I have been posting other people’s stories about Christmas memories. Today I will post a story of my own.
When I was in grade 10, my parents told us on Christmas eve that the next day we would be going to the local convalescent hospital to distribute presents to the patients there. We lived in the mountains of central California, and this convalescent hospital was a former TB sanitarium that was located in a remote area overlooking a deep river canyon. Many of the patients there were largely abandoned by family and friends because they were either mentally ill or indigent.
In my self-centered sophomore world, I could imagine few things more wasteful than spending Christmas giving presents to sad people in a sad place.
Christmas morning we opened presents, had a big breakfast, then headed off to hand out presents. I was in a declining mood as we drove the winding road from our house to the hospital. I was trying (not hard) to not be the wet blanket for this party, and was making only modest progress in this.
(Picture of the hospital in winter via Yelp)
Upon arrival, we gathered up presents from a store room – a lot of presents – and began handing them out. I asked my mother (who worked there as a nurse) how they came to have a present for everyone. She told me how the owners of the hospital inquired of the staff what each patient needed or wanted, and made the proverbial Christmas list. They then traveled to San Francisco for a weekend of shopping for every patient, returning with the presents stuffed into their vehicle. Sometimes it took two trips to get all the presents purchased and delivered. The presents were all wrapped and a card attached.
As we handed them out to the patients, I saw the happy responses and expressions of delight and gratitude from the recipients. Even those with severe mental or physical illnesses seemed genuinely happy and appreciative. Some cried, most thanked us, and one life was transformed.
That Christmas changed so much for me. I now try to give my day away to people every Thanksgiving and Christmas, which has produced some of the most joyful holidays of my life. My parents taught me a life lessons that day that has added meaning and value that I can never fully express to them: we can never find ourselves until we give ourselves away.
This is a message that echoes all the way back to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Our God found us – and made it so we can find Him – when He gave Himself away.
I wish you a joy-filled, generous, Happy Christmas.