Monday, December 22, 2014

'I am so thankful that we experienced our first Christmas Jar Miracle'

Houston, Texas

It was the beginning of December and I had not been home for several weeks.  I was spending some much needed time with my Dad (in Idaho). Since Mom passed away two years ago he has been so sad.

With Christmas fast approaching I thought it would be a good idea to involve my dad in something that would help to get his mind off of his own sorrows.  I knew that if I were at home (Texas) I would be looking for an opportunity, together with my family, to play the part of “Secret Santa” for someone in my community. It is a tradition that has brought us so much joy in past years, but it usually involves a lot of planning, shopping, wrapping, and a few nights of secret “knock and run” deliveries! I did not have much time so I knew that we would need to get busy… and quick.

I did not personally know anyone in this area that needed our help so I started off by asking the bishop at church. I knew he was a very busy man (especially this time of year) and when I did not hear back from him right away I began to think that maybe this year my "gifts" would be the time I was spending with Dad, far from my own home. Still, I continued to have a desire to do more. 
Several days passed and that is when I began to seriously consider the idea of making my first “Christmas Jar”.  I knew Dad and I would not have time to fill it with everyday “spare change”, but we could surely fill a jar together… the question was, “Who should we give it to?

On the 10th of December I had a question I needed answered that day, so I called the Relief Society president from Dad’s ward. I thought I might also ask her if she was aware of any members who could use a hand or a little lift this Christmas. I was not aware that she was out of town, so I left her a message thinking she would call me back later that same day.

Fast forward two days. Now I am realizing that I have only four more days with my dad and I’ll be heading home to spend Christmas with my husband and children. Secret Santa?  Christmas Jars?  NOT going to happen at this stage.
THAT is when the miracle began to unfold…

The Relief Society president (we’ll call her Cindy) lives very close to my dad. I had often seen her jogging or passing by but I had never seen her out walking her dogs. Today she was walking her dogs when one of them decided to take a “detour”. He ran off and ended up on the back porch of Dad’s house at the very moment I was standing near the sliding glass door. Cindy came chasing after her dog, and when we made eye contact at the door, I stepped outside to say hello. She told me that when her dog ran to the back of our house she then remembered that I had called and left her a message. She apologized for not calling me that day and then shared how her daughter had just returned home from a mission and that they had driven several hours to try and find college housing for the winter semester. She was pretty overwhelmed having just returned home, with shoulder surgery scheduled three days later and recovery that would take her beyond Christmas.

I had FOUR MORE DAYS in Idaho.... but I still felt inspired to ask if she knew someone that we might do a Christmas Jar for. She got "that look" in her eyes. "Seriously?” she asked. “I DO know someone who could use a little help this Christmas. I JUST got a text THIS MORNING."

- Four weeks and I never see this neighbor with her dogs.- I keep having this nagging feeling about finding SOMEONE to share a Christmas Jar with.- Her dog runs off...and ends up near the door I am standing on the other side of that morning?- She learns of a need just an hour or so before our "chance meeting"  Hmmmmm.....

We BOTH knew this was not a coincidence, and we felt that familiar spirit when the Lord steps in, in an obvious way to direct our lives and helps us answer the prayers of others. 
Cindy was busy helping her college-bound daughter, she had another missionary in Texas she was thinking of and trying to support, she was concerned about meeting the needs of other sisters in her ward, and she had just gotten home and was having surgery in 3 days. When she asked, "You are so-o busy… are you sure?" I knew I had to say yes.

Several days before Dad had mentioned to me that he did not really need anything for Christmas and that it would be better if his children did something for someone else that needed it more. That got me to thinking...

I emailed my siblings and his grandchildren to see if anyone wanted to contribute to a Christmas Jar as our gift to him this year. It was neat to see how quickly family responded!  Even grandchildren with young families contributed 10 dollars here or 15 dollars there. One granddaughter replied, "We'll send $20!" A few hours later she messaged me again, "My kids want to send $15 more!" That was my favorite message. I have a sister who is a single mom with five children still living at home. Money is usually tight and they talked as a family about what they thought they could contribute. They all agreed to break open their family money jar, which was full of mostly pennies, nickels and dimes they have tossed in there for a long time. They had a great time counting all of their coins together and donating the lot!  All $88 dollars!

Remember, I wanted to involve my dad, so I had to be clever because I did not want to spoil HIS Christmas gift from his children and grandchildren.  I told him about my experience with Cindy and how I wanted to make a Christmas Jar for a special family in need. I invited him to contribute. We filled a small jar with the “gold dollars” he had saved. (dollar coins that are gold in color).

I never told him how much money I really had (and thankfully he never asked!) and together we packed coins and bills into three jars!  He seemed to really enjoy coming up with fun ideas about how to arrange the money into our jars. (I did not have time to find “the perfect jar” so I rummaged through an old shed and found 3 jars my mom had saved that worked perfectly!)  

In just four days I was able to gather, package up, and secretly deliver our three Christmas Jars filled with $700!… with a few other treats.  It was awesome!  Our hope was to help a single mother who was struggling to see her own value. It was much less about the money and so much more about helping her to recognize that she is loved, cared for, and valued!  I hope our gift had the desired effect. 

I am going to have to keep this tradition alive.  As we save, over the coming months, to fill another jar it will remind us to keep a look out for someone to share it with next Christmas!  This Christmas tradition can also serve as a reminder that the greatest gifts come from our Savior, Jesus Christ, and that as we share HIS love with others we can “lift the hands that hang down”.

I am so thankful that we experienced our first Christmas Jar Miracle and I know that there are more miracles in store for many others… both those who give and those who receive a Christmas Jar.

PS  I took pictures of our jars, of my dad and daughter working together to fill them, even of our $20 bills folded into hearts! Together with the pictures I made a card for Dad explaining how our “gift” to him will bless the lives of someone else this Christmas, AND that there was much more in those jars than he had thought or imagined, thanks to the generous hearts of his posterity. He’ll get to open it on Christmas morning. I believe it will be a Christmas to remember… for all of us.

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