As a parent, sometimes you look at your children and wonder how you got so lucky. They are healthy, not terrible tiny tornadoes most of the time, and surprising, especially in their generosity. In today’s world, where compassion is often lost in human relationships, at least if viewed through the angle of the press and social media, the innocence and love of a child stands out. In my family, this is what we hang onto, particularly during this hectic time of year, where materialism can overwhelm kids and adults who just can’t say no.
One thing my husband and I strive to instill in our seven children is a sense of gratefulness and compassion — two sides of the same coin. No one is immune from suffering and everyone knows this world is filled with bad things that can sometimes be unfathomable to comprehend. We are blessed to live in a safe nation, a beautiful city in a home filled with lots of love and laughter. My family has enough to eat and clean water to drink. But so many people don’t have that.
I want my kids to understand how blessed they are yet also have a servant’s heart.
One thing my kids look forward to every year is packing shoeboxes with small items and treats for children in poorer countries, usually in Central or South America, to be delivered during the Christmas season. We usually pack around ten boxes for children through Box of Joy, which my kids can easily understand and get excited about. They love to know that what they picked out at the store was especially for a child that is going to receive their box. Boxes of Joy go to over 70,000 children in five countries and I am thrilled to help my kids make even a small impact with love through this program.
My oldest child, Grace, an 11-years-old girl who loves to dance and play the piano, saw a need in a community and thought of something she could do to help. She came up with the idea a couple years ago to fill bags with everyday things we may take for granted — toothpaste and toothbrushes, face towels, a little treat of chocolate— and add in food and water and take to the homeless in our city.
This was all her idea and I could not be prouder of her. So my family packs what we now call “Grace bags” a few times a year, most especially cognizant of the impact it may have over the holiday season, and deliver them to homeless individuals.
What can your family do to help others? What about something small to teach your children in a way they understand that they have the ability to be kind and loving to someone less fortunate?
Once November hits, the holidays seem to go at full speed. Thanksgiving flies by and then it’s off to the countdown to Christmas. As a Catholic, I observe Advent, the four Sundays that lead up to Christmas, as a preparation period. I appreciate that the Catholic Church gives us an intentional time of reflection and encourages more prayer, penance, and almsgiving when most of the world is running a hundred miles an hour towards Christmas morning.
Christmas is a wonderful season and it’s a beautiful gift from God to all of us. How can we show that love to others? Whether your family wants to pack Grace bags or pack a Box of Joy, there are lots of ways to give to others this season. Make cookies for the mail carrier and sanitary workers in December. Visit the elderly and lonely in nursing homes. Bring a meal to a friend who maybe needs some extra love. Or donate resources on Giving Tuesday, November 27th this year, to a non-profit of your choice - #IGiveCatholic is a great place to start.
As Christians, it’s up to us to be the hands and feet of Christ. And it’s up to us to teach our children to be that way as well.
Abby Johnson is the director of And There There None and author of ‘Unplanned.’