Saturday, December 20, 2014

“How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, His precepts!” ― Benjamin Franklin

As it is the Christmas season and all the schools here are closed, it is very quiet here, so I will tell you about one of the very best Christmases our family ever had.  We moved to Gravette, Arkansas, from Boston just the year before in 1992.  We were living in the parsonage in Gravette and had put up our tree and decorations.  Sitting around the dinner table one night, John or Keith, said they wanted to do something really different this Christmas.  Like what, I asked?  They said that every year we got each other things that we liked but that we could really have gotten any time during the year.  They, as both boys were excited about this now (Keith was 13 and John was 18), said what if instead of giving each other gifts, we pooled all of our money and gave some poor family some Christmas gifts.  That’s about all we had decided upon at that time, so it was time for me to go to work.  I found the social services worker at the Gravette hospital to see if there was a family she could let us help.  She got excited, too, and said there was just such a one.  The father had just gotten out of the hospital and was in bad shape, couldn’t do much, and the whole family was poor.  They couldn’t pay their hospital bills and she had worked to get them his medication for free.  They lived not too far away in a very small house as a family of five, mom, dad, and three small children, a girl and two boys all under the age of six.  We worked out how she would deliver the stuff and they would never know who gave it to them.  She also said she would take a picture so we would know who the recipients were—but no names.  By this time, Karen how gotten pretty wound up in it and decided that gifts alone weren’t going to be enough.  We would buy them a tree, decorations, and enough food for a really good Christmas dinner and then some—plus the presents.  This was going to take more money than we had, so we decided not to send our own families gifts and would instead send them a letter telling them where their gift money had gone.  Now, we had enough and did everything we wanted.  Shopping for the gifts was great fun except for me.  The little girl wanted a Barbie doll, so I said I would get that one.  Little did I know that Barbie came in 10,000 different costumes and filled an entire wall at Wal-Mart.  I just closed my eyes and grabbed one.  We also bought clothes, underwear, pajamas—we just sort of went nuts.  Four days before Christmas, I took all the stuff to the hospital and the social services lady was astounded.  She very easily got several men and another woman to help and set off for the family’s home.  We didn’t hear any more until Christmas eve when were feeling very good about ourselves and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when the doorbell rang.  It was the social services lady with a picture she had just taken of the family opening their gifts.  We all cried and she cried right along with us.  We probably should have done that every Christmas after that, but that was the only one.  My brothers weren’t too thrilled about getting just a letter for Christmas, and somehow other things (mostly college tuition) got in the way, so we never did that again, but that will always stand out as our best Christmas ever.  To this day, our boys will tell you that they loved that one more than any other.  Karen and I did, too.  Now, we don’t even give each other gifts as there are too many in deep distress all around us who need our help and gift-giving is not a practice here.  We don’t mind, Christmas is just all year long here.  The picture at the right is the sum total of all of our decorations.  As the Christmas card is only four inches tall, that should give you some idea, especially since it all sits on one corner of a small table.  We have Christmas here, of course, and always find some way to make it special.  This will be our tenth Christmas in Tanzania with just the three of us, but we are far from alone, and thanks to the internet can see and talk to our kids and grandkids in the States on Christmas day.  Have a Merry Christmas, we will. 
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