A handful of years ago, I ran across a book titled Christmas Jars during the holidays that looked like an easy read. I purchased the book, brought it home, and was able to read it in one afternoon. I loved the story, and the message it gave me.
But wow… If I only knew then how much that book would change my life.
I knew this would be something my dad would love to read also. For Christmas that year, I gave him a copy of that book and a small mason jar to go with it. I Put a few candies in the jar for him to enjoy while reading. That Christmas afternoon, Dad went home and I didn’t hear from him the rest of the day.
The next day, Dad called me. He said the book I had given him was the most wonderful gift, and that he had not been able to put it down. He had gone home the previous afternoon and finished reading the entire thing. He said it changed his life, and he wanted to share it with everyone he cared about.
Everyone who knew Dad also knew that when he was passionate about something, he will make sure you and everyone you know will get to experience it as well. Dad quickly called every book store around the area and asked to buy every copy of Christmas Jars they had in stock. And if that was not enough, he had them order more.
Even though Dad lived in the west, his roots were planted firmly in Charlotte, North Carolina. That is where he grew up and many of his good friends and family were still there. A couple times each year Dad would travel back there for one reunion or another to visit with his friends and extended family.
They came from every walk of life, different backgrounds, different professions and religions, and they all just spent time reminiscing. The next time he went back there, Dad decided to take a whole suitcase filled with copies of Christmas Jars to share with everyone. He challenged each of them to read their copy and to begin filling their own jar that he had included with their book. His hope was that they would pass it on and challenge others to pay it forward as well.
They all accepted the challenge.
A very short time after Dad returned home from that trip, he was diagnosed with Lukemia. The cancer was so progressed that they could only try to make him comfortable for the short time he had left here. It was a rough handful of months following. Dad was receiving weekly blood transfusions to give him some strength for another week. Eventually the transfusions no longer provided any relief for him, and we knew it wouldn’t be long until he passed on.
On his last days with us, Dad was sitting in his recliner looking out the big windows of his home. He had his favorite college blanket on while resting and enjoying being surrounded by his children and grandchildren. He was very weak and was starting to fade in and out of sleep. My niece walked out to the mailbox after seeing the mailman, to grab Dad’s mail.
As she walked in the door, she handed my sister a big stack of manilla envelopes. My sister walked over, sat down by Dad and said “Dad, you need to open your eyes and see this!”
With all the strength he had, Dad opened his eyes and saw sitting on his lap, envelopes full of letters and money. Some letters even written in crayon by little children thanking him for sharing the true meaning of what Christmas was all about.
The letters inside shared with him stories of how the meaning of the jar had affected them and how much they appreciated that he had shared it with them. The story had made a difference… HE had made a difference.
Tears started to stream down his face as he looked at this beautiful outpouring of grace and gratitude. Dad passed away an hour later, knowing that it does not matter how much we have in this life. But what truly matters is that we serve others. We never know what someone else could be going through, and just one small act of kindness could be all they need to help them.
My family will never forget that day.
Since that time, my family has carried the tradition of the Christmas Jar on in our home. We have a large mason jar that sits on our counter all year long that collects everyones spare change. Each day when we empty our pockets or clean out our purses the change goes in the jar. We know each time we place our change in the jar, it is no longer ours. But it now belongs to a family in need of it more than we are.
It has become very personal to us. As we start approaching the holidays each year, our children look so forward to that day when we get to deliver the jar to that family we hope to help. I think our family gets more excited about it than the family receiving it does, it just feels so good!
Fast Forwarding a few years…
Our oldest son, Mikey, was struggling. Like so many others, Mikey had an addiction that he became a prisoner to. Mikey’s addiction unfortunately was a challenge that he and our whole family were struggling to get through. It took us to such a difficult place financially, mentally, and emotionally.
But one thing that stayed constant through those difficult times, was the “Christmas Jar”. No matter what our circumstance were, that jar had its own meaning, and there was always someone who needed it more than we did.
At times, Mikey’s addiction would get the best of him. Although he knew the importance of the Christmas Jar, he found himself ‘taking’ from the jar rather than ‘giving’ to it. We confronted him about it several times, and reminded him that the money was not ours to take. As fast as we would see the jar start to fill, we would see it diminish. We knew where the money was going. Mikey hated what this addiction was doing to him.
After a lengthy and exhausting battle that included failed attempts in rehabilitation centers or time spent in the local jail, Mikey was admitted into a in-patient treatment program where he spent about 9 months. He was our wonderful Mikey again.
After Mikey returned home we began to notice the Christmas Jar filling up very quickly. Not only with small spare change, but with bills big and small. My husband, Mike, took notice and made comment of the change in our families jar over such a short period of time. One of our younger boys said “Dad, Mikey has been putting his paycheck into the jar”.
Paying back the money to the Christmas jar that he had taken over the last several years was Mikey’s way of fixing something that was so important to him. We decided to not mention anything to him and allowed him to do what he felt was right, knowing that he was making amends with even the jar.
Unfortunately, as much as Mikey was so committed to his sobriety, and helping others, he too was not invincible. Mikey had a rough week, and made the choice to fall prisoner once again to his addiction. Mikey had been clean for over one year, but it only took one time to end his life.
Mikey lost his battle with heroin on Memorial Day 2013.
This past year has been the hardest of times for our family. As our family tries to move forward, we decided that the meaning of our jar has shifted a bit. We continue to carry on the tradition with one small change, it's now called Mikey’s Christmas Jar.
Support from loved ones and the community is such a crucial element of success for those in recovery. We are now working with generous people in the community who, like my Dad and Mikey, believe in paying it forward. Through their example, this year we will be helping approximately 140 people in recovery provide Christmas for their families.
The Beard Family
(name used with permission)
Learn more about this family's journey in this inspiring video.