I don’t often delve into the realms of reminiscing and romanticizing about Christmas…but sometimes it helps to really appreciate what you have. It helps to remember. To bring to mind that which we have perhaps lost along the journey. Bringing to mind these precious memories helps us to recognize the blessings in this life. This is an Advent Thanksgiving of sorts. In these moments of appreciation we can thrust ourselves back into joy which can overflow our souls if we let it. Bringing to mind these moments, these Christmas memories helps us cope with the hardships that perhaps we’re facing now. It can help us get through the “dark days”. It’s therapeutic. It is cathartic. It can be life changing.
Let Me Start With A Story Telling (And then it’s your turn!)
Years ago, during a very busy Christmas season, just like this year, I was working long hours and in dire need of rest.
I was still in college at the time and just before Christmas break and midterm finals I would drive for my parents.
When I say drive, what I mean is that I was a Christmas Red Kettle Campaign driver. The days were long, the nights swiftly approached far too soon (4:30pm), and I would spend long hours driving from kettle location to kettle location burning tanks of gas as I went. That van became my dorm room when I had to study. That van became my dinning room table when I grew hungry.
As I drove the daily routes to and from kettle sites, I got to know the bell ringers who rang at those locations. Many would arrive at The Salvation Army corps building and I would have to transport them because most would not have reliable transportation on their own. A couple of individuals in particular, whom I will call Frank and Joe were some of “my regulars”. Frank and Joe were quite dirty and smelly most days. I don’t say that to be mean, it was just simply how it was. They were both from hard living lifestyles, they both lived with government assistance because of slight mental disabilities, they truly struggled in life. These two friends lived in a little, run down trailer at a trailer park in some back lot, and if not for this driving position, I would never have met them. They weren’t much to look at but they did alright at their daily “jobs” ringing the bell at The Salvation Army’s red kettle.
Towards the end of the Christmas season, as the campaign was winding down and Christmas Eve was a day away, I chatted like I always did with my “regulars” on the way to their kettle sites. I asked them what they would be doing for Christmas. Some said they would be going to spend time with family. Some shared all of their Christmas plans in great detail. Frank and Joe remained silent throughout the conversation. I was getting close to the end of the route, I had dropped off most of the bell ringers, all except Frank and Joe. Looking back in the rear-view mirror, they both had dour expressions on their faces. I felt compelled to ask them once again what they would be doing for Christmas. They remained silent for a moment or two until Joe spoke up and said, “Well we really aren’t doing anything. We don’t have family around anymore, and we don’t really have any money to cook a nice meal.” I was slightly surprised by their honest and sad answer. I had been aware of the needs of some of our bell ringers, but I had never realized just how alone Frank and Joe truly were. Dropping them off that day I began to have this little voice in my head say, “You can help them have a Christmas!” I chewed on that thought all day as I drove and helped out around the corps. What could I possibly do to help them? That night I picked them back up, dropped off the full kettles at the corps and took Frank and Joe home to their little trailer in the back lot. We said our good-nights and farewells and I went home.
Christmas Eve rolled around and, as tradition, we only rang at the kettles for half the day as we all prepared to celebrate Christmas the following day. I picked up Frank and Joe and delivered them to their work sites for the shortened day and went about my duties. Along the way I was fortunate to have some extra spending money that I had be given and I was prepared to go and spend it…but something happened. A recollection of those two filthy guys in my van. Their dour faces in the rear-view mirror. The harsh life they found themselves in. I could do something for them…and so I did. I don’t say this for any kind of glory. I don’t tell this tale because I want you to think better of me, but the Lord had blessed me with some additional resources during that time and I was able to share those blessings with others who were more in need of it than I was. I went to the grocery store and got them a fully prepared Christmas dinner and then with the leftover money I was able to buy them a few small gifts. I wrapped the gifts and placed the full meal in a box together.
As the half-day wrapped up, and we put our kettles away. I loaded up my regulars for their journey home. The sun was setting and I too looked forward to some rest. Frank and Joe were my last drop-offs on my “homeward bound” route. As I dropped them off they said their normal farewells, but I surprised them that day. Parking the van, I went to the back and pulled out the box of food and gifts I had gotten them. At first they refused to accept it. Frank kept shaking his head and saying “no”. I told them it was a gift and I that wanted them to have it. Joe choked back some tears and in a husky voice said “thanks” as he nodded his head. They walked into their little trailer with the box of food and waved good-bye. I drove home to a warm home surrounded by family and I couldn’t help but feel, in a small way that the best Christmas gift I received that holiday season was the opportunity to genuinely give to a couple of guys who had nothing. In my heart I knew that giving was truly better than receiving gifts and in that moment I was able to find a deeper appreciation for the gift that God gave to us so long ago in a manger, the Savior of the world – Christ Jesus. Salvation was born and this gift of grace was given freely to us despite our lowly, undeserving hearts.
That is one Christmas memory that I still cherish to this very day. There are many more memories. Some greater than others, but THAT Christmas memory is certainly one hold onto.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN…
What Christmas memories do you have?
Please leave comments below and share in the joys of Christmas together today!