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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Paying It Forward This Advent
November 29, 2015

Advent is the season during which we prepare for the light of Christ to enter our world on Christmas day, the season when we serve as a reflection of that light to other people by, for instance, donating presents for the giving trees in our churches. But sometimes there are unique ways to reflect God’s love during these holy days of anticipation. They may require a little more effort, but they can be life-changing. Just ask Joanne Huist Smith.

In 1999, Smith’s husband Rick died after putting off surgery on a leaky heart valve, leaving her a distraught widow to raise their kids—10-year-old Megan, 12-year-old Nick, and 17-year-old Ben.

During an interview on “Christopher Closeup” about her book “The 13th Gift,” Smith recalled that she had grown up Catholic and gone to Mass six days a week as a child. As she got older, though, she usually turned to God only in times of trouble. “Most times, God answered in a positive way,” she said, “but this time I felt let down. I was in a very dark place.”

The road to healing began the morning of December 13th as Smith rushed out of her Bellbrook, Ohio house to warm up her car. She nearly knocked over the poinsettia that had been left in front of the door. Attached was an anonymous note that read, “On the first day of Christmas your true friends give to you one Poinsettia for all of you.”

Smith told me, “My first instinct was to take [that flower] and throw it as far as I could, but Megan was with me and she would have nothing of it. She forced me into rescuing that flower. She had Christmas in her heart and she felt that she could give it to us if she just was persistent enough.”

Smith assumed it was a one-time act of kindness, so she just moved on. But then a new gift started arriving every day. “With each gift,” she said, “my attitude began to change, going from anger to ‘who’s doing this’ to ‘thank goodness they’re doing it for us.’ The people who left those gifts knew a lot about grief and they knew that one gift wouldn’t be enough. They were right.”

Initially, the Smiths tried to find out who was leaving the gifts, but these anonymous givers were too clever to be caught. And even though the items they left were simple things, such as red bows and wrapping paper, they exerted a profound influence over the family: “These gifts gave us reason to come together and talk again.”

Smith found a renewed sense of life, love, and faith that Christmas, and gained wisdom on dealing with grief: “The best thing you can do when approaching the holidays when you’re feeling low is to reach out and help somebody else. Don’t sit at home and be unhappy. Get involved with people and it will make all the difference.”

Overall, though, her message is simple: “I hope that more people will help me to pay it forward this holiday season and all year, to start a movement where we all become gift-givers in our own way: smiling at strangers, giving a gift to someone you don’t like, visit a family like ours who’s suffered a lot. I guarantee that the reward for your actions and the good feeling you get in return will far outweigh your effort. That’s my Christmas wish.”


For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, MAKING CHRISTMAS HAPPY AND HOLY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: