The other night I was out to dinner with my client and business partner. While enjoying getting together and talking about business, the topic of mission trips came up. My client had been on many mission trips through his church and loved them. My business partner and I recently went on a mission trip to Uganda and it was life changing. This lead us to discussing how wonderful giving back truly is. We all agreed that it was a much better feeling to give than it is to receive. As we were reflecting on our trips, I questioned how I ever got into giving in the first place. My mom and my 5 year old self popped into my mind.
I had not thought about this for over 30 years. I told them a story about my mom asking me if I wanted to go give gifts to children that would not be getting any this year for Christmas. I was a little confused because I always got presents from both Santa Clause and Hanukkah Harry. I asked her why Santa was not going to give them any. She said without out hesitating, “They are hiding and I don’t think Santa can find them.” My 5 year old inquisitive mind was not settling for that answer. “But why are they hiding?” I asked. “Why can’t Santa find them? Why, Why, Why?” After many unanswered why’s, we were off to the store to buy presents. However, there was a short stop on the way to the local church, in the little town of San Fernando, CA. I remember walking into the massive building and seeing rows and rows of seats leading to a small office with a nice lady sitting behind a desk. My mom said she wanted to help three families in need. The lady described the families and the ages of the children and my mom thought it was perfect!
Now we were off to the store. Well, not quite yet…first we went to the market to buy food…lot’s and lot’s of it. Cans and cans and cans of ham and chicken and tuna, bread, more bread and many other things that people could eat. I asked my mom, “Why are we bringing food, don’t they have food, I thought we were buying presents?” She said that it takes money to buy food and these families did not have very much money so when we give presents to the kids, we would also be giving presents to their mom’s and dads. “Okay, but can we go to the store now to buy presents?” I asked, with my mother’s money burning a hole in my pocket. We were on our way.
Now I was in my element! There were tons of toys, bikes, and clothes. My mom read off the names and ages of the children and one by one I got to go pick out the toys. Some were too expensive so my mom guided me to the right isle to pick out the perfect gifts. We were finally finished and off to deliver our gifts. As we approached what was supposed to be their houses, we started going down an alley. I asked, “Why are we here? Don’t they live in a house?” My mom said they live in garages. I was very confused. How could they live in a garage? Where is the bathroom or the TV or the KITCHEN? As we approached our first garage, it was getting late in the evening and the sun was almost down. I remember it being cold and dark. As we walked up to the garage, I could hear the sounds of people inside and I started to get a little scared. We walked to the side of the garage and knocked on the door. A woman answered and I heard my mom say the name of the church and she invited us in.
She did not speak English nor did the rest of the family. This was the first time I learned to communicate through my eyes and my smile. We brought in all the packages and the children, many my own age, started to get very excited. Their faces were beaming. While bundled up in blankets, they managed to jump out of their little indoor forts and accept the jackets and toys we brought. As the kid’s excitement grew, their mother started to cry. I did not understand why. My mom later told me those were tears of joy. She was very grateful that we were able to give her kids toys and family food. As we left the garage, I felt happy. I felt that I had been given all of those presents. I was perfectly satisfied with not taking any home because I knew, even at such a young age, that playing Santa was just as fun as the anticipation of Santa coming to my house.
Each year, as the time came closer to Christmas, I would start begging my mom to go to the church and get more names for our secret Santa delivery. I could not wait to do it again and again each year. What had my mom created! As the years went by and I grew older, I started doing my own secret giving. Things I never told anyone I was doing. I would feel fantastic. It was my gift to myself. What my mom had taught me about giving has followed me throughout my life.
As we finished our amazing dinner and I headed home, I started thinking about planning my next mission trip. I was experiencing the same feeling I did after my first secret Santa giving. I started to bawl. Those feelings of giving as a young boy were coming back and I realized just how much I missed my mom and my 5 year old self.