My family has been incredibly blessed these past few years. No matter how tight things were, we always managed to have food on the table, a roof over our heads, and reasonably good health. We worked very hard for what we had but we also received quite a bit of help along the way.

Now, we seem to be past most of the hardest times and I am working a job that pays a living wage. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in a field doing something meaningful and keep my family from completely drowning while I’m at it. The downside is that my job can be very difficult spiritually and emotionally from time to time, especially around the holidays. There is just so much need in my community and resources are less than they have been in the past.

One of the things that lifts my spirits and makes me happy is to give back to my community. It’s the ultimate “feel good” for me. Even when we had no material resources to spare I always found some way to give back. When I didn’t give financially, I gave of my time. When someone needed a shoulder, I lent mine. If someone needed to vent, I gave them an ear. None of those cost me anything more than a little bit of time. The feelings I get from seeing a smile where there wasn’t one, or looking around at piles of gifts for boys and girls who didn’t have any, or a box of food that helps a family have a special meal–that is priceless.

It’s cold, wet, and dreary in my area right now. Still, I know that this week at least one more family will have a little something to celebrate the holiday. Next week I know that my family and I will spend 2-3 days packing boxes and loading toys–taking care to choose gifts we think the family will enjoy as part of our annual holiday tradition. More than the presents or food baskets, we are trying to lift spirits and give a little hope. We do this with a smile, a kind word, or meeting someone’s eyes. We do this with no expectation of anything in return, simply for the joy it brings. We look forward to this the entire year—it’s the one thing we really do together without fail.

No matter how busy my life gets, how chaotic my environment is, I know that I can always reconnect with myself and the world around me when I am generous with myself, my time, or my spirit. This is the single most important lesson I could ever hope to teach my children: giving simply for the joy of it.