Friday, November 27, 2009

The Christmas Jar

On the day before Thanksgiving, a strange package arrived addressed to my husband and me. No name or return address. Inside was a book called "Christmas Jars," and inside the book was an envelope which contained a cashier's check. Again, no name, no address, no note of explanation.

"What's this?" I asked, holding up the check and book.

"I don't know," my husband replied. "Did I sell something on ebay?"

"Maybe, but why the book?"


We discussed the possibilities. He'd just done a bunch of computer work for a friend for free so maybe this was her way of saying thank you, or maybe it was from his other friend who liked to surprise people with silly little gifts. But why the money?

I sat down and scanned the book. The book and the money must be related. Flipping through the pages I read, "Since the first printing of the Christmas Jars, many readers from across the country have contacted me to share their own personal Christmas Jar miracle..." Oh my God.

"It's a Christmas jar. Someone sent us a Christmas jar."

My husband looked up from his laptop. "What?"

I read the passage from the introduction to him and then read more. "I hope that when you give your own jar away, or if you've received this book with a jar meant for you, you will visit the website and tell me about it. The world would love to hear your anonymous story."

We stared at each in silence. A stranger had sent us a check which equaled whatever amount they kept in a jar to help us with Christmas because they felt we needed the help. No strings attached or word of explanation. Just a check and a book.

Neither my husband nor I knew what to say. On the one hand it felt wonderful knowing there were people in the world who wanted to help and had chosen to help us. On the other, it was horrible to think we were one of "those" people: the needy. I looked at our situation and saw two unemployed people who could barely pay the bills and who went to the food bank twice a week to make ends meet. We were raising a child who had major disabilities and we'd decided we couldn't afford Christmas this year. I knew it was bad, but my husband and I tend to be stoic; we just keep working and moving forward without much thought about our circumstances. What else can you do? But to an outsider, I guess our situation looks like something from a Lifetime Movie. Looking at the book and the check, we both felt grateful, humbled and ashamed.

We didn't talk about the gift anymore. The reality of it was too much. Were people really this kind? How could we possibly accept this? Did we deserve this kind of handout? Are we really this bad off that total strangers are sending us money?

It took a couple of days for me to let go of the shame generated from the gift. Feeling shame takes away from the spirit of the gift. Giving us the book and the money made whomever sent them feel good to know they could help. We should accept it with gratitude, not thinking of it as a gesture of pity, but as a sign of good will. And when we're back on our feet, we will pass on our own Christmas jar, hopefully next year.

Whoever you are, thank you for the Christmas Jar. And thank you Jason F. Wright for writing the book.


Laura said...

two years ago, my husband walked in from work, and asked me, "Is this a joke??" I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, "The money. There is an envelope in the door filled with cash with a note that says Merry Christmas."

We needed that money. Without it, there would have been four kids with no Christmas. I should have been happy.

But I felt ashamed.
I hate being the one who needs help. I hate being the one who gets the hand outs. I want, for just once, to be the help someone out...

it took me time to get over that shame. It is hard I still feel it.

Take that gift, and enjoy it. You will get your chance to pass it on...

and how great is that?

Jason Wright said...

What a beautiful post. This absolutely made my weekend. I think you've captured magnificently what thousands have felt in similar situations. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Lisa Curcio said...

That is beautiful!

leah said...

Wow- I've never heard of that book. I'll have to check it out- what a cool surprise gift! Perhaps there really is a Santa Claus- this post makes me believe in the goodness of humanity.

Elizabeth said...

Wonderful -- and I admit that I sort of want a Christmas jar. And I'm not ashamed...

Katy said...

I always tell myself that it all evens out in the end. I'm glad there will be Christmas at your house.

Connor's Mom said...

What a lovely and thoughtful gesture.

I know just what you mean. It's hard to accept gifts like that, isn't it?

We've been learning how to accept gifts gracefully; we have a lot of pride, so it's been a hard lesson to learn. Maybe from the outside looking in it seems we have a hard life, but we just don't see it and we certainly don't see ourselves as deserving the kind of overwhelming gifts we've received in the past few months. Still it makes people feel so good to give them that it's impossible to say no to them.

We're just going to spend the rest of our lives paying it forward-- nothing else to do!


Terri said...

I am sorry for the weight that shame adds to marvelous bits of grace (gifts unearned) meant to uplift. I have never heard of the book either, but will look for it.