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And a Child Shall Lead

I have driven this same route multiple times for the last three years.  It is the road to my mom’s and I make frequent trips to visit and help her with the challenges of aging.  The only thing different about today was that I had a few special passengers tagging along.  My daughter-in-law and her three little ones were visiting from out of town and they wanted to see great grandma.

The way involves freeway driving and upon arriving at my exit, I chose the middle lane on the ramp, allowing me to still make a left turn and be in the correct lane that led to my mom’s home.  At least that was the reasoning I used.  Truthfully, I wanted to avoid contact with him.

It was a rare day he was not there.  Holding up his cardboard sign, stating his plight in less than five words, he stood hoping.  Hoping for a little thoughtfulness, maybe even a smile or a wave to acknowledge his troubled existence.

Throughout the years, I have given to the needy I’ve seen on street corners, outside a gas station or store.  I’ve taken my children to deliver blankets, necessities, water, and food to the destitute in our town.  But, I always decide who gets my attention, and who I pass by.

This one looks like he could really use some help.  That one probably wants money for drugs or looks young enough to get out there and work. 

I had already profiled this man on the corner, and as such, he received nothing from me.

He was scruffy but in his prime.  From my estimate, he was young and healthy enough to seek employment instead of standing day after day, begging from others.  His rough demeanor solidified my opinion and so I avoided him.  This day was no different.

As words in my mind once again justified the choice to avoid eye contact with the stranger, a soft voice sliced into my rationale from the back seat.

“I wish we had something to give that homeless man.”

It was the voice of my seven-year-old granddaughter, free of judgment, full of charity.

Shame filled my entire being as I was snatched from my selfish, proud thoughts and reminded by a child the admonition to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”  When was it that I forgot?

Not knowing what to say, I said nothing.  Instead, I shoved the scene into the furthest corner of my mind, hesitant to see myself as I really was.

Another Chance

A few days later I was a passenger in a car with the same occupants, but this time my daughter-in-law was driving.  As we exited a different freeway to get gas, my granddaughter sighted another poor soul standing on the corner.

“Mom, do we have a water bottle we can give that man?”

Her mom answered we did, but it would be up to me to hand it to him since he was standing on my side.  Anxious to show I had grown from the previous experience, I readily agreed, and pushed the button that rolled down my window.  Grasping the water, I handed it to the old man.

“I hope this helps a little,” spilled the words I really meant.  As the water bottle slid from my hand to his, I looked into his eyes and for a brief moment, I was permitted to see a noble, valued, son of God.  I saw him as God sees him.

My granddaughter’s light rekindled mine that day.  Children humbly look to adults for models but how often do we stop and listen to the wisdom of a child?  Thank you, Afton, for your example of unconditional love.  Without love, we are nothing.

Choosing Joy

A Chance Meeting

I will never forget turning the corner and seeing her for the first time.  She radiated a smile that seized my heart and my eyes would not let go.  Who was this young girl, and what was the source of her light?

Not wanting to leave her presence, I changed my direction and walked alongside her.  She was like a ray of sunshine on a winter day and I desired to bask as long as possible in the warmth she emanated.

Desiring to learn more about this young woman, I asked her a question.  She answered with confidence, offering no apology for her severe speech impediment.  I struggled to pick out words that would help me catch what she was trying to say.  Some words came through, but most of our communication consisted of smiles and nods.  For this reason, I never learned her name.

The Silent Teacher

Reaching her destination, I turned to face my new companion and focus on her angelic face.  Words were not important as our spirits connected, and in a few brief minutes, she conveyed the lesson I hope I never forget.  Joy is not dependent upon circumstances, but choices.

This young woman was confined to a wheelchair.  Her feet and hands were twisted and bent, but her face, oh her face!  Dark, thick hair cascaded past her thin shoulders, framing the most contented, joyful countenance I have ever seen.  There was no hint of self-pity or loathing for her situation.  She had long risen above that.  Sitting before me was an individual who understood her worth and the purpose of her existence.

We are all crippled in one way or another.  Our disabilities may not be physically obvious, but we each struggle with some form of handicap.  It’s easy to let circumstances or weaknesses tarnish our self-worth and get in the way of reaching our potential.  This young woman chose to find joy in her travels through this earthly existence, despite the detours, peeks, and valleys that cluttered her path.  It’s all about choices.

In one small meeting, a wise young girl brightened my life with her smiles and laughter.  I can still feel the warm hug we shared before parting.  Was it a coincidence I came across her that day?  I like to think it was in the stars and she was sent to remind me that I am responsible for my own happiness.  I may never see her again, but her light and example will remain, filling me with the peace and joy that comes from knowing who I am and why I am here.

Hope in a New Year

January 5.  Five days into a new year and I’m still struggling with the culmination of the Christmas season.  I wrestle with this emptiness every year.  The more I put into the planning, the preparation, the surprises, and carrying out the traditions, the more I miss it when it’s over.

This time it has been particularly hard to let go of the past.  It was the year of The Gathering.  One week before Christmas, my six children and their families, totaling thirty-one in all, met for a family reunion.  It was four days of blissful memory making as we baked, decorated, played, and laughed.  The cousins, a year older since our last gathering, were once again best friends.  My adult children shared stories of growing up together.  This is one of my favorite activities as I am constantly learning about their antics and misadventures that I knew nothing about.  Where was I when that happened?

All too soon, the months of planning culminate in our last evening together.  Even though it was December 22, we celebrated it as Christmas Eve with the children acting out the Nativity and a special visit from St. Nicholas who left a surprise in each shoe.  This custom from our German heritage usually occurs on December 6th, but it was delayed this year to accommodate our timetable.

Several of the families traveled to our home to spend the rest of the Christmas holidays together.  Feeding and sleeping fourteen extra loved ones proved to be busy, yet glorious.  I never know when this will happen again, so I treasure each moment, clinging to it like a child holding on to her mother’s leg.  Time is an enemy when it goes by so fast.

So, here I am on January 5th, pulling wrinkled wrapping paper from under the furniture, throwing away leftovers that never got eaten, and wallowing in self-pity.  How I miss the blur of intense activity, loudness, and tight hugs.  I have no control over time moving forward, so I adapt by holding on to what I can.

Instead of putting away the festive decorations, I dust them and set them back in place.  My neighbors have ceased turning on their Christmas lights, but I flip the switch every evening as dusk approaches.  I allow my thoughts to wander and review past conversations, cherished moments with my grandchildren, and the recently shared miracles of the season.  Time marches forward, but cannot erase the light and joy of the past.

Moving onward, I think about a new year, full of promise and countless possibilities.  How can I fill each day of 2018 with meaning?  Just as I planned and prepared for last month’s success, I am responsible to continue creating productive days, making the most of each precious moment.  Instead of compiling a long list of resolutions, I’ve decided to focus on family and joy.  My hope is to find the kind of happiness that fills one’s heart with peace; the peace that comes by serving others.  I will take it one day at a time, grateful to be the author of my new year.

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