Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A heart-warming true story: It's better to give than receive!

Good Morning everyone! My post today is a rather long read. I know, what's new? It actually isn't about my journey, but it's a story that I wrote a while back for one of my college classes. It is a true story about something that happened to me many years ago when I was working at St. Mary's in Rockwood. It's long....but it's a heart-warming Christmas story about the importance of Giving, rather than receiving. If you choose to read it, it might put you in the "Christmas spirit!" Hope you enjoy it. It is one of my favorite memories from my days in Rockwood.

My mother taught me many things. Some things, like tying my shoes, simply made my life easier. Other things, like “love your neighbor” and “stay close to your siblings” have dramatically impacted my life. She was a remarkable woman of great strength and compassion. A widow at a very young age, my mother raised three small children alone and still managed to be a self-less example of charity and love. Although she endured pain, loss, and loneliness, she still made serving others a priority.  One cold December day several years ago, I finally understood what she meant when she said, “The more you give away, the more you will receive”. Mom had said that phrase to me many times as a child, but I thought she was only trying to convince me to give away some of the toys that were cluttering up my room. I had no idea that she was teaching me a life lesson that would one day change my life. On this particular winter day, only a few days before Christmas, I was nearly robbed of my faith in humankind when a group of thugs entered my car and stole boxes of food and gifts that were waiting to be delivered to the poor in my community.

I worked as a Director of Religious Education for a small Catholic elementary school; and like the children in my classes, I was anxiously looking forward to Christmas and the break from school that would accompany the holiday.  The weeks since Thanksgiving were very busy at the school and the children spent their days making gifts for their parents, rehearsing songs for the Christmas program, and collecting food and toys for the needy. One could sense the excitement when walking down the hallway. The lobby was packed full of boxes of canned goods and other non-perishables; teddy bears, games, and dolls were stacked up everywhere waiting to greet a happy child on Christmas morning. The children certainly had outdone themselves with their generosity. One of my last jobs before taking the well-needed holiday vacation was to deliver this food to the local food pantry for distribution. The task was huge and the boxes were heavy, but the knowledge that I was helping to make someone else’s holiday a bit brighter made the job of loading the car seem effortless. I was walking on air; that is, until I went out to my car with another box of food. My car was parked right outside the door of the school with the doors open, making it easy to stack the boxes in the back seat. I trudged out the door, carrying a box overflowing with macaroni and cheese and singing, “It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, a song my student choir would perform later that evening during the school’s annual Christmas program. When I reached the car, I literally dropped the box to the ground, causing cans of soup and peas to roll underneath my car.

What? Am I losing my mind? What happened to the rest of the boxes?  Where are the gifts I had purchased for my family? I stood there, my mouth wide-open, in total shock. I was speechless and could not believe my eyes. Was someone playing a practical joke on me or did I just get robbed, right here in broad daylight, only a few yards away from an elementary school full of students? I quickly glanced in the front seat and confirmed my worst fear. Not only had some thoughtless thugs stolen the food for the poor and the gifts I purchased for my family, but they got my purse as well! Shock gave way to anger, then to panic and fear, as I realized that my driver’s license, checkbook, credit cards, and several hundred dollars of cash were gone. Tears began to flow down my cheeks as I plopped to the ground in a pile of snow.

I had never been the victim of crime before; in fact, I didn’t even know anyone who had ever been robbed.  This was a small, friendly town and the police station was directly across the street. How could this possibly have happened? As I sat there in the snow, my fear turned back to anger as I realized that this one act of crime would affect so many others, people who were already victims of unemployment and poverty. The tears continued to flow when I thought about those who were dependent on the food to feed their children, as well as my own personal loss. I had just cashed my paycheck and without a credit card or proper identification, I would not be able to replace the gifts that I had so carefully purchased and wrapped for my family. What about all the credit cards in my wallet? How would I ever notify the card companies before the thieves used them?

I was completely overwhelmed with emotion when the maintenance man came out with another box of food. I told him what had happened and he helped me to my feet.  We went back in the school to notify the police and I noticed the last box waiting to be loaded. “Well, at least we have three boxes of food left to feed 75 families”, I muttered sarcastically as we entered the school office.  The principal quickly ordered a lock-down of the building. The children, oh dear Lord, the children; I had forgotten about the children! Thank goodness no one got hurt. I began to think about the horrific possibilities had an armed thief entered the building filled with students and staff.  The ending of this tale could have been so much worse.

