Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us" ~Charles Dickens

This Thanksgiving brought some very special moments for me.  I was blessed to spend it with part of my family and part of my new family and had the opportunity to help others.  I also had a chance to see just how lucky I am in so many ways...

As part of the "teaching the kids the difference between need and want", Wayne and I thought it was time to give more to others so we took the girls to make lunches for the homeless on Thanksgiving morning.  Granted, it took a lot to drag myself and three kids out of our warm beds on a day off.  We decided that we could miss watching the parades and football games for one day.  My mom offered to watch Jacob since we didn't think he would be able to focus for hours.

We went to a local church in Cleveland that prepares meals for the homeless and other hungry families for the holidays.  What we didn't know is that they do this three days a week also.  The kitchen was packed when we got there.  Lots of families helping out for various reasons.  Some were newcomers like us.  Others had done this every Thanksgiving for years.  We were assigned a location to help pack the boxes in assembly line style.  Ours was the cold station.  A salad, roll, butter, cranberry sauce and a piece of pie.  Even with the hot boxes of turkey, potatoes and vegetables it wasn't much compared to the piles of food that we had waiting for us later in the day.  

After a few obligatory hours, most people wandered out to prepare for their own meals.  We had ourselves planned to leave at 11:00 but there were still hundreds of meals still in need of packing so we couldn't bring ourselves to leave.  Our feet hurt.  The cereal we had scarfed down had long burned off.  The turkey smelled so good.  But there were others that needed to be taken care of first.  We were so proud of the girls and how they kept at it.  Then we started to run out of food.  I had earlier mentioned the parable of the five loaves and two fish to the smaller children.  This seemed an appropriate time for a prayer or two.  Just minutes later, more pies and hot food miraculously appeared to fill the last of the boxes needed.  Even today we can be the recipient of small miracles! 

Wayne took a load of food for delivery when they needed a truck.  What he saw touched him pretty deeply.  It's one thing to slap food into a tray and quite another to see the people lined up waiting for what could be their only hot meal for weeks.  It really drove home what we were trying to accomplish and made us appreciate even more what we have.  This one church fed over 10,000 people that day.  And this was just one church!  We ended up staying not for a few hours but over five.

Later, after two houses packed to the hilt with food and very full bellies, we came home.  My sister asked me to stop by Walmart if I could to relieve her for a quick break.  She was waiting in line for one of their great TV specials.  It took me twenty minutes to walk from the end of a very full parking lot into the store.  People were actually running to get inside.  As I entered, more people were pushing and shoving to get to the $2 dvd's or the $5 slippers they just had to have.  It was very much a riot mentality.

Every inch of the store was filled with shoppers.  The checkout lines were all the way to the back of the store at every station.  Not to mention the people who were still waiting in line for their TV's, computers and  video game consoles.  I saw carts filled to the top with "necessary" items to cross off their Christmas lists.  Not a lot of Holiday cheer going around at that store.  And from what I saw posted on Facebook, this was typical of all stores that had Black Friday sales.

As I was standing in line, it hit me just how different this was from the morning.  The attitude was 180 degrees from the other side of town.  If everyone in that store put back just one present, we could have fed each one of those families for a week.  I did a little research.  There are a little over 2,000 homeless people officially in Cuyahoga County.  This does not count the tens of thousands of people with a home but not enough to have three square meals a day.  There were at least 2,000 people in our Walmart alone.  This is one of hundreds of stores in the area that was completely filled with shoppers.  What a difference we could make if everyone pitched in just a little!

I am in no way condemning Black Friday shoppers.  I'm not making myself out to be a saint.  I've been there.  Waiting in line to get a computer that I just had to have.  Grabbing pajamas and toasters that were just too good to pass up.  Spending thousands of dollars making sure everyone on my list gets their required $50 exchange gift.  Buying the latest and greatest toys so my kids won't ever feel neglected.

But when I moved, I realized that the "stuff" didn't matter so much any more.  No, I didn't become a monk.  But the hold that the material things had on me was finally broken.  I didn't have the need to fill my life with quite so much stuff.  I took what meant the most to me:  my kids, my pictures and my videos.  My memories.  Because they are ever so fleeting now.  The toys have lost their pieces.  There are newer and cooler dolls out that long have replaced the old ones.  TV's become outdated; dvd's replaced with blue rays, etc.

Due to the declining economy, we adjusted the "present" budget a few years ago.  Instead of a long list of wants, my kids pick out their very top ones, realizing that even Santa's budget is tight nowadays.  This gets hard to explain when someone at school gets a 4-wheeler from Santa, but we've made it work.  And the kids seem to appreciate more what they do get.  They give up a few gifts so we can pick some angel tree kids to donate to.  The cousins exchange ornaments instead of $50 sweaters and crock pots.  More memories and less dollars.  It has really worked for us so far.

So this year, in the midst of miles of wrapping paper and ribbon, I challenge you to find just one way to help another person.  Drop a few extra dollars in the Salvation Army pail.  Stop and give the guy with the sign at the corner $5 or maybe even the gift card you have for McDonald's that has been sitting unused in your wallet.  Take an extra angel off of the tree.  Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk.  If you are really adventurous, come join us at St. Augustine's as we help feed people on Christmas morning.  The presents will wait.  The ham will still be warm and I promise you that the meal will taste ever so much better.  And please, remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!