#TellHisStory: The Very Best Christmas “Idea”

December 4, 2013 | 39 comments

It was our last day in Haiti, and a grinning boy on the schoolyard plucked a photograph from his front pocket.  He held up the photo of an American girl. And my mama-heart swelled.

The girl in the photo? She’s our oldest daughter, Lydia.

The sweet boy: Romario.

He’s 11 years old, and he lives with his family in one of those temporary blue tent-shelters that Samaritan’s Purse set up after the earthquake in 2010. That was nearly four years ago. The “temporary” tent is still Romario’s home.

But there is hope for Romario. He finds hope inside his mountaintop schoolhouse, where the walls are painted the color of hope: sunny-yellow.

Hope is a sharpened pencil and an arithmetic book and chalkboard at the front of every classroom.

Hope is a classroom full of rambunctious preschoolers praying before lunch.

For Romario, hope is a friend named Lydia.

Hope isn’t a silly notion … it’s an actual place, and I stood right there, staring hope in the face– on the mountaintop where the Haitian flag snaps on the pole, and the school mascot is a sassy goat named Sophia, and a boy carries a photo of an American girl in his pocket.



For Romario and the other 850 children who attend the Touch of Hope school, hope looks like a sponsor – someone who says, “I believe in you.”

Every day, Romario walks two miles to the Touch of Hope school with my daughter’s picture pressed into his pocket, like a treasure. Yes, Lydia is Romario’s friend, and she is also his sponsor.

And Romario? That sweet boy is pressed into the folds of our family’s collective heart. So is his country.

Our family is almost home now – shuffling between airport gates like pack-mules.

Our shoes are still Haiti-dirty. Our hearts have been Haiti-cleaned.



See, that’s the thing about going to Haiti, and that’s why we keep going back. Haiti will break your heart, and remake it all over again. But the part in between the making and the breaking? It hurts. A lot.

Dear God, how do we go back home without the pain of having our hearts broken?

Maybe we don’t.

And maybe that’s the point anyway.



This morning, we awoke to the sound of the rooster outside the orphanage wall for the last time, the sound of the babies crying out “alleluia” from their little cribs. I couldn’t go in the “baby room” to say goodbye. It was just too painful.

I tried to hide my tears behind my obnoxiously large sunglasses, but the orphan boys saw anyway. They whispered to each other: “Mom Jennifer kriye.” Translation: Mom Jennifer is crying.

Yeah. She was. Mom Jennifer was crying for a hundred reasons.

For hard goodbyes. For “melting” houses, and ribcages under threadbare shirts, and persistent alleluias that break through the growl of hunger. For sassy orphans who stole our hearts. For singing “Jesus Loves Me” to calm the naked toddler. And Mom Jennifer cried even more when she saw the tears running down her daughters’ cheeks.

We were all breaking at 6:30 a.m.

Mom Jennifer “kriye” because when she gets home, she’ll be tempted to ask her own daughters if they have any Christmas gift “ideas.” And it makes Mom Jennifer angry, that we have to actually trade “ideas” for gifts in America, because most of us don’t really need anything. Collectively, we feed a gazillion-dollar industry that creates stuff no one really needs just so we have “ideas” to put on Christmas lists. I knew it for sure on the way home from Haiti, when I flipped through a Sky Mall magazine to find a gadget called a “window-cleaning robot.” And there was a toothbrush that “sings” songs from Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. The catalog also offered a “magic showerhead that transforms your regular shower into a fountain of brilliant fun” by illuminating the water with one of seven bright LED colors. I know people who would just go for a little bit of clean water, thank-you-very-much.

I want to be done with “ideas.”

I have another “idea.”

How about we do Christmas differently, North America?

We all want that, don’t we? I have heard you. You want simple. You want manger Christmas, not Big Box Christmas. You don’t want a Christmas with more tinsel, more flashing lights, and more singing toothbrushes.

You want more Jesus.

I do, too.

Dear Lord, hear us now.


I am sitting on an American Airlines jet, flying somewhere over Oklahoma, tapping out these words. I’ve been scouring Scripture all day. I cannot find a single Bible verse to justify a Christmas of window-washing robots and LED-lit shower heads.

Whose birthday is this anyway? And how can I give the birthday boy a real gift?

And since Jesus is not here, in the flesh, how can we make sure that Jesus gets an actual gift from us — a gift He really wants? Behold: Jesus left his own Christmas “gift idea” in Scripture.

I think it’s pretty safe to say this is what Jesus wants:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’.” Matthew 25:40

When we give Christmas gifts to the least, we give to Jesus.

Tonight, I think of Romario, a boy who carries hope in his pocket and in his heart. Our family visited his blue-tarped house on the day we crossed through villages to visit all of our sponsor children. When we visited Romario, Lydia gathered his family under the roof of his one-room house, and she asked everyone to bow their heads to pray. We held hands in a circle.

