Saturday, December 12, 2009

A heart that gives

It's no secret that this time of year is expensive, it's the retail world's busiest season and is one that causes some of the greatest amounts of stress. There are gifts to buy, dinners to plan for, company that's coming, event after event to attend, children to keep grounded and greed to avoid. Some of us budget for the holidays and have set amounts to spend, while others spend with reckless abandon not willing to face the financial burden that Christmas can bring until January, and others yet, worry, fret and fear. They aren't concerned about how they are ever going to be at 2 Christmas parties in one night, or if they bought the right gift for their children. They aren't even concerned about the 5lb Christmas weight gain that keeps knocking on their front door dressed as a great big Shortbread cookie.

No, there are hundreds of thousands of people in our country who are worried today, in this the Christmas season about staying warm. Not because they have to go out somewhere, but because they have no where to go in. There are even more who don't know if they will have lunch today, let alone supper Christmas day. There are homeless and working homeless, there are people with jobs and homes who barely have enough money to keep warm this winter. And then there are the kids. Oh there are kids.

There are kids who don't have food right in your community. They might even attend school with your children. And while school is in session they manage to at least have one meal with the "Hot Lunch" program but they are scared. Terrified even. Not of the boogy man, but of what will happen to them when Christmas break begins. Those kids aren't planning a super awesome ski trip with mom and Dad or are bouncing off the wall wondering what Santa will bring.

Those kids, beautiful children of all ages and sizes, personalities and ethnic backgrounds are terrified that they won't have food in their tummies each day. They worry that their Mom will cry herself to sleep another night trying to feed them, or that their Dad won't be home because he's trying desperately to earn enough to buy one small present for them.

You know the story, the Christmas commercials abound with stories of the less fortunate. But they are out numbered by the hundreds of thousands of commercials that fill us with the "gimmies". Even if you are one of the lucky ones (like we are) who, like we do, have enough to survive. The purse strings are tight right now for sure due to work situations, but I know I have what I need to feed my girls, to buy a few gifts and to take care of my family. And there really isn't anything I need for Christmas, there's one or two things I'd like, but no needs here. And while most of our Christmas shopping is complete, and I love every second of doing it (Can I get a whoot! From all the bargain shoppers out there!), my heart is still heavy.

Not only because I know that there are people with so little. It's not even far less than I have, it's nothing. And to me that's unfathomable. They have nothing. And I sit and grumble about how we are going to make ends meet if Corey has a few more slow days. We'll manage!

Close your eyes for a second, ok wait don't, then you couldn't read this. Imagine with me, with me...

You're driving down Hastings Street in Vancouver, passing dozens of people sleeping in the streets. There are some walking around in a trance like state, others who scare the bejeepers out of you and some who look scared, alone. People play instruments and sing, with a hat out on the sidewalk, hoping for a dime, a quarter, a loonie! Others hold out their cup and ask you so boldly, "Can you spare some change for a coffee?"

You know the reputation of Hastings, drug addicts, prostitutes, the less than worthy....

You keep driving, turn your head and walk on. You think about them for a moment, but the moment passes and your day carries on.

Then you get to your home town, and sitting at an intersection with a sign, asking for money is someone else, who has nothing. "Get a job!" you think (at least, I do. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I do) and while you're right they should. I also bet that they didn't' think they'd be here, today, asking you to give to them. Again your heart strings tug but you drive on, one because it`s dangerous to stop and 2 because you disapprove.

Our days carry on. Aside from those small glimpses into the sheer desperation that poverty can bring, we carry on our lives in blissful ignorance.

Think about those people, they aren`t drug dealers, addicts or prostitutes. While that may be the lifestyle they`re living, it`s not the "who" they are. They are daughters and sons. Somebody used to tuck them into bed at night, they used to play with Barbie and talk to their girlfriends about the day they'd get married. Some might have been captain of the football team, lead singer in a garage band or the kid who made your burger at McD's. Newsflash they have parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends. They aren't the horrible people the media makes them out to be. They all feel love, pain and fear. They know more about desperation than I ever will. And they all have something in common.

They made a choice, not a good one, not one that they dreamt of as a kid, but a choice that has lead them there. To that place where hope doesn't exist. And whether they want to get out or not they can't. That world it consumes them, it would consume you too. Satan lives there, he devours their spirits and steals their joy. He places temptation in their path that they can't resist (and before you say, "well I would never be tempted"...wouldn't you? Who ate that cookie yesterday while on a "diet", who bought just one more toy after saying they were finished? Who sped because they needed to get home a little faster to see Oprah?), he places it in all our paths. And at some point we all succumb.

Without the love of Jesus, who knows if some would ever see the light. I know that it is by His grace that I have been saved!

Whether you believe that or not, this Christmas season I'm going to urge you to do something. There is desperation abounding, food banks that are empty, hearts that are broken and people, real living people who need you.

