November is upon us, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and many of us are well on our way to completing our Christmas shopping. All that remains is to settle in and celebrate with the Christmas feast. But most would like to add something to the tree and gifts to make the holiday season meaningful over the next month or so. We want the reminder that Christ has changed things, and that all of life is a little different now. We want to witness His power at work before our own eyes. We’d like to do something that will have an impact on others, but also to be personally involved in it.
There are many programs that do this in an excellent way on a large scale. Operation Christmas Child, Helping Hands, and Angel Tree are a few well-known programs that are at work all over the country, and yet exist through local involvement that allows people to directly get their hands into choosing items and distributing them to meet targeted needs.
Yet, not everyone has access to these groups operating in their area, or perhaps the scheduling, the requirements, or the methods just aren’t a good fit. There are many other ways to get involved on a case-by-case basis, as an individual, a family, a Bible study or youth group, a church, or a workplace. Go as small or as big as you want, and use it as an opportunity to continue or begin a more lasting relationship beyond just a one-time, holiday gift. Each need can be met differently, but here are a few simple ways and anecdotes that may help with brainstorming for ways to reach out.
Make a gift basket for a shut-in. Prepare a box of goodies, toiletries, household items, easy to prepare meals, or even a fresh homemade dinner for someone who is disabled, sick, or elderly and unable to get out of the house. Be aware of health or practical concerns in your offering and don’t intrude on privacy out of the assumption that a person is lonely, but be prepared to lend more companionship and service in the future if that door opens.
Ms. Leigh had very few friends, and she lived a frugal lifestyle, rarely leaving home for anything but groceries or church. Eventually, her physical abilities deteriorated to the point where she even had to give that up, missing church and relying on someone else to bring her groceries each week. She was reluctant to even receive visitors out of embarrassment for her inability to tend the house properly. The basket I prepared in bright Christmasy colors with a few simple items was small, inexpensive, and easy to prepare, but it may have been one of the only rays of holiday cheer that entered the shuttered windows of her house that Christmas season.
Visit those in assisted living. Spend time with those who live away from home and family. Whether elderly, special needs, veterans, or children’s homes, these people may not have family that can visit or bring them home for the holidays. Take a trip to a local nursing home or other types of facilities and bring a small gift or card and a caring and attentive presence. If you’re at a loss for how to begin, some homes may schedule holiday parties or events during which you can visit under more guided circumstances or participate in presenting a program.
The girls from my Sunday school group all climbed into the back of the suburban, clutching programs in our hands as we practiced carols, singing, squabbling, and giggling the whole way. At the nursing home, our awkward self-consciousness was soon swept away as we sang and saw un-judging delight in the seniors’ eyes. Even the frailest would roll their way out to the front with a nurse’s help so they could take in every moment. Afterward, we all shared frosted sugar cookies and spicy punch with the residents and suddenly we didn’t mind their hugs so much.
Care for a struggling family. Locate a family who has fallen on tough times and find out what they have been forced to go without this year, and make up the difference. Perhaps, you will give them their favorite holiday foods, make a shopping list of clothes or toys that each child needs or likes, or take them out to a special Christmas event or performance.
I well remember as a child when times were hard, mom and dad were distracted, and money was tight, whether it was because of the birth of a child, unemployment, or marital problems. More than that though I recall how neighbors, church members, and family would rally around with those little extras that we had not been able to afford. Luxurious ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner, clothes carefully selected in each child’s size and favorite color, gifts secretly delivered under cover of darkness, and extra nice outings will never be forgotten.
Find out a missionary’s greatest need. If you want to make an impact on an international level or have a heart for a particular region, people group, or situation, you can still interact personally with how you choose and give your gift. Contact a missionary you know or go through your church or a mission sending organization to find out how you can give a gift specific to a missionary’s needs. They may have a great need at just that moment to feed hungry children, give away Bibles, translate materials to train pastors, buy a car for transportation, or even just pay the month’s rent. Your direct gift may be the very thing that can meet that immediate need and may lay the groundwork for a more lasting friendship.
Life is unexpected for everybody. For those who intentionally step out of their comfort zone and away from home and family, the unexpected is normal and the most startling things are true emergencies. Last year, while walking through a remote village, the Singh family, missionaries in India, were brought to a woman who lay on the bare floor of her empty home and was in desperate need of a hospital. The widow was impoverished, neglected, and definitely near death if someone did not step in. And yet, every bit of funding for the missionaries’ work was already invested in their regular work. Only by the miraculous, last-minute intervention of supporters and friends who kept in direct contact and up to date on their needs were they able to pay for her hospital treatments, and a new mattress to boot.
No matter whether it seems too late, your dollars too few, or your scope too limited - look around and identify the spot that you can help brighten. Many around you stand in need of the joy you have in this holiday season. Every touch that you can make, however slight, is a reminder of the celebration: God is with us.