As Little As 99 Cents

“Impact a life for as little 99 cents” caught my eyes.  Colorful images of smiling but obviously poor children filled the brochure that had arrived in my mailbox.  Flipping through the pages I was invited to “choose how to transform a life.”  I was urged to donate money that could provide clothing, a cow, a sewing machine, clean water, books– an endless list of possibilities– which would “give a family what it needs to break the cycle of poverty.”  Each potential gift had a corresponding number listed for easy recording on the paper order form or the organization’s website.

 

Giving — made simple, convenient and fast.

To me, it seemed uncomfortably similar to all the advertisements that slick marketing companies were using to boost retail sales during this holiday season.

Anger, a sense of injustice, and sadness settled on my heart.

Why? I’m not sure.

Is it because these days I am being bombarded by pre- and post- Black Friday sales, Cyber-Monday sales, Giving Tuesday opportunities, Christmas sales with so much emphasis on money and materialism?  Is it the assumption that I could help to improve the life of someone in poverty for as little as 99 cents?  Is it because it seems like a great bargain and I should take advantage of this opportunity while the sale lasts?

Something just does not seem right to me.  I do want to encourage giving to great causes but somehow putting a low price on a project that involves a person seems to lessen the value and dignity of that individual.  And I know that to truly help someone in need demands time, love, and sacrifice.

Am I willing to do that?  Sure would be easier to pick out a gift or two and fill out the form.  But I have a hard time imagining Jesus doing that.   In fact, from His life, He did quite the opposite.  Do I dare to think and do differently?

Plastic Eggs and Horse Baskets

About an hour given to shop at the superstore.  Who knows when the last time she was in a store with so many choices.  At 90+ you don’t go running around much, especially if you’re in a wheelchair.  With a gift card in hand and a glance to my watch, I figured that we had about 60 minutes to look around, buy some items, get checked out and then meet the others .  I was not a shopper but thankfully I was familiar with the store and knew generally where things were.

However, I realized quickly that I would not be following my normal procedure:  I would not be zooming the aisles with my cart in an attempt to get my stuff and get out as soon as possible and onto more important things on my to-do list.  This time was different. I was working and my responsibility was meeting the needs of the lady in my care.

We hardly got a few feet when before us was a whole section of Easter items.  Yes, a few St. Patrick things were there too since March had not quite arrived yet. But Easter had arrived in the marketing world, two months in advance.

I have looked at decorations before when picking out a few things to brighten up my sister’s room at her nursing home.  But I generally avoided the section. I preferred more natural decorations or none for the holidays.

But this time was different.  I stopped and looked and discovered new joys.   With her awes and smiles I also had to chuckle and marvel at the variety of things I did not know as a kid. I’m not sure who was more amused, my elderly friend or myself.  I saw plastic eggs of every shape and color. And we both laughed at the football and baseball shaped ones.  The artificial grass I thought only existed in pastel colors surprised me with rainbow and psychedelic colors.   Marshmallow chicks I thought were only found in pink or yellow could be a punch flavored red.  And the baskets!  I was thrilled to pick up a horse one that I would have loved as a kid.  We were both tickled by the insanely cute stuffed animals and we both loved the rocking lamb.  Memories of Easter past came flooding in.  For the elderly lady with me, she thought of candy baskets for her children and grandchildren and spring wreathes for her front door. I thought of Easter baskets full of candy hid in our home and hard-boiled eggs we would paint for egg hunts.

It was only for a short time and only among three aisles.  But I was reminded how I need to stop and cherish and share memories with others, to take the time to connect in a deep way and to enjoy simple pleasures.  To stop and “smell the roses,” they say.  To take the time to look, laugh, smell, feel, taste, and remember.  Plastic eggs and stuffed horse baskets are seasonable and perishable.  They will some day be discarded or broken.  But the imperishable items — friendships, people, memories — are the most treasured and priceless and timeless.

