By: Ginny Luedeman
December 9, 2002
CS Sentinel

Christmas was coming - to the military base in North Carolina where my husband, our two young children, and I longed for the kind of holiday season we used to have back home on the West Coast. There, our children would have had grandparents to cuddle up with. Back home, we would have had a real family Christmas. That was at the top of our wish list. But how could that be possible when we were a whole continent away from “back home”?
Our hopes rose when we read an ad run by our local newspaper. The full-page announcement told about our community’s local government-run program connecting “under-privileged” senior citizens with a loving family for the holidays. The ad provided a list of seniors on welfare - “adoptive grandparents” they called them - to choose from.
This sounded perfect. Our longing must have actually been a prayer - and here it was being answered. We needed the love of a grandma, and some grandma out there needed a family like ours to make her feel loved and appreciated during this special time of the year.
We applied to the social service department in charge of the program, and within a short time we were accepted as a suitable adoptive family. We could hardly wait to meet our new “grandma,” Franny, and show her how loved she was. The agency gave us her address and a time to pick her up. We set out, eagerly, to make a difference in her life.
Her house sat at the end of a muddy road. As we stepped inside the old, musty, overheated little shack, I was spurred to an even greater desire to make Franny happy. I began to envision painting, rearranging, bringing in things to spruce up and decorate her home. And I had only just met this woman.
We collected donations from the members of our military unit and brought our new grandma some clothes and knickknacks - and took her out for a haircut and permanent. Franny basically lived on potatoes…and little else. So we took her lots of food. It made us sad to see the dismal conditions she lived in. But we were buoyed by the thought of our donations bringing more joy to her life.
Give, give, give - the more the better. Or so I thought.
We brought Franny over to tour festively decorated home a number of times for meals and never even noticed that she didn’t talk much and that she seemed to be a little dazed when she was in the midst of our buzzing family. When Franny was introduced to our military friends at a special holiday event, she hardly said a word. At last, it occurred to me that something was not quite right between us.
Toward the end of a full month of bringing what I believed was joy into what I thought of as “Franny’s needy life,” I finally got up the courage to sit down and listen to her. This wasn’t easy for me. I was having a wonderful time doing so much loving. And I was afraid of what she might say. I has been believing that if I gave her enough, maybe she would feel so loved and free that she would open up and give of herself. But she had just grown quieter. I asked her why. As I sat on the sofa looking into her soft blue eyes, I expected to hear her say anything but what she said. She gently told me that what she really wanted for the holidays was to be back home. She was sorry to hurt my feelings--but would I please take her back home?
Well, that was humbling…and eye-opening! I saw that I really hadn’t been loving this woman at all. I had completely missed the essence of who she was. In my zeal I hadn’t seen that she was the “grandmother” for her whole neighborhood. I hadn’t even noticed her gentleness and her patience with me. Nor had I appreciated her courage in standing on her character alone, instead of identifying herself with possessions. Sad to say, I had been believing that what I had to give was of greater importance than what she already had. My opinion of her lifestyle had blinded me to her wealth. Her treasures of sincerity, tenderness, and honesty had eluded me entirely.
As we drove down the old dirt road to take her back home, she told me that she had given most of our gifts to needy neighbors and that they were grateful. She said if I would like to give them more, they would appreciate it.
At last, I was beginning to learn something aobut this woman’s values. Franny loved her life. Why did I think I needed to fix it?
As I lay in bed that night in tears, I found it hard to forgive myself. I was learning a tough lesson about love. To love truly is to see in other people what God sees in them. Our loving Father-Mother God sees what is beautiful and wonderful about every one of us. We can see this goodness in each other as we develop our spiritual sense of love, and look at our sisters and brothers as God has created them.
Franny gave me a valuable lesson that Christmas is about loving--a gift I didn’t even know I needed, or wanted. And I’m sure she forgave me--that’s the kind of stuff she was made of. She gave me a lot more than I gave her.
My story is certainly not meant to belittle gift-giving and sharing during the holidays. I still love everything about Christmas--the glow on children’s faces, the twinkling lights, the happy sharing with those in need, the warm festivities, the waiting presents under the tree. But that gift from Franny, years ago, was about loving people most of all, loving the way God loves us. That gift was so much more than a seasonal memento--and even more than a Christmas memory.

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Ginny Luedeman


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