Monday, December 10, 2012

How Will They Know

In September we began.

It was Janie and Jeri Rae that wanted to do it.

For Christmas they wanted to do something, instead of doing nothing, in this place that houses people with mental and behavioral disorders.

We were given their first names only and sizes.  The list of thirty some men and a hand full of women divided between a group of fifteen ladies.
It seemed easy enough.

Gifts for faceless people began to accumulate. Some wrapped in boxes and some in gift sacks. It wasn't like we knew their favorite color or what kind of things they liked to do. So basic gifts were found or purchased.

The lighting was dim as we entered the building to make our delivery. The smells in the building were different and the whole place seemed worn-out and out-dated. 

The residence were gathered in a common eating area. Except for the few who just were not able to muster the strength to be in a room full of people. Some stared off into space, one rocked back and forth, some cast their eyes down, and three had their sweatshirt hoods pulled up over their heads. It was solemn and uncomfortable as we began. 

The woman who was the administrator asked each person to take a turn and state their first name. This was quite a challenge for some. In the end of doing this,  one of the men declared, “We all did it! We all remembered our names!”

As the gifts were being distributed, I scanned the room watching their faces. Most with emotionless stares and blank expressions. The sheer forgotteness of these people tore into my soul to the point I had to step out of the room to regain my composure.

All I could think is, “ can these people really know that Jesus loves them?"

Perhaps it was just my heart cracking as it pumped with compassion and maybe the atmosphere in the room really did began to change. Every sack was a hand full of love offered with dignity and respect. They shuffled papers and looked at every item. And then hand painted ornaments were given to each with their name. 

As we watched them open gifts, the administrator told me that she had a heart for them. She herself was raised by a mother who suffered with mental illness and now her daughter too since the accident which effected the frontal lobe of her brain.

She spoke of how each resident had their own story and I was comforted a little in how she seemed to mother them gently. 

She coaxed the men and women to speak if they wanted to share with the group. A new resident stood and said that this was the first Christmas gift he and been given in twenty five years. Another man apologized for making other residents upset and explained that he just wanted to get along with everyone. A women took a turn and said when she arrived a few years ago there was only a meal served for them on Christmas. No gifts.

One by one some were brave and stood to share words and hearts in an opportunity to be heard. 

And I peered into their faces trying to catch a glimpse of their souls. I wondered about the story inside the things I could see on the outside.

Were they loved when they were born? Did anyone rock them when they cried as a baby. Was it drugs or alcohol or physical abuse? Were their parent like them bound up with brokenness? Was there an accident that changed their life and altered their ability to be 'functional' in society as we know it? And really, I'm not even sure what that means.

I thought of my own life. All the comforts I enjoy and people I love and who love me back. It was everything I could do not to fall in a heap on the floor and sob right there. Because I send money over seas yet ignore these people right in the middle of town where I drive by most days? 

There was one who was the size of a man but had actions like a child. He only had one good eye, but his eye was gentle and clear blue with long lashes and he looked to the woman who loved them for assurance that he was doing things right. And the older man in a wheelchair with a flag flying on the back. I asked him if he was a veteran and he told me yes and where he served and how long he went away.

One man had his flute and wanted to play for us. And the small group of women wanted their picture taken. When I showed them how good it was, one said how she had a fat head and another stated how bad she looked. But I told them I thought they were all beautiful and then one cried. 

The question is burning along with the tears in my eyes can they really know that Jesus loves them?

They filled thier plates with sweet treats that Jeri Rae had prepared. And the music was playing a song about Jesus and His birth and some danced and a few laughed. A few dared to hug and linger while others slipped quietly away to their rooms. 

A wheelchair bound man with swollen bare feet returned from his room with light in his face and a bag of chocolate to share. The Veteran rolled up in his chair with woven gifts that his hands had made and bursting with pride that he was able to offer us each one gift. Then one man gave a watercolor painting to Janie to thank her for all the gifts.

We had given out of our surplus and out of things tossed, but they gave us the best they had to offer. 

After this I'm driving home in the dark and I think about how Jesus lived while he walked on earth. How he hung out in places with the crazy and the shunned.

Jesus didn't shy away from those who cast their eyes away or who were looked down on in the society of his day.

In fact He tossed out the rules of the culture and man-made church rules as he bent over... to lift up... those who were crushed with impossible religious demands.

I love that about Jesus. That he lived the example to love with action and not just words.

I want to be more like that.

Painting by Jeffery

In the final days of the season frenzy of only so many shopping days until Christmas and as I drive in my nice car, into my nice neighborhood, to sit in my nice house, there is something about what happened to my heart and I just refuse to go on as if it was nothing. 

It was supposed to be easy. To do a kind thing and give a few gifts. To do a little of something instead of doing nothing. How is it my heart is full of the gifts received from them?

There is the American dream and there is the God dream. Still there is One True Gift. It is His birthday that the fuss is all about.

And the question really is
   - -how will people know that Jesus loves them?

Thank you Janie and Jeri Rae for dreaming it
and all the ladies in Wednesday Night Bible Study
who joined in to make it a reality.
Love you all. ♥ 

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Renae said...

What a beautiful way to honor Jesus this Christmas. Thanks for sharing.

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