Since becoming an adult, I can remember for years picking names off of Angel Trees or Sub for Santa lists at work, church, or town hall. I would use my own money to help buy gifts and essentials for those in need during the holiday season. I donated to food banks. I quilted blankets for kids and babies at the children's hospital. I organized clothing drives. I loved to help others and I loved the way I felt when I helped.
I heard once that We give charity with in the same spirit we receive it. This was one of those "huh?" moments. The etymology of the word 'charity' is derived from the French word charite, meaning benevolence for the poor; and charite is derived from the Latin word carus, which means dear. In old English it carries the sentiment of The Christian love of one's fellows, or how we would say today-- the pure love of Christ. All of this makes sense to me in the spirit of giving. But what about in receiving? How willing am I in accepting charity?
After my divorce, I went through some rough years, emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially (child support wasn't coming in). My life felt hard. As much as I pushed through and told myself I could do this, there was a huge part of me that wasn't quite sure. I still remember stressing over one Christmas in particular. How would I provide for my children? This was definitely a year I would not be helping others on the Angel Tree, because I could barely help myself.
I'll never forget when a lady from church stopped by with paperwork and asked if I'd be willing to fill out the forms so she could turn in our names to the city Angel Tree. I said, "Absolutely not." No one was going to help me. I didn't want to admit I needed the help. I didn't want to admit I could not do things on my own. I felt ashamed - that somehow this was my fault.
This lady, gracious but persistent, invited herself in, placed her hand on my shoulder and said, "Look. The city is asking each church to nominate 8 families. They have many willing to give. Please let us put your name in."
I replied with, "You don't understand. I'm usually the one giving."
This lady was quick. "All the more reason to say yes. It's your turn to receive." These words stung a bit. Seeing the confusion on my face she added, "Let me put it to you this way. I am turning your family's name in for the city Angel Tree. It would be best if you could fill these out so people know what sorts of things your children might like."
I didn't like that she was right, that I needed the help. I didn't like that it was my turn to receive. I didn't like feeling rebuked and humbled. I filled out the forms and handed them back, although I was still a bit irritated. Was I too proud to receive help? If I was too proud to receive help, did this mean I previously possessed an element of pride in my giving to others? This was definitely something to reflect hard on.
I loved to give because I loved to help, because helping others feels like a good thing - and it is. But the giving, MY giving did have an element of pride. If I was truly going to be honest with myself, I had to admit that I loved to give because there was a small part of me that felt as long as I had enough to give, that meant I didn't need. That grain of pride is what can lead to feelings of superiority if one is not cautious. This was a "whoa" moment.
When the time came to pick up the gifts, a lady from the city office called me. She told me I could come in anytime to pick up my family's donations. I asked her how late they would be there. She told me that she was staying late to accommodate those who worked, and that she was planning to stay until 9pm. I felt ashamed. I didn't want to drive to city hall in broad daylight and load my vehicle up with donated gifts. I told her I'd be there at a quarter to 9.
Once I arrived, I gave the lady my name and she exclaimed, "Oh! You're that family!" (Uh oh. Was this a bad sign? Did she know my situation?) "Your family's gifts are over against that wall," she said pointing to opposite wall.
"Oh, okay. Which ones?" I asked.
"All of them," she beamed from ear to ear. I was confused. I mean, this was a pretty big room. I was sure she didn't mean the entire wall-span contained gifts for my children. Sensing my confusion she giggled and whispered (as if anyone around might overhear - even though we were alone), "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but Menlove Toyota picked your entire family off of the Angel Tree. Those are all for you." I broke. I couldn't breathe. I could speak. I couldn't see - the tears were rolling thick down my cheeks. I was drowning in a sea of bills with little hope, and this wonderful local dealership was throwing me a lifeline - a way for me to "save" Christmas. Alongside the bags and bags of gifts there were also boxes full of about a year supply of toilet paper, paper towel, soap, detergent, toothbrushes, etc. from Costco. What a shock.
The lady went to her desk to grab a nearby box of tissues and returned with the Kleenex and an envelope which simply read, "For the mom of family #___. OPEN BEFORE CHRISTMAS." I opened it immediately. Inside was a $200 gift card to the local grocery store and another $100 gift card to Wal-mart. The card said, "We know there are probably some things you might like to get to maintain your holiday traditions and make Christmas special." As if I could not handle any more.
Honestly, I was expecting a few items. I cried in the dark as the lady and I loaded everything into the back of my van, and then into the front passenger side. I nearly had to make a second trip. I was moved by the generosity of strangers - of the workers and owners of this local business. I never even would have guessed. I mean, I am crying now just at the memory of it all.
Luckily, we only struggled through a few Christmases before I got a pay raise, and then remarried. When I got remarried, I shared this experience with my husband and expressed my desire to help a family each Christmas, hoping he'd be on board with it too. He was totally supportive of me and even said, "One day, hopefully sooner than later, we will be able to adopt a family and give them the sort of Christmas Menlove gave to you." (I just love this man!)
As I look back at my experiences, especially through my divorced years, there have been countless times I had to learn to accept charity graciously. There were several acts of kindness and acts of service shown to my family and to me, that not only taught me about humility, but about the purity of Christ's selfless love.
Now when I give, I don't even consider how it makes me feel; I only think about how the other person feels. I worry if they will accept my offering and understand that it comes from a place sincere. I worry I might offend them. I concern myself with finding ways to show them they are loved, without them feeling like I am overstepping my bounds. I have found that when I focus on love instead of the actual act of giving, the "what" that I am giving is usually received with humility and gratitude.
I hope that none of you are faced with the trials and hardships of having to ask for help this holiday season. But if you are, remember to accept it in the spirit of charity (the pure love of Christ.) Receive, and know that those who are doing the giving are most likely doing so from a place sincere. And if you are in any sort of position at all to help someone in need, I hope you can find that same spirit of charity within.