Insurance Update
December 2015
Issue No. 63
In this issue

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar 



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Here we are in the holiday season. We celebrated Thanksgiving with food, family, faith, and good fellowship, and now we are moving toward Christmas, and even richer and larger celebrations. We often hear people talk of "Christmas spirit." It is our hope that this season finds you filled and surrounded by the Christmas spirit, so that you truly feel kindness and generosity from others, and the abiding love and grace of Jesus Christ.
In this issue you will find some reflections on kindness and read some stories of kind and generous things people have done, especially at Christmas. You will also read about the positive effects of kindness on health. And you may be intrigued and perhaps even amused by a list of 50 "random acts of kindness" that you might want to consider trying out yourself.
May this season be filled with Christmas spirit and with the kindness and generosity deep within you and within all the people across the world. Merry Christmas to all of our Brethren Insurance Services family!

Kindness at Christmas and all year

Kindness and generosity are at the heart of Christmas. The Christ child was a gift to humanity from the goodness of God. The Magi traveled hundreds of miles to bring gifts for the holy child. St. Nicholas was a fourth-century bishop whose reputation for secret giving became the source of the Christmas legend of St. Nick, our Santa Claus. And in one of the greatest Christmas stories of all time, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a nasty, old miser is transformed into a benefactor overflowing with kindness and generosity. These qualities matter to us all year long and especially at Christmas. There is even a "kindness" movement.
How the kindness movement came to be
In 1982, in a restaurant in Sausalito, Calif., Anne Herbert scribbled these words on a place mat: "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." The phrase caught people's attention and began to appear on bumper stickers and gain momentum in the public mind. It was a simple and compelling idea reminding people that kindness and compassion are concrete realities that can be practiced every day. In 1993, Herbert published a book, Random Acts of Kindness, telling stories of people committing such acts. Later that same year a professor in Bakersfield, Calif., gave his students an assignment -- each to do a random act of kindness. This triggered another flood of stories.
In 1995, The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation was created as a resource for people committed to spreading kindness. This not-for-profit organization provides a wide variety of materials and ideas for kind actions. Further, the Foundation is the United States delegate to the World Kindness Movement, helping to create a global network.
This foundation and all the other organized and informal "kindness" efforts are unique in the annals of social change. There really is not much of a "program." Money is not needed to carry out the activities. There is not really even an intended outcome. It's simply a matter of individuals inspiring one another and, one-by-one, or sometimes in small groups, doing good things for other people who are not expecting them. There are no "results" to be studied and evaluated. The "results" are in the stories.
Stories of Random Acts of Christmas Kindness
(There is even an acronym for this -- RACK)
Kim writing about a Sneak Delivery 
"Our hearts raced as we drove back around the corner, trying not to be seen. It was a hit-and-run delivery gone wrong. Our friend's van unexpectedly backed out of the driveway as we were about to pull in for the drop. We had attempted to plan it for when she was picking up the kids from preschool, but obviously she was running late that day. We drove around the next street one more time just to make sure the coast was clear. When I pulled into the driveway, my oldest jumped out of the car in her finest camouflage gear and snuck stealthily toward the door. She dropped the package on the shiny new Christmas mat and was back in the car before anyone was the wiser. We drove out of the neighborhood and back toward home, still trying to catch our breath from the excitement of nearly being caught. It was a moment of silence I'll never forget. And then bursts of laughter filled the van as if we had just spotted a tower of presents on Christmas morning. The kids squealed with delight, imagining their friends opening up the bag of treats and trinkets we had left for them. And that was the moment I knew this was one tradition we would never give up. The joy of giving to someone else had changed everything about the way Christmas had been going in our family. Now you will find us jabbering about what our unsuspecting victims might do when they discovered our gift, and who would get RACK'd next."
Wendy writing about a Christmas Eve Surprise 
"All year long our family throws our extra change into a jar. On Christmas Eve we count the change, which usually comes in around $140.00. We exchange it for big bills and go out to a late dinner. We feel for the servers who have to work on Christmas Eve and would love to be home with their families. It gives us so much joy to order a nice $30.00 dinner and then leave a $140.00 tip for a wonderful Christmas Eve Surprise! My kids love doing this and insist on this tradition every year!"
Christmas Jars
That this Vancouver family used a jar may not be accidental. In 2005, Jason F. Wright, journalist and entrepreneur, published a novel called Christmas Jars. It is the story of a young woman journalist, already grieving the death of her mother, who is robbed on Christmas Eve. The only thing that gives her hope is a jar of money she later finds on her doorstep. Her instincts as an investigator kick in, and she sets out to find who left the jar. She discovers a chain of money-filled Christmas jars anonymously left for people in need, each gift inspired by another. She continues her investigation until she finds the family that started it all.
Like the original hand-scribbled words in 1982, the story caught people's imagination. And why not? Through this bit of fiction, a "Christmas Jar Tradition" was born.
All it takes to start this tradition yourself is to find a suitable jar, and begin filling it with your spare change each day. This tradition continues all throughout the year, and then the week before Christmas you carefully and anonymously select a recipient for your jar -- a neighbor who lost a job, a coworker with health problems, a friend grieving the loss of a loved one, a bag lady at the homeless shelter. As secretly as possible, put your jar on their porch, in their car, or on their desk. Or ask someone to deliver the jar on your behalf, keeping your identity secret.
