The older I get, the more I am thankful for two parents who taught me what it means to love intentionally, to live a life of integrity, and to truly see the people around me. Yesterday I was very introspective, thinking back over my life, contemplating our society as it is, and evaluating what kinds of values and traditions I want to establish for my family and future. I wonder how many people simply live just trying to survive the day to day, only to eventually arrive at the end of their lives and wonder what it was about. As a 26-year-old, I don’t want that to be my story. Rather, I want to live my life on purpose, knowing all along what I want my life to be about and aware that the way I interact with others today has a profound impact on eternity.
My favorite Christmas tradition growing up was baking with my mom. We would make several varieties of cookies, breads, and other goodies and assemble them on several plates. We would then, as a family, visit many of the elderly people in our congregation and spend an hour or two with them talking and laughing and sharing a cookie or two. One of the coolest people I knew was a guy named Steve who had severe cerebral palsy. I always looked forward to going over to his house and spending time with his family. I grew up knowing all my neighbors and considering them my friends; not because that was normal in our town, but because my mom was always very intentional about knowing the people around us and loving them. Whenever a day would come that an ambulance would visit our neighborhood or something difficult happened, we were often considered one of the family in comforting and caring for those left behind.
My dad is a mail carrier, but to him his work is more than a job; it is a chance to love people. He truly knows those who live on his route. He keeps an eye on those who live alone and checks on them. Because he passes by at the same time every day, it is easy to notice when something is not normal and someone is not ok. I remember him teaching me about how important it is to be aware of how other people are doing. My dad also taught me what it means to be creative in loving people. He would tell me about how often the elderly people on his route do not get any mail and how hard that must be for them when they cannot leave their apartment much. He would hand write them little stories that would continue from day to day and drop them in their mailboxes when they didn’t receive anything else. It was such a simple gesture, but meant the world to these people who looked forward every day to see how the story would turn out.
I was considering these things and so much more yesterday and thanking God for the values my parents instilled in me and for the ways they encouraged these things in me as well. If I had an idea of how to serve others, my parents supported that idea and helped me do it. I loved to play the piano at nursing homes in town, and they would support me and come to listen. I remember one time having the idea of doing a food drive for our homeless shelter, and it wasn’t just my parents who got behind me but also my little church family. I want to instill this in my children as well: the value of not only noticing those around them, but truly knowing people and their needs. I want to teach my children what it means to love others deeply and show it. I want them to have the confidence and passion to serve.
Even though I love the holiday seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas, I see them as more than just a time to spend with family and eat good food. I have always loved traditions of any kind and each year the joy came for me in creating a beautiful and magical atmosphere of love and hope. Everything had to be perfect. Yesterday I spent Thanksgiving in Ecuador with many coworkers and short-term missionaries and we ate incredible food that we spent days preparing. However, something was missing and I felt a disconnect in my heart between the abundance that I was privileged to take part in and the knowledge that there are people all around me who do not have food or a family that loves them. They live life alone and with pain in their hearts. I have seen recently on the internet of people who are asking for a family for Christmas, and I wonder how many do not ask but want that more than anything else. Someone I know well and love very much has told me that Christmas brings so much pain to her heart, because growing up her family did not have the resources to celebrate Christmas and it just made them more aware than ever of what they did not have. It makes me wonder: do we see them? Do we know the people around us well enough to know what they truly need? I could live without a present one year so that someone else might know that they are loved and valued. That is the greatest gift one could receive. After all, loving people is not a task that begins at Thanksgiving or Christmas; but is the way we are called to live every day of the year. That way, when Thanksgiving and Christmas come, we know how to expand that magical atmosphere of love and hope to those who would otherwise be outside of its reach. What greater testimony of thankfulness is there than to give others a reason to be thankful? And there is no better way to tell the story of the baby in a manger than to meet people where they are with the message that there is One who sees them and loves them. That’s what God did for us.
I have been privileged to know many people who are living on purpose. Not too long ago I lived in Nashville, and because of my work schedule I was not able to go home for Christmas. I was really sad about it, but had decided to make the most of it anyway. What I didn’t know was that God had already arranged for someone in my church (that I didn’t even know at the time) to take me to their family Christmas, and I walked away with new friendships and an increased understanding of what it means to love intentionally.
What do I want my kids to learn from me? What kind of atmosphere is important for me in my future family? I want to teach my children how to take the time to truly see people, like my parents taught me to do. I want them to learn that loving others doesn’t have to be complicated; but rather the smallest gesture (like a note in a mailbox) can bring so much joy to a lonely person’s heart. If I have felt pain in my life, it is not for me to grow bitter but rather to grow in compassion for others who suffer. I want my children to learn how to turn mourning into joyful dancing and how to in turn comfort those around them. I want them to learn that you don’t have to be rich to be generous, and that when our lives overflow with generosity toward others, God is generous toward us. I want to raise children who live on purpose and who conquer the darkness around them with passion, love, and kindness. I want them to learn that family is not just blood relation, but that everyone is welcome at God’s table. I want them to know that they have what it takes to love others well, because God’s love lives inside of them. I want them to live in freedom so they might bring freedom to many others. I want them to learn what it means to live on purpose.
I would encourage you to think about these things. What do you want your life to be about? What message do you want your family and the world to receive from your life? The action could be simple, like knitting scarves in the summer to give to the homeless when the weather begins to turn cold. However, the message that is received speaks much louder volumes than you might think, not only to those who receive, but to the little eyes that are watching you do it. You are creating a legacy of love that won’t stop there. I believe that every life is precious, and therefore every act of love is worth it. How might you live more intentionally today?