I Played My Best for Him

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:44

Like most of you, I love this time of the year.

I also love the music that so aptly gets me…and keeps me….in the Christmas spirit during the holidays.

I enjoy all of the classic Christmas songs, but this season there is now one song that stands out among the rest: “The Little Drummer Boy.”

We’ve all heard, and sung, “The Little Drummer Boy”, probably since we were about the age of the miniature musician featured in the song.  For me it always seemed more like a children’s song than a true meaningful song of worship during the Christmas season…..that is until the other night.

Last week I was playing music from my Christmas songs playlist – while driving home from my annual Christmas shopping spree for my charity foundation – when “The Little Drummer Boy” began to play softly.

That’s when it occurred to me for the very first time – “That’s my song…. that’s my story.”

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It was mid-evening on December 24, 2001.  The wind was unusually frosty…as it howled and swirled….and here I was, pulling up to a rundown apartment complex on the cities’ near eastside, attempting once again to make my final Christmas delivery.

It was the 18th year of existence for the Christian Outreach Foundation – a modest organization designed to purchase Christmas toys and clothes for underprivileged children

When I started COF – founded in 1983, shortly after I returned home from college – I had visions of it becoming a big deal, serving thousands of kids each year, all over central Indiana.

I was convinced that there would eventually be COF billboards, COF TV promos, and 18 wheel trucks displaying the COF logo, while hauling toys and clothes for needy children to satellite locations throughout Marion County.  There would eventually be corporate sponsors, donations from near and far, and year-round fundraisers.

COF was my baby, my creation, my brainstorm.  More importantly COF was my unique way of honoring the Lord in the clearly stated way that the Lord tells us to honor Him:

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  JOHN 21: 16

I had intended to `feed the Lord’s sheep’ in a big way every Christmas.  But here I was, some 18 years later, pulling up to an apartment complex on Christmas Eve, in one of the worse areas of town…..this time for my 3rd and final attempt.

COF had started with a bang.  I had the bright idea of conducting basketball tournaments to gather the proceeds to support the mission. And in 1983, after paying all of my expenses, I cleared $600 by doing so.

I was on my way!

In 1984 I decided that if I could net $600…and serve 12 underprivileged kids…..while holding one basketball tournament, then surely I could make $1,200 and serve 24 kids by holding two.

So the plan was put in motion to hold COF fundraising basketball tournaments in October and November, 1984.  But a funny thing happened on the way to unparalleled fundraising success.

The October tournament got off to a bad start, especially in the areas of securing teams and collecting entry fees.  But the worst was yet to come.

During the championship game that year a nasty brawl broke out.  So nasty that chairs and fist were flying at midcourt – violently enough that it resembled a barroom brawl scene from a bad late night western.

By the time order was restored, I was completely undone.  There would be no November tournament.  In fact, there would be no more future tournaments at all.  No billboards, no TV promos, no 18 wheelers hauling clothes and toys – no more COF.

After things finally settled down, I went out to the parking lot to regain my composure.  About that time one of my volunteer referees, John Coffey, came out to join me, and he soon spoke up.

“Wow man….that was quite an ugly scene in there.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again during the tournament next month.”

“There won’t be a tournament next month, John.”

“WHAT?…..WHY?”

“Man, I’m not putting myself through this stuff again.  I’m through with this.”

“THROUGH?  Man, let me tell you something.  If you were doing this for your own selfish gain you would never have a problem.  But Satan knows your purpose, and he will always try to discourage you.  But if you quit, Satan wins!”

I immediately knew John was absolutely right, and his words inspired and reinvigorated me.  Not just for that day, but for a lifetime.

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But now here I was, climbing the steps of an old eastside apartment building in subzero degree weather.  The elevator was not running, the staircase was outside – and to top it off – I had severely injured my right knee 2 days prior playing basketball.

This was my 3rd time limping my way up the 4 flights of stairs…dragging 3 giant bags of neatly wrapped toys and clothes for two faceless little girls.  The previous 2 times no one had answered the door.

Two days prior I had vowed that I wasn’t going back.  But now it was Christmas Eve….and the Christmas Day merriment of two little strangers hung in the balance.  “I’ll try it one last time.”

