A New Use for Holiday Cards

A New Use for Holiday Cards

Let me ask you: What did you do with all of the Christmas, holiday, or New Year’s cards you received back in December and January?

If you’re like me, you held onto them for weeks, believing that one cold winter day you would sit down with a big mug of tea and re-read them, save the extra-special ones, and maybe even call or write those super-human individuals who had taken extra time to pen novellas of their lives in the past year. (Those people always impress me; I can barely get my cards mailed by Dec. 22nd, much less tell everyone what we did in the previous 12 months!)

Or maybe you even had grandiose plans of crafting with the cards you received – making a collage or ornaments out of them. Yes – one ambitious year perhaps you even admired all those sweet faces of your friends’ kids and planned to photograph each card, saving them to your hard drive or the cloud! (I actually did this. Precisely ONE time.)

But in all likelihood – you did none of that. You eventually let out a big sigh of co-mingled regret and relief, and recycled the colorful stash, secretly hoping that no one would ever ask you to recall the cards’ contents.

By now, the cards my family received would usually have been appreciated and tossed. But not this year.

This year, we are trying something new: we are making the cards a part of Lent.

In our home, we “say grace” before meals. It’s a good habit – one that’s meant to remind us from Whom we receive our nourishment.

Typically, we say the traditional Catholic blessing:

“Bless us, O Lord,
and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ Our Lord,
Amen.”

It covers all the most important points and when said with genuine heartfelt devotion, offers the gratitude that’s due.

There is danger in repetition, however. After awhile, it can be tempting to ignore the words – to just go through the motions of saying them without concentrating on their meaning.

One way to recharge a mealtime prayer with its intended significance is to change it up a bit – not by re-wording it necessarily, but by adding to it.

So at every meal this Lent, we are taking a couple Christmas cards from our stack and praying for the families that sent them. Our prayers are not fancy or flowery, just straightforward expressions from the heart that the One who sees and knows all will grant our friends the virtues and strengths they need most.

If you wonder what that looks like, here’s what I said last night after the basic blessing:

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for our dear friends Pete and Amy and their children Brendan, Zach, and Ellie. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them but we know they are in Your loving hands. Please watch over them and bring them closer to one another in 2018. We pray too for Uncle Bill and Clara. May you bless their new marriage and new home in California. Amen.”

Sharing these cards every night has given my husband and I opportunities tell our kids a bit more about old friends – people with whom we ‘swap’ Christmas cards but rarely see – people we knew long before the kids came along. It’s a side benefit I wouldn’t have considered before starting this Lenten effort.

Remembering people and holding them up….

We can start anytime.

Flip through your phone’s address book, glance over your Facebook friends, make a list of names.

Fold your hands and lift up a friend. Today.

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??
Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash

On the radio yesterday, a DJ reported survey results. People said they would pay $250 to find Christmas joy – the kind they knew when they were kids. (Apparently, most people surveyed would also be willing to fork over $145 to have someone else wrap their gifts.) Now, I know many people hate gift-wrapping, but $250 for Christmas joy!?!?? Craziness.

I once knew a Jewish man who had tremendous Christmas spirit. When his three sons were very young, they had a devout faith in Santa Claus. They knew all about Santa’s generosity and good cheer, so naturally, they wondered if he would stop at their home come Christmas Eve.

To honor their own holiday traditions – while also sharing the spirit of the season – the man and his wife hatched plan. On Christmas Eve, the family did a little art project, and then the joyful father climbed out a window and onto his roof. As the little boys stood watching in their pajamas, their dad placed a decorated poster next to the chimney. It said:

Dear Santa,

Just a reminder: We are Jewish. You don’t need to stop here tonight. We wish you a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Love, The Jacobs Family

Friends, this is the Christmas spirit. And it cost virtually nothing but time and love.

It demonstrates the largest Truth of season: It is NOT about us.

It IS about caring for others and spreading joy because we see that we ourselves have been loved.

But maybe you don’t feel joyful. Maybe you think you have nothing to celebrate because you’ve had a rough year or you’re not with the people you think make your holidays complete.

If that’s the case, try these three steps – now or starting tomorrow – to reignite your Christmas or holiday mojo.

1) Close your eyes and begin a mental gratitude statement. If you believe in a higher power – talk to that power. If not, imagine all of the people closest to your heart standing in front of you.

Express thanks for as many things as you can think of, starting with the immediate and going from there. “Thank you for the fact that I’m breathing. Thank you for my beating heart. Thank you for my hands and feet and brain and muscles and my capacity to feel the ground beneath me.”

