Saturday, December 20, 2008

A child's surprising gift to Jesus, and one woman and her faith on a cold, dark morning in Nashville

The woman, whom I learned later was 81 years of age, groaned as she brought her luggage carrier containing all her life's possessions to a stop at a bus stop bench at the corner of Monroe and Rosa L. Parks in a most impoverished part of Nashville.

It was 6 in the morning, a cold one and still dark. But the lady stood there fearlessly, as if she owned the corner. Then she did something very strange. She produced a large plastic bag and started picking up all beer and liquor bottles that littered the area. along with fast food wrappers and other things people thought were proper for a makeshift landfill of human disregard for right and wrong.

Yet the woman continued without asking me or anyone else for help. It was her responsibility, to a community she once knew and prayed would return to once people again learned to care.

I came out of the Kroger's and started to the corner where the bus stop stood. But the lady had already dragged the bag weighing more than 30 pounds partly toward the trash receptacles at the store. So as I carried it the rest of the way, this mysterious lady treated me to the folllowing story of her faith and resilence when most people would have given up and cowered in fear:

"What is Christmas," the very young girl asked her all-knowing mother.

"It's Jesus birthday, mom replied.

"So we need to get him some presents," the little girl said as she gazed at the living room Christmas tree.

A few minutes later, she emerged with a box poorly wrapped. And the little girl put the package under the tree.

Mom was intrigued. So as if she was the child instead of the mother, she tried to peak through gaps in the wrapping to see what her daughter could have possibly selected for Jesus.

Finally, she opened the package. And the box was empty.

She asked her daughter "where is the present?"

"It's there," the little girl said. "It's love."

Yes, indeed. Love. The meaning of this season and all those after.

Another woman with me who had also exited the Kroger's kept reminding the 81-year-old to be careful, in this world and community that no longer was the way it should be.

She answered with an unmistakable statement of faith: "I pray. I pray all the time. God is with me."

Indeed. Emmanuel ... God is with us.

How have we forgotten amid our rush to buy presents and secure the surface things of joy?

This 81-year-old lady had not. And no longer will I.

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