I am reposting this for Christmas. I wrote it five years ago and was reminded of the story by a friend. I hope your Christmas is filled with the joy that comes from helping others, the ability) to find and count your blessings (though they're sometimes buried among the pain and struggle of life), and the hope that came into this world through the sacrificial love of the One who breathed life into us all and calls us to Himself. Merry Christmas.
I don't think I can top the Bumpkiss' dogs or the fish-net leg lamp. I can identify with Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" when he has to suck on a bar of Lifeboy soap. I became a regular connoisseur of the latest "on-sale" bar soap when I was a kid. Lux, Lifeboy, Dial, Ivory. Apparently getting cleaned from the inside out was the way to approach child rearing. Maybe it was a chaser for the bleach I accidentally drank from a Ball canning jar several years earlier. My heart may have its stains but my intestines are clean as a whistle.
It was during this same period my Christmas story takes place. It wasn't humorous but it was definitely happy. I remembered it today when the kids and I were part of the follow-up team for handing out Christmas food and gifts for the company Jamie works for. We volunteered for the privilege because who doesn't want to be part of that kind of Christmas cheer? Of course, I groused about schedule logistics (note last blog) even though I truly, truly wanted to do it. I mean really, WHAT is my DEAL?!
We drove across town to the warehouse, picked up seven boxes of groceries and a few toys, and headed to the home of a single mother with lots of children. The neighborhood was down-trodden but several neighbors stood against the blight with cheery light displays and decorations.
The home sat on a quiet corner, surrounded by a chain link fence. A chewed rope hung limply from a metal pole advertising a dog no longer tethered there. I walked up and tapped lightly, feeling slightly awkward and apologetic. The door creaked open and out peeked little shining faces, obviously excited to see strangers bearing gifts. A teenage son arrived home just in time to help unload the car and serve as translator. His mother spoke only Spanish and I spoke only English. He stared at us through dark-lashed eyes that were guarded with a mixture of suspicion and embarrassment. He couldn't have been much older than my son. I wondered if he would have felt much the same in a similar situation. I sensed his gratitude but also felt the sting that charity might bring to a young man. He quietly complied with my request to let his mother know I had been on the receiving end of a Christmas delivery when I was child. I suppose I wanted her to realize (and him to understand even more) that I knew how it felt on both sides and it was a blessing to give back. Her shy smile showed her appreciation, and discomfort as well. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
I wanted to share my own story with them but I couldn't invade their emotional space. He needed me to leave; she needed me to leave; and they couldn't have been more quietly gracious about it. I drove away remembering a Christmas that wouldn't have happened but for the intervention of friends and strangers.
I was ten and my sister and brother several years older. It had been a year of great upheaval. Well, come to think of it, I guess all of our years were years of great upheaval but this one came with even less money. My mother had just landed a good job but found out right before Christmas there would be no paycheck. It was a government job and the policy was to withhold the first check to be used for future severance pay.
The morning of Christmas Eve arrived but there was no sign of Christmas at our house. We had often gotten our tree on Christmas Eve because they were rock-bottom priced then. But on this day there was no discussion of a trip to the tree lot. The pantry was pretty bare and there hadn't been any talk of presents except to say there wouldn't be any. I don't remember being worried that we would eat beans for our Holiday dinner, but I do recall wondering afterwards what the menu would have been.
I think, on that day, I must have been in that beautiful place children live in their minds; the place that helps them believe everything will be alright somehow; the place where magical thinking rules and reality doesn't have a prayer. And it was in that moment that a knock came to the door. My sister and I opened it and saw our mother's friend, "Aunt" Fran. She had her husband with her and much more importantly, to our minds, the most beautiful white-flocked Christmas tree in tow. Now, our trees had been pretty much the bargain variety and we had never entertained the idea of a tree this grand. This was purview of the rich; the domain of the entitled. We were suddenly and at once part of this club of exclusivity! Aunt Fran was the prosperous owner of a nursery school that was much in demand. It was always immaculate and beautifully appointed. Each year, at the school, she prominently displayed her faith in God and her exquisite tree. It would normally have remained up through the New Year but this year she and "Uncle" Austin dismantled it and brought it to our house, along with the ornaments.
We had barely begun redecorating the tree when there was another sound at the door. Representatives of The Lions Club stood on our doorstep with arms full of boxes filled with ham, canned goods, and items far more tempting than beans. They left everything on our dining room table, wished us well and "Merry Christmas" and were gone. Here was food and here was a gorgeous tree. How could it get any better? In a matter of minutes it did. Another rapping at the door brought members of First Baptist Church bearing more food and wrapped presents. I can still see the white tissue paper and red ribbon wrapped around what I knew was a game. I couldn't wait to open it the next day. I don't know what the other gifts were that year but I was the happy recipient of "Sorry" and it's the game the kids and I still use after all these years.
Apparently, Aunt Fran had placed us on a few "needy family" lists and I'll be forever grateful that she did. It wasn't until years later I realized how close we were to having a very different Christmas experience. It was nothing short of a miracle to me and yet it lived up to my faith that all would be well. And for that time and for that day, it was. And that was enough.
I hope it will be the same for the dear family we met today. I pray a bright memory of Christmas miracles lives on in the hearts of the kiddos there and, if only for a short while, a burden is lifted for a weary mother. I hope a tentative young son feels compelled to drop his guard. I think that might be the case. I hugged his mother and then turned to him to pat his arm. He started to lean in for a hug, too, then caught himself. But it had happened, nonetheless, and in that moment, if only for a moment, I think all was well.
May you have the merriest of Christmases, my friends, and may God richly bless you.