This Christmas season has been unique for me. Though I’m not one to get caught up in the shopping frenzy, preferring instead the charm of homespun gifts and simple conveyances (like giving a goat!), this year, more than ever, I’ve stayed out of the stores.
I did take a young friend shopping (she helped me choose for my kids; I helped her choose for her mom) and it was a night filled with the wonder of the giving-spirit of Christmas. An experience everyone should have. There is nothing wrong with having fun shopping.
Yet as I shop, I’m almost always aware that if I spend too lavishly I will have less to share with others who are truly in need. This year, the concerns have been keenly present, as visible to me as the lights that have transformed my neighborhood into a winter wonderland, twinkling in reflection on the new-fallen snow, making a late-night walk as bright as day.
Friday night, walking through the neighborhood after our evening of shopping, I remembered how much I love it when the snow comes. It may be brought on by cold, but it invariably magnifies the light.
This season, I have encouraged Patch Parents to “Shine our Light” and encourage our children to “shine” too.
Recently, someone who had been talking to my teenagers said that she could tell that my children have a strong sense of the concept — perhaps reality is a better word — that one person, especially a family unit together, can make a difference in their world, or at least in their little corner of it.
On our family farm, we have endeavored to live a lifestyle of hospitality, welcoming beyond the boundaries of people we know (youth groups and other community groups have often found a place to gather on our property.) I never gave much thought to how this way of life affected my kids, but there is so much that we do as parents, how we live our own lives, that shapes our children’s thinking. Whether we mean for it to or not.
Because their father and I were also very involved in community mission organizations when our children were young, our kids grew up going to homeless shelters and soup kitchens and other community help organizations. They attended Christmas parties with kids who came from completely different “walks of life” than they did, and being in these places was just part of what their family did. Sometimes we found baby-sitters, but there were also many days when they tagged along with us.
They became acquainted with people who were in desperate situations through no fault of their own. They met other people whose regrettable choices had put them there. They met people who struggled with issues of mental illness or alcoholism or a host of other difficulties. I hope that by being exposed to these issues at a young age (and by our conversations) that my children learned that people are precious and WORTH our time and love and compassion. The people who need help from these organizations are worth good things in life just as much as we who live in more “stable,” affluent environments.
I don’t know what my children internalized; only time will tell. But I do not regret taking them with us. They sang “Jesus Loves Me” to homeless persons, served food to those struggling in hard economic times, played with children they may never have met. They had the opportunity to bless others and let their Light shine. Others were changed because of their presence. They told us so.
If you have ever thought about supporting a rescue mission or community outreach center – either financially or with your physical presence – there is no time like the present! Many organizations in Northeast Ohio exhibit great integrity of mission and are not just “handing out fish” but are teaching men and women to be true anglers and in turn feed and teach others.
If you’re hoping to make a year-end contribution, please consider one of my three favorites.
Founded in 2001 as a branch of the Open Door Chapel, Refuge of Hope began as a coffeehouse offering Bible studies and mentorship programs. In 2003 its meal ministry began and, in 2004, it began offering emergency shelter to area men. In 2012, the shelter provided 65,973 meals and 12,699 nights of shelter. Seventy-eight cents of every dollar goes directly to client services, while 14% is allocated for administrative expenses and 8% for development.
The Haven started in 1943 as a small storefront mission. Today, it is one of the largest private social service agencies in the Akron/Canton seven-county area. Last year its ministry served 286,265 meals and provided 64,873 nights of lodging. Residents received hundreds of education hours, leading them to a more secure future. Concerning financial accountability, 79% of its budget goes to service and programming, 11.5% to administrative expenses, and 9.5 is reserved for development.
The oldest of these three organizations, The City Mission was founded in 1910 by former alcoholic Mel Trotter in hopes to help others achieve self-sufficiency. Over the years, the ministry branched out to include a camp, a women’s shelter and much diverse programming. Incredibly, 90 cents of every dollar goes directly to program services, while a mere 4% goes to administrative and 6% to development.
Allowing your child to be part of your service can literally shape his/her life. Visit these websites, read together stories of lives changed. Let your child write out part of the check (my mom used to let me do that-- just remember, you have to be the one to sign it!). Donations must be postmarked no later than Dec. 31, 2012, to receive this year’s tax credit.
Together, you and your child can light the darkness in unexpected ways. Merry Christmas, Dear Patch Family. Thank you for your readership! I pray that the Light of this beautiful Season will shine in your hearts and radiate to places you never thought possible.