Move out into your surroundings, the people in your life, counting each thing consciously and with the understanding that even the trials you face are building character in you. Be grateful for this. Be thankful for what you have learned. Don’t stop your list until you simply cannot go on anymore.

2) Get out of your head. Think of a holiday song you enjoy and sing it out loud. Whisper if you must, but verbalize the cheerfulness you’re starting to feel.

3) Decide that you will give every person you meet today a free gift: your smile. Look each one in the eye – especially the annoying, angry, impatient, or rude ones – and smile, with good intentions. Imagine the individual as he or she might have looked as a child. See each person’s vulnerability and humanness. Pray or simply ponder the following over them: Grant this person peace and comfort.

Why do I recommend these steps?

Because gratitude, hope, and generous actions yield joy.

And true Hope is not wishful thinking, but instead it is the firm expectation that something good will occur based on a pattern of goodness that is now present and has come before.

Hope is open to everyone.

Joy can be yours.

I pray you will find both – free and overflowing – this holiday season.

Adoption: What a Gift!

Adoption: What a Gift!

I was overjoyed to learn this weekend that a friend of mine and her husband were able to finalize the adoption of their daughter on Friday. The photo says it all – one child smiling ear to ear, surrounded by two loving parents and a large extended family who have embraced her with a forever welcome.

This isn’t the only adoption story I’ve heard this year. Other friends have adopted children internationally, or are waiting to do so. And every time I hear about this complete and unconditional acceptance of a child into a family – whether it’s happening now or occurred long ago – I have the same recurrent thought.

Adopting a child is one of the most generous and least selfish decisions a person can make.

Today it occurred to me: Jesus was adopted too.

Yes, he was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, but he had an earthly father who took Jesus in as his own, regardless of what it would cost him.

Think about it: Joseph’s decision contradicted every ‘reason.’

The child was not biologically his. Choosing to love a woman who had conceived under circumstances the world would fail to understand would threaten his reputation and of course, require every resource he had.

Yet he heard God’s calling on his life and obeyed.

It wasn’t easy.

His decision to raise the Son as his own meant that while he gave everything a parent could, his child still suffered a humiliating death.

It was an ending no parent would want.

At least on the face of it.

But then – Joseph’s sacrifices were transformed through the Son’s ultimate success.

The child would return his father’s goodness – more times over than Joseph (or we) could ever count – and for all eternity, by adopting us.

Through His mercy and infinite Love, the Lord counts us as His own.

That’s the amazing gift of adoption we celebrate this Christmas.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. (Romans 8:14, NIV)

Help Needed in Aisle 4!

Help Needed in Aisle 4!
Photo by Marian Trinidad. www.creationswap.com.
Photo by Marian Trinidad. www.creationswap.com.

“Help! Help on Aisle 4!”

I heard the voice from a few aisles over. It was a woman, sounding slightly annoyed but not exasperated. Like an employee on a walkie-talkie.

“Help, please.”

My, the bows and decorations I was looking at were pretty. And how pleasant it was to be strolling along with my cart, all by lonesome on this last weekday morning before school let out for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Hello?!” she called. Urgency had been summoned into her voice.

I took another sip of my tea. ‘It’s that time of year,’ I thought. ‘We’re all going to start getting uptight.’

But then – I was suddenly shocked by a heavy, greater awareness that no one was coming. In fact, this woman and I might be the only people in this quadrant of the huge store.

My hands let go of the cart and my feet started moving in her direction just as her strongest cry yet rang out.

Help! Help me, please! Someone help!”

My legs were moving quickly now, and my head felt light. My thoughts jumbled.

‘Am I floating? Is this my body? What’s going on here?’

Many aisles over I saw her, an elderly woman with two enormous storage bins placed on end in her cart, and her finger wedged between them and the metal bars of the collapsible child seat. She couldn’t reach around the bins to relieve their weight, and might not have been strong enough even if she could have. I pulled the bins off and she stared at me with a pale, relieved face.

“Thank you. Oh, thank you.”

“Is it broken? Can you move it?”

She wiggled her finger and massaged the long acrylic nail, which looked a bit twisted.

“Oh, goodness. I don’t know what I would have done if you didn’t come.”

For a moment, I said nothing.

“Are you going to be ok? You can get help loading these into your car.”

“Yes. I’m ok. Happy Easter.”

Then I just smiled.

