The other day at breakfast, I sat all the kids down and started telling them about how Christmas would go.
As they ate, they watched me.
“Christmas is not about getting. It’s not like, ‘me, me, me, more, more, me, everything for me’…” they giggled and laughed, but I wasn’t done making my point.
(My actual vibe that morning):
“Christmas is about learning to give. God came down, from a place that was absolutely ideal, and came here to give us life, to bring life from death, and teach us how to live with love and caring. Serve people, help people, be there for them. And then we get all tricked. We think it’s all about us getting things we don’t need! And everyone goes crazy!
They all started laughing and nodding and copying me like a whiney kid, “Me, me, me!” They thought it was hilarious, but I was being serious.
“SO,” I brought them back together, “…I want each of you to pick a service project, and pray about it, something to help someone poor or in need and we’ll do it as a family. Pray about it, pick something good, use your talents and ability to help people. You will each make your own.”
I was kind of expecting weeping and gnashing of teeth, but they all cheered, “Yay!!!”
Later that week, Finley and I were praying about his project while driving. He wanted to help a family in need. I knew our favorite resale shop helped poor families, so we made a quick stop on the way home from school, even though I felt a little bit too busy, just a quick stop.
Finley and I push through the dingy, glass door. Finley went straight for the Christmas section where we spotted a Christmas village sitting on the shelf of a glass cabinet. It had a windmill, a barn, two children bundled up carrying a tree to a lit home with it’s door cracked, illuminated by a tiny bulb inside, the light glowing out.
“And a tractor…” Finley said breathless.
There was a handwritten price taped to one of the buildings.
“Let’s get it,” I told him, and he cheered, he couldn’t believe his luck, pulling his balled hands down over and over.
“I’ll get it all boxed up for you,” the older woman told me.
‘Catholic Charities’ it said on her name tag.
I cleared my throat, “So, I know you guys work with poor families, right?”
“Yes, all the money we make here in the shop goes to buy the emergency food for the food bank right there,” she pointed to the other half of the store near the walls of books. The door to the food bank nook, about 1/4 of the building, was closed.
“Oh, ok, well, we wanted to help someone in need as a family, so we wanted to know if there would be a family we could partner with, buy them specific food or Christmas items they may need…”
“Oh, well, you could talk to Marco. He is on lunch break for another 15 minutes, I don’t know if we can share personal info though…”
“No, of course, of course,” I felt embarrassed, or nosey, I expected to hear that response. The reason I almost didn’t ask.
“But talk to Marco, he runs it all.”
I look at my phone, 15 minutes…
I don’t think we can wait that long…Poppy and Elijah were napping at home. They’d be up soon. Andrew was working from home and our friend’s Ukrainian son was over for the day.
I look at Finley.
‘Lord, if you want me to stay and wait this out, just, show me, or make it easy…’
I need prayer to fuel my actions most times.
“Love must be sincere…”
We walk around the glass display cases, Finley pointing out little items along the way, costume jewelry, porcelain dolls lost in a serene, glassy smile.
I start to peruse the books, titles on wrinkled bindings, and I check the clock, it had only been three minutes. No one had called my phone yet.
Finley finds a carpeted pallet on wheels, “I’ll carry the Christmas village box for you, mama!” and he loads it up.
I find a chair near the books and sit.
“Not bad, God…”
A line starts to form at the unopened emergency food door. Mostly women, some with small children. A couple of them chat, most are silent, completely. So are their children. I smile at a little girl and she hides her face into her mother, not playfully, but nervous.
I am resolved to sit here, Finley laying his face close to the floor to watch the wheels of his pallet closely roll, back and forth, back and forth.
The line is getting long. The door opens. No one has called me, the kids must still be sleeping.
“Finley,” I whisper, “Now’s our time, let’s see if there is a family we can help.”
He looks longingly at his wheeled pallet and breathes, “Okkkk….” and holds my hand to walk to the line.
We stand in the line and the woman in line in front of me looks at me, and looks away.
I feel self conscious. Standing in line.
“Love must be sincere….Love is humble,” I whisper to myself.
The people in line in front of me had taken seats along the edge of a small waiting area, sitting in small plastic chairs lining the wall, facing the front counter. A kind, white-haired woman with large glasses and a youthful smile greets me from behind a counter. I have to lean over to see her.
“Hi…” and I tell her my story as Finley holds onto my hand.
“Well!!” She exclaims, “That’s interesting…let me ask Marco, I’ll be right back!”
Finley and I stand off to the side to wait. Nobody in the waiting area is talking, not even the little kids make a peep. Now, not even Finley. There are small, open cubicles with cheery, older woman each with a clip board as they one by one, welcome the people sitting in the waiting area. One is sitting with a hispanic grandmother and asks her brightly, “Ok,” while looking at the papers, “so is this your first time here?” The woman nods her head.
I can’t watch, too emotional for me, luckily, Finley starts climbing into the open shelf of the food storage,
“FINLEY….You are bring disrespectful!”
“Sorry!” he grins, and returns to my side.
A young man with a collared shirt approached me and introduces himself as Marco. He shakes my hand, and Finley’s, greeting him kindly. Finley stands up tall after shaking his hand.
I explain to him why we are here, tell him we live very close and we were wondering if there might be a family who we could partner with to help this Christmas season.
“Oh,” he smiles, “We have lots of families.”
He tells me some options, they are having a toy drive at their Catholic church, “Is that what you are looking for?”
“Well, yes, if that’s what we can do, we’d be happy to be a part of that and donate. Our thought, though, was if there was a family, and the kids had specific things they wanted, or if the family has specific needs, we could work with them, I don’t really know what it looks like, but…” I am conjuring up the prayer Finley and I had prayed.
“Yes, that sounds really nice. I think we can make that work. I have a few families in mind who would greatly benefit from this.”
He wrote down his email address on a shelf holding boxes of canned yams, chips ahoy cookies, green beans, small bags of dried beans, neatly, carefully packed in open, short cardboard boxes.
We thank him and say goodbye, Finley shook his hand solemnly, a little more grown up than I expected him to respond.
We drive home, Finley is missing his pallet. Once home, I discover the children are still sleeping. I feel like God blessed my time. I sit and talk with our Ukrainian friend at length, I feel peaceful and unhurried. I have enough time for some household things before the kids wake up. Our time was the opposite of an infringement on my time. What seemed daunting was encouraging.
We set up our Christmas Village, it is cheerful and sweet, with just one missing bulb. Thanks for that chair God, and that carpeted pallet, gifts of kindness to keep us on our path. So, we are hopeful to help, and wait to see where we are led.
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. // Philippians 1:9-11