Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift of Giving by Lee McKenzie

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,
Lee

www.LeeMcKenzie.com
The Parent Trap, Harlequin Heartwarming, October 2014
“McKenzie takes a tired plot and turns it into a charming story.” 4 Stars (RT Book Reviews)

20 comments:

  1. My husband reminds me often that people come into our lives--even if just for a short time--for a reason.

    Lee, your post brought tears to my eyes. Your discussion with that young man--your belief and encouragement--may be what he needed to help him make the right choices going forward, and do something positive and meaningful with his talent.

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    1. Kate, thank you for sharing your husband's wisdom. He's exactly right. And I hope you're right about this young man shifting his life in a positive direction, not because of anything I said or did, but because he discovers the courage in himself to make those changes.

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    2. Ditto what Kate's husband said. Wonderful post.

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  2. What a wonderful gift. I think Kate's husband is right--you were both there for a reason. Thanks for sharing it!

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    1. You're welcome, Liz. It's been such fun putting together his gift pack of art supplies, and I confess to getting a little carried away. Had to keep reminding myself that for now he's living out a backpack.

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  3. How wonderful that this young man had a way to escape into his art. And how ideal that you can use your talents in writing to bring these homeless individuals some assistance. A very inspiring post. Have a wonderful Christmas.

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    1. Thank you, Marion! Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, too!

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  4. Lee, I'm sure you have made a difference in that young man's life. You've given him the best gift of all--hope. He will cherish the art supplies, and maybe one day be self sufficient in his work.

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    1. That's my wish for him, Roz. Dignity and self-respect to go along with the courage he already has.

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  5. Lee, what a wonderful story to share! Sometimes knowing that someone else believes in you is the greatest gift in the world. That's what you've done for this man, in addition to the more practical gift of art supplies(:

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  6. Wow, Lee! Good for you. As someone married to an artist, I can appreciate how hard that young man must have worked and how determined he must be to have sustained that gift when everything else was against him. Let's heap praise on Kate's husband. You were put there that day to do just what you did - what we should all be doing all the time - share our hope and faith in each other. And now you have that gift from him that will undoubtedly keep you going in times of crisis. Great. Christmas as it should be!

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  7. Well said, Muriel! Merry Christmas!

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  8. Loved this, Lee! Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy, fun and safe Christmas!

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  9. This is lovely, Lee! Thanks so much for posting. Happy holidays :)

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  10. You inspire me, and I'm sure you did that young man. Here's hoping doors will open for him and he can showcase that talent.

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    1. What a lovely thing to say, Patricia. Thank you so much! Merry Christmas!

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