There is a special happiness and contentment that comes from putting others and their needs above your own. When you’re doing something kind for someone, it doesn’t just benefit them, it also benefits you. The happiness that comes through kind and caring and generous actions is not a light or frivolous satisfaction or pleasure; it’s a much deeper feeling of fulfillment. You are letting My Spirit of love into the world around you, into the lives of others, and into your own life.
On a flight I took some months ago, there was a little girl sitting in the catty-cornered seat from me. She had a beautiful new coloring book that her mother had obviously brought especially for the flight. Occupying the same row was another girl about the same age whose father was seated behind her. This girl had no coloring book, and in fact, didn’t seem to have anything to occupy her.
The girl with the coloring book was soon busily coloring with her crayons spread out on the tray table, and the other girl was looking longingly at them. I felt bad for the girl who had none, so I prayed that the first child would feel moved to tear out a page from her nice coloring book and share it. Sure enough, after a while I saw that she had indeed torn a page out and had given it to her seatmate and was sharing her crayons with her.
“Mommy, I think you like those toys more than we do,” I remember saying to my mom as we shopped at a discount store. The way she would inspect each toy, carefully read through each book, count puzzle pieces, and put together toy sets (discount items tend to miss pieces), I was sure she loved those toys every bit as much as we kids did. She was always on the lookout for sales so she and my hardworking father could put presents under the Christmas tree for us kids.
Most people have a few things that make Christmas special to them. Here are a few of mine.
The spirit of giving
I love the spirit of giving that permeates Christmas. It’s often a time when even the least generous become more giving. It’s a time when children can learn the joy of giving as they share what they have. It’s also a time when everyone can give something, whether they have a little or a lot, and find reward in doing so.
Two years ago, some friends and I took boxes of food to families who had been displaced by the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Constitución, Chile, and were still living in makeshift camps ten months later. Margarita, one of the volunteers, had taken a collection of Christmas decorations in her office building, so we included a few of those in each box, along with a copy of the Christmas issue of Conéctate (the Spanish edition of Activated) and a CD of Christmas music. One person in Margarita’s office had also donated a Christmas tree, which we also took with us, even though we didn’t know exactly what we would do with it.
What Actually Woke Me Up at Starbucks
I was staying with my grandmother just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. It was wonderful in every way except when I needed to get some work done online. One morning shortly before Christmas, I needed to answer some important emails, so I decided to head for the nearest WiFi spot and take care of that before running a few other errands and grabbing some coffee.
I arrived at the first location and was unable to get online. I went to a second and was unable to send email over their network. Frustrated, I headed to Starbucks.
Eiko was 31 kilos (68 pounds) that Christmas. Her skin stretched tightly across her cheekbones, and even her bulky winter clothes could not hide her extremely thin body. Only thirteen years old, she was suffering from a severe eating disorder that had begun at the age of nine. My parents and we, her siblings, hadn’t been fully aware of her struggles in the earlier stages, but now their impact was glaringly apparent.
Several years ago, I spent two weeks in Sahrawi refugee camps near the oasis city of Tindouf, in southwest Algeria. Ten of us, from teenagers to fifty-somethings, had made the trip from our base in Granada, Spain, to speak and perform in the camps’ schools and community centers.
The Sahrawi people are the remnant of the nomadic tribes that roamed the deserts and coasts of the former Western Sahara. During the 100 years that they lived under Spanish rule, they became accustomed to living in more stationary situations and built large communities like Smara.
Some song lyrics have a big impact on me. One example is Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With.” The chorus of which says, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with.”
It was 1974, my boyfriend and I had just split up, and I was heartbroken. For weeks I alternated between trying to avoid him and trying to catch his attention. Attending the same school that he did was torture! This song helped me then to look outward, to reach out. Half a lifetime later, it had the same effect.
For many of us, since we were young children, Christmas has been a special time of celebrating Jesus’ birth, giving and receiving gifts, and spending time with family and friends. But Christmas is not only a time to enjoy these blessings ourselves; it is also the greatest opportunity of the year to tell the world about our precious Savior. Perhaps more than any other day of the year, it’s a time when people think about the miracle that is at the heart of Christmas—God sending His own dear Son into our world to lead us back to Him. Even in non-Christian cultures, people are interested in learning the true meaning of Christmas.