My calling in the ward (volunteer service position) was the chairman of the humanitarian committee. In a typical family ward, that job would include putting together meals for funerals, taking care of sick people, taking food in when there was a new baby, etc. In a single young adult ward where we didn't have those needs, we had to get a little creative to find ways to serve, and the Christmas of 1994 was one of the best Christmases I've ever had.
We decided that we wanted to do something really meaningful. I contacted the shelter for women and children in Provo and explained our desire to help. The lady there chose a family for us to sponsor and told us what they wanted for Christmas, and then I rounded up everyone in our ward who wanted to participate. We all pooled our money and then we broke into groups. One group was going to shop for the mother of the family, another group would shop for the older sister, etc. Then we all carpooled to the store to decide what to get.
A few things about this surprised me. First, I didn't expect the participation we'd get for the project. I thought some of the kids would give money, but I was really pleasantly surprised at how many wanted to go with to do the actual shopping - we had about twenty all told. Second, I was surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was, even the guys, who typically don't enjoy shopping. I heard comments like, "I wonder if she'd like this" and "My sister has one. I bet this girl would like it too." They were really putting their hearts into it.
I was on the team shopping for the baby. One of the most touching moments was over in the outerwear department. One of the guys picked up a pink-and-white knit hat with ear flaps. "She has to have this," he said. "Every baby needs ear flaps."
Then we got up to the cash register to check out. We had a budget and it wasn't huge -we were all poor. Some of us, like me, were working dead-end jobs, and others were going to college with meager means. As we placed our things on the belt, I noticed that every one of the teams had chosen things above and beyond their lists, and I knew we were going to go over. I suggested that they go through and think about what to put back.
"No way!" one guy said. "We're getting all of this." Everyone dug through their pockets again and came up with enough cash to cover the difference.
After that, it was time to take the gifts to their intended recipients. Because this particular shelter protects women and children from abusers, they don't allow anyone to come directly there - the location is a secret. I had been given the address of a meeting place in a highly public area, where we would give the items to the woman who coordinated donations for the shelter. I was once again surprised when everyone in the group said they wanted to come with me to drop the stuff off. I'd been involved in projects like this before with people who were more than happy to pawn the work off on others - not these guys. We all drove in tandem down to the meeting place, where the lady was delighted to receive what we'd brought.
"See the ear flaps?" The guy who'd chosen the hat pointed them out to her, and she was properly impressed.
When I look back on all the Christmases in my past (wow, I make that sound like I'm really old) I've had a lot of really amazing experiences. Times when I've been the giver, times when I've been the recipient. The spirit of Christmas is alive no matter what side of the equation you fall on. And I remember walking through a store with a whole crowd full of single young adults who just wanted to make Christmas bright for some scared little children and their mother, a hat with ear flaps, and a cart full of toys no one could bear to put away.
Merry Christmas to all my readers, and may the spirit of Christmas fill your hearts with the wonder of the season and joy in the celebration of Christ's birth.