This year, we chose to once again participate in our Second Annual Advent Acts of Kindness, in which we chose to create, give, or share one kind act each day during the Advent season, chronicling our adventures via Facebook and Twitter (@RuthExperience) and sharing joy and ideas with others. We were thrilled when the amazing women at SheLoves Magazine joined with us in our quest for kindness. We laughed, cried (a lot...), and felt overwhelmed with how blessed we felt, simply by looking for ways to bless others. We wanted to take a look back at the season, so here's a recap --
Elise and Noelle with some of the coats for OWC

Day 1: Donating new and gently used coats to One Warm Coat. Even a 2-degree drop in body temperature can result in reduced heart rate, loss of coordination, and confusion, but a warm coat can help solve the problem for those in need.

Day 2: Donating some much-needed basic necessities to New Beginnings, a residential program for pregnant women, new mothers, and their babies.

Day 3: Sending an encouraging note (and a little treat) to a woman facing a difficult Christmas season.
Day 4: Choosing gifts for kids at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. So brave! Warning: This video is a total tear-jerker!
Leaving a gift for our waiter!
Day 5: Leaving a gift for our waiter (who had to leave early for a family emergency). Today my girlfriends and I decided that we would do an act of kindness tonight at our annual Christmas party. We decided to bring a gift for our waiter/waitress. We prayed a simple prayer for someone who may need an extra boost this holiday season. Our waiter was an older gentleman who gave excellent service. Three quarters of the way through our meal another waitress came up and told us she was very sorry but our waiter had to leave for a family emergency. We immediately pulled out extra gift cards and cash to bless this man and his family. We were able to offer encouragement, thoughts and prayers for his family during their emergency. We left the restaurant thankful that God answered our simple prayer to help someone who really needed it.  

Tim and Tony
Day 7: Paying for someone's gas. While we were driving, Tim and I had been talking about how we'd like to bless someone in the military, especially given that it's the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Tim told me, "What are the odds we're going to find a person in the military, in uniform, in Monticello, Minnesota?" Waiting patiently for the perfect person to bless, sure enough, a man in uniform pulled up to the gas pump -- Tony is in the Navy, a husband and father, and was on his way to the airport to head to Florida for six months. So thankful for his service and sacrifice! Tim told me it was one of his favorite things that we've done.

Day 8: Choosing World Vision gifts. For the last few years one of our kids three Christmas gifts is a gift they give to somebody else. Each year they scour the World Vision catalogs to pick out the perfect gift. This year they chose to: provide safety for young girls, give a ger (a house in Mongolia), and provide a small business loan to help a mother provide for her family.  

Day 9: Making homemade gifts for our teachers.

Jeremy and I when we were little
Day 10: Donating to something that matters to me. When I was three years old, a new cousin was adopted into my aunt and uncle's family. Since my parents were the youngest in their families and I was the youngest in mine, that was rare and wonderful. Jeremy could swing higher and climb more nimbly than I could, and easily outdistanced me running. Years later, he now loves professional wrestling and can tell you everything you'd ever want to know about the U.S. presidents. My amazing cousin was also born with fetal alcohol syndrome. It wasn't until I was older that I knew what that meant, and as far as I'm concerned, it's part of what makes him unique. But I also know that it can be challenging. Did you know that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are the leading preventable cause of birth defects, developmental disabilities, and learning disabilities? They affect around 1 in 100 babies each year (about 40,000 total), and are more prevalent than Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, SIDS, Cystic Fibrosis, and Spina Bifida COMBINED. That's why I'm donating today to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. They provide everything from resources encouraging expectant moms not to drink alcohol during pregnancy to information on summer camps and other resources for those with FASD and their families.
Day 11: Sending a card and stickers to a little girl named Ella through Post Pals, a charity helping you to "Post a Smile on a Sick Child’s Face" by the sending of cards, letters, emails and little gifts to seriously ill children and their siblings. Jasmine loved this one so much last year, we had to do it again! 

Goodies in the mailbox
Day 12: Giving our friends from China a tour of several neighborhoods with houses decorated with Christmas lights -- an American tradition they've never experienced before.
Day 13: Leaving goodies in the mailbox for our mail carrier. I love being able to include my little ones in our plans, it feels like the very best kind of secret, so of course they love it -- today Elise insisted on adding in a homemade gingerbread magnet, although giving up the chocolates was much more of a sacrifice.  

Day 14: My daughter Eleanor was born yesterday and it gave us the perfect excuse to do an AAK at the hospital! We brought crayons, coloring books and stickers to leave in the waiting room and coffee gift cards for the parents who have kids in the children's unit this Christmas season.  

Day 15: Making Secret Santa gifts for our neighbors (the kiddos are decorating the cards and will help deliver them).

