Friday, January 13, 2017

Birthday Gifts: Part 2

Here's a better view of those Topo Chico bottles-turned-drinking-glasses. Aren't they great? What a cool gift. I just love seeing them in my cabinet. I love that the "cut" is just above the textured part of the bottle giving them a bit of a decorative flair. And that green tint? Perfect.
While I was uploading photos of Topo Chico glasses, I came across this photo - also of gifts. The gift of two of the cutest nephews you ever did see is obvious, but it's what they are wearing that was kind of a Christmas gift miracle. See those sweatshirts? Those, along with matching sweatpants, are what we sent to the California nephews this Christmas. (The fact that they live in Palm Springs, CA and have absolutely no need for sweatshirts and sweatpants is beside the point.)

Now, look at their shoes. We did not give them the shoes. My brother texted me this photo on Christmas to show me that the sweatshirts we sent perfectly matched the shoes they already owned! Wow. I'm pretty sure that making these guys the coolest kids at the skate park that day (new scooters for Christmas!) with their matching Nike gear makes us the coolest aunt, uncle, and cousins. I don't think it's any secret that the whole extended family is vying for that title, so thank you, TJ Maxx.

This post is getting really off topic, but I just HAVE to show you who I now ALMOST share a birthday with.  It's the above pictured Nike nephews' new little sister, born on Monday, just one day after my birthday. Talk about a gift and an answered prayer. Meet Taya...
Okay... back to the main point of this post.  I got to give gifts for my birthday which is what I desired this year over getting gifts. I really am happier that way.  

The gift of preparing communion. The gift of helping with babies.  The gift of shoveling snow. The gift of giving rides to and from church.

I was kind of tickled over how the Lord answered the prayer for gift giving on my birthday right off the bat that Sunday morning, but wondered if He wanted me/us to give any more gifts after those church-related ones. As I drove home to meet the two kids, I prayed this: "Ok, Lord.  Was that it?  Or are there more?"

Immediately after that prayer, I did a quick check of my email (while waiting in my driveway for the kids to load in the van) and discovered one announcing a new (one month early, but perfectly healthy) baby - one whose mom and dad only recently started attending our church. Robert has been meeting with the dad regularly to discuss the Bible and faith.  Together we have spent time with the mom to discuss the couples' unique situation. I knew Robert would regret not being able to make a baby-visit, since he is traveling, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was the next gift-giving opportunity. I sent an email offering a meal and my cell phone number, and got a text message within the hour.

"A meal on Monday would be so wonderful. Thank you."

Not my actual birthday, but still a gift to give.

The kids wanted to treat me to a late breakfast, so we all attended the early service, and then drove to our favorite breakfast restaurant in Northampton. The one with GF ginger-buckwheat pancakes. A tiny cafe and a weekend breakfast means waiting on the wooden bench along one wall about two feet away from those already enjoying their meal. 

Shoulder to shoulder on that bench, I couldn't help noticing the woman on my right.  Alone and slightly hunched over, she stared at the ground, diverting her eyes only occasionally and very cautiously as people squeezed by to get their name on the wait list. A tad disheveled, she exuded weariness and sadness. She seemed relieved when they called her name and she was able to escape the bench and sitting sardine-like next to me. She sat alone at a table nearby and got her coffee right away.

"What are you thinking about, Mom?" Cooper asked.

"What?" I answered, wondering if we were thinking the same thing.

"That's what you always ask us when we're quiet," he explained.

"I'm thinking that we should pay for that woman's breakfast," I revealed. "Since you guys are paying for me, I'll pay for her."

I thought we might miss the opportunity, since she was nearly finished with her meal before we were seated, but when our waitress came and took our order, we asked if we could pay for the woman sitting alone at the table by the window. Her eyes raised just enough to be sure of who I was talking about, and she nodded in affirmation. She took my debit card to the woman's waitress.

The kids worried that the waitress would reveal our identity, so I got up to top off my coffee at the self serve counter and on the way there made sure the waitresses knew it was supposed to be a secret.

"So, tell her that her meal was all taken care of, but not who did it?" they clarified.

"Yes," I confirmed, and we all shared a secret smile.

"What? Really?" were the surprised responses of the woman at the window when the waitress explained that her bill had been paid for. I couldn't look, but my kids couldn't resist slyly observing how it played out.

After she left, Cooper said he had also observed that she seemed sad and possibly disturbed by something. 

What a joy to see her perk up a bit upon receiving the gift.

Paul said that Jesus said "It is more blessed to give than to receive," (Acts 20:35), and we were experiencing the truth of that statement.

This post is getting long, but I promised to tell you the rest of the gifts today.  Really there was only one more gift we gave on Sunday - times four.

