*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Thanksgiving 2011 was one of the best I can remember.
It had all the makings of a fabulous holiday experience:
*hilarious moments (let me just say four words: “Awkward Family Photos Game”)
*inspiring moments (running in “The Drumstick Dash” alongside my husband and 15,000 other people with all proceeds going towards hot meals at the local mission)
*peaceful moments (having a the loveliest tea party for two with my precious 16-month-old nephew.)
*thankful moments (counting the number of freckles on my five-year-old daughter’s exquisite nose as she rested her sleepy head on my lap; BTW, there are 34)
And let’s not forget the Thanksgiving feast.
Although it might surprise you to know that the Thanksgiving dinner I will remember for rest of my life is one that I did not even eat.
But it was divine.
And it will sustain me in ways I thought not possible.
If you are wondering how you can go “Hands Free” this holiday this season, if you want to know how you can truly grasp what matters in the days leading up to December 25th, please read on.
Because I am certain the answer is in here somewhere.
This is my story …
Although I wish I had more time to read all the great blogs out there, I don’t. Yet, a week before Thanksgiving, I found myself clicking on a link to the popular blog “Scary Mommy.” A friend had recommended this link because the blogger was attempting to make Thanksgiving a little brighter for some.
Through the “confessional” section of her blog, Jill Smokler learned first-hand the dire financial situation of many of her blog readers. Several people had recently confessed that their family would have to forgo a Thanksgiving meal this year.
Using an article recently published in USA Today, Jill surmised that with two $25 gift cards from a grocery or discount store a family could purchase the ingredients to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
At this point, I was intrigued by what this compassionate (not to mention ingenious) blogger was about to propose.
Jill simply asked readers to leave a comment indicating if you could provide a $25 gift card or if you needed to receive a gift card.
This is where I really got sucked in.
I scrolled through the 928 responses and for every comment that said, “I am embarrassed to admit, but we would be grateful for the help this year,” there were approximately three comments that read, “Count me in for a gift card! I would love to help!”
Normally, I am not an impulse decision maker.
Normally, I ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research.
Normally, I like to know where my money is going.
Normally, I want to confirm something is legitimate before I commit to a donation.
But not this time.
I knew what I must to do. In fact, I could not click the window closed without leaving the comment, “Thank you for the opportunity to help! Please count me in for $25. I am inspired by you and by all these comments here.”
I fully realize that in the past I might have hesitated, asking myself questions like, “How do I know the family that receives my gift card really needs it?” or “How do I know the money will actually go towards a Thanksgiving meal?”
But 18 months ago, I started my journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters.
Now I try to let go of the need to “control” everything and allow my heart to do the leading.
My heart was so sure this is what I was supposed to do that I didn’t even consider any doubting questions. In fact, I knew factors such as how the money will be used were not for me to determine.
I only needed to trust what my heart was urging me to do.
Within a day, Jill sent me a message to confirm that I was on board with purchasing a Thanksgiving gift card. My only request was to be paired with someone who has children.
Jill quickly responded with the family members’ names and address, adding, “This family will be perfect for you.”
Little did she know just how “perfect” we were for each other.
When I read the names of the children, tears of joy escaped from my eyes. It was no coincidence that two of our children share the same first name. It was my first inkling that our pairing was an act of something truly providential.
I immediately ordered an online gift card from Wal-Mart, again trusting my heart to determine the perfect amount for the card.
I felt overwhelmed with gratitude as I hit “confirm order” knowing this gift would soon arrive into the hands of a beautiful family who amazingly lived one state away from where I grew up.
Shortly thereafter I received this heartfelt message from the family written by the mother, Heather*:
A very brief hello to say that you are our Thanksgiving Angel and we are so grateful and blessed by your generosity. More later …
Heather and I went on to exchange pictures and email messages in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Our two separate worlds became smaller and smaller the more we exchanged information and found common facts and interests about our lives.
