Friday, December 07, 2007

Challenge - Charity Begins At Home

My friend, Silken recently posted a challenge asking bloggers to think outside of their computer screens in order to spread the good cheer this season. Take a moment if you can and stop at her original post to see her take on spreading the benefits of her extra blogging dollars.

Her post asked us to go out into the world and use some of the profits we make from paid posting and blogging on a charity of our choice this Christmas season... As I said in her comments, I don’t currently earn any monetary value from blogging because I stopped doing paid postings when I switched to this blog. But I would be happy to support charities through the Christmas season... I went on to list the things I am giving this holiday... the same causes I contribute to every holiday... hmmm... maybe I can do a little better.

Unfortunately, I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, as the things I currently support are really about as much as I can comfortably afford.... so I started thinking about this dilemma, which brought me around to thoughts of charity in general.

The first phrase that popped into my mind was, ‘Charity begins at home’. Sometimes, especially around the holidays, we hear so much about what’s needed in the community that we forget to look at what’s needed right in our backyard. It doesn’t have to be a great need. It doesn’t even have to be a monetary need. From my experience, bank account balance has very little to do with a person’s fortune and some of the ones with the highest balance actually have the poorest lives.

That brought me around to the story of St. Nicholas. Some of you might not know this one, it’s very popular with us Catholics and I tell my children a rather watered down version of the story every year around the Feast of St. Nicholas, which just past yesterday, December 6th. You may know it as the day Catholic kids put their shoes out for St. Nick to fill with candy and small treats – yes, we did that, too.

But the story of St. Nicholas is a bit more extensive. He was born to a wealthy family of the time and raised with a very devout faith. His parents died when he was young, leaving Nicholas a vast fortune, but the man wanted only to devote his life to God. He followed his path to the priesthood and eventually, sainthood (long after his death, of course) But during his life, St. Nicholas saw no need to use the material treasures he had inherited on his own wants; he had all that he needed serving God and the Church. Instead, he gave his money to those in need throughout his life.

But St. Nicholas didn’t just open a coin purse and toss money to the poor in open daylight. He didn’t bestow these gifts as awards or with great fanfare. Instead, he saw a need in people around him, those he heard were having hard times, and those he happened upon and watched their struggle. Especially small children, St. Nicholas had a special place in his heart for the young and wanted nothing more than to aid them in their life and relationship with God. So he gave of his time and resources, but in secret. He never wanted to be thanked or even known for the generosity he bestowed on those around him because he wanted the recipients to give thanks to God. His good deeds were a prayer and he didn’t want thanks for that – he wanted instead to impact those around him with the knowledge that God will take care of all things, whether it’s through the hands of one of his servants or through divine intervention.

So, my extra something this month will be to play secret Santa for those around me, but never to let them know it was me. It may not be monetary help; it might just be a small thing, like brushing the snow off of their car or leaving some small thing to make them smile. Silken asked for everyone to have completed their extra charity by December 31st and to post what they’d done, without telling amounts or anything, but as a promotion to the charity of your choice. I’d love to see posts of that nature going up around the internet this December... I’d love to see posts of that nature going up the whole year round.

I’m not naming people to complete this challenge, though I’d love to hear if you did. And I don’t know if I’ll be posting an update on this one, myself, because I think it might be fun just to do some good things and keep them to myself... There was a Friends episode once where Joey and Phoebe argued over charity. Joey insisted that you couldn’t do anything good for someone else without receiving something in return... I tend to agree with him.

Good luck and happy gifting, whether it’s time, talent, prayer, or pocket change. Even a small thing can have a huge impact on someone’s day.


Family Fun & Faith said...

thanks for helping spread silken's idea. I hope lots of folks benefit from the acts of kindness, both givers and receivers.

silken said...

you go girl! this is really great merry! I think you have caught the spirit, so to say! :) I believe you are really doing what it takes to live out the spreading of the spirit of Christmas-love, peace and good will-and I do think good will be returned to you as well (though I know that is not the reason for doing it in the first place...)this is a really great post. whether you post about your random acts of kindness or not later, I really appreciate your take on this and your helping to spread good to your fellow man. thank you!

Mary Witzl said...

I love the story of St Nicholas. Wasn't he the one who, having heard that a young woman's destitute family were about to send her off as a prostitute, put a bag of gold through their window? What I love most about him is that he did his good works in a clandestine way. A lot of people who think of themselves as charitable make such a big deal out of it that they rather ruin the spirit.

Decades ago, in San Francisco, a group of friends and I were sitting in a MacDonalds one evening, and a man came in and asked everyone for spare change. We were all students, and said no. At the neighboring table were a woman in a maid's uniform with her four small children. She looked poor and beat, but she got up, waited in line, and came back with two hamburgers and a cup of coffee. She handed these to the man very unceremoniously and he wolfed the food down; he was clearly famished. To this day the memory makes me cry. I saw real charity that evening and I have never forgotten her example.

Angela WD said...

What a great idea. I'll let you know how I do with this!

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi FF&F,

This was a fun one to pass on - honestly, it's the best blog challenge I've ever seen.

Hi Silken,

I'm glad you liked my spin on it, it was a little different than yours, I just kind of tweaked it for what I could do - but I'd love to see people doing either or both...

