The holidays are a wonderful time. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. Oh, wait. I guess that was supposed to be Ho-ho-ho! — Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Or was it?

Something that’s always bothered me about the holidays is — no, not the materialism (although that’s part of it) — the focus on self. When I was a copy writer in Chattanooga, I wrote countless articles on depression around the holidays. The media paints Christmas and New Years out to be such a wonderful time of year, but what if it isn’t? What if you’re single and alone? What if your family lives a long way? What if a loved one just died, or money is really, really tight? It’s a well-known fact that shop-lifting rates go up around the holidays.


A little girl begging at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Around my home, Christmas cards from friends always come rolling in around the holidays. Pictures with smiling faces and new babies and fall colors and fancy scarves beam from the refrigerator door. Sayings like “Blessed!” and “Wishing you and yours happiness throughout the holidays and the coming year” jump out at innocent passersby . . . And, as I look at these clean, painted faces, I wonder: Do they even know? Do they know how blessed they really are? Really?

While living in Taiwan, I had no washer or dryer. My hot water ran out every two weeks during the winter. There was no air-conditioning or heating — or insulation, for that matter. I visited countries where children played barefoot in the dirt and bathed in muddy water. School was optional; begging was not . . . It was only then that I began to see what “blessed” really meant. I am still thankful every time I turn on a faucet and am greeted with clear, clean water.

But it was there, too, that I discovered that it wasn’t the material things or physical comforts that made life blessed. It was . . . everything else. We hear stories all the time of the miserable millionaire and merry Tiny Tim‘s around the globe. But do we believe them? The mad rush at malls around the globe every December tells me, “No!”

If we are to be truly blessed, it won’t be because of material things or perfect preschoolers or fancy shoes or relaxing vacations. Blessings start from within and transpire when we begin to look out. The first Christmas card I see of a poor family serving food at a soup kitchen will tell me: That family knows what it means to be “Blessed.”



Children playing in the street in Siem Reap, Cambodia



Do you think these men take vacations? (Cambodia)



Images: Mine and Google (All rights reserved)

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39 thoughts

  1. Very nice post Jess, and seeing people/family enjoying life together is beautiful. From my experience, it seems those with less, often are the one who understand how treasured such moments are, and as you say blessings start from within and without all the material crap getting in the way. Those with a simple life (even if it is a more difficult life) have such a strong core of love and happiness, they are often a step ahead in pure happiness.

    Best to you and your family in ’14.

    • Exactly, Randy. The beaming smiles of children playing in the dirt and rain in foreign countries tells me — we’re off the mark… and take so much for granted.

      I’m sorry I am so late responding to this, by the way. I’ve been working on newspaper articles all week. :/ Hope your weekend is off to a great start!

  2. Fascinating pictures and a wonderful post. I’m going to repeat what I’ve said before, you have a good heart, Jess. It’s funny that my mind was sort of in the same place as what you have described. I’m writing a piece about my dad and all sorts of things have come to mind. Thanks for your compassion and your love for others. Take care of yourself.

    • Thank you, Marie, and so sorry for my delayed response. I’ve been busy with newspaper articles all week! … Honestly, I just say things as I see them, and living abroad definitely opened my eyes to things I previously would have totally missed. It’s hard to ignore the contrast between poverty and abundance when it’s in your face… I look forward to reading your post about your dad. Will stop by and look for it soon!

      Hope you’re having a great weekend!

    • You’re very right. Reality can definitely be sobering. Stepping outside of our comfort zones gives us perspective and is something we all really should do more. I think that doing so would make this world a better place.

      I wish you all the best in the new year, too!!

  3. Very well said. Good things will transpire if we look out…that’s what I’m living by this year. I’ve learnt to love myself and count myself lucky in many ways, so now I think it’s the time for me to look out for others. I like the last picture and the caption a lot. No, I don’t think those men take holidays, but I do think they know how to work hard and reckon all they want to do is put food on the table at night – to them, that’s an accomplishment.

