I put out a call on my facebook wall, asking what service opportunities there were around that would be family friendly and that we could focus our time on. There's a lot of charities but a lot of them are simply donating money which doesn't involve the kids or buying a couple of presents which doesn't leave the same 'service' based experience I was hoping to get for the little dearies.
I got some great ideas but there was one in particular that really impacted me.
My Aunt, who I have always admired, sent me a message with her idea. I had to share it. It is a perspective that just needed to be shared. It made me feel gratitude and the idea of it was exactly the meaning I wanted to bring to our family Christmas.
Here's her idea (I've taken out names):One of the things our family has done for the last 20 or so years - - -
we keep our eyes open for someone that the Lord would like us to focus on and then we bring our ideas forward to the family. Sometimes it has been a single name (or family) and sometimes we've had a few options that we voted on. The decision has to be unanimous. In the beginning it was just me that made the choice and told everyone about our 'subject'. As time went on the kids also had opinions on who and what we might do. Depending on the recipient, then we discuss and decide what thing we can do that will be the most effective.
Our critieria were twofold: 1) that in order for it to be a real gift, to be meaningful to us as well as to the recipient it had to 'pinch' a little. We say if we can't 'feel' the sacrifice then it isn't one. 2) that it had to be secret
* One year when our kids were still all at home, we chose an elderly single sister who lived alone. We decided that for her it would be best to create anticipation and to spread it over as long a time as possible so that Christmas was more fun for her. We chose to do the 12 days of Christmas, so every evening for 12 days ending on Christmas Eve, we took something fun and appropriate to her. She lived in a 3 story walk up that we had to ring the buzzer to get into, so it was very fun and very tricky to get in. We solicited the help of the building manager. It was SO fun. A lot of work and the 12 day commitment got a little overwhelming, but was such a lot of fun sneaking it into her. Wish we could have been a fly on the wall to watch the reaction.
* One year we chose a low income family in our ward who I visit taught so I had a pretty good idea of what their situation was. We delivered packages over 2 or 3 days, including personal gifts, groceries and a large framed picture of the Saviour for their living room.
When the older kids got married they continued to join us for a few years till they found projects of their own that they felt strongly about. A daughter's in-law had separated from her husband and was in desparate need of a Christmas boost and some help. We divided up areas and everyone contributed. Between all five of us, we sent down many boxes of individual gifts, household items, groceries and of course a lg framed picture of the Saviour. It was the only exception we made to the anonymous rule. She knew it was from our family, but most of us don't know her and she doesn't know us other than that we're an in-laws family.
* One year when 'S' was in the RS Presidency she suggested a good family in our ward who needed financial help. We all knew and loved this family and agreed on to choose them as our project. Because it was purely money they needed, and they needed it BEFORE Christmas so that they could have a Christmas (among other things). we set an envelope on the counter and told each family to contribute what they thought they could afford to do without that year. We gathered almost $1000.00. We were very proud of our kids. 'J' was going to school that year and he and 'K' donated what would have been their new chesterfield. They didn't get a new chesterfield for another two years. Every time I sat on their crummy old 2nd hand chesterfield I was reminded of their sacrifice and it made me happy. That year it was a little different as since the need was for money - there wasn't anything else for us to 'do'. We prefer to be a little more involved than that, but the pinch of the amount of money each family contributed made it a little more memorable.
* One year, after 'J' returned from his mission, we chose a family who I knew thru the store. 'S' and 'J' had their own projects they were involved in so they didn't join us. Everyone else contributed money, then we divided the money between the mother, teenage daughter teenage son and adolescent daughter. We all went shopping together to Old Navy to buy complete outfits for the kids. Z & A bought shopped for the teen girl, J & L bought for the teen boy and D & I bought for the younger girl. Then we went to another store to buy personal towels for each of them. I went later to Penington's to buy for the mom, and included a gift certificate. We also included things from our store, and of course a framed picture of the Saviour. We delivered it to the grandparents house to make sure it got to her safely.
These are just some of the projects we have done as families. As our kids got older and more independent they have sometimes joined us and sometimes done their own projects - all as the spirit directed. It is a wonderful tradition that has unified us and strengthened our feelings of Charity. Because we are watchful for many weeks prior, we see things we might not otherwise see. Sometimes we feel the need is financial, sometimes it is that someone feel loved, sometimes a blend of the two. Sometimes we join our efforts when the project is big, and sometimes we do it on a smaller scale. As our kids got married, each family decided on their own what they wanted to contribute.
D and I started something personal about a decade ago. In October we begin gathering winter clothing. We go to Value Village and buy coats, sleeping bags and blankets, then to Walmart to buy hats, mitts, scarves, socks and long johns. We take them to the MUSTARD SEED, a homeless shelter that D has an affinity for. In the last few years we started gathering donations thru the store as well, and found that some clothing wasn't suitable for the Mustard Seed, so we broadened those donations to WIN House for women and children and the Youth Emergency Shelter.
The whole point that we tried to get across to our children was that while it is good to give gifts - all gifts, if the gift doesn't involve a degree of sacrifice, if it is simply from our 'excess', then while it is still good, it is not true charity. Those kinds of gifts are easily forgotten by us as well as the recipient. Most gifts are like this. The ones that we remember are the ones that cost us a little bit of blood, sweat or tears. The ones that pinched a little. The ones we had to do without something for. THOSE are the gifts that we remember. Those are true charity. Charity is the pure love of Christ. It is more than picking up an extra toy and throwing it in the Santa's Anonymous box.
I figure those kinds of charities that get so much media coverage have enough people contributing to them. I want to contribute to the silent few that otherwise might not receive. The ones that the Holy Ghost quietly and privately directs me to. It becomes a matter of much discussion in our family: who? why them? what shall we do? how shall we do it? who will participate? when and where shall we do it?
It has been a much loved tradition in our family. One that I am very happy to see has transferred into our married kids' Christmases. Sometimes I ask "do you have a Christmas project yet this year?" Sometimes I don't. I think they have been taught sufficiently. They will continue on as they see the need. The older their own kids get the more they will want to do it so that their kids are taught the same things they were taught.
Have fun with whatever you and Lane decide to do. If I had one bit of counsel to offer it would be to include the Holy Ghost in your search for a meaningful project. He's very resourceful and he'll often suggest ideas you never would have thought of without him. Ask for guidance and then open your eyes. "There are chances for good all around just now. Opportunities right in our way". You'll come up with something meaningful for the Trim family this year.
I would love to know what it is you decide. I gain great joy in hearing about these projects. I'd love to hear about the choice, the process and the outcome.