“Oh! Oh! Gosh,” she laughed faintly, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“You, too. Happy Thanksgiving.”

I walked away from her with the firm knowledge that I had – just then – been an instrument, and that I could not in any way take credit for what I had done.

Left to my own devices, I would have ignored her call, would have kept on putting decorations for my own future celebrations into my cart.

That’s just how self-absorbed I was. Am. Can be at any time.

But I wasn’t given a choice. I was given a gift of being made ready to serve in His way at His time. And He stepped in and moved me right to the place He wanted me to go.

In this time of Advent, as I await with expectant hope for the joys of Christmas, I want to remember that true gifts are not things – they are found in the giving away of grace that has been given to us. A humble, servant’s heart is what made Christmas possible in the first place, and it’s still the greatest part of this season. 

Lord, make me a channel of Your peace. Use me this Advent in the ways You see fit. Use me to give away Your relentless grace.

Holy Moments – Day 30 – Stories

Some people are harder to love than others.

It’s an every day truth, and it was the gist of a conversation I had over coffee in mid-November with my friend and former neighbor, Sarah. But Sarah is a thoughtful, big-hearted woman who smiles all the time, so a discussion that could have turned toxic did not. Instead, as she bounced her baby on her knee, she said,

“But if we really knew every person’s story, if we really knew everything that had happened to them, there would be no hate in the world. It would be so easy to love them, because we all carry so many hidden hurts.” 

I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since. The truth of it. Because we, as humans, are made to live in community with one another, and one way we can know that for sure is by recognizing and embracing our own ability – and need – to sympathize. Life is so much richer when we accept that we have all suffered. That we are not all that unique.

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This Christmas season, I have made a conscious choice to listen more. To listen for the story under the words. And maybe it’s just maturity that has enhanced my hearing, but I think this conscious decision to listen has also opened my heart, and all I hear lately are stories yearning to be told and held in the welcoming arms of Love.

  • A woman in the ‘sandwich’ generation, trying to care for rapidly aging and disabled parents while also raising young children
  • A couple helping their parents out of tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt that was incurred in an attempt to save a family business
  • Multiple families’s struggles to help one of their own deal with drug or alcohol addiction
  • Two parents searching for a diagnosis for their son’s health issues

The pain of those telling me about their problems is often masked by sarcasm or smiles. And deep, deep wounds are buried far under pride and self-sufficiency. How we handle stresses like these are often dependent on whether we’ve healed from our own past hurts, because the frustration of loving others in challenging situations is exacerbated when we ourselves feel shortchanged in love.

But – people need to talk. Often, they are not searching for solutions. They are not looking for any particular kind of assistance. They just want someone with an open heart to be fully present to them.

We all think we are busy, that we have places to be and stuff to do, but do we really? What are we racing around for? What is our purpose, if not to live a full life by loving when given the opportunity?

Once, when I didn’t know how to approach a grieving family, didn’t know how to begin to find words of sympathy, I called my mom. She said,

“Just being present to someone is a ministry.” 

A ministry. A lofty word made simple in this instance, because I could do that. I could show up.

I’m not sure I’ll make a New Year’s resolution. Like most people I’m not very good at keeping them. But I like the idea of finding one word to be my focus in 2016. And the word ‘listen‘ is beautifully open-ended. Who knows what I might hear, and as a result, how I might grow in Love.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

 

Holy Moments – Day 28 – P.J.’s Bell

“Do you want a hat?”

His little face lit up with excitement and I thought he knew what I meant.

“A Santa hat?” he asked.

Nope. His idea was even more delightful. Better than me giving him one of the paper Krispy Kreme hats that surrounded us on this, his very first visit to the place. I laughed and looked at my watch. We had one hour until we picked his sister up from dance. Thus began our giggle-filled hunt for a Santa hat. But the festive day actually began 10 hours earlier….

Matthews Santa Hat

It was impossible not to notice them. A row of fist-sized brass sleigh bells, each one sitting atop a ziploc bag full of Christmas cookies. I saw them lining the windowsill of a classroom as I rushed into my childrens’ school, five minutes late to my kindergartener’s Gingerbread Party.

“Every time you hear a bell an Angel gets his wings.”

The words rang in my head again.

I think of them as just a sweet phrase, but Sunday night I had been reminded that no – they actually comprise a line from It’s a Wonderful Life, a classic I stumbled upon while flipping channels. It wasn’t technically ‘new’ to me, as I’d seen it before. But not in at least 12 years. Certainly not since our family lost P.J.

