Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small People, Small Places, Small Things

"Many small people, in many small places, do many small things,
that can alter the face of the world."
(Excerpt taken from the Berlin Wall, East Side)

...and it is the small people from this small place who are doing small things this season.

Recently, we experimented with a new tradition in our family. It began in 2009, when I was desperate to do something - anything - to help some families who were really struggling that season. One family was consumed by grief; the other, drowning in worry. Their pain brought to mind the last Christmas season we had with my grandmother before her death on Christmas Eve; she had been under hospice care and living in our home for some weeks. Thinking of that Christmas season, I was flooded with a most wonderful memory - the night the carolers showed up on our doorstep. Two dozen members of our church came to our home and sang one carol after another. Their voices were beautiful, but the warmth, love, support, and cheer they provided were what we needed - and enjoyed - the most.

So in 2009, we caroled. I asked my playgroup friends (and all the kids, of course!) to go with me to one home. We carried bells and maracas and song sheets and sang every song we could think of. Another night, our little family of five traveled to the hospital for a private concert for a most receptive audience. Reflecting on those experiences, I realized that they were the most meaningful parts of that season. I was determined to do more.

In 2010, Jeff and I planned out four service projects for our family, corresponding with each week of Advent. One week, the boys drew lovely cards for four people from our church and our community who were in need of some tender loving care that year. One had just lost his beloved wife; another was unable to leave his house anymore and was struggling with loneliness and isolation.

The second week, we collected extra towels and blankets from the closet. We shopped for toiletries, the boys each contributing funds from his piggy bank to help with the cost. Once our bags were overflowing, we donated the goods to the day haven/shelter that takes care of so many homeless women and men in our community. The boys were wide-eyed but respectful and friendly to each of the grateful friends we met that day.

The third week, we selected a few brand-new toys and a handful of gently used board books to donate to a family our church was sponsoring that Christmas. Aidan and Leo were so careful in making sure to select toys they thought the little girl would love, and they delighted in getting to wrap the gifts.

The fourth week, we baked the communion bread for the worship services on Christmas Eve. The kids were very proud of their bread, pleased that it would feed the whole church.

This year, it began with a goat. I fell in love with the baby goat featured on the cover of the ELCA's Good Gifts catalog, and I knew I wanted one.... to go to a family in Africa. Jeff and I drafted a list of chores and dollar amounts that the kids could choose to do to earn money for our goat. I decorated a small box that served as our "goat kitty" (maaa-eow), and for two solid weeks, the kids worked hard - cheerfully, and diligently - to fill the box. [Amendment: only after I assured Leo that we would not, in fact, ever have the goat at our house.] Pax fed the kitties and helped unload the dishwasher. The older boys cleaned the basement, put away laundry, wiped down sinks and counters, dusted, and even raked leaves at my parents' house. On the date we'd designated as our deadline, we discovered we were $2 short. The kids hustled and bustled around the house, tidying and straightening, dusting and cleaning. We praised them for their hard work and their cheerful spirits; we finalized our purchase of the goat, and during dinner, we discussed what that goat might be doing that very minute, whether she was feeling excited or nervous to go meet her new family.

Inspired by the book I mentioned in a previous post, Jeff and I are excited about the microloan we are financing through kiva.org . The website connects lenders to people all over the world for whom a tiny loan - $25 - could make all the difference to their families. The hardest part of lending the money was deciding whom to lend to, for every one of the bios we read came from very worthy and deserving people. Ultimately, we chose to sponsor a mother of three from Zimbabwe who will use her loan to purchase groundnuts which she'll use to make peanut butter.

Next week, we'll spend several days baking a variety of cookies that we'll package in cute bags and send to work with Jeff to give to his patients. If I find it hard to have a husband who has to work holidays (this year, we're lucky - he's off for Christmas Eve & Day) -- I can only imagine how much harder it is for the actual patients at the hospital.

And finally, we'll bake the bread again for our worship services on Christmas Eve. Our gifts are small. They come from the work of small hands, in this small place. But our gifts of service are among the most important gifts we can offer. I don't know about altering the face of the whole world, but our tradition of service has forever altered our little world. And hopefully, our gifts will change the world of a family in Africa, whose goat will provide milk, cheese, and eventually, kid goats; and our gift will change the world of one mom in Zimbabwe, using the profits of her harvest to send her children to school and to bring her family out of poverty.

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