Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Seeing the gold in someone else

Christmas decor courtesy of Megan!
Jolly spirits, twinkling lights, the smell of peppermint mixed with pine, and hearing Mariah Carey belt out, “All I Want for Christmas,” for the 10,000th time. Yes, it’s once again that time of year when children eagerly await the arrival of the man who eats cookies and rewards the kids who say “please” and “thank you”.  Suddenly, being cheerful and lending an extra hand to your neighbor comes a little more naturally because, after all, it is “the season of giving.” Like most, Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year; just ask my poor seven roommates who so graciously put up with my nonstop festive spirit.  My love of Christmas has grown with me through the years; I’m currently 5 feet but I said extra “thank you’s” this year in hopes that at nineteen years old, I will finally be getting that long-awaited growth spurt. Although my outer appearance hasn’t changed much since I was a child, there is one major change that has taken place.  After experiencing nineteen Christmases, I no longer cringe when I hear the dreaded date December 26th.  The day when there are no longer presents to be seen underneath the tree.  All at once, the conversation takes a dramatic turn from who’s going to win the ugly Christmas sweater contest (I still think I should’ve won first place) to how to get the kids to behave without threats from Santa? It seems as though this day clears the atmosphere of any Christmas spirit that encourages us to be a little kinder than necessary, because after all, “the season of giving” is over. And just like that, Christmas is gone.

Enjoying an afternoon at Christkindl Market
Sitting in the Marquard soup kitchen, surround by our guests, I hear Frank Sinatra through the speaker telling his loved ones “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Accompanying Frank’s soft melody is an overly excited voice coming from the TV advertising a “must have” knife set for only 150.00 dollars plus shipping (I believe the sale is still going on in case you’re interested).  As I take in my surroundings I look into the faces of our guests and it hits me, many of them consider this their home, their only place of stability, a worn down building where they receive a hot meal and are greeted by familiar faces that, over time, they consider family. I also realize the knife set is not the ultimate gift.  I look towards the back of the room where I see Andrew*, bowing his head in thanksgiving before he bites into his chicken. Next to him sits Steve*, who has a faraway look on his face and is singing along in a different key with Mr. Sinatra’s smooth voice. As Steve makes his way to the chorus I can almost see him reliving his past Christmases. I wonder, what was the 50 year old Steve like when he was five years old?  What are his favorite Christmas memories?  What are some life lessons he could teach me?  And Andrew, what does he say to God when his head is bowed in such a pious and respectful way? I’m guessing that he’s not asking for a new knife set.  As all these thoughts are racing through my head I look down in shame, realizing that four months ago, before I came to Franciscan Outreach, if I would’ve walked past this building. There’s little chance I would have made eye contact with Andrew or Steve, much less take interest in their life. I can’t help but to think of how many opportunities I missed simply because my pride got in the way.

When three wise men came across a dirty stable, they were able to see past the dirt and foul smells to find a baby, whose importance overshadowed all doubt that this was just an ordinary stable. We also must take intentional time to cultivate the Christmas spirit by deliberately looking past the “dirt” in people to see the “gold” that is sometimes kept hidden. Instead of seeing it as a “good deed” we need to start recognizing the true gift we are receiving when we are able to see the “gold” in someone else.  I’m sure the wise men didn’t think they were doing a favor when they went out of their way to find baby Jesus. They knew the great privilege they were receiving when they approached the stable.  Amid the carols, nativity set, and sparkling tinsel, I found the Christmas spirit right in front of me where it always had been, in the heart of a kind man with his head bowed and the twinkling eyes of a sentimental guest.

Why does it take a holiday to fully realize the importance of the people around us?  Why is it only in the 25 days of December that we are encouraged to live out “the season of giving”?  I no longer dread December 26th because slowly but surely, I’m learning that the spirit of Christmas doesn’t come from candy canes or fancy ornaments; therefore, it doesn’t have to leave with them.  So please, on December 26th wake up with a smile on your face, not because there are presents waiting to be ripped open but because you have been given the gift of another day of life to live out the Christmas spirit by saying hello to your neighbor or going out of your way to do something kind for others.  Giving should not be confined within a season; it should simply be a way of life.

By: Megan Hryniewicz
Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL

*Names have been changed to honor the anonymity of our guests


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