Contented and Thankful–Memories Past

My first Thanksgiving away from family. Wearing summery clothing, the tropical air surrounded me as I sat on the floor with a plate full of traditional food in front of me–turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes,– the whole works. The table was not big enough for all of us so I made my chair my table as did some of the others.  I was surrounded by new friends and living in a new world totally different from what I had ever experienced. It was the first of countless holidays that would be different from what I grew up with.  I had signed up to teach in a small Christian school on the island of Puerto Rico after graduating from college in 1980. One of the teacher’s family lived in the capital and had us over for Thanksgiving. Sitting in front of my feast and tasting many familiar foods  I felt content.  I missed being with my family but I realized my colleagues also missed their families and somehow that soothed our hearts and bonded us together.  We decided to accept each others’ friendships (and food) that day as beautiful substitutes which would create new holiday memories.  We ate, laughed and talked.  No, we could not tell stories from past celebrations which we never shared, but we could talk of the present and… enjoy and be content with that.

Never again did I share a Thanksgiving with those same people but that day began a list of  many unique and special holidays which followed…

–My last Thanksgiving as a family, before I headed to Asia in 1983.  It was an early Christmas for me too at my brother and his wife’s first home.  But also it turned out to be the last time our whole family was all together before our parents divorced and thanksgivingbegan separate lives.

–Thanksgiving celebrations in Hong Kong with teammates making delicious dinners in tiny kitchens with even tinier toaster size ovens and large Chinese woks.   Also the fun of sharing American traditional Thanksgiving foods with local Chinese friends who would bravely taste the new foods.   Mashed potatoes were always a great hit.

Then as I headed to Mainland China the celebrations continued.  Finding the right foods we cherished for our American  Thanksgiving meals even in the capital during the early ’90s was one of many challenges.  When they were found and not too costly, transporting the goods without a car became quite an adventure. Bikes were the most common transportation mode those days since buses were often too crowded and taxis were hard to find. Small kitchens provided both amusement and frustration as we would juggle a limited assortment of pots and pans on one or two burner stoves and in toaster ovens, all the time fearing the fuse would blow or the electric wires and sockets would melt.

But oh the fun!   The meals those days were more international and creative.  We Americans got to introduce one of our favorite holidays with other expatriates.  An early one I remember while living in a filthy dorm for foreign students was spearheaded by an Aussie couple who wanted to make a traditional American Thanksgiving. (The husband enjoyed cooking!).  Others joined in and we had a wonderful meal but I’m thinking we must have had chicken instead of turkey.   The next year or so as a teacher I joined other foreign friends for a huge potluck meal in a small apartment.  That one included chicken from a western restaurant that had recently opened  as well as all kinds of hot dishes and desserts — some locally bought, others shared from care packages sent from the States.  (I remember sharing about Thanksgiving with my Chinese students then but I don’t remember sharing food with them at that time; Christmas cookie making was an easier tradition to do with them.)

There was also another well-remembered Thanksgiving celebration shared  with a Finnish-Dutch couple and an Chinese-Australian lady.  Another American gal and I figured out how to make two stuffed chickens with our little ovens. I can still remember vividly the two of us standing in front of a table with a cookbook opened for directions  (years before Google), two small raw chickens in front of us and  then realizing we didn’t have a string or thick thread to sew up the chickens after stuffing them.   We refused to waste our precious dental floss (probably impossible to buy there at that time), so instead my friend went to the front desk of the building (housing for foreigners on campus)  and got some string from the gal in charge.  Neither of us had ever done anything like this before and were delighted that some time later the chickens turned out cooked and delicious from our little ovens.  Also for that meal we could not decide what pies to make.  Her husband loved all kinds of pies.  So we ended up with: pecan, pseudo-pumpkin, coconut cream, chocolate cream, banana cream, and apple.  I made the apple and pumpkin pie (out of sweet potatoes) and she did the rest with ingredients she had gathered or had been given.  I think we all felt a bit guilty with all the desserts  (basically a pie a person),  but it was a memory we will always have… and never repeat.