    Hope your year is off to a good start. Love your work as always, Jess :)

    • Mabel, I absolutely love what you said about the men in the last picture. You are very right — these men are working hard and putting food on the table for themselves and their families, and they count themselves blessed to do so. In Cambodia many people are hurt by landmines and are unable to work. It is really sad…

      I’m glad you liked this post. I was a bit afraid some people might find it condescending. Since I don’t actually have a family with little kids yet, who am I to talk? But I am glad most people aren’t taking it that way.

      I hope your year is off to a great start, too, Mabel! Happy Weekend!

  4. I feel blessed to have reached your blog and read it. Internet connection is also a blessing though it is now a daily reality in Taiwan. You must know that Taiwan has just recently become the first country in the world that provides free Wifi to its citizens, right?

    Blessings and love to you, Jess ♥

  5. Blessings in disguise are JUST as wonderful as the obvious blessings; in other words, we sometimes don’t realize the true non-monetary value of something/someone until it is or they are gone, right?

    I either read or heard recently that in a society or community that nurtures and maintains a mentality of “more is better” must also FORCE philanthropy and altruism onto citizens by “official” holidays at least one day a year, when in reality it could be what(?)…a minimum of 300 to 360 days per year doing exactly what you’ve pointed out Jess. And to this end, I read or heard this analogy given…

    The more our ‘blessed wealth’ puts us into ivory homes & towers, or the rear seat of chauffeured limousines, the more detached, separated, and oblivious one becomes to the needs & depression that wealth-vacuum created. What “house” should be maintained? And remember, there are only 24-hours in a day.

    Jess, I am now in that ‘count your blessings’ phase of life where the intangibles far exceed the monetary tangibles, e.g. living in a 31-foot RV, working 3 jobs, living paycheck to paycheck. Yet, I find blessings everywhere, particularly in the smiles & faces of my many students while living in this ‘vacuum’ in the wealthiest nation in the world! LOL

    Well written and said Jess! I so understand your message here. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    • Professor! So sorry for my delayed response. I am so so SO glad to hear that you understand what I mean. The thought that philanthropy and altruism must be forced in a society that pushes “more is better…” What a sad thought, and so so true! But, yes, could it really be any other way? When we are focused on getting more for ourselves, how can we be looking out for anyone else? As you said, there are only 24 hours in a day…

      And I see what you mean about finding joy in the little things — the smiles, the time spent with family, etc. — rather than in material things. I am broke at the moment, but happier in many ways than I have been in years for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with money… And when I feel discouraged about my financial situation, at least I realize I am not and will not starve!

      I hope you’re having a great weekend, friend. Don’t work too hard!

  6. Once again, it’s about perspective. Thank you for providing some that is sorely needed today by many, as well as serving as a reminder to me as well.

    • It’s *always* about perspective. Thanks so much, Jeff. I’m glad you could relate to this post, and I fully agree that perspective is what this world really needs. If all of us could step out of our comfort zones and into the shoes of others more often, imagine what a wonderful place this world would be?

      Blessings, my friend. Hope your weekend is off to a great start!

  7. I agree with what you stated in this post. I have to add that with the commercialization of the Holidays, especially Christmas, the real meaning of what Christmas stands for gets lost in all the hoopla. We are all blessed to be on this earth and each one of us should do what is in our power to help our fellow man that is less fortunate.

    Great post Jess! I hope this New Year brings you an abundance of Love, Happiness, and Peace.

    • Exactly, Frank. I wonder when we will realize that more for ourselves isn’t actually better or where true happiness lies? We gain far more by giving ourselves away than we do in any other way…

      I hope your new year is off to a great start! Much love, happiness, and peace to you, too. :)

    • You are too kind, Carol. I just say things as I see them, and yes, we take so much for granted… Thank you so much for reading and for your sweet comment, and please forgive me for taking so long to respond — this week has been crazy!

