Every year at Christmas, my church sponsors a Sharing Tree for the less fortunate. The tree is decorated with paper angel ornaments. Anyone who wishes to participate chooses an angel, buys a gift and brings it back the following week, beautifully wrapped. These angels have no family, and whatever gift they receive from the church is their only present. While this is a wonderful tradition, as you might imagine, it can also present quite a challenge. We are given very little information about our angels. Let me share with you my first experience with this tradition.
The first year I participated in the Sharing Tree, my angel was an elderly woman, a 90-year-old shut in. The first problem I encountered was trying to figure out precisely what a shut in was. After doing a little research, I learned a shut in is a person who is unable to leave the house. I also learned my angel was in a nursing home and hated Christmas because she had no one to share it with. The nursing home was relatively close to where I lived, so I asked if it would be all right if I delivered it in person. I thought it would be a nice gesture to show her someone out there cared. The staff thought it a marvelous idea and said it would make her day. But that still presented the problem of what to buy a 90-year-old shut in.
She’d have no need for a warm scarf or a pair of gloves. And clothes were out of the question since I didn’t know her size. A toasty pair of slippers might be nice, but again. HMM. What size? There were books, stories of inspiration. But what if she had cataracts? Or maybe she didn’t like to read. What to do? Out of options, I decided on a Christmas coffee mug filled with chocolate candy. Pleased with myself, off I went to meet my angel on Christmas Eve.
The elderly woman sat upright in bed, all dressed up in a pink bathrobe. She was all smiles, her cheeks glowing with excitement. I introduced myself and extended my hand. Nothing. My heart sank. Slowly but surely, I realized she had no use of her arms. And here I was, ready to hand her a coffee cup filled with candy.
Asking God for guidance, I briefly panicked. But within a few seconds, it became obvious it wasn’t the gift that mattered to the woman, my angel. She wasn’t a child waiting for Santa. She was a woman waiting for a visitor, a friend, someone to share Christmas with. I set the gift down and said nothing. Then I recalled something the nurse had said when I told her I was coming for a visit. She said the lady was an angel, a patient who never gave the staff any trouble. She said if she was guilty of anything, it was her love of sweets. Then it occurred to me. The nurses probably fed her.
Unwrapping the gift, I showed it to her. Her bright blue eyes lit up, spotting the chocolates. Not wanting to go against any nursing home rules, I wagged my finger and told her she’d just have to wait until Christmas morning before she could open the candy. She smiled, a girlish giggle escaping her lips.
I left the nursing home feeling like I’d just visited an angel. She taught me a valuable lesson. It’s not the gift that matters. It’s showing that you care. We are all God’s angels. Let’s spread the cheer this Christmas.