Love is the Essence of What Christmas is: Life Lessons from My Daughter

Will you engage this moment with kindness or with cruelty, with love or with fear, with generosity or scarcity, with a joyous heart or an embittered one? This is your choice and no one can make it for you. If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-worldly salvation. If you choose cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak. These are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space—these are existential realities playing out in your own mind. Heaven and hell are both inside of you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside.

– Rabbi Shapiro


My daughter, Lara, inspires me on a regular basis. Two or three years ago, when she was still in elementary school I asked her what she was enjoying at school, what did she like best? She told me her favorite part of the school week came on Fridays. Why? Because that’s when she got to go help the disabled/other-abled kids. Wow, I thought and still do! When I was her age I wouldn’t have even considered loving others in such a selfless way. Lara’s kindness and care knows no bounds, as it comes to her naturally and freely, and I’m convinced the Love filling and flowing out of her is not only all around us, it is IN each and every one of us.

It seems to me Lara views things much the same way as I do … and I honestly think it makes ALL the difference in the world. She beautifully and boldly declares to the world on her Instagram profile: “Every person and thing in this world is amazing. No matter who you are or what you do god made you perfect. You have been created with no mistakes.

Now, you may have philosophical or theological reasons for disagreeing with Lara’s conclusion, and we could have a really interesting discussion about why/how it’s true versus why/how it’s not true, but there’s something I think is, and have found to be better, more life giving, and more loving: Try living as if you and every other person is AMAZING. Try seeing everyone as a beautiful daughter/son of a Divine Parent.

Before moving on, I just want to share I spent years and years believing everyone was inherently sinful, bad, broken, evil, or whatever other term you care to use. I believed original sin was true and real. Long story short, as Rabbi Shapiro indicates when I saw myself, others, and the world through a negative/hellish lens I struggled to love and care for anyone with any degree of success. It wasn’t great … at all. Conversely, treating and seeing others as if WE are inherently good, as if the core of our beings is love from the Divine, has led to what I think is the best version of myself, and all sorts of joy, peace, goodness, and love.

Starting from a place of goodness, leads to love, joy, and kindness; while beginning elsewhere, pushes us toward mistrust, fear, despair, and insecurity. That’s been my experience anyway, and it seems it’s been true for my daughter too (fortunately, she discovered the blessing of positivity MUCH younger and sooner than it came for me!).

Lara takes it for granted that people are good, which led her two years ago to a bold and loving plan. “Dad,” she told me a few months before Christmas, “I want to get presents for a lot of kids who wouldn’t otherwise receive gifts for Christmas this year.”

Smiling and nodding I asked, “How many are you thinking, sweetie?”

“Fifty,” she replied to my surprise. As the days passed and Christmas drew nearer, she kept coming back to this desire/hope/dream of hers, so we developed a plan to try and make it happened. We had a garage sale where all the proceeds went toward gifts for kids. Every cent was earmarked for bringing tangible bits of joy into the worlds of children living through hard times. While we didn’t raise enough for 50, we raised well over $200 and were able to provide presents for 25 kiddos.

This year, though, Lara wowed and inspired me even more. Every year she creates a wish list on Amazon, so we have ideas for what she’d like for Christmas. She leads this year’s list with: “I don’t want stuff I want to donate.” After listing a couple of things she would like for herself … if we want

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