Not all Thanksgivings overseas were great. I remember living in one city when Thanksgiving was approaching and having no invitation for dinner that evening.  And I was not new and also there were a lot of Americans around. Perhaps an oversight of others but still it was really hard.  I’d rather not think about it but it has made me more aware of those who may not have a place to go on Thanksgiving.

So now I’m back in the USA and I have had a place to go these last three years.  My sister-in-law’s family has invited me over and I have enjoyed a truly delicious traditional meal– American all the way.  There’s even the Macy’s Parade on TV and American football.  So even though I miss the international atmosphere, the mixture of various backgrounds and unshared histories and  even the adventure of finding foods  and making them (although for me personally to make a turkey would be quite challenging),  I  am learning that even here and now God wants me to be thankful and content. And I am.  But I can’t help but think about what future Thanksgivings may be like.

Not so Holiday Reflections?

I have to admit that I feel some kind of obligation to write something about the holidays. Isn’t that expected?  And there’s the added pressure that it’s been some time since I’ve posted anything and people most likely have forgotten that I am trying to write, that is, trying to write more.  Because I’m not writing more. But should.  Actually I would like to.  There are many things I would like to write about; however, I do remind myself that once it’s written and published on the internet, there’s no way to delete it. Sure I can edit it and change it but someone may have already read the original. So, of course, I want to be careful.

So I’m back to the premise that I should be writing about the holidays because Christmas is now passed and New Year’s is coming.  The problem is I’m not sure what to write about.

I already have two drafts of posts I had begun and now I’m starting the third because I don’t know which direction or theme to follow.

And so I’m writing a bit aimlessly because, well, maybe because that’s where I’m at in terms of reflecting upon the holidays.  I have many random thoughts and not just one main idea.

This is my second Christmas back in the USA after returning from China last year. So that makes it a full calendar year I’ve been in the USA.  Not counting a couple of days across the northern border to visit relatives in Canada, I’ve been in the USA (actually I could say North America) for one whole YEAR.    That sounds incredibly long. And a lot has happened.  Maybe that’s something to write about another time.

So my holiday reflections? My traditions?

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I’m somewhat more in the holiday spirit–  I have more Christmas decorations around and have attended and been involved with more Christmas events.  I have no Christmas tree again this year but am using a fun hand-crafted imported coppery tree I had bought on sale this summer. I’ve put ornaments on it and around it, actually ornaments from various countries,  next to my Chinese nativity set which sits on top of my Norwegian poinsettia table-cloth.  It’s my Christmas celebration with international characteristics.

Yet it seems like I’m still figuring out my own traditions and maybe every year it will be different.  For many years I have tried to follow the tradition of lighting candles for each Advent Sunday. I did not grow up with this ritual nor does the church I attend follow this practice, but the time of reflection and the candles I have seen lit in international settings over the decades have become meaningful to me.

Last year I visited my mother on Christmas Day. I had hoped that would have become a yearly tradition.

This year she’s in heaven.

Christmas Day this year I visited my sister at her home and then went to my brother’s family for the rest of the day.

Next year I don’t know if I’ll be going to the same places and seeing the same people.

This month I’m enjoying immensely the above average temperatures with 70 degree weather and green grass and even flowers that are still blooming and spring flowers peeking out.  A green Christmas.

Next year, who knows…we could have a foot of snow this time of year.

Again… reflections, ramblings, hanging on to traditions and memories, but realizing I’m still forming new traditions or celebrations of these holidays.

I know I don’t want to be jealous of those who have awesome traditions involving family, relatives, outings, trips, concerts, outreaches, shopping and gift exchange or become bitter over memories gone than can never be relived.

Yet I want to have a heart that is always opened to listen and learn from the One who became a Babe– Immanuel, God with Us, who humbled himself, who lived and gave His life for me, for us….

A heart, a life that regardless of traditions, circumstances, weather, or holiday is humbled and honored to serve Him–Jesus, the Messiah, the Incarnate One.

That’s what I’m reflecting upon this season… and trusting THAT tradition will never change.