The basketball fundraising tournament concept had long since faded away.  Too many issues, too many obstacles, and too little in net profits.  But the voice of John Coffey would not allow me surrender my dream – “If you quit, Satan wins.”

Several years prior I had begun funding COF out of my own pocket, which meant that instead of serving thousands of children every year, like I once envisioned, I was lucky to serve 10 during any given Christmas season.

As I got to the top floor, and hobbled my way to the door, I wasn’t exactly in the Christmas spirit.  In fact, I was feeling much more likeThe Grinch than Old St. Nick.

I banged on the door – FBI-style – and waited.  No answer again.  “Ok, enough is enough!” 

But as I turned to start my painful journey back down the frigid staircase, I heard the door slowly open behind me.  As I turned back around, there stood two little girls – both clad in bright white pajamas – looking like two little angels from heaven.

“Um, hi girls, is your mommy home?”

“Yes sir!”

And with that the two little angels quickly disappeared, leaving the apartment door wide open.  A few minutes later a middle aged woman emerged, with the two little beauties peeping around her.

“Hi ma’am, I’m from COF.  I am here to deliver the Christmas gifts for the girls.”

“OH MY GOD, THANK YOU!” she shouted, as she extended her hands to receive the 3 bags full of gifts….with the 2 little girls gleefully helping her, their faces full of joy.

“You’re welcome ma’am, Merry Christmas”, I said as I turned to walk away.

As I painstakingly took a few shuffled steps toward the staircase I heard quiet little voices coming back from the apartment door.  As I turned, I once again saw two diminutive faces still peeping through the doorway.  One of them finally spoke up.

“Sir…. ummmm…..can you do us a favor?”

`A FAVOR!?’ I thought.  `What more do you want me to do?  I’ve already spent money I didn’t really have for these gifts, and I’ve already staggered my way up this frozen staircase 3 times to try to deliver them.’

But instead of reacting the way I was feeling, I simply replied, “Yes girls, what is it?”

The little girls looked sheepishly at one another, then the older one finally broke the silence.

“Ummm, would you let us give you a hug?”

Well, you can imagine how I felt – with each of those precious little creations hugging my legs, while warming my heart on that bitter cold night.  Suddenly it truly felt like Christmas Eve.  Afterwards my knee no longer throbbed as I headed down the stairs….but maybe that was because I was gliding instead of walking.

Those two little angels didn’t have much to offer me that night, to show their extreme appreciation.  But they gave me their best…all that they had…….and it was more than enough!

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I so desperately wanted the Christian Outreach Foundation to develop into something big.  I wanted it to serve thousands of kids every Christmas, making their Christmas dreams come true year after year.  It was going to be my gift offering to a recipient that was worthy of far more – each year on His birthday.  “If you love me, feed my sheep”

But in the end, through 32 years, all I have been able to offer my precious Lord and Savior is a modest number of gifts for the children of a few families in need each year…out of my personal, and somewhat meager, increase.

This realization….this disappointment….has somewhat haunted me since 1983, with me feeling `I have let you down Lord.’  But my entire perspective changed the other night…while intently listening to the lyrics of a popular Christmas song.

In the song, a youthful little drummer has only his talent to offer the newborn King.  But in the end, it wasn’t the size of the gift that mattered.  Near the end of the song the little drummer boy makes the key story-defining statement:

“I played my best for Him”

Hearing this the other night…as if hearing it for the very first time…I suddenly relaxed – as the pain and despair of the last 32 years slowly melted away.

“So did I…..I played my best for Him too!”

My Christmas charity foundation never took off like I hoped and anticipated….and at this point I suppose it never will.  And John Coffey was right: every year is a complete struggle to set aside funds, secure families to support, and find the time to shop, wrap, and deliver.

But at least during this holiday season it doesn’t really matter – I take comfort knowing that, when it comes to COF, I never quite played the symphony that I had rehearsed for, but I have played my best for Him…for 32 years!

Now I can only hope and pray that someday I’ll get the same end reaction from the King for my performance, as the little drummer boy did for his….

“Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum….”

That’s my song….that’s my story!