After the police arrived and took the report, the principal suggested that I go home for the rest of the day.  I was an emotional mess so I took her advice and I headed to the comfort of my home to begin the process of cancelling my credit cards. The quick drive home seemed to last an hour. I entered my house, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays, and I began to weep again. This time it was sadness propelling the tears. I sat down in front of my Christmas tree and looked at the nativity set that meant so much to me. My grandfather made the stable for me the first Christmas that I lived on my own, and my mother had purchased the delicate porcelain figures for me as a gift the year I moved into my own apartment. I treasure this nativity set now because both my grandfather and my mother have passed away. I sure miss them; my mother would know just what to say to make me feel better. I tried to focus on the faces of Mary and Joseph, and think about how frightened they must have felt that first Christmas. I looked at the gentle smile of the poor, perhaps cold and hungry, shepherd boy and tried to somehow reconcile my anger and sadness with “the true meaning of Christmas”; but my spirit was broken. The thieves had not only robbed me of worldly things, but they may have taken my Christmas spirit as well.

I sat there crying until I remembered that I needed to begin notifying my creditors of the robbery. “I’m sorry to hear of your misfortune, Miss Borawski, certainly we will cancel your card and send a replacement in 10 -14 business days, and by the way, Happy Holidays”, was the standard reply I heard a dozen times.  “Happy Holidays”, are you serious, I thought. How could I ever have a happy holiday when I don’t even have a gift to give to my nephew, or my sister, or my grandmother? How am I even going to direct the Christmas program tonight, when my holiday spirit was riding around with a car full of stolen gifts? Sadness turned back to anger as I muttered to myself, “So this is the thanks I get for trying to do something nice for someone else.” I would have been better off to just be a selfish scrooge; who said it was better to give than receive, anyway. I was angry, sad, and frustrated all at the same time. My head was pounding, my eyes were swollen, and I was physically and emotionally spent so I headed to my bed, pulled the covers over my head, and tried to fall asleep. Maybe I would wake up to discover that this was just a bad dream.

 A couple of hours later I woke to face the reality that not only had I been robbed, but I also had an obligation to the children who had worked so hard to prepare for that night’s holiday program. I quickly showered and changed into my festive attire and headed back to the school, trying to fight back the tears as I passed the holiday decorations lining the light poles along the way. I had to turn off the radio in my car because I could not bear the sound of the joyous holiday carols. “Fake it, Theresa, just fake it”, I told myself as I traveled the snowy road.  This certainly was not the first time that I ever had to smile when I felt like screaming. I gave myself a pep talk and entered the building, already filling up with proud parents, grandparents, and nervous youngsters waiting to perform.

Word of my misfortune had quickly spread throughout the small parish community, and I was greeted with hugs and words of comfort as I worked my way to the front of the stage to make the last minute preparations before the show began. “The show must go on,” I told myself countless times when I felt the tears well up inside of me. Satisfied that everything was set to go, I took my place in the front row to wait for the show to begin. A nervous child let out a scream at the sudden darkness and the principal appeared in the spotlight. The principal always opened the Christmas program with a prayer and welcoming comments, and tonight was no exception. She began:

This morning something terrible happened here at St. Mary’s. Miss Borawski’s vehicle was robbed as she loaded the boxes of food that you so generously donated for the poor. The thieves not only took several boxes of food, but they took her purse and the Christmas gifts that she had purchased for her family members. We have never experienced anything like this before, and although we are saddened by the news this unpleasant event, we are thankful for the safety of Miss Borawski and all the children and staff. Food and gifts can be replaced, but human lives cannot. Still, we are all grieving the loss of our security and our holiday spirit as well, but once again, the kindness and generosity of this parish has been overwhelming. Miss Borawski, please come up here on stage.

I was stunned. What on earth was she doing? Doesn’t she know that my legs are already weak and I’m barely holding it together now? What is she trying to do to me?  I slowly made my way onto the stage. Blinded by the stage lights, I turned to face the crowd. I heard the curtain open behind me and the principal asked me to turn around. The stage was full of stuff. Boxes of food and toys and gifts were piled on top of one another. I did not understand what was going on.

“Miss Borawski, all of this is for you, from your parish family”, the principal said while handing me several envelopes. She continued:

I made a few phone calls this morning and word quickly spread about what had happened and all afternoon donations have been pouring in. The food is for the poor, and the boxes of gifts are for you to give to your family and friends. The envelopes contain cash and gift cards to help you through the holidays. Please accept these things with our love and appreciation. We cannot thank you enough for all you do for so many people and we will not allow some thieves to rob you or us of the Christmas spirit.

 “But there is so much,” I quickly protested, and “these gifts are much nicer than the ones I lost”, I kind of chuckled.  “Well”, the principal replied, “I guess the more you give away, the more you receive”. Just then, a bell went off in my head. Had she just said what I think she said? Where had I heard that before: The more you give, the more you receive? Suddenly I remembered my mother and the words she had said so long ago, and I longed to see her again to tell her that I loved her and that I finally understood. 

Tears began to flow down my face again as I lovingly thanked the audience and made my way back to my seat. In that moment, I suddenly understood the joy of the shepherd boy as he bowed humbly before the newly born Christ Child, broken and poor, yet overflowing with the feeling of peace and good-will, and for a brief moment, I swear I could smell my mother’s perfume.