Don't feel like you can do much? Worried you don't have enough to give? I know that feeling too, tight budgets make it hard if not impossible to make a donation to a cause or buy huge boxes of food for the food bank. Money's not all they need.

Think out side the box, do you have a spare afternoon you could deliver hampers for the food bank? Do your kids have enough toys to sink a battle ship? How about sit down with them and ask them to chose 2 things for someone else, the food bank, ambulance service, many churches in your area would be thrilled for a donation. What about you, do you have clothes that don't fit? Fat jeans that you don't need any more because, you lost that 10lbs or 3 winter coats, one of which you wear? Can you knit, crochet? Then grab some yarn, if you have extras then use your own. Money tight? Value Village sells huge bags of it for a couple of dollars and you can make toques, mitts, scarves, blankets for next to nothing and keep dozens warm.

Maybe none of those work, check your newspaper there is bound to be an organization or two who need your help, financially, physically or spiritually.

Whatever it is, take a moment, please. Think of someone else. And the next time you see someone on the street, someone who truly has nothing, rethink your attitude. Don't give if that's not in your means or your heart, but be kind. They might scare you, some scare me, but maybe just maybe all they needed today was someone, just anyone to be kind. And wouldn't it be great, fan-freakin'-tastic even if you, were that one person who turned yet another hopeless day into a good one, because you, chose to smile not sneer.


Anonymous said...

Hey there Sweetie,
First off.. I pray that one day you are given the opportunity to write professionally. You have a gift!
There is a song by 33miles that is called " A little bit of love". I love this song. It talks about doing good for others and that even in the little things we might be the miracle someone is waiting for. That our kindness could turn someones world upside down with good. Your post hit it on the head. Christmas time is just once in the year where folks all around need a "little bit of love". Thanks for the reminder dear girl.
Love you!
Mom / Grammy

Kimmies said...

Oh my Ashley,
That is it so in a nutshell and more....It is so true, and so much came to my heart as I read and cried with hope. We are so working on not being so worldly selfish and it is coming alot faster and in abundance with the grace of God. Thank you so much for the truth. God bless you all, Love John/grandpa & Mom/grandma

Anonymous said...

Your blog was beautiful and very true..I have just spent the last 11 months of my life working everyday with the homeless, the alcoholics and the drug adicts in Vancouver/Surrey and New Westminster...It was my job to meet and greet approximately 300- 400 of these individuals each month as they came and went needing assistance from the ministry through the Elizabeth Fry Society whom I worked first I was apprehensive...fearful of their behaviour, very quickly it became easy to see past the unkempt hair, the smelly clothing, the bad breath and the desperate temper the real person behind those eyes..the kind words, the stories, the memories of better times they love to share with you, the proud descriptions of their children and their truths..what brought them to the streets. What keeps them there day after day after rainy day...

There were days when I aganized for them...what could I do to make it can I fix them, fix 'IT'.... all I could do was offer them a friendly face, a listening ear, a sympathetic voice.

I consider myself very blessed by my opportunity to work with these people, they taught me that under that ragged exterier is someones mom, sister, brother, father, grandma or grandpa..that, for what ever reason (99.9% drugs and/or alcohol abuse is the reason) live on the streets, or in rat infested, over priced slums.

That despite this, they are human beings with feelings and fears and dreams and hope...that they are for the most part doomed to a life of drugs and alcohol...that that choice in most cases does not come from liking the drug or the drink..but from an attempt to ease the pain of physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse and sheer kills the pain for a night and then when the pain returns so the cycle begins again and again and there a cure.?....sadly for most of the street people there is only one way out...I believe a very small percentage ever get away with their lives and that seems unimaginable to normal people...

wipe out the drugs, wipe out the alcohol...wipe out the abuse that needs these things to bury the pain...then maybe there would be no street people...I wish it were that what do we do....

We have to try to reach out and touch someone with kindness.....maybe that person only needs to know they are worth the time and effort...maybe a kind word might boost their self esteem...take them out of their black thoughts..make them reach higher..step by foot after another...after day at a time.

I saw it with my own eyes....what kindness can do when it is offered....
it changes peoples lives it gives them self respect and dignity..and it makes them want to return the feeling to someone else...

I feel very blessed that I had the opportunity to work with these people and I feel that I made a small difference in some of their lives...I have the cards (yes even street people write cards) prove it..and I have the hugs and I even had the tears....but what I have most is the love and the humility they taught me and I will be forever grateful for the priviledge of having known so many amazing individuals...

I know longer walk past a street person and ignor them or close my window when the squeegy guys offer to clean the windows....If I have change in my purse I give it to them...and yes I know..some of them do buy drugs with this money but some dont...some truly need this money to eat to get on that bus or to help pay for a room for the night...who am I to judge....all I know is I can do without that Tim Hortons or starbucks or MacDonalds....or my particular favourite (and downfall)...the daily Mars Bar fix...and I can only hope it helps in some small way...ease the pain