Gifts from God

2037 2037_ () 2037 2037 For as long as I can remember, our parish has participated in the Angel Tree, a Christmas gift-giving program run through Catholic Social Services. I loved the Angel Tree in large part because it was our opportunity to point the boys in the direction of thinking of others — instead of that all-too-human tendency to merely add relentlessly to a personal Wish List.

In the past, in the first week of Advent, each of the boys would go to the front of the church and grab a construction-paper angel off the Angel Tree and the label would tell us what to buy. Twelve-year-old boy: remote control car. Twenty-five-year-old woman: cookie sheets. Six-month-old baby boy: sleepers.

We loved the Angel Tree!
This year, the director of CSS opted not to continue this tradition, and I see her point. It seemed counterintuitive to buy a remote control car for a child when entire families were going without heat or gas. There were real needs out there; giving a small trinket wasn’t really solving them.
Though I hated the thought of this very small bright spot being gone, I could see where the CSS director was coming from. I don’t really know how it all works — do the people receiving these gifts really look forward to them? Are the gifts a shining moment in an otherwise dark and dreary season? Is it prideful of us to think we can come in and change the course of someone’s Christmas with a $20 gift?
It’s very complicated, in my feeble mind. Ultimately, I decided to trust the CSS Director and not worry too much about it. As she is in charge of the organization, I like to think she knows what she’s doing when it comes to stopping such a program.
Two weeks before Christmas our boys came home from parish religious education with sheets of paper from our Director of Religious Ed. There was a new, similar program being set up to provide gifts for the needy, this year benefitting a local shelter for abused women. Three of our boys had signed up.
These particular sheets only had the age and gender of the person in need, not a specific gift request. We would be shopping for a pre-teen boy and two young women and could get whatever we saw fit to purchase.
The boys and I settled on a Nerf basketball hoop and ball for the young man — I was going back and forth between that and a Nerf football and here is my thinking: on the one hand if the boy is in the shelter, does he have a door to hang the hoop over? On the other hand, if he gets the football, will he have someone to pass with? With the hoop, he can always just rest it on a wall if need be. What boy can’t shoot baskets by himself? Right? I think? Is this the way to go?!? I thought and thought and over-thought and then finally after a little more agonizing just decided on the hoop.
For the ladies, I came across two very cozy looking robes (with slippers!) and this seemed perfect. It was a nice, comforting gift that could go with them wherever they went. It was practical with a bit of luxury thrown in. With that purchase I felt quite confident (and excited).
The night before we were to turn in our gifts, I started wrapping each item. I looked over the information sheets and noticed that our D.R.E. asked us to simply attach a label that said “from Jesus, with love.”
Easy enough. I wrapped the boy’s gift and set it aside. Then I took out my favorite wrapping paper of this Christmas season and started wrapping the robes. Beautiful.
Except, just as I finished wrapping the second robe, I noticed the packaging was slightly different from the first robe. And I realized that this young woman would be opening a gift “from Jesus, with love,” and seeing this:
What exactly is Jesus trying to say? I’m not sure.
I wondered if the gift should maybe be “from Jesus, who wants you to feel great!” or perhaps “We love you and so does Jesus.” Or just “God is love. We hope you love this gift!”
But I had already written the label and decided to keep it as is. I hope this young woman, whoever she is, realizes that Jesus does indeed love her. He loves her and wants her to enjoy her luxurious robe (and maybe even feel a little sassy too).




  1. We missed not seeing the Angel tree as well. My brianstorm on that was to still have the tree w/angels on it, but on each angel have an item like $25 towards utilities, or $10 towards groceries. Something like that. A win-win situation for all. We would have the angel tree to pick from, and she would get the money she needs. Maybe they can try that next year.

  2. My parish has a similar program and I also wonder about some of the requests. My friend picked a tag from a young boy who wanted a $600 iPad — and she bought it for him!!! I was completely dismayed at his request and her generosity. I can't help but wonder if that is really what he or his family needed.

  3. I was always under te impression that the families were ready receiving rent/utilities assistance, and that the gifts were something extra for the kids to open on Christmas Day. I think our angel tree is sponsored by St. Vincent de Paul Society, though.

  4. Allison Kennedy says:

    Hey Rach
    That's funny about the robe!
    Somewhat related: a friend wrote on her blog about people "deserving" things. And her question is, Who's to say who deserves what?
    The ipad seems extravagant to me; but who knows? Often we who aren't poor try to determine/manipulate what the poor need. Sometimes we try and band-aid over people's harsh realities by throwing electronics at them. (and let's be honest, we do that for our own selves.)
    Good food for thought. Thanks.

  5. 1) You are too sweet. 2) I love this post because it's extremely thought-provoking in a very good way. 3) A robe & slipper set is such a nicely comforting gift! 4) That paper is GORGEOUS. LOVE it.

  6. As a childhood recipient of "angel tree" gifts- several times actually- I can say that they always brightened Christmas morning for me and my siblings. Looking back, I am still touched by the generosity of people who didn't know my family at all, but cared enough to give us clothes and toys that were special to us and not hand-me-downs. Even though the gifts didn't directly pay for shelter or heat, I do think they gave my family (including my parents) joy. I learned both the treasure of giving freely and the humble thankfulness of receiving someone's generous love. (And Mom always made us write thank-you's to "Jesus" or the anonymous donor!)

    Please allow me to thank all of you for your generosity to those who are or have been in need.

  7. Elizabeth M says:

    Our parish still had an angel tree this year. I think ours was through our St. Vincent de Paul or Cathoic Charities. But ours have never had a "wish" item on it, just a age and gender.

    When my son was in Cub Scouts, his pack was chartered by a local Methodist church. So, as a Pack, we also participated in their angel program. But their program was specific to families migrant farm workers. (Yes, here in South Jersey we have migrant workers too.) They minister to the same families throughout the year with meals and teaching English, etc.

    At Christmas, their program was that every adult got a sweat suit (not a fancy outfit, sweat pants and sweat shirt), hat, and gloves and (I think) a $10 gift card for food. Children received hat and gloves and a small (non-electronic) toy. They always reminded us that it wasn't fair to give them a toy that required batteries if they would not be able to replace them.

    It was a good reminder of meeting basic needs and sharing a little Christmas joy with a child.

  8. Unfortunately no matter what people have these days, they think they are poor. I know people who claim money issues but have a brand new house, iPhones, cable, internet, etc. Yes, there are people with needs. And, I think that's where the real issue is: needs vs. wants. Christmas for the needy should be about giving families some of their wants and some of their needs too. An iPad may be a want, but that's very extreme. Maybe something less expensive would satisfy a want. Maybe the tags should have a need and a want.

  9. We partner with a neighborhood ministry to provide a shoebox full of gifts for each child, and provide a mix of practical items like hat & mittens along with a few toys. The children receive these at a dinner we hold at church.

    We also gather gift items so that the kids can shop for their loved ones, and we even help them wrap up the gifts. I made 40 different pieces of jewelry since that was the most requested item last year.I prayed as I created each one that it would bring joy, hope & fun to the giver and recipient.

    Our own children are adults so this was our gift focus this year. It made for an especially meaningful Christmas for me.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Each year our cub scout troop sponsors a family and often when I have helped deliver the gifts the parents have burst into tears. Just think, if you are unable to pay the rent, how can you justify giving your child a barbie? Yet how much joy a new toy can give to a child whose life is otherwise less than ideal.