Christmas wasn’t supposed to be terrible. My husband, Chris, slipped his hand around my waist and we smiled, looking at our kids playing with their new toys on top of all the strewn wrapping. We exhaled and congratulated each other on giving our kids another Christmas to Remember. And then:
“You got more presents than me! That’s not fair!”
“Your present cost more than mine! That’s not fair!”
“I think you should give one of your presents to me! This Is not fair!”
Our faces went slack. What happened? They knew Jesus was the Reason for the Season. We read the Bible story an hour ago. We had more Nativities than Santas. Where did this ugly entitlement come from? How did our kids miss the point of Christmas?
He muttered to me, “This is awful. It can’t be like this next year.” We broke up the fights, assembled some toys and rallied our way toward Christmas cheer.
I then remembered seeing a book called Christmas is Not Your Birthday. The title called out to me like a lighthouse. I made a mental note to buy it before next year.
A few weeks later my son (age 8) came home all flushed and sugared up from a birthday party. I looked at Chris and said, “Here we go.” He raised his eyebrows.
Me: “Hey buddy, how was the party?”
Me: “What did you get?’’
Caleb: “Huh? It was Austin’s birthday. I got some tokens for the video games.”
Me: “You didn’t get any presents?”
Caleb: “No. It wasn’t my birthday. It was Austin’s.”
Me: “Ohhh, so it was Austin’s birthday and >you< didn’t get all the presents?”
Caleb: “Mom, what are you talking about?”
Mom: “Well, you guys, it was Jesus’ birthday last month and I didn’t get him anything.”
One child looked stricken, almost in tears. “I didn’t get Jesus anything either!”
One child looked skeptical and almost rolled her eyes. “How do you give someone a present when you can’t even see them?”
One child looked at her cinnamon toast and was totally oblivious.
I leaned on the counter smiling and excited. “Dad and I want to try something new this year. There are so many kinds of people that Jesus really loves, and when we love them, it’s like we’re loving Jesus. We’ll choose one of those people, learn about them, pray for them, and at Christmas we’ll give you half of the money we normally spend on your presents to get a present for Jesus.”
Our three year old shouted, “But I want Christmas presents!” The other two agreed and joined in.
We should have rehearsed this. I improvised, “Guys, you are definitely still getting presents. It’s OK. The Bible has great ideas. It tells us what Jesus would want for a present.”
“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.” Matthew 25:35-40
“So, we can pick one of these people—and there’s lots more—and show love to them, and it will be like a big present to Jesus. Orphans, the elderly, refugees. We can make a big list and pick one kind.”
My three year old, Greta, asked, “What’s an orphan?”
“Well, it’s sad—it’s a kid who doesn’t have a mommy or daddy. They need lots of love.”
The other two chimed in and said, “Orphans! Let’s pick orphans this year!”
Chris prayed that God would show us what to do and we went on with our evening.
I didn’t know where to begin. I typed “orphan” in an online concordance and printed out verses to learn. We decided that Psalm 83:2 would be our family verse:
“Defend the weak and the fatherless.
Uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”
I googled orphan care sites. I asked for ideas on Facebook. I printed research out and read it to the kids at breakfast. They asked great questions:
- There are lots of orphans in Africa and China, but there aren’t any orphans in the United States, right?
- Moses was an orphan?
- There are no orphans in Illinois, right?
- Do orphans have art class?
- Where do orphans sleep?
One bitter cold morning on the way to school Caleb asked, “Who tells orphans about Jesus?” I answered, “Well, normally a mom, a dad, or teacher—someone who really loves you—tells you about Jesus.”
“So no one is telling orphans about Jesus?!” Tears filled his eyes in my rearview mirror, “We’ve got to tell them, Mom! We’ve got to tell them that Jesus loves them. It’s the most important thing.”
