This year, my Christmas took place days before December 25. Instead of centering around the buying and wrapping of gifts and toys and other objects, this year I celebrated God's grace and power. I was given the opportunity to rest in the center of a whirlwind of His action, and it was amazing. Here's my Christmas story.
It all started as part of my job. I work as the family outreach specialist at an elementary school. I teach remedial math and reading for small groups of students part time, and with the rest of my time I focus on the school's families. This can mean setting up fun events, such as a Native American round dance that I have scheduled for the spring, or educational opportunities, like the free cooking class that is currently happening one evening a week. For Christmas, it meant food boxes.
Every other family outreach specialist in the district has a special holiday program or event. Since my position is new this year, I did not have a precedence set for me. After hearing what the other coordinators had planned -- gift exchanges for needy families, a free book for every student, and clothing drives -- I decided to focus on food. Everybody needs food, and in this hard economic times I thought that might be an especially good area to target.
So I approached my home church as well as another nearby church in the community and set up a food box donation drive. One church put together boxes of gifts and food, while the other focused simply on food. As I planned and collaborated through November and December, I figured that I could provide no more than 20 boxes of food for our school's needy families.
I was wrong. I could not promise 20 families a box of food for Christmas.
I could promise much more.
When I went to my church's service on the Sunday before Christmas, I saw that the giving tree where the food box donations were located seemed strangely crowded. This church had committed to about four boxes of food, but I calculated that there had to be food for at least ten boxes beneath the tree. When I went to pick up the food the next day, there was even more food. I felt flabbergasted at the whole-hearted generosity of my church community.
When I returned to school, my car literally packed with food, I found the other church's volunteers delivering their own donations. I could not believe the vast piles of gorgeously wrapped packages that filled the school's staff lounge. What's more, my co-workers were blown away as well. They knew what I had been planning, but I don't think they expected such a huge result. I received compliments all day, but none of the staff believed me when I told them that I hadn't expected this turn out either.
It was God. I firmly believe that. All Him, all Jesus. The true spirit of Christmas was taking my school's community by storm, and it was all thanks to Him. And He gave me the awesome gift of participation. He took my small little plans and turned them into something insane and wonderful. One of the school's custodians came to me in tears at the sold-out-to-the-Savior giving that she saw. How crazy-good is that?!
And that's not to mention the families who received the boxes. Some families seemed a little confused as they came in to pick up their boxes, and a couple asked that I pass their box on to a family that might need it more. But overall, every family was grateful. One woman told me that she had only a week and a half's worth of food left in her house. A single jobless father of three young girls told me that the gifts and food would go a long way. Another woman told me that her husband had died a year ago, that this would be her first Christmas without him, and the pallid emptiness that was so obvious seemed to warm and lift a little at this unexpected gift -- that somebody had thought of her and her son.
The stories go on. And my story? I don't think I've ever seen God working so obviously in my life. It's true that He's done some powerful stuff in me and around me, but it was never so in-my-face as this. I feel so grateful for that. He involved me in His work, even though He didn't have to and He certainly doesn't need me. But He wanted me in on it. All I can say now is that God is absolutely, unendingly, amazingly good.