Holiday Giving

2011/12/21

One of the things that I want my kids to develop a heart for (or at least a healthy respect for) is service to others.  I recognize that I can’t make them love it, or even really like doing it- but I can instill in them a respect for the fact that we should be concerned for “the least of these”, and we are responsible for helping them in some way.  It’s not okay to see a need and do nothing- I think God shows us things so that we can act, although “act” to me doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it yourself.  Sometimes the action is doing, but sometimes it’s finding the right person to get it done.

Anyway, on Saturday, I took Monae and Maisy to the Salvation army headquarters here in Baltimore.  Mark was quite ill, so he stayed at grandma’s, and Max would never understand why we weren’t opening the toys for ourselves, so I thought it would be better if he just stayed with daddy, lol.

Monae wasn’t really happy about missing her early dance classes to do this, at least not at first.  I am pleased to report that about halfway through the experience, she asked me if we could volunteer there every year- like a family tradition.    I told her I’d see how it went, and let he know after we were done.  When I explained to Maisy that we were going to pack up toys and clothes for kids who wouldn’t get anything for Christmas, she said, “some kids can’t get anything for Christmas?  Wait- but I’m still getting toys, right?”  It was kinda funny.  Once I reassured her that we weren’t giving away her toys, she was fine.  Maisy didn’t really mind helping at first, but got bored with it quickly.  I think next year she’ll do better, since she’d be able to help out a little more.

After signing in, we were escorted to an aisle and given directions.  In a room about the size of an elementary school gym, there were long tables set up end to end, almost the entire width of the room across, and most of the length to form aisles.  These tables were also stacked on top of each other- so take the layout and stack it on itself to get a mental picture.  On these tables and on the floor were large boxes, side to side.  Around the perimeter of the room on roughly three sides were giant wooden bins with the fronts cut low (so you can reach things inside).  The last wall consisted of a large shelving unit holding boxes labeled with boys and girls sizes, and shelves full of shoes, also sorted by size.

Each box has a sheet with information about the children in a family (they provide gifts for kids 12 and under only).  There are kids’ first names, their gender, age, and whatever they wished to receive as a gift.  There are two gift categories- toys and clothes- and stocking are also added for each child.

Our job was to look at the sheet, go to the bins/ clothing area to find the specific items in the right sizes, and fill the boxes (which contained black trash bags to hold everything).  Monae was shocked by the sheer amount of boxes in the room; we were about halfway down the aisles and we started working on boxes in the 900’s.  There were at least 2000 boxes in that room.  She was even more shocked, and quite sad, when I told her that those boxes didn’t come close to approximating the total number of kids or families that needed help- there were many more who wouldn’t get the help they needed.  It was very sobering.

We worked for three hours, finding stockings (separated by age), searching through toy bins, looking through coats and shoes for the right size.  It was easily one of the simplest volunteer jobs I’ve ever done, but also one of the hardest.  What I found most difficult was looking at the kids’ names and ages and realizing that they were the same ages as MY kids.  Seeing that he or she needed a coat.  Or maybe a pair of shoes that fit.  Maybe the four year old wanted a Barbie, or the tween girl asked for some lipgloss.  Things we take for granted everyday.  I can’t imagine any of my kids not having shoes that fit, or having to put “winter coat” or “gloves and hat” on their Christmas list.  That may sound petty or snobbish, but I’m not trying to be snobby- I’m just saying that it really hit home for me how much we take for granted.  How many things do we take as a given, and not even consider because we just know that they will be taken care of?   You know, those things that never even cross your mind when you’re whining about what you can’t get, or can’t have, or can’t do?  I’m guessing that when you’re having that pity party about how you haven’t been on vacation in three years because you just can’t afford it, things like affording a pair of shoes that fit or a thick coat for the winter never enter your mind.  They don’t for me, at least not at first.

This year when it got cold, I had a moment where I sighed to myself because I’d have to choose between one of my “same old coats” again this year, instead of buying myself a new one.  Not that I can’t, just that since I already have several puffy jackets and several wool coats, it wouldn’t be prudent for me to buy a pretty new camel- colored, cashmere blend car coat.  I thought about that when I was standing in the Salvation Army warehouse.  I felt ashamed and surprised at myself for not seeing how self- absorbed I probably am most of the time.  Not in a selfish way, just in a “me and my little world” kind of way.  My kids can choose what coat to wear, by style and color.  These kids are just happy to get something that will keep them warm.  Again, it was very sobering.

The silver lining in recognizing and acknowledging my selfish nature is that I caught a glimpse of the woman I want to be.  Introspection can be very difficult, as it forces you to take a hard look at yourself and see some things that you’d rather not acknowledge.  Indeed, the very act of seeing makes what you weren’t seeing before crystal clear.  It’s like looking in a highly polished mirror at yourself- seeing everything that you are, and everything you’re not all at the same time.

Along those same lines, I’m reminded that God was at work in me even then.  Not just because He stirred my heart to make volunteering a priority this year, but because during that introspective experience, He shined His light on me, exposing those dark places that I’d prefer to keep hidden- like the selfishness hiding in the shadow of my humility.  Have you ever noticed that when light is shined on some dark places, whatever is in the path of the light comes into focus, but those things on the margins are cast in shadow?  I  have found that when God’s light shines within us to reveal something we need to work on, it has the opposite effect on the outside.   The bright light focuses on the selfishness within me, but in that moment, people on the outside see my humility and compassion in the light; my selfishness is cast in shadow, out of sight, beyond pointing fingers and clucking tongues .

I had the desire to give to those less fortunate this holiday season.  However it really worked out that they gave to me-  a better, clearer picture of myself and the woman that I want to be.

And so, to answer her question:

Yes, Monae- we’ll make this a tradition every year.

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One Response to “Holiday Giving”


  1. awesome. thanks for sharing. helped me see the things in perspective.

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