A Season of Giving
November 15, 2013
This all began a few short weeks ago when my friend, Gordy, posted a message saying we will celebrate Christmas with a manger and a focus on the Christ Child. Then last week our daughter in law sent us a message through Facebook. She told us that the New Year was bringing more expenses for them with their oldest's second college semester, our daughter-in-law is relocating her business and our son has some major repairs on the outside to tackle thanks to one chomping, smiling, black Lab adolescent who thinks Shaker siding is attached dog biscuits. He seems to think he lives in a gingerbread house. Following those words she asked if we could cancel our plans to give endless piles of gifts to the adults as well as the children. It would be a drastic change to the way Christmas has been for five years. She and Chris had decided that, with the opportunity, we would turn our focus back to the Christ Child.
As I read the message, I felt unexplainable peace and joy. We are facing some necessary improvements on the RV including an airconditioner unit and six tires. Do not even ask me what that short list will cost me by the time they are completed. And with the gift of aging comes added medical expenses. I was feeling the pressure of loading up my Kohl's card once again, because my goals of last January to deposit money each month into a Christmas fund had failed. I wrote her back with enthusiasm over the possibility of truly letting go of the frenzied shopping spirit and, for whatever reason, redirecting our focus on the Christ Child.
A few days later, I woke with an inspiration to make this a season of giving. If we were not going to put all our energy into "hitting the best sales" and "grabbing the best bargains", I would surely have to fill the void in a positive way. I am not willing to let go of the "spirit of giving" even though the gifts would not be arriving at my door in an endless parade of letter carriers and UPS deliverers as they had in Christmas 2012. The neighbors, last year, started teasing me for having so many good looking visitors at our door. I filled an entire bedroom with gift bags stuffed with all sizes of surprises for twelve people. I remember the sheer glee of wrapping each new gift as it arrived and keeping a running account of each bag to make sure they were all coming out "even". I loved arriving with twelve gigantic gift bags at their home to fill the room with Christmas joy. But I had not brought Christ in my heart with me.
This season of Christmas will be different. The two girls are beyond the stories of Santa which teach our children their first experience in how to believe in someone we cannot see. The stories of Santa prepare them for a lifetime of knowing what it is like to not only believe, but to know, that God is real and is always with us. Our girls are beyond Santa now. They are still young enough to have a list of the things they want for Christmas and we will all bring gifts for them. There's nothing like watching kids opening gifts from their family, seeing their surprised faces and hearing the thank yous ring like chimes in the Christmas wind.
So what do I do with this opportunity to change my Christmas behaviors? Do I sit sadly by wishing I had gifts to buy? Do I regret buying all that floral wire and reams of Christmas ribbon to make beautiful bows for an anticipated one hundred gifts? Do I nibble away on bonbons while watching a month of Hallmark Christmas shows? What do I do with a different kind of Christmas?
I made a new commitment. I made a commitment to give, in some way, each day, what I can until the day after Christmas. I have no list. I have made no plans. I am going to wake each morning asking God, in our morning conversations of prayer and listening and thinking, to touch my heart with an opportunity to give. A few ideas are, as a farmer might say, "in the hopper and waiting to be delivered."
So far, I found a way to gather all the coats in my closet that no longer fit and take them to Brookgreen Garden to a gardener/friend of Bill's. There were seven coats of various descriptions and two still had tags on them. "Oh, Mr. Bill," he said. "This is gonna make one fine Christmas." I had never imagined that he might need them for gifts, thinking they would help fight the cold that had arrived too early this year.
Bill and I were having an early dinner at Ryan's after church and I overheard a mother and four little ones scrambling into chairs as they yanked off coats to get the "seat by mom" first.