Lydia prayed for Romario’s home, and his education, and for him to “grow with God.”

And I’m doing the same right here, “growing with God.” I’ll be honest. Our Chistmas won’t be radical enough. I’ll splurge on something, and I’ll stuff the stockings too full.

But I pledge it right now. I won’t miss the real meaning of Christmas. And I won’t forget why I cried on the orphanage yard, and I won’t forget the Christmas “idea” that Jesus left for us in His Word.

I won’t forget the reason.

Dear God, don’t let your people ever, ever, ever forget the reason.

It really is all because of Jesus. All.


How to Do Christmas Differently This Year

SPONSORSHIP: Consider sponsoring a child at Touch of Hope school or another organization. We sponsor several children through Touch of Hope and have seen firsthand how this school – led by a Haitian man in partnership with Iowa friends – is an integral part of transforming the oceanside village of Simonette, Haiti. For just $35 a month, you can give a child like Romario real hope. For more details, visit this page on Facebook.

SHOP VIBELLA: Buy ViBella Jewelry, bags, and ornaments for Christmas gifts this year. This ministry has created jobs for at-risk women in Haiti and Mexico.  The ministry has been life-changing for brave and beautiful women.


EMPOWER WOMEN:  My friend Sarah Bessey has put together a Christmas gift guide here, focusing on companies that empower women. I’ll be using Sarah’s guide this Christmas.

ETHICAL SHOPPING: It’s hard to know whether products you’re purchasing are something you could support with a clean conscience. So? Tsh has done some of the work for you. Find a great list by clicking here.


So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer or a grammarian to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


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by | December 4, 2013 | 39 comments


  1. Mia

    Thanks Jennifer for your gracious heart!!
    Blessings xx

  2. HisFireFly

    bless your broken heart
    bless it in its remaking
    formed once again by the Master’s hand

    • dukeslee

      Praying for you, Karin, as you take wing soon.

  3. DeanneMoore

    I love how God loves people through you…God bless you and your family.

    • dukeslee

      And God loves me through His people. So blessed to have served in Haiti. Overwhelmed by it all.

  4. jenmurray

    You know, this is one issue that I want to equally give a big ol’ fist pump too and then add a “but wait!” I felt the same way when I read Jen Hatmaker’s “Seven”. We aren’t excess gift buyers, and we always look for ways to help, to give, more than to add to our pile of gifts. The thing is, I co-own a business with my folks…that is their livelihood and that will hopefully support my family one day. And the thing that makes me freak out a little is that we make “stuff”. Frankly, unnecessary stuff. But it’s stuff that excites us; stuff that my dad quit a salaried job for to make, because God had given us all a vision and a passion for this stuff. 🙂 And I have to tell you, God radically changed all of our hearts a few years ago to Give, and Give as BIG as possible. It’s thrilling!! So when people buy from us, not only do they support a family, but they support others as well. The funny thing is that before our business adventure, I was preaching the same thing (we need less STUFF!!) I think the thing I might be trying to get across is…Sponsoring is amazing. Vibella is incredible. But when people purchase from small businesses as well, it might not necessarily be excess…it actually physically supports families and puts food on their table too. Make sense?
    And Jen, thank you for letting us follow along on your journey. What an experience!!

    • dukeslee

      I totally get what you’re saying, Jen. We are small business owners, too. We’re farmers, but we also have a line of gift items that we sell online and at craft fairs. I hope you know that this isn’t an indictment of folks like you who are working hard to make a living, but rather, this is a deep questioning of priorities. I really, REALLY appreciate your very thoughtful response here. God bless…

  5. Kim's County Line

    I loved traveling along via your photos. Thanks!

    • dukeslee

      Thank you for taking the trip with us, Kim. I thought of all of you #TellHisStory folks so often, almost continually, really … knowing that you all journeyed with our family. Much appreciation for you.

  6. Lisha Epperson

    Happy you arrived home safely Jennifer. I’m doing an Advent study and already, at Day 4, I’ve determined Christmas will never be the same around here. My heart has been wrecked for Christ…again. Thank you for sharing your journey and so beautifully, tangibly showing His grace.

    • dukeslee

      Wrecked = Closer to Jesus.

      I’m just sure of it.

      Have a delightful wrecking.

  7. Michelle DeRusha

    Oh, Jennifer, those pictures. My heart “kriye” with you, sister.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, friend. My heart is all shattered still. Lots of “kriye” here.

