I had no choice but to redefine Christmas in our home. Everything had changed with the divorce and in an effort to embrace this clean slate, I wanted to do something different—something brave. Something that would be remembered much longer, and would hold much greater significance than baby dolls and Polly Pockets.
My daughters, though very young, knew that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday. However, at their ages, all that meant to them was twinkly lights, pretty decorations, and a lot of presents. Jesus’ birthday had become a celebration centered around their list of wants—and I knew the fault for that laid directly on my shoulders.
A NEW BEGINNING
They were almost 2 and 5 at the time so the pressure to make Christmas all about them was more pressing than ever. The guilt I was experiencing, in the midst of our circumstances, was almost debilitating. Everything they knew as ‘normal’ had been completely disrupted just a couple months earlier, and this would be their first Christmas with their family divided. I struggled often with questions propelled by pain, “If I buy them all the toys their little bedroom can hold, stuff their stockings to the brim, prepare the most lavish Christmas dinner, and let them make the biggest mess of their lives baking Christmas cookies—will it distract them enough to take away their pain?”
In previous years, I would become caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season in all the ‘normal’ ways. I was consumed with finding the best gifts, wrapping them beautifully, tucking them beneath my pristinely adorned tree, and decorating my house to Pinterest-perfect standards. Although this year, it didn’t look like my previous standards would fit within my new single mom budget, I was willing to do whatever it would take to make my girls happy.
However—it didn’t seem like acquiring more ‘things’ was going to do the trick.
Since I was in the process of reinventing everything else about my life, it seemed quite fitting that this would be the year to approach Christmas differently as well. I determined to make it meaningful—bursting with traditions, nostalgia, and lessons that would have a lasting impact for years to come.
This desire didn’t come easily nor instantly. It did, however, become stronger with each passing day. As department stores started hanging garland, as the big tree was lit in the town square, as familiar Christmas carols began to fill the air—it came slowly as I accepted, with eyes wide open, my newfound reality. I knew that it was up to me to decide what this new beginning would mean for me and my girls.
Out of loneliness, desperation, and despair, I found myself turning to prayer and reading my Bible. I knew there was nowhere I could go to escape my pain—so I took it to the Lord and trusted Him to show me how to ease it. I had lost everything. But through the ongoing process of turning to God with my broken heart—I found the One thing I truly needed.
I wish I had made Jesus the priority of our Christmases all along, but I hadn’t. I had to be brought to my knees before I made Christmas in our home all about Christ—His heart, His love, His agenda.
I decided to start a new gift-giving tradition in our home. My daughters would each receive 4 small presents for Christmas—something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
Our focus for the rest of the season would be directed outside the walls of our little upstairs apartment. I was determined that we would fix our gaze upon those whom I was certain Jesus had His eyes on. God impressed on my heart that this would include anyone who our eyes met—and we were wide open to being sent to whomever He chose.
I was not aware at the time that ‘25 Days of Christmas Kindness‘ was a thing. I simply prayed—and the first idea that came to me was that every day of December, leading up until Christmas, we would do something kind for someone. Family, friends, strangers—anyone was fair game. We didn’t have anything resembling a plan and we weren’t organized in the least. We started very small with one simple mission—to take our eyes off of ourselves and focus on others.
We began each day with prayer. I left much of the ‘planning’ of our acts of kindness to the girls. It was amazing to see these tiny little people ask the Lord who He would like to send us to that day.
They would bow their precious heads, blonde ringlets resting on sweet shoulders, and whisper, “Jesus, please tell us what you want us to do today.” We’d sit and wait in quiet patience until an idea took form in one of their minds. I learned so much watching their timid faith become expectant. I’ve been forever changed by witnessing how clearly they seemed to hear His voice—simply by giving Him room to speak.
BEGINNING OUR KINDNESS JOURNEY
Our first few days, a fire was lit within us that kept us going for the remainder of the month. Although nothing we did was extravagant or profound, the feeling of giving to others as a family, for Jesus, filled us with unspeakable joy.
