Sunday, December 5, 2010

White shirts by the Christmas Tree

This time of year always inspires me to wonder how I can make this season meaningful. Leading up to Christmas, the oft-repeated question is, "What do you want?" On Christmas day, "What did you get?"

Last week I was asked to organize our congregation's "giving tree." We have adopted 5 families from downtown Denver. We were given a list of needs/wants and my heart just hurt as I read some of the needs: socks. winter coat. boots.

I spoke with the man who oversees this congregation and he shared with me that a couple of the families are here via refugee camps in Ethiopia (hence the major need for winter clothing). As we discussed all of these people's needs and wants, I felt so humbled. This year has been interesting as we've played the "Joel has work today, but who knows about next week" game (not one I'd give 5 stars on Amazon, by the way). We have been blessed that he has been able to keep a relatively good stream of work. More to the point, we have our home, our clothes, and a whole lot of comforts.

One woman wanted to learn how to crochet so she could earn money for her family.

One boy wanted a "positive male mentor." He is 12.

One mother wanted a bed for her 2 year old who currently sleeps on a couch cushion.

One girl wanted a viola (the leader was a little embarrassed at this, knowing full well that this was expensive and suspected the girl had no idea) after having the opportunity to rent one from school.

There were requests for pants, shoes, socks and coats.

"But don't worry about trying to get everything on their list," the leader told me. "They're used to disappointment."


And then he asked if the men in our area had any white shirts they no longer needed (stressing that they be USED, not new), that they could really use them. The men in his area often feel like they can't perform their church duties when they aren't properly attired (white shirts and ties are kind of the uniform). On a whim, I sent out an email to a group in our area (beyond our immediate congregation) asking if there were extra shirts to be had. I got a lump in my throat from the responses.

Yesterday morning I drove from house to house, where people had left white shirts on their porch, often hanging from the front door. This made it easier to find the right house, but also served as a beautiful beacon of kindness and spirituality. By the third house, I was drying my eyes as I saw that people had left shirts and ties and even full suits. I brought these items home and draped them over the couch and chair in our living room. There are seven suits, several belts, a nice pair of dress shoes, 50 ties and 40 white shirts.

Today at church, we circulated a stack of requests for these 30 people in the form of little tear sheets (for people to rip off what they want to get, but remain anonymous to the rest of the congregation) for needed items, toys, and gift cards for the grocery store. I felt exceptionally humbled as the tear sheets returned to me with everything taken, except for the viola. And still people asking, "What can I give?"

As I sat down here at the computer to review the project, an email came through:
We would love to buy a viola for that sweet child who requested it.
I am sitting here, moved. I can't even adequately express it. I know I am exceptionally blessed to live in a nice suburban area with many amenities. But I am also exceptionally blessed to be surrounded by people who say, "What can I give?"

Last week we strung garland along the banister. We hung lights outside. I decorated our mantle and got out the nativity sets. We got our Christmas tree and decorated it as a family. There are even a couple gifts beneath the tree. But the best symbol of the season, by far, isn't the star on the tree or the miniature baby Jesus. It's the white shirts on my couch. I walk up and down the stairs many times each day. But when I see those shirts there, I think, "What else can I give?"


Lisa said...

Sheesh, why do you have to make me cry? This makes me so happy. And you know me--especially the viola makes me happy :) I'm glad that there are so many willing to give.

Becca said...

Ya seriously...making me cry before work!! But makes me want to find a family in the area that I can try to help as well.

Nicki said...

I love reading your blog, it makes me so happy!

I'd love to send you a little something (that you have probably figured out, pertains to this new last name I have and amazingly handsome man in the picture with me! ;) ) can you send me your address? My email is

love ya!! :)

NancyO said...