Everyone who knows me knows that I love Christmas! I love getting the house all glammed up for the holiday, preparing menus for all the meals I cook for my family, planning tablescapes for each of those meals...it just doesn’t get any better. The presents are fun, too, but the best gift of all is having my family gather in the dining room. I also volunteer with Homeless Partners, and this year I received an early Christmas present that I will cherish forever.
The homeless are more than just a statistic; each has his or her own story. To recognize that, volunteers for this program visit local shelters to meet homeless people and record their stories and Christmas wish lists, which are then uploaded to the Homeless Partners website where the public can read them and pledge gifts.
The pledges are personal items that the homeless recipients have requested, and as you might imagine, even a small gift can make a big impact. Homeless Partners can help bridge the gap between people like us and those who are less fortunate, helping us to show them someone cares and perhaps even help them step out of the cycle of homelessness.
Several weeks ago I spent an afternoon at a shelter in my city, where I meet with people and write up their bios for the website. I also pledge Christmas gifts for several homeless people and my daughter and I have great fun shopping for them, especially for the mothers and grandmother who have asked for gifts for their children or grandchildren.
This year I also had the privilege of interviewing a young man who changed my life. He had been in six foster homes by the age of four, then went into long-term foster care. It wasn't good. He said, "When you've been beaten and abused for eleven years, it's hard to turn your life around." He's now twenty-six, spent part of his teen years in a group home, has been in juvenile detention and incarcerated as an adult, and struggles with addiction.
To that point in our interview, I didn't feel as though we were connecting so I asked if he had any special interests or if there were things he would like to do if he had the resources. He told me he liked to draw, and then he opened his backpack and produced a set of designs he created while in prison—designs he hopes will someday lead to having his own business. I was in awe! He also showed me numerous drawings he'd done on bits of paper and salvaged cardboard before launching into an animated and eloquent discussion about the injustices in our society.
I was so moved that I reached out and put my hand on his arm. I told him I was saddened by the things that had happened to him as a foster child and an inmate. Then I told him that I believed the artist and social justice advocate who had come to life during our conversation is who he really is, and that his purpose in life is in his art, and in his heart.
We ended up having a long conversation, and then three consecutive hugs after the facilitator reminded me that I still had other people to interview. Then he pulled out the most impressive of his drawings, cradled it in his palms for a few seconds, and gave it to me. He said ever since he'd drawn it, he knew he had to give it to someone. That someone was me. It's an intricate design on a three-inch square of piece of pizza-box cardboard, and in the middle there’s an abstract heart with the word "love" in its centre. I have to tell you, I wept. And I'm having the piece framed because it's worthy, and because it will always be a poignant reminder of that afternoon. For his gift, I've pledged the art supplies on his Christmas wish list.
Part of me wishes I could do more. I've never been in foster care, in prison, abused...and I have no idea whether or not I’ve made a difference in this young man's life...but he certainly made a difference in mine.
Do you have a “heartwarming” memory about a special Christmas gift you’d like to share? Or maybe a unique person who came into your life during the holidays? Or maybe you’d just like to drop by and say, “Merry Christmas!” I hope you will because I’ll be drawing two names from the commenters on this post and offering a copy of my most recent book, The Parent Trap, or one of my backlist books. Your choice!
For all of you and your families and loved ones, I wish you peace and happiness and love and a very merry Christmas.
Until next time,
The Parent Trap, Harlequin Heartwarming, October 2014
“McKenzie takes a tired plot and turns it into a charming story.” 4 Stars (RT Book Reviews)