. I mean, I’ll buy some anyway. But maybe they really need to discover the magic and power that’s inside them. The magic and power that is just kindness. The magic kindness inside each of them that could change the world. Maybe I just need to show them how to pour themselves out.

Sounds like a good way to prepare for God to come.

I think our kids will decide what Christmas is about by watching what we decide it’s about.

If we spend December at the mall, they will learn that Christmas is about stuff. If we spend it gathering gratitude and scattering joy….well, then.

We should also spend it resting. Lots and lots of rest.

Resting, Gathering, Resting, Scattering. Like that.

I am so thankful for you.

Love, G

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  44 Responses to “Gathering and Scattering.”

  1. I have just been recently introdcued to your blog, so, I am a newbie…hi!
    Just wanted to comment that I try hard to make sure that we let our boys (3 & 7) know that Christmas isn't about what you get physically, it is about what you give and sharing, and paying attention, and caring for others. And that is isn't something that is just supposed to last a few weeks …it is how you should live every day, all year. Christmas is the time that we rejoice!
    My family never went overboard with gifts, but we lived a very comfortable life. We never needed for anthing. One year when I was in high school, my father quit qorking for a company he felt was unethical, and we went a few months living on food stamps, and no extra money. That Christmas we made all of our presents for each other… It was the best Christmas ever. and the one I reflect on the most. It reminds me, it isn't all about gifts and what we get, it's about sharing love and GIVING!

  2. Nice sharing thanks for the post. You have provided nice post I’ll bookmark your blog and read this kind of stuff very often. Keep updating it I will be following it.

  3. Cheri, Love your idea! A friend recently adopted through Reece's Rainbow and I've fallen in love with the organization. What a great way to "save" kids who aren't deemed valuable in some societies. Unfathomable to me. Love the families that are called to adopt. Love the sweet children needing their love.

    Thanks for the amazing idea.

  4. cheri…amazing. beautiful and perfect idea. i'd love to co-write a post with you about this idea.
    not sure i can pull it off before the holiday, though…

    would you email me? i love your blog and have a couple of questions for you.

    blessings to you and those gorgeous boys.

    love g

  5. I am so glad you are the BEST quitter ever!!! That was awesome… I needed those words! I love Ashley's idea, going to steal it and implement our own little version over here!

    Anyone else doing this and wanting ideas to fill their little advent calendar… here is one- I know this is kind of "heavy" but so meaningful that I wanted to share… what if one of the days notes said something like "Help a little boy or girl find a family to call their own"

    …a $35 donation goes directly to helping an orphan with special needs find their forever family (money goes into their adoption fund). Your child can choose who they would like to sponsor from the website and in return they will get a Christmas ornament with the child's little face so your kids will have a special keepsake to remember their act of kindness…

    heavy, I know… but so dear to my heart so I hope that was okay to share here… I know my own 10 year old looks forward to this every year, we have 2 sweet little guys hanging on our Christmas tree now from the last few years and he can tell you about the day he "chose" them. :)

  6. Oh no, G! I really, really am always relieved to hear these sincere posts that show what being a truly good christian means. y'all have got it figured out when you share these ideas! I resent x-mas music before Halloween (literally this year) because it's in a store trying to get people to buy more STUFF no one can afford or really needs. but when I hear how it can be balanced in your homes with this wonderful giving back, and more importantly taught to our kids, I'm more ok with it. your giving project made me feel so grateful for a group who is taking care of each other – but don't even know each other. that is how it HAS to be – the world is too big to ignore those we don't know.
    I'm just rambling, exhausted after taking a 7am flight home this am…
    love to my monkees!

  7. You ARE the BEST quitter ever! Always glad to hear from you:)

  8. justine…i hope i didn't make you feel left out with this post, did i?

    want to write to us about Chanukah??? pretty please? i'd like to know more.

    love you.

  9. I love it when y'all are GOOD christians!! woohoo!! Now I'm gonna use this idea for the 8 nights of Chanukah, cause what says love better than being showered with gifts night after night? giving back! we call that a mitzvah in Judaism – and why not make it coincide with receiving? (which is not traditional for Hanuka actually, but just trying to keep up with the xmas jones…)

  10. Because of you, I finished (almost!) Christmas shopping already (BEFORE THANKSGIVING!) We don't do much anyway, but it is always a financial strain, and now it's all done and I can just pay bills in December and focus on CHRISTMAS!

    I'm so excited about spending Christmas shopping for the Angel Tree kids and teaching the Littles about the coming of Christ. Great ideas here, thank you!

  11. That is so fabulous. I'm glad my friend recommended the link. Now my silly "craft" advent calendar that I just blogged about feels silly. Mostly because it doesn't lend to doing good deeds. But also because I'm not a crafty person. Still. Great job. . .

