Archive for December, 2012
Can’t Stop Giving, Day 20: Five ways to know you’re giving too much
Thursday, December 20th, 2012

All of us know people with a penchant for giving, who generously offer whatever is needed by others. Some of us are those people. That’s great because giving is good. Not only is generosity a spiritual precept of every major religion; giving sweetens, deepens and adds meaning to our lives whether we’re offering or receiving. Anyone who doubts that giving is a force for good should consider what life would be like in a world populated only by takers.

But what if it’s your habit to give too generously? Most of us know someone–most likely, though not necessarily, a woman–who gives too easily, too reflexively, too much. Especially in this, the “season of giving” in which the holiday culture goads us to buy, make, or arrange gifts for everyone we love, and for some we barely tolerate.

Like today. The first day I’ve had time to Christmas shop, I found myself giving over and over, starting with an extra hour’s sleep to my husband by taking our son to school. Other gifts: A carrot-pineapple cake from the bakery for my mom; healing CDs mailed to under-the-weather friends; compliments to folks I saw whose voices, shoes, haircuts, earrings and Santa hats delighted me; Derek Walcott’s stirring poem Love After Love to a friend in need; the benefit of the doubt to a woman who cut me off on a major thoroughfare; a gift recommendation for a man at the Apple store who was clueless about what to get his wife; smiles to passersby at the mall–a few of whom even smiled back, and more. Nine hours later, I was pleasantly worn out, not exhausted, by my small but mindful offerings. Giving too much feels entirely different.

My dear friend Mary Jo knows. As a mother and a social worker–two callings that easily bring out the over-giver in people–she has learned to keep an eye on her giving before it becomes “a detriment.” Like with her two grown sons. “If I’m always givng stuff to them–money, advice, doing things for them–at a certain point, they’re not doing for themselves. With the famlies I work with, there’s a line I walk between being giving and compassionate, and doing so much for them that they start depending on me, developing a ‘gimme’ attitude that suggests, ‘You owe me.’  I mean, some don’t even say, ‘Thank you.’ …I know I’ve crossed the line when I start feeling burned out, weary and unappreciated.”

Does her last statement ring any bells? Here are five ways to know if you’re offering more than you should:

1. You derive no pleasure from your giving. Being generous should make you feel as good as it does the person you’re offering yourself, your time and your gifts to. If it doesn’t, it’s a problem.

2. Your generosity exhausts and depletes, rather than satisfies and fulfills you. If your giving leaves you drained, resentful and/or bone-weary, consider being more circumspect with your offerings. Or forego some of them altogether.

3. You notice nobody is giving back to you (or if they are, they’re not making an effort to give you what you really want or need). It may not be others’ fault. Some givers have real trouble allowing others to return the favor.

4. You let your own needs and desires go unnoticed or unmet. Think about it. Don’t you deserve some of the splendid treatment you offer others? Don’t forget to give to yourself.

5. Your bank account, fridge, gas tank, wallet and/or precious repository of time for yourself are empty. ‘Nuff said.

If the list sounds all too familiar, be like Mary Jo, who has learn to put the brakes on her over-giving. Mostly. “These days, I’m much clearer from the start what my expectations are–at work and at home,” she says. “They’re higher than they used to be. People can produce more than you give them credit for….

“But I think I’ll always struggle with giving,” she admits. “Because I really enjoy it.”





