So far this Advent season, our family has given a gift a day–that includes a meal to a family with a new baby, money donated to a life-saving hygiene program through Compassion International, a tip to the valet driver who parked our van at a doctor’s appointment, a pizza slice purchased for a homeless person.
Giving reminds us of the Gift that arrived in a stinky stable over 2000 years ago. So we give–to remember and to participate.
As we give, I’m also reminded of a gift given to me twelve Christmas seasons ago. The day before Christmas Eve, my husband and I had experienced a rather tumultuous conflict with some family members at the home we were visiting. Feeling the tension, we hurriedly threw our clothes into a duffel bag. My husband even snatched open the Christmas present I’d gotten him, thinking that we could pack it more easily once it was unwrapped. We’d flown up for this visit and therefore didn’t have a car. So we dragged our luggage out to the driveway and waited for a friend to pick us up.
The friend took us to his parents’ home, and we ate supper with them. Then we connected with a different couple–long-time friends–and they set us up in their neighbor’s empty-for-the-holidays home. We slept in a stranger’s house that night and for Christmas Eve, too.
The day after the argument, my husband and I went out to get lunch. I felt heavy-hearted with rejection, sadness, and worry. Many tears had been shed. As I stood in line at that sandwich shop in my lavender sweater and hand-me-down jeans, my husband got a phone call and went outside to take it. At that moment, I felt as alone in that deli as I’d probably ever felt.
After I’d placed our order and stood waiting for our food, the woman ringing up the purchases tossed a bag of potato chips on our tray. “Oh, we didn’t order chips,” I said. She waved my comment away, saying, “Just enjoy it–it’s Christmas, after all.” As a gift, she gave us that bag of chips.
And I cried. I had felt so unwanted, so unwelcome. This woman’s generous gesture reached down into my hurt and caused me to feel seen and noticed and accepted at a time when I felt anything BUT that.
Compassion–I believe–wields more strength when the one receiving the compassion needs it more desperately. I surely needed compassion that day, and the gift of that bag of chips presented it to me.