December 29, 2012

I Hear the Bells

Many years ago I was shuffling through the crowds at the shopping mall.  People were moving along like an agitated herd of animals, gruff with anyone who caused an interruption to their frantic pace, clip with cashiers, and ruthless in the parking lot.  It was late in the evening, it was close to Christmas -- coincidentally, just the time when people start losing the Christmas spirit.  I was feeling sullen at the sight of it all.  At that precise moment, from the overhead speakers in the store I heard the carol playing, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."  The familiar 3rd verse sang:
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

That is how I felt sandwiched in the herd of shoppers.  But then the 4th verse rang out overshadowing the previous:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

That pierced my heart and changed how I saw and what I felt that Christmas and every Christmas since.  The season can be overwhelming with consumerism, cookie exchanges, parties, cards, gifting, decorating and the list goes on.  And when all is said and done, that may be all we see in the season.  This season saw unspeakable tragedy and I have felt my broken heart and wiped my eyes every day for those children, for those parents, and especially their siblings of Newtown.  There has been so much evil and heartbreak before and after that tragedy as well.  Other shootings, cancers, deaths and grieving have been all too commonplace this season.

The 4th verse of the carol is sometimes more difficult to see, but despite and through the heartbreaks, shallowness, selfishness, evils and sadness that abound, I have had a Christmas season that I have heard the bells peal louder and deeper.

My daughters held a dinner party with a few of their friends where they stuffed and licked 500 envelopes of Santa letters to help the initiative of a little girl suffering from inoperable brain cancer in our community.  These letters were matched with a $500 donation by Macy's to Make a Wish.  We had a discussion over dinner on how friends can help friends during challenging times.  It was so heart warming to see how incredibly excited they were to do this!

Alan took off for an entire Saturday during the middle of December to board a bus of volunteers that went up to New York to help the hurricane Sandy victims in the Rockaways.  I sent him off at 3am armed with some shovels, crow bar, bottles of water, protein bars, a face mask.  He returned at 11:00 that night exhausted, dirty and humbled.  His walked miles that day pulling a sled of tools behind him as he and the other volunteers in his crew hauled debris out and tore drywall out of basements that are now becoming mold infested hazards.  The residents were beyond grateful.  They hadn't seen a lick of FEMA yet, but they had seen plenty of our church volunteers in yellow vests weekend after weekend.  Their "angels in yellow" they call them.  He thought that there was no better way for a busy dad to spend a precious Saturday in December.  Love him for that.

Our family made dinner for the homeless shelter the following Saturday and had a neighbor join with us in our effort.  The kids assisted and were mixing casseroles and measuring ingredients for desserts all morning.  We delivered the meal to the shelter with the kids that evening.  While we were setting up the dinner, the girls, on their own initiative, helped to sort and organize the children's play area.  Love them for that too.

Our December has been filled with many other wonderful experiences that have made the bells ring louder to our family.  Most will remain private, ever only to be known between the recipient and us.  Being the self-confessed OCD person that I am - October and November is when all of the gifts are purchased, wrapped and neatly tucked away before Thanksgiving.  December is too important for such things and our December has been full of everything that is important.  I am grateful for those bells that do indeed peal the most important message of all to us - "that God is not dead, nor doth he sleep."  He is mindful of each and every one of us and has commissioned us to be His hands to help others feel the love of their Savior, not only in December, but every month of the year.