Day 16: Bringing a meal to a family in need. Today the girls and I packed up a meal for the family of a mama on extended bedrest at a hospital (pregnant with twins!). She and her husband already have two little ones at home, and were so appreciative of the best of North and South -- my family's favorite "hotdish" (baked ziti) and a pecan pie straight from Texas.
Bringing a meal to a family in need
Day 17: Writing a letter to encourage a survivor. Did you know that there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today? There are many amazing organizations whose purpose is to combat human trafficking, including The A21 Campaign. Today I had the opportunity to write a letter to a young woman who is living in one of their shelters.  

Day 18: Sewing pillow cases for children with serious illnesses. Julie shared this story about the experience over with SheLoves Magazine: "It was an accidental discovery. I was searching Pinterest for simple sewing projects to go along with the beginner sewing kit my daughter will get for Christmas when I stumbled upon the Conkerr Cancer site. This organization donates handmade pillow cases in bright, rainbow-hues to children with serious illnesses in a variety of participating hospitals all across the country. My local chapter located in Minnesota just donated it’s 10,000th pillowcase.

"I couldn’t believe it. You see, my mother-in-law has been sewing brightly colored, fun pillow cases for all of her grandchildren for years. We have a collection of fun, beautifully hued pillow cases lovingly made by Grandma Connie that my children LOVE.

"And, after my son and I made a trip to the Mayo Clinic this past summer, he was gifted his very own, handmade, brightly colored surgeon’s hat to wear on his way into the operating room. It seems only right that we return the favor.

"My family has joined forces with Grandma Connie for our extra special Advent Act of Kindness. The kids will help us pick out fabric, and we will gather together as a family to cut and sew our pillow cases.

"We will make a mess and laugh and teach our children that Advent Acts of Kindness is as much about family and love as it is about giving of our time, talent, and treasure.

Volunteering at Place of Hope

Day 19: Feeding the hungry. Roughly 30 of us traveled to Place of Hope Homeless Shelter to serve 20 pans of lasagna to 50 people experiencing homelessness and help 160+ local at-risk kids shop and wrap gifts for their families. What those statistics don't tell you are the number of tears we privately shed and the overwhelming joy we felt from helping others. And on a personal note: If I didn't already love my husband's generous heart, the fact that he literally gave a homeless man (and fellow Broncos fan) the shirt off his back would have made me fall in love with him all over again.  

Day 20: Making Christmas goodies for the neighborhood!
Day 21: Pulling ornaments of the YMCA's wish tree. Today we chose the ornaments, and we'll be buying the items on the list and delivering them this week.

Day 22: Planting a tree. I know people say that "every dollar counts," and in this case, that's true: One dollar plants one tree via an organization called Plant a Billion
Bowling with residents
Day 23: Sending cards for military personnel through Operation Gratitude. It's easy (just no glitter) and they receiving love cards all year long.

Day 24: Visiting a nursing home. Today we went to a local nursing home and spent the afternoon with residents who did not have family visiting today.  

Day 25: Finale! This year for our finale, we are once again collecting clothing items for a Single Moms Retreat that we helped with last spring. We'll be collecting items between now and May 1st. If you'd like more details, contact us and we'll give you the full scoop. Here's a post from last year that Kendra wrote about the retreat.

Whew! It is truly amazing to pause and reflect on this year's acts of kindness -- not because we did anything special, but because we were able to witness all the ways God worked through us to touch the lives of others. No wonder AAK is my family's favorite Christmas season tradition...
Last night as we were eating dinner, the subject of Christmas came up. Excitedly, my oldest son asked, “Remember last year when we made a birthday cake for Jesus? That was cool.”

Celebrating Jesus birthday this year!
And of course, I didn’t remember until he said it. 

Because with all the busyness of the season -- decorations, presents, events, cards -- I’ve forgotten the little things we’ve done. But my 11-year-old had not.

“We should do that again,” he says seriously. I nod in agreement.

And the other night as I’m visiting with a new friend, someone who had known my sister Katrina before she died, she tells me how she used to be in a MOPS group with my sister, how she would drop juice off weekly for her to drink. It reminded me of the months I lived with Katrina and her family. How we would share meals together, have Bible study every Tuesday afternoon. How we would sit in the evening and watch Gilmore Girls.

I remember how soft her hands always were. How often she would uplift with a soft touch, an encouraging word.

Image by Williamhartz via Flickr
I don't know about you, but my family isn't perfect.  And the more I try to pretend that we are, the more apparent it becomes that we are not. 

This past summer, after a hot day spent doing yard projects and housework, my husband invited our neighbors over for a picnic on our back patio. He announced this to me as I was setting the table, after the food was already on the grill.

