Every now and then we are jolted into the reality of knowing what’s really important in life.
Usually it means there has been a crisis or tragedy of a personal, local, national or world scope. But sometimes it doesn’t take that at all.
This past year, it took the giving of the first gift of Christmas.
When the heart is moved with compassion, it’s like a locomotive headed down a steep grade. There’s no stopping it. And that’s where the story began for us.
It was the usual holiday hustle and bustle – trying to get the shopping done early for once, get the cards out, the tree up, the baking done, and prepare the house for company. (We wouldn’t want people to see how we really live, so that last one takes a while.)
In a move that I hoped would save us a lot of time and head scratching, I asked our kids what they wanted for Christmas. If you know any of our children, they always say they have the things they need – but we know there are things they would like to have. The search continued until one night when one of our sons approached me quietly, sharing what was at the top of his Christmas list.
He told me quietly that he wanted to sponsor a needy child from the Adopt-A-Child Christmas tree.
If our son had been 10 or more years older, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all by this wish, but he was just coming out of his 20th year, so of course I was not at all prepared for something like that.
Standing there in the hallway and looking up at him, I asked if that was really what he wanted, making sure he understood that there would be less for him under the tree on Christmas morning, compared to his brother and sister.
“I know,” he said. ” but I’d rather help a little kid have a Christmas when they might not have one otherwise.”
If you could imagine how small I felt at that moment, compared to the magnitude of what he was saying, and the spirit in which it was being said. And if you never believed in the power and the spirit of Christmas before, you would have walked away from that conversation -as I did – saying to yourself, “I believe.”
Only this time you would have really, truly meant it.
A name was taken from the tree, and a young boy became the object of our shopping trip which followed. Our son combed the stores, personally selecting each of the gifts he wanted the boy to receive, helping wrap and I.D. them, and delivering the gifts to the store where Santa Claus would pick them up to deliver them to this child, and to all of the children whose secret identifications were on that tree.
I chose a name off of the tree for our family as well, but as usual, because it was something we’ve always thought we should do to be grateful for the ways in which God has blessed us over and over, albeit undeservingly. Our son was giving up part of his Christmas in order to do this for someone he didn’t even know, but still cared for in this anonymous way.
As per his wishes, nothing was said about this to anyone else in the family, until Christmas morning. When our son opened the last gift of Christmas – a box containing a slip of paper that had the list of the young boy’s Christmas wishes – the rest of the family wondered what it was all about.
As they listened, they heard the story of what their brother wanted most for Christmas, how it was carried out and a list of the gifts he had selected for that young boy.
It was uncharacteristically quiet in the room for a Christmas morning in those moments, and as they listened to the story, they saw their brother in a new light, and their own hearts were overflowing with compassion. They decided they wanted to do something like that next year also. It was a prideful time.
That locomotive was full-steam ahead.
It’s amazing how one person’s thinking and actions can affect the way other people think. It’s a powerful thing, and if used for good, it can change the world, if only one person at a time.
Our son has always known it, but this year especially, he and our whole family rediscovered just how much better it feels to give than to receive. It truly was, for all of us, the first – and most lasting – gift of Christmas.
“And a child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)