Every Tuesday and Thursday evening on my way to work I stop and sit on this community park bench. There is a fountain, small shops with signs, and small shops that townspeople know so well there is no need for signs. A saxophone player, Joe, plays for his dinner as people walk by and throw coins into his saxophone case. Today he is playing Christmas music. Close to him is a Nativity scene someone took great care in creating. The ceramic figures are perfect: Baby Jesus in the manger, Mary’s hand gently touching His head, and the Wise Men with gifts.
Tonight the fountain is silent. Winter has arrived. I sit with a long coat, a scarf, mittens, taking it all in before I head to work teaching at a college. I am relatively new in this place. As I walk to my car, I smile as I remember someone looking at my address and saying: “Wow, I hope someone warned you: that’s the wrong side of the tracks.”
I had the smallest apartment I could afford. When I drove to work, I saw old houses, children playing, and mobile homes. It did not look like the wrong side of the tracks at all! If it was, I was living there with them.
I pick up my purse to begin my drive to work just as a breeze brings an unexpected weather surprise: snow! Beautiful! I stand listening to Joe play “Silent Night.”
Then I hear a child’s voice: A child stands right in front of the Nativity display. A young woman with a long wool coat and small bag of groceries holds the hand of a little girl, probably 5, wearing a powder-blue fuzzy coat and mittens. The breeze blows again as I hear the child’s words: “But He’s cold! Jesus is cold! Mom, we can’t leave Him like this!”
I take a step forward and stop.
The young mother kneels in front of her daughter: “Lily, we just got you this coat. Mrs. Glenn may not have another one this color. It’s cold. He’s warm right here.”
But the little girl shakes her head and unzips her powder-blue coat, revealing a light sweater, and enters the Nativity scene, making sure the coat covers the lifelike doll meant to give us a visual image of Jesus in the manger. Her mother watches, and once done, she opens her own coat, wrapping her daughter in it, sharing the scarf. After picking up her groceries, she heads the same direction they came from. I hear her say, “What am I going to do with you, sweet girl?” The little girl snuggles her head between her mother’s neck and the scarf and says: “He’s my friend. I love Him.”
I watch them enter an unmarked lighted store with holiday lights on the window. I walk toward the Nativity scene and inspect what Lily has done. The coat wraps the doll, with corners tucked inside the manger.
“It’s like she’s the fourth Wise Man,” says Joe, the saxophone player.
Does he know them? He tells me mom and daughter catch the bus home, over the tracks, to a trailer park. The mother works as a waitress. He points at where they went, Mrs. Glenn’s House, a secondhand clothes shop. People donate clothes, and she gives them to those who need them.
I look at the coat bundling the doll. Will she get another coat? “She’s a good child; and it would be a shame if we took that coat off the doll. It would take the gesture away from her. Mrs. Glenn will help her,” Joe says, and begins to play music again.
Lily’s Giving Spreads
I reach my classroom. I teach adult students. They come to school straight from work.They work hard; we learn and laugh together. As I watch them settling in, I wonder: Do they live on the wrong side of the tracks? Do they visit Mrs. Glenn’s for coats or mittens? I realize something important: this season full of lights, celebrations, gifts, music, laughter, family, joy, is not the same for all. Lily showed me that.
One of my students, A.J., is 70 years old. He works in the steel plant. He comes over to talk to me.
“I started working when I was 13 years old. My dad left us on Christmas Day, all five of us. We never heard from him again,” he says.
“Professor, I saw you today as I was walking to school. I saw the little girl give up her coat. What can we do to make the world a better place?”
Somehow the story of the little girl has spilled into our classroom. I hear of other families struggling through the holidays. We make a list of 13 families. In a moment my students have started a list of locations, items to be gifted, needs the families have.
We agree to meet on Sunday and prepare the gifts and homemade stockings. We will deliver them that night.
I decide to see Mrs. Glenn. I enter her store and tell her about the powder-blue coat. I ask if there are any children’s coats I can purchase. She looks at me curiously as I lay out a piece of paper my students helped me write with sizes for coats. I tell her I will pay for scarfs and mittens as well; I just need help finding these.
She walks me through the small two-story house. Her daughter joins us, and the three of us pick coats, scarfs, mittens, and wool caps to match. Mrs. Glenn carefully pins the name and measurement for each coat so I will wrap them properly.
The treasures are placed in my car. She smiles and tells me there is nothing to pay for: “I prayed that God would find a way to use me, a way to be a blessing.” She hugs me tight, and I cry a bit.
More Blessed When Giving
Sunday morning, there are stockings to fill and gifts to wrap. Working together, my students talk about their own Christmas traditions. As we head out to surprise the families, I see A.J. walk in a different direction. Where is he going?
We approach the first home. As the knock is answered, we all yell “Merry Christmas,” and take over their living room. Children, surprised parents, everyone is happy! Everyone is talking and placing gifts on the table.
Just then there is a knock on the door. There stands A.J. with a small three-foot Christmas tree. “Who needs a tree for all those?” he points at the gifts. He shows them how to create a popcorn and candy chain (supplies he also brought). Cookies, hot chocolate, hugs, and goodbyes are offered. Thirteen houses in one night.
I have been home for 10 minutes when the doorbell rings.
“Merry Christmas!” There they are: my students.
“You may need one of these.” I turn to see A.J. carrying a tree that we will decorate together. A cup of hot cider, and A.J. makes a toast: “To all our trials, our sorrows, our losses, and tears; because they taught us the value of saying to others, ‘You don’t have to walk this path alone.’ Here’s to communicating love and shining Christ’s light into the darkest corner of life.”
I’ve had many Christmases after that one. Yet that particular one was filled with more hugs, more tears, more gratitude, more happiness, more humanity, more loss, more sorrow. For this I am grateful to God.
—Dixil Rodríguez lives in Texas. We adapted her article for KidsView, but you can read all of it in the December 2015 issue on pp. 31-34 or on our Web site: www.adventistreview.org
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