This time of year I harken back to the words of my mother who has long said, "things don't fill you up." And yet, many of us, me included, spend hours each holiday season trying to find perfect gifts that will "fill up" those who are closest to us. No doubt, there's something special about seeing the face of your child light up when they open that "best" gift. However, if you want to give yourself something truly special this holiday season, I suggest giving someone else the gift of your time and talent. Yep, that's right, your greatest present might just mean being present for someone else.
Last month members of the StoryTeller team got together to serve dinner at the Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House. If you're not familiar with the Ronald McDonald House, you can learn more here (and volunteer to help as well, if you're inspired). There are more than 300 Ronald McDonald Houses in 57 countries and regions - and thank God for every one. As they say, they are a "home away from home" so parents can stay close to their hospitalized children at little or no cost to the family. In essence, they are a lifeline for families who need a bed to sleep in and a warm meal prepared for them so they can focus on what's most important - supporting their critically ill or injured child.
As volunteers, we were asked to prepare dinner for up to 150 people who were presently staying at the house located near the campus of the University of Minnesota. That's a lot of people, so we went with a simple menu - stuffed baked potatoes, salad, bread and cake for dessert. Everyone from StoryTeller played a role in preparing and serving families on the night of Friday, November 13.
Ironically, on a night we all felt that we were taking time out of our lives to give back, it turned out we were the people who received the greatest gift. At the end of the evening after the last family had been served and as we were packing up food to put into refrigerators, a mom came into the kitchen and asked if she could still get dinner. "Absolutely," we all replied. She needed food for herself, her husband and sister who were standing by as her child was in surgery at the nearby University of Minnesota Children's Hospital. Given the circumstances and despite spending the day in a hospital room, she was a bubbly and lively woman who needed to feed her family. She was also a classic "mom warrior".
Our team dropped what they were doing and began putting together "to go" meals for three. Sour cream? Bacon? Salad? Who would eat cake? Rapid fire questions were fielded by our "mom warrior" friend and within about 5 minutes, she was packed and ready to march back to the hospital where her family waited anxiously for her return. As she quickly headed to the door, she stopped abruptly and turned back to our team to say thank you. Only, it was more than just a "thank you." With tears in her eyes, and her voice quivering, a wave of gratitude washed over her iron-willed spirit and she explained, "you can't even know how much this means to the people like us who stay here".
Wow. That's a gift that you can not buy at Macy's, you can not put on your Visa and it is truly priceless. Most of us will fly through this holiday season, frantically searching for the perfect gifts for loved ones while trying to manage work, life and credit card balances. But what if the perfect gift isn't beautifully wrapped in a big red bow? What if the perfect gift is actually in giving of your time and your talent to those who need it most? Would it not be amazing if that is what we actually valued as the true spirit of Christmas?