On Friday afternoon around 2pm, I received a call from Lydia and Natalie's school asking that I come retrieve the money that had been raised during the week for our sweet little orphan with Down Syndrome, Carlene, who is living in Russia.
Since Fridays are my cleaning days, I quickly took inventory of my disheveled body and noted I was definitely not prepared to make a run to the school....and then I looked at Hope and Charlie who were still in their jammies....and unfortunately saw they looked more of a mess than me. Since the school is a five minute drive from my house, I had approximately 15 minutes to get the three of us together and out the door before the school closed for the weekend; they were not taking "no" for an answer:
"We do not want to be responsible for all of this cash over the weekend; I am sure you understand. And we feel it would be too dangerous to send this much money home with Lydia and Natalie on the bus," was their final answer. Teachers trump Mom.
Have you ever seen a tornado rip through a town? Well that is sort of what Hope and Charlie saw coming at them when I hung up the phone. I ripped off Charlie's feetie jams and Hope's Elmo P.J.s in one fell swoop before they even had time to process what was happening to them....within seconds they were fully naked and then fully dressed. Equally as fast, I decorated my face, brushed my hair, and made my best attempt to give my hair a "fixed" looked with a few squirts of "White Rain" (every southern girl's secret)......I then tore out the door as M.O.A.M. (Mom on a mission).
Thankfully I arrived with enough time to walk into the school at a leisurely pace, pretending, of course, that I had been relaxing at home when they called....prepared for this visit all day long. When the school administrator left to get the bundled money, a teacher entered the room wearing a "Carly Bell" necklace around her neck.
The "Carly Bell" necklaces have been a successful fundraiser. They are easy and inexpensive to make, and students seem to love them. Lydia and Natalie came up with the idea and wrote the following to their school principal a couple of weeks ago:
Dear Dr. Staggs:
Here is a plan to raise money for Carlene, and we hope you like it. We have made over a hundred jingle bell necklaces. They cost almost $2.00 to make, so we are going to sell them for $3.00 each. We thought we would call this the Carly-Bell Project. Hopefully each time the bell jingles around the kids' necks, they will think of Carlene and be grateful for all the blessings we have been given because we live in the United States of America and hopefully it will make us more mindful of people who are less fortunate. Especially at this time of year. We hope you love this idea.
Lydia and Natalie Hollis
When the teacher entered the office wearing the official "Carly Bell" necklace, I could not help but smile. A little forgotten girl, thousands of miles across the world, was being honored today by this teacher and by a whole school full of fifth and sixth grade students in America.
"I like your necklace," I giggled.
She grabbed the silver bell hanging around her neck: "This has been a wonderful project for our school, and we are all so thankful Lydia and Natalie came up with the idea. All of the students seem very excited about helping an orphan," she replied, "and let me tell you something else......" she paused for a second and took a few steps closer to me to speak quietly as she shared with me one of the most wonderful Christmas stories of this season:
"I have a little girl in my class whose family has nothing; literally, they have nothing. This morning, this little girl came to me with $9.00 to purchase three Carly-Bell necklaces. I was shocked, because $9.00 for her family is alot of money....money needed for essentials like food and heat. She said something about wanting to help the little orphan when she handed me the money, and as I walked to the office to purchase her necklaces, I admit I was confused about why her family would allow her to do this. Throughout the day, I realized Carlene's story has touched this little girl. Perhaps for the first time in her entire life, Carlene has given this little girl an opportunity to reach out and help someone who is even more less fortunate than her. There was such joy on her face as she handed me the money for those bells. It wasn't about the bells for her at all, however, it was about her having the chance to reach out to help another little girl in need." she finished the story and turned to leave with a "Hope you have a Merry Christmas and I hope Carlene finds a family very soon!"
I took the money from the school and added it to our ziploc bag when I returned home. The bag in our house is loaded with $20, $10, $5, and $1 bills. I counted it this morning, and so far it contains nearly $2,000.00 raised for Carlene from bake sales, the Carly-Bell Project, Babysitting, a plea to Chappy's co-workers, etc. As I placed the wad of cash in the bag, I thought of the wealthy folks all around us who could write a check for $20,000.00 and save Carlene's life with the simple stroke of a pen without it impacting their lifestyle at all....I thought of other folks who could agree to forgo eating out for a week and give the $100.00 savings toward saving Carlene....yes, I was reminded, for most of us, giving is not a sacrifice at all. It is a choice.
For this little mystery student at Freedom Intermediate School in the small town of Franklin, TN, however, giving was a sacrifice....the fact is, she gave more than she had to give. And as she walks down the halls with those bells jingling around her neck, I can't help but believe those bells are being heard throughout the heavenlies as a reminder of a heart that truly pleases God. Her gift certainly opened my heart toward God.
"Can I see another's woe; and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief, and not seek for kind relief?" ( poem: "On Another's Sorrow" by William Blake)
Digging deeper than the little girl's gift, interwoven beautifully, is the familiar story of the Widow's Mite (Luke 21:1-6). Most people see the story as a measure of giving and the widow's heart to willingly give all she had; however, the story is actually much deeper in my opinion. The Pharisees of that day (church leaders) were so preoccupied with the beauty of the temple and with religiosity, they were guilty of completely missing God's heart. They had gotten so caught up in mistakenly believing their beautiful temple symbolized success with God, they missed opportunities that were slapping them in the face. If the Pharisees had been busier pouring money lavishly upon the poor and needy instead of their place of worship and all the trappings therein, the widow wouldn't have been so poor and needy. Luke 21:5-6 is very telling: "Some of the disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down." Jesus' point: These monuments are meaningless to Me! I care about my children!
So I am left with the little mystery girl who gave all she had to give to Carlene. What will I do? That is God's question for me. Will I go about my business telling others about this little girl's wonderful heart and do nothing for her? Will I sit in my heated home with a full refrigerator of food and my knowledge of another in my community who is in need and do nothing?
When God left glory on high to live among us, He literally came alongside us. It was never a "Me" and "Them" scenario to Jesus at all....It was an "Us". And if we seek to honor the Lord and love Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds, then we are to come alongside our neighbors just as Jesus did when He came to earth. God has an unusual way of waking us out of our spiritual slumber when we are simply willing to "see"....the irony of ironies is this: while I was rushing to make myself "presentable" on Friday afternoon, God was more interested in making my heart more presentable for Him. To the Creator of the Universe, my outside appearance is just as valuable as the beautiful stones used to make the temple of old....some day it will all be rubble. God is more interested in things that have eternal significance. Our hearts.
"He doth give His joy to all; He becomes an infant small. He becomes a man of woe; He doth feel the sorrow too." (Blake's Poem: "On Another's Sorrow")
As He did this for us, we are to go and do likewise!!! And that is what Christmas is all about.....
If you would like be a part of giving Carlene a home for Christmas, click on this link to make your tax deductible gift via paypal: http://reecesrainbow.org/Carlene-gypf