Christmas Jar stories
It had been a hard year for the Stafford family of St. George, Utah. Their 7-year-old youngest son had cancer. They had to make the long trip to Salt Lake City for treatment every three weeks, leaving their other three kids with friends. Many people reached out to help.
Jen Stafford wrote about that time: "It's been very humbling to realize that you really CAN'T get through something like this without the help of others. And no one waited to be asked ... they just helped.
"Every year for the past several years, we have delivered our Christmas Jar, usually on the Monday before Christmas. My husband and several others who are aware of our tradition suggested that this might be the year to just keep it for ourselves. But that just didn't feel right.
"Then one evening as I was talking on the phone to my mom, the doorbell rang. Sure that it was one of the neighbor girls, I yelled at my daughters to answer the door. They pretended not to hear me. So I was forced to drag my bones from my comfy chair and answer it myself. There, on the porch, was a jar. And a copy of the book.
"I just stood there, shocked. With some effort, I carried the jar, filled to capacity, into the house and announced to one and all that we had received a Christmas Jar. We dumped it out and started counting, while speculating on who the giver might have been. Rolled tightly inside the jar of coins were six fifty dollar bills, bringing the contents to over $500. For us. For Christmas.
"The funny thing about it: We don't collect our coins in an ordinary Mason jar. I buy slightly larger jars and have my husband sandblast "Christmas Jar" on the sides. The jar that was left on our door was one of our own. Our own Christmas Jar had come full circle.
"Our jar, the one we had been collecting change in, was delivered the following Monday to a family in the neighborhood whose husband had recently lost his job. And this time, we knew the feeling of opening the door, seeing a jar and a book, and feeling loved and cared for by an anonymous soul."
[For this and many other Christmas Jar stories, click here]
Stolen Christmas Jar and forgiveness
Among the hundreds of remarkable and sometimes dramatic Christmas Jar stories, no jar had ever been stolen. That is, until September 27 of this year. Jason Wright himself, the writer who began it all, tells the story here: "On that Tuesday evening in Dover, Ohio, a man walked into the public library and strolled out with a large community Christmas Jar containing an estimated $1,000 meant for a local needy family. Surveillance cameras captured it all and soon social media did its wildfire thing. The suspect, clearly identifiable in the footage, returned a portion of the money in the night drop box with an apology note, but the damage was done and before long, he was in custody and stories were emerging about his past, his present and his uncertain future.
"I heard about the theft the very next morning from Laurie Paisley, who was my director of events and responsible for giving away or placing nearly 2,000 jars since first reading the book. Within hours, Paisley and I launched a GoFundMe campaign to replenish the jar and ensure that the needy family in Dover wouldn't go without. Friends and fans stepped up and we easily cleared our goal."
As the campaign jar was filling, Wright called and spoke to the accused thief's grandmother who told him of the man's troubled life, including a pregnant and embarrassed girlfriend. Wright was inspired to drive from his home in Virginia to the Ohio prison where the man was being held, "to explain the origin of the tradition, share some of the inspiring miracles of the last decade, and help him understand when you steal a jar, you're not stealing money. You're stealing hope." Newspapers and television and local librarians all got wind of the visit. Jail officials warned him not to get up hopes of an "inspiring change of heart."
On October 26, Wright made the trip, wondering in the midst of considerable publicity what he would say and what the accused, Justin Litman, would say. Twice the guard went to Litman's cell, each time returning to say that the man did not want to see Wright.
Back outside, Wright reflected with a reporter on "the distance, drive, and disappointment. Was I sorry I'd come? Was I embarrassed he wouldn't see me? Did I have a message for him? Thoughts came faster than words. Of course, I had no regrets. I wanted Litman to know that the Christmas Jars community is one of the most forgiving families in the world. We love him. We root for him. If he changes his mind, I'll drive right back to the prison from the hotel, library, or from my driveway in Virginia."
Pay It Forward
Among the many manifestations of spontaneous generosity there is a movement that may have roots as far back as a 1784 letter by Benjamin Franklin, in which he asked a man who had borrowed money from him to pay him back by giving a like sum to another man and asking him to do likewise, thus creating a chain. According to Wikipedia, the idea even exists in contract law, in the loan concept of third party beneficiaries.
In 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde published a novel titled Pay It Forward, which was made into a moving and powerful motion picture starring Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and Haley Joel Osment. The idea was that you repaid a good deed by paying it forward to three more people. The movie is about an 11-year-old boy who conceives of this idea as a school project, and starts the process with three actions. All three seem to fail, but then succeed in the long term, though the boy never knows this. The book and movie resulted in still another organization, the Pay It Forward Foundation.
What makes the movie so powerful is that the young boy chooses actions that are very difficult, with a depth that goes beyond simple random acts or the placing of Christmas Jars. It is a reminder that kindness and generosity can be practiced in small and simple ways that show quick and immediate results, and also in difficult and complex ways that take courage, involve risk, and may not show results for a long time.
But the underlying reality is the same. An action is taken with no expectation of reward, and if possible without recognition, and that action releases hope in the recipient, and satisfaction in the doer. There is something deep in the human spirit that yearns to be good and loves to do good. It is as powerful as the many other inclinations we follow to find satisfaction, but it is too often forgotten or repressed. When we exercise our ability to do good, good things ripple out across the world. That is the heart of Christmas -- acts of generosity by God through the gift of His son and by us, disciples of Jesus Christ. When they happen, goodness is "paid forward." May it be so! 
50 random acts of Christmas kindness 


