"When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings...
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings..."
- Irving Berlin
I grew up singing this song to myself in the middle of the night during all the months between December and, well...December. Long before home video and DVD copies of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" were available for any-time-of-the-year viewing, my sister and I would check the television listings in the newspaper, from Thanksgiving weekend on, to find that one showing of White Christmas we could count on each year.
For me, "Count Your Blessings" was always a prelude to prayer.
Today this song came alive in a pretty well-worn McDonald's restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River.
My husband and I had driven through the city on a post-Christmas errand, and were both thirsty. There was a McDonald's. Perfect. Since the drive-thru lane was already a dozen cars deep, