Friday, December 21, 2012

The Heart of Giving

A couple of weeks ago I got to experience bell ringing for the Salvation Army for the first time.  It was so much fun to see people make a point to stop and put a little something in.  Most of them did it with joy,   but one guy did not.  He reached into his wallet, folded up a couple of bills and put them in the bucket.  I wished him a Merry Christmas, and he looked me in the eyes and glared.  I happened to be standing next to the store manager at the time, and I turned to him and laughed.  He said, “That is the grumpiest man I have ever met.  He comes into the store twice a week, I swear, just to yell at a checker in the aisle.  I can’t believe he just put money in!”  We laughed and commented on the Christmas spirit getting the best of everyone. 
It got me thinking, why would the most grumpy man IN THE WORLD make it a point to stop, reach in his wallet, and put money into the Salvation Army bucket?  I’ve witnessed a lot of giving over the years and charitable deductions, fiscal cliff, armagedon, guilt, whatever…people give because they want to give, because they have compassion or feel inspired, and most importantly they want someone to experience a gesture of love from their hearts. (Even if they glare while doing it.)  This experience got me thinking about when giving from the heart started for me.
Each week on Wednesday morning, the teacher would collect our chapel offerings for the week.   A quarter, a couple of dimes, maybe a dollar or two for something really special.  We were being taught to give, taught the concept of tithing, and taught to do so from the heart by connecting our donations to giving that really meant something to us as kids. When I think back to all the weeks from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, two special campaigns come to mind, Heifer International and Secret Angel Tree.  As a kid, both seemed like the coolest opportunities ever to get to be a part of.  Give money and get to pick out an animal from a catalog to give to a family in a country super far away to either raise or eat. Wow, now that’s fun stuff! I can still see the chalk board with tallies under goat, flock of chickens, rabbits, and sheep for the class to vote on our animal of choice. 
The teacher told us why Secret Angel Tree was important, because not all children in our community would get presents on Christmas morning.  Some people didn’t have basic things like warm winter clothes, good food to eat, or even a home to go to.  As a kid, it was unimaginable and pretty darn sad to think that someone like you might wake up on Christmas morning and not have a present to open, and so around this time of the year it’s fair to say that our chapel offerings increased.  Extra presents to give to the angel tree families poured in, and if you were a REALLY lucky kid (who happened to be the kid of a teacher) you might actually get to go to Wal-Mart and help pick out the gifts.  My mom always let my sister and I pick a couple of additional angels off the tree in the fellowship hall from our family too.  We always had a great time on this shopping trip, thinking about what was on the family’s list to Santa, thinking about what we had circled in the toy catalog that they might like too, thinking about the color of stocking cap that might make a little girl proud to wear.  I imagined the joy I experienced on Christmas morning and wanted to give that to a kid like me. 
Later when I was fortunate enough to marry a teacher, this tradition continued with my husband now charged with shopping for the Secret Angel family, and getting to tag along and help pick out gifts.  As a couple we picked out a family to buy for personally too.  Over the last couple of years, our giving has changed a little bit, but the idea behind the Secret Angel Tree has continued, with a special gift given through Care Corps, Salvation Army, or Toys for Tots.  Even though he’s too little to understand now, I hope that in a few short years, Jett will also learn about the joys of giving from the heart, and how special the matchbox cars or pillow pet may be to someone just like him on Christmas morning.