Sometimes, the gifts we receive at Christmas come wrapped in the most unexpected packages.
Typically, those are the best gifts of all.
Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity that would change my life.
I wanted to make a difference in the life of a child at Christmas.
The idea wasn't new..it wasn't original..but it WAS rewarding.
I started the "Angel Tree" in our high school. A holiday program that would identify young children in our community that would benefit from the kindness of others at Christmastime.
I felt it would also give our students an opportunity to understand the true meaning of the holiday season...love and giving from the heart.
A win-win for everyone involved.
Although the concept of the Angel Tree is simple... the execution can sometimes be tricky.
First, identifying those children who would benefit the most can be a delicate process. We received names from area churches, elementary teachers and community members. Sometimes from students themselves who wanted to make sure their little brothers or sisters had something under the tree on Christmas morning.
We collected our "angels" and put them on a tree in the school foyer. Students and staff members would choose an angel and that is who they would buy a gift(s) for.
People always LOVED to TAKE the Angels, but sometimes getting them to remember to go out, purchase a gift and RETURN it to me could be a challenge. It seemed I was always chasing people down with only days to spare before our big delivery day.
All in all, even with all the craziness it involved, it was still the most rewarding experience of my life. And many times, the lessons that were taught about love and giving didn't come from me at all, but from my students.
My wonderfully caring and kind-hearted students.
One year, I had a group of young men approach me about taking some angels from the tree. The group of young men were students that lived in a community foster home.
Young men, who grew up knowing the pain of waking up Christmas morning with nothing under the Christmas tree at all.
Young men, who many would have understood, if they saw no importance in helping others when no one had helped them.
Instead, these young men, these beautiful, caring young men wanted to make a difference. Wanted to be someone's hero.
At that moment, they were already mine.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned about their ability to follow through on this commitment. These kids didn't have jobs, they certainly didn't have much themselves and I wondered if they would be able to fulfill their Angel Promise.
I was a FOOL..these kids had a plan.
They approached their foster mom and asked if they could do extra chores for money. They asked teachers and neighbors if there were things they could do.
And they did them.
They raised money and they went shopping and they fulfilled children's Christmas wishes like it was nobody's business.
They were the ULTIMATE Santa's Elves.
And these kids weren't playin'...they didn't go to the dollar store and buy a matchbox car. NO, these kids came back with the most sought after gifts of the season.
It was BEAUTIFUL and NO, it wasn't about the gifts..it was about the GIVING. It was about their HEARTS.
It was about a group of young men that could have been bitter and angry...and instead, were loving and wonderful and magical.
Those young men taught me so much that year. So much about the Spirit of Giving.
Unexpected packages perhaps....but those boys were truly the BEST gifts of all...simply THE BEST!