I paused in the midst of my preparations to consider my jeans with dirt and grass stains smeared across the knees, the hot pink, paint-splattered “project” t-shirt I don whenever I’m working on projects, and my general “I’ve been working outside in the dirt and the sun all day” appearance.... It was too late to run in and change. I remembered that our neighbors are two of the nicest, most down-to-earth people around, shrugged off my appearance, and called the children to dinner.

As we all settled around the patio table after saying a simple grace, Aaron stepped back into the house to grab the ketchup. It was at that precise moment that my three-year-old son decided to open the conversation by leaning in and loudly asking our neighbor whether or not he was a boy (using anatomically correct terms).

Today, The Ruth Experience is excited to feature a guest post from Marisa O'Connor, who focuses on an important decision we face all the time: choosing redemption over regret. It's an especially timely reminder during this time of year, when so often we think about all of the things we could be doing or should be doing, rather than focusing on the simple joys of the season. 
Choosing redemption
For some time in my life, I unquestionably endorsed the figure of speech: "You make your bed, you lie in it." After all, there is truth to it – we make choices in life and we have consequences due to those choices. Recently, I've wrestled with why this phrase created feelings of irritation in me and concluded that it's the implied meaning behind this phrase... an unintentional or intentional, unhelpful way to put someone in their place, not unlike "I told you so."

That person knows they messed up and they know that you know they messed up. They don't need salt rubbed in their wound, and more importantly, they don't need to be shamed for their choices.

Photo by Nina Matthews from Flickr
This first week of Advent Acts has been an emotional one for me. Maybe it’s because I’m in the final stages of pregnancy, my body beginning the pangs of nearing childbirth. Maybe it’s the simple ways God has answered prayers to reach out and bless others who may need it. Or maybe it’s simply because I’ve realized my own brokenness when seeing and experiencing it in others' stories.

Like when I read of a woman named Michaela whose daughter Flo is diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 1. And yet, instead of letting this diagnosis paralyze her, she is using her words and her actions to build others up and offer honest words of hope -- in the middle of pain, not in the absence of it. Choosing to work closely with Canuck Place, a hospice program for children, her Advent act to gather mugs to bring cheer to this hospice home where families find respite, a reprieve from their everyday life. Bringing a bit of light and hope. This intentional lifting up a broken hallelujah is beautiful to see.

We’re continuing our Wednesday series, “What I Want My Kids to Know About…” today, with Kristin's post on perfectionism. And don't forget to keep posting your Advent Acts of Kindness on Facebook and Twitter (@RuthExperience) with #adventkindness and #shelovesadvent. 

I am a recovering perfectionist. And though I try to stifle the impulse, sometimes I’m reminded of it. Take the other day, for instance --
Photo: Michael "Shane" Red on Flickr
I watch in slow motion as the Tupperware of large, child-sized buttons falls off the table. They scatter, rolling haphazardly to rest next to crumbs and chair legs, across a hardwood floor that needs sweeping. Bright, shiny drops of primary colors gleam in the light spilling over from the kitchen.

“Oh, no!” my 3-year-old shouts. “Look at this mess!”

I pause, wincing at the way she sounds exactly like me, words I’ve heard myself say when a tube of dropped yogurt splattered across the floor or the baby pushed the remains of her dinner off her high chair for what felt like the millionth time. 

Hello, friends! As you may know, we're in the midst of our Second Annual Advent Acts of Kindness, in which we're choosing to create, give, or share one kind act each day during the Advent season, chronicling our adventures via Facebook and Twitter (@RuthExperience) and sharing joy and ideas with others using #adventkindness and #shelovesadvent. That's why we're thrilled to feature a guest post today from the three ladies of Simple Truth Ministry. These inspiring women are currently in the midst of a study on the book Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? The book focuses on taking consumerism out of Christmas and putting Christ in the center of how we choose to spend our time and money throughout the Advent season. If you're interested in joining in with them, go to their website, click on the link to their book club, and select the link for the invitation to join the club. If you message them or comment on that post, they can add you to a Facebook group specifically focusing on the book study.

Here's a recent post from them on the first time they heard God's voice speak to them:

I was attending my very first Bible study called “He Speaks to Me.” When I started the study, I was attending church regularly and getting familiar with scripture. I was learning how to “ask” to hear from God -- and learning to listen -- but I had not yet heard God's voice. Every day I was prayerfully begging him to speak to me. I was ready, willing, and waiting.

I was at Publix loading up my trunk with groceries. The last thing in the cart was the deli fried chicken I had picked up for dinner. I smiled, knowing this was going to score major brownie points with my husband. We didn’t live anywhere near a Publix and their deli fried chicken was one of his favorite splurges! I grabbed the chicken, set it in the passenger seat, and headed home.