  8. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    Oh, my heart cries with you. More that 50% of the South African people also live in terrible poverty. I remember when we once went to feed hungry children in a primary school, two little girls came up to me, tapped me on my back and when I turned around, they held out their arms to be hugged. I cannot tell you how much I cried that day. I am so glad you have touched this subject of Christmas gifts. My husband and I had two boys in university this year, plus a lot of medical expenses for my Fm/CFS that were not covered by medical insurance and we certainly DO NOT have money to buy Christmas gifts. I refuse to allow this to influence me for I have Jesus living in my heart and so does my husband and sons. What can we wish for more!!!
    Blessings XX
    PS. We have had a lady staying with us the last eight years and four years ago her granddaughter also moved in with her. So, I am truly a blessed woman.

  9. Kelly Greer

    Momma Kelly kriye. I have fallen in love with these Haitian people Jennifer just reading your stories. Let us do what we can for the least of these. Praying God meets all of their needs through Christ Jesus. They are beautiful and so are you and your sweet family. What a beautiful gift you give.

    • dukeslee

      I “kriye” with you. xo

  10. SimplyDarlene

    that little gal sneaking a peak during prayer time — it’s hard to get past because of the joy

    (‘m wondering if your Haiti Christ-kin were sad too, or were they still rollicking in the happiness of having had you and yours there, with ’em, in their midst & in their hearts?)

    thank you.


    • dukeslee

      I know! So precious, yes? Love that little girl peaking.

      To your question: The Haiti Christ-kin didn’t seem outwardly sad. I don’t know if they weren’t sad, or if they’re conditioned to people leaving, or what. The good news is, we’re going back soon. 🙂

  11. Cheryl Smith

    Wow! I am sitting here with tears flowing as I read your words. Dear Lord, forgive us for our over-indulgences, our catering to the flesh, our total disregard for those less blessed. It pricks my heart to know I am so guilty. You painted an amazing portrait through your beautiful, heartfelt words. May God stir our hearts and minds to the reality of what we, as the Body of Christ, are supposed to do. Thank you for the wonderful, weekly link-up. I always leave your site refreshed and spiritually-challenged. God’s peace, Cheryl

    • dukeslee

      So blessed by you, Cheryl. Thanks for your words here.

  12. soulstops

    You and Romario and all the beautiful people you’ve been writing about the past week make me teary…bless you, and so happy I got to hug you in person…you’re a gem 🙂 And, yes, we don’t need another thing….

    • dukeslee

      So grateful that you went on this journey with us, Dolly.

  13. Lyli Dunbar

    Jennifer, thanks for showing us the way…. these pictures make me miss Haiti. 🙂

    • dukeslee

      You are so welcome. Thank you for being a very significant part of this journey. Your contribution to Adeline’s house was greatly appreciated! Love you so much!

  14. ro elliott

    Oh…I hear the deep wrestle in your heart…my story is too long for here …but years ago I felt the pain…the confusion…but I just started ripping Christmas apart…I sliced until there was nothing left…but now I see a better way…maybe a way not available all those years ago…now I see this wrestling leading mommas to look for a more beautiful way to celebrate Christ…my heart has been so joyful as I watch and get to participate in these glorious ways to bless others. I really think God is doing something special with the younger generations…these are days of beautiful change and sometimes it’s time to step aside…let the younger lead…and in some areas like this…follow in behind…being lead to a land where the faded desires of long ago are blooming and for me…breathing life back into this celebration of Christ.

    • dukeslee

      May I always wrestle. Until “that” day.

  15. Leah Adams

    My heart is blessed by this post, dear one. I’m thinking that if you ever want to take a friend along on your next trip to Haiti, I’m your girl. Thanks for allowing us to be part of your trip through pictures and giving.

    • dukeslee

      You’ve been such a part of this journey, Leah. Your support, in prayer and financial ways for Adeline, was greatly appreciated. Love you so.

    • dukeslee

      Also? Let’s stay in touch about that next trip to Haiti thing. I’m thinking Blogger Trip!

  16. Carolyn Counterman

    I’ve always wanted to buy someone a house for Christmas. You helped me do that. I love your heart, Jennifer.

  17. patsy

    I know Jesus wants me to give gifts to those who lost everything in the recent typhoon. We are partnering with an organization to find livelihood for some of them. Whatever we give it isn’t enough. “kriye” . God bless you! patsy

    • dukeslee

      Love your heart. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Shelly Miller

    Thank you for perspective Jennifer. My daughter and I are hosting a Sole Hope party for her girlfriends and their mothers. We’re excited.

    • dukeslee

      We did Sole Hope at The High Calling retreat, and it was such a meaningful experience. I look forward to hearing/seeing photos of your experience.

  19. Nancy Ruegg

    What might Jesus want for Christmas? Oh, it must make him smile to see his children bestowing gifts of time, effort, and resources–in his name. You and your family are shining examples, Jennifer!

    • dukeslee

      You are so dear, Nancy. Thank you for your words today.

  20. Rebecca Presnell

    Oh Jennifer. So much “kriye”. When does it stop feeling like your heart is breaking? Thank you for sharing Haiti with me.



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