I was standing before a judge, trembling inside and out, barely able to speak my plea. I was facing a charge that I new good and well I was guilty of. The evidence they had, I gave to them, accepting my sentence and the consequences for my actions. The details of that drunken quarrel, I’ll save to share with you another time, perhaps in a book, or in a conversation when we meet again. Or maybe not ever, as its behind me now, having let it go, making room for new. I will mention this however, that the incident that occurred between me and the woman whom I had loved years ago, was one that began the process of my heart being changed forever, overtime.
Five years ago, I was going from one aid oriented nonprofit to another, introducing myself as the Resident Elf in Bend, Oregon. Saving Grace and Mary’s Place are just two of those organizations that I stepped foot into. One provides resources for families affected by domestic violence, the other creates a safe exchange for children, between mom and dad, for those parents who are unable to be in the same room together.
I was sharing the Operation Elf Box mission with them; to create a brighter Christmas for children. It was my first year operating a ‘free toy store’ in downtown. I invited them to refer their clients, so those who needed a little extra love at Christmas could come by appointment and put Christmas together for their children.
That’s when I met Amy, she works at Mary’s Place. She had told me how their reduced budget eliminated their ability to host a monthly event they had held for a long time. They called it Moms Night, an evening for the mothers that they serve to come together and make some new mom friends.
I left there that day and came up with an idea, to throw a party for these deserving mothers, an event that I named, Celebrate.
After presenting the idea to Amy, and Laura who was across town at Saving Grace, we all agreed on a date just a few weeks from then during that first December.
I enlisted the help of a half dozen or more women from the community, friends I had made who were inspiring and had loving hearts. I asked them to be Elf Angels, to be the hostesses on this one night. My mom is one of the remarkable ladies that helps to make the event extra special for those who attend.
We don’t advertise Celebrate to the public, keeping its location top secret, our guests, some of which are in hiding, some exes still threatening them and their safety.
It’s taken new shape each each year, for the last five in a row, growing in attendance to about seventy five. I’ve always said its the icing on my Christmas cake; watching as everyone arrives to a sit down dinner, refreshments, live music, a guest speaker, a DJ, and Mr and Mrs Clause. And there’s a super stretched sleigh that transports the moms to and from.
While attending, Celebrate, our guests shop for their children, wrapping their gifts with the help of the Elf Angels. And before the night is over, we present each of these mothers with a gift bag that includes items contributed by local businesses and individual members of our community. I’ve even experienced women from outside of our area, getting themselves involved. My cousin, Mikie, she nits beautiful hats and scarves and places them in the mail from California to be included. It’s her way of spreading a little Christmas cheer.
Across town, on that same night, another celebration takes place. This one is for the children of these mothers. It’s an elf party! The kids load up on pizza and cookies and juice boxes. They craft and color and have a ball. Especially when the Clause’s show up in the limo to pay them a visit and find out what they want for Christmas.
Guilty and guilt, that’s what I was, and what I felt many years ago when I stood before that judge, watching as he lowered his gavel, closing out that period of my life and sending me off in a new direction, on a new mission.
Today, I think I know what love is, feeling it in my heart, learning by example, others who have loved me when I was hard to love. I have compassion for others now. I consider it a privilege to be able to honor these women who have endured more than most. I see now how Gods mercy and grace is threaded through this story, through all of it, and that’s a wonderful reason to come together and Celebrate.
Today I’m in Carabelle, Florida. Shoeless Jo and I rolled along a beautiful section of the coastline, arriving here just as the sun had gone down. A live band was cranking out some classic blues songs on an outdoor patio. I could hear them from a mile away. They invited me to jump on stage and sing a few. The late Robert Johnson song, Crossroads, who everyone has covered, including Clapton, seemed appropriate. I belted it out with all the soul I have in me.
The skies were clear and the humidity seemed to disappear as a fresh brisk breeze picked up. I walked down to the boat docks with Jo, found a shrimp boat that looked like a pirate might live on it, and set up camp there under the stars.