Gifts from the Heart

It was a week filled with more toys than I had ever seen in my life. Working at a children’s hospital, I was in awe of generosity from the community. So many people came through our doors and I wanted to be a gracious host to them all, but the sheer magnitude of people bringing toys was overwhelming. There were former patients’ families, school clubs, church groups, and other community members that rallied together to bring cheer to the kids who would be spending the holidays in a hospital. It was heartwarming to know that people continued to come year after year to give back.

In the midst of a chaotic day, I found myself going through the motions. My shoulders were sore from lifting boxes and my legs were tired from carrying donations. I hadn’t had a chance to have lunch yet so I was desperately waiting for a good time to break. Then an older gentleman walked into our office and wanted to make a donation. He pulled out a box and, trying to make conversation, I asked what was in the box. He beamed with pride and said it was a stamp collection. I instantly stopped in my tracks.

We’ve had incredible donations of the latest trending toy, the “it” doll, and some of the coolest gadgets a kid could have. But, it was the stamp collection that blew me away. This man was humble and kind, giving us something he treasured and hoped would bring joy to the kids. It reminded me of the stamps my dad had collected, and when I was a kid, we would spread out the stamps on the maroon carpet of my grandparents’ living room and sort the stamps by dates and themes.

The donor had no idea how moved I was by his gesture, but I carried his message with me. The holidays can bring out the frustration of trying to please everyone and the stress of spending too much money on gifts. This man centered my spirit and reminded me that this season is about giving what you have, whether it’s special time spent together, a meaningful gift, or a piece of your heart. It doesn’t have to be the top toy of the year to reach the smile of a child. It doesn’t have to be the best new technology to touch the heart of a friend. It’s about sharing your joy with others.

I was recently listening to a podcast by Caroline Hobby as she interviewed Hannah Mooney, former Miss Arkansas and the wife of country music star Shay, of the duo Dan and Shay. Hannah was talking about how she was in beauty pageants and she was required to perform a talent for the judges in 90 seconds. She then said something that I loved; she said that some people have talents that can’t be performed. Hannah went on to explain that you might be a sweetheart, and that’s a wonderful thing that you can’t show on stage. I appreciated this message because giving of our gifts does not mean it has to be wrapped in a bow.

As December wraps up and I start reflecting on the past year, I think about how we are called to give of ourselves, not always tangible things, but really give our heart and soul to this beautiful life we have been given. For one man, it was giving of something that brought him joy, a feeling he hoped to pass on to others. Knowing that other people would smile because of what he offered was a gift itself. For Hannah, it was giving the message that talent doesn’t need to be confined to a box you don’t fit in. You can be a kind person, and that alone is a gift to this world.

You have gifts that only you can offer. You are unique and special, and your talents are needed in this world, whatever they may be. May you shine your light bright today, and always.

Joy in the Moment

I have always had an appreciation for watching fireworks. There’s just something special about a dark summer sky lit up with bursts of glowing confetti. I love the booming sound that beats against your chest and makes you stop and watch. As a kid, I was in awe of the magnificent displays at Disney, showering the castle with magical bits of sparkling fire. It would remind me that there is beauty in the midst of those hot and humid days. No school, no worries, just glistening lights shooting across a midnight canvas.

I wanted to experience that same sense of wonder that I did as a kid. Recently, I was feeling a little unsteady from all the changes in my life. I was struggling with the turmoil of new transitions and leaning on my faith to settle the worry I wrestled with. I was in need of some stability, yet at the same time, I was craving to be wowed. I wanted something to jump out of the sky and shake me, something to rattle me back into a place where I could plant my feet wherever my heart was wandering.

This past 4th of July, I went to the local high school to watch the fireworks display with a friend. The heat was heavy and thick, but we parked down the street and made our way to the football field, eager to relax and be entertained. The smell of sticky sunscreen mixed with fresh fried dough drifted across the air as we walked laps around the track to pass time. We enjoyed each other’s company, reminiscing and talking about life’s ups and downs.

I had just seen a picture of an older woman looking out into a crowd, possibly watching a show, with her arms folded in front of her and a pleasant smile on her face. She was surrounded by many other people with their cell phones out, snapping pictures and trying to capture that moment through creative lenses and vintage filters. I was struck by this picture because I love keeping memories tucked away in photo albums and getting great shots of a time I want to remember. But this woman inspired me to sit back and actually enjoy a moment in its purity. No new status or clever hashtag, just being present and taking it all in.

I decided that I would put my phone away and only take a few firework photos at the very end. The emails could wait, the texts could be read later. I love watching firework displays, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to practice this mindful habit. I wanted to experience something like this fully and whole heartedly. Yes, I wanted to see it, but more than anything, I wanted to feel it.

As I watched the fireworks dancing through the sky, I saw the view through my own eyes and not through the lense of a camera. I took a deep breath and soaked it all in. I think the most amazing thing for me was just being present and actually seeing my surroundings. I saw parents and kids resting on blankets, huddled together to watch the show, maybe taking time as a family that they normally don’t have the opportunity to do. I saw couples holding hands and walking the track, maybe reflecting in this moment on a summer love they’ll never forget. And I saw people of all ages stop what they were doing to look at the sky.

For those few minutes, it didn’t matter that we had to go back to work tomorrow or study for that test in school. It didn’t matter that the daily grind would still tire us out and the unknown future would still make us weary. There were no deadlines to reach or papers to grade. We were there, we were present, and we were feeling everything that moment was giving us.

I wanted so desperately to find something that would give me hope and assure me that everything would be okay. I was seeking something, anything, that would fill this void of uncertainty. But I think I forgot one thing in this picture, and that is the power of faith. Whether you have faith in God or faith in life in general, I think we can all relate that sometimes we need to give up the reigns and let life take its course. If I spent that night worrying about everything that was weighing me down, I wouldn’t have lifted my eyes to the sky to be present in the moment. I literally wanted the fireworks to shoot out a sign saying, “You’ve got this, Kristie!” And even then, I would probably have said the sign wasn’t specifically for me.

Ironically, I was looking up at the sky and waiting for these massive fireworks to shake me, but it was the stillness of my heart and the gentle peacefulness of the night that moved me. As I watched the fireworks pounding against the dark slate of the sky, I received the message I needed to hear. I closed my eyes and opened my heart to find joy in the moment. I didn’t need to go somewhere I couldn’t find or be someone I couldn’t be. I just needed to be present, and that was a gift that would light the fire within me.