Hi Mary,

That's one of my favorite St. Nicholas stories, and I think the most well known. When you see likenesses of St. Nick (most of the old fashined Santas are either a take off of him or were intended to be St. Nicholas - I think he's kind of merged into a great deal of the Christmas and Santa Claus Traditions) Anyway, many St. Nicholas paintings show three gold balls, because of the story you're talking about.

There was a man with three daughters who was very poor. Being so poor he didn't have money for a dowery, and at the time a girl with no dowery could not be married. At a certain age she would be sold into slavery (different accounts say prostitution... either way, not good)

When each of the girls reached the age where they should be married, St. Nicholas would throw golden coins through the window, and they landed inside socks drying by the fire... Thereby supplying the dowery and saving the young women from a horrible future...

Golden orbs have come to represent the dowery, and three is the number of daughters... You'll also find hanging stockings by the fireplace originated here as well as the tradition of placing an orange or apple in the toe of the stocking (this isn't so popular now, I think it was early in the 20th century, it started to symbolize St. Nicholas' gift.)

I love your San Francisco story... this is exactly what I meant in the post when I said that bank accounts don't equal a person's fortune... I'm sure that maid didn't have an enormous bank balance, but she was definitely wealthy in spirit and love.

Hi Angela,

I look forward to it - post a link or drop a comment, I can't wait to see how many people participate in this and what types of things they did.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Merry, I really like your Secret Santa idea. I think I'll try to come up with some of my own. Sanks. :)

Precie said...

I love this idea! It's something I try to do during Lent every year...something anonymously kind for someone else.

I'll be following your example this season! :)

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Lynette,

That's great, be sure to let me know if you post about your own secret Santa activities.

Hi Precie,

You know, I don't do that much during Lent except give to the missions when they collect at Mass, receive ashes on ash wednesday, and give up meat on Friday (which really doesn't help anyone except maybe my own digestive system).

For some reason most of my seasonal giving tends to come during Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is why I came up with the whole secret good deed thing in the first place...

It's great that you'll be adding something extra this season, I think it'll be wonderful if this just catches on a bit - you never can have too many good deeds going out in the world.

~SUV Mama~ said...

Beautiful post! I actually felt very sheepish reading it- I was raised by Catholic parents who raised us in the Episcopal church. We used to celebrate St. Nicholas day, and for some reason I just never carried that tradition over to my own children.

Also- I love that reading your blog is wonderful, but reading the comments is actually worthwhile. : )

I plan to take on your challenge, Merry!

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi SUV Mama,

First, that's wonderful that you'll be taking the challenge - I hope it's both a good and rewarding experience for you and one you can pass on to your girls.

Second, thank you so much for the bloggy compliment. The thing I like so much about blogs is the conversation quality - I could just write some of these posts for publication and start submitting, but the nice thing here is that it becomes a whole conversation in the comments. Many of my favorites do that - a great thought provoking post is fun, when you add the different vantage points of many readers, though, it becomes a much more fulfilling read. Plus, if you're into writing, some of the blogs become whole craft workshops onto themselves... take jjdebenedictis - she did a pitch workshop at her blog and I participated there. Not only did I get to crit other pitches, but I have my query letter - which scared the bejeezus out of me, ready to go, all I have to do is research and personalize the first paragraph for each agent.

Funny thing with the St. Nicholas participation - my mom was raised Baptist. Her mother was so anti-Catholic that she refused to let my mother attend mass with one of her Catholic friends (though, it must be mentioned, not so biased that she would tell her not to be friends with a dreaded crucifix hanger). Obviously, my mom did not grow up with Catholic traditions - she converted as an adult, before I was born. My father was born and raised Catholic as were many generations before him, being that he was born in Sicily...

As a kid, we didn't celebrate St. Nicholas at home, mostly because my mom didn't know about it and she did all of the home, kid things... But I went to a Catholic grammar school and we received a candy cane on our desks every Dec. 6th - or the next available day in school... my classmates, though, all had boots full of candy and trinkets when they woke up and I still remember feeling kind of left out of the loop.

I'm a little more well versed in the dogma and traditions of the Catholic Church than my mom was, Twelve years of Catholic school will do that to you... and I love our reverence to the Saints and Mary for reasons that are too long winded to explain here... but really, my kids get boots full of candy because I don't want them to miss anything... Maybe they'll associate it with St. Nicholas and know a bit more about the man than they would, but I could teach them that in a less materialistic way, too... mostly, I just want to give them a little extra fun and carry on a tradition that I missed.

Thanks for stopping in. Always good to see you.

Ello said...

Lovely idea lovely post. I'll have to do somethng also. And thanks for posting the St. NIck story again. Haven't heard it in a long time and forgot how good it is.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Ello,

Glad you liked it and I hope you have a good time with your gifting as well...

St. Nicholas is a good one, remind me to post about the origins of the St. Joseph table come March, that one's my absolute favorite.

Jerseygirl89 said...

Wonderful post and a great challenge.

SUV MAMA said...

Merry, I wanted to thank you. It took me a while, but I always had this thought in my mind because of your post.

So last night I enlisted the help of Q-Mama and we did something that I feel really great about.

On a different note, I used to frequent a drive-up coffee place. One time a woman in front of me bought my coffee. I had no idea who she was. She made my morning.

Random acts of kindness are both big and small and wonderful... and for me, I always WANT to do something "kind" but I tend to forget in the face of my own worries. So it's nice to have a reminder that doesn't beg for money or make demands. It's a simple way to live and spread good will.

:)Have a WONDERFUL day!