Welcome to Christmas Acts of Kindness, 2018! 

When our families first embarked upon our adventure in kindness seven years ago, we didn't realize that we were also empowering our children to respond to disasters and wrong-doing and crisis with the question of how they can help rather than watching events unfold with helplessness and despair. 

Mr. Rogers (my favorite show as a young child) said it best:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Advent has, for us, become a favorite event on the liturgical calendar; a time to pause in wonder as we anticipate the birth of our Savior, but also an opportunity to bring the Good News to those around us through intentional kindness, to train our children (and ourselves) to be the helpers Fred Rogers was taught to look for in the midst of bad news. 

I woke up in the grip of anxiety, heart thumping and body tense. It started more than a year ago, when actions beyond my control led to a strained relationship and left me feeling wounded and vulnerable. Though I slept well at night, the anxiety returned with a vengeance each morning.

The way I felt reminded me of a college friend who went to see his doctor because he thought he had a throat problem. Each time he would try to eat, his throat would close up, and swallowing was difficult. But when he went to the doctor, he was told that his physical symptoms were simply a manifestation of the inner anxiety he felt.

Now, 13 years after hearing my friend’s story, the erratic beat of my heart felt like a reflection of my own inner turmoil, and I wondered how to fix it. Outwardly, I looked fine. And most of the time, I felt fine—until I let my guard down enough to feel the anxiety that bled out of the soul-deep hurt I felt inside.

Intentional kindness - when you get down to it - does not come naturally. It often requires putting someone else first (emotionally, physically, financially), and that can be really HARD. And yet, that is exactly what we are commanded to do in Micah 6:8: 

[W]hat does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (ESV)

The question, then, is how do we instill an instinct for kindness in our children? How do we encourage them to set aside their own wants and desires to help someone else? How do we cultivate a mindset of generosity and kindness when much of what we see in the culture around us is self-centered? 

When our publisher asked us to submit a seven-day devotional to the YouVersion app specifically devoted to teaching kids kindness, we were excited and yet slightly trepidatious to tackle this subject.

Let's be honest, we're still in the midst of this parenting journey, our kids (and us, frankly) sometimes fall short of the mark. Given this confession, how can we possibly be the "experts" to tell other parents what to do? 

But, God. 

God is the redeemer of us and our children. He is the redeemer of our best intentions gone astray, and he gives us new days, new tries and new opportunities to get it right. He commands us to be kind and then walks alongside us in the journey.

That's the beauty of learning to be intentionally kind: it is a journey, not a destination. We don't get it right every time, but we apologize when necessary and then try again. We, as parents, are in this for the long haul; we don't quit after a hard day, we regroup, take our failures to God and start the next morning afresh. And we teach our children to do the same. 

We've written this devotional with our fellow parents in mind - to act as an encouragement rather than as a guilt-inducer - to cheer you on and equip you with ideas and resources that have worked for us, to share stories that will spark inspiration within your own circles, family and beyond.

If you haven't discovered the YouVersion app yet, it's an amazing resource filled with tools to support and encourage your entire family's faith journey. We love it, and we are beyond honored and humbled to now be a tiny part of it. 

You can download our reading plan HERE

If you are looking for additional kindness resources, sign up for our email list. We send out a monthly newsletter filled with resources and freebies.

You can follow us on Instagram as The Ruth Experience for additional encouragement, ideas, and camaraderie. 

Finally—have you checked out our books, The One Year Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional and 100 Days of Kindness? They tell the story of how our families embarked on a one-year journey of kindness, and include our successes, failures, and the encouragement you need as a family to incorporate kindness into your own life. If you already have one of our books and love them, we'd so appreciate it if you leave a review on Amazon. God redeemed it all in the most incredible ways. 

We would love to walk alongside you in encouragement, inspiration, and community.

- Julie, Kendra, and Kristin 

I got a tattoo.

For the 18 months leading up to it, I knew what I wanted. Several birds with an olive branch—an homage to each of my children and a reminder to always seek peace. A few weeks after my oldest daughter's adoption, we went together to the parlor. I was so excited. I got my tattoo and my daughter got “her” bird tattooed behind her ear.

As we drove home, I had mixed emotions—happiness, which I expected, but also some reservations, some sadness. And I thought, That’s oddwhy would I feel this way? 

I’m a fairly decisive person; I very rarely regret decisions or choices I’ve made. Once I’ve committed to something, I move ahead without little thought to any other options.

The next morning, I woke up again with the nagging feeling that something was wrong, amiss. I felt  sad and could not explain why. For the next several days, I walked around in a daze, unable to pinpoint my pain.