P.J.  – my husband’s cousin. Just a month after his 22nd birthday, in February 2003, he was diagnosed with leukemia. By the end of April, he had entered heaven’s gates.

It was one of those WHY? situations. A fit young man. You’d have thought his whole life was ahead of him. The severity and brevity of his illness was staggering. Simply put, the loss of him has touched us all, and for me, it has been in a surprising way.

Two nights before the family gathered in Philadelphia to say goodbye, I was home alone with a job to do. In between the time we’d received the phone call informing us of P.J.’s passing and the day of the funeral, my husband had had to travel to Oregon for business. So I found myself sitting up late at the kitchen table, trying to stay awake with a cup of tea so that I’d be alert to feed our 4-month old son when he woke for his midnight feeding.

Sitting there, in the quiet darkness, I pictured P.J.’s winsome smile. I thought of his parents. And before I knew it, I was hunched over the table, my head in my hands, sobbing. Sobbing.

I was a first-time mother and finally grasping it – what it means to truly love a child. And I felt my heart just couldn’t bear both the pain and the blessing.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotional about answering a child’s cry as I was that night.

For the first Christmas after P.J.’s passing, his parents – gracious and generous people – gave everyone in the family a bell as part of a gift they made in his memory. The words, “Every time you hear a bell…” were written on the attached card. The bell we received always hangs on the front of our tree, toward the top. And the feeling I have when I look at it has subtly shifted over the years.Pj Bell

Initially, the bell was a symbol of tremendous loss. Loss too deep for words. But yesterday, when I saw those bells in the window at school, and was on my way to help my third child make candy cane ornaments, food for Santa’s reindeer, and gingerbread men, I realized that for me, P.J.’s bell had a new significance. What once symbolized sadness, has increasingly, slowly, become a sign of pending joy. It has challenged me to look at each day with fresh eyes and ask, “Am I holding tightly to the things of eternal value, while letting go of what’s not?”

Seldom do I have epiphanies. Or rather, God doesn’t reveal things to me in ‘lightning bolt’ ways. And so this new understanding about the bell came to me as the day unfolded, as I walked through it with my youngest son. But also as I pondered the big message of It’s a Wonderful Life, asking myself, “What difference does one life really make?”

The answer is clear – Our lives are not our own. We are connected to one another. We are all one flesh. We share sorrow and happiness. We were not created, nor are we meant, to live alone.

And so, the burdens we bear and the joys we celebrate are always the ties that bind us. They draw us close to one another and into that which is sacred and holy – the space set apart from words and time – God Himself. To show us His heart, He came down in the form of a baby, the Son, to grow and live fully with us, connected to us, experiencing the fullness of life just as we do, fully for us, for better and for worse, within a family, in a community who for a time grieved the loss of Him but later saw that His life was about showing the path to everlasting, eternal joy.

And shouldn’t that be the point of ours as well? To seek everlasting joy? Even as we carry our sorrows?

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And the miracle of this Son Jesus was, and is, that He is with us still. He is closer than breath. We need only acknowledge Him and ask Him to show us the way Home. Praise be to God from Whom all blessings flow.

And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. 

-Matthew 28:20 

Holy Moments – Day 27 – Clementines

Clementines

There’s one fruit I love this time of year, and I only like them when they come from Spain or Morocco. Clementines. (My apologies to my Floridian friends.) The ones from Europe are sweeter, juicier, and smell more “clementine-ish.” Perhaps it’s just the memories that make me so particular….

I discovered these delicious little oranges in 1992 when studying in France. I don’t remember them in the United States back then, and on my student budget, they were a healthy novelty that paired nicely with the cheese and bread that made up most of my diet. Christmas Eve that year still rings as a fine example of one of those fantastic meals.

I had traveled with two girlfriends to Strasbourg for the holiday because we’d heard it was the “Christmas Capital” of Europe. Right across the border from Germany, this picturesque town boasts unique architecture and a Christmas market in its town centre. We spent Christmas Eve strolling by the open stalls and drinking mulled wine, and after the sun went down, eating a chocolate buche de Noel, cheese, bread, and yes – clementines – in our simple hotel room, which was just a stone’s throw away from the Strasbourg Cathedral. We talked for hours about the people we loved and Christmas back home in the states.

Strasbourg4Strasbourg2Strasbourg1Strasbourg3

By about 10 o’clock, we were very tired, since we had begun our day on the pre-dawn train out of Toulouse. So, we set an alarm to rouse us for the Midnight Mass. Little did we know the alarm would not be needed.

