As we approach the new year, I feel a renewed sense of hope and a sacred trust in something far greater than myself. If ever I had an awareness of my insignificance... it is now. I have come to truly understand that we are all tools in the hands of a divine "craftsman". Some of us may be "hammers", while others are "nails"... but each of us serve an eternal purpose in a divinely sacred masterpiece. I have come to realize that the most important thing I can do, is recognize my time to serve... those moments when I am in his hands. The strength is His, the purpose is His, but the responsibility is mine... to surrender all that I am (my temporal understanding), and all that I have to His divine will.
May we each enjoy the reverent spirit of the holiday season and experience the blessings of "peace on earth, good will toward others".
Through Christ’s Eyes...
Years ago, I had an experience that changed my life. It was one of those rare moments that, even in brevity, teach a profound principle that never escapes the heart and has a profound impact on the soul.
I was fourteen years old at the time; a typical teenager with an amazing ability to focus almost exclusively on my own interests, capabilities, ideas, successes, disappointments, and needs. I had it all figured out, knew all the answers, and understood my purpose in life. That is, until December of 1989 when everything changed. I was blessed with an experience that clarified my existence and taught me the sacred selfless principle that embodies the expression, “Christ-like love”.
It was November in Montana and that year, in particular, the winter was atypically harsh. Subzero temperatures and frequent blizzards plagued the season and a thick blanket of snow enveloped the valley and coated the majestic mountains that surrounded the community where I lived. The bus stop at the end of the road seemed a good distance in the cold, so I’d wait by the door and watch the snow-packed highway that rounded a mountain in the distance until the bus appeared, then I’d “make a run for It” in a feeble attempt to avoid schnoz gauze (an expression used to describe the frozen crust of snot that develops from prolonged exposure to frigid weather). I’d get to the end of the road, turtle-head into my scarf, cram my hands into the bottom of my coat pockets, and jump up and down until the bus arrived. This method was tried and tested and seemed to be the most effective technique for “warding off” the cold.
The next stop was a good six miles down the road, so I had a little time to “thaw out” before the door would open to invite another frosty gust. Typically, I’d rest my head against the corner of the seat and catnap until reaching the final destination at the school yard. I don’t know why, but on that particular day I was acutely aware of my environment and happened to notice three little silhouettes, shivering on the side of the road. The bus squealed to a stop, the door opened, and I observed as each child stepped onto the bus. One at a time, they made their way from the front of the bus, down the aisle in search of a vacant seat. There were two little girls and one young boy, scantily clad in lightweight tattered jackets without hats or mittens. I recognized one of the little girls from the Kindergarten class where I volunteered my sixth period class as a teacher’s aid. Her name was Jenny.
Jenny was very sweet and had an endearing spirit. She always smiled and regardless of the way she was treated by her peers, never had anything nasty to say in retort. I think, in part, because she was mildly mentally handicapped and may not have recognized the ugliness that laced the frequent verbal attacks. It was amazing to me how children so young could identify and target the “weakest link” in a peer group. Jenny was often the victim of harsh ridicule. She only had a few pairs of pants and a couple of shirts that she alternated through the week. Her jacket was well worn and oversized, looking as though it might actually have been her mother’s. Her hair was extremely thin and stringy with a cropped cut that lined her forehead which was malformed and unusually broad. She had some noticeable, although mild, deformities of her hands and fingers. Jenny’s physical abnormalities and mental handicap had been caused by a toxic chemical called Agent Orange, an herbicide used to kill the heavy brush that camouflaged the enemy during Vietnam. Later it was discovered that exposure to the toxin caused severe genetic defects that manifest in the generation of children that followed. Jenny, as well as her brother and sister suffered from these consequential malformations.
Thanksgiving had just passed and the following Sunday our youth group leaders at church challenged us to discover the “Christ centered” significance of Christmas by adopting a family for the Holiday. Immediately, my mind turned to Jenny. I offered the suggestion, we did a little research, and discovered that her father had been struggling to find work and that the family had fallen on hard times. We embraced the opportunity for service.
