The families I interviewed for the Angel Tree were doing the best they could, but had recently experienced a job loss, illness, or some other sort of unexpected hardship. One father in his 30’s had tears spill down his cheeks as he told me how his wife had died three months earlier of breast cancer and because of funeral expenses and the loss of a second paycheck, there would be no Christmas for his two daughters. All they requested were two dolls and warm coats.
The Angel Tree program matches families in need with strangers who volunteer to purchase gifts for children and anonymously drop them off at a collection center. The parents pick up the gifts, never knowing the donors, and are able to save face with their children and provide a happy Christmas.
My job as a volunteer was to make sure the family truly qualified for a need and wasn’t trying to get “something for nothing.” I shouldn’t have worried because what I learned was that no matter what a person’s status in life may be, the last thing any parent ever wants to do, is ask for help.
It wasn’t so much the books, toys or clothing we distributed that made a difference, but instead, what we gave away with the most value, was my favorite word . . . “hope.” It started with a little bit of encouragement, “Don’t worry, you’re doing a great job. You have good kids who love you and this is going to be a great Christmas they’ll always remember. Everyone has ups and downs but this new year could be your best ever.” I always added that I would be praying for them, and it warmed my heart when they earnestly said they’d be praying for me too.
Hope is different for everyone and the little boy who asks Santa for a big toy truck is really dreaming and hoping for the fun adventure of pushing it around the yard and moving loads of dirt. The little girl who wants a puppy may really be hoping for a furry friend who will give her unconditional love. The gift is often the tool for dreams and wishes.
God’s gift to us over 2,000 years ago was one we didn’t ask for, yet He knew it was just what we needed. His gift of hope, pardon, comfort and love was swaddled in cloths and placed in a manger.
A woman’s illness can return, but the gift certificate she received for dinner at her favorite restaurant can bring hope for a fun evening of distraction. Hope can even be found in a pair of cozy socks for movie night in front of the TV or maybe you can find hope in something chocolate, oh yes — there’s always hope in chocolate. If it brings the promise of future joy, it’s always a good gift.
This time of year, we find the hopes of families scribbled on paper angels dangling from Christmas trees. We find hope in a manger that spills over with kindness and generosity to soothe this troubled world in which we live. To you, it may only be a toy or book or sweater, but to someone else, it could be just the promise of hope they need.