We donated canned goods to a local food pantry. We surprised our favorite babysitter with hugs and goodies. We baked banana bread for Grandpa. We paid for the person behind us in the drive-thru line. We bought flowers and gave them to strangers. We taped quarters to gum ball and candy machines and we handed out fuel gift cards at the gas station.
We colored pictures for nursing home residents and sang Christmas carols to them with our church. We left an extra generous tip for a waitress with a note that reminded her that Jesus loves her. We handed out $1 bills to kids at the dollar store. My younger daughter was too shy to hand them directly to strangers, so she tucked them in the toy section to be found by passersby.
We made chocolate covered pretzels for our friends. We baked and delivered cookies to our local firemen and to the nurses in the Mother and Baby Unit at the hospital where the girls were born. We colored pictures with encouraging quotes and scriptures, tied them to candy canes, and handed them out at the mall.
A NEW TRADITION
As Christmas day drew near, I felt such a marked change in my daughters, and in me as well. I wasn’t thinking about what gifts to buy or how to afford all the things that everyone wanted. Instead, I was continually thinking, “Who has a small need that we are able to meet today?”
A friend of mine volunteered at the local homeless shelter and I knew she helped deliver meals to shut-ins on Thanksgiving. I learned that they were in need of families to deliver meals on Christmas Day as well. Upon hearing this, I immediately knew this was how we would be spending our time together on Christmas morning—before I had to hand the girls off to their dad.
Although some acts of kindness during those 25 days have become a blur, that special Christmas morning is one I’ll always remember. We walked into the shelter and were greeted by dozens of other volunteers. Cookies and hot chocolate were being served while a live worship band played. The faces of those we served, many of whom were spending Christmas alone, brought me to instant tears. When they laid eyes on these two beautiful little girls delivering a meal to their door, they were in disbelief. One woman even proclaimed, “Oh, Lord! You’ve sent me two little Christmas angels! Thank you!”
Our tradition of Christmas kindness has continued through the years, although each year it looks a bit different. I am happily remarried now and we have a grand total of seven children in our family. In this season, we have found ‘12 Days of Kindness’ to be more attainable than 25. One of my favorite acts of kindness with our new family was when all of our children went door to door asking friends and family for donations to buy teddy bears. They raised enough in one night to buy 30 bears. We then delivered them, with personalized (and very colorful) get well cards, to the local children’s hospital. We also really enjoyed walking the streets downtown in our city and handing out hot chocolate to homeless people.
God has shown us the incredible difference that kindness can make in a person’s life. He has shown us how hungry people are, especially during the holiday season, for genuine love—with no strings attached.
He has shown us that when we lean into Him, He leans right back.
Like the time we were headed to the homeless shelter to do crafts with the kids. We decided to stop and pick up donuts on the way, but instead of going through the drive-thru as usual, we parked and went inside. After we ordered, when it was time to pay, the cashier happily informed us that the person ahead of us had already paid for our order. The kids and I just laughed and laughed! God was really showing off now—He inspired an act of kindness done for us—right in the midst of our own act of kindness!
Or the time our boys handed a bouquet of flowers to a woman in a parking lot and she was moved to tears because she hadn’t been given fresh flowers since her husband had died many years earlier.
But most significantly when we started noticing our kids handing out hugs anytime we were in public while excitedly proclaiming to complete strangers, “Jesus loves you! Merry Christmas!”
I am thrilled to report that Christmas in our home no longer revolves around twinkling lights, perfectly wrapped presents, and shopping sprees. We don’t just say we are celebrating Jesus’ birthday—we truly do celebrate it. We spend time with Him. We draw as close to Him as we possibly can. We expectantly ask Him, “Where will you send us? Who can we love?” And as it turns out, giving the love of Jesus to others has been the greatest gift we’ve ever received.
25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS KINDNESS
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