Downright goodness

For years I’ve had a strange quirk of using a different design of wrapping paper for each and every gift under the tree; no two ever wrapped in the same paper.
Perhaps I was sending myself a sort of coded message that I would later need.
This photo of our Alexandria tree was taken in December 2010.

“It is, without doubt, the gifts we get from our excursions into differences—the people we come to know whom we could never have met otherwise, the wisdom we see in those we consider to be simpler than ourselves, the downright goodness of those we fear because we do not know them—that make us bigger of soul, greater of heart, than we could possibly ever have been otherwise.”Joan Chittister

Typically at this time of year we wish each other happy times with family and close friends, and of course I wish that for all of you. But beyond that, I wish you a gift rarely chosen intentionally, but perhaps even more weighted with divine blessing: I wish you the gift of time with those whose company you did not seek out; who seem to serve no desired purpose in your life; those who have nothing much to give you that the world generally values.

We often hear stories about the unbelievable financial wealth we might have today if we had bought a few shares of this or that stock before anyone could have known how valuable it would become someday. If only we had known, we may tell ourselves. Yet we may be missing an even larger secret, one now invisible to mortal eyes. What we may never know fully– at least not in this life– is the value of everyday people with whom we are brought into contact through quirks of fate or circumstance.

In more than two years since Jeff’s death, my life often has been dependent on people totally outside my demographic group, as I found that many of those I had expected to depend upon were not around with any consistency. These new people who showed up in my life and Matt’s– whether they were black, white, Asian or Hispanic, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Christian, younger or older than me, with or without significant disabilities, to name only the most obvious differences– gave me more than the reassurance that Matt and I were not alone. They taught me that having no choice about my own circumstances or Matt’s (which in our culture is surely one of the most feared and dreaded of conditions, as it means an almost total loss of control) can bring hidden gifts and unexpected transformations.

There’s no question that such encounters are not easy. And I hesitate to wish you anything difficult. Yet there is much of inestimable value that goes unrecognized and undiscovered. This Christmas season, I hope you strike an untapped lode of downright goodness in the hearts of friends you didn’t realize you had– goodness that will fill your life with spiritual dividends beyond anything you might have imagined.


  1. Chris

    Thank you, Julia. Let’s also hope that we can be “that friend” for others to tap into, and find immense goodness from us.
    Be a blessing, and have a blessed week! 😊🎄

    • Thanks Chris. Yes, let’s make it our goal to be that rare “friend in need.” Truly St. Francis said, “it is in giving that we receive.” And I don’t think he was talking about any sort of reciprocity from the ones to whom we give. Hope you and your family are having a fun season!

  2. How beautifully true!!
    It does seem counter intuitive but there is so much treasure to be found in the most unexpected times.

    • Thanks, Denise. I wonder if this paradox is what lies beneath the problem of our so often NOT finding what we are searching for so desperately, which may only come to us when we turn our attention elsewhere? I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. Thanks for being here!

  3. Susan Valentine

    Julia, what a beautiful and insightful column. A valuable reminder to appreciate all the good people in the world, even, or maybe especially, when they come to us unexpectedly. I appreciate how you start off each week by giving us words from your heart.

    • Susan, thanks so much. I appreciate YOU for being here, and for being YOU! I have always admired those who reach out and do what others only talk about doing, and I count you in that number. Blessings to you and your family this holiday season!

  4. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia and Matt. You were a “happy thought” this morning as I fixed my coffee and knew once again, we’d share some time together here. It’s time shared, like no other, and I thank you so much for every visit. It’s a gift of a lifetime! ♥️ Our Christmas this year is themed “Forced Simplicity” but we’re just thankful for recovery from being sick. Bronchitis is NOT for sissies! 🤒🤧😷 Throgh it all, I’ve managed to smile and keep my chin up! I’ve done virtual decorating, virtual cooking, and virtual shopping! Being positive I don’t have decorations to take down, no kitchen messes to clean up, and no bills to anticipate! Never a dull moment‼️ I love you dearly, my Verandah friend like no other. Sheila🤶🏻