  1. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line (in person or in the drive-thru) at your coffee shop.
  2. Tweet or Facebook or e-mail or text a genuine compliment to three people.
  3. Cook a meal or do a load of laundry for a friend who just had a baby or is going through a difficult time.
  4. Buy take-out and offer it to a homeless person.
  5. Let the person behind you at the supermarket checkout go ahead of you.
  6. Put sticky notes with positive slogans on the mirrors in restrooms.
  7. Play board games with senior citizens at a nursing home.
  8. Leave some extra quarters in a laundry room.
  9. Send dessert to another table when you are in a restaurant.
  10. Help your elderly neighbor take out the trash, rake leaves, shovel snow, etc.
  11. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen.
  12. Wash someone's car.
  13. Give a waitress or waiter a huge tip.
  14. Make two lunches and give one away.
  15. Sing Christmas Carols at a nursing home.
  16. Give warm clothes, shoes, and boots to a homeless person.
  17. Send a care package to a solider.
  18. Give away chocolate generously and indiscriminately!
  19. Create a "Dress-Up" box for the children at a shelter for abused women and children.
  20. Drop quarters on the sidewalk for people to find.
  21. Send a surprise book to someone from an online retailer.
  22. Donate food to your local food bank.
  23. Pick up litter in a nearby park.
  24. Put candy canes under the windshield wipers of cars in a random parking lot.
  25. Tape a treat and a card to your mailbox for your mailman
  26. Deliver Christmas cookies to local firefighters and thank them for their service.
  27. Write your mom or dad or both a thank you note for all they've done for you.
  28. Visit the pediatric floor of a hospital and deliver balloons, toys, coloring books, crayons, etc. (Call ahead so you'll know if they restrict any of these items.) 
  29. Bring hot chocolate to the Salvation Army bell ringers.
  30. Pay for someone's Christmas layaway.
  31. Knit (or buy) a warm scarf for a homeless person.
  32. Donate blood.
  33. Have your child make homemade cards and deliver them to a child abuse shelter or children's hospital.
  34. Buy four $5 gift cards and pass them out to people on the street.
  35. Pay for someone's gas at a service station.
  36. Buy a dozen donuts and give them away in a public place.
  37. Bake cookies for your neighbors and have your kids deliver them.
  38. Pay someone's dry cleaning bill.
  39. Make a card and send it to a friend for no reason.
  40. Send someone a small gift anonymously.
  41. Walk the dogs at a local animal shelter.
  42. Take flowers to the nursing station at a hospital-for the nurses.
  43. Go to the Post Office, snag one of the letters to Santa, and fulfill a wish for someone who needs help buying gifts.
  44. If you print an Internet coupon before going to a store, print a few extras to give to other customers.
  45. Write a love note to your significant other and hide it in a magazine or book she/he is reading or somewhere else he/she will find it.
  46. Ask your kids to tell you what they love about a family member or friend, decorate a box or bag, put notes with your kids' thoughts inside, and give the bag or box to the person.
  47. Make sure to say I love you to someone special and give that person a hug.
  48. Go digital with kindness by downloading Kindr from the Apple app store, and then brighten someone's day by sending a creative compliment, a hug, or even a cute animal video.
  49. Write a thank you note to a teacher or coach or someone who has influenced you.
  50. Tape bags of microwave popcorn to the Redbox rental machine.
Kindness is good for your health