I have never been summoned to church like I was that night!strasbourg-1046384_1280

BELLS!! BELLS!! BELLS!!

They shook our tiny room with a fervor akin to an earthquake.

And we woke up laughing with surprise and glee. We threw on our coats and literally ran out the door and around the corner, into the cathedral.

The place was packed. European churches are often empty these days, but on that night, I stood with hundreds of other latecomers in the back, feeling privileged to have a square foot of ancient stone under my feet. And Mass – conducted in both French and German, with each part being said first in the former and repeated in the latter – felt magical.

At that point in my life, I was not a regular church-goer. I wasn’t even Catholic. But I was captivated by the beauty of the French language, and the art and majesty of cathedrals. The Lord was whispering to me, calling me in ways He knew I’d find appealing. And I was filled with joy standing there in the presence of God’s people, celebrating the birth of His son.

What is the pull of Christmas? The food, friendships, family, the gifts, the beauty of it all? It is an invitation to come and see…Come and see.

He said to them, ‘”Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw… (John 1:39)”

 

Holy Moments – Day 25 – Meg Turns 40

From my vantage point – about 36 inches above the ground – I could see a mass of blankets preceding Mom through the back door and into the kitchen of our little Cape Cod home in Gales Ferry, Connecticut. I was two weeks shy of 3-years old, and I knew there was a treasure inside those warm white fuzzy folds. Her name was Meghan. And she was my baby sister.

I pawed at Mom’s arms, trying to see, but was gently led into the family room and seated far back on the olive green sofa with my right arm supported by a pillow so that…. I could meet her.

I wish I could remember her face on that day. But I do remember holding her. Holding her. Feeling for the first time that emotion that is privilege to older siblings (and the bane of youngers!) – ‘I will look out for you.’

She was my only sibling, and my protective instincts were sometimes appreciated – like when Meg was falsely accused of slashing mattresses at Girl Scout camp and I knew this wasn’t possible. She didn’t even own a pocket knife, for goodness sake. I was more than happy to go to the troop leaders and tell them what was what.

But more often than not – my compulsion to force on her my 3 years’ worth of advanced wisdom was met with resistance or outright rejection. Go figure.

To her credit, at a young age she understood how to use my bossiness to her advantage. For example, Mom asked me to help Meg learn to make her own bed. I got so frustrated by Meg’s ‘inability’ to straighten her green Sears ripcord bedspread, that I pushed her out of the way and declared that I would “just do it myself.” I ended up making lots of beds.

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Meghan and me, 1983.

Like so many sisters, we’re perhaps more different than alike. But it’s funny how every time Meg’s birthday rolls around, I feel our kinship reconnected in a special way, and in the last day or so, perhaps I’ve found the reason.

Meg and I were both born during Advent – a word which means “coming.” It is, by its’ very definition, a season of anticipation in which we keep a look out for the greatest gift – Christ, the Light of the World.

So many of my fondest memories with Meg are centered around moments of waiting for something.

Sitting on packed boxes in various houses, waiting for the moving van to arrive for our military move to another state.

Holding our bags in our laps (before the stewardess told us to put them down), waiting for the plane to land in Seattle, home of our beloved grandparents.

And my favorite – waiting side by side at the foot of the tree on Christmas morning for our parents to wake up. My sister and I never dared proceed with opening (or shaking!) gifts before ‘it was time.’ We didn’t even run into Mom and Dad’s room to jostle them awake. Why? I don’t know. I’m just so thankful now that, for whatever reason, Meg and I had this quiet special time together every Christmas.

In my childhood mind, the month of December – marked by her birthday, then mine, and ending in Christmas – was magical because for most of it, we were looking forward together to the largest celebration still ahead. Intuitively, we recognized this month for what it is – The season of Hope. The season of anticipation which rejoices in the fact that the best is still to come. And to think – that this is when we were blessed to be born.

My beautiful sister is a searcher. She digs deep and asks thoughtful questions. She looks for the Light.

So, today I celebrate Meg on her 40th birthday. As much as I’d like to think I could still ‘look out’ for her, I know she’s in the very best of hands and loved beyond measure. And though she’s doing well in life, I still believe her best season is up ahead. I’m eagerly waiting to see what’s in store for her.

Holy Moments – Day 10 – Man at the Door

I can’t remember the year, but I know it was Christmas. And he called my brother-in-law by name. And that’s part of what set off the  tension in the air….

