Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Not for Sale: Christmas Spirit

Posted by Andrew on December 25, 2007

A few days before Christmas I felt something missing inside: Christmas spirit. Amidst the hustle and bustle of buying presents for friends and family (and myself), I had this nagging feeling that I hadn’t done anything yet to help the less fortunate. So I figured if I could just do something for the needy, I’d get that Christmas spirit I wanted. I came up with an ingenious plan, or so I thought.

I’d put my girls in the truck, drive to a poor neighborhood, find someone on the street who looked needy, and give them some money. When I told my girls the plan, they weren’t too excited about it. “I don’t want to drive to find some poor people–the poor people live really far away.” I chuckled and told them there were poor people living just ten miles away. With a little convincing, they agreed to come along with me. We drove to Santa Ana, where Spanish is spoken in more homes than any other city in the nation. After just a few minutes on the 5 freeway, we were there.

As we randomly drove through the neighborhoods, I tried to point out to my daughters the tell-tale signs of poverty. Graffiti, high fences in front yards, bars on windows, cracked and pot-holed streets. It was all there–but not nearly as bad as I had expected. In fact, many of the neighborhoods had noticeably improved in recent years, and the downtown district had been completely renovated.

As we cruised the streets, we kept our eyes out for the needy. But they were nowhere to be found. Instead, we saw fathers, mothers, and children all respectably dressed, smiling as they walked along the streets, out enjoying a beautiful Saturday together. “It’s hard to tell what poor people look like,” observed one of my daughters from the backseat. “Yes,” I agreed.

I was beginning to worry we wouldn’t find a poor person. Street after street, both the people and neighborhoods looked better than expected. The people looked happy. But how could they be happy? They lived in Santa Ana! Weren’t they depressed they had to walk everywhere or take the bus? Did they not realize how unfortunate their position was for having to live there?

As the time wore on, my daughters and I were getting less patient. We had a lot of other errands to run, and this was taking far longer than I’d planned. And it was lunchtime.

Finally we decided we’d give the money to someone with small children. We spotted a mother pushing a toddler in a stroller with another little one walking at her side. They were standing at the corner of a busy intersection next to a gas station. I flipped a U and pulled into the gas station parking lot. I waved and smiled to get the woman’s attention. She saw me and smiled, but then turned as if she was going to cross the street.

I hopped out of my truck and approached her, hoping the Spanish I’d learned on my mission wouldn’t be too rusty. “Good afternoon,” I told her, “I’m here to give you a Christmas present.” She looked at me with an understandable mix of interest and apprehension. I held the money out to her and she accepted it with a “gracias.” She introduced herself and her two children, and we all shook hands. “Que Dios te bendiga,” may God bless you, she said as I walked back to my truck.

As I drove home I reflected on the incident. Although I was sure Sandra and her two children, Alejandro and Kenya, would benefit from the money, I was disappointed I still didn’t feel that Christmas spirit I’d expected to feel after giving them the money. Why didn’t I feel the Christmas spirit?, I wondered as I drove home. Where were the warm fuzzies I wanted? Were they not truly in need?; was I supposed to give the money to someone else? Was it because I didn’t know them?; didn’t have any prior emotional connection to them? Was it the awkwardness of giving money to a total stranger unsolicited? Was it because Sandra wasn’t effusive in her thanks?

It took a couple days for me to figure out what I’d done wrong. Although I’d wanted to help someone, my primary goal in giving was to make myself feel good. In a way, it was as if I’d thought I could just walk into a department store, pull Sandra and her children off a shelf, ring them up at the cash register, and get those warm fuzzies I’d been after. And now that I didn’t feel the Christmas spirit after having bought them, I think deep down a part of me wanted a refund.

On the Sunday before Christmas I was sitting in the Primary room with my class. The speaker was announced. It was a mildly autistic boy and, although he and his father had been coming to church more regularly, they still didn’t “fit the mold.”  Longish unkempt hair, no ties, shirts sometimes untucked. The boy walked up to the podium, looked out at all the children, leaned into the microphone, and let out a big “Uh.” He repeated this one syllable several more times. “Uh . . . uh . . . uh . . . ” He looked like a deer caught in headlights.

The room was heavy with awkward silence–the kind that makes you look at the floor or want to leave the room. I looked over my shoulder and saw the boy’s concerned father leaning forward in his chair. I could tell he wanted to help his son, but seemed unsure whether that would be against the protocol. “You can go up and help him out if you want,” I whispered, “parents do it all the time.” “Can I?” he said and walked up to his son’s side. The father whispered simple words to his son about the meaning of Christmas, and the boy repeated them.

When they were finished, the boy walked back to his seat in front of me wearing an unsure look on his face. When he sat down I patted him on the back and whispered a “good job” to him. I turned around in my chair and saw the boy’s father looking somewhat embarrassed. “Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” I reassured him. “Sometimes the kids just get a little nervous–happened to my daughter just a couple weeks ago. Happens to lots of the kids.” “Thanks, thanks a lot” he said, and stuck out his hand for a shake.

I turned back around in my chair, and that’s when it hit me. And it hit me hard and strong. It was one of those moments when you just feel it well up in your chest all of a sudden. It seemed as though God was trying to tell me he appreciated my trying to make the boy and his father feel accepted and to not feel embarrassed. I felt like my heart was going to explode with joy–the kind of joy that’s so strong it turns your heart into warm jelly and makes your eyes water. It was that Christmas spirit I’d been wanting all Christmas season. I finally got it.

And it didn’t cost me a dime.

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One Response to “Not for Sale: Christmas Spirit”

  1. Craig A said

    Its funny the things that bring that Christmas spirit. On christmas day the thing my oldest two children got excited about was the homemade sand box with 4$ worth in sand from Lowe’s. Their faces were so excited and they played with it the longest. The Christmas spirit was most amplified for me this year by doing some hometeaching/ elders quorum visits and seeing my kids get so into it.

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