I Believe

Posted on December 13, 2009. Filed under: children, Christmas, Parenting | Tags: , , , , |

I’ve always been touched by the Christmas letter, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. It reaches down into my heart and warms me, giving me faith in mankind and all that is good.

I believe that there is magic in the holiday season, regardless of your faith. There’s a return to the basic kindnesses of giving and appreciating. The holidays invoke a fundamental desire in people to extend a helping hand, a warm wish, a smile, and even sometimes a dollar or two.

I tried to instill this same feeling for helping your neighbor, even if that neighbor was a stranger, to my kids. When I worked at a college, I was the one who spearheaded our very first “Adopt a Family” during the holidays. It went over so well, with so many gifts, clothing, and food pouring in, that we had to adopt more than one family sometimes. But, all of the presents and warmhearted offerings were delivered to my office, a spot that certainly couldn’t contain the pile of gifts that multiplied from one day to the next. So, I took them home and stored them there.

The first year, we adopted a family of seven, a married couple with five kids who had recently found themselves without a job after providing for themselves all their lives. My daughters helped wrap the gifts and put labels on them. They helped sort the food in separate boxes. When it came time to deliver Christmas to this family, they felt like they knew them and wanted to come along. I let them.

And I am so glad that I did.  The parents had told their children their situation. They knew that Christmas was going to be a meager one. But they were astounded when we arrived. Boxes and boxes of food and gifts were carried in by me and my girls and the family watched in disbelief. Then, they jumped in. The parents and the kids got their shoes and coats on and went back and forth to our loaded SUV to help us unload. The mother cried, tears streaming down her face at the generosity of strangers. The children cried, begging their dad for a tree. It was December 21st and they didn’t have one. When he explained that he didn’t have the money, I handed forth an envelope. In it, was a card signed by the employees of the college (and my daughters) and $200 to add to their holiday.

The father cried.

Inside the card was also a certificate for one semester of free tuition and fees at the community college. Now, Christmas offered more than gifts. It offered a new beginning, a new career,  a chance to start over.

The next Christmas, we adopted a totally different family. While the father in our first adopted family was actively enrolled and doing wonderfully in his new computer technology courses (and now working part-time at the college, as well), this year’s family was quite different.  A divorced mother with three small children, one an infant girl born prematurely, the other two young boys. The mother was in her early 30’s and had cancer. She had delayed treatment to save her baby’s life. This was a bittersweet Christmas – the mom, the grandmother, and an aunt all cried, especially at the amount of food, which certainly came at a much needed time in their lives.

We touched this family, as well. We gave this family a good Christmas; it was their last Christmas together. The mother passed away three months later.

You don’t know what life is going to bring. From one day to the next, you don’t know if your health will take a turn or if your job will be wiped out from under your feet. But hopefully, there is one thing you can still have faith in during the holidays, and that is the goodness of others. Extend a hand, help a stranger. It was transformational for me and my daughters. It changed the meaning of Christmas and made all of us truly appreciate what we do have.

Along with so many people, we did our part to offer hope and help to those who were less fortunate. The parents in our first family now give faithfully to other families in need. 

Like the letter says, there is a Santa Claus. He exists in all of us.

Those families believed. I believe. And my children do, too.  And I’ll forever be grateful that they do.

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