Christmas came up at a church meeting this week. We were all sent home with a question to ponder:
“How can we as a church love and serve the people around us this Christmas, both inside our walls and out?”
When the idea of a toy drive came up, I immediately found myself immersed in conflicting emotions. Caught off guard by my own reaction, I had to go home and unpack some baggage I didn’t realized I carried.
If you’ve been following this series for the last 11 weeks, you know our family has lived a traditional, small town American lifestyle for most of our married life. My husband, Mike, and I have raised nine children mostly on one income. I say “mostly” because as a police officer in a small community, Mike often worked in more than one precinct so I could stay home.
We were used to making sacrifices for our chosen lifestyle–a large family, country life and one wage earner. Together we made it work and took pride in our calluses. Even through the Carter years, Mike never went without work until a pulmonary embolism knocked him down.
For the following two years, we depended on the grace and support of our church, friends and community as he recovered. That first Christmas, I suppose a similar meeting was held in another church. Someone must have brought up the local police officer living outside of town with his house full of children.
Unbeknownst to us, our names went on their list.
Just a few days before Christmas, a strange car pulled into the drive. A man and his wife came to the door carrying a large bulging garbage bag and a cardboard box. They dropped the bag on the floor and handed me the box with a cheerful “Merry Christmas” and went on their way.
The box was filled with a frozen turkey, a canned ham and various canned goods. In the bag we found a wrapped present for each child. The tag on the gift didn’t have a name on it– just an generic “Girl age 9” or “Boy age 3.” I was so thankful. It’s been so long ago I don’t remember– but I probably cried.
We locked ourselves behind a closed door and unwrapped each gift. Determined who would like what, and then wrapped them again with his or her name on the tag. We all felt blessed beyond measure.
Then it all turned on me.
Another Christmas approached with Mike still unable to work.
Once again, the same scenario occurred. The large black garbage bag and open box arrived just days before Christmas. This time, it didn’t thrill me.
By then, the financial stress had taken its toll. An entire year spent struggling, praying for healing and release to go back to work. Opening that garbage bag behind closed doors, signified that we couldn’t give our children the Christmas they once knew.
Here’s the thing.
It wasn’t about the toys. A garbage bag full of the best toys in the world couldn’t heal the brokenness we felt. They couldn’t pack in a silk bag what our family really needed to make it Christmas for us.
We needed to be able to express our love to each of our children with thoughtful gifts. Just one present that said, “I know you. I see what you secretly long for. I know what makes you smile.”
Looking back this week I realized what turned that blessing into a curse.
I never knew what church sent those gifts– but they just kept coming year after year, long after we needed it. Once I tried to tell the guy bringing it, to get us off the list– we’re ok now. I explained we didn’t need it, and asked if he would please take it to someone that does. “It’s ok.” He shrugged. “Keep it.”
He couldn’t have known what that black garbage bag signified to me.
This week, I’ve taken this lesson of the past to heart. Although, in many ways this Christmas will have many of the same trademarks of that painful Christmas so long ago, however, I’ve learned the hard lessons of those years taught.
Circumstances, especially financial, are always temporary. It’s only permanent if we let it be. There will always be lean times and seasons of abundance. In times such as these, is when we look for new opportunities; they provide a catalyst for uprooting and daring drastic change.
I added another category to my budget, and gained a new resolve to be the blessing that I once prayed for.
Have you ever been hurt by someone’s good intentions? How can we change that? How can we see truly help someone this Christmas? What do you think?