  12. Glennon, I still check your blog daily out of habit even though I know you aren't posting (plus I like seeing the "Love Wins" sign!), so your quitting made me (and others, too, from the looks of it) very happy. So, thanks for starting your advent service here!! I love this idea. Love it! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to you and your family. xoxo Eleanor

  13. We have never done anything with Advent because really I didn't know what it was about except opening a little cardboard something each day and getting a piece of chocolate out. But this year I participated with a group of women at a local church to do a Jesse Tree for advent. There were 25 of us and each of us made a handmade ornament that goes along with one of the BIG Bible stories, from Creation to Birth. And one of the women explained it best when she said all these stories from Noah's Ark, The 10 Commandments, Ruth and Boaz, all of it was in PREPARATION for the coming of the Christ Child. It clicked – Advent is for Preparation. WOW. As if God always has a plan, huh? As if. So this year, we are celebrating with our Jesse Tree. Each day the children get to open one of the ornaments the ladies made and we talk about the bible story that goes with that ornament. This has gotten me so excited in Preparation that we are also going to participate in some of the RACK'ed ideas and other family, Christmas to dos.

    I am preparing this year! And it feels so different.


  14. G:

    Yes, I spent the day at the outlets. I bought you the all clad 8 piece pot and pan set at William Sonoma. On sale $1,200.

    Oh, I KILL myself.

  15. Santa and grandparents give gifts to our kids, but we always give them a "day" for Christmas. On 12/27 each year we spend an entire day together, usually in the city, doing fun things and loving each other. Those memories are the very best.


  16. Advent is a huge part of my faith tradition (I'm Episcopal) and I grew up with advent calendars and an advent wreath. The wreath sits in the center of our dining room table and we light it each night (one candle per week, a total of 4 candles). We say some prayers at the end of the meal and sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." This was such a huge hit with our oldest, that we do prayers and a song after dinner every night, which is a lovely way to keep the kids thinking about family and friends far and near and about praying for things in their day.
    I love the ideas of both adding acts of kindness and of focusing on experiences rather than things. My husband and I are trying to do that for one another, since we both know we have too much stuff. A nice meal or a trip to a beautiful place stay in a special place in your heart long after most gifts become just another thing. I'd love to do more of that with our kids– think I'll wrap up envelopes with promises of things that we will do together in 2012.

    Thanks for reminding me that we get to decide how to approach these things in our family– if we don't want to give into the craziness, we can just refuse to do it.

  17. G & A – You guys are awesome! Love the ideas, and just love the brainstorming about what we can do to slow down and focus on what's really important about the holiday season… the birth of Christ. What greater gift could we give our children then sharing that gift of love with them? So glad you guys are part of our "GG."

  18. I love this and have been thinking so much about little acts of kindness. I know I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that I forget how much the smallest thing can mean to people.

    My sweet baby boy is celebrating his first Christmas this year so we are not yet big into "the stuff" yet but a friend gave me this idea for gift buying that I hope to use in the future. "Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read." I especially love the read part. I honestly believe there can never be enough books.

    So glad you're a quitter. :)

  19. Anonymous — This year, we've made a drastic shift in the way we give and and request to receive gifts. We have three boys (7, 3 1/2, and 7 months). We have asked people to consider buying GROUP gifts for the boys or giving them experiences instead of things. Both ideas limit the amount of stuff we have. It seems especially ridiculous to give the baby gifts when he has plenty of hand-me-down toys and clothes and would much prefer to chew on paper than get a new toy. He'll enjoy the group gifts (building materials, craft supplies, sports equipment) in due time. And the bigger boys LOVE the experiences — going to get ice cream with grandparents, having a movie date with Mommy, taking a cooking class with Daddy. It's great! And while I'm thinking about gifts, I requested from the three sets of grandparents that they consider giving ME the gift of their memories. I found a book they could use to guide their writing, but it's just fine if they sit down at the computer and type, too. I hope some of those ideas help you!

  20. Love this idea! SO MUCH. I know my family would enjoy the gift of giving so much more than just waiting to get the goods on the big day. And, now I finally have a REAL reason to buy one of those fancy advent calendars with little doors that I have been campaigning for forever! Not just for candy, hubs, it's for something very special. PS – G: love the way you quit on us, keep it up!

  21. Love it…working on my list of 25 things right this minute!

  22. I love that when I come here and read, my heart gets quiet and warm and I feel happy. I love that I have a connection to people who are thoughtful and kind and compassionate. You all are my gift. Thank you from a warm happy heart.

  23. one more thing, meghan… does this mean you'll be getting me a gift??????


