Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Rebel

We met Santa and his wife in the basement of the building. They had been doing this for a while. Today was our first time, and our children (then 11 and 17) were eager for the experience. We pulled on our sweltering Santa hats with the white pompoms on top and followed the big guy up the elevator.

The Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital representative met us on the pediatric oncology floor. We pushed our rolling tray of stuffed bears and tiny blankets down the hall and had to sanitize our hands at every corner. As elves, we were allowed to hand Santa the gifts but we couldn’t enter where the children lay.

We stood by the window of each room and watched the gentle man cheerfully make each child smile and laugh...perhaps even forget her or his pain for a moment. Some were so sick that all they could manage was thanking him through wide eyes and weak smiles.

Sometimes a parent would leave the room at the sight of their children’s great happiness. They didn’t want their child to see them breakdown. The strength it must take! They spend the day—or the entire season—in the hospital attending to their child while their desire to see Maggie or Ben run and play around the decorated tree at home withers. Hopes unfulfilled.

I could only imagine the sorrow. But I knew why we had sacrificed our comfort to come here on this special day. Their moment of saving-face became our opportunity. “Can we pray for you?”

They rarely said no. Every bit of support was welcome. Often a father would unburden his heart regarding the struggle of the past weeks, months. “I’d hoped Maggie would’ve been able to come home for Christmas. Hopefully for her birthday next month….”

We hit every pediatric floor and prayed for any parent willing to receive. A couple of hours later, the six of us traveled back to the basement with the leftover gifts. How Santa had interacted with a hundred or so kids without shedding a tear, I’ll never know.

My husband, a retired army officer of tough German character, admitted, “I could’ve never held myself together in those rooms.”

“Can we do this again next year?” Our kids had fed the poor and sung in nursing homes, but this endeavor of kindness apparently outranked all those experiences.

Some people enjoy the bustling aspect of this holiday, but I flee from the Santa Claus craze. Daily news coverage proves that our culture is obsessed with materialism. I rebel. Greed is not a virtue, yet we awake at odd hours in the morning just to stand in line in order to buy a gift for…five dollars less than it was yesterday.

Okay, maybe I’m going overboard. But, I seriously avoid maniac crowds—even at the loss of a great bargain.

Is it wrong to want to bless your children with gifts? Heavens no! That’s natural. It’s our attitude toward the gift(s) that matters. As our pastor says, “Stuff is just stuff.” The question he encourages us to ask is, does the stuff own you, or do you own the stuff? Do you buy things merely to flaunt? Do you go in debt to keep up with the Jones? Where is your heart?

One way to find out is to buy just one gift. Or go without. Better yet, instead of giving gifts, give time to others who don’t have anything.

Is it too late to act? Well, then, evaluate this year and plan now for next year. Spend next Christmas morning at the soup kitchen. At the nursing home. At a children’s home. Pool your family’s funds to buy and deliver necessities to a women’s shelter. Take your eyes off the gifts under your tree and be a gift to someone else.

Then, when you return home to celebrate, you’ll really be able to appreciate what you have. Give your children the best gift ever: an awareness of what it truly means to need and a spark of compassion that will open their hearts.

What do you do to remember the reason for the season?

Julie Marx is wife to Texas Health Resources Chief Information Officer Ed Marx and a mother of two. 

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