There were moments I’d sit and cry in my closet, feeling panic wash over me—hating my arm, the tattoo—all of it. I would Google ways to remove tattoos and then wonder why I was doing it.

After several days of covering up my arm so that no one could see it and feeling awash with sadness, I finally sat down and prayed—Lord, what is this about? It’s just a stupid tattoo.

Looking down at my arm once again, I noticed that only half of the image was showing and I didn’t mind it—it was only when you could see the entire picture that I hated it.

Fall is a perfect time of year for kindness! 

With kids back in school and the change of seasons upon us, it's the perfect time to incorporate some acts of kindness into your fall schedule!

Click the link to receive our list of ideas for acts of kindness that kids and parents can do--simply download and save or print off and hang on your fridge as a reminder!

You can also join our Facebook Intentional Kindness Community and follow us on Instagram as The Ruth Experience for additional encouragement, ideas, and camaraderie. 

Finally - have you bought our book, The One Year Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional?

It is the story of how our families embarked on a one year journey of kindness - our successes, failures and how God redeemed it all in the most incredible ways. If you already have our book and love it, we'd so appreciate it if you leave a review on Amazon. 

We'd love to see what you're doing, so be sure to tag us with your kind acts and use the hashtags #kindnesscounts and #kindnessmatters

We've had the honor of knowing Sue Moore Donaldson for a few years now and love the simple way she offers encouragement and easy ways to show God's love through hospitality and mentoring! Sue is nothing if not honest and real about how she chooses to share the love and hospitality of God (however imperfectly) with others. We know you're going to love her and her wisdom as much as we do. (We're also giving away a copy of her book Hospitality 101: Lessons From the Ultimate Host A 12-Week Bible Study! See details at the end of this post!)

Because God welcomed me perfectly, shouldn’t I welcome others perfectly?

That doesn't happen. Ever.

I've learned to love the imperfect welcome. With me, it's the only kind, yet God kindly uses imperfect offerings--culinary fails, awkward conversations, and a house with mice and no walls. In spite of my messy self, God does sweet wonders for those extra people at my table. So I keep inviting, anyway. Cooking and hosting, imperfectly--and I love it.

"Did you know that everybody has a bucket, Mom?"

The question came out of nowhere. Still rubbing the sleep and early-morning confusion from my eyes, I huddled back into the warmth of my comforter and turned toward the daughter who had just climbed into bed with me. Looking intently at me--her adult teeth still a little too big for her, the sprinkle of freckles across her nose inviting a smooch, her hair in a wild bedhead tangle--she tried again.

"Everybody has a bucket, and you're either a filler or a dipper."

Ah, now it was starting to make sense. She was talking about Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids (Bucketfilling Books) by Carol McCloud. In it, the author describes how everyone has an invisible bucket, and that we have the choice to fill other people's through being kind and loving or to "dip" into them by being unkind.

The concept is easy for kids to grasp, and it's been a topic of conversation here since that morning that my daughter asked me if I'd read it. After school that day, she asked if I had remembered to be a filler that day and couldn't wait to tell me what she, in turn, had done. "Did you fill a bucket today? I did! I smiled at everyone, and I hugged Jaicie."

I'm a huge book nerd, and my children have started to become that way too. A few months ago, I joined an online community called The Intentional Book Club, and it's been a catalyst for me to go through the hundreds of books we have around our home and analyze whether they're in our home for a reason or simply taking up space. Because kindness is something we want to emphasize, I've been reading through books we owned or borrowed from the library to see if they are worthy of a spot on the bookshelf. With that in mind, I thought I'd share 10 of the books that teach kindness that are kid-approved and mom-approved by our family, in the hope that they might help your family, as well.

Crunch crunch, smack. Like nails on a chalkboard, I could hear the open-mouthed chewing of one of my children from across the room.

Chew with your mouth closed, please, I admonished her. As the evening wore on, other mannerisms arose: Please. Thank you. Excuse me. May I? I’m sorry. But the one admonishment that never crossed my lips? Be nice to your sister.

It’s not because I have exceptionally well-behaved children. They are just as likely to tattle because one sister threw a book at the other as they are to be amicably playing Polly Pockets together.

It’s also not because I don’t care about manners—a quick scan of social media is enough of a testimony to how we could all use a little more civility.

But the truth is, I don’t want an outwardly careful response to mask an inwardly careless heart.

We had a conversation several weeks ago with one of our kids who is struggling with anger, specifically towards God. It’s understandable, since three of our five kids are adopted from foster care, and came to us with lives they’ve lived without us, unknown and unshared. We know this on one level, and yet as parents it can be so easy to forget.

