Dear friends and family,
I owe you a blog post, but I don’t know how to put it down in words, and hope that I can somehow do this experience justice. I’d like to tell you about how we spent our Christmas Eve today and how this has been the best Christmas that our family has ever experienced.
I need to back up just a few days so that you can see how we got here. You already know about the amazing contributions that were made, and about the huge shopping sprees. Assembling the baskets came next, and boy, was that a huge project! It was hard to know whether what I had would fit in the baskets I had bought, everything had just been stored in boxes in my laundry room, and here was the moment of truth when we had to lay everything out on the floor and try to put it all together. We set everything up in groups and then got to work.
My goal was to take baskets to ten different families. I wanted one basket to be for food, and one to be for everything else. Everything was laid out on the floor, one child was assigned to take care of the babies in a bedroom so they wouldn’t get into everything, and the other three children were given very rapid and specific instructions that went something like this, “Matthew…soap…Benjamin…toothbrushes…Hannah…toothpaste…Matthew…deodorant…Benjamin…antibiotic cream…Hannah…diapers etc etc. As they handed me something, I would arrange it in the basket, and they were off to collect their next item. It was multitasking at it’s best! Michael’s Christmas bonus at work was a case of yahoo (tinned fish, like tuna!), awesome, so we added that to the baskets. The kids did so well and worked really hard, especially given how extremely hot it was inside the house.. It took us about 3 hours to make the 20 baskets.
That night when the kids were in bed, Michael and I wrapped the non-food baskets and made them look as pretty as we could. The food baskets needed to stay open so that we could put the turkeys and rolls inside on Christmas Eve morning.
Our family decided that we wanted to contribute something other than just the time and manpower that went into this project. We talked about sacrificing candy and stocking stuffers to buy some things for this project. I had recruited all of you to help in this as a humanitarian, and not a religious project, and I was very aware that many of you have different beliefs than I do, and as other contributors do. I know that you were just being good people wanting to help others who had less. I wanted to honor your contribution by only buying food, necessities, toys and treats, like I had initially proposed. But, as you know, everyone in American Samoa is extremely religious and belongs to some church or another, and so we decided to add our own family gift that was more Christmas oriented. We put a small nativity and some Samoan scriptures, marked with our families favorite scriptures, in each basket.
Many of you have been asking about how we decided which families would get the baskets. There are certainly hundreds of people that they could have gone to, and so for the last few weeks, we have been making this a matter of family prayer. We knew that if there were families out there who had been praying for a Christmas miracle, that we would be led to them.
As of this morning, we still didn’t know who the baskets were going to, and that was ok. We ate breakfast and got ready for the day, then I emptied out the car and took Hannah with me to the store to go pick up the rolls and turkeys. I wasn’t expecting this to happen, (and I’m sure you may find this silly, but I’m trying to be as thorough in my description of events as I can because I feel like I owe it to you), but when I was watching the turkeys being brought out and wrapped, I just started to cry. I was completely overwhelmed with the spirit of what was happening thanks to all of you. The turkeys were enormous, and seeing 10 of them coming out and 3 staff members trying to get them ready for me was more than my emotions could stand. This happened to me twice in the store, and then I just sobbed in the car on the way home. I really just wish that each one of you who made a sacrifice to this project could have been here with us today. This truly is what Christmas is all about, doing for others what Christ would do if he were here.
At home, we finished the food baskets and with the seats down in Michael’s car and with my trunk and front seat, we were able to fit in 5 of each baskets. We gathered our children around us in prayer again and pleaded with God to show us where to go. We set off, me driving with all the kids, and Michael following behind.
The rest of the story is hard to write about. Please bear with me…
Our first stop was to a family who were still living in a FEMA tent since the tsumani over 2 years ago. As we pulled over, there was an adult and three or four kids working on an old car with the hood up. I wondered if they had somewhere that they wanted to go this Christmas Eve and they couldn’t get there now. Who knows…maybe they needed to get to the store to get food for Christmas day and then we arrived! As we sang Merry Christmas to them in Samoan, I started crying again. I couldn’t get through it. Thank goodness for the kids pulling us through. Hugs and kisses, and then back in the car.
