It all began with a discussion in Sunday School. The assignment was to participate in a study to determine if one could find true joy in giving without getting anything in return. Nothing. Nada. Period. No thank you, no smile of acknowledgement, no perception of who was the giver. The receiver of the gift could never know who the giver was.
Eleven-year-old Debra had wracked her brain for weeks before coming up with her own personal plan to test the theory, and since the school term was almost at a close, she did not have any time to waste. Her parents had already expressed deep disappointment of their only child’s reluctance to accompany them on the annual spreading of holiday cheer in the form of short, lively visits to out-of-town friends. Debra stood her ground, however, complaining about the long drive and the inconvenience of it all.
“But, Deb, honey, our Lord always demonstrated compassion for the less fortunate, even at His own expense,” Mama gently chided.
Papa held up his hand for silence, “I trust that one year will not taint our daughter’s soul, Mama. Perhaps a day of quiet reflection will help her balance her future priorities. Come now, our friends are expecting us.”
“They were expecting ALL of us,” she murmured beneath her breath--for Debra’s benefit only, since stubborn Papa would not admit to needing hearing aids.
Debra scurried about as soon as she observed the old jalopy turn off their dirt drive onto the bumpy, uneven tarred street that expanded through the outskirts of town.
Bowls, spoons, rolling pin, spatulas, pre-heated oven, cookie sheets, hot pads, waxed paper; flour, sifter, sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, eggs, vanilla extract; yellow, red, blue, green food coloring. Cookie cutters littered the opposite counter, shapes of Santa, a star, a Christmas tree, a wreath, a diamond, a bell, and of course, the gingerbread boy.
Debra was awed as the first snowflakes of the season began falling, cascading across the old kitchen window and gathering on the ground, forming a sparkling pristine blanket. She prayed as she spun her love into each cookie’s creation, that she could also spread her Father’s love into each recipient’s heart.
Four hours later, 48 large fragrant cookies in all shapes and colors and designs lay in rows. While she washed the dishes and straightened up the kitchen, she tried to think of receivers for the bounty, alternating frowns and smiles flitting across her expressive countenance as she further planned this espionage. Now, for the finishing touch. Taking tubes of writing frosting from their hiding place, she wrote the same message in icing on each cookie:
“Jesus loves YOU, and so do I! Happy Christmas!”
After waiting for the frosting to harden, Debra wrapped each cookie in a square of waxed paper, placing each one in a small brown lunch sack. And now the most challenging part of all was to label the packages with those whom she considered to be “unlovely”. There was the crotchety school bus driver, Mrs. Cistern. The hall janitor who was constantly blown spit wads at. The unshaven old man at their grocery store who mumbled incoherently; the mercantile manager who belittled everyone in her path; the long-suffering preacher’s wife, who was constantly criticized; the boy whose locker was next to hers, who smelled and who was regularly ridiculed; the harried mother of six whose husband couldn’t keep a job; the class snob who talked mean and superior whose boyfriend had been beating her. And, as Debra labeled the brown paper bags, she prayed for strength and wisdom to deliver them at just the right time and place and without being seen.
The following days between Thanksgiving and Christmas were full of celebration and joy. Debra’s parents received visits from distant relatives who brought platters of food, chatted, and thanked them for their faithfulness. Debra enjoyed it all, spending time and parties with her peers and family members and giving and receiving many presents. But the joy and fulfillment of just one of the 4 dozen “hidden” cookie gifts she was honored to see, made all the other expensive presents and joys as nothing. The day following the brown lunch sack delivery on the school bus driver’s seat, a miracle occurred. Grouchy Mrs. Cistern actually greeted and smiled at each of the children as they entered the school bus, and managed to drop each one off at their destination with a heart-felt
“Merry Christmas, child!”
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