By Terry Hernandez | Executive director, Chrysalis Foundation

Children repeatedly teach us about the wonder and magic of life. If you’ve ever taken a small child on a walk down the street, you know this is true. The child will look at everything – rocks, trees, bugs, leaves, gaps in the concrete – while adults are eager to get from here to there, a child sees all the charm and mystery in between.

If we’re willing to watch and imitate children, they will help us remember the importance of just being. They teach us about joy, laughter and enthusiasm, and they also teach us about forgiveness, innocence and acceptance. Powerful lessons, if we take the time to experience them.

In the context of a child, we can build our own subculture – how we think, what we value, how we treat others, who we want to be. Quite the opposite of a culture of "I want mine now!" where a few people have everything and fiercely work to prevent others from taking it. Using the lens of scarcity vs. the lens of abundance.

Sometimes, the stress of showing how big-hearted we are can be damaging. We don’t need reminding that we’re immersed in a season that asks us to express joy, offer goodwill and give to others. "Be charitable!" "The need is so great!" "Give until it hurts!" It can be exhausting and stressful, and it can cause what we call "compassion fatigue," which is the emotional duress caused by worrying about others  we’re so afraid of letting others down, or not living up to expectations that make us feel guilty or hopeless.

The way communities are arranged today, often families are left alone to fend for themselves – there is no one to fall back on if they need a bit of help or if someone is ill. During the holidays, we want to swoop in with gourmet meals and beautifully wrapped packages, but we neglect to recognize what might really be needed, which is simply someone’s "presence" – unconditional, nonjudgmental and without expectation.

Think about how present you are in your own home or family – do you take the time to hold your child, play cards with your grandfather or Scrabble with your mother, take a walk with your partner or spouse?

These simple activities can be life-changing and can translate to helping that single mother down the street or harried teen who has no one to talk with ... even a kind word to the store clerk who has been derided by customers. All it takes is time and a willingness to look at all things "in between" the fanciness our culture seems to demand and see everything we have to give, especially ourselves. It’s not complicated.

I encourage all of us to rethink how we choose to express charity, how we learn to weave this practice into daily life, and how we give more thought to helping others as a habit, not a season. And we can move from "presents" we give throughout the holidays to "presence" we share every day.

It can be as simple as the quote from tennis champion Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can." It isn’t expensive, fancy, or hard to find. It’s all the charm and mystery of you.

Terry Hernandez is executive director of the Chrysalis Foundation, a public charity working to ensure that girls and women in Greater Des Moines are educated, safe, secure and economically independent. With her staff and board, she is committed to build community understanding of the issues, trends and opportunities we all have to make a difference in the lives of others. Hernandez enjoys speaking on leadership, communication and community issues. Email her at