The second stop was also very emotional for me. Another family living in a tent, but the reason this affected me so deeply was because they had six small children about the same age as ours. One young child carried the diaper-wearing baby over to us as we sang to them, and as I looked around I didn’t see a single sign of Christmas in their home. These baskets were probably the only thing they’d see this year.
The third stop and a couple more later on were “accidents”, meaning I hadn’t planned on going that way, had to turn around, and then realized as soon as we saw the home that we were at the right place. At this house we had to park on the side of the road and then climb up some very steep, muddy steps to get to the house. The baskets must have weighed about 50lbs each, and I was struggling to carry mine. My arms were weak and shaky, but somehow I was able to get to the house. The mother opened the door in surprise and the children behind her were so excited.
Every house that we went to was a similar story, one roomed “homes”, most without windows, just using tarps for protection from the rain. From the door we saw mattresses in place of beds, and not much other furniture. One amazing part of this story is that every single house that we went to had small children. So many of the gifts in our baskets had been geared towards babies and small children, and I worried that maybe we’d take a basket to a house of an older couple, or a house with teenagers. Not so, I truly believe that every home that we went to can use every item in those baskets.
Now I have to be honest and truly tell you some of the feelings that I had today. After we had given out a few baskets, I felt unworthy. I don’t know if I can explain it well enough, but as we went to the next couple of homes, I had a hard time looking the people in the eye. It was easier to just approach with a basket, sing the song, and walk away. I felt almost hypocritical. Although I knew we were performing a wonderful service, in a way it just reminded me of how much I have and how “insignificant” this contribution was…no, I think that was the wrong word, and I don’t want any of you to regret sending money, I mean we gave two huge baskets full of food and wonderful things, but then I knew I was going to be driving home to my house filled with electronics, toys for the kids, food, clothes, hot water, and everything else that our family has been blessed with and takes for granted. I just wanted to pack up everything we owned and take it back to these people. That would really be the sacrifice…to say, “here, let’s trade houses”, or something BIGGER than what we were doing. Yes, this would be a wonderful Christmas to them, but look at what I have in comparison. I guess I wish that the poverty wasn’t here and that everyone was just equal and had enough for their families. I just wish that we could do more. It was heartbreaking and I felt sad for a while and then realized that I was just being given an extra learning opportunity. We have all been given different blessings in our lives, different challenges and trials. It’s the kind of people that we are, and the way we treat others that’s important. I truly wish that I could give everything I have to help some of these families, and maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s my lesson. I felt so much compassion towards these people, and I was filled with gratitude for this opportunity to help them, which is thanks to you. Thank you for helping me learn important lessons. At the end of the deliveries I was physically and emotionally drained, but filled with relief and peace that good things had been accomplished this day.
I wish I could have taken photos of the people, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate. I took a photo of most of the homes before we went in, but I didn’t want to appear condescending. I was embarrassed when one lady stood at the doorway and waved to us as I was trying to snap a photo. I wish you could have seen the faces on the mothers, and the excitement and happiness from the kids. I don’t understand Samoan, but as we walked away from one house, we could hear the kids shouting with glee and crying out “Whoa! Whoa!”. They were so happy. One woman just couldn’t believe it and came out to the car as we were driving away. “Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Because you deserve to have a good Christmas” we answered.
Although you can’t see the people that your donations helped to bless, I can still see them so clearly in my mind. I hope that I never forget…small babies wearing only diapers, dirty, scruffy children with scarred legs and open sores who were grinning from ear to ear, and parents who were speechless as they received our offering.
I can still hear the cries in broken English of “Thank you, thank you” and “Merry Christmas” ringing in my ears. Your generosity has blessed many people this Christmas. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring so much to help those less fortunate than you. I also want you to know that even though this project was designed to help the people of American Samoa, it actually blessed our family so much more than them. Thank you for your part in helping my family truly learn what Christmas is all about. This has been a defining day in our lives and will forever change us.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas from across the ocean…
Helen, Michael, Matthew, Benjamin, Hannah, Daniel, Mary, and Emma.