I inherited a huge boxful of angel ornaments from my aunt, who, before moving to Hawaii, decorated her entire house in nothing but angels for Christmas. Angel ornaments, angel lights, angel dishes… angel everything. She loved them. She loved them because they were cute, and precious, and feminine. I think she may still have a place for angels in her heart, but that place has been crowded out by the hibiscus, palm trees and Buddhist symbols she’s more into these days.
Fortunately, I benefited from her change and came into our marriage with plenty of angel ornaments to fill the giant fake tree my husband inherited when his parents downsized. And, I have my own special fondness for angels, although it has little to do with their “preciousness.”
I love angels on my Christmas tree because for six years, I was the blessed recipient of Prison Fellowship Ministries’ Angel Tree program. From age 12 to 18, I received a gift from a family who didn’t know me, on behalf of my dad, who was incarcerated. Let me be the first to tell you that as children of incarcerated parents go, I didn’t need Angel Tree. I was blessed to be raised by grandparents who could provide everything I needed and wanted, and I never lacked a thing. I knew how blessed I was, and I was grateful (as grateful as possible for a 13 year old, I’ll admit). But when I opened my first Angel Tree gifts, a pair of green, plaid flannel pajamas, snowboarding gloves and goggles, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It wasn’t because of the PJs, which I wore for 3 years, or the snowboarding gloves and goggles, which I used while learning my favorite winter activity. My grandparents told this family those items were on my list. My Angel Tree presents were the best presents my dad had ever given me. When he was out of prison, he was broke, or strung out, or simply unavailable. I got gifts my grandma bought with his name on them (not the same), or I got dumpster diving find (fun, but again, not the same). It was the “on behalf on your dad” part that got me. My dad had to be vulnerable. He had to ask someone for help and accept their charity. That’s a difficult thing to do, as an inmate. All he could do at Christmas was write me a Christmas message and hope I would get it.
I got a Christmas message, alright. The first five years, the same precious family drew my name. I am convinced, although I don’t know for sure, they also prayed for me, because I didn’t know Angel Tree was an evangelical organization, and I wasn’t a Christian until three years into it. My last year eligible, a Chinese church got my name. I received a beautiful silver bracelet from the sweetest family, and I got to tell them that I had become a Christian right smack in the middle of all the years I’d been receiving gifts.
Now, I call families and find out what the precious children want or need for Christmas. Then I get to deliver gifts, and sometimes I meet these kids who have dealt with having an incarcerated parent. It’s NO fun, let me tell you. But getting a Christmas gift from your mom or dad, who’s spending the best holiday in the world all alone, that’s the best feeling in the world. Nothing tops it, even now. My dad and I can talk about the gifts he “got” for me, and I see how pleased he is that he was able to do this small thing for me while he was locked up. I’ll never forget, and he’ll never forget.
If you’re so inclined, donate to Angel Tree to ensure no child goes without a gift from his or her parent. It’s more meaningful than I can convey.