Dear Vincentian Friends,
For Vincentians, Advent is the season of conducting toy and gift drives, assembling special food baskets, and preparing holiday meal programs. It is also the time of donor solicitation and, no doubt, some Christmas parties. Of course, the regular requests for Home Visits don’t take a break.
Most of our “special” Christmas programs require our neighbors in need to sign up, or we may send them an invitation to participate. These programs require this level of organization, but I have found that some of my most meaningful experiences have been with the person who was not on the list or who arrived just when we were about to close. I know making exceptions to program rules can create problems, but I have also found that when I listened to that person’s story, it often melted my heart.
Many of those stories are the ones I still remember. When I really listen to a person asking for me to make an exception to help them, it is a tough call. Usually, I still stick to the plan, but sometimes I am reminded of Mary and Joseph finding no room left in the inn. They had a pretty compelling story, and someone at least let them use the barn for shelter. Can I be at least that flexible?
I remember a father who came to ask if we had any toys left the day after our gift program. He was not on our list, but I learned he had nothing to give his children because a fire had destroyed their apartment that week. I realized that maybe he was conning me, but his gratitude for the gifts we did supply was real. It turned out he had been telling the truth, and we were able to help with furniture and food when the family relocated a few weeks later.
Sometimes when I listen to these stories, I experience a shared helplessness. One such instance was a Christmas Eve morning when parents with kids in their van asked if I knew of somewhere they could stay for the next week until their apartment was available on January 1st. All I could offer was a suggestion for a place where they could get a meal that evening and where there would be some gifts for the children. Sometimes, these interactions have no elements of Christmas joy — like the time I sat with a man who was crying because he was no longer welcome home for the holidays because of his addiction and past behavior. Sometimes, the only gift we can give is a listening presence to another human being.
A final story I will share involved a man who was so angry at his family on December 23rd that he took all his wrapped gifts and dumped them into one of our thrift store drop boxes. The next day, he regretted it. I was locking up on the afternoon of Christmas Eve when he came and begged me to go with him and retrieve those presents. Listening to the conversion experience he had the night before made me wonder what ghosts of Christmas past, present and future had visited him. How could I not try to help? Sure enough, the gifts were all still there in the drop box. After getting a big hug, we loaded two large bags of wrapped gifts into the trunk of his car. It was a story worthy of a Hallmark Channel movie.
We have experiences all year long of special interactions with the people we serve. Somehow, these stories seem a little more magical at this time of the year. Let’s not forget that people deserve to have us listen to them and respond to them with the same care all year long.
This can be a time of year when our many tasks can seem overwhelming, but I think most of us do look forward to all of our special efforts. I hope your Conference has shared the responsibility for your programs, so that no one person gets burned out. I also hope you make sure your own family does not feel ignored or left out. Even our Rule reminds us that “Vincentians are available for work in the Conferences after fulfilling their family and professional duties.”
Finally, I hope each of you experiences the beauty of this Christmas season and is blessed with knowing that God is with us. Let us rejoice and be glad.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President