  24. Meghan…

    Yes, I get all of that. Sure do. There is definitely a place for all of it. We discussed that too, there is so much joy in giving to family. I guess we just have to watch for that joy to turn to stress or icky feelings and when it does, switch gears.

    I'll also have you know that after Craig read this essay I said…don't get any ideas, mister. i still prefer to be filled with THINGS.

    obviously, he said giddily…THATS WHAT SHE SAID.

    it's how we roll.

  25. Hi G and Monkees:

    I think I have mentioned to you all that I have one particularly sensitive four year old…we are all about charity in this house at the moment. She needs it, we need it…reaching out and connected has already been happening for us, and Ashley's post is a wonderful way of thinking about that intentionally.

    I am not sure why, but G's focus on Christmas feeling more like she wants it to, is making me think about times in my life when something "special" made me realize that I wasn't living my daily life exactly on track. Like when I go on vacation and feel more relaxed because I sleep better, and eat better…I could do a better job when I am not on vacation. Or, how the most profound feeling I had at my wedding was how many friends my husband and I have who live abroad, and who love us enough to travel for us. It made me more deliberate in keeping in touch.

    I love that baby Jesus was born. Honestly, I do. But I also love the permission and expectation to do something special that Christmas invites. I have 5 brothers and sisters, and 13 nieces and nephews (and growing). I only send them stuff at Christmas…and I LOVE it. I LOVE being indulgent and creative and sending my family some concrete love.

    My husband's family is from England. We basically skip presents for ourselves, and his family to a degree and our visit is the present (and you want magic at Christmas…holy Dickens batman).

    Anyhow, I guess I just want to say that the mall has a place, just like those of us who throw elaborate weddings…yeah, there looks like a lot of waste I am sure…but some of it is in the spirit if connection, maybe some would say all connection comes back to God.

    I grew up as a kid that was WAY more excited about what I was giving for Christmas, and my mom was very much in the spirit the way G and Ashley are. I am so thankful for that, and I think it may be part of why I there is little struggle in limiting my kids (they are really little and not that greedy yet), and myself.

    So, when you see me at the mall, just know that I am still a monkee…ok?


  26. this is something that is worth quitting about!!

    and i have a big crush on ashley! thanks so much for sharing such an inspiring idea!

    the christmas spirit is among us and it's such a wonderful thing to witness.


  27. I really love the advent calendar idea! I want to do something like this with my son.

  28. oh, man I love lists. I am so glad you posted her ideas, it gives me a starting point to launch from to make my family's list.

  29. Great post full of great ideas! I love the generosity everyone feels at this time of year! So fun!

  30. This is a little off-topic, but please forgive me. I was just reading some older posts and I came across one in which the idea was mentioned that each child should only get three Christmas gifts. I love this, especially the "do you really think you deserve more gifts than the baby Jesus got? On His birthday?!" part. But I want to know what you do about gifts that come in from others, like two sets of grandparents, and aunts and uncles and the like? Please offer your ideas. Thanks so much!

  31. I LOVE THIS. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. Like, I want to marry it. Like, I want to spend the night in a barn with it.

  32. OK Glennon and Monkees–many of you seem to be in those little people stages where you're molding and shaping, still orchestrating life so that your littles see the real deal modeled for them…

    But here I am (and I hope others like me) who are past the little ones stage and trying to figure out all of the changes in their young adult families. We hear you, we love your ideas, and we want to figure out what this means with our young adults who send us long distance lists and then come home with expectations for how Christmas will take them back to their childhood.

    Glennon, so glad you're a quitter! You've challenged me to think of how we'll walk through Advent as a family of almost all young adults–many of them long-distance. We'll let you know how we middle-aged moms change it up this Christmas!

  33. Thanks for the great idea!

    We have an advent calendar, too. It currently has a scripture from the birth of Jesus story for each day of December, but this year I'll be adding acts of kindness as well as using MK's idea and adding acts of family togetherness.

    What a great way to prepare for Jesus. LOVE!

  34. Love you G! Most of my shopping is done thanks to you and now I will try to focus on acts of kindness… Or just not yelling at my children! Thanks! By the way,I love my "Love wins" shirt!
    Jen Z

  35. I think this needs to be our advent calendar this year! Little gifts of kindness to unwrap each day. I love it, Ashley! Thank you for sharing it with us G!

  36. Several years ago I gave up on Christmas shopping. It was getting to the point that my family members were just passing gift cards back and forth. We may as well have been trading cash. I got fed up and declared that from now on we all have to make what we give. It has been terrific! When you make what you give you really put thought into your loved ones and consider their interests. We all have skills. I love to knit and bake. My sister loves to cook. In the past she has given me batched of chili and stew for my freezer. Terrific for a working mom! I will never go back to Christmas shopping because it distracts us from what we are supposed to be celebrating. I have put the love back into the Christmas season by making the things I give.

