It must have been a gritty test of fate, standing by the shores of the lake, noon sun pulling sweat from pores, thousands of grumpy dads, tired moms, restless kids. And then, the kicker. A peek into the picnic basket. Nothing. Or next to it, considering that the two fish and five loaves of freshly baked bread could feed maybe the first three families in line, leaving nothing but crumbs and the ghosts of crumbs for the grumpy, tired, restless horde queuing up behind. So is the miracle that Jesus managed to make that two and five feed five thousand, or is the miracle that the crumbs, crusts, and fragments left over from the crowd’s lunch filled twelve baskets?
I found myself thinking of this inexplicable multiplication problem and the solid “F” I would have earned in my math teacher’s grade book had I produced: (2+5) / 5000 = 12. Yet this is exactly the kind of crazy miracle so many of us need during the Christmas season. Something to combat the gritty tests of faith in life. Something to blow us away with how the leftovers (imagine that!) surpass the original offering.
One quarter, one dime, and two pennies is all Little Friend had to offer. A paltry $0.37 that wouldn’t even buy one fish, let alone two. She’s suddenly gotten wise to the whole money thing–good things appear in the hands of shop clerks. Good things that can be hoarded away in a pink piggy bank. The clerk at Sam’s Club that afternoon had conjured up the quarter, dime, and pennies, and Little Friend clutched those coins like she had won the lottery. Which I guess she had. For a two year old.
And I knew that my daughter, with the tenacity of a particularly pernicious bulldog, would indeed continue to clutch her quarter, dime, and pennies all the way home to that piggy bank. But I’m a semi-retired teacher with no current students to instruct, so Little Friend takes the brunt of my unquenchable urge to teach. This, as they say, was a teachable moment. On our way into the Sam’s Club, we had passed the red kettle-ringing bell of the Salvation Army, and in a few short minutes we’d be passing them on our way out.
The conversation started something like this:
Me: “Oh my goodness, you have so much money!”
Little Friend: “Yeah!”
Me: “What in the world are you going to do with all that money?”
Little Friend: “Huh?!”
Me: “Would you like some ideas about what other little girls do with their money?”
Little Friend: “Yeah!”
Me: “Well, some little girls put their money in piggy banks. Some little girls trade their money at the store for things. Some little girls put their money in a red kettle to help other people.”
Little Friend: “Huh?”
We repeated the conversation about seven times. Little Friend was apparently very interested in knowing what other little girls did with their money.
It’s not hard to see where I was going with this scenario, but as much as I was clearly longing for Little Friend to choose the latter, I figured it was her money and only fair that she, like the rest of us, got to make her decision, good or poor, on where to spend it.
The coins stayed clutched in her sweaty palm as we neared the door of the store.
The coins stayed clutched in her sweaty palm as I (slowly) walked past the red kettle and made a (somewhat big) show of putting my own dollar bill in the slot.
The coins stayed clutched in her sweaty palm as I buckled her into the car seat.
I assumed the $0.37 was destined to feed the maw of the piggy bank. And I was okay with her choice.
But then, as I began to pull out of the parking lot, I heard one key word from the back seat: “Reeeeeed.”
With that, I whipped the car around, unbuckled her from the car seat, hauled her back to the kettle-bell combo and watched with heart nearly bursting (take that, Grinch!) as she carefully pushed each coin into the slot of the kettle.
Is $0.37 enough? It barely buys a pack of gum today. How will it ever purchase a warm winter coat, feed a hungry family, fix a broken marriage, repair the wounds of a parent’s abuse, pay off holiday credit card debt, keep a house from foreclosure? The answer is simple. It’s just not enough. Not by a long shot.
Unless we have some other reason to hope that Jesus is still out there performing a miracle he’s remarkably good at: taking what we can give—our personal equivalent of one quarter, one dime, and two pennies—and spreading it around so that somehow, inexplicably, we all get enough and still have enough left over to fill a dozen baskets.
So this Christmas season, I’m emptying my pockets. If Little Friend can do it, then so can I.
If Little Friend has inspired you too, here are three great (and easy) Holiday Giving ideas I’ve borrowed from friends and relatives.
At the beginning of kettle ringing season, collect a pile of one dollar bills, and every time you pass a Salvation Army kettle, distribute one bill to each member of your party to place in the Salvation Army kettle. The Salvation Army also accepts donations online.
As an alternate giving idea, consider browsing Heifer International’s Gift Catalog. This organization helps families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant. We enjoy “shopping” in the catalog each year for an animal to gift in honor of our friends and loved ones and then thinking throughout the year how that animal is providing food, income, and training to a deserving family in need.
Each year, my extended family gets together around Christmas to help others. Our projects can be as simple as collecting canned goods and clothing for a family in need or volunteering to serve Christmas Eve dinner at a local homeless shelter. The point is to work together and focus on the real reason for the season, Jesus’s sacrifice for us, and to pass on the blessing to others. In addition to getting excited about baking cookies and wrapping presents, we look forward to brainstorming ideas for our family service project. In Pittsburgh, a great resource for volunteering needs is Pittsburgh Cares.