We tried everything.
We read picture books about being thankful. We wrote what we were thankful for on a pumpkin and talked about all of our blessings. We prayed special prayers, thanking God for everything from our family to our mail lady, Mrs. April that gives the kids suckers every afternoon. We explained the bell ringers who don Santa hats in front of the grocery story and where that money goes. We added ornaments to our Christmas tree and talked about what a blessing it is to be together, all of us healthy, in a warm house with more than enough.
We tried so many activities with our kiddos, Annie (5) and Ollie (almost 3), hoping they would grasp what it meant to show gratitude for all of our blessings. It’s not as if our actions were in vain, I mean, yes, they were engaged and had fun, but were they really grasping this abstract, all-important concept?
I wasn’t so sure.
Then a couple nights ago as Annie prayed before bed, she prayed for all the usual suspects – Mom, Dad, Ollie, some friends at school, her uncle who has been battling cancer, her elf on the shelf, and then:
Please help all the boys and girls who don’t have a Christmas tree or family or food or anything. Help them to have a nice Christmas please.
Out of the mouth of babes.
The next morning over breakfast Annie told me she would like to do something to help boys and girls “all over the city” have a nice Christmas. Instead of bombarding her with my own ideas – my usual go-to – I told her that was a great idea and asked what she had in mind. After some major thinking on her part and patience on mine, she came up with an idea. She would do chores around the house and around her grandparent’s house to make money to save up to buy some items for kids who needed them. What a perfect idea. Did I mention how excited she was? She wanted to start right away and how could I say no? Her determined spirit had her on a mission, and the smile on her face as she started washing the dishes was infectious.
She washed dishes.
She helped clean out the car.
She put away laundry.
She helped carry in groceries.
She set the table.
She helped organize her closet.
She taught her little brother Christmas songs for their upcoming school program.
She served, she helped, she gave – all with so much joy in her heart. She learned, firsthand, the beauty in sacrificing her time and energy to make money to then use those funds to help someone else in need.
We took the money she earned and bought two pairs of children’s pajamas for her school pajama drive – one set for a boy and one for a girl. She was so proud to be able to buy something special, with her “own money,” and give it away. It was all her idea, after all. This exercise taught her one of the tenants of this magical time of year, that it’s better to give than to receive. That one person can make a real difference with a little determination and a smile. While it may feel daunting to want to help everyone in need, we need to tap into our childlike faith and optimism to find one thing we can do.
As usual, my darling daughter made a student out of the teacher, reminding me that there are a million ways to live out gratitude during this season and beyond. The hard part shouldn’t be deciding if we do something, but what we should try first.