It has been a hard week since the tragedy of those many young lives that were senselessly lost last Friday in Connecticut. This week, I have heard God whisper to me to keep my eyes open for the good things. Yes, there is a lot of tragedy in this world. And, honestly, there are many things that could leave us heartbroken and paralyzed if we opened our eyes to see into the depths of other lives - those around the block as well as those in countries outside our own.
And at the same time, I keep hearing more clearly God reminding me to look around and celebrate the good things - like my friends who are expecting new life and the joyous new marriages that are taking place. We need to find joy in this season by looking to the cradle, even when it is easier to look to the grave. So today, I saw the meaning of Christmas and the purpose of that cradle before my very eyes.
After our lunch and devotion at Gallatin CARES, a new mom and her mother (the new grandmother) asked me if I knew of any cribs that had been donated to the Thrift Store next door and if we could hold one for them. I explained that they just randomly show up and I hadn't seen one but that I would keep my eyes open for them next time I shopped. Shortly after this, I popped over to the store and we found a crib that had been donated just this morning. It was a nice wooden crib, in good shape, that was fairly priced at $75. The mom and grandmother were actually even more discouraged after seeing it and said it was simply out of their price range. We began talking and I asked what their price range was. I had a little cash in my pocket and quickly considered taking part of the burden from them but something held me back from suggesting that immediately. Something had me just wait a moment before suggesting anything at all. Within that moment, a man appeared out of nowhere. He walked up to this new mom and grandmother and asked them if they would allow him to purchase this $75 crib for them.
I wish I could bottle up the emotion that this moment held for each of us. The man, humbly offering to help this family. The women, humbly accepting his help. And me, humbly being allowed to simply witness this gift of a cradle for a new birth.
The scripture we studied today just before these women received this gift was Matthew 2:11:
They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (CEB)
Good things do still happen. Gifts are still being given and love is being shown. Jesus came to teach us this lesson. Let us be the givers and doers and sometimes simply the observers of the good things because they do still happen.
Keep your eyes open my friends, keep your eyes open.
A friend of mine at Gallatin CARES who walks all over town - literally - is one of the most joyful people I know. He is also one of the most faithful members of our weekly Wednesday Bible Study and shows up no matter the weather, on foot.
I will also admit, he is the kind of friend that has had to grow on me. At first, I wasn't so sure how to respond to him. My friend, we will call him Jim, is full of excitement and praise - loud praise. The first few times I delivered the message at our Sunday service, I got multiple "Amens" and "Uh-huhs". I wasn't sure if he genuinely liked what I was saying or if he just liked that I was quick to get to my point and not very long-winded!
Jim will often interrupt me when I am leading Bible Study each week to be sure I don't miss any points. He also repeats much of what I say either because he wanted to make sure he understood or because he couldn't hear me the first time. Sometimes I have to kindly and clearly ask Jim to simply sit down and be quiet. Jim will give me a good hearty "Hello" and "How are you doing?" the moment he catches my eye, every time he sees me (or anyone in his path). Let's be honest, Jim, may not have been the most likely choice for a friend. The fact that he has daughters older than me is just one of the many differences in our lives. Jim and I have one thing in common, we both want to grow in our faith and sometimes that can be uncomfortable.
The week we practiced silence as a spiritual discipline in Bible Study was especially challenging for Jim. However, he practiced. Jim was the only member of our Bible Study to report back to me that he practiced his silence every single night that week. He did also follow up with how hard it was to practice silence (that got a good honest giggle from the other friends hearing his silence update). Jim wants to be in on the action. He wants to be included and part of a community. Jim wants to learn. Jim wants to give back.
Recently, Jim picked up his bag that he carries all over town and began digging to the bottom. He told me he had something special for me and I was not sure what he was going to pull out of that bag. It reminded me briefly of an episode of "Let's Make a Deal", but not being sure what he was digging for, I was a bit hesitant to reach out and receive. Jim pulled out a tiny container of Almond Joy coffee creamer (the kind you find at a gas station coffee bar). He held it up to me with a giant smile on his face and a giggle in his voice. He told me he wanted me to have this highly coveted flavor of creamer and asked if I drank coffee. I enthusiastically replied yes (which is a slight stretch of the truth since the closest I get to coffee is a Decaf Starbucks Via in my favorite Chocolate Mocha Smoothie). I said yes because I couldn't not receive this gift of joy - Almond Joy.
Christmas giving can be so routine. It can be stressful. Jim has taught me a lot. He has reminded me of the story of the widow's mite. He has taught me it is not about what I give, but how I give. I hope I can give this season with an ounce of the joy that Jim gives.
Mostly, I think that my unlikely friend, "Almond Jim", has taught me to receive. He has taught me it is indeed possible to receive in both the silence and the noise this Advent season.
May you find joy this Christmas!
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC