Christmas may be over, but we wanted to take a moment to stop and reflect on this year's Advent Acts of Kindness. Some acts were small, some a bit larger, but in all of them we tried to fulfill the purpose of Micah 6:8: 

"No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God." (NLT)

Quite honestly, Christmas has never felt as real and as perfect as it did this year. It wasn't our own actions that we find admirable. In the grand scheme of things, they were quite small. But it was the way in which we saw God move through the Acts and the Acts of others that was truly inspiring.

Sometimes I’m a slow learner. With all the hats I wear I have a hard time slowing down. This Christmas season we decided to do Advent Acts of Kindness, each day picking something kind to do for someone else.

When Julie first brought this idea up in early November, I’ll admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled.

Really, Julie? I thought. Christmas is already a busy season; you want me to add one more thing to do?

Nancy Holte, speaker and writer, loves to encourage women to grab hold of God's amazing plan for their lives! She is a woman who loves to laugh and can bring humor into almost any situation. She is a courageous woman, storyteller, wife, mother and grandmother...and best of all, we get to call her friend! She has graciously agreed to be a guest blogger for The Ruth Experience. Read and enjoy!

When I first read The Ruth Experience blog about Advent Acts of Kindness, I knew I wanted in. I called a little meeting with my husband (Ok, let’s be honest, I started talking to him in the car where, quite frankly, he pretty much can’t get away) and we discussed the possibilities. We also discussed the funding because, let’s face it, even making cookies has a certain cost to it. And then, we plunged into the projects. Well, I plunged in . . . my husband got sick. And since our kids are grown and married, I was pretty much on my own.

This December we have decided to do Advent Acts of Kindness for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. All different ideas, both big and small, reaching into our neighborhoods, country and world. Anything from leaving quarters on a red box machine, to writing thank you letters to service men, to sponsoring a child in another country. We've invited you, our reader, to join us, and then post your acts of kindness on our facebook page. But we always had in mind to do a big finale leading up to December 25th, all together, you included. And here it is:
This may come as a surprise, but I don’t always look like my Facebook profile picture. It’s shocking, I know. In fact, not only was I careful in choosing my profile photo, I have (on occasion) been known to untag myself from a particularly unflattering photo that makes me look like I still have 10 pounds of baby weight to lose (which I do) or a double chin (which, from a certain angle and depending on how hard I’m laughing, I do).

To me, Facebook is sort of an alternate reality. I’d like to think it’s the Glamour Shots version of real life. Yes, that’s me. And yes, those are things I’m doing, places I’m going, people I’m seeing and things I’m thinking. But in the grand scheme of life, the “me” you see on Facebook is just a small, minor part of who I am.

I sighed loudly as I stared at the calendar for November and December.  It is filled to the brim already with busy nights and busier weekends.   

I pondered the parties, outings, and activities, and my mental to-do list began churning:  card sending, cookie baking, tree hunting, present purchasing, the list goes on and on and on.  Of course, I imagine completing each of these activities with cheery Christmas music playing in the background, my two adorable children dressed in Christmas finery, my husband making a fresh batch of hot chocolate and stoking the wood fire, and then reality sinks in….  I will, more than likely, be rushing through each of these tasks, trying to get them done in time, squeezed into an already busy everyday life – possibly while slightly cranky, stressed and with a Grinch-like attitude.  

The past few years have been growing ones for Kyle and I: quitting jobs, starting businesses, fostering children, infertility, adopting children, missions trips, starting churches and ministries - all the time feeling good saying yes to God when he asked. Although at times we’ve been afraid and people have questioned our sanity, we knew that what God was calling us to was worthwhile.

But this fall, God has been stretching us even more.

I read a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker that gave me some fresh and much-needed insight and perspective on my life. Our family completed one 21-day fast, eating like the poor around the world. Since then, we've continued to choose three days each month where we pick a country and eat like the poor while also praying for the people there. We also have sponsored two more children through Help One Now who live in an orphanage in Haiti, making it a total of three children in all, the same number that we are raising in our home.

All are very good things. And each time I felt as though God brought the idea to us and we responded by saying, “yes, Lord.”

But in the past few weeks, I began reading a book called Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen. It’s the account of a husband and wife who were feeling a little disillusioned with life and prayed one night, “God we will do anything. Anything.” She went on to say they brought everything to God, putting all they had in his hands, willing him to do with it as he saw fit. Some things he gave back to them, other things he kept, more he said not yet to, and even more he gave them back something completely different, new dreams and passions.

And again I feel my perspective shift.

Humor me for just a few minutes. The other day I got an email from my sister Kristin and in closing she stated:

“I'm feeling rather sassy myself right now - I went to Target tonight (BY MYSELF!) and bought some totally-bad-for-you-and-yet-so-good-I-hid-them-from-my-family-behind-the-mac&cheese-boxes cookies. Yep.”

To which I responded: Good for you.

And it got me thinking today about all the little things that I love to do now that I live with little people, things that I took for granted before they came.
I’m awakened by sobs on the baby monitor, pitiful coughing cries mixed with long, wheezing breaths. 
Noelle, the source of late-night Google searches

Sighing, I glance over at the clock.

2:38 a.m.

The baby is sick, and this is the third time tonight that she’s woken up. I stumble, zombie-like, to her bedroom.

And as I sit in the chair, rocking and nursing, I pull out my phone. I have obsessive-compulsive Google tendencies: when I’m trying to prove a point to my husband (“Is honey as effective as cough syrup?”), find a recipe (“pumpkin spice latte”) or clean up the messes in my life (“child urinated in vent” – yes, that actually happened). 

Google is my constant companion, and in the dark of the night, it’s the only friend I can consult without waking anyone up.

I’ve been worried all night about the baby. She’s so small and dear, and my heart grips painfully at the thought of her being sick and in pain. I’m worried I won’t hear her crying; I’m worried she’ll need me and I won’t answer quickly enough. As a mom, it’s not long before my worries move on to all the “maybes.” Maybe it’s croup. Maybe I should sit in a steamy room with her, or bundle her up and take her outside. Maybe I should put more essential oils on her. Maybe I need to suction out her nose. Maybe it’s her teeth again. Is she warm enough? Cool enough? How many layers does she have on?

Hmm, she feels a little warm, so I start with something basic.

Google: fever with teething.

It’s inconclusive, so I persist.

Google: fever in infants

Ok, so her warmth isn’t as big of a concern, but that cough is freaking me out. Maybe it’s…

Google: Whooping cough symptoms 

Hmm, you can never be too sure, so…

Google: What does whooping cough sound like?

I’m led to a YouTube video of a little boy taking in great big whoops of air. Whew, not my child. Ok, just in case she gets worse, what are my options?

Google: Monticello walk in clinic

By now, my child has a full belly and is nodding on my shoulder. I lay her down again and head back to bed.

Worry, worry, worry. It’s endless, and it’s the reason I rely on Google.

But as I climb into bed, I wonder - what if I relied less on Google and more on God? What if I spent less time researching worst-case scenarios and spent more time praying?

I stop and take a deep breath. It’s not that I hadn’t been praying, but it can be easy to try to do things on my own. My first impulse shouldn’t be a power-fueled electronic device, it should be the power of a holy God.

Before I drift back to sleep, I pray, “Lord, if she truly needs me, please let me hear her and wake up.” In the cycle of worry, I’m back at the beginning. But at least I’m now turning to the true source of comfort.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phillipians 4:6-7

My beautiful daughter Jasmine
“Mommy, whose tummy did you come from?” Jasmine, my four-year-old, asked early one morning while lying in bed with me. It’s a common conversation in our house, babies coming from mommies’ tummies.

“Grandma Annie,” I reply.

“And Abe came from your tummy?”


