Sunday, December 06, 2015

So This is Christmas...

Sometimes in life, you learn lessons that stick with you forever.  Sometimes, life events change you and your perspective and it may never be the same.  As I unpacked 9 (9!) tubs of Christmas decorations and collectibles yesterday to dive into the Christmafication of our home, I came across these little treasures and felt the urging of the Spirit to share my story with you. 

It was Christmas Eve, 1996.  I had graduated from my undergraduate program at West Chester University just one year earlier, and moved back to central Pennsylvania to pursue my graduate education at Bloomsburg University.  While taking classes, I decided to do 2 years of service with AmeriCorps - a domestic Peace Corps initiative which rewards its members with educational grants in exchange for working in the nonprofit sector.  In addition to the educational grants, AmeriCorps members receive a "stipend" which averaged out to $4.67 an hour in 1996.  I was young and na├»ve, but dedicated to service to others and to social justice.  Certainly, this sacrifice would be worth something to others, as well as my own personal growth, if not monetarily.

Now I must tell you, I probably could have been a little more financially secure had I not fought for my own independence at this ripe old age of 21.  But I was too hard-headed to remain in my parents' home during this time, so I struggled to make ends meet while also paying for rent, utilities, and other necessities on Market Street in Lewisburg.

Christmas was coming and as you might have guessed, money was tight.  It's not like I had a lot of people to buy for - just my parents, my brother, my boyfriend, his mother; and I always enjoyed making something for my aunts and uncles.  I knew I didn't need a lot of money, but there would be no way I would show up empty handed on Christmas, of all days.  I strategically limited my spending in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas, sometimes eating eggs and toast for a week at a time to ensure I would have $100 in my account on Christmas Eve.  Looking back, that $100 seemed like $1000 as I had somehow figured out what to get everyone on my list to provide a nice Christmas.

My employer let us out early since it was Christmas Eve, and I remember walking to the bank to withdraw my money.  I remember feeling accomplished that I managed to save the $100.  I remember the anticipation of shopping for my loved ones; the excitement of wrapping the presents and seeing the joy on their faces as they opened them.  I had it all planned out.  I remember how determined I was in my walk to that bank, as the list of what I needed to buy and where I needed to go to buy them circled in my brain.

I got to the bank, swiped my card, and entered my PIN.  I typed in the numbers: 100.00.  The message came up blazing across the monitor's screen:  "You Have Insufficient Funds for this Transaction."  In disbelief, I hurriedly checked my bank balance.  "Your balance is $0.00."  As the tears welled up, I printed a transaction statement which revealed the culprit - one of my credit card companies had helped themselves to a payment of $100 without my authorization.  The bank was closed already since it was Christmas Eve, so there was no way to have them reverse the transaction.  In that second, it was all gone - my money, my hopes, my dreams, my anticipation, my sense of accomplishment, and for a brief moment... my Christmas spirit.

I trudged home, back to my apartment, tears flowing uncontrollably.  I called the credit card company and gave them a nice Christmas message.  I called my mom... I guess just because I needed her in that moment.  Then I sat, feeling incredibly alone, but somehow a stirring in my spirit wouldn't let go. 

I pulled out my craft supplies and surveyed the inventory.  There were Georgian pine cones, fabric, Sculpy, random gold string, felt, paint, WhiteOut, Sharpies, and some ribbon.  There was an array of wooden beads and even a bag of white, fluffy stuffing.  I reached into my pocket and I had $15 cash.  I quickly walked down the street to Dollar General just to see if there were any other treasures that might fuel my inspiration.  There I found little tiny trees!  Certainly I could make something with little tiny trees!  I bought enough for my parents, my future mother-in-law, and each of my aunts and uncles, and ran home to get to work.

The Spirit of Christmas was coming back to life in me.  I molded the Sculpy into little faces and used the WhiteOut and blue and black Sharpies to make bright, sincere eyes.  I used the fluffy stuffing to fashion a head of hair and beard.  I sat the heads on top of the pine cones and draped them in green fabric (to which I had also affixed a white border) and tied them around the "waist" with the random gold string.  Voila!  Victorian Pine Cone Santas!

Then, to the trees, I took that crazy collection of wooden beads I had found, and put one bead on each branch.  I made sure the top branch got a nice yellow or goldenrod bead to symbolize a star, and spiraled a piece of ribbon down through the branches as garland.  Now my Santa(s) had Christmas trees, and my heart leapt (and wept) with joy as I surveyed each set, ready for wrapping and presenting to each family member.

I will never forget the faces of love and endearment as my family members opened their Victorian Santa and Christmas tree that year.  Of course, I shared my story with them, and they were even more touched.  The Spirit of Christmas seemed to come alive even more and spread across each family member's heart.

19 years have passed.  I have been married twice, am raising 2 daughters, and also helped to raise 2 step-children.  There have been years of abundance and there have been years that were not-so- abundant.  And yes, I have told this story to all 4 of my children to remind them, as well.  It is the same lesson that Cindy Lou Who has tried to teach us; perhaps the same lesson of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, and maybe even George Bailey.  Christmas is not found in the tinsel, and the wrapping paper, and the twinkling lights - although I'll admit, they do help to inspire us.  But just as God humbled himself to come to this earth in the form of a little baby laying in a manger where the ass and the ox would feed, the Spirit of Christmas is born in the humility of the human heart.

May your hearts be humbled this Christmas, dear Friends, and grow in the Spirit of Christmas.