There are two stories I would like to tell you.
The first one is actually my mom's story. Her grandmother moved to America as a young woman, a Russian Jew who emigrated after the pogroms. She met a nice young man, a tailor, another Russian immigrant who had fled the violence of the pogroms. That was my great-grandfather. My mom tells me that her grandmother would never talk about her life in Russia, but there was one story that she shared, when my mom asked her what the best gift she'd ever had was.
The best gift my great-grandmother said she'd ever received was the year that she got an entire orange to herself on her birthday, and didn't have to share it with her brothers or sisters. Every time I throw away spoiled fruit, I think of this story.
The second story is from Christmas 1983. It was four o'clock in the morning, later than even the most excited 8 year-old boy could stay awake, and at least two hours earlier than he would wake up on his own. My dad came into my room, woke me up, and said, "Get dressed and meet me in the living room. I've laid out some warm clothes for you. Try not to wake your brother." I worried that I may be in trouble, because the situation was so odd, but I hadn't heard any anger in his voice, and so I did as he asked.
My mom had made us a Thermos full of hot chocolate, and when we were in the car with that and some muffins, I asked, "Where are we going, Papa?"
"We're going to help some people out for Christmas."
He drove us to a downtown parking lot, where many other people had gathered. This was the distribution point for the Goodfellows program, a charitable effort to give gifts to impoverished families with children, so that they would have something under the tree on Christmas morning. They loaded the trunk of our car with sacks of toys, clothes, and groceries, gave us an address to visit, and then sent us on our way.
Papa followed the directions we'd been given, and pulled up 20 minutes later in front of a house in the worst part of East Lubbock. Together, we unloaded bags from the car, and he quietly tapped on the door, so he wouldn't wake the children sleeping inside. The single mother who lived there with her children had been told when to expect the drop-off, so she met us at the door with a smile as we carried the sacks inside. She hugged my dad, and cried, and thanked him for his help. We drove back home, drinking hot chocolate on the way, and my brother and sister were just starting to wake up when we walked in the door. Every Christmas morning, I think of this story.
These are the two experiences that shaped my thinking this month, and that made me want to try and do this hour of service each day of Advent, and to keep a grateful heart. You, my friends, and my readers, have probably been able to tell that my heart has been in a much more somber place these last few months. I can't lie - there are some days when I am working very hard to hold it together. I miss my dad very much. Every day. I carried these heightened emotions along with me into some of these projects.
That said, doing this project has brought me more joy than anything has in months. Just the feeling that with only an hour a day, I can put something positive out into the world is really uplifting. There are still so many who are hungry, or homeless, or hurt and in need of help, but I can do something about it. You can, too.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
Only when we stop caring about each other and taking care of each other will the darkness overcome us. Light a candle against the darkness.
I said this yesterday, but again, I am so thankful to each of you who read, commented, emailed, or spoke with me. Thank you to anybody who encouraged me or who helped me to arrange service opportunities. Thank you again to everybody who helped make dinner at the Ronald McDonald house possible with your contributions. Merry Christmas and much love to you all.
I'm going to take this next week off from the blog, but I promise that 2012 will have some fun things in store. Anybody interested in another round of Project Gastronome?