Years ago there was a movie called the Gift of the Magi. The movie was based on a story about a poor young wife who sold her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch. In turn, the husband secretly sold his watch to buy hair combs for his wife’s long hair. We experienced the Gift of the Magi in a sense this Christmas at the Independent Living Center that is home to young adults between the ages of 18 and 23. Anyone who has contact with IL realizes quickly that we operate as a family, not an institution. We literally live together through normal days, holidays, sick days, celebrations, daily schedules, and crises in the middle of the night. We regularly welcome new members, often on their birthdays, and we receive frequent visits from those who have graduated from the program and wish to visit “home”. Our residents stay very busy preparing for their next chapter of their lives: purchasing cars, renting apartments, getting their education, working multiple jobs and serving in the military to save money during their limited stay in the IL Center. Like any large family, we are loud and have our speed bumps, but at the end of the day we strive to love and forgive. At least once a week I have to give this speech in my office, “We have a lot of people living together under one roof. We have many big personalities, opinions, and it’s okay to make a mistake. Please give some grace as it has
been given to you.”
This fall our residents completed their Christmas gift list which would be purchased by generous donors. After a big Thanksgiving dinner, we put up our Christmas tree. Soon thereafter, piles of gifts started showing up under the tree. Everyone knows that Santa does not come until Christmas Eve, even for the IL adult residents. Curious, I looked at the tags. The residents were spending their minimum wage paychecks buying gifts for each other. There were gifts to and from roommates, the same room mates who argue over who ate whose burritos. Also, the staff was spending their personal funds buying gifts for the residents. The following weekend, I was doing room inspections. I found in the residents’ bedrooms gifts from the residents to staff, the same staff who have to nag them to do chores and get up early. These piles of gifts signaled to me the residents feel the love in our often tough love. And the greatest of these is
love- 1 Cor 13:13. Christmas Eve morning, our Life Skills Specialist Ms. Liz decided to cook a big breakfast for everyone. When we finished eating, I was suddenly handed a dancing Snoopy stuffed animal by one of our 19 year old boys. Amidst a roar of laughter, the gift opening spontaneously began. Staff and residents handed each other a flurry of gifts. Our adult residents and staff acted like children again as they pleaded “Open my gift!” and “Oh, I love this, thank you!”. It was one of the most pure Christmas moments I have experienced in my life.
Laurie Brandes, Director, Independent Living Center
Heaven is a lot like a playground”, Jesus said, “ and unless you remember what it was like to be a child,
you won’t get in” – William Griffin