I have always found myself rooting for the underdog, the poor and beaten down. Perhaps this is what attracted me to fundraising as a career.
Today I am the CEO of an agency that specializes in raising funds for many wonderful ministries. Together with more than 40 employees, I have the privilege of serving ministries that specialize in providing food, clothing, shelter, and the hope of the gospel to millions of people every year. I believe the Lord prepared me for this great work through allowing me to experience extreme poverty myself.
You see, my childhood was a tumultuous time for my family.
One of the many places I lived as a child was a 1200-acre ranch in the foothills of the mountains outside of Ellensburg, Washington. My dad managed the spread for a businessman who lived a hundred miles away in Seattle.
The ranch owner was not very communicative, especially when it came to payday.
It was getting close to Christmas. The mailbox had been empty lately, no checks from my dad’s employer. There was no mail except for bills, and hope was beginning to slide once again into despair.
“They won’t cut the power off will they Bus?” my mom asked. Buster is dad’s nickname from childhood, because he used to wear his hair like Buster Brown, the kid featured on the shoeboxes. Now he was bald with only a rim running around his head, so his nickname got shortened to Bus.
“I can’t imagine they would,” he responded. “It’d take a pretty cold-hearted *#%@#*% to shut power off on a man’s family in winter.”
This was something new for me to worry about. I had found I was doing that a lot as a 12-year-old boy. While we waited for the mailman to bring a check, I normally worried if we would have enough to eat and wear. Now I got to worry about freezing to death.
It was pretty grim when Christmas Eve arrived. We were sitting around quietly, only talking when we needed to like, “Pass the salt, please.”
Dad was sitting in his place at the kitchen table, cigarette burning in his right hand, his thumbnail of the same hand placed between his two front teeth. The smoke rose silently in front of his face. He was intently staring ahead into some place far away.
Mom was sitting at the kitchen table too, with my oldest sister Pam on one side of her and Lori on the other, looking through the clothing section of the Sears catalog. My little sister Mary was rocking in a small rocking chair near the table.
Six inches of new-fallen snow covered the ground, so we didn’t hear the station wagon pull in, up close to the house. For some reason, the dogs didn’t bark.
When the knock came on the door, we all jumped. I bounced out of my chair and dad said, in his deep, controlling tone, “I’ll get it!”
I couldn’t help it, I was way too curious to stay away. Who could be at our door, way out here in the country on Christmas Eve? I followed on the heels of my dad as he opened the front door.
There were a man and woman standing there, all bundled up against the cold. They were both holding boxes of what appeared to be food and toys. TOYS! “Merry Christmas and God bless you,” they said, handing the boxes to my dad and me. My father quietly expressed his thanks and they returned to their car and drove away.
Pandemonium broke out in our kitchen! Dad and Mom each set a box on the same red kitchen table that had, just two minutes before, been empty! My sisters and I all began looking back and forth from the food box to the toy box. I couldn’t decide which I liked better until someone, I think it was Lori, said, “Look, there’s a turkey in there!” All eyes shifted to the most beautiful word in the entire marketing world, “Butterball.”
Mom was looking the food box over now, taking mental inventory; every now and then she shot a quick glance at my dad. He had moved, standing back just a little and smoking another cigarette. His arms were folded and he looked both happy and irritated at the same time.
“OK, stop pawing the food!” he instructed. “Let Mom put it on the counter.” All of us kids looked up at him quickly, and immediately shifted our full attention to the box of toys.
The whole family then gathered as Dad sat down at his spot, sipped his coffee, and slowly pushed the box over to Mom. She was sitting by this time, and we all gathered around her as she handed out wrapped presents and larger, unwrapped toys to each of us. “Boy, 12,” Mom read on one of the present tags. “Girl, 6.” Mary squealed with delight! “Girl, 16,” and she placed a nicely wrapped present into Pam’s waiting hands. “Girl, 14,” for Lori. Two presents each: perfect! And two each for Mom and Dad!
The last unwrapped toy was a large, naked baby doll, which Mom proudly presented to Mary, who immediately grabbed her and began rocking it in her arms, stroking the baby’s rubber head.
The whole mood of the household had changed from worry and desperation into glorious celebration. Someone went over to the old record player and put on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s album, The Star Carol. It may have been me.
Later that evening, I heard my mom and dad talking in low tones.
“So you went behind my back and did what I told you not to do,” my dad said.
“Buster, we had to have something for the kids,” she said with uncharacteristic conviction.
“I guess it’s all right,” Dad said. “So that’s what you did when I went over to the liquor store?” he grumped.
“Yes,” Mom responded, “To the Salvation Army, to register for Christmas boxes.” I held my breath, waiting for my dad’s response. Then I heard a kiss. Relief washed over me…the most peaceful feeling, and I drifted off to sleep.