The anger came out as a comment during a recent discussion. It was spoken offhand, as though daring to share it aloud meant fully committing to this truth, looking for a bad reaction from us. Instead my husband and I sat with the statement, unwilling to scold or judge. After a few moments I whispered, I can understand why you’d feel this way.

Anger can be a natural reaction to things that happen to us or to the people we love. When hard questions about life and why things have to happen the way they do go unanswered, often anger is there running right alongside the longing for why couldn’t things have been different. All too often, no one dares to ask that question aloud, but it whispers to us in the hollow of night, with no response back. It’s heartbreaking to not have answers for our kids. Especially answers that could soothe their heartache.

We’ve realized, as we see it play out before us, that anger is also a way to hide or to not feel the emotions that are buried deep below the surface. Anger is a way to ignore the pain and hurt. And I understand this, too. I—like my children, like all of us—am adverse to feeling pain and conjuring up old hurts I’d rather not remember. I'd much prefer to forget. And yet, left alone and unchecked, anger can destroy us from the inside out. A cancer to our hearts, minds, and very souls, left to fester it will eat away at our joy, our peace, our very lives. Anger, when allowed to grow, can easily turn to hate—hate of self, of others, and of God.

I thought I was doing the 40-day sugar fast for health reasons. After all the holiday cookies I had eaten, resetting my body by avoiding sugar sounded like a good idea.

It was the morning that I found myself crying in my bathroom, searching out “Bible verses when you feel like a bad mom” on my phone, that I realized what I had actually gotten myself into. Because it wasn’t about the fact that one of my children had a raging tantrum not two minutes before she needed to get out to the bus stop. Nor was it about my less-than-patient response, or the mom guilt that immediately ensued. No, what struck me was how in the aftermath, while grabbing something else from the pantry, I caught a glimpse of marshmallows in my peripheral vision. And a voice inside whispered, “You’d feel better if you ate those.”

Here’s the thing. I like a good s’more, but I don’t sneak marshmallows. Ever. So where was this impulse coming from?

I have been blessed with a core group of friends since my early 20s. Brought to me through the love and prayers of my sister Katrina, I’ve known the richness of women who’ve walked with me these past several years.

So imagine my surprise when, last fall, Jasmine joined a competition dance team—something she is passionate about—and I found new friends. Good friends. They didn't replace my old friends; I have room in my life and heart for both. Friends I didn’t even know that I was missing until I met them. 

They are friends who don’t care that you aren’t perfect. Who step in to help you with your daughter's hair because they’re so much better at it than you are, anyway. Who make all the hotel arrangements, and bring the drinks, and tell you not to worry when you forget something because they’ve got your back. Women who offer to sew things for you (because your sewing skills are seriously inept), who text you recipes and tips for cooking.

Women who let you be you. Imperfectly you. 

This is a gift. 

Women who laugh with you. Who listen to hard stories. Who welcome your family and distant family members and don’t ask too many questions. Who hold your daughter's tender secrets.

And can I tell you something?

Friends, we are SO excited to introduce something new today: The Intentional Kindness Community! 
This no-strings-attached Facebook group has been on our heart for a while, and we can't wait to share it with you. Our goal is to inspire generous, purposeful living through everyday acts of kindness--and we want YOU to be there! 

Together, we hope to learn, grow, and connect through conversation prompts, occasional live videos, challenges, links to articles and inspiring acts of kindness, and more. Our goal is to make this community a safe place for YOU to ask and answer questions, share resources you come across or ideas you’ve had that have been successful, and encourage and support others in our mutual quest to live a full, abundant life of intentional kindness and generosity. 

Click the group link to join us!

It’s the time of year that people make resolutions–things they hope to achieve in the coming year. I don’t like the word “resolutions” because I can never seem to keep them, but I do like the word “goals.”

One of my goals for 2018 is to live a life of kindness and generosity and teach my children to do the same. With that in mind, we've come up with a list of 10 Ways to Be Kind to Your Neighbor as a starting point to kick off the new year.

Another year of Advent Acts of Kindness is complete! Below is a list of all the kind acts we did this past month!

Day 1: A small gift to celebrate a friend pursuing God-sized dreams. Let us be women who cheerlead and encourage one another, who celebrate, who whisper “do it” when she wonders whether she can. 

Day 2: This week we gave away our dining room table to a young single mom who was moving into a new home with her two littles. 

While we were cleaning the table to get it ready, Kyle decided we should also recover the seats. As we worked to do so, one of our kids asked why we would take the time to recover the seats if we were just giving it away. Kyle responded, “we wantto give away things in the best condition we can. We want to give people our best.” It’s a good reminder as we start this Advent season, let’s give people our best.