" Oh phoeey!" I thought. "There goes a peaceful meal." Within seconds I realized that was not the case. Those kids sat quietly while the oldest one set the table for the family. Dad arrived from parking the car to ask them to join hands as he lead the blessing. They left the table in teams that were second to none in logistic planning to fill their plates. When they returned, all I heard was soft conversations laced with giggles. I was moved to do something. I took a $5 bill out of my wallet and went to get it changed into ones. When I returned I shared my plan with Bill who said his usual, "go for it". I walked up to the table and told a fib. I told them that when Bill and I go to eat on Sunday we choose a family of children with nice manners and asked if I could give each one a dollar for their wonderful behavior. The parents, though stunned, said it would be fine. I felt myself getting choked up with sheer joy in the moment. Each child said thank you and the oldest one broke ranks to get up and give me a hug which brought the younger ones up to follow his lead. "You have a wonderful family", I said and returned to my seat.
God moves us to do things we would never think to do otherwise and in this season of the Christ Child all we have to do is take our minds, our focus and our hearts off the bedlam and craziness of shopping in mass crowds or on line with plastic that will load up our accounts and divert it back to the reason for Christmas.
I now have eleven bags of clean, in good condition, clothing to give to an agency who can use them. My list of inspirations, yet to come, are to donate to the charity of Billy Graham to give to the people of the Phillipines who now, have nothing and live in the open elements without food or water as they grieve for many family members lost in the storm. I, also, have it on my list to give to the Wounded Warrior Fund to say thank you in a small way for our disabled and in need veterans. Today, when a friend asked me to mail her my snail mail address the thought of Christmas cards for soldiers away from home on active duty crossed my mind.
Yesterday, I saw on Facebook that my neighbor who has remembered every single birthday and anniversary of ours for the past five years by sending a card in the mail to us as part of our celebration. Ask my friend, Sandi Grebey Lloyd. She will tell you I fail miserably in the card in advance policy for all occassions. If Hallmark relied on me to "think of others with a card" I would bankrupt them. At first, when I saw Laverne's name, I thought, oh how am I going to get a card delivered by tomorrow? I can't! Then I was inspired. Bill made it possible by going to buy the ingredients we needed and he made Pumpkin cookies with raisins and pecans and iced with cream cheese icing. I prepared a plate of fresh cookies and wrote a message for her in a birthday card and took them to her kitchen door.
Our granddaughter has answered her calling to study in college to become a teacher of autistic children. It is a dynamic and brave commitment to make with her young life, but she has made it after working in the Godding School which serves autistic children and their families. It was through her volunteer work that she heard the call to become a teacher in this field of education. I have made a commitment to buy her college textbooks for the next four years. It will require some small sacrifice and the act of saving, neither I am well practiced at doing. However, I am learning to feel that nudge from God and to answer the challenge or the calling. You cannot hear God calling over the noise of the Christmas frenzied loud speakers at Wal-Mart. You cannot see which direction you should place your focus when your eyes are glued to the latest gadgets "just in time for Christmas". You cannot feel God nudging your heart when you are furious with the traffic, especially the driver poking along ahead of you that just made it through the intersection of the last split second of a caution light.
None of my acts are extraordinary. They are things my strong Christian friends do in bigger ways than me all the time. I am, as you remember, the stumbling and falling kind of Christian. For me, these small acts are the beginning of an attitude change in how to actively serve God. They are a change in how I celebrate Christmas. This will be another season of giving for me, but instead of shopping til I drop, my heart and mind are focused on those who have needs and those whose hearts could use a sign of love and care and joy.
Without those one hundred gifts neatly wrapped in a dozen giant gift bags I struggled to imagine Christmas. Through God's love and inspiration and guidance I am truly loving this season of giving and there are five weeks more to look forward to more ideas and inspirations. I wish for all of you a blessed and wonderful season of giving.
Dear Heavenly Father,
In this rushed madness of Christmas shopping speak to our hearts and minds of the greatest gift ever given, your son, Jesus Christ. Help our eyes to see the Christ child in the bright Christmas lights on those evergreen trees and remind us that the promise of salvation is forever. Inspire our minds with everyday actions that may not seem much at the time, but with Your presence become lasting memories. Lead our paths to worship your Christ Child, to hear the voices of angels singing Christmas songs that will touch our hearts and open them to more kind acts.
In Jesus' Name,