It was one of our last times to assemble Christmas bags for our Just 4 One Christmas outreach. We normally would have an abundance of volunteers wanting to help in the Christmas workshop, but that evening, it was just a mom and her young son.
As I welcomed them into the house and encouraged them to leave their winter gear upstairs, the young lad had difficulty taking off his coat. His mother tried to help him get both arms out of the sleeves when the impediment became clear. In his hands were a bunch of pages. He held onto them tightly and didn’t want to let go.
Now we see children bring all sorts of things so I didn’t think too much of it. She quietly helped him work his arms out of his sleeves while he moved the papers back and forth between his hands. As they worked together, I smiled and told them that I remembered them from the last Easter season. She returned the smile and nodded.
After chatting for a brief moment, we ventured down to the workshop. I showed them the Christmas system and talked with them about what they would be helping us with. I spoke of how there are many souls in this world, sometimes within our own families and friends even our neighbors, who could use some extra encouragement. Not all are struggling with financial difficulties as sometimes hard times can come from loss, sickness, loneliness, depression and other emotional reasons that make the holidays a bit more dim for the soul wrestling with the more serious side of life.
The young lad stood there listening intently, gripping the sheets of paper. He moved them in his hands, and I began to wonder what he had. He couldn’t have been more than in first or second grade, probably between seven and eight years of age. I thought maybe it was homework or an assignment that he had to finish. As I asked them if they were ready to begin, his mom encouraged him to show me what he had brought.
While he seemed a little nervous to let go of his treasure, he was so very eager to show me. I could tell from the seriousness on his face that it was important to him. As he reached out with his pages, he told me that he had written a story about making Easter baskets. I began to smile.
You see, many years ago, as parents and grandparents began to hear about what we do, families started coming together–parent and children; grandparent and grandchild; sometimes three generations–to build baskets. And we realized something quite incredible was happening in the hearts of both the young and old: belief growing in their hearts that they could make a difference in the life of another in a very tangible and real way.
I believe it was six or seven years ago when my husband and I talked about a suggestion from someone that we move the outreach to somewhere else so it could grow “bigger”. To my delight, my husband was also seeing what I was seeing–hearts being touched that regular people in a regular home in a regular town were helping other regular people. There was no corporate feel; no lights going off in industrial building so we could go home. We were already there. It was then that we began to understand God was doing as much in the hearts of those coming to help as He was in those being helped. He was teaching hearts willing to see that serving Him, and others, can co-exist in the regular hours that are lived everyday. That our ordinary lives hold extraordinary potential if we just trust Him with it.
I told the young lad that I would read his story over very carefully. His mom spoke of how he had not been able to stop talking about making the baskets since they had left that Easter. He loved to tell others about what he experienced. When the school assignment came, he knew for sure what he wanted to write about…making Easter baskets. She smilingly told me, “We are still working on spelling so we might have to help you translate some of the words.” But I assured them I would be able to figure the words out and I did…with no problem.
Not only did he have to write a story, but he also had to draw pictures of how he saw what he was writing about. Each page had a box where he colored a scene from his adventure. From driving over in the car with his mom to learning about how to make baskets to building one to returning home. In joy, he detailed all the instructions I had given them (him and his mom) when I taught them how to build a basket together. He remembered all the “ingredients” of what needed to go into each basket, and he nicely drew those components in his illustrations.
As they started to work on building their Christmas bag, I told him how touched I was by his story–how special it was to me. I asked his mom if I could take pictures of it to share with you all as Easter started; to tell the story of how this young boy was so deeply touched by helping another. She eagerly agreed and he looked thrilled. I had looked at the pictures of his story often in the end of our December as a reminder for all the moments when I can’t see how much another heart has been impacted. I wish I had the pictures to share but a computer issue has left me with his pages only etched in my mind.
More times than not we see their stories, just not written down in print. They come. They walk in the door and look around at a foyer probably not all to different from the one they have at home or enter to get to home. They look into the lit room adjacent to our foyer and see two normal couches and a chair. They peer through the foyer to a kitchen table and realize there’s a normal kitchen somewhere not too far from where they are. And as they head downstairs, they descend down on old basement steps just as so many basements hold…maybe with just a few extra pictures of kids with baskets hanging on the walls.
And then they turn the corner. Their eyes grow more wide open, and they see that while they are somewhere that feels similar to what they know, it now looks very different. It’s a basement, but not like one they have seen before. The same type of space, and yet excitingly new. We see the look. So many of them have been told they are too young, too inexperienced, too immature, too unable, too uncreative, too much of a lay person, worse yet, not welcome…to help another who has a need. But they stand there about to embark on a journey of learning that they are more than able…
We see their eyes begin to twinkle with a fire. We see their ears tune in to just what they need to do in order to make their basket convey excitement, love and caring. We see their attention to detail rise and their creativity blossom. We perceive their tentativeness and uncertainty as they begin, and then, as hope nurtures, we see their capability grow and bloom with gentle, instructive feedback and carefully laid out guidelines. We watch them shed the expectation that the world so often demands–that they accomplish as much as they can in the shortest time possible by focusing on the end result and not worrying about the process. We encourage them to embrace our golden rule that we don’t count baskets and we don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. We just ask that they build each basket with as much love as they can. That how they go about building, the process, is what makes the end result so incredible.
We watch encouragement and support be extended frequently since competition really has no place here. Everyone is trying to do their very best, and does not have to be concerned with what another is building. We see their focus honed as they devise themes and details in a way that creates something crazy beautiful. We listen intently as they eagerly tell us how and what they were thinking with every little item they put into their basket. And then we see their hearts and their faces reflect a genuine joy and satisfaction that they, often alongside their parent, have created something that will make another child feel loved and happy.
We see them. Their stories. The making of their memory photos. Their yearly trek back to help build more baskets.They tell us how they couldn’t wait for the season to come again. We watch them arrive with their beloved stuffed animals, books and toys knowing they have found a loving home for what they are now ready to let go of. We see how much it means, and yet we don’t…until several pages are laid out in front of us illustrating the depth of impact this outreach has on even the youngest of souls.
And it is there, in the development of their stories, that our greatest hope and wishes are encouraged to persevere and wait. These children who are coming to help, who are making memories that will last them into adulthood, hold the greatest seed of potential for our world, our communities and our futures. They are learning young that they can make a difference in a life of another right where they are. They are discovering that they have the capability even if others don’t recognize it. They are gaining confidence that they don’t have to have a million dollars or all the answers; they just need a little faith to follow God when their hearts are nudged. It is their character that will one day lead and define our world and theirs. And it is in the making of their stories now where they will find the courage to do right for another then.
There’s a reason Jesus said, “Let the little ones come to Me.”
May their light grow and shine ever so brightly into the lives of those who surround them, and may they believe–even into old age–that their stories are worth gold to this world. That their ability to help never ceases so long as their hearts and hands are willing and able. Let hope abound not only for this 2017 Easter season, but well beyond!
“Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine…” Ezekiel 18:4