This is the time of year when joy should abound, yet many of us still find ourselves searching for it. Homes are filled with families rushing through the season filling their schedules and shopping carts to overflowing. But, as you already know, these things just don’t produce the joy for which our souls were created.
Maybe it’s because joy is not a thing to be found, but a person to be known. And, when we choose to live as Jesus showed us, joy will naturally follow—much like the Christmas my family spent in Hurt Park.
Hurt Park is located in downtown Atlanta. I had no idea where the park had gotten its name at the time. Later, I learned it was named after businessman, Joel Hurt. No one could have known how prophetic the name of this park would be. You see, Hurt Park has become a gathering place for homeless men and women. They find their way there seeking refuge, companionship, and donations to get them through the day. And, on this particular day in December, it was filled with so many hurts only God could have known them all.
My family came to Hurt park with a group of high school students who wanted to do something special for the homeless men and women of that area. We filled bags with blankets, scarves, mittens, and hats. We handed out cups of warm chili, water bottles, and Bibles. But, as I look back, the most important thing we gave that day was dignity.
We stood eye-to-eye, human-to-human.
We listened to their stories.
We laughed together.
We cried together.
We treated them like they matter.
I can still remember the feeling of standing in a circle hand-in-hand singing Christmas carols. In that moment no one was homeless. Everyone was family.
I remember my husband taking off his hiking boots to give to a gentleman with bare feet,
me slipping off my leather gloves so a father would have a gift for his daughter,
my daughters stepping out of their comfort zones to see someone through eyes of compassion instead of fear,
my son wrapping his arm around a stranger in need of prayer.
It was the most joy-filled Christmas I have ever experienced.
The more we gave away, the more we received.
What a contrast our time in Hurt park was to the year we spent every free moment searching for the one thing our kids had to have for Christmas—a Wii. And, we weren’t the only ones. Our entire city was looking for a Wii that year! Eventually, we found the sought after gaming system, and Christmas morning was filled with giggles and smiling faces, But it was nothing compared to the Christmas in Hurt Park where we served those who had met difficult times.
Finding a way to be happy, even when things don’t go our way is hard—but thanks to God and His gift of Jesus, it is possible. We want to help your family and others experience more joy this Christmas season, one day at a time, as you countdown to the big day. We want to help you slow the pace, even just a little, and see potential for big joy in small moments.
That’s why we created this version of an Advent Calendar. It’s our gift to you this Christmas. Each day has a part of the Christmas story to read and an activity families can do together that focuses on joy. Our hope is that you will be able do at least some of the activities that have been proven to help us experience more joy and read the story of the One who came to guarantee us a forever joy.
May you and yours have a very Merry JOY-filled Christmas and a Happy New Year!