Our family began a Christmas Eve tradition two years ago. Whether we are home or on the road, we put cash into 17 envelopes that have been decorated by my children. My children walk up to 17 people that look like they could use a smile. Out of the 34 people who received an envelope, never once did my children get it wrong. There were tears. There were smiles. There was hope.
Let me tell you how this tradition began …
My older daughter has always gravitated toward the world’s suffering—always been one to want to know the world in its truest state. Starting when she was very small, the recurring question at bedtime was always: “Mama, tell me something bad that happened in the news today.”
With reluctance, I explained in words she could understand about the atrocities that many faced, the dangers that lurked, and those who had lost so much. And then I stood by and watched her digest every troubling morsel I offered. Time after time, I worried that it was too much, too overwhelming, too disturbing. After all, the problems of the world are vast and insurmountable. At least that is what I used to think.
But thanks to the heart of a child, now I know differently.
It was my then 8-year-old daughter’s idea to go into the heart of the city with cash tucked inside lovingly decorated envelopes. Much to my surprise, hundreds of homeless people had gathered for a food distribution. I’ll admit I felt scared in that moment. I wanted to protect my children, cover their eyes and spare them from seeing such desperation and despair. But I didn’t.
I could see my daughter take in the world her mother spoke of—the one that could be cruel, hungry, desperate, and cold.
But she was not scared.
Oh no, she had been waiting for this moment, dreaming of this moment, when she could do something to help.
She later wrote this:
“We were in the downtown area of our city when we drove past something I will never forget. Many homeless people were crowded around this broken-down truck. A man on the truck was holding up an orange and then throwing it out for someone to catch. When I saw people pushing to get to the oranges that made my heart drop. They were fighting for a piece of fruit. That is how little they had. But beside the truck, I saw an old man. He was eating a sandwich with an orange and I thought to myself, “I want to help this man.” I quickly hopped out of the car and gave him an envelope. Earlier, he seemed so gloomy, but as we drove off, I saw a smile. I felt so good!”
I thought the world’s problems were too heavy, too scary for my children. But my daughter taught me otherwise.
You see, her eight-year-old eyes did not look at the scene and see daunting global issues like poverty, violence, hardship, and hopelessness. She saw one man whose entire day could be brightened by a mere piece of fruit. A mere piece of fruit.
And when you see something as painful and as beautiful as that, everything changes.
This child walked right up and stared directly into the eyes of suffering. She watched in awe as tears of joy collected in a man’s eyes simply because of her unexpected presence on a dingy city street on a bitter cold morning. And from that moment on, this child became a full-fledged giver.
Because when you have the most important things in life – like love, faith, and family – there is nothing you own that you can’t give away.
This holiday season, I encourage you to give your children the gift of opportunity. Let them know what it feels like to be the reason a smile is brought to the face of despair. Let the light of compassion be sparked in our hearts. Let hope be contagious this holiday season.