By Dr. Dave Wenzel, a family counselor

I’ve been debating what to write about parenting and Christmas. Many of the usual suspect ideas ran through my head. Things about focusing on the true meaning of Christmas; ideas about things to do with your kids; suggestions for keeping costs down; and thoughts about gifts that will help someone versus just piling up a bunch of items all headed to the landfill.

None of it seemed very satisfying to me. I couldn’t figure out how to say something so you would really “hear” it. Part of the problem is how do I say something new, something that you haven’t heard before, or in such a way that you wouldn’t just end up yawning. How do I say something to get the attention of a culture where we drive over to Grandma’s to celebrate Thanksgiving and all the blessings that we have, and within 24 hours drive around madly collecting as many new material blessings as we can — all of this as we all drive straight toward the now legendary fiscal cliff? Maybe we’d better hope the world will end on 12-21-12.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I saw one the day after Thanksgiving that I have not been able to get out of my head. It is of a young man, maybe 20 (give or take five years), pushing what appears to be a homemade, wooden bicycle/transportation device up a hill with all his worldly possessions on it. The prominent items appear to be sleeping mats. They look dirty, likely to be in worse condition than what my dog sleeps on. There are feet evident at the rear and other side of the “bicycle.” I am guessing these are a girl’s or a mother’s who are helping to push. The worst: On top of the whole pile of stuff is a baby, maybe 1 year old, looking as bewildered as a baby can look.

The picture was taken just outside of a village in the Congo on Nov. 21. Maybe you haven’t had the chance to hear much about what is happening in the Congo. Or in Syria. Or in the Middle East.

To be honest, it is all very confusing for me. I’ve tried to poke around on the Internet so that I can understand it, and I have difficulty figuring out what is going on. I can’t figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. My best understanding of the situation in the Congo is that not one, but a whole bunch of bad guys are all vying for power and killing lots of people (like the guy in the picture). The boy/man in the picture, and all the people on the road behind him, are fleeing a village (reportedly to be “Sake”) where militia (called M23) are headed. The bicycle-pushing man and everyone else is running or walking for their lives. Perhaps they are all dead by the time you read this. (To see the picture, go to, click on “Our Blog,” then click on “Congo.”)

I think the guy in the picture is a lot like me and you. Somebody with family and friends. Somebody who wants to care for his children and loved ones, and protect them. The difference is, when I saw the picture I was debating where to do my cyber shopping, while he was trying to escape with his life and a few rags.

I saw this picture about a week ago, and it still haunts me. I’ve studied it too closely, several times. It rattles my insides. The boy/man’s eyes are focused on the photographer. Each time I look at the picture, it feels like his eyes are looking at me.

When I first saw the picture I forwarded it to my friend, Chuck, with a message saying, “I’ll stop whining now.” He replied, “Me too.”

So my Christmas thought is this: Live the next three weeks in light of this picture. Show it to your children and talk with them about it. Ask them what they think. Print the picture, put it on the fridge or carry it with you. I printed 20 copies and gave them to my students to carry with them throughout the holidays. I think it is going to help me spend less, appreciate what I have, and be truly thankful during this holiday season.

May you have a blessed Christmas.

Longtime Sandy resident Dr. Dave Wenzel is a parent, a professor of counseling and a licensed professional counselor. He works with children, individuals, families and couples. His office, River Ridge Counseling, is in Sandy. He may be reached at 503-803-0444 or at

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