If ever there was a distraction needed, this year was the year!!! I wanted to share this experience with my Bloggin’ family, because I have to say, without a doubt, if you are hurting, go love on someone else that is hurting!! It changes everything…….
As you read the following account of my experience this year with the Group Home FB Christmas Project, I encourage you too, to find a way to serve those around you. This is actually a letter I wrote to express the events of the day, as we can only use words in this situation to pass on gratitude for each persons giving hearts. Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God CAN do anything!!
5 years ago, I got a phone call from a man that has since retired, that simply said “I know it’ s only a few days til Christmas, but we have some Group Homes that don’t have anyone sponsoring them for Christmas, and I was wondering if there was any way you could help come up with 15 coats, or something…” and SO, the group home Christmas project was born.
I’m going to be honest with you….. there is an evolution that has happened here. But it’s the GREATEST part of this story. You see, I have assisted a local Church for over 10 yrs, match people up for Christmas Blessings (until 2 yrs ago). SOOO many people are over joyed to be able to take their families/kids to go buy gifts for other children. Over the years I have been able to witness the goodness and love in people’s hearts, and I have discovered that MOST want to help, they just need to know the need, and they LOVE to know the direct result, and that it is local and personal. A direct connection…..and the connections seem to be the greatest Blessing of all. God’s hand is in it every step of the way. I have felt so Blessed over the years to have the stories in my heart, that will last a lifetime. I got involved myself, primarily because there was a need, and I was a single mother for many years (and have found myself again in this position now) and I didn’t personally have the money to help, but I had the time. With each story, and each situation, God had a PERFECT match. Year after year, I witnessed people who had walked a difficult road, and come out on the other side, have the opportunity to reach out and help families in the EXACT situation. I could write a book with all the stories……BUT, the Group Homes have become my heartsong each Christmas.
When it began, the first year, we had very limited donations left to fulfill the need, but the very same day we had a man that called wanting to know if he could help with anything, and we told him of the need and he went straight to the store and got the 15 coats and delivered them. Done. Then the next year came around, and the same man made the call. Again, we got some things together. BUT…. the next year, I called him. He gave us some sizes, etc., and I don’t remember much of the details, but somehow my sweet friend Leslie wanted to know what “this” was. She told me her “story”, and this is where our passion was born. She took one whole group home and I took the other, and we fulfilled the needs, but this particular year, I actually walked through the doors of the group home, and my heart was forever changed. This year, we are sooo proud to have enough support to fulfill the needs for ALL three group homes.
You see, when most hear of a group home, they think of the children left behind. These homes are different. I found myself that year, as I was communicating to Leslie, almost apologetically explaining that these young men had criminal back grounds. Just being honest. It’s funny to me now. That mere fact is the fuel to the fire of what we do. Yes they have complicated histories, that don’t fit into the pretty picture of buying “Christmas” gifts, but that just means they need it most. They are indeed children left behind as well, they are products of their environments, BUT they are part of our future generations, and they are young men, that when having completed their “programs” will be our neighbors…… just think about that. Most of all, they have not experienced love in most cases, and have been let down by the ones they need love from the most. But love from a complete stranger is profound. Let me tell ya!!! We see the tears each year, hear the stories, and each year I can stand there and look around the room and always see at least one, if not more, sitting silently by themselves, opening their gifts with a look of awe and thanksgiving. When they look you in the eyes…… they look at you in amazement. If anyone feels unworthy, it is these boys. What we/YOU provide for them, for each boy, is a shirt, a jacket, a pair of jeans/pants, a pair of shoes, and a “wish list” item for under $15. (I told you it has been an evolution!!) And the reason for that is this….. When they first come in, most of them are coming out of an incarceration type environment, are dawned in orange jumpsuits, which then evolve to a pair of scrub pants and white t-shirts, with foam type sandals. They are put on a “program”, and as they are successful in moving up “levels” part of their reward system is to eventually be able to wear street clothes. If they have them, of course. Each year, the directors of the homes will point out the boys, and their situations, and I’m not going to pretend that the stories won’t make your toe nails curl, BUT…. to have the opportunity to plant a seed is invaluable. We do this each year in hopes that that seed will grow…….that some day, when they are out there back on the streets, that the love a stranger will help them to look at the world in a very different way. These young men feel bitter, and judged, and angry…….. Until the day we are able to pull our sleighs up outside the doors of these homes, and they see the enormity of what has been given……and it’s not about the gifts.
Last year my oldest son was able to go with me, and he sat with one group as I sat with another. These young men at the home I personally go to each year are ages 14-18. Before we went my son was looking at the lists, and there are things like socks on their wish lists, along with body wash, acne wash, and ethnic hair products, because of course the state doesn’t have funding to provide these. My son looked at me and was blown away by the fact that for Christmas, these boys wanted what was under his sink. Leslie and I this year were able to tell them not to use their “wishes” for these items, as we were committed to making sure they all had those anyway. But these boys, being nearly the same age as my son (you have to be 18 to be able to go in there) sat there in astonishment, some telling him that they had never received a gift before. Ever. Again, this year, one of the people that work with these boys, had been at each “Party” yesterday, spoke of MANY that had not had Christmas. I can’t imagine that, not because of the gifts, but because our society as a whole this time of year BLEEDS with the commercialism of Christmas, and every where they go, they have to stare in the face of all they don’t have……… the “picture” of Christmas in our country is one of perfect families, opulent gifts, parties, events, etc….. it’s EVERY WHERE YOU LOOK. Imagine being that person that has a broken family or no family at all. No money, parents on drugs, homeless situations, as they listen to the “jingle bells” all around them and see all the “Joy” around them that they have never experienced. Let THAT sink in…… and then think about each one of them being in a “lock up” situation to boot. These kids HATE what Christmas stands for.