On the morning I zipped up the last suitcase to head north to visit family for Thanksgiving, I received one last message from Heather:
“You have truly set me off into this joyous season with a feeling of promise and the ability to celebrate my family.”
And then there was a P.S.
“We LOVE to cook and make everything from scratch.”
That was it … or perhaps I should say that was everything.
As someone who loves to cook and bake myself, I know the amount of love and labor that goes into preparing a homemade meal. So over the next few days, I felt absolutely giddy as I imagined Heather and her mini cooking “assistants” drooling over family recipes as they created their grocery list. I envisioned the children helping to fill the shopping cart with succulent ingredients, including the delicious elements to a pumpkin pie with a flaky crust.
On Thanksgiving Day, as I sat at a table surrounded by people I love dearly, I took my first bite. That small sample of “Thanksgiving goodness” tasted better than it ever had in the past, as if it were pure manna from heaven.
In my mind, I pictured Heather and her loving husband (who had prepared much of the meal himself) and their beautiful children sitting at their own table. I imagined how they exchanged joyful expressions as they looked across the abundantly filled table of homemade delicacies. I prayed that each person sitting at the table was overcome with a feeling of optimism that they had not felt in some time.
Later that night, I asked my eight-year-old daughter to come have a quiet moment with me, away from all the happy noise and bountiful activity created by a large family gathering.
My child’s eyes grew dark and concerned by my summons, perhaps even looking a little frightened.
“Is this another important talk about the man named Mr. Jerry who hurt children at Penn State?” she cautiously asked.
Oh my sweet child.
I pulled her up close to my chest and smoothed the back of her hair.
“No, no, this is not about Jerry Sandusky. What I am about to tell you is the exact opposite of that.”
And then I looked into her anxious big brown eyes and said, “This is about angels. This is about goodness. This is about hope.”
I watched as the forlorn expression on her face quickly vanished as I recounted the story of Heather coming into my life, how our family helped their family this Thanksgiving, and the beautiful results of our pairing.
“Can you believe it all started with a simple gift card?” I asked my now fascinated little girl.
Her eyes actually sparkled at this revelation and then rolled upwards as if she was thinking about all the hopeful possibilities this true story created.
And that is when I realized something profoundly amazing and wonderful.
This is how easy it is.
This is how easy it is to replace fear, sorrow, and uncertainty with hope, joy, and promise.
This is how easy it is to replace bad with good.
This is how easy it is to contribute a positive spark of light into an often painfully dark world.
And then as my child snuggled against me for one more lingering hug, she exhaled a momentous sigh of relief as if feeling a bit more at peace about her future ahead.
Which made me think of Heather.
And my heart was full.
In the weeks leading up to December 25th, open your heart to any situation where you unexpectedly find yourself being able to provide hope to another individual. And when you do, push aside any questions of doubt that enter your mind and simply do what your heart calls you to do.
For example …
If you find yourself standing beside an empty box labeled “coat drive” at a local fast food restaurant and feel tempted to go to the nearest department store to buy a coat … do it.
Don’t think of the inconvenience, the traffic, or whether or not the future recipient is “deserving,” of your gift.
That is not for you to determine.
If you find yourself passing by a man on the street begging for spare change and you feel as if the $10 bill in your pocket is for him … give it.
Don’t try to figure out if he is going to get into a “nice vehicle” once he is finished begging or whether or not he will spend the money on booze.
That is not for you to determine.
If you find yourself perusing the wish lists attached to a department store “Angel Tree” and suddenly feel tempted to take a child’s list off the tree … grasp it.
Don’t question why a needy child would ask for such “expensive” electronic toys or whether or not one gift can really make a difference.
That is not for you to determine.
Give because your heart is urging you to do so.
Give because you have found yourself in the right place at the right time.
Give because one small act of kindness can offset even the most horrific experiences that an individual has endured.
Give because the world could use a little more positive energy in its midst this holiday season.
Give because you might inspire someone else to do the same.
Give because you never know how richly you will be blessed simply by being someone else’s angel.
Give whatever hope you have to give. And give it without question.