Tuesday’s post: A Tempting request for more prayers. “Ain’t too proud to beg….”
Tuesday, December 18th, 2012


Me with original Temptation Dennis Edwards Saturday at San Diego Airport

CAN’T STOP GIVING UPDATE: Last week, many of you generously responded when I asked you to give my wonderful friend Brenda Box the fastest, easiest and least expensive gift a loving soul can offer: A prayer. She’d been hospitalized a few days earlier with a fever at Johns Hopkins hospital after three years of living with tremendous grace with pancreatic cancer. Hours after the request, Brenda was released. But early today, this generous soul whose unrelenting courage inspires all who know her was taken by ambulance to Alexandria Hospital, where she underwent an operation to reduce a dangerous fluid build-up in her abdomen. I’m thrilled to report that Brenda’s blood pressure has stabilized. She’s rallying, responsive and could shortly be off the respirator. Doctors say the next few days are key, so more prayers are urgently needed. Please, please, please join me in offering one for this radiant wife, mom, daughter and generally stupendous human being. As singing legend Dennis Edwards might  put it, “Ain’t to proud to beg.” I introduced myself to Edwards after spotting him while waiting for a flight. The singer–headed to a casino gig with the Temptations Review outside Sacramento–acknowledged his gift this holiday: Feeling “blessed to still be singing at 70.” On February 10th, Edwards will receive a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in Los Angeles, which is blessed indeed…..

WEDNESDAY’S UPDATE: Just got this report from Geri Coleman Tucker, Brenda’s and my dear friend: “Brenda is alert and expressive even though she is on the respirator and can’t talk yet. Her feistiness shines thru. The Christmas miracle continues.”
Keep praying. Thank you for loving and giving.

Can’t Stop Giving Tour, Day 12: A surprise call from Trayvon’s mom
Friday, December 14th, 2012

Yesterday, I got an amazing gift: A phone call from Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin. Last week, I asked  readers to send holiday cards as comfort to Sybrina during what surely will be a painful first Christmas without her son. I’d explained to her attorney Benjamin Crump that I had long wanted to give a signed copy of Brothers (and me) to Sybrina in hopes that she would find some solace in my journey to recovery after my own brother’s inexplicable, decades-ago killing by police.

So I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Sybrina, who was in Miami yesterday with Crump and her ex-husband Tracy Martin to do interviews with media including The Miami Herald.  Sybrina said she hadn’t yet received the book or readers’ cards because she’d been on the road, but promised to read them once she returned home. When I asked how she was holding up, Sybrina slowly replied, “One day at a time,” in a measured tone. Somehow, I couldn’t ask her to elaborate. How could I press her to describe her agony? So  instead I told her what I’d wanted for months to express: That her dignity and grace during her life’s most agonizing event has inspired not just those who have suffered similar losses, but millions untouched by such tragedy. That the agonized emptiness that feels like a gaping hole in your mid-section after such a loss does indeed fill. That I pray that she takes some small measure of comfort in knowing that she isn’t just representing Trayvon with commendable poise in her search for justice, but countless other beloved and essential men whose slayings remain unacknowledged and whose absences still haunt those who will always love them. That she isn’t alone.

If you’d like to support Sybrina (and her ex-husband Tracy Martin) with a holiday greeting, please send it to the following address:

Benjamin L. Crump

240 North Magnolia Drive

Tallahassee, Florida, 32301

Thanks for loving and giving.

Can’t Stop Giving Tour, Day 11: Tips on life and Pilates from a 90-year-old seer
Thursday, December 13th, 2012

TECATE, MEXICO: Visitors to the pioneering Mexican fitness spa where I’m spending the week have given themselves the most amazing of gifts: Paradise, in the form of Rancho La Puerta.

The co-founder of this slice of perfection at the base of a sacred Baja California mountain may not be God, but she’s surely one of His angels. I’ve known 90-year-old Rancho La Puerta owner Deborah Szekely for 20 years, and she’s always been so active, sharp and forward-thinking that I feel like a sloth beside her. She and her visionary husband Edmund started the world’s first destination fitness center 72 years ago, transforming an obscure Mexican camp where visitors pitched their own tents for $5 a week into a world-class center for fitness, nutrition and rejuvenation. Deborah believes each of us is a gift–and that taking care of the gift that you are should be your first priority. As the owners of our precious and unique selves, Deborah says, we’re owners of our most valuable commodity: Our time. “And you don’t have to give it away.”

