The letter to Santa

One of my responsibilities as the Director of Religious Education at First Parish Church in Taunton is to tell a story or share some thoughts during the worship service.  We call this the “Time for All Ages.”  This past Sunday, I struck  upon a gem.

There once was a 3rd grade teacher – Mrs. Mello – who asked her students to write a letter to Santa with their Christmas Wish List as one of their assignments.  Third graders are learning to write letters and this seemed like a good way to get the kids excited about their lesson.  The children got busy right away.  When the letters were all written, Mrs. Mello collected them and brought them home to correct that evening.

After dinner, she sat in her comfy chair, got out her red pen, and started correcting and grading the letters.  She skimmed through several letters, not really focused on the stream of “Please bring me a new bike…new doll…new action figure…new computer game…”  It wasn’t the content of the letters that was important.  She was looking to make sure that they used capital letters at the beginning of the sentence, punctuation at the end and enough verbs, adjectives and nouns in the middle.  One letter, though, drew her in.

It started off sweetly enough…

Dear Santa,

Thank you for all the wonderful gifts you brought last year.

But then it took an unexpected turn…

This year, could you make sure that me and my family have a warm, dry home.  And could you make sure that my whole family is safe and healthy.  I would really like it if my whole family could be together for Christmas and there is enough food on the table for everyone to get their fill.

I also want a dry pair of boots so my feet don’t get wet when I walk to school and a warm coat so I won’t be cold.

Your friend,

Billy

Mrs. Mello was shocked and saddened.  She had no idea that Billy and his family were going through such a hard time.  She picked up her phone and called Billy’s home right away.

When Billy’s mom answered the phone, Mrs. Mello shared with her the contents of Billy’s letter and asked if there were anything that the school could do to help her family.  Billy’s mom replied that she had no idea why Billy would write a letter like that because the family was doing just fine.  They had a warm, dry home.  No one was sick and there was plenty of food.  Billy had nice boots and a warm coat.

Billy’s mom thanked Mrs. Mello for her call and after saying “Goodbye” she went to Billy’s room to ask him about the letter.  “Billy, why would you write a letter asking Santa for a warm, dry home?  Why would you ask for the family to be healthy and well fed?  Why do you want dry boots and a warm coat?  You already have all of those things.”

Billy looked at his Mom with a big smile and said, “Yeah, isn’t that cool.  I already have everything I want.”

Without receivers there can be no givers

Last week I celebrated my birthday.  I had all the usual birthday type traditions – family and friends, cake, ice cream and presents.  I was the center of attention, opening envelopes and tearing open wrapped boxes.  As I paused to make a wish before blowing out the candles, I thought about how uncomfortable it can be to be the center of attention.  I thought about how much easier it is to be the giver than the receiver.  I reminded myself of the message I delivered at First Parish Church in Taunton at the Flower Communion in 2011.

Flower Communion is a wonderful service originated by Norbert Capek, the founder of the Unitarian Church in  Czechoslovakia.  During the service, each member of the congregation places a cut flower in a communal vase.  At the end of the service, each person takes a flower home with them.

That is another story.

It is often said, “Tis better to give than to receive.”  It’s true that we are often more comfortable giving than being the one given to.  But, where would the givers be without anyone to do the receiving.

In my message entitled “The Other Half of Giving”, I asked,

Why are we so uncomfortable with receiving?  Why do we not value accepting as much as we value giving?  Maybe it has to do with how we picture people who give and people who receive.  We have a bad habit of thinking about giving and receiving as about “us” and “them.”  Giving is considered a noble act.  We associate it with words like charitable and generous.  We see taking and receiving as more about being needy or dependent or indebted.

In preparing for the service, I read a quote from Shakti Gawain at http://www.livinglifefully.com “receiving and giving…are like inhaling and exhaling.  If you can’t inhale, soon you will have nothing to exhale.”

After reading the children’s book,  “The Giving Tree” I concluded that giving and not receiving is the path to becoming an old stump.  Giving and receiving is the path to gratitude and that is a very good place to be.  We can’t be grateful if we don’t embrace receiving.

Back to my birthday.  In the moment before I blew out the candles, I looked up and saw how happy everyone was.  All these happy givers.  I remembered what a wonderful feeling it is to give to someone else – giving a gift or giving praise or giving encouragement.  In a way, by being a grateful receiver, I am also giving a gift – the gift of that wonderful, happy, warm feeling we get when we see how happy we have made someone by giving to them.

I wished that I would have many more birthdays, filled with family, friends, cake, ice cream and presents.  That I would be a grateful receiver and allow others to be happy givers.

Then I blew out the candles.  Then we ate cake.  And I had the first piece.

Birthday Candles

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