Research shows that kindness and generosity have positive physiological effects. Researchers sometimes call this "helper's high."
Two studies found that older adults who did volunteer work were living longer. Another study found a significant reduction in early death for people who volunteered often. This actually had a larger effect than regular exercise. In the 1990s, a study looked at personal essays written by nuns in the 1930s. The nuns who expressed the most positive emotions lived about 10 years longer than those who were less positive.
A few studies point to lowered stress and improved immunity when one is feeling empathy and love. Older adults who gave massage to infants lowered their stress hormones. In another study, students who watched a film on Mother Teresa showed an increase in protective antibodies associated with immunity. Students watching a more neutral film showed no change.
Another study identified high levels of oxytocin, a "bonding" hormone, in generous people. The oxytocin levels in children's urine were studied, and it was found that levels in orphaned children were lower than in children raised in a caring home. Some researchers want to suggest that altruistic actions and caring, physical touch increase ox ytocin levels. 
Oxytocin triggers the release of nitric oxide in blood vessels, which causes them to expand, lowering blood pressure. Thus oxytocin is a "cardioprotective" hormone, and kindness might be said to protect the heart. Oxytocin also reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system, which play a major role in heart disease. Another reason  kindness is good for the heart.
A recent study reports the extraordinary story of a 28-year-old, who walked into a clinic and donated a kidney, setting off a "pay it forward" ripple effect that spread across the country. It resulted in 10 people receiving new kidneys, all triggered by that one anonymous donor.
This is just a short summary of a few of the many studies of the effects of kindness and generosity. Science seems to verify what many of us know by intuition and common sense that being kind and loving is good not just for those around us but for ourselves as well. When we read the Random Acts of Kindness stories, or the Christmas Jar accounts, or all the interesting things that have come from the Paying it Forward movement, we see that people do these many good acts not in order to be healthier or live longer. They do them ... well, why do they do them?
We know that the impulse to do good is one of the profound, wonderful, and mysterious traits of human beings. Though it is deep in our spirit, we can be grateful for this research that shows how deeply physical it is too.

Adapted from The Science of Good Deeds, by Jeanie Lerche Davis and 
The Five Side Effects of Kindness, by Davie R. Hamilton, Ph.D
 LTCILong-Term Care Insurance
Christmas is a time when we think about gift-giving. Have you ever considered that Long-Term Care Insurance may actually be a gift to your family? When you give this gift, you assure your family members that you will be cared for and that you will not be a financial burden.

Despite your best efforts, there is always the chance you could suffer a debilitating illness or a disabling accident. And, of course, if you live long enough, the time will come when you will need some extra care. Long-Term Care Insurance makes sure that you will get the care you need. It assures that your medical bills will not eat up your savings. Finally, and this is one of the best things about LTCI, it protects your children and other relatives from having to use their resources to care for you.
Brethren Insurance Services offers Long-Term Care Insurance for all members and employees of the Church of the Brethren and their family and friends; and also for employees of Church of the Brethren-affiliated agencies, organizations, colleges, and retirement communities and their families and friends.
If you are interested in obtaining this coverage, contact Brethren Insurance Services at or 800-746-1505 for a free, no-obligation proposal or click here to request more information.