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Celebrate the New Year With a Service-Minded New Year's Resolution

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I'm pretty ambivalent about New Year's Eve. I've had some great ones -- had some that I'd rather not remember. Some years were spent braving below freezing temperatures watching fireworks with friends. Other years were spent in "Watch Night" worship services. I definitely brought in a few years dancing at parties to music that is now old school. Most recently, I've enjoyed taking my two daughters out to watch the fireworks close to our home. Yet, it is sometimes challenging to get them to come out because the loud bangs and sky-filling lights are little scary to them. But once they get past their fears and move from the safety and comfort of being inside, to the risk of being outside, special things happen.

Aside from the celebrations, and the time with loved ones, one of the most interesting aspects of New Year's to me has always been the notion of making resolutions. Many of us make promises and set goals for ourselves for the upcoming year. Most often these are inwardly focused goals with the intent of bettering ourselves, making ourselves healthier, more financially resilient, more responsible, more at peace. All of these are positive, but maybe these types of resolutions are not as powerful as they could be.

Maybe when we make resolutions that are solely about bettering ourselves, we are missing an opportunity to make a promise or set goals about serving others and making a difference in our communities and in our world.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much good at keeping up New Year's resolutions. So I suppose I really shouldn't be challenging others to make them.

But here it comes...

I want you, dare you, challenge you to make a New Year's resolution -- a service-minded and outwardly focused resolution -- that will make a difference in the lives of those around you, not just your own.

During this past Summer and early Fall, my friends Len Matty, Nathan Jones, Rachel Estrada Ryan, Ankit Shah and I had a series of conversations exploring ways to challenge people to live their lives in a way that is more committed to serving others. We wanted to find a way to encourage folks to put more good out there in the world. At some point our conversations moved toward the concept of reclaiming the notion of making New Year's resolutions and refocusing it as an outward activity rather than an inwardly focused one.

But this project intended for New Year's almost didn't make it to Labor Day. I was having a conversation with a man named Bryan Miller who runs an anti hand gun violence organization called Heeding God's Call. I felt led to share with him our vision for the then unnamed resolution project. I also shared with him my reluctance, even lack of courage at putting myself and this pitifully simple little dream out there. Ironically, I was trapped in myself. Holding a dream to challenge others to be more outwardly focused, I found myself caught looking inward at my own insecurities and fears. Bryan and other friends like my sister/friend Amatus-Sami told me and ultimately all of us that we had to move ahead with it amidst our fears and apprehensions. It's something like being afraid to come outside to watch the fireworks. If you can go outside (of yourself) something amazing might happen.

And so we decided that we wanted to spend the holiday season challenging others to make New Year's resolutions like this. We decided to call the project Resolution11. Essentially it's a public campaign to challenge individuals and groups to make these types of resolutions, share them with others via our website or Facebook and then work to sustain their commitment over the course of 2011.

Yet how does one go about choosing an outwardly-focused, service minded New Year's resolution?

When a new year approaches, we often resolve to address a need or desire in our own lives. For example, if our physician tells us that we should change our diet or quit smoking; our resolution may be to eat healthier or to stop smoking cigarettes. Or if we desire to get back in shape, our resolution may be to join a gym and work out five times a week.

You can use the same prompt to choose a socially conscious resolution as well. Identify a need out in the world and maybe your resolution can help, even in a small way, to address and alleviate it be it homelessness, hunger, at risk youth, environmental challenges, abused and neglected animals, children in need of tutoring and mentoring, assault and abuse victims, homes that need volunteers to build them, isolated incarcerated individuals who may need help reintegrating back into society, orphans, individuals and small businesses in need of micro-loans, seniors who would appreciate a visit... there are many, many people in your world, in your country, in your community, that have very real needs.

Which need moves you? What breaks your heart?

Some resolutions may stem from our own journeys. Maybe you lost a relative to cancer. Perhaps your resolution could be to help raise funds for cancer research by participating in a least two cancer walks this year. Maybe you'll even help organize one! Or maybe growing up you had a mentor who made all the difference in your life. Might you volunteer to be a mentor or tutor this year and be that same positive influence on someone else? Or maybe you recently saw or read a report on orphans with AIDS in another country. Could you support one of these kids through an international organization? A local playground that is falling apart or a neighbor who is alone. Could you resolve to do something about that?

We have been deeply moved and inspired by what we have seen thus far. There is the woman from California whose resolution is to move ahead with the adoption process and adopt a little boy. For her resolution, a journalist has designed a blog called 52times52.com which will document her and her partner's journey of donating $52 each of the 52 weeks of 2011 to a different charity while encouraging others to do the same. There is the Muslim woman who is resolving to translate books for a small South American school in Guatemala. One Buddhist student has resolved to work to help eradicate nuclear weapons. A Swedish admissions counselor is resolving to offer free admissions consulting to a low-income student. A young person from Philadelphia has resolved to send shoes to children in Haiti. A set of twins are resolving to plan a 5K run to raise funds for two homeless shelters. A poet will be writing a poem a week around a different cause. Numerous folks have resolved to work with kids, become a mentor, or tutor. Still others have made resolutions about teaching their children about issues related to social justice, and there are many more.

We've been amazed not only by the actual resolutions that have been made, but also by who has been making the resolutions. People from various faith traditions and different ethnic groups have all involved themselves with the project. I guess that's one of the powerful things about New Year's. Regardless of what we believe, we all are presented with this annual opportunity to start anew. But we also have the opportunity to help other start anew as well. When you wish someone a "Happy New Year" after the clock strikes midnight -- why don't you make those three words a challenge to yourself, to indeed make this a happy New Year for someone else in your community or someone else in the world? Make your resolution and share it with the world!