Enjoy this free excerpt from Jason’s new eBook, Christmas Jars Journey.
I’m sitting at my computer in the early morning hours of December 26, 2005. We’re living in a shoebox home in Fairfax, Virginia, and my two daughters and baby boy are tucked away in happy slumber.
My wife, Kodi, is sleeping, too. The rest is well deserved; the holidays have taken a toll.
Earlier that year, I’d been laid off from a small, public policy nonprofit, and I was trying to make it on my own as a consultant and political writer.
I’d also decided to pen a novella based on an experiment my family attempted during the previous Christmas season. We’d created a concept that didn’t even have a name yet. It was simply a jar of change on the counter that was to be given away during the holidays.
It hadn’t started as a Christmas Jar, but it had evolved into exactly that.
My book by the same name came out in September of 2005 and by every stretch exceeded our expectations. Perhaps most unexpected was my first of many appearances on the Glenn Beck radio and television shows. His enthusiastic embrace of the book took it from a regional hit to a book selling out across the country.
The sweetness of that Christmas night lingers like the smell of fresh pie, and I sit at my iMac and read a few book reviews that have popped up online during the day. It’s an opportunity for me to enjoy the nal moments of Christmas before life wakes up on December 26.
With the ding of a digital bell, an email lands in my inbox. I don’t recognize the sender, and because it seems ninety percent of my mail is trash, I nearly delete it.
“No, thanks,” I whisper to my screen. “I’ve already got that Nigerian prince wiring me a couple million any day now.”
Still, something nudges me to open it. I have absolutely no idea that the email will change my life in ways I will not understand for years.
It’s appropriate, perhaps, because the story of the Christmas Jar really began a couple of decades earlier.
The Giving Gene
Growing up, service was wired into my family’s DNA. My parents were exceptionally service-oriented, and, as the youngest of four children, I observed my parents inspiring my siblings to live the same way.
Sometimes the service was well-organized, a permanent xture on the calendar. The blood drives, the annual Apple Dumping Sales at the Community Charity Fair, cleaning the arena after University of Virginia basketball games.
Other times, it was spontaneous. Giving a ride to a stranger on the side of the road who was headed in the opposite direction from our destination. Letting people stay in our home, befriending the lonely, or adopting families for Christmas.
For my dad, it was opening doors for women and putting the needs of everyone else ahead of his own. He was that larger-than-life Tommy Lee Jones figure from the Fugitive. “What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in that area.”
Then he would take a long breath. “And when you find them, serve them.”
Dad’s desire to serve wasn’t restricted to those cases, either. He also found himself in a few key situations to perform the kind of heroic service that saves lives.
We once encountered two people fighting in their parked car in the middle of the road. As I watched from the backseat, my dad climbed right into their car. I can still see him sitting between them in the front seat, mediating peace.
When a next-door neighbor was the victim of a brutal stabbing, Dad literally held the bleeding woman together in his arms until emergency personnel arrived. Because of him, she lived.
He also invested countless hours during the holidays creating the most unusual gifts for those who needed a little bit of light and love.
He might be embarrassed by the term, but I call this desire to serve “The Giving Gene.”
He had it.
My siblings and my mother also had it.
I didn’t. Unlike premature graying, evidently this gene is choosey.
I simply wasn’t interested in devoting that kind of time to other people. I had too many other things to worry about. You know, really important things, like myself.
In 1987, just before Christmas, my father passed away on an otherwise uneventful Friday night. Even before the grass fought its way through the dirt covering his picturesque countryside grave, I began to realize I’d missed a tremendous opportunity to learn from him.
God had blessed me with the great gift of a service mentor, but I’d never really opened up the package.
Dealing with his loss at my young age was tough enough, but on top of that, I was convinced he’d died disappointed that I hadn’t progressed further during our time together. So I simply operated on faith that at some point the Giving Gene would somehow activate.
Maybe I’d hit a service growth spurt?
To keep myself busy, and because some terrific teachers recommended it, I began to write more than ever over the next two years. I wrote plays, short stories, and poetry and began finding my voice as a storyteller.
(Disclaimer: The poetry was awful, and the plays were about bunny rabbits who wore leather jackets, rode motorcycles, and solved crime. But I held a single helping of hope that putting pen to paper—or fingers to a keyboard—would be good for my soul.)
In 1993, I married my best friend, Kodi, and we eventually made our way from Utah back to Virginia for that job in politics and public policy. For the rst time in my life, I was being paid to write.
While I wasn’t exactly telling the most compelling stories, I was writing and speaking about issues that were important to me—education, freedom, and families.
It was the beginning of something. I just didn’t know what.
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