December is a tough month.
Whether it’s enduring financial hardships from a strained economy or the forced separation from family and friends due to a pandemic, this holiday season is one of the heaviest we’ve endured as a nation and as a global community.
People are hurting.
The weight of emotional and physical stress is nearly unbearable to hold. Some manage it well with a facade of optimistic grace, never allowing the world to see the fissures that crack the bedrock of their stability. Others struggle from moment-to-moment just to get from here to there.
How can we help others when we don’t know the burden they bear?
Perhaps we can allow kindness to lighten the load.
My daughter was invited to spend the day with her boyfriend’s family for their annual day of giving. Each December, they choose a family to bless with gifts and personal shopping, then they extend that blessing by going into a store and randomly paying for other people’s purchases.
Their family of five (actually six with Katrina included) split into teams with multiple credit cards. The children and adults had full reign to decide who they wanted to bless; it didn’t matter if someone had a few items in their hands or an entire cart filled. The choice was theirs to make.
Katrina and Brennan formed a team and decided they wanted to bless several people. Reflecting on insights they learned from the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, they decided to look for carts that were filled with groceries, specifically trying to bless moms shopping with children or older adults.
When they chose the people they wanted to bless, they got behind them in line, carrying a few items of their own to purchase so it would seem natural for them to be there. As the groceries were put on the conveyor belt, and each item scanned by the cashier, the conflux of emotions began to build.
As they reached across the divide to swipe their credit card in the machine, conversations began. “Excuse me… we were looking for someone to bless today and were wondering if we could buy your groceries?” The emotions of the recipients reflected the depth of their responses.
In all, Katrina and Brennan blessed four different groups: two families with children and two individual women. Two groups were white and two were Black. One family explained that that they were foster parents who recently had to spend more than $500 on car repairs. Another was a nurse that worked double shifts just to make ends meet. All were brief interactions of surprise and joy, gestures of kindness to remind people that they matter.
When Katrina and Brennan returned home, they couldn’t wait to share the stories from Brennan’s family’s day of giving. They were literally bubbling over with excitement to describe the people they had blessed and how performing these acts of kindness made them think deeper about how to bless others all throughout the year.
That’s when the seeds began to scatter.
My husband, Rich, shared this story with his friend, Brenden. Hours later, Brenden texted him back to say he was so inspired by the story of giving, that he went and bought a cart for strangers, too. He ended up blessing two teachers, one who taught sixth grade and another teaching Kindergarten. Their carts were filled with Christmas presents and items to be used for student projects at school. Brenden covered $200 of their expenses, then added a $50 Visa gift card on top for good measure. With that, the kindness challenge was bounced back to Rich to do something similar, too!
A few days later Rich went with Katrina to complete his act of kindness. He focused on items in people’s carts to determine if they were shopping for necessities or niceties. When he saw a mom with a cart filled with basics for making simple lunches, snacks, and basic meals, he knew he had found his match. Katrina zipped into line behind the mom and as the cashier was ringing up the groceries, Rich reached over and grabbed a $50 restaurant gift cart to add to the blessings. Needless to say, the mom was overwhelmed with appreciation for the kindness given that day!
What surprised Rich was the impact the kindness made on the cashier who witnessed it all. She was literally giddy, repeating “I can’t believe this just happened! I wish I had someone here to record this!” It reminded me of the kindness trifecta I wrote about in A Passion for Kindness, where you can have a physical release of those “feel good” chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin from either seeing, receiving, or doing an act of kindness.
Then it was my turn to share in the kindness fun. I went to Walmart over the weekend and gathered a few items I needed for the week ahead. I peeked into the various lines to see who I might bless, then waited for that whisper on my heart to nudge me.
It didn’t take long to find my recipient. Their cart had been filled to the top when I first spotted them – a middle-aged Hispanic woman with a younger woman, who could have been her sister or daughter. Now half of their groceries were on the conveyor belt being scanned.
Everything was in bulk. Two value packs of eggs. A large jar of cooking oil. Two gallons of milk. A value pack of Ramen noodles. A large bag of generic children’s cereal. Two cases of bottled water.
As I stood behind them in line, I wondered about their story. My heart wrapped them with love before I even spoke a single word to them. As the cashier scanned the final few items, I grabbed a $50 restaurant gift card from the rack and held my breath for the perfect moment to make my introductions.
“Hi there! I’m blessing people for the holidays and I would love to bless you as well! May I purchase your groceries today?”
The women looked back at me in a moment of confusion, then the younger woman started speaking.
With words I could not understand.
(Talk about pushing me out of my comfort zone!)
It took a few awkward moments for me to express in broken Spanish and hand motions my intentions. I can still remember that moment of understanding, when the older woman nodded in my direction and the younger woman’s smile spread beyond the mask that covered her face.
The cashier rang up their purchases. It came to $147 with the gift card included (I was expecting it to be a bit more!) It was such fun knowing that we could bless someone else in a bigger-than-normal way and I have a feeling this will become a yearly tradition in our family!
I know there are several who believe acts of kindness should be done in secret, without sharing the details for others to consume. I respect that perspective, and often complete acts of kindness without fanfare or acknowledgment. However, I also know (without a doubt!) that God has called me to share my experiences with others, just as He whispered on my heart eight years ago to begin sharing my stories online. I have seen firsthand the power those seeds hold when they scatter from the words and actions of many.
Just think of how many people were blessed because Katrina and Brennan chose to share about their day of giving with his family! In addition to the people they blessed directly, we were blessed by hearing the story which sparked our own individual acts of kindness. Then, as we share our stories, we spark kindness for other family and friends to join in the fun.
Do you have to purchase an entire cart of groceries to lighten the load of another? Of course not. Your act of kindness might be to send a text message to someone you haven’t talked to in a while or leave a treat on your porch for a delivery driver. Whatever it may be, if you hear that whisper on your heart to bless another person in your midst, follow through with action.
Your one act of kindness may be the brightest spot in someone else’s day.
I wish you peace, love, and joy this holiday season and may you find multiple ways to lighten the load of others as well as yourself during this time.