A Reminder That Beauty and Brokenness Are Often Wrapped in the Same Package

You know that magical feeling that tends to be in the air during Christmastime? The feeling that softens your heart and nudges you to care for and serve your neighbors? Most of us feel it. In fact, it’s what led Adrienne Heller to His Toy Store. That, and having joined a community group through her church, Redeemer Downtown.

This year will be Adrienne’s fourth volunteering with His Toy Store, and her second serving at our Lower East Side location, hosted at The Father’s Heart. We asked Adrienne to tell us about her experience—what she’s learned from serving, why she keeps coming back, and how she’s seen God moving in and through His Toy Store.

How has serving at His Toy Store helped shape your view of the city? Or the gospel?

Every year, His Toy Store has, without fail, broken my heart and cobbled it back together in a way that's better than before. It continuously reminds me that this city is a wild, thriving, hurting place where beauty and brokenness are often wrapped up in the same package.

It has taught me that every single person is my neighbor and that I need to be proactive in opening my heart up to whoever crosses my path, regardless of whether they are tough to love or different. We're all human, all made in God's image, and all bearing a hurt larger than we can imagine.

His Toy Store reminds me that in this city, we are all in this together and as a Christian, I am called to lay down my life even (and especially) when it's uncomfortable or inconvenient.

What's special about His Toy Store as an outreach effort in NYC?

His Toy Store is special for the obvious reasons—it spreads hope to families. It lets parents, who might not be otherwise able to, give their kids a gift at Christmas. It draws the community together and connects those who may not naturally gravitate toward one another—or may never have had a reason to be in the same place at the same time.

It also humbles the socks off of those serving. Entire families come in. You don't just meet the parents who are shopping, but you get to meet the kids, too. You don't get to stay on the sideline uninvested. If you allow yourself to be, you're immediately tossed into this very personal, intimate, messy experience with people who were strangers a few minutes ago. Your heart is softened with every interaction.

It's special because it happens at a time of year when our hearts should be focused on the God, who entered into humanity in utter squalor and poverty. He didn't even have a place to lay His head. We should be focused on that, but it's so easy to get distracted from that truth.

His Toy Store doesn't let you get take your eyes off the Cross. If you open your heart, this outreach will remind you that Jesus broke into this world with nothing and yet He still gave everything. How much more, then, should we who have much be giving?

 What’s the greatest thing you’ve learned through His Toy Store?

The greatest thing I've learned over and over is that Jesus came for us all. I shouldn't give myself a free pass from serving because it doesn't fit into my schedule or I can't find the right place to volunteer or it makes me a tad uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons. I need to serve my neighbors just as much as they need to be served.

How have you seen God moving through His Toy Store?

Last year, I saw God moving in the team of volunteers I had the pleasure of serving alongside. This event crushes the New York social norm of last-minute canceling on plans. Everyone showed up. Everyone baked their hearts out or stopped by the grocery store to grab a treat to share. Everyone was more than willing to do everything. It really blew me away. It was pretty contagious.

I just saw God moving in every person who showed up—they put aside their own lives and served wholeheartedly. That kind of event makes you want to do the same over and over and over. It's a picture of how we should be living amongst each other every day.

Adrienne volunteering at His Toy Store in 2015.