  37. For the past week, I've been making a list of random acts of kindness I can do for my personal advent this year. I was so touched by your helping hands post and the way you helped my mom, that I wanted come up with something manageable that I could do in my own way to keep the giving spirit a main part of this season. It sounds like Ashley and I had the same thought process. If Ashley does this and I do it and maybe another person and then another… just think! Right there are 100 random acts of kindness that will impact other people! Amazing! Thank you for being the catalyst behind this for me.

  38. This might be a little off topic, but I always look at Advent as a time to do family things that I don't usually make time to do. I actually write them on the calendar, where I would usually write things like "piano lesson" or "doctor appt". Last night I added "make gingerbread house" (From a kit – scratch is too hard!), "ornament craft", "choose angels from tree", and "light show" to my calendar, not because we have to do these things together, but because we want to do them, with Christmas music on in the background. :) I think it's important to make the entire season count, as a family, so it doesn't all come down to the ripping open of a few gifts. That's fun too, but it's the lead-up that's really special. We slow down, together, as a family. And I love this week, because it all starts now! Slowing down as we speak!

  39. Yessssss. Yesyesyesyesyes. Monkey Ashley has hit a goldmine.

    Especially since I just managed to have my children start saying, "oh, I like that!" Instead of "I want that!" (here's hoping that sweet passive-aggressiveness gets them what they want). But I just couldn't stand "I want that" anymore. I wanted to scream "It's more than wanting THAT!" ….but they are 5 and 3, and would have not understood why, or how, Mommy turned a little psycho on them.

    Instead, I will introduce the Advent calendar that Ashley so BRILINTALLY thought of. And totally take credit for it. Well, just to my husband who has no idea who the Monkeys are. Well, the real ones anyway….

    So, again, thank you. Thank you for posting before I lost it on my kids. Before the Targets, and Penny's of the world came into MY spirit and corrupted MY love, and MY need for it to be something more. Thank you for rescuing that part of me that needs it to be more. To fill that one space in my spirit that nothing from Kohls or Walmart could fill.

    To fill it with the Spirit.

    Jen B.

  40. WHew! I didn't think I could go so long without a post from you. I can BREATHE again. What a great idea! I feel like my boys are SO about the gifts they are missing out. I love this idea. Thanks for being the BEST QUITTER ever!

  41. Here are some of the other ideas that Ashley gathered!

    Cut out 10 hearts and leave them on 10 cars with notes of kindness

    Donate coats and mittens to school’s coat drive

    Call grandparents

    Help stock shelves at Food Bank

    Donate blankets to homeless shelter

    Deliver towels/blankets to animal shelter

    Write a note and mail it to someone that made a difference in your life

    Write thank you notes for your teachers

    Count your blessings…and write them down

    Leave change in a vending machine

    Drop pennies at playground/park for kids to find

    Deliver treats to nursing home residents and staff

    Bring in the neighbors’ trashcans on trash day

    Deliver treats to fire dept.

    Leave treats in the mailbox for the mail carrier

    Hand out coupons for free popcorn at movie theater

    Bring care package (hand warmers, tissues, coffee gift card) to crossing guard/ bus driver

    Ding-dong ditch some treats on neighbors’ doorsteps

    Leave inspirational notes on post-its around town for people to find

    Draw pictures/write notes for Granny’s soldiers

    And, the best of all…Choose your own act of kindness (can’t wait to see what they come up with!).

  42. My girls (8 & 4) and I just decided to do basically the same thing. We're brainstorming a list of things we can do to help or be kind to others and then we'll do one a day in December. We're looking for things that don't cost much, things we can easily do together. We'll take food to donate, visit a nursing home, leave anonymous joyful notes on people's cars in a parking lot. We're all quite excited about it.

  43. Thank you! I work so hard at getting my boys to make the connection you're talking about, but it just hasn't stuck yet (though I keep plugging along). My Christmas shopping is done (done!), thanks to your example, which I latched onto as a personal challenge. I wanted to spend Advent waiting, for once, but now I'll pull out my hanging Advent calendar with pockets and spend my Advent waiting and giving. Oh, and my middle guy wanted to watch Veggie Tales today. I heard nothing but this one line: "I don't give to make me happy. I give because I AM happy."

  44. hi glennon, i think i love you. and i'm not just sayin' that because i want to be a part of your small bus. gift giving guide either. i love how you keep it real and talk out loud about the thoughts floating around in my head! i just met kristi (BOP) who steered me to you. and I love it.

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