“Did I?”
This past August I read  a book on vacation called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. While reading I felt completely motivated to implement some of her ideas from the book. Being totally inspired by her first chapter on food I convinced my husband that we should do a 21 day fast, like Jen's friends in the book had done. The fast consisted of picking seven of the world's poorest countries, eating like they do for three days each, all while learning about the country's people and culture at the same time. He agreed and thus exactly two days after returning home from vacation where we had eaten anything and everything to our hearts content (our families menus get more elaborate each year, think: smoked ribs, fish tacos, grilled pizza, pork tenderloin and every treat and snack known to man) we shocked our systems by narrowing our diet to mainly two things: beans and rice. Oh, we had a few days were we would incorporate plantains, a corn tortilla or chapati, but overall we ate rice, and lots of it. The mantra in our house anytime our kids would ask why we weren't eating meat: "Meat is rich people food!" But beyond just the aspect of food, it has changed my life and shifted my perspective. Following are some of the things I learned while in the process, and realizations I’ve come to in the days since the fast ended.

What I learned while doing a 21-day fast…

Books have always been a huge part of my life: a place to learn, grow and sometimes just escape from reality. I could spend hours in a bookstore. I get excited when you first walk through the door; the smell of new books and fresh coffee never fails to uplift me, no matter my mood.

Babies, babies and more babies. For the past week and a half I have been doing nothing but eating, sleeping and dreaming babies. Kyle and I are foster parents for Stearns County and have taken in a number of children over the past four years. But we’ve only had one baby during all these years.

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I am hungry. The week prior I had read a book called, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker that talked all about conserving, going without and giving away. Which sounded perfect on vacation, as I read on the beach, with the breeze softly coming off the lake and a full belly. But I’m no longer in utopia and my rashly made decision that my husband agreed to last week is sounding today more like a prison than paradise. The basic premise of our self induced fast is: pick seven impoverished countries, eat like the poor there for three days each, while learning about the people/country and praying for them. The fast thus lasts 21 days. I’m on day two, ready to quit. I can’t have caffeine since poor people in other countries hardly have clean water to drink, let alone coffee. So I’m at home today with a pounding headache and an empty belly. I call my husband to see how he’s doing.
To-do lists.  I love them.  Instead of doodling in meetings, I make lists.  I have lists tucked everywhere; they give me a sense of purpose to each day. Garden lists.  House lists.  Goal lists.  Like I said, I love lists!  

It’s Wednesday morning.

I’ve just finished getting my kids up and ready for the day when I get the phone call. “Honey, I have some news,” I hear my mom’s voice on the line. “Uncle Jimmy had a heart attack last night, he’s gone.” What? I think. How? What happened? I’m immediately reminded of just about a month earlier when I’d received a similar call from my mom when Jimmy was in the hospital, another episode with his heart. I’d told my mom that day, “It’s going to be a sad day for me when Uncle Jimmy dies.”

Today was that day.

“Look deep into the other person’s eyes,” the instructor stated at the front of the room. “Just stay in the moment, notice any thoughts you may have, look away if you need to, but then come back.”

Today I attended a Women In Ministry Luncheon. It was a place for women who are in ministry to come together, connect with each other, offer support and make connections. It was beautiful. Women from all different denominations coming together to enjoy lunch and be encouraged in the little corner of the world God has placed them. I found myself in a place to simply sit back and take a breath. 

Abruptly, the stillness of the morning is broken by a series of thumps from upstairs. I gulp the rest of my coffee, and bound upstairs.

Elise is awake, and it’s Potty Training, Day 1.

I just returned from a mission’s trip to Panama the beginning of this week. As I have tried to catch up on sleep and returning to our normal family routine I have begun to reflectively process all that I experienced while there. 

My husband and I pull up to the small-town Eagles Club on a Saturday night.

“Ready?” I ask him, taking a deep breath as we open our car doors. I step out, tottering briefly on my high heels, smoothing the back of my shirt as I straighten my shoulders. I walk slowly toward the building, continuing on when I realize I don’t recognize the smokers outside, stepping into the gloom of an entryway lit with neon signs. A little nervous, I surreptitiously check that I remembered the essentials: deodorant, gum and no lipstick on my teeth.

It’s my 10-year high school reunion.

It is Saturday.   6 am to be exact.  The bedroom door opens.  I hear pitter-pattering around to my side of the bed. My son says good morning in the sweet voice of a two-year-old learning to talk.  How does a mother resist the invitation, even this early in the morning?