Her gift to you is her time-proven method for making your time count. You’ll need an old-fashioned calendar–digital won’t do–and four colored markers. Fill in your week’s duties and meetings. A week later, look at the previous week’s schedule and underline in black everything you did that was a waste of your precious time (be honest!). Underline in blue everything that you did out of duty–baking cookies for a fundraiser, meeting with your kids’ teachers, drinks after work, etc. Put a red line under everything you did for your health, and one in green for everything you did that inspired you or, as Deborah puts it, “made you feel taller in your own estimation.” Finally, in your favorite color, underline what you did that was fun. Now you’re ready to “take a hard look at the coming week’s calendar–you still own that time,” Deborah says. Can you use it better? “If there’s something there you don’t want to do, pick up the phone and cancel, saying, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but I have cousins coming to town.’ Take ownership of your life.”

For Deborah, that means more than just running a world-class fitness resort. It also means doing Pilates five times a week and taking long walks the other two days. “Because I’m 90, I can’t afford not to take care of myself,” she says. “I’m enjoying my life, and don’t want less of it.”

To have more life, she suggests that you stop looking at exercise as working out and see it as “oxygen.” Breaking a sweat and deeply stretching your muscles makes you breathe more deeply, and draws more life-sustaining oxygen into your lungs. “Aging means having less oxygen,” she says, “and I’m not interested in aging. Life is about movement–the more you move the more oxygen you get. Food is important, but oxygen is even more.” Studies suggest that decreased oxygen levels contribue to dementia, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. Deborah’s other tip: Portion control. “As you get older, you’re inevitably moving less. So you need to eat less.” Look at every bite you take, and every move you make, and ask, “Is this life enhancing or life diminishing?”

Listening to Deborah, I always feel more empowered. My world feels larger, and my challenges more conquerable. Looking at her, it’s easy to believe the best is yet to come. “The first third of life is growing up and getting educated,” she says. “The second third is ritual–marriage, kids, jobs, mortgages. That leaves 60 to 90, which can be glorious. Take care of yourself for those years. When I found myself at 90, I asked, ‘What do I do now?’ Start all over again. Now I want to change the world.”

To hear “wellness warrior” Deborah Szekely talk about her plan to unite a million Americans who care about our nation’s health and well-being to create a more powerful nation for our kids and grandkids, go to To learn more about Rancho La Puerta, visit

Thanks for loving and giving.

Can’t-Stop-Giving Tour, Day 10: Give the Inestimable Gift of Prayer
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Brenda with husband Steve and daughter Nellie


The most common barrier to mindful giving is what keeps us from almost any worthy goal: We can’t find the time for it.

But there’s an important gift you can offer this second, without leaving home or your office, picking up a phone, or moving a muscle:


Prayer is the silent ammunition we can fire at others’ troubles to obliterate them. It’s the secret salve we rub into loved ones’ wounds, the hard, heartfelt hug we spiritually wrap them in. Yet one of the best reasons to offer the gift of prayer is what we get in return. Deepening our breath, we become still, and center our attention on the Divine and our indelible connection to it. Filling and expanding us, prayer for a few moments lifts us out of everyday life’s scrambling smallness. All without leaving our chair or breaking a sweat.

Try it now. I’ll even give you someone wonderful to pray for: My delightful friend Brenda Box, who is at this moment at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She’s working to squash the fever and infection that landed her there after three years of living with pancreatic cancer with unimaginable grace, courage and humor. You may not have met Brenda, but you know her: A loving and embracing wife and mother, she’s every hilarious, generous, big-grinning, feisty–her blog is entitled Cancer Bitch–larger-than-life friend you ever adored. And she could use the gift of your immeasurable power of prayer right now. So join me and other Friends-of-Brenda in offering her your heartfelt prayer. Don’t worry about whether she’ll receive it. God is the messenger, so the gift will be delivered. While you’re at it, please feel free to pray for others, especially yourself.

Thanks once again for loving and giving.

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