As I remember it, it was like this…
The doorbell rang and a 20-something guy in a fire department sport jacket was standing on the front steps of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house looking very nervous.
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The door opened.
“Mr. D?” he asked.
“Yes, yes.”
“I’m uh. I’m uh…very sorry to tell you this. But…”
“Yeah??” my brother-in-law’s voice escalated a little.
“But, uhm. Uh…”
“YEah?”
 “I ran into your mailbox. I’m…”
“Oh, GOD!!!”
“I’m really, really sorry. The road is very icy and I just…”
“NO! No! No,” my brother-in-law was almost yelling, and beginning to let out bits of relieved laughter.
The guy in the doorway wasn’t sure what to think. He paused, dumbfounded.
“No! I…I have five brothers! I thought you were gonna tell me one of them had died!”
“Oh, God!! Oh, no!! No, man! I’m sorry.”
At this point, the rest of us adults in the house were laughing with relief too.
“It was just the fire department jacket, you know!?? And you looked so serious!”
“Well, I just feel so bad about the mailbox, and…”
“Ah no! This hill, the road, it’s ok. Really.”
“I want to pay for it.”
“No. No. Won’t let you do that. Merry Christmas!! Merry Christmas!!”
Isn’t it funny, how in a flash, we can calculate what’s truly most important to us? My brother-in-law knew that his wife and kids were right there at home with him, so his thoughts then followed to the next ring of people he loves – his brothers. And his heart was filled with gratitude for the fact that the news was not about them.
How often do I give thanks for ill that has not befallen me? I’m not saying I should look at other people’s tragedies and say, “I’m so glad that’s not happening in my life.” But if I’m honest, on the vast, vast, vast majority of days the good so far outweighs the bad that I have no reason to dwell unnecessarily on negative things.
Rejoice always. 
– 2 Thessalonians 5:16

Feed the Hungry

It was Christmas time, 1985.  My sister and I were visiting our dad, who was living alone in Washington, DC.  At that point in his life, my dad was driving a VW camper – the perfect vehicle for our excursions to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. But this night, we had brought it to the Mall, stopping here and there to see decorations and our nation’s monuments all lit up.

Somewhere downtown, we were sitting in a parking spot, warming up slowly, snug in our vehicle shelter, when a man rapped on my dad’s window, then respectfully took about three steps back.

“Excuse me, sir?”

My dad rolled down the window just a little and said,

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but um…..ah – do you have any food in…there?”

That was when I looked at him – standing with his hands folded together at his chest, his dirty clothes hanging off his slim frame, his chiseled face gray and weary.  I don’t know how old he was, but he seemed older than my dad – not in chronological age, exactly, but in demeanor.  He was weathered.  Tired. 

“Gretchen?”

“Yes, Dad?”

“What food do we have back there in the cabinet?”

I looked and found a few cans – of beans, corn, whatever… and passed them up to my dad, who rolled down his window and handed them out to the man.

“Oh,” he said, obviously surprised. “Thank you.  Oh, oh, thank you,” he said, smiling now.

My dad cocked his head to the side and asked,

“Do you have any way to open those?”

“Umm, no sir.  But that’s alright…”  He was moving back again.

“Wait a minute.  Gretchen – there’s a can opener in the drawer.”

Sure enough, there was. It went to the front and out the window.

The man was turning to leave when my dad asked one more question – the one that became emblazoned on my soul.  It impressed upon me for all time the difference between this man’s life….and mine.

“Are you cold?”

There was no way he couldn’t be. It was in the 20s.

“Well, uh….”

“Do you have any way to stay warm?”

The man looked down, resigned, and shrugged his shoulders in such a way that let us know. His answer was No. Not really. I make do.

“Gretchen – Give me that sleeping bag.”

I reached back behind the bench seat I was sitting on, heat from underneath it blowing out on the back of my legs, and found the navy blue sleeping bag.  It too went up to the front and out the window.

He was so grateful – the kind of grateful I so rarely, rarely see.  And he murmured many more thank-yous as he moved away for the last time.  I watched him walk away into the shadows, his arms overflowing with his newfound bounty.

My dad rolled up his window and we drove home.  All I could see was the back of his head, but if I hazard a guess, I’d say his blue eyes were shining – with love.

Dad – You were light in the darkness, Christ’s hands in the world.  Thank you for showing me how it’s done – humbly, freely, with a heart overflowing with God’s grace.

And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

– Matthew 25:40 

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