Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Joseph Courtemanche | Spread the Christmas Joy


 Loaves, Fishes, and Butterfingers 

Ten years ago, my wife and I had a great year financially. We’d paid off our mortgage, I had a good job, and the extra money was rolling in for my Santa performances. I knew Christmas would be a very “green” season for us.

Living in a big city, we knew the homeless had a hard time at the Christmas season. It’s pretty tough to get in the spirit when you go back to a shelter in the shrubs near the railroad tracks. You can’t sip a cup of eggnog under the Christmas tree when you live under a tree.

Our church was used as a meals center for the homeless and lonely. Twice a month a great lunch was served on a Saturday to our guests. We decided that this time, this year, this season, we’d play Santa for others and share our blessings.

We started out at Sam’s club and loaded a couple of flatbed carts with Ziploc bags, oatmeal packets, gummy bears, cocoa packets, Milky Bars, granola bars, toothbrushes, and Butterfingers. Half a dozen rolls of wrapping paper later and we were ready to head to the church.

Three of our friends joined us for Chinese food and present wrapping. From my Deacon’s office in the basement I produced 150 pocket New Testaments. One per bag, one per guest.

Three hours later we’d gift wrapped the bundles for each person. To keep the packages safe, we put them in a large cabinet in the basement and locked the drawers.

That Saturday we handed out Christmas cards to all the volunteers, and had them sign them as though they were going to a family member. Each card included a message of love and encouragement.

I helped prepare the meal and then hauled a couple of trashbags full of gift packages up to the lobby once our guests had started eating. As they emerged from the elevator and stairwell I handed a gift to each person, wishing them a Merry and Blessed Christmas.

Smiles, tears, and exclamations of joy followed out the door into the cold winter’s afternoon. A couple of the men came back for one for their roommate - I knew there was no roommate, but a desperate man who needed a few hundred more calories in his stash for the lean times.

At the end of the day we stored the remaining bundles in the file cabinet where they’d been stored during the week. I went about life and decided to hand them out to the people who’d not made it during that service the next time we fed our friends.

Two weeks later, I stood next to the file cabinet and handed out packages again. No new faces that I could spot, so I decided to just hand them out until they ran out.

Every guest, each of the 150 or so who came that day got a package. I had four or five left at the end. That meant that we’d handed out almost 300 packages during two meals.

And that’s the miracle: we only prepared 150. Somehow God had kept that cabinet full each time I opened the drawer. Just like the loaves and fishes.

I was new in my faith at that time. I had walked away from God for almost 20 years and was called back after a business visit to the church. I’d experienced what I thought were miracles before, but this was tangible. I’d packed the bags, counted the ribbons, wrapped them all up and made sure we had enough for everyone to get one.

God is real. Miracles are real. All you need is to open your heart and let Him move within.

This year we’re doing the packages again. But that’s another miracle for another story.

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas. I’m sure mine will be.

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Joseph Courtemanche is the author of the award winning novel Assault on Saint Agnes which is scheduled for publication this coming spring. He writes a bi-weekly blog at www.commotioninthepews.com, and causes trouble almost everywhere he goes.

He’s also a professional Santa Claus who prays over every person who comes to visit him. But don’t tell anyone, he’s just talking to God in private.