Monday was gift delivery day for us on staff at The Chapel.
Every Christmas season, The Chapel steps into a a list of ways to give during the season. Watching the generosity of my community provides me with consistent restoration in my views of humanity. I used to be, what some may call, a cynic. Taking things at face value was a trait that sometimes I wished I possessed with more abundance. It was hard for me to imagine that people could see past the end of their noses. This is likely because I had a very long season that was very focused on me. If I struggled to see the world around me, why should I expect everyone else to? (Yes, I just ended that question with a preposition.)
When I began at The Chapel, I came from a workplace that was built upon the misfortune of others. If there was not a buck to be made, there was no place for us there. The more pained, poor, and despondent an individual was, the more money we made. I was surrounded by people who were either trampling, or being trampled upon. I ask you, how do you I think I felt going home every night? Was I enchanted by the generosity of people? Their compassion? Their love for their fellow man? So, needless to say, the culture of The Chapel created a bit of a shell-shock. Now, every day, I see people sharing with each other, holding each other, praying with each other, and loving each other. I see people sacrificing for their community and complete strangers. I see people stepping out of their Suburbia Box and getting messy.
So this season, a season that is supposed to be about Giving and the Greatest Gift ever given, has been exactly that for me. On Monday, the lot of us Chapel folks piled into 4 different cars filled with presents for local school children. We had been working over the past month and a half with the local school counselors and principals about finding real and tangible needs of the kids that they see every day. These are kids that go to school with my kids, in one of the most affluent towns in the world, who still don't have a winter coat. They still don't have a pair of shoes without holes. Their Christmas mornings were looking bleak. These counselors were able to, without naming children, tell us what the families at their schools need this winter. Once we had that list, we put it forth to the church and the most amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, there were no more needs. People were coming up to me in hoards wanting to buy a coat, or shoes, or gift cards for these kids. I had someone donate an entire Lego collection to a child that had said he liked Legos. We filled over 80 giant gift bags with brand new hoodies, jeans, socks and sweaters.
Monday was a tough day for school administrators. After recent tragedies on Friday, these people were aching. They were raw and destroyed, and doing their best to keep a positive face for our kids. Friends, I cannot tell you what it was like to see their reaction to the gifts we bore. For some, it was a breakdown. Like when you see your best friend after a terrible break up. For some, it was a physical uplifting, like a light had finally turned on in a really dark room. For others, all we saw was a small, quiet, genuine smile. A smile that had likely not been seen in 4 days.
My favorite moment was the gift delivery to a local elementary school. We had the opportunity to see the school counselor and the principal all at once. This happened to be the school to which we were delivering the giant Lego collection. Both women were filled with so much happiness when they saw the gifts, but nothing could have paralleled the amount of joy when they saw the Legos. The counselor had told me over email how much the family receiving the Legos will be grateful for it, but when she saw the boxes, she almost leaped. Her conversation with the principal went something like this:
Counselor: "Look over there, do you see those bins?"
Principal: "Yeah, what are those?"
P: "No. Way. You have got to be kidding me. That. Is. Amazing."
C: "What is even more amazing is who it is for. You are going to be so excited."
P: "Is it for...'QA'?" (child remaining anonymous even in conversation)
C: "And his brother."
P: (silence) "...Wow." (more silence as she stared at the bins) "That could not be more perfect."
C: (almost jumping up and down) "I know, right?!? They are going to be SO THRILLED!"
Friends, I don't know about you, but THIS is what restores my faith in people. These women knew their students SO well, knew their needs and their likes, knew their stories and their families, that even in the midst of an extremely dark time they are able to shout and celebrate in the victories of one kid.
This last weekend was so rough. It was rough for every person who loves a child. Who wouldn't want to keep their child a little closer to them? Who wouldn't want to put up that extra barricade around their kid? Who wouldn't want to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to keep their babies safe?
It is hard for me to believe, however, after seeing first-hand the love on the faces of our school administrators, that schools are no longer a safe place to send our children. It is true that no place is going to be 100% perfect. It is true that things happen that we cannot control and that we could not ever plan for. It is also true, however, that at school (yes, even...gasp...public school) our kids are cared for, nurtured, loved, and growing. The hands of people that used to be strangers are now investing in our children's minds and hearts. There is NOTHING that the men and women I saw on Monday wouldn't do for our children. Schools are not a lost cause.
People are not a lost cause.
I believe in the good in people. God has made us all in His image. There are things that happen that I cannot explain. How could anyone explain them? I am a human and not capable of explanation. But I can't un-explain the outpouring of prayer, support, love, and action in the midst of tragedy. That is very simple. We pray. We support. We love. We take action. We do the best we can for ourselves and for others. As we all gather around to lean on one another, there is a special presence. Some people call that community. Some people call that common good. I call that God.
I look forward to holding hands with our neighbors, our schools, our communities, our cities, and our nations. I look forward to seeing how God presents himself in the wake of great tragedy and of great victory. I look forward to being reminded over and over again about the goodness of people.