I drive past multiple homeless people on a daily basis wondering what to do for them. I'd read about this care package idea somewhere a while back. Then, recently, my friend Betsy told me about delivering these packages to folks on Boston Common with teens in her youth group. So, a "theme" was developing, and usually that means I'm supposed to act.

A little more research and a trip to Target on the way home from breakfast led to the next gift. Kayla helped me assemble four care packages intended for those living on the streets. Shopping for and packing them up was the easy part.  I could have done that all afternoon. 

Here's what we packed in each bag based on great online info about what TO and what NOT TO include in packages like this:

wet wipes
lotion
bandaids
deodorant (not soap or shampoo)
toothbrush
toothpaste
lip balm
tissue pack
beef jerky (not trail mix or nuts)
chicken salad & cracker packs
cereal/breakfast bars (not granola bars - too hard/crunchy)
peanut butter sandwich crackers
applesauce (squeezable)
socks
mints (not sticky, meltable candy)
$5

(There are lots of opinions about what things are best to include. The non-sticky, non-crunchy guideline has to do with the dental issues of many homeless people. Money is encouraged for bus fare, coffee, etc. Also, females have unique hygiene needs, so male and female packs are a good idea.)

I'm estimating that these packages cost about $15 each including the $5. We filled gallon sized Ziploc bags, but you could do quarts and include fewer items.



The next step was more difficult: hand delivering them.

That was the other main suggestion: don't just throw a package out of your car AT people.

Rather, go TO them. Meet them. Give them the care and attention they deserve.

I thought I might get out of it due to a couple of birthday phone calls I received that afternoon/evening, but my cute little co-packer was persistent that we go driving around looking for folks who might need these care packages. It was about 6:45pm when we finished packing, and Cooper was meeting us for a movie at 7:40.

"If we don't find anyone, we'll just keep them in the car for when we do," I suggested to my eager assistant.

But we drove downtown and there they were. It was dark, and the temperature was in the teens

We parked and gathered our gifts. A bright-eyed, bundled-up young woman was the first we approached. We pulled out our gift and asked if it was something she could use. Her eyes lit up even more as she assured us it was and delighted in the "snacks" that were enclosed. We asked her name and told her ours. We asked if she had a place to stay that night, and she did. The overnight shelter at First Baptist doesn't open until 9:30pm, though, so she still had over two hours in the cold. She thanked us with much humility and sincerity.

A block away was a man with a sign and another man talking with him. We approached the man with the sign, and inquired again if our little package was something he could use. When he took it, the other man looked on with such interest and praised the gift so much that it occurred to us that he was homeless as well, but we had only taken two bags out of the car.

"Would you like one, too?" I asked. "We have another, and my daughter can run and get it from our car."

Though he kindly protested, and said not to worry about it, Kayla ran back to our car and grabbed him a bag. While she did, I learned their names, where they were each from, and where they planned to spend the night - one at the shelter and one on a friend's couch.

As we said goodbye, the men thanked us profusely and kept expressing how thoughtful the gifts were, and how nice that we had come out in the cold, and....and...

There was no denying their genuine appreciation.

As we drove the ten minute route to the warm movie theater where we would sit eating hot buttered popcorn for the next two hours, we prayed for each of gift recipients. Kayla was mesmerized by the encounters (as was I), and uttered these words after a few moments of silence in the car: "They were so nice. They were just regular people."

Yes, they were. And because of them our hearts were stirred, our spirits were lifted, and what Isaiah says will happen, happened to us that evening...

And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. 
Isaiah 58:10 (NASB)

I like how Eugene Peterson puts it as well...

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 
Isaiah 58:10 (The Message)


Yep. My birthday was bathed in sunlight. Giving - even these very small acts of giving -  is the true having, the true receiving. I can see some new habits and traditions forming.

Want to know what happened with the 4th package? Well, it stayed in Cooper's (who's home on college break) car, which is the one we happened to be using on our evening excursion. Cooper wasn't with us, but we told him all about our experience. The following evening, he had to drive out of town and came across a homeless man with a sign at an intersection. It took him a moment, but he remembered that one of the packages was still in his car. The light was green by this time, but despite honks and hand gestures, he reached for the bag, held it out of his window, and waited for the man to come and get it.

I made up four more bags today (and got a better picture of them), and when Cooper saw one of them sitting on the kitchen table, he asked if he could have a couple to keep in his car.

"Maybe our suffering and brokenness begin a kind of healing when we enter into the suffering and brokenness of the world, right through the brokenness and givenness of Christ." (p. 72)

My own brokenness and selfishness certainly received a bit of healing that day. That of my kids as well.

What a gift that was...and is.

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