Sunday, December 16, 2007

I See... A Twenty-Dollar Christmas

Christmas is all about the joy of giving. Like everything in life that is worthwhile, however, it is the adversary’s goal to twist the good into bad. In the case of Christmas and the joy of giving, he has convinced most of the Christian world that the amount of joy you feel is a mathematically calculable, directly proportional, zero-sum equation: the more you give, the better you feel. Likewise, the less you give, the worse you feel. This is the world’s equation for money buys happiness.

It’s possible, however, to squeeze a whole lot of Christmas joy out of a puny twenty-dollar bill, if’ it’s done right.

In the mid-late 60’s, when men my current age were just figuring out the hula-hoop for the first grade talent contest, there was a family in our ward with several kids of all ages. Dad enjoyed gainful employment, but still, with so many mouths to feed, the Christmas gift shopping spree consisted of a whirlwind Saturday afternoon visit to Woolworth’s (for you local newcomers, imagine a poorly-lit CVS or Rite Aid). The presents were always small and inexpensive, but there was usually just enough attractive wrapping paper and other bright sparkly things lying around to create the illusion that poverty was much farther away than reality.

One year, however, Dad suffered a massive heart attack and was spending all of his time recovering at home in the oppressive darkness of a sparsely decorated master bedroom. As Christmas grew closer, money set aside for that purpose had to be wasted on a mortgage, medicine, and powdered milk intended to extend the life of just about every other fluid in the house. Mom put off the terrible task as long as she could, but about three weeks before the 25th of December, she dropped the bomb on the rest of the family; this year, because finances were tight, Christmas would still come, but it wouldn’t come with presents. She was simultaneously relieved and proud that her older kids seemed to understand completely; they now concentrated their efforts on how to help Santa make Christmas meaningful for the young, true believers.

A day or two after the horrific family huddle, a loud, echoing knock threatened to bust down the front door. A harried mom, tired from her night shift at the hospital, timidly opened the door, and was pleasantly surprised to see a twenty-dollar bill taped below the knocker. The next evening, her spirits were lifted even more by finding another twenty-dollar bill in the same place.

Her teenage sons, however, were determined to unmask the anonymous donors and secreted themselves in bushes guarding the approach to the front porch, lying in wait to catch them red-handed. It wasn’t long before a shadowy figure tiptoed his way up to the front of the house, quickly pasted up the money, banged on the door, and darted away. Her two sons were strong and quick, but the mysterious delivery boy was able to jump into the back seat of a waiting getaway car and escape. Later that night, there was a polite but direct call from the bishop, requesting that Mom “keep her boys out of the bushes.”

I don’t know how long this went on, but a Christmas WITH presents did arrive in that house that year.

Those twenty-dollar bills bought a lot more than presents; they brought relief and joy to the receiver, and excitement and joy to the giver. I’m willing to wager that 40 years later, the formula still works.

So… I double-dog dare you; no, I TRIPLE-dog dare you, to try out what some families in a ward in California did 40 years ago; find someone less fortunate than you, use a crowbar to wedge a twenty-dollar bill out of your wallet, and tape it their door (I don’t think the door is an absolute requirement; I’m sure that it would be acceptable to the Lord if you left it in their car, or mailed it from parts unknown). Run home and wait for your soul to be flooded with the joy of pure unadulterated giving.

To put things into a perspective that I can understand, twenty-dollar bills that bought 200 candy bars at Woolworths back then are worth only 40 of them now at Walmart. I’m confident, however, that twenty dollars buys the same amount of joy.

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