For me, as a Christian, December 25th holds a profound sense of joy; attending midnight Mass, viewing the infant Jesus in his crèche, and singing “Silent Night” with tears of wonder.
Yet it wasn’t always so. I would get swept up in that holiday frenzy after Black Friday: the madness of buying too many gifts, racing to mail Christmas cards, baking enough cookies, decorating the tree, the house, the cat . . . you get the idea. One year all that changed. I was running around like a reindeer with my antlers cut off when it dawned on me that my Christmas to-do list was finished. House cleaned, presents bought and wrapped, tree tinseled and lit, Advent wreath and Nativity taking their rightful places in my living room. I was done! With three days to go, my spiced zucchini bread in the oven, mulled cider simmering on the stove, and Mannheim Steamroller “decking my halls” on the CD player, I could relax and revel in the season.
So . . . where was my Christmas spirit?
My expectations came crashing down around my ears. Having that extra time only made me wonder: Is this all there is? Like Charlie Brown, I didn’t know what Christmas was all about. And though I prayed on it, it escaped me as to how I’d become “Grinched” almost overnight.
My husband suggested we take a drive to drop off gifts and tour the neighborhood Christmas lights. I agreed, but even that didn’t lift my dismal state or fill the place inside me where “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men” should have rested.
Then on the way home we stopped at the grocery store to grab a carton of eggnog.
She stood just inside the door, trying to stay warm. Painfully thin, toothless, and with stringy gray hair beneath an old knitted cap, she wore dirty blue slippers in thirty-degree weather. She had a coat, but little else. She appeared elderly at first, but at closer range it was clear that hard living had aged her so drastically. I’d seen her before, walking her “beat” around town. Our city fosters a vast mental-health network, so it’s not uncommon to see those who are “different” ambling here and there as they carve out a life.
Tears pricked my eyes as I watched her. I thought of the gifts still in my car, the tinseled tree in my cozy house, the warm bread fresh from my oven. I felt compelled to do something. I went to the car and checked with my husband, then returned inside. I hesitated, but the Spirit nudged me again, and so I approached her to ask if she needed a place to stay. At her frightened gaze I quickly suggested we get her a room at the local motel, run by goodhearted folks who asked no questions and took in travelers other places might reject.
She lowered her head, shyly, but nodded. So, after buying her a few ready-to-eat meals, we drove to the motel and paid for her room up through Christmas. I promised to return in the morning and bring her warm clothes. She never said a word to me, but I could tell she appreciated having a safe and clean place to sleep.
The next day she was gone. The desk clerk thought perhaps that, unaccustomed to staying in one place, the woman had returned to her routine on the streets. The clerk suggested that unless I wanted a refund, she would keep the room available for someone else—maybe a homeless couple needing a place out of the cold, or a young mother, alone and heavy with child, seeking shelter on Christmas night.
Of course I agreed. And while it all might have seemed like a wasted effort, my heart understood; I’d found my Christmas joy. I never knew the woman’s name or where she went, but I believe God put her in my path to remind me of what Christmas is. It’s every day that I can count my blessings: it’s my faith, my family and friends. It’s the knowledge that I am loved.
Tell us about someone you know who does a great job of reaching out and showing love to others at Christmas.
Upcoming Release: For Such a Time
A powerful retelling of the story of Esther during WWII: Blond and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin must save her people—even if she cannot save herself.