Every year, our church puts several Christmas trees in the foyer and hangs tags on them. You know the kind. Our elementary school does the same thing. A person can choose a tag, and on that tag is information about a person who is in need. Their first name. Their age. And something they need or would like for Christmas.
For many years, we'd grab a handful of tags, joyfully fulfilling those wishes like we were little elves. But then things got tighter in our budget. A couple of years passed where we couldn't take any tags. It broke my heart to say to the kids, "I'm sorry, guys. There is no room in the budget for those gifts this year." We'd all walk past the trees in the foyer, silent.
No room. Again, this concept of no room for Jesus, no room in the Inn, no room in our schedules, and no room in our budgets, burns a hole in my heart. I think it's common for us to celebrate Christmas by giving to our loved ones and friends. But in my personal journey with the Lord, I've come to feel that giving to the needy should be a part of my everyday worship. Not that I'm literally giving every day, but that I'm going about my daily life in the understanding that giving is part of my responsibility as a believer. And what better time to model giving for your children than at Christmas, when the needs of the poor are so high (and our kids' Christmas lists are so long).
Last year was one of those silent years. And yet, I found myself out shopping, shopping, shopping for all sorts of other gifts. I decided that if I wanted to make room in our budget for giving to the needy, we needed a plan. So one gift I bought our family was this bank.
It's not cute. You won't see it on Pinterest. But it counts the money as you drop it in, so that you can see your cumulative savings with every coin. I thought that would be key for the kids.
And all year long, we dropped in our coins.
Last week, we took the bank to the Coinstar machine in the grocery store. Coinstar is a machine that counts coins and prints you a receipt to collect the cash at the cashier in the store. The downside is that they charge a near 10% fee to do so. However, did you know that Coinstar now offers store credits for cashing in your coins instead of cash? If you choose a store credit (or a charity to donate to from their list), you don't pay the fee. Isn't that amazing? This particular machine offered about 12 different choices of retailers for which we could print a credit once our money was poured in and counted.
Knowing what we wanted to buy, we chose Toys R Us. Look! We had saved $85.29. We had room in our budget for the needy.
And then guess what? Our church didn't do the trees this year! Instead they collected for a stocking stuffing event. Okay, okay. Close enough. We picked up the list of needs on Sunday, and Monday night, headed out.
It was past their bedtime already, but what a fun trip to Toys R Us it was. I was VERY clear that this trip was not for them. No asking for anything. It took some light lecturing to point everyone's minds to the needy. Good thing we had the list. I added in my head as they picked things out, thoughtfully, for a baby boy, for a girl 4-7 yrs, etc....we did well with our $85.
He wished we had used some coins on this. Sorry buddy, all of them got turned in already. It was a good photo op, anyway.
The stocking stuffing event was the next night. The community (our church included) was invited to stuff 1000 stockings for kids at Olive Crest. This amazing Southern California non-profit is where kids go when they are rescued from abusive or neglectful homes. Olive Crest is dedicated to saving and healing children. It hurt to explain to my kids in age-appropriate terms to whom these stockings were going. They are so innocent of the evils in this world.
This was for a girl my daughter's same age. My daughter has no idea what this girl may have endured in her 10 years. But she was completely thrilled to make her a stocking. Especially when our instructions were to top it off at the candy station.
This guy was surprisingly compassionate and into stuffing stockings for other little boys.
It was very, very fun. More like a party than like serving, or working. I prayed, as I stuffed each of my stockings, that my hands would land on the exact things that would bless that child most. I stuffed several for teens, and chose nail polish, hair brushes, and shower gels for the girls. Once, I prayed quickly for something special for the one recipient I was working on. And I spied, in the bottom of the cardboard box of toiletries, a flat, unmarked thing. I opened the paper around it, and found a $10 Starbucks gift card! I knew it was the thing this girl wanted. I just did, because I know God loves her SO MUCH. Perhaps a Peppermint Mocha with whip will help her feel a bit like the other 17 year olds she knows.
It is truly better to give than to receive. And I hope my kids are learning that by experience.
Our bank is empty now. But it will be refilled this year. I know it's not a profound or original idea to put aside some money for giving during Christmas. I know $85 isn't a lot. I'm knowing it's hardly a drop in the bucket. But I wanted to take you through the steps that helped us make room in our budget for Jesus this year. Instead of feeling stretched or uncomfortable by saying "yes" to taking tags off the trees, this year, there was no question. No tension. Just a jar of coins for a dedicated purpose.
And goodness. Who knows how much further God will multiply our meager offering, fulfilling more purposes than we can imagine.