For the past five years, I’ve helped organize a community event where kids learn a simple way to bring hope to children in poverty-stricken situations. Through a PowerPoint presentation, kids are able to see how a simple shoebox filled with items like pencils, toothbrushes, and plush toys can bring joy to needy children. Although they were very small when I started this tradition, my daughters have always been eager to help. I hoped that someday one of them would come to me and say they wanted to step off the sidelines and stand in front.
And I really hoped it would be this year.
When I dreamed of publishing a book, I had no clue what it would entail. Sadly, I realized my current writing and promotional obligations would prevent me from creating this year’s PowerPoint presentation and script. With high hopes, I went to my tech-savvy ten-year-old, Natalie. After all, she holds a mini summer school for neighborhood children in our family room every summer—I thought for sure she would say yes to my proposition.
“No way,” Natalie said adamantly when asked if she would do the shoebox event presentation. “That would be WAY too embarrassing to stand up there in front of all those people,” she argued sounding a little too much like a feisty teenager.
“But you know all those kids .. and you know how to pack a shoebox … and you are great at making PowerPoints,” I argued persuasively.
She paused, and then shut me down completely. “Sorry, Mom.”
I was heartbroken. What could I do? I decided I would put the problem out of my mind for a few days and maybe Plan B would present itself.
A few days later Natalie came to me. “Okay, I will do the presentation, but my best friend is going to do it with me,” she assertively informed me.
Three weeks later, my daughter and her friend captivated children ranging from age four to twelve-years-old. They’d worked hard on putting together a powerful slideshow with unforgettable stories and photos.
The girls thought to ask questions and engage the children in the discussion. After showing them photos of barely clad, hungry, crying children Natalie asked, “Why do you think we are telling you these sad stories?”
I held my breath. Would anyone know? Many hands went up but the answer was nailed by the first responder. In a voice that sounded like he was on the verge of tears, an eight-year-old boy said: “When I hear these stories, I get a feeling in my heart. And that feeling makes me want to put everything I own in a shoebox for a special child.”
Apparently he wasn’t the only one with that feeling in his heart. As the children were being ushered out, many of them surrounded Natalie and her friend telling them excitedly what they were going to put in their shoebox. One small boy said he was going to send electricity. When another child said, “You can’t send that,” Natalie spoke up. “If your heart feels like it putting something particular in the box, then follow your heart,” she told the electricity giver.
Natalie and I rode home in peaceful silence, both of us replaying the unforgettable night in our heads. With a look of pure joy on her face, Natalie finally spoke. “I am glad I said yes,” she admitted knowing I would understand what she was referring to. “I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
When we got home there was a message from Amanda, our former babysitter, who recently traveled to Uganda to bring home her adopted son. She said she and “Jac” had just landed in the U.S. The hairs on my arms stood up when I realized that while Natalie was telling children about orphans in need in Uganda, Amanda was bringing home her son who had lived in a Ugandan orphanage since he was three months old.
Excitedly I called out to Natalie to come see the pictures. “They’re home!” I cried.
Natalie knew immediately who I was talking about. Her single dollar bill tucked in a hand-written note to Amanda sparked an outpouring of dollar bills from all over the world through this blog. For weeks, Natalie and I’d been following Amanda’s updates from Uganda anxiously awaiting news on court dates, visas, and terror threats.
Natalie stared at the picture of Jac with the most glorious smile. She studied his face as if trying to hear his voice, hear his stories. So I offered her some. “Amanda says Jac laughs and smiles all the time. He says ‘Ov wu’ for ‘I love you.’ He helps out by carrying over his dishes, but he gets into things just like any typical two-year-old would. When Amanda put her freshly washed clothes on the balcony to dry, he tossed off a pair of underwear!”
Natalie and I laughed and continued to study the pictures. We were especially moved by one photo that showed how love can completely transform a person in just a few weeks time.
“Thank you for your believing a dollar can make difference,” I whispered in my child’s ear. And then I admitted something that was hard to admit. “When Amanda first asked me to share her adoption fundraising needs on my blog, I said no.”
My daughter looked confused.
I proceeded to explain. “Everyday I get requests from people asking me to promote worthy causes and raise money for individuals fighting hard battles. I get so many requests that I told Amanda I just can’t say yes to them all, so I had to tell her no.” Looking straight into my daughter’s questioning eyes I explained my change of heart. “But Natalie, my heart hurt. My heart wouldn’t let it go. And so when you wrote that card to Amanda and put in a dollar, I took a picture. That was the moment I knew I must say yes and let others know how they could help Amanda and her husband bring home their son.”
Wrapping her arm around my back, Natalie leaned against me and quietly consoled me. “I didn’t say yes to the PowerPoint at first either.”
As we hugged and celebrated the ways we are growing and learning on our Hands Free journey, I realized this: It is not humanly possible to say yes to everyone and everything, but we can say yes to one … that one that tugs at our heart … that one that won’t leave our mind … that one that keeps whispering our name.
So my motto going into the holiday season is going to be “Just One” each day.
Just one envelope taped to the top of the trash receptacle.
Just one small treat for the mail carrier.
Just one crumpled bill placed in a needy hand.
Just one pause to listen, really listen.
Just one offer to help.
Just one word of thanks.
Just one phone call to someone in need of a friend.
Just one note of appreciation to someone who’s made a difference.
Just one offering of complete presence.
Just one napkin note.
Just one apology.
Just one act of forgiveness.
Just one hug with both arms.
Just one “Sure, “I’ll play.”
Just one hand reaching under the covers.
Just one unrushed kiss.
Just one “You matter.”
Just one “You’re beautiful.”
Just one yes when you feel like saying no.
Just one change of heart.
Because when the heart won’t give up, that means it is time to say yes to the power of one.
In brightly colored envelopes,
In small hands,
In willing hearts,
One act of love can move mountains and put joy on the face of despair.
My dear friends of The Hands Free Revolution, it brings me so much joy to share this incredibly happy ending, which is actually an amazing beginning, with you. Through the stories you share here and through email each week, I am inspired beyond words. You help my feet stay true to the course and even when I slip, you allow me to share my struggles by saying, “You are not alone.” Thank you for supporting my writing through “just one” word of encouragement, just one “I can’t wait to read your book,” or just one “I am using my Hands Free bracelet to remind me of what matters.” Your encouragement matters so much. Please share any ideas you have below of how you might live out the “Just One” motto this holiday season. Compassion is contagious.