      I hope your weekend is off to a great start. It’s lovely to meet you!

  8. great choice of photos and message, jess. =)

    you might not receive a postcard with such a family on it, but i think there are daily examples of the one you mentioned at the end… where we see God at work in the most unlikeliest of places. my pastor calls them “God sightings”… seeing the grace, hope, miracle in the everyday of our very broken lives. like the kids who live in ‘da hood who make straight A’s because they’re trying their hardest to get out of poverty- seeing them wrestle, struggle with their schoolwork daily, then see the smile on their face when they get their report card; or trying to mentor these kids and encourage and bless them where they are, in the toughest, hardest places (emotionally and physically) indeed, there are hidden blessings and gems which most cannot see but God sees. =)

    • Oh I agree with that, Sophia. There are blessings in abundance all around us that we might easily miss unless we’re paying attention to them (a.k.a. not totally absorbed in “self”). God sees them, of course, and none of them have anything to do with any material or financial gain. As I said in a comment above, we gain far more by giving ourselves away than in any other way… And I guess I just wish more people paid attention to this fact. Imagine how much better this world could be if we looked for happiness in helping others rather than in “more, more, more for ME!”

  9. After traveling around a bit and stepping over many a fine person sleeping on the sidewalk, you begin to realize what our “safety net” programs do here. Sure, they can be improved greatly and sure they don’t help everyone but we see lesser level of poverty than other places. I can’t say when the last time I saw houses with open holes in the walls and bare- foot men patrolling the streets with carts looking for scrap metal.

    As for some in the United States, it is very odd. There has been this sentiment that people are poor because they are lazy and want free handouts. At my volunteer job, I do see some people who are unwilling to take the steps to bail themselves out but the numbers are few. However, I see far more whom got behind on their bills, were layed off at the wrong time, or just lack basic skills to do more than a menial job. Many are older and lack basic computer skills. How do you apply for jobs these days? Online! So now cute grandma who is scared of the ATM machine can not even apply for a basic job.

    Anyway, good post and have a great weekend!

    • That is a very, very, VERY good point, Steve!!!! I have been trying to help my boyfriend apply for jobs in California, and it is a pain in the butt — even for us!!!! You are so right that there are many people out there who got into bad situations that weren’t all their fault, but which, as luck and society would have it, are very difficult to get out of. Yes, there are some homeless people who would only use your money to buy drugs or booze, but… Do we think about how some of them got into drugs or alcohol in the first place?

      And as for your comments about the poverty you’ve seen while traveling… Some people’s homes in other countries, such as the ones with holes in the walls that you mentioned, are little better than the situations of many homeless people here. I live in an insulated apartment with a soft bed and clean water now… Do I realize how good I have it? And what about the millionaire in a mansion with maids?… That is why everything is about perspective, and about getting outside of ourselves.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your insightful thoughts. Hope your weekend is going well!!!!

  10. A beautiful sentiment in this post – and I fullhearted agree with you. Blessed is not about having all the material comfort in the world, but seeing the beauty of life as it is, for poor of for rich (although I believe the rich have a bigger responsibility for taking care of the rest. I wish you a great 2014.

    • Thank you so much, Otto. I’m glad you see what I mean and agree. I hope you have a great 2014, too. My own is off and swimming, though my blogging seems to be lagging behind! :(

    • Thank you so much. I am so grateful for my travels and the perspective they’ve given me, too. Travel does something to you… I truly hope to go abroad again soon.

      Best wishes for a lovely day!

  11. Wow, so totally agree with you!
    …and now living in Kuala Lumpur the differences between those ´enjoying´ the malls and the slums next to it; the shoppers seem much more grumpy and egocentric then those in the nearby poor areas enjoying just being together and socializing without consuming unnecessary new things.
    Hope you have a very ´rich´ 2014!
    Stay blessed, Ron.

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