It’s Christmas Eve. A day of dancing between wonder and stress.

A few days ago, I promised myself I’d pause on Christmas Eve to “get centered,” to put things in perspective by reflecting on the good — in myself, in others, and all around the world. So, this morning I decided to focus on strengths. I’d make a list of how I’d been using my Signature Strengths* to keep the holiday season as genuine, loving, and magical as I could.

But, as I wrote out my top five strengths:

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
  • Curiosity
  • Social Intelligence
  • Capacity to Love and Be Loved
  • Gratitude

…ready to elaborate on my uses of each one, I found myself thinking of someone else.

Nikki and Katie

(Taped to my office wall, photo of Nikki and Katie Shaw with one of my favorite quotes.)

Far across the globe, in some city, or village in Africa, my friend Nikki Shaw is also celebrating Christmas Eve. I have no idea how she will celebrate it. She is a Sergeant in the Army, and was deployed a couple of weeks ago to lead a defense team to fight Ebola.

Today, while I feed my own strengths by decking the halls, welcoming neighbors for carols and cheer, savoring sweets and libations, how will Nikki feed hers?

She’d sent me her list of top five strengths about a year ago:

  • Bravery
  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence

She had laughed, as she read them to me, saying:

 “I have never thought of myself as “brave” but it explains a lot about what drives me. Honesty has always been my corner stone. My word is my bond… my name… my core. Truthfulness is so very important and so often forgotten, sadly.  Humor… my catch phrase has always been “I’m fun”… and I think my humor and ability to find humor in all situations has helped me in life a great deal. Kindness… ok that one is true, but I didn’t think it would be top 5. I try to hide that side of me… especially in the Army… Kindness is weakness, but at the end of the day, yes, I will give you the shirt off my back. Social Intelligence, I have always had a knack to “read” people. My first impression is usually pretty accurate. I can typically read a crowd and know how to direct people toward a common goal.”

 Today, as I look at Nikki’s take on her own strengths, knowing where she is right now and what she’s involved in, I am struck by her humility, her perspective. I’m also aware that many of her strengths may be called upon in Africa — needing to read and lead a team of capable adults in adverse conditions; comforting scared and vulnerable people of all ages; lightening the mood with a quick joke or her dazzling smile; finding time to write a note to family and friends far away…

My own strengths of Love, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, … are all well-fed by zeroing in on Nikki’s strengths. I know I am fortunate beyond words. By simply being herself, she continually feeds so many of us.

I pray that wherever my friend finds herself today that she knows deep in her bones how loved and respected she is. I hope, too, that she doesn’t have much need to use her “top strength” of Bravery, and that she has all the fun she can muster with #3, Humor.

As I move into my day, I will “walk in beauty” thanks to Nikki and the many service members I have met over the past two years through SongwritingWith:Soldiers**. I’ll continue to feed my soul by playing the song Nikki wrote for her sister, Katie, and honor the many others by playing and singing along when I can. A world of strengths exists in these songs… a world of beauty in the many people behind each one.

I am awestruck by the simple and abundant good that is always within reach when we take the time to pause and reflect.

May your days be filled with Peace and Beauty, too.



* The Signature Strengths survey mentioned can be found at:

** Information about SongwritingWith:Soldiers, and all the songs can be found at: