Monday, December 21, 2009

The Spirit of Christmas?

I have been mystified.
It started sometime in the past ten years - when it seemed to suddenly become inappropriate to wish someone a Merry Christmas. 'Happy Holidays' is somehow more politically correct. Someone, society maybe, is trying to suck Christ out of Christmas.

I decided years ago to fight it. I will say 'Merry Christmas' and I'll mean it. I'm not trying to squelch anybody else's beliefs - but I will not deny my own.

Then I noticed, every time I wish a heart-felt 'Merry Christmas' to a stranger in a store - I get a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes. A bit mystifying. A bit disturbing. Am I struggling internally with forcing my faith on someone else? Or is it just an extension of my inability to sing hymns in church without being moved to tears?

Am I a true Christian sharing my faith, or am I just making lip service by wishing someone a Merry Christmas?

Last night I rushed into a Ross store after work to pick up some cheap supplies for our Christmas celebration. Serving spoons, a nice platter - that sort of thing - without having to drop a lot of cash. I'm unemployed/underemployed again this year and I'm not buying Christmas gifts for my whole family - so I certainly didn't want to go overboard on supplies.

After I checked out and was walking to my car, a woman sitting in the entryway greeted me.
"How are you tonight?" she asked.
"Good and you?
"I'm homeless." she said.
"Oh no." I replied. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Can you give me money for a warm cup of coffee?"
"Sure." I pulled out $5 and handed it to her, figuring she could get that and something to eat at the pancake house next door.
"I could use a blanket to keep warm." she offered.

I thought for second, realizing that I could go back into the store and get her a blanket or a comforter from the home department. Then I remembered the blanket I keep in the trunk of my car in case of being stranded. I went and got it for her.

When I returned, she slipped her feet out of her cheap, ill-fitting sneakers. They were bandaged and crusty and swollen. She told me that she'll get Disability in two weeks but for now she has nothing. She said her foot was swelling quickly.

I thought about the City Mission, but reasoned that she must know about it and if she wasn't already there she probably didn't want to be there. (I could be wrong.) I wondered if there was a cheap motel nearby where I could get her a room for $20. I wanted to help, I told her, but I just got laid-off myself and don't have a lot of money. (I felt a bit of a lie - as I am struggling for the lifestyle I am accustomed to... but I have plenty.)

I looked at her feet again. "Do you have socks?"
"Let's see if we can get you some warm boots."
She sprang from her seat and followed me to the shoe department where I learned she wears a size 11. Of course there were only about five items in the size 11 section - so we settled on a pair of fuzzy lined, rubber soled slippers with plenty of room for her swollen, bandaged foot and a pair of socks.

It cost about $15.
I figured I'm not buying anyone else gifts, I can at least do this. ( I could probably do more.)

I met her back at the entryway and told her I hope they would be warm.
She asked if she could come stay at my house that night.
I said I didn't have room. (I mean, what do you do?)

I wondered if she went to the hospital for her foot if they would keep her overnight and before I said it aloud, realized they wouldn't. I didn't know what to do. How else I could help. (Frankly, without inconveniencing myself more.)
I did sincerely want to help, but I also didn't want her sleeping on my couch.

And now I am still struggling. I did show her kindness - but was I Christ-like?

I turned to leave and wished her a Merry Christmas - there was no knot in my throat, and no welling of tears - and she is the first person who wished it back with real sincerity in her voice.


SRH said...

I think you did well. I am involved with a homeless outreach that meets once a week, and a soup kitchen. It is a constant struggle to try to figure out how to work with limited resources and to still pour yourself out for God's people.

Another blog I read criticized a group they volunteered with because the people were handing out bags and refused to hand out some to people because they hadn't followed to guidelines, they said it wasn't Christlike.

I have a lot of wise friends and I asked them their impressions and one said: "I don't have a satisfactory answer to this whole quandary, but I can generally assume that no matter what I do with the best intentions, someone will tell me that God is disapointed.

It's not an easy question when you're up against limited means and logistical realities, especially since even Jesus dissapointed a fair number of people, and figuratively speaking, locked up his truck occasionally and moved from town to town."

Another said: "The question becomes how you can set reasonable boundaries and still have His love for everyone you encounter, and I think that's something you pray about and try to do on a personal level. I don't think having rules or guidelines about how your service works means your heart is not in the right place or you are violating the spirit of loving people."

I had figured comparing limited resources to Jesus was unfair since he could make anything, but he did have limited time here on earth, and he did set boundaries with that time (sure he would get interrupted and roll with the punches)just look at Luke 4:43 for example. . .

Anyway, sorry this is so long, but I wanted you to know, I think you were very much Christ on earth last night even if you didn't throw open the doors of your home.

Doris said...

I believe you were truly Christ-like in this situation. You went so much further than many of us who call ourselves "Christian" would do...I'm not sure I would have done as much as you did in that situation. God Bless you for setting an example for me and others to emulate this Season, and the rest of the New Year.

Anonymous said...

It's not in what more you could have done, but rather the attitude in which you did it. And how many "Christians" passed her by and did nothing?

Stacey said...

Well, now I have a lump in MY throat. I think this is a lovely post.

You've touched on a powerful truth and lesson here: I don't think it's about saying the right word (whether it be Christmas or holiday - both are "holy" to me), but it's about showing the love of Christ to others and being His hands and feet at Christmas (and every day). I believe that's what you did, and I'm sure you left an impression with your giving spirit.

Thank you for sharing this. I for one could surely be more aware of those around me in need.

Merry Christmas to you!

Genevra said...

That was lovely. Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

girl from florida said...

This post made me cry- talk about the true spirit of Christmas. I also say "Merry Christmas" to any & everyone who will listen!

erinannie said...

I think you did the best you could do. (There is a limit to how much you should do when it compromises your safety.) But I hear a guilty nagging tone in your voice that wonders if you did enough?? (Maybe I'm wrong.) Maybe tomorrow you could go back and look for her? And offer her a ride to a free clinic or hospital for her foot? Or take her some hot coffee and just check on her?
You did a beautiful thing.
Remember, the meek shall inherit the Earth.

Anonymous said...

I just read your post and it brought tears to my eyes,you did the best anyone can do,I almost did the same thing for a child the other day,as I work for Wal-mart and he wanted the scooter so bad, the grandmother wasn't sure she had enough, if you could only saw his face,the customer behind her asked her how shy she was, and the women told her no, I told the customer I would chip in as well, it would have cost me a write up, but, I felt bad for the women, after ringing her items, she had enough left over, and that was all she had, and said, can you hide for me and I said, yes, she then pulled out the last bit of her money and bought it, I double bagged it so she could hide it, I had a tear in my eye, and so did the customer I am told to say Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas this burns my customers so Christmas Eve while I am working IM saying Merry Christmas. This is a free country! Freedom of speach. So, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! you are amazing!

Elaine said...

That was such a wonderful post. Thank you SO much for sharing it! Merry Christmas!