My first assignment was to assume the role of “secret agent” in an effort to discover the needs of the family and the interests of the children. Jenny was so beautifully naïve and innocently answered, without suspicion, any and all questions asked. As expected, she expressed considerable concern regarding Santa’s navigational abilities indicating awareness that, once again, he might not be able to find their house. When I asked what she wanted for Christmas, her answer was modest, “A My Little Pony… and some cereal with colors. I like cereal with colors.”
When I had finished gathering the data, we went to work raising the money. We hosted bake sales, sacrificed our allowances, & even sold some of our personal belongings. We worked tirelessly for weeks to raise money, gathering toys and clothes, grocery shopping, & wrapping the presents we had bought. As the holiday approached, we experienced a transformation of perspective as we began to truly understand Christmas. Our focus became more about giving than receiving, more about service than self gratification. Our excitement grew with each selfless sacrifice and our interest in the well-being of others became intimately important to each and every one of us. Finally, after several weeks of relentless commitment to the project, the work was done. We had coats, hats, mittens, & other clothes, gifts of all sorts that included My Little Ponies and baby dolls, trucks & tractors, and several boxes of groceries including “cereal with colors”.
We sacrificed Christmas Eve with our families, but somehow it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. There wasn’t anywhere that any of us would have rather been. We met at the church to finish wrapping some last minute items, and then loaded the gifts. We had recruited the Young Men to assist with the delivery. A group of about 14 people, including youth group leaders, piled into three different vehicles and headed out in the frigid cold toward the humble little house in the country.
As we approached the home, we turned the headlights off, pulled to the shoulder of the road, and killed the engine. We were prepared, knew our assignments well, and had a strategy for each stage of the delivery. The boxes were unloaded and one by one, we silently stacked them on and around the doorstep. Methodically working as a team, we successfully delivered Christmas without interrupting the family. At last the moment had come… everyone piled back into the vehicles and anxiously observed as the two boys left behind awaited the signal.
I rubbed a spot in the center of the glass and watched from a frozen car window as our youth group leader gave the “go ahead”. The two that remained knocked on the door, and then scrambled on the ice as they rushed to escape the scene. The cars were started and the two young boys piled in as we attempted to make our getaway. At that moment, however, something unexpected happened… our car wouldn’t budge. We alternated between Drive and Reverse in a desperate attempt to dislodge the vehicle, but to no avail. Frantically, we jumped out and situated ourselves behind the car while we synchronized our efforts in an attempt to rock the vehicle free from the ensnarement of the drift. The wheels were spinning in the snow, and the snow was melting into ice which made it nearly impossible to pull free. Suddenly, our efforts were interrupted by a rapture of squeals and giggles that seemed to permeate the night air. Everyone paused for a moment and shifted focus to the source of the sound.
That’s when it happened... It was a moment frozen in time that etched a place in each of our hearts as we stood motionless in the cold and experienced the blessing of Christ-like love, service, and sacrifice. We watched from a distance as three little children jumped up and down in the cold, barely able to control their excitement. They sifted through the presents, while mother and father stood behind them, locked in a tender embrace. Our struggle to “getaway” was evident in the silence of the night, but no effort was made to discover our identity. A grateful father merely lifted his hand in a gentle wave of thanks. I couldn’t seem to control my emotions as tears welled up in my eyes, brimmed over, and turned to slush on my cheeks.
Words cannot express the joy that we experienced that night. The moral of the story was evident as we stood there shaking in the cold. We had given of ourselves, but received the greatest gift of all… a reminder of our divine purpose. Suddenly, and for a brief moment, the world seemed perfect. We turned our efforts back to the car and it immediately pulled free. I have often wondered “why” and “how” the perfect strategy left us lodged in a snow bank that night. I have come to the conclusion that, although we had planned every step of our delivery, the Lord had planned a very special delivery of his own. At that moment, we didn't see poverty... deformity... or misfortune. We were blessed to see, as if blind before, humanity… through Christ’s eyes. In that sacred moment, we experienced the purity of His love.