    • Sheila, sometime last winter (it is lost in the fog of much of the time since Jeff died, so I don’t know when) I was diagnosed, for the first time in my life, with bronchitis– and you are right, it’s not for sissies! I am so sorry to read that you’ve been dealing with that. As you experienced, it’s tough to get rid of, so I’m glad that you are on the mend. You are a VIRTUAL hero! And a literal one too. And YES, it’s a great bonus not to have to take the decorations down or clean up the messes. I remember that first Christmas after Jeff’s terminal diagnosis, which came in late November. We were numb and could do nothing, but to our surprise the peaceful “doing nothing” turned out to be a blessing in itself, as it gave us the calm, unscheduled time to absorb this cruel blow and find way forward through most challenging trial, in a life full of them. So I totally agree with you that “forced simplicity” (as with many forced things, such as “forced bed rest” 😀 ) can turn out to be a wonderful thing. Speaking of decorations…in decorating our tree for the first time in three years (which was yet another tear-filled and painful task, but not without gratitude), I had a special joy in adding four beautiful cloisonne butterflies, still stored in their original box, with a handwritten note explaining their legacy. It came from a friend who is “like no other” in my life– a Godwink moment to remind me of how lucky I have been, and still am! Saying thank you does not cover it, but as with so much else, I know you understand! ❤ ❤ ❤

  5. Beautifully shared. I must agree with you…I, too, am so often amazed by how even strangers–as well as those with whom we are vaguely familiar or even don’t know until seemingly necessary–can positively impact me (and we can affect them).. Sending you warm regards.

    • Thank you, Cynthia. It’s both reassuring and sobering to realize how much power we all have to bless others and receive blessings from them. Warm regards to you too, and our best wishes that your holiday will be “calm and bright.”

  6. Harry Sims

    Remarkable insight!

    Thank you Julia and Joan.


    • Harry, you’re welcome. I’m sure Joan would say the same. 🙂

  7. Amen!
    Good morning, Julia!
    What do you mean “strange quirk of using a different design of wrapping paper for each and every gift under the tree??” LOL I do the very same thing, to the best of my ability, and when I have to repeat wrapping paper, I augment with different colored ribbons or bows, when I can. In recent years, a lot of presents are mailed, so I figure any duplicates should be hundreds of miles from each other. But I’m like you – I like to “mix it up,” in many ways!
    Love to you!

    • Susan, this is amazing! You are the first person I’ve ever met who does this. I hereby declare you to be first runner up in dubious distinction of being my official “twins separated at birth” winner. Marlene is currently the champion of that particular designation, and it will be tough to edge her out, but this is a remarkable discovery. I long ago figured out that, at least for my parents and many of my loved ones, anticipation and opening of the gifts was most of where the appeal came in. For me, they are essentially Christmas decorations that hopefully have a practical side when opened. The life of a beautifully wrapped gift is, of necessity, a short one, which makes it all the more special. My Daddy used to turn gift wrapping into an art, and I picked up some ideas from watching him wrap gifts for Mama. Then one very difficult and dark year in our lives, I got a box full of beautifully wrapped gifts for our family, which came from faraway, dear friends whom I missed terribly. It was the sight of those gifts, more than what they contained (I don’t even remember what they contained) that jumped out at me, saying loudly “WE LOVE YOUR FAMILY!” in an unmistakable voice. I think that was when I started to focus on taking care with how I wrapped gifts. I have ornaments hanging on my Christmas tree this very minute, that were part of the decoration added to some of those packages. Inspiration lives on! ❤

  8. MaryAnn Clontz

    Your words light up the page! I love how you open our minds to THINK & “be”. Learning from others is a blessing, as you so eloquently state. During our years of dealing with the public & our employees, (25+ years of California Street Machine shop), Paul was quick to remark that “you can learn something from everyone with whom you come in contact.” It is a good way to view interactions with people. Paul & I are very blessed with our small group weekly Bible study. We thank God for bringing these wonderful people to our home, whom we would otherwise not have met!!! The things we learn about ourselves by listening to others!
    Praying for you & “my” Matt! Sending much love!

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. I can just imagine that there were many lively conversations and much joy shared in your business. It’s wonderful when people can make a living in a field they love. And Paul is right. We learn something from everyone, even if at times the lessons are harsh ones. God can take it all and compost it for our benefit! 🙂 Keep those prayers coming. You stay in our prayers as well. Love and best wishes for you and your family during the season.

  9. Ann

    Julia, Another wonderful and thoughtful post. Recently, I catch myself saying “There are some really kind people in the world.” Little acts of kindness can mean so much. Trying to give as well as receive.

    • Thank you, Ann. You’re right, the small acts of kindness are far more important than we may realize. In fact, for some of us, they may be all or most of the kindness shown to us in a typical day. I’m joining you in trying to give and receive such interaction. Thanks for being here.

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