Celebrating light coming into the world is a central theme of Christmas. And yet, so much of what we hear on the news and end up focusing on with others, is very dark. There’s that girl who went missing in Aruba 2 1/2 years ago. Then there’s that cop who is suspected of killing his last two wives. Yesterday it was the mall shooting in Omaha. In the Pacific Northwest, we’re just coming away from a storm that devastated many coastal areas. But today, the skies are brightening so Figgins and I determined to turn our attention to more uplifting events.
I started by asking Figgins if he was familiar with one of my favorite projects, that gets more exposure this time of the year … Angel Tree, a part of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM). Although Figgins does not have a criminal record, I know he has spent some time behind bars so I was a bit surprised that he knew nothing of Angel Tree. However, I’ve come to recognize that, for the most part, even those who are aware of Angel Tree, have a fairly shallow understanding of the program so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Anyway, you could tell, just by the look on his face, that Figgins was anxious to know more about Angel Tree and I suspected that a discussion along these lines could be just the right thing to lift our spirits today so I determined to share my views on the topic.
Most folks, who have some awareness of Angel Tree, would probably describe it this way: (1) Some sponsoring (typically, faith-based) organization puts up a Christmas Tree decorated with angel silhouettes, (2) Each silhouette displays the name of a needy child, along with an item the child needs, (3) Someone in the sponsoring organization purchases the needed item & the needy child gets it, as a Christmas gift. When you think about it, just that is uplifting, especially in contrast to many events going on around us. However, there are many more dimensions to Angel Tree. In order to begin to grasp this, its important to know that the needy children involved are the children of imprisoned parents. Beyond that, you need to understand the key reason the parents are imprisoned.
Of course, prisoners end up being imprisoned for many reasons. That is, if you consider the illegal acts they’ve committed to be the reasons for their imprisonment. At the bottom of it all, though, there is one common reason … self-centeredness. This can be applied in numerous ways but, in this context … an imprisoned parent and a needy child … its pretty plain. You have an adult who was only thinking of themselves and a child who wasn’t being thought of at all. Enter PFM with the dimensions of Angel Tree.
Earlier I mentioned angel silhouettes that display the name of a needy child and an item they need. These don’t just come from some list generated by the Department of Corrections. It begins with a first step that is a not-so-obvious dimension … the imprisoned parent takes the initiative to contact PFM, letting them know about their child and what the child needs. The next dimensions are the more obvious ones I mentioned earlier … a charitable individual purchases the needed item and the needy child gets it, as a Christmas present. But there are some great dimensions beyond that. The needy child doesn’t get the needed item as a Christmas gift from the charitable person, they get it as a Christmas gift from their imprisoned parent.
With that, I said to Figgins, “Isn’t that neat?! This isn’t just a matter of Christmas gifts finding their way into the hands of needy children. Its countless, unhealthy dimensions of our society being made well. Look at all the dimensions of needs that this fills!
- The imprisoned parent gets to start forming the habit of being other-centered, instead of being self-centered.
- The charitable person gets to serve and to continue developing their servant’s heart.
- The child’s need gets filled … especially, their need to be loved … most importantly, their need to be loved by their parent.
You see, Figgins, that is why I find PFM’s Angel Tree to be so uplifting. Its a great example of why we celebrate Christmas. Its central theme is light coming into the world and you know, all you really have to do to get rid of the darkness is to turn on the light.”
You could tell that our discussion warmed Figgins’ heart. I suspect it was that, along with the expenditure of energy, from our earlier walk, that had him fully relaxed. Without further discussion, he curled up on the over-sized recliner, behind me in my office and drifted off to sleep. No doubt, as he drifted off, he was relishing our most recent rewarding discussion and looking forward to the next. Me too.