It's the Holiday Season, and many are busy bustling from store to store, caught up in a frenzy of shopping for the 'perfect gift' for a friend or loved one. It's a time where many are delving into their pocket books, depleting whatever funds they've managed to save so they can buy the latest gadget. This is also a time where many feel guilt because they don't have the money to buy their children gifts. For them, the pressure of the holidays is another bleak reminder that they do not have what everyone else has.
Whatever your story is, this is a time where we either learn about consumerism, or the magic of a holiday Season that can reconnect us with our humanity--with what it means to give and receive.
For myself, I have discovered the latter.
For the last ten years, I have opened my home to 50 people who have no where to go for the holidays, providing an entire homemade feast every Christmas and Thanksgiving. This is the first year I am unable to uphold my holiday tradition. Like many, this has been an incredibly challenging year for me, and there have been times I wanted to give up.
Last month, I almost lost my home. I was handed a 3 day eviction notice due to a series of unfortunate events that literally left me penniless in a matter of weeks. I realized that at any moment, any one of us can 'lose it all.' That lesson was powerful. Being a 'Giver' all my life, it was rather difficult to be in the position to ask for help because I desperately needed it or I would have been homeless. I made a bold move and shared my story on my social media page. The amount of support I received from people I hadn't heard from in ages was astounding. In a matter of 48 hours, a miracle happened, and with their contributions I was able to come up with the money to pay off my landlord and stop the eviction process.
The kindness of others helped me achieve a miracle.
This revelation both surprised and delighted me. Sometimes when we are caught up in our busy lives, we don't realize that there are people out there who need our help, and who are also willing to help.
As it became evidently clear I would not be having a Christmas this year, I allowed myself to sink into a minor depression. I immersed myself in the guilt of not being able to host my annual dinner, or choose the most thoughtful gifts at the local thrift store, (one of my favorite things to do.) To be honest, I felt like a failure, and that somewhere along the line I failed at making things happen for my family.
At some point in my wallowing, a spark came to life. I realized that I could still contribute to others in a smaller way. I had random toys and clothes in my garage, and boxes full of Christmas decorations. I could adopt a few families and donate to children who needed holiday cheer more than I did. This idea instantly perked me up, and I threw myself wholeheartedly into my vision.
I posted a request for families on a Facebook group, and instantly received several responses. The first came from an unemployed aunt raising a 3 year old girl whose mother is a drug addict. I received another from a woman who knew of two children ages 6 and 9 whose mother had recently died and is being buried this morning. My heart sank learning about these children who would be spending Christmas without their mother. A family with three children, whose baby was just diagnosed with a terminal genetic illness, had a hard time asking for help. Another had an 11 year old girl, who found branches on the street to decorate as her 'tree.' I felt I could be able to offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of unimaginable heartbreak for these families.
When I said yes to the last family, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. A woman shared a story about a family who had nine children from the ages of 2 to 16 who were being evicted and forced to live in a motel. My jaw dropped at the number of children, which brought my total to 16 kids. I didn't have enough items for 16 kids.
Once again, I took to my social media page and requested gently used items to help make Christmas happen for these families I committed to. I knew I couldn't give up on them after knowing their personal stories. I would have done anything to make sure these kids discovered a reason to keep hope alive this holiday.
There are moments in your life where you get to discover what it means to be grateful, and what it means to be human. I've been fortunate to encounter that several times on my journey. Witnessing the magic unfold with this project has literally brought me to my knees in gratitude. I received close to a hundred donations from The Jenesse Center, Inc., a domestic violence intervention program in Los Angeles, and another 90 toys from Dan Barrett's Toys for Tots in Costa Mesa. A Commissioner from the Commission on the Status of women and several Facebook friends also personally contributed, and together we have close to 400 gifts to make Christmas happen for these and other families I am able to add to the list.
The sheer magnitude of what has been created in just a few days astounds me.
While collecting food items for the families from my pantry, I suffered a freak accident which landed me in the ER and with stitches in my arm, which has hindered me from being able to wrap all of these gifts. Refusing to be daunted, I went to my page again for help. It seems I have finally mastered the art of Receiving. Once again, friends have rallied to come to my home and help wrap and deliver the gifts.
These Christmas miracles have helped me to really understand what the holiday season is about. It's about remembering that there is a great gift in giving and receiving, and that it truly takes a village to make a dream come alive. The greatest lesson I have learned about Humanity is, when you pour into others, others will pour into you.
My partner and I recently took a moment to assess our situation last night. We stood looking at our dying tree that we picked up at a church that had not a single gift under it. We smiled at each other with tears, communicating a silent agreement that it no longer mattered that we couldn't buy each other gifts. To our left, our living room was filled with hundreds of toys, clothes, backpacks and goodies destined to bring smiles and magic to families who had lost the very thing we still carried in our hearts--hope. We still had hope.
This Christmas, our gift is Giving.