“Oh, Caleb, yes. We are praying to find an organization that loves orphans, helps them, and tells them Jesus loves them. We will.” Before he got out of the car I squeezed his hand tight, looked him in the eyes and said, “I love your heart. God has given you a good, good heart.”
That lit my fire. It slayed my husband’s heart. We started asking God at breakfast, “God, what would you like the Fritz family to do to help orphans today?”
We couldn’t wait until Christmas to do something. We chose an organization that helps orphaned and imprisoned children in Uganda, Sixty Feet. A friend had volunteered there and could testify to the great need.
We decided to do a cupcake sale, calling ourselves Sprinkles of Hope. Baking was something we all enjoyed doing together. We blitzed Facebook, the kids passed out order forms in their Sunday School class, I told everyone I met, Chris put up a sign at work. We made 1600 Cupcakes and 80 bookmarks in two weeks for baseball teams, dorm meetings, and birthday parties. Hungry kids literally followed us home from school to buy cupcakes. Greta sang, “I’m making cupcakes for God” while she decorated them. Of course there were moments of crying, wanting to quit and one child defiantly sticking her finger in a dozen cupcakes. But mostly it was fun. The project ended when we sold out of 450 cupcakes in 40 minutes at a bake sale in our front yard. We jubilantly sent a check for $2600 to Sixty Feet. We all felt so happy. Our little efforts in our Illinois kitchen were going to help change lives in Uganda. That is crazy and empowering. You can’t ignore those feelings. I think those feelings are a gift from God.
Maybe we could do more? We kept praying. My youngest prayed, “God, babies need mamas. Please give all the babies a mama.” We learned about families who were adopting and asked how we could pray for them. We taped a list on a kitchen cabinet. We prayed for families in the midst of long adoption journeys. We emptied piggy banks and shared birthday money. They jumped off their stools and cheered when we heard a Ukranian judge finally permitted a teenage girl to go home with her forever family.
My husband built a manger to put next to the Christmas tree. We could visualize Baby Jesus in there. My Zoë decided that she wanted to send her Jesus Birthday Present to babies in Brazil. My other two thought that the recently adopted teenage girl would like to buy her own clothes, so they sent her Target gift cards.
On Christmas morning we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and blew out the candles on his cake. Before we opened our presents we looked at the binder holding what we learned that year, and pictures of the orphans and families we prayed for, the photocopies of the letters they had sent with their Jesus presents. We briefly thanked God for all that He was teaching us, His love for us, and His love for orphans. There was a softer sweetness in the air amidst the ripping paper and traditional glee.
When the presents were over Chris leaned over and said, “We did it. It was an experiment and it worked. Thank you.” Maybe we’d try something like this again, but we were in no hurry.
But that night at Christmas Dinner, Zoë asked, “What’s our compassion focus for next year?” We looked at each other and laughed. Our kids were not interested in taking a break. We got a marker out right then and started brainstorming. On New Year’s Day the kids voted for Clean Water. We learned about the water crisis and Africa and somehow raised $20,000 for Blood:Water Mission by selling homemade art, crafts, soap, gourmet lemonade, and Christmas decorations.
The kids voted for Homelessness this year. We partnered with a local shop and collected 1202 pairs of new underwear for homeless kids in our county. Our son raised $455 running a 5k for our local shelter. Our daughter initiated a school supply drive for the homeless and refugee students in her school. Our youngest is planning a Christmas craft sale to raise $500 to give a homeless family a house-warming party in their first apartment. We still can’t believe this is happening.
Our family is forever changed.
Want to do this experiment with your own family this coming year? Click here to download a step-by-step guide to The Family Compassion Focus.
Aimee Fritz is an introvert who delights in telling long, true stories about everyday absurdities in her suburban life. She believes in an unseen God, hopes to someday feel qualified to parent, and is now allergic to every food she used to enjoy. Long ago she consulted companies, churches and nonprofits. Now she funnels all that energy into helping people see themselves as lovable and loving World Changers.