BUT….. YOU ALL are changing that one boy at a time. Because the number one thing that Leslie and I convey as we each have an opportunity to speak to them before they open the gifts, is that yes, we brought “Christmas Gifts”, but inside those boxes are SO much more. Each boy has had someone “adopt” them, they know their name. They shop specifically for each one…… and they/YOU are PRAYING for them. They realize that we KNOW they are broken, but we are delivering the equivalent of a hug, a sign of encouragement, that says “Yeah, I know, BUT….. today you have a choice to have a different future. We BELIEVE in you!!” Over and over I can not say enough, this is NOT us showing up with pretty packages like the little elves you would think….. the items in those boxes are a vessel of hope. And these boys FEEL it……. the tough guys, with the tears and the amazement in their eyes…. the softness in their eyes, for that moment, says it all.
Being there is a reward, and I must say, that each year you too have the opportunity to be there, to be an instrument, to witness to them, if you ever want to, but there is another aspect to this all, that has an even bigger impact on me. It’s YOU, and your stories. I have tears just typing this part. As I fire up my sleigh each year, I have found as I come into your homes to pick up your gifts, that I need to clear my schedule to do so, because your stories and WHY you have chosen to reach out are my favorite part. I have driven many hours around this city with tears streaming down my face because what I get to walk away with, just knowing each of you. I feel like I am THE MOST Blessed by all of this. I am the messenger, the vessel of communication, and I get to walk away with the priceless gold…… This outreach has grown and exploded to a degree that Leslie and I are sooo humbled by. So many of you write personal notes, and I do share your stories. I’m going to jump out there and tell you a story, that I truly hope the individual I’m speaking of doesn’t mind. BUT… a friend last year shared the initiative, and I was contacted by someone I didn’t know. I gave them their “list”, they shopped, and I went to pick up the “items”. As I was picking them up from this man, I learned that they had just been through a difficult time financially and had just moved here to Norman to be closer to family. BUT…. he told me a story of when he was young. He had always wanted “cool” shoes, and one year his Father had found a “cool” name brand pair of shoes, in a dumpster. He was sooo proud, and wore the tattered discarded shoes…. to school. You can imagine how that was received by the other children. Because of that experience, along with the years of being told there would be no Christmas, this family buys the best darn Christmas Shoes there is. At times, Leslie and I fill in for kids with remaining donations, and pair people up to make it happen for each child, but when it comes to the one that received these Christmas Shoes…. I don’t add a thing. I tell these boys the story, and I always stand back and watch that boy open his Christmas Shoes…… and there is always more pride then you can imagine, SO much gratitude, and both years, silent tears. All the boys ask around to see who the recipient of the Christmas Shoes is too….. It matters that they matter people. I could go on and on and on you guys………
Our friends have shared the initiative, and we now have new friends to add to our family. I personally have had several new friendships born from this. We have people from ALL OVER the US that shop and ship! Unfortunately this isn’t a situation where we can take pictures, and share the joy. It’s left up to us to come up with the words to convey the impact YOU are having. THAT my dear friends is virtually impossible. It’s impossible even for me each year to process my emotions…..I am usually rendered speechless. Last night, I myself took my son to church, and was driving home, and just cried and cried and cried. I decided instead to go check out the fabulous Down’s Christmas lights by myself, in my slippers! Ha! I drove out there and sat on the hood of the car, (thank you Oklahoma bi-polar weather!) laying there trying to process it all. Yesterday was MY Christmas…… right now my personal circumstances are poopy, BUT I am the luckiest girl on Earth!!! Thank YOU for being instruments of God’s unconditional LOVE, encouragement, and HOPE. Now prepare yourselves……. we are committed THIS year to make this a year round operation, and I know we will be able to expand to areas unknown, but God gave us this opportunity and we are going to RUN with it!! “1nGrained” we are…… with YOUR seeds of hope!! Love y’all, and MERRY STINKIN’ CHRISTMAS!!!!!
In addition to the story you just read, I had a counseling lady approach me that day. She was APPALLED by what we (most importantly, GOD) was able to accomplish via facebook connections. She went home that evening and “friended” me, and her status was something to the fact that she had met a woman (that would be me! Haha!) that day that convinced her that if she knew anyone in need, all you had to do was throw it out there on FB and people will help. The only thing was, nobody had bitten. I asked her what the need was, and had the MOST amazing opportunity to connect with a sweet, VERY young family with 4 boys ages 2-6. That very next day my son was Blessed with a HUGE bonus (gift) from work, and we were able to provide Christmas (extremely last minute), and a tree with decorations, and stockings FULL from Santa, all with the help of others.
But the biggest need was EVERYTHING for their apartment. It turns out this family had moved here to be closer to their family, because one child has the same brain condition I do, and spends a lot of time in the hospital, but they couldn’t afford to move their things as well. They both had worked long enough to secure a tiny apartment, but they had absolutely NOTHING. SOOO often I have run across these situations, and served where I could, but this family has stolen my heart. I am pleased to say, that through FB, since Christmas Eve through this past weekend, their apartment is completely furnished, including kitchen stuff and linens for the beds. ALL from Facebook!! Try it! Be the difference that someone’s story needs………