I live in the country, but we have a tradition in a little town nearby. The local Lioness Club decorates some trees in a local park. There are two big trees that people can 'purchase' lights on to commemorate a loved one. For $25, you can purchase a little tree of lights with a sign in front giving the name of the person being honored. It's just a nice thing to do, and the little park is decorated for the holiday, and it gives people that little rosey glow. We have an official tree lighting ceremony the weekend after Thanksgiving. The scrolls with the names of the honored people are uncovered. Friend Tom is the MC. The girl scouts read a little Christmas story, the boy scouts pull the tarps from the scrolls, and then we all sing Christmas carols and retreat to the pavilion for hot chocolate and cookies.
This year was different. In our quiet little village vandals destroyed ten of the trees. Most shockingly, the children believed to have done it are very young. Two of them are in elementary school. And the adults there whispered about this. The fact that the mother is suspected to be a drug user, the fact that these very young kids are left to roam alone for most of the time, with no supervision at all. Stories about the poverty, unkempt and dirty children. What stuck in my mind is this: children normally are excited by Christmas. Wide eyed. The idea that children would lash out at that particular holiday was jarring to me, and I could not stop thinking about this. Long after Tim had fallen asleep, I thought about these kids. Their actions pretty much insure that the community will be watching these kids closely, suspiciously, waiting for them to do some other bad thing. These are kids that won't be given the benefit of the doubt, not again. And the 'why a Christmas display?' just kept niggling at me. Curled up, warm and drowsy next to my snoring Tim, suddenly my eyes popped open. A child would lash out at Christmas when they knew that it was all a bunch of bullshit. All the stories about Santa coming to leave presents for good little boys and girls...well, when you're poor, it does not matter how good you are, sometimes Santa doesn't come. Or if he does, you know that your gifts will be pretty sparse, no matter how good you've been, no matter how hard you've tried. Santa Claus, in this case, is no more reliable than their own mother. I laid there, viewing the holiday from the perspective of these children, and it made me very sad. By the time that morning came around, I had a plan. I talked to my Sunday School kids, and we made a plan to begin collecting for these kids, to give them Christmas. Just looking around my own house, I found two warm winter coats for the girls. Cara donated two hoodies that she scarcely wore because they were too large. We had children's books. I found teddy bears with the tags still attached at the Goodwill, and we bought them each a Christmas mug and packets of hot chocolate. We had games that the kids had received as gifts throughout the years, games that they already had. I had two duplicate kid's DVDs. Boxes of crayons bought and put away for company. A thrift store had a collection of CDs on sale that a young boy would think was cool. According to Cara, anyhow. I also found stockings for each of them, heavily ornamented and beaded stockings for the girls, just waiting to be stuffed. The whole family got involved, scouring the excesses of our own home, and coming up with an embarrassing pile of things that we had used little, or even not at all.
I'll take these things to Sunday school next week, and my kids will be excited by this. I am not sure what the rest of the church will donate, but they tend to be quite generous about things like this. My class will come to the church on Christmas eve, and we will wrap these things, and deliver them anonymously. The fastest runner will then ring the doorbell and run, and the rest of us will be waiting in my running car around the corner. Alex will leap in, and we will sneak back to the church.
Will it make a difference for these kids? I cannot tell you. But I know for sure that I could not live with my own conscience if I did not try, and it gratifies me to know that my class got so excited about this project that we failed to notice that we ran ten minutes late until a mother walked in. We can only try. That's all. We will see what God does with our efforts.