Once you know something, it’s hard to unknow it. After 13 years in the foster/adoptive community, I know that Christmas is a difficult time. It’s the time of year when many kids are removed for the first time from their birth parents. It’s a challenging time for birth families who are barely holding things together. Extra bills, the cold weather, expectations, and stress. For families from generational poverty and abuse, this time of year often brings up more pain than joy.
Things tend to go off the rails around Christmas. Even for kids long removed from trauma, neglect or abuse, the holidays can stir up anxiety, nerves, and behaviors. While I personally embrace minimalism for our family, minimalism only really works when we are able to replace “stuff” with other good things. Traditions, story time, adventures, warmth, and closeness. When kids live in poverty combined with abuse, neglect, drug use or food scarcity, if you take away the toys, Christmas feels like a big pile of crap. Well, it might feel that way anyway, but at least there is a new toy to distract from the fact.
So this year as I was flipping through the Black Friday ads, these bears caught my eye. These are the kind of gifts I would loathe my children receiving! But they are the kind of gift that, if a kid only gets one gift, might do the trick. I wasn’t sure I wanted to trek out for the sale, but I was in dire need of a new paper planner, which was also on sale, so off I went.
I wasn’t sure where exactly I would donate them. Child Protective Services likes to have a few extra gifts around. For the kids who end up in the ER a few days before Christmas, long after Angel Tree names have been passed out. I considered CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) as they are one of my favorite organizations. Dedicated volunteers who are the voice for kids in foster care and advocate for them. In the end, I dropped them off at a local mental health non-profit. Adam serves on the board of directors there. I love how they serve as a net to help catch people who might fall through the cracks in a way that empowers and gives dignity.
I was feeling happy as I thought about these two bears finding a new home this Christmas. Until I received this email.
The bears have found a home, with 2 children whose mother died this week.
Thanks for helping their sorrow with your generosity.
And my heart broke.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had to bury a child. Maybe it was thinking about losing your mom just before the holidays.
I’ve thought about those bears a lot this week. Their super soft fluff almost taking over an entire bed. The tears, fear, and hurt that unfolds after a tragedy like this.
You know how much I paid for those silly bears? $10. $10 a piece at Target.
$20 really isn’t a lot of money for us. I think most people, if faced with that circumstance, would happily donate $20. I don’t know anything about those kids, but I know if they are getting services at this non-profit there are some areas of life that are hard and these bears might have been a big deal to them.
Last year I wrote about how we can have a big impact with our giving, even with a small budget.
The four tenants were these:
- The Right Gift
- For Right Reason-Purpose
- To the Right Person
- At the Right Moment
The point of that post was to pay attention, and be attentive to the people around us so we can give those small but high impact gifts.
But there is another way.
Sometimes we can give to organizations who are showing up for people. With volunteers and staff, they are in the thick of it with the people they are serving. And they see the needs unfold every single day. We can help equip them to be able to give these high impact gifts.
Even though it broke my heart, I was thankful the director of this non-profit sent me this note. I’ve been praying for those two little kids this week. And it’s spurred me on.
We all can give at different levels, in our time, attention, and money. By a rough count, we have donated $100,000 over the last 15 years. We have volunteered hundreds of hours. And adopted four kids from foster care. But giving isn’t reserved for those with great means. (We started giving when $50k in debt and earning $12k a year the first year we were married!) =)
Large gifts don’t negate small gifts. These two bears were a small gift. And they mattered.
Small acts of kindness matter. Because the gift might not be small for the recipient. The small gift might, in fact, make all the difference.
I have a blogging friend, who I’ll let remain anonymous for now. Every time I write something honest, true, and good, he writes me. He cheers me on, and speaks words of encouragement. It might take him a few minutes of his time. There is no dollar cost to it. But it means everything to me. It might be a small act of generosity for him, but it’s not small to me.
So as we go into the Christmas season, be encouraged. No matter what you feel like you have to give, your gift matters. It might a $10 teddy bear. It might be a note of encouragement. Or maybe you finally sign up to be a foster/adoptive parent. And on the worst day of a kids life, these kids find a soft place to fall in your home. Or maybe it’s time for a dollar donation that shakes you because it seems unreasonably large.
We all have the ability to create small waves of change. You never know what your small act of kindness might mean.