One of the greatest joys in life is when we can help someone else’s dreams come true. It might be something simple like reading a book to the blind or being a big brother or sister to a youth in trouble. Very often, time is the greatest gift we can give to another person. Fancy cars and big houses aren’t all that important to a child. What’s important is whether mom and dad have time to listen to them, or play ball with them, or go to school plays, or have dinner with them. This is what is important to a child. And you know what? There is a little child in you and in me.
Let me share with you the story of a family who truly learned the joys of giving. It is a story by Paula Palangi McDonald.
Ellen had taken about all she could handle. It had been a long winter day with the kids cooped up in the house. Her four little angels had been showing their bad side all day long. They argued; they fought; they drove their mother crazy, just like all normal children who have been cooped up too long. The worst were the two oldest, Eric and Kelly. Eric was the oldest, with Kelly only one year younger.
The Christmas season was fast upon them with Christmas only one month away. But the McNeal household had more of a Halloween mood than a festive Christmas feeling.
As the tension began to consume her, Ellen got an idea. Years earlier, she remembered her grandmother telling her about an old custom which helped people discover the true meaning of Christmas.
She rounded up the kids and lined them – Eric, Kelly, Lisa, and the littlest Mike.
Ellen said to her children, “How would you kids like to start a new Christmas tradition this year?” She explained it was kind of like a game but only could be played by people who could keep a secret. All the kids screamed that they could keep a secret.
Ellen explained that this year they were going to surprise Baby Jesus with the softest bed in the world. They would fill a small crib with straw for Him to sleep in. Here is where the secret came in. The straw that is put into the crib would signify the good deeds each of them did for someone else. The secret was that you could not tell anyone who you were doing the good deeds for.
Eric a little confused asked, “But who will we do the good deeds for?”
“We’ll do them for each other,” explained his mother. “Once a week we will draw names to see who we will get to do good deeds for. When Daddy gets home tonight we will all draw names.”
Ellen was looking forward to seeing her husband Mark’s reaction to the changed mood of their children. It was beginning to feel more like Christmas all the time at the McNeil home.
That night all six of them drew names from Mark’s winter hat. The children were filled with excitement. They chose their secret name one by one. Unable to read yet, Mark whispered little Mike’s name in his ear. Mike then quickly ate the piece of paper to make sure the secret was safe. Eric then chose a piece of paper. He looked at it and immediately a frown came over his face when he saw the name. Ellen and Mark then selected and the family was ready to begin their new Christmas tradition.
Little by little the small crib began to fill with straw as the McNeils filled their lives with good deeds. One family member might find his bed made, or his shoes shined, or her nightgown laid out for the evening. The house was filled with Christmas cheer.
Week after week the McNeils chose names and continued to do good deeds for each other. The crib was nearly full. Now, it was time to choose names for the last time. It was the night before Christmas Eve. The family gathered around with anticipation for this last drawing of names. One by one they all drew names again. Finally, the hat came to Eric. There was only one name left. He picked up the piece of paper and looked at the name. A look of pain and anguish came over Eric’s face. He turned and ran out of the room. Everyone immediately jumped up to follow but Ellen stopped them and said that she would go.
She found her little boy in his room putting on his coat. In his other hand was a cardboard suitcase. Eric said to his mother, “I have to leave. If I don’t, I’ll ruin Christmas.”
“But why?” asked Ellen. “And where will you go?”
Eric said he could sleep in his snow fort for a couple of days and he promised he would come home right after Christmas. Ellen started to say something to convince her little boy of staying when Mark came up and put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head to wait. After Eric slumped through the front door Mark said to his worried wife, “Give him a few minutes alone. I think he needs that. Then you can talk to him.”
After a few minutes, Ellen walked across the street where Eric was sitting on a snowbank. It had begun to snow and Eric was beginning to be covered with the white blanket. “What’s wrong, Eric? I know something has been bothering you. Please tell me what it is, honey.”
“Don’t you get it, Mom? Every week I got stuck with the same stupid name. Every week I got stuck with Kelly. I hate Kelly. I tried to do good deeds for her. I went in her room every night when nobody was watching and I fixed her bed. I even laid out her stupid nightgown. And when I let her use my race car she smashed it into the wall like she always does. Every week I thought it would be different but I always got Kelly. If I stay I will ruin Christmas. I just know I will end up beating up Kelly.”
Ellen said to her hurting little boy, “Eric, I know it was hard for you to do all those good deeds for Kelly. And that it is why I am so proud of you. Every one of your good deeds should count double because they were so difficult for you. Maybe that is what Christmas is all about. Giving love when it is hard to love. Eric, you probably added the most important straws to Baby Jesus’ bed this year.
Ellen offered to switch names with Eric so he could earn some easy straws. Eric finally agreed with his mother and they went back into the house.
Throughout the next day, the little crib was filled to overflowing with straw. As bedtime approached, Ellen snuck up to turn down Kelly’s bed and lay out her nightgown. As she walked into the room, a surprise of joy filled Ellen’s heart. Someone had already fixed Kelly’s bed and laid out her nightgown. And on the bed next to the pillow sat a beautiful little toy race car.
That’s what life is all about. Let’s commit our lives to giving where it really matters … people.
This wonderful inspiration was excerpted from Mark Bowser’s book “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Get your copy today on Amazon at www.amzn.to/TPpuOw