Monday, December 2, 2013

A Different kind of Christmas

       Last year's Christmas was one of the most wonderful seasons in the nearly 10 years that my wife and I have been married.  For each of the previous Christmases, I'd find myself more excited for it to all be over than for the day to actually come and be celebrated.  I see the Christmas season as being riddled with busyness, obligatory social events, and as an annual excuse to fall behind on the tremendous progress we're making toward becoming debt free.  I abhor busy seemingly selfish shoppers slipping around from one slushy storefront to the next.  I always struggle to find where there is room for Jesus in all the song and dance and the parades of materialism and gluttony.  
        Merry Christmas right!  What an uplifting story to read as you're perhaps taking a break from decorating, or baking cookies, or perhaps cramming for your finals, or just trying to stay warm.  Well there is good news.  For the previous 3 years LeeAnn and I would end the Christmas season with questions of how we could make things better.  How do we invite Jesus into our season of celebration?  How can we allow my parents, who are not well off financially, still show us love without just receiving an insane amount of stuff we'd be unlikely to use?  Why would we all go into debt to buy things that we may or may not want, need, or even be able to use?  Though no one in my family is wealthy, we all manage to get by and are fortunately committed to lives of relative simplicity.  So how do we reconcile, simplicity with culturally encouraged materialism?  How do we let my parents show us they love us, but not go into debt to do so?  
       We had tried the, draw-names-out-of-a-hat-and-buy-for-someone-within-a-modest-limit-approach; but that quickly became either a gift card exchange, or $25 of stuff we really couldn't use.  "It's the thought that counts," or "well its just a little something to let you know I was thinking of you," were justifications for that process, but come on, if I'm honest, "I know you were thinking of me, you were planning to come to my house for dinner for the last month.  I know you didn't forget about me."
      So last year was a perfect Christmas.  We all took the money we would have spent on each other, to buy something that I likely would have bought myself later, or something I would have eventually donated or eaten, and spent the money as a family at KIVA International, which is a micro lending non-profit organization.  We don't donate, we loan.  Our money is paid back which we can then turn into more "hand ups."
      I narrowed the 5,000 current loans down to three families that we then discussed at dinner to see where we were being led to donate.  My parents, brother, sister-in-law, wife and as much as a 3 year old niece and 10 month old nephew were all part of the process. (learning from a young age the joys, of giving to people we don't know).  We decided to donate to Jose from Boliva who needed seeds to plant his plot of land, and Estrella from the Philippines, who needed canned goods to stock her store.  Jose, has already repaid his full loan, and Estrella is 57% paid.  Throughout the year as these repayments are made we are able to bless others.  Since last Christmas we also donated, only from the returned investments, to Demba Saido from Senegal, who needed cement to build his own house (25% repaid) and most recently Diana from Georgia (7%) who needed supplies for her own store.  
      A $200 donation that would have been spent on ourselves, has turned into $450 in less than one year, and has blessed four communities on four continents.  That is over a 100% return on our investment, and this year we'll simply add more to it.  All of this money goes to help the least of these.  Folks who have ambition, and drive and want to improve their position, and their family's in this world are blessed by this loan, and it essentially cost me a mediocre dinner at Applebee's, or a pair of slippers.      The potential impact of this money, if nothing were added to it is astonishing for them, but for my whole family it is exciting to see what we've been able to do, and how we've been able to help.  This has become one of our Christmas traditions, and something we're proud to be a part of.  I get to avoid the things that distract me from Jesus this time of year, my family gets to be meaningfully generous, and we continue to be committed to the things that we love and cherish.  

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