Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle" - A Real Hallmark Movie

I, Rebecca Thiegs, fully admit that over the 2014 Christmas season, I was addicted to the Hallmark channel.  I watched every wonderfully sappy, hopeful, uplifting story they presented from "The Christmas Ornament" to "The Christmas Secret" to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas" as I baked cookies, wrapped presents, and folded the never ending loads of laundry in my house.  Maybe because this was the first Christmas in my life (with the exception of the year I lived in London) that I wasn't surrounded by family and our normal traditions, I was drawn into the predictable and lovable plots.  I cried and cheered, and even got my husband and two young girls addicted to the family friendly movies on Hallmark.  When my daughter, Story, fussed and said, "I don't want to watch this. Can't we watch something else?" I told her to give the Hallmark movie of the day 10 minutes and she would drawn in enough to want to see what happened.  Sure enough, after 10 minutes she sat rapt with attention and wouldn't let us change the channel. Why is it that I've never known about this channel before? Because Stageoflife ran a Random Acts of Kindness contest for our December writing contest, I stumbled across the book "The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle" by Joanne Huist Smith.  Not only does the title sound like a Hallmark movie and the front cover look like an amazing invitation, but also the story reads just like a Hallmark movie.

After a sudden death of her husband, Joanne Huist Smith, is terrified of facing her first Christmas with her three kids, Megan, Ben and Nick, alone.  She refuses to decorate her house, Christmas shopping outings lead to disagreements in the store with fellow shoppers, and her Christmas spirit is no where to be found.  Her whole life revolves around a slow simmering pot of chaos - too tired to cook, too emotionally overwhelmed to deal with her oldest son's disappearances and late nights out, too indifferent to deal with her other son's retreat to his room, and not in the right mind frame to comfort her daughter who only wants to have a normal Christmas even if her dad isn't there to celebrate with them.  When a mysterious gift appears at their front door, a poinsettia with a note that reads "from your true friends" the family starts to question - who are these mysterious true friends? When gifts keep appearing each night, the family separated by their individual grief, bonds together in the glow of how much they really do have even after a tremendous loss.

Yes, I cried a bunch, but it was more than a cry book for me.  I was reminded by the simple random act of kindness from the "true friends" of the Huist family that Christmas joy, although in large supply in my family during the holiday season, is something that many struggle with for various reasons.  Reaching out to others during the holiday season, especially to strangers that might be in need, is something each and every one of us is capable of doing.  Huist sums this up by saying, "one of the greatest gifts we all possess is the ability to give. Wealth isn't a prerequisite; compassion and a kind heart are all you need. What better way to honor our loved ones, past and present, than to reach out and change a life for the better? And, the holidays are a perfect time to look outside of ourselves and be a true friend.  A legacy of generosity can create memories that reverberate beyond the moment and outshine the brightest of heirloom ornaments."

Reading this book made me rethink how I give to others this Christmas season and look well beyond my family to the school's crossing guard, many of our servers who received huge tips, and goody bags delivered to people who spend so much time thinking about others that they often forget about taking care of themselves.  It felt awesome to give to strangers who need a little extra love during the holiday season.

I recently started a book club and this was our first book selection.  Each of the dynamic and wonderful women of the group who read it agreed that they loved it and cried while reading it. Each of them needed the message and the uplifting story for different reasons.  One of the women spent the Christmas holiday in Costa Rica and reading "The 13th Gift" while there allowed her to connect deeply with the spirit of giving and gave her a small piece of home.  Another woman who found out over the summer that her sister has terminal brain cancer, read it and took the messages of love and giving and the importance of traditions even in the face of loss to heart.  Another woman was reminded of how much the kindness of strangers can impact our lives like one did for her after her mother died.  A woman from her church enlarged beautiful pictures of her mother for the funeral service and now these keepsakes serve as a reminder to her and her daughter to pass on the giving to others in their time of need.

I needed to be redirected during this holiday season - where so much time and energy and money get spent on material gifts that my daughters play with for a select amount of time and then get bored and move on to something else.  Huist reminds us that the true spirit of giving comes from the heart and from a place of love not obligation, from kindness not from money.  If that doesn't sound like a Hallmark movie, I don't know what does.

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