Saturday, December 23, 2017
Winning (just a little bit) at Christmas
I read blogs, articles and posts about what other people were doing and felt exceedingly depressed, even while knowing that I don't need to be them or their family. We're us. We're who we're supposed to be.
This year November rolled around and I thought, let's try this again. Because that's what we must do, right? I figured even if we tried and did something, anything, it would be better than nothing at all. And somehow, thankfully, I felt I needed to approach everything with a little more peace and a little more humor.
I grabbed a piece of paper one day after Thanksgiving and wrote in red and green "The 12 Acts of Kindness and Giving." I don't know where it came from, but there it was, in front of us. I called Anna, Ethan and Chloe over and tried to speak quickly before Ethan lost interest (a continued issue in the past). "Guys, this year before Christmas we're going to do 12 things for others that we haven't done before, things we talk about but never get around to doing." I announced. We chatted for a few minutes about ideas (well, Chloe drifted off to do something else). I mentioned them using some of their allowance or thinking of ideas themselves.
And so the adventure began.
The first thing we did was grab that catalogue that comes in the mail every year, the one where you can donate a certain amount to give people in other countries a goat for milk or a sheep for wool to help provide for their families. Every year we look in the catalog and talk about what would be nice to give and then it gets buried under mail or presents and suddenly the holiday is gone. Or someone would talk about how they didn't want to spend money on that. This year, miracle of miracles, I passed the catalog around and both Anna and Ethan picked something. I did too and before the day was out filled out the form and put the check in the envelope. There was no way we were going to let this one get away from us this year! #1 was complete.
A few days later I paid for several people's Dunkin' Donuts orders behind me in the drive-thru (#2). This felt a little like cheating because I'd done it before, but I wanted to keep the momentum going. Every time we completed an act, we wrote it on the paper.
A while after that we had a wonderfully snowy Saturday we spent baking cookies and making Christmas cards. #3 nearly broke my heart. I'd read an article about a little boy who had been in that horrific church shooting in Texas. He'd survived 5 bullet wounds but lost many in his family...and he wanted to receive Christmas cards from all over. The kids and I sent him a card, and prayers.
I can't remember the exact order of how it all went down (and so numbers that follow may not be completely accurate), but I will say that the more we did, the more our enthusiasm grew. Soon Anna and Ethan (yes, Ethan!) were asking what we were going to do next.
I asked both of them to give towards something they felt strongly about, so Anna decided she wanted to get something for the no-kill cat shelter in town (#4). We picked up some food that we need to deliver ASAP, and I think we will add a donation to that as well.
Ethan suggested we give hats and mittens to his school, collecting for a local women's shelter (#5). We've purchased those and are going to give them to either that or another organization collecting for people living in the area from Puerto Rico who were displaced by Hurricane Maria.
#6 didn't quite work out but I'm hoping we can salvage it. We had hoped to donate small toys to someone going on a mission trip to Haiti but they didn't make it to their destination in time. I am still hoping to donate the items (maybe to Goodwill).
We did #7 on my birthday, out to eat: gave the waiter a super big tip and an encouraging note. I told the kids beforehand we were going to give the big tip, EVEN if the service was bad. That's what grace is all about.
Two of our most "fun" acts (#8 & #9) were ideas I actually found somewhere else. Anna and I spent a little time slipping a few small, encouraging notes into library books. And Anna and Ethan cut out coupons from a BJs coupon book and we then made a trip there to place coupons next to the actual items in the store. This one surprised us because when we went to do that, we found someone else had the same idea! There were coupons next to most of the same items. We just added a few more.
#10 was whimsical and some people might think it's a little crazy. It's another idea I saw somewhere else. I have a ton of spare change. We drove around and just randomly sprinkled change in parking lots and on sidewalks, like fairy dust. If someone really needs it, I know they'll take it.
There was a real sense of gratification that came with #11 due to the debacle that was last year. Last Christmas I bought a number of items to put together little bags of to give to homeless people. Each pack was supposed to contain socks, gum, a little change, toothpaste, a water bottle...a few other items. Only we only got around to making one bag last year. And it sat and sat in the car. We'd always forget about it. Then one day someone really needed change. And there was no toothpaste in the house. Or we needed the socks for some indoor play scape that required socks. We began to dip into the "homeless bag" until it became a pathetic kind of joke. There it sat, ripped open in the car, mocking me and my inability to complete a good deed.
This year I said forget the bags, but did hear about a drive in town collecting socks for the homeless. So we bought lots of socks. And all cheered as they left our car to actually get donated to someone in need.
#12 was homemade cookies we brought to the nursing home down the street. Chloe and I had been there a few weeks before, caroling with her school. It was quite an experience for a sensitive almost four-year-old. She'd never seen people in quite that condition. "Some of them weren't real, mama," she kept claiming after. "They were statues." I knew she was thinking of those who sat in wheelchairs staring straight ahead, as if we weren't there. But many others clapped and sang and smiled, their faces shining. I will never forget the little lady behind a locked door. We couldn't open it: she was in the Alzheimer's Unit and had to be secured behind the doors. But we sang on the other side, and she followed the sound of the music and came right up to the window, peering out at us happily.
When I brought the cookies, I was reminded how uncomfortable I really am stepping at all out of my comfort zone. I don't like walking into places where I don't know people and where someone will undoubtedly ask, "What are you doing? Who do you want?" Even when it's a donation. I hate the awkward feeling. But I pushed through it when I was being gently grilled by a confused staff person. It's amazing how often people don't understand when you want to give them something. They don't always want to receive it at first.
That made me wonder how often we all do that. Why is it that sometimes, especially when we are older and weighted down by life and disappointments and our own feelings of unworthiness, that we find it so difficult to receive?
I ended up talking with this woman for a few minutes. I told her my grandmother had had Alzheimer's and stayed in a similar facility and she confided that her mom had too. I told her we'd come with the carolers. "I remember that," she said with a smile. "There were so many of you."
And so those were the 12 Acts of Kindness and Giving. Did we change the world? Did we do anything that revolutionary? No. Did Ethan say, "Yay, we did everything on the list! Do I get money for that?" Yes. This is a work in progress.
But we took baby steps. We did something. We all stopped for a few minutes to think about the world around us that we touch every day in different ways and how we might make it just a little better. In the process I felt just a bit more connected to my community. And understood a bit more how important it is to push past an uncomfortable, self-conscious feeling if it means helping someone else.
I learned that the 12 acts weren't about a list or duty, but about real, living people who are dealing with all kinds of things. I hope the kids remember that, too. What a gift that is...true compassion. Empathy. And a journey away from selfishness.