Raising a Generous Heart

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By Martha Lee

“If you like it, you can have it,” my Geema’s always said, and she means it too. Geema is my mama’s mama, and she has instilled in us all, from the very beginning, that generosity and the desire to always do for others is a gift in and of itself.  It’s a helping hand and a giving heart to want to provide for others, and I long to teach my daughter what has been passed down to me.

My little one, Naomi, is only 18 months old at the moment, and although she doesn’t quite understand the meaning of Christmas just yet or the giving of gifts, I witness her each and every day following my lead and mimicking my every move.  I want her to not only appreciate what she has and has been given (love, health, a warm bed, besides all the extras), but I want her to truly appreciate doing for someone else as well.  How can you truly appreciate what you have without giving it in return?

It takes our lead to ensure a generous, loving heart in our children, and it doesn’t take much more than a little effort to make someone else feel loved and appreciated.  Growing up in middle Georgia, I vividly remember tagging along with my mama to deliver presents and needed goods to the Children’s Hospital and the Methodist Children’s Home, and sometimes we would visit with the elderly at nursing homes just to chat.  You could bet on Geema always having something delicious to eat and pass out to neighbors and friends around the holidays, and at 85, she’s still always quick to unselfishly put others before herself.  I’ve taken her “if you like it, you can have it” motto and run with it, so much so that I’ve gotten myself into a pickle a few times giving away favorite hats, scarves, and necklaces – you name it – to anyone who took an interest in my things.  They’re just things and can be replaced, and I love to watch someone’s face light up unexpectedly with appreciation. I can always get another scarf (even gave one to Otis Redding’s mother-in-law years ago – true story)! I always love to see others happy and thankful.

We’ve all seen or known, or perhaps even been the kid from Funniest Home Videos that groans in disbelief and horror when he unwraps a present on Christmas morning only to unveil a pair of socks or something else less than par. It’s a natural reaction, I’m sure, and that reaction is what’s so funny because we all know he’s less than pleased but should be polite anyway (I’m just waiting for that moment with Naomi – camera in hand).  We give, in hopes, that others are thankful. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most expensive, extravagant gift you can find (I’ll take an iPad and Tempurpedic slippers, please), but no, really it’s about doing for others as you would have them do for you – the golden rule for life, love, and giving at Christmas and all throughout the year. In this house, we have grateful hearts that overflow, and we want others to feel grateful too! 
A few small ways Naomi and I are giving back this Christmas season:

Donating clothes and toys to family in need.
There are lots of ways to give back to the community this time of year.  Fire stations, police stations, Toys for Tots drop-offs outside of retail stores, churches, and even the local news will let you know of places to drop off needed goods for those in your local area.

Operation Christmas Child
Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child donates shoeboxes full of toys to children in places all over the world. We have done this for the past couple of years and really enjoy following the boxes as they are distributed overseas. Pack your own shoebox or donate funds to aid in a full shoebox here: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/occ/

Having Naomi drop donations in the Salvation Army bell bucket at the store. 
Naomi absolutely LOVES to drop donations in the bucket, and she helps others put their donations in the bucket too as they approach.  When she gets a little older, we’ll get her a bell to ring! 

Leaving special thank-you/holiday treats for the mailman.
This is such a kind gesture, even if so small.  Public service members are an integral part of our community that deserve all the best, especially this time of year!  Mailmen, teachers, policemen, military, firemen, and EMTs – you name it! We thank you!

Helping the homeless.
Fill a gently-used backpack with basic needs like soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste with extras like mittens and a book or two and delivering it to homeless shelter.  I have wanted to do this for a while, and this year will be the first.  There are many ways to help the needs in the homeless community including local coat and blanket drives around this time of year as well.  Contact your local United Way, Union Mission, or news service to find out how to help.

Merry, merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y’all!

Martha Lee and her husband began working for Paula Deen Enterprises in 2006 until Martha left to pursue a degree in Special Education. She takes a cue from her 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, leaving tiny footprints on the planet. Her blog shares practical, earth-conscious ways to live and parent in the 21st century. Born and raised in beautiful, soulful Macon, GA, Martha and her family now lives in Savannah, where she can be found outside hula-hooping and performing handstands daily.
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Reader Comments:


If only more people could raise their children this way.

By @citygirlnomore on December 19, 2011


Paula I firmly believe that all folks in Savannah have a Big Heart. I am 58 years old now but my family vacationed at Savannah Beach from the time I was 5 years old. My father passed away 5 years ago and his wish was for his ashes to be spread in the ocean at Tiby Beach. I inquired by email to see how our family could do this & Bobby Chu of Chu's Department Store called and remembered us 3 girls that always stayed at the Shore Hotel next to his family store and offered our family his boat, ordered the wreath and gave us a place to stay at one of his condo's. He took care of everything. We were so shocked that we still have people in this world that have a heart of gold. I told my husband that day that my daddy would not believe how he went out in style. My husband said, he knows. And I believe he really did know. I will never forget what was done for my daddy and my family that day. Merry Christmas to all the good folks in Savannah and I hope someday to return to visit where I know my daddy rested in piece. Jennifer Lyle

By Jennifer Lyle on December 16, 2011


My heart is bursting with pride and joy. Love you!

By Liz Burn on December 16, 2011


I just loved the snapshot of your daughter giving to the Savlation Army bucket. And I'd like to personally thank you for teaching your daughter to give at such a young age. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of such generosity, so I can only imagine what other turn my life would have taken if it had not been for people with the kind of heart that you are training up you little one to have. GOD bless you and yours this Christmas season!

By Brandy Herndon on December 16, 2011


Martha, Thank you for sharing your ideas for teaching our children about the importance of helping others, and for reminding all of us how easy and rewarding it can be. Cindy

By Cindy Edwards on December 16, 2011

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm