The first Christmas my family spent in our home I was struck by many things: the generosity of a large group of neighbors who had stopped on a nightly walk to help us unload our moving truck, even going so far as to unpack our suitcases and hang our clothes in the closets; the lack of furniture in our new home, lit only by the light of an artificial Christmas tree in our otherwise empty front room; the love and laughter that seemed to fill those empty rooms as we created our first of many memories in the house that would become a home, that would see the passing of days and months and now seventeen years since that first Christmas season. If I think back through the years, I can walk over to that first Christmas tree and almost touch the ornaments that hang there in my mind’s eye, the cheap baubles and beads that we strung over and over again with our four small children. Most of those decorations have disappeared through the intervening years, but among the ones I still have are a dozen delicate white snowflakes crocheted out of white yarn, fine and fragile threads creating graceful loops and swirls against the deep, dark green of the fir tree.
Although our Christmas trees may change, and my children grow taller with each passing season, I still hang those snowflakes every year. These ornaments were not bought at a store or ordered online, but gifted to me by a generous neighbor who was also a friend. In the years that I knew her I saw her create hundreds if not thousands of those same ornaments, pulling out a needle and yarn anytime she had a moment or two, at church, at neighborhood gatherings, her hands never stopping, continuing to create in every spare minute until the day she passed away from an aggressive cancer. Although she sold some of the things she created, many more of them found their way into the hands of people who needed a small, tender moment of grace, an ethereal expression of love and modest moment of ministry.
When I stop and reflect I can recall dozens of moments and mementos like this one, small acts of service that others have performed for me that tell me so much about who they are and what they believe. And I like to tell the stories, to remember the friends and neighbors and strangers that have made an impact on my life. The stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell others shape what we believe to be possible, impact the way we in turn serve and create— this is why we need to tell the stories of bravery, courage, service, and ministry that we see happening around us. Here are a few little things that aren’t; small moments with a large impact that I see every day.
Doris is 88 years old, and has lived in my neighborhood for most of her married life, has raised her children here, has cared for grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. In the last few years Doris has begun to slow down, and now needs help getting around, needs to be guided and led through the neighborhood on early afternoon walks with her equally frail husband. Yet every year for the last seventeen years, on my birthday, I have received from her a handmade card—sometimes enveloping a tiny 2” square hand cross-stitched flower, sometimes a small note, but always an expression of caring. And I am not the only one who has been the beneficiary of her generosity and creativity. Almost every person in our neighborhood receives a similar letter for every important occasion and special event. She does this out of genuine love for those around her, and a desire to let those people know she cares.
Juleen is a nurse, and spends her nights and weekends caring for the critically ill in the local cardiac unit. She was with my grandfather in the last few days of his life as he struggled for breath, as he slipped further and further from us and finally let go. She sees families in moments of despair and joy, in the good and the bad, and treats them all with compassion and grace. When we gathered last month for a neighborhood craft day she brought a hot pot of soup, even though she had been sick herself, even though she knew she couldn’t stay, even though she was being pulled in a dozen directions at once. She knows that is it important to nourish both the body and the soul.
Paige is a mother of six young children who spends her time teaching local youth about family history, interesting them in the past and the connections that make their lives mean more, that help tie them to their families and communities in important and foundational ways. To listen to her talk about the stories that create a family, that are the building blocks of what we become is like listening to the greatest playwrights and authors recite their masterpieces. She makes the dry fragmented pieces of history come alive for her students and for everyone who hears her, creating connections between our past and our present, allowing us to envision the future.
Jessica is a geek. Not in the sense of being odd or out of place, but in the sense of someone who is passionate and dedicated to something unique and interesting. For Jessica it is cosplay—creating and fashioning a character as a type of performance. I have seen her spend hours and days and weeks poring over photos, recreating the smallest of details in a costume and a character. For many involved in cosplay it is just something fun, a way to pass the time; but for Jessica it is an avenue of service, getting her involved in the community, bringing awareness to special needs and organizations, serving children and youth, bringing magic wherever she goes—creating fandoms of love.
One woman I know leaves her house regularly at 4 a.m. to help serve veterans a hot breakfast. One 89-year-old woman works in her daughter’s yard every week. And still another struggles to speak to her neighbor every day, even though they are separated by not only a fence, but a language barrier—one speaking only English, the other only Spanish.
These are a few moments, a few snapshots of service as the women that I see around me watch over one another, create acts of love and joy, and bring abundance wherever they are. These women believe in the power of small and simple things to create change, and that belief is manifested in action—for we cannot believe unless we act on that belief. Action is at the basis of our vision of the world—if we truly see and value the importance of the people around us how can we help but serve and act and get involved where we can? We can create a thriving, vibrant community together when we approach life with abundance, when we seek out the small moments of peace and joy, when we minister and serve those we associate with.
Approaching our lives from a position of scarcity leaves us feeling worried about whether we will have enough and leads to a sense of competition, suspicion, and fear. But fostering a culture of abundance leads to collaboration, generosity, and growth. If we believe that our actions will lead to an increase in knowledge and positive change we will find ourselves seeking out healthy interactions where we can share our knowledge and skills, advocate for the welfare of others, and serve with open hearts.
We need to be women with a vision, a vision to lead ourselves out of the darkness of negativity and fear. We need to be women of action, prepared to make our vision a reality, lighting the lives of those around us. When we do this, when we serve and minister, we will find ourselves fostering a positive culture of abundance: abundant service, abundant love, and abundant friendship. Each one of us a single snowflake—unique and beautiful in our ability to change the world.
Written by ShelliRae Spotts