Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Jar

What is it about Christmastime that prompts us to give more freely to others less fortunate?  I think that desire is instilled in us all to some degree, don't you think? I love that Thanksgiving comes right before Christmas, because it provokes us to really ponder on our many blessings, and then influences us to act with compassion towards those that need a lift, a pick-me-up.  It causes us to reflect on how WE might be instruments in God's hand in helping His children here on earth. Although the following experiences I will share have a monetary value, it is not the money that mattered, but the heart of the giver.

Many years ago while John and I were living in St. Louis at the Ronald McDonald house awaiting for a double lung transplant for our daughter McKenna, we were such recipients of love from others.  I remember coming home one evening from a long day at the hospital and checking our mailbox we found a Christmas card that simply said, "Merry Christmas" with $100 bill inside.  No signature from anyone. It wasn't mailed to us, but was from someone locally.  To this day, we have no idea who it was from. We had only been there for a week or so, and knew hardly anyone; yet someone knew of us, and gave generously.

On Christmas Eve, while in St. Louis, we received a phone call from a friend back in Ogden, UT.  He called to tell us that we would be expecting a check soon, in the mail, from someone who wished to remain anonymous. The check would be in the amount of $10,500.  We were stunned, to say the least.  We still don't know who this generous person was.  We sent a note of extreme gratitude, but if I were to speak to that person today, I would tell him/her what a blessing that was to our little family.  How my husband left his job temporarily to be with us, yet still was able to obtain a job in St. Louis so we could make our mortgage payment back home.  How we were able to pay my mother back for some things she purchased for us.  How we were able to get out of debt in some other areas of our lives.  And because so much was given to us, how we were able to give back to others less fortunate.

We were still being blessed by generous givers we will never be able to repay or personally thank, back in our home town, Ogden.  One of our dear friends, an elderly neighbor directly across the street from us wanted to do something to help us out.  She made her own labels, placed them on jars, and left them at the check stand in a local grocery store, Harmon's.  I was so touched by this act of kindness towards us.  After a few weeks of being in the grocery store, she had collected over $400 from kind, compassionate grocery shoppers.  My heart will be forever grateful for these unselfish givers.  Anytime I see a jar like that in a grocery store, I try to remember to leave my extra change as my way of saying thank you for the kindness extended towards my family long ago.

There were many wonderful acts of kindness that didn't involve money, such as friends taking care of our home while we were gone for nearly 3 months.  Children coming to my home before I came back  after McKenna died to make sure it was clean and tidy.  Receiving cards and letters from loved ones checking in on us, keeping us up to date with what was happening back home. And many, many other acts of kindness I will forever be grateful for.  Had this not been Christmastime, I know the generosity from others would have been there still, yet something about Christmas tugs at our heart strings and prompts us to want to do more. Perhaps it is because, whether we like or not, the commercialization of Christmas can bring on worries to parents who feel they may not be able to provide for their children at the most anticipated time of year for a child.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I came across a book called, "Christmas Jars" by Jason F. Wright.  I instantly loved its message.  I would highly recommend everyone to read this book and start your own tradition of putting a jar in your window sill, dropping your loose change in it throughout the year, and prayerfully considering who might need such a blessing at Christmastime.  The best part of this is doing it anonymously and capturing the joy, the true gratitude of the recipient, and going away feeling that giving truly gives us a more lastly feeling of happiness, than receiving.  

Ever since my family and I had been the recipient of such generosity at Christmastime back in 1997,during the most difficult trial I had ever endured, it has instilled in me a desire to try to do the same for someone else in need.  I don't have $10,500 to give. I wish I did.  But what little change I can accumulate throughout the year, can make a huge difference in someone's life, and much of the time, we will never truly know what a blessing it will be for one receiving such an unexpected gift.  What I love about the jar also, is that I see it every day. I am reminded constantly of Christmas and how we need to have in our lives all the time, not just at Christmas, the spirit of giving, of watching out for our fellow man and helping in anyway humanly possible.  My children donate to the jar as well, which is so inspiring to watch them sacrifice their small amounts of change for others they may or may not know.

Each year, come the first of December, we, as a family, try to consider who might be of benefit in receiving our jar.  Every year the person receiving the jar has a completely different need from the last.  This year, I had the opportunity of letting our local elementary school counselor deliver the jar herself (she had just finished reading Christmas Jars) to a single mom of  a child who just found out she had cancer.  I did not get to see the mom when the jar was presented, but was told she graciously accepted it.  Giving away these jars, is truly a fun, heart warming experience.  I don't share this story to boast; rather, to help share the joy of giving and the feelings we get when we do so.

Does it take money to make one happy?  It certainly doesn't need to.  That is not the message I want to come across.  There are those that would love to have more time on their hands to be able to physically help others in time of need, but for one reason or another, they are not able. But that doesn't make them any less generous.  Sometimes it IS the money that is needed, and it can be our way of saying, "Here is what I have collected for you all year long, you use it how it needs to be used."  We may not necessarily know what physical items someone needs; only they can truly know how best to use the gift.  But the feeling we have all year long of wanting to help others, of carefully choosing that person, and seeing the joy on their face as we have hidden in our cars, behind a tree, or around the corner, is the best feeling of all.  The feeling of doing what the Savior would want us to do, the feeling of maybe being the answer to someone's long, heartfelt prayer sent upward to heaven.