I'm not big on resolutions. I get discouraged and usually quit when I inevitably break them, but I do like to have goals. Goals feel more attainable to me -- like I can mess up, get up, try again, and still be in pursuit of my goal.

I've been thinking a lot lately about who or what I want to become more like, especially as I get older. These are not the goals I had at 21 (fitting into leather pants a size too small no longer make the cut), but they are ones I hope to hone, however imperfectly, this year.

My children adore our Advent tree. Each day they count from the beginning to figure out whose turn it is to pull the slip out of the envelope ("Lisie, Noe, Lisie, Noe, Lisie..."). The unveiling of our activity and what follows afterward are often the highlight of the days leading up to Christmas.

Since we've chosen to intertwine kindness into our Advent tradition, recapping what we did this year is another seasonal favorite of mine. It's a way to make Christmas last just a little bit longer.

Here's what we did this year -- I'd love to hear what you did this year, too!

Towers, home made harmonicas and Cafe Latte: Bliss 
Sitting at the fancy fundraising dinner, I chaffed secretly in my finery for the hundredth time before sighing internally and turning to the woman in gold sequins seated next to me in an effort to make small talk.

This past month as we’ve committed to perform a kind act each day leading up to Christmas, a lot of discussions have been had in our house about giving and receiving, needs of others and even some of the heartbreaking events that are happening around the world. We’ve prayed for refugees and
children without food, packed gifts and written notes to veterans who have been injured in war, and brought presents to women and children at a local shelter who’ve experienced domestic violence.

All of these actions have led to heartfelt conversations with our kids. They’ve asked hard questions and we’ve tried to answer as honestly as possible.

Although we never wish to scare our children, we want them to know the reality of what is happening in the world. We want them to know that as Christians we will help because we believe that God is the greatest comfort, the greatest healer, the greatest LOVE the world will ever know. And if they see that their parents believe that our kind acts can extend God’s grace to the brokenness of this world, maybe they’ll believe that God can heal the brokenness inside of them.

I can't believe we're already halfway through December! If you've been following along over on our Facebook page, you know we've been doing daily acts of kindness during the Christmas season. I think it's especially important this year, when the world sometimes feels like such a dismal place -- with stories of racism, refugees in crisis, political polarization and more, it can feel like hope and joy are hard to find. In fact, Kendra, Julie and I decided early on this month that we'd like to help refugees for our Advent Acts of Kindness finale. That's why I was beyond thrilled when my friend Samantha approached us with the opportunity to help in a very specific, tangible way. We're joining with her in her efforts to provide kerosene for displaced folks living in Iraq, whom she recently visited. I'll let her explain the rest:  

Aiden and I
“In Sinjar, we have pool,” he shared as we walked up the rugged road to the mission’s main house at dusk. “My friends, me would jump off the top of the house to the pool. Very beautiful. I miss it.”

My companion on this walk was a 9-year-old boy I’ll call Aiden I’d gotten to know over the previous week. We were coming from his house--or rather, the structure where he and his family had been living for the past 15 months. Though considered comfortable for the refugees in the village (i.e. a metal door, window covering on two windows, and cement floors), his current dwelling was far from the home he spoke of.

The temperatures were dropping quickly. We could see our breath and shivered as we hurried along. The forecast called for rain and low temps the next several days. I had found that when it rained there, it poured. Cold in Iraq was different from the Minnesota winters I was used to; though the temps outdoors were similar, there was a vast divide between the comfort of my Minnesotan home and an Iraqi village lacking electricity and warmth.

Image by Waiting for the Word via Flickr
"'Tis the season."

That is my go-to response this time of year for all manner of things, most of which is spoken wistfully with a tinge of irony.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and friends and family and celebrations.

But, 'tis the season for easily becoming overwhelmed with expectations.

'Tis the season for the strain of step that took its sweet time (three consecutive weeks) to roll through my household, picking us off one by one.

'Tis the season for quietly ticking off days in the back of my head as I try to make sure I've covered the bases for gifts, cards, cookies, and all the traditions this season brings for my family.

'Tis the season for totes sitting in my family room, reminding me that I haven't yet decorated the fireplace mantle and probably won't get to it this year.

The past few weeks have been hard for all of us around the world—bombings, terrorism, shootings, and hate-filled words spewed by those who would do harm to others have left my heart and soul a little battered. I've had to shut down and unplug from any form of media for hours at a time.

I've been saddened by responses I've seen that would automatically exclude others from protection and care. I've heard a lot of me and mine above all else.

This morning I read Jesus' words, written in Matthew 25:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"