Monday, December 23, 2013

A Different Kind of Christmas

A Different Christmas

I wanted it to be a nice Christmas, one to remember -- and it was. My parent’s house was bursting at the seams with family that year. How blessed it was, such a meaningful time. A wonderful celebration, and my oldest sister and brother-in-law’s thirtieth anniversary although a few days shy of December 25th. That year’s Christmas celebration had a different twist. This time our annual gift-giving exchange between the families did not happen—on purpose. It had been my sister’s idea to start with. 
“I was thinking, in light of Hurricane Katrina, maybe it would be good to do money donations this year instead of everyone buying gifts for each other,” my sister opened up a new dialogue during a phone conversation a few weeks before Christmas. “What do you think? Would you like to do that?

 “What are you proposing? How would you like to do it?” I asked, curious about her thinking. She responded that it would be nice to still include the gift exchange with the grandchildren and grandparents but it might be nice to donate to a favorite charity of Mother- and Dad’s or something else for the rest of us. She said she would talk to everyone first to find out what the consensus was. I said, “Sure, count me in!” 

I have to admit my first reaction on the gut level was one of disappointment. I have always enjoyed the way our family comes together with homemade and unique gifts, family to family, with lots of personal touches. I knew I would miss it. But quick on the heels of that thought was one of relief. Now I won’t have to search and search to find the right gifts! It’s a good thing I am not an early shopper! This will make Christmas easier! 

I find it interesting how our thoughts and desires evolve over time. As Christmas drew nearer and we decided to do the money-gifting as a whole family, I gave it more thought. I considered who I would choose to receive what I would give. I thought of a couple of families who I knew could use some help. It made me wonder how we would figure it out. With five families involved, it might be hard to work out in a way that would please everyone. 

The next time my sister from Oregon and I talked, she said that my sister and brother-in-law from Panama, who were in  the states for the year, had suggested someone who was in a very difficult place in her life. a person from their mission ministry in Panama. I told her that I had been thinking of someone else too, but probably the need was not as great. 

A decision was made that on Christmas Day all of us would have a round table discussion. Each could share what was on their heart at the time about who would be the recipient of our money gifting. What a nice way to handle this, I thought to myself. The Christmas was going to be extra special in other ways for both of my brother-in-law’s mothers were coming to California to join us, one from Idaho and the other from Montana. Maybe this type of gift exchange would make it more comfortable for them as well. 

After dinner on Christmas Day, we gathered round the antique mahogany dining room table. My brother’s family shared about a woman in their church who was struggling. Her husband had left her and money was tight. She could use a helping hand and especially the encouragement. I shared about two different needs: an older woman whose husband was in jail. Her funds were limited and the difficulty of her situation making it an emotional and financial hardship. I knew it would be a blessing to her. The other, a family new to my church, he, a recent convert recovering from substance abuse recently hospitalized for leukemia, active on our church worship team. I thought it might be an encouragement to them. My brother-in-law shared the woman from Panama’s story, she, a house keeper in Panama, had been diagnosed with a serious illness then received surgery. As a single parent, she cared for her daughters as best she could, a woman living in hardship with physical limitations but an abundance of living faith. All the suggestions were worthy. It would be hard to decide. I hoped all would receive donations. 
. . .
It was decided that we could donate to whomever we wished from the different needs. We would make contact with the person who had mentioned the request. As Christmas day progressed, different ones came to me to donate to the two suggestions I had mentioned. It touched me when one of the mother-in-law’s contributed to my suggestions. I hadn’t expected a guest to participate. I did the same with some of their requests. I found myself giving more than I would have spent if I had purchased gifts. I wanted each one of the suggested recipients to receive a generous amount. To the young woman whose husband had left her, I wrote a note of encouragement, knowing and relating to her pain. During the week that followed, I sent out notes to both my gift-recipients, stating that the gift was from the Brumbaugh family not just from me, but that it really was from God through us. I deliberated on just how to state it, to say it in a correct way. 
. . .
It was a joy to hear back after they were received. The woman whose husband is incarcerated called me up, her voice appreciative with a hint of emotion. Yes, times had been hard and she was so grateful. She wanted me to thank everyone. It would meet a specific need. The man from my church thanked me, his smile genuine and words sincere, telling me it met a need. My pastor later told me that when the card was received, this man told him that it was exactly the amount needed to meet their house payment. The gift surprised him and blessed his family while also encouraging him in his faith. Well, the note to the other woman didn’t go unacknowledged either. Later she and I met. We talked for hours as our hearts met in understanding, two women looking to God when the pieces don’t fit. 

That was the only year we as a family did our Christmas giving in such a way. It stands out in my mind as one of those special times when the real meaning of Christmas came through. Our family likes to sing at Christmas, and we did. Mostly hymn-type Christmas songs like Silent Night. The songs’ words speak of Christ, the angels, and the blessed babe in a manger. God with us. It is satisfying and unselfish when a person gives to others with no thought of self or receiving in return.

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