I'm one of those weird, freak-of-nature people who love lists. Actually, it's not the list itself, it's the sheer pleasure of crossing something off the list. I love that sense of accomplishment so much that if I'm partway through a series of tasks and I decide to write out a list, I will include things I've already finished just so I can cross them off!

This time of year is especially ripe for lists. Between gifts to purchase and food to bring to gatherings and social events to attend and charities we want to give to, my lists explode. My lists have list babies, you guys. It's ridiculous.

So in the spirit of easing some of the pressure that comes from too many lists, we've created one for you -- a holiday gift guide. From books we love to organizations that have ahhhhmazingly cute items but also serve a greater purpose, we've got you covered.

Last Friday night I was putting the final touches on a talk I would be giving the next morning to a group of ladies in my community. We’d be talking all about kindness and gratitude and what it can look like to live those things with our families.

I read through part of the scripture I’d be covering again where Jesus tells us, "Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). And suddenly, in light of the chaos of Paris (and around the world, really), my talk on kindness to others (including strangers and refugees) seemed so radical.

I went to bed praying for the people of Paris and unsure what to do with the rest so I just left it. I tabled the ideas and thoughts around what it would look like to love my enemies, because suddenly they felt very close and I was afraid. Afraid for my safety and my kids. Afraid for our country. Afraid for the world and where things could be headed, filled with ideas about worst-case scenarios of where we could go from here.

Love your enemies.

Do good to those who would persecute you.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day when a headline along the side caught my eye: "Does growing up in a religious family make you MEAN? Christian and Muslim children found to be less altruistic than the offspring of atheists." Immediately, my heart sank. Less altruistic? More likely to deal out harsh punishments for minor infractions? That was the message I got as I read the study detailed in the news story. It was disheartening, to say the least. 

And I wondered: As a mom, how do I teach my children a better way? How do regular people like you and I show our kids that kindness matters? 

A few years ago, Julie, Kendra and I met with those same questions on our hearts. At the time, we all had young children, and were trying to figure out how to balance the giving and getting parts of Christmas. How could we refocus on others during the Christmas season, rather than focusing on an ever-expanding Christmas List for Santa?

“I know you want to give your son all the credit,” our child’s psychiatrist stated, “but you need to know that you deserve some credit for how well he’s doing too. Go home and tell your husband you’re both doing a really good job.”

Her words caught me off guard, and I immediately began to tear up as I nodded and whispered my thanks to her. Wiping my eyes I realized the validation she offered made me feel like my efforts were not for naught.

I didn’t realize how often I am my own worst critic. How often I wonder if I am doing a good enough job with these kids. How often I berate myself for being short with my kids, or angry. How often I will remind myself of all the times I’ve messed up, and use that as the litmus test for how well I am doing as a parent.

When here’s the truth: I am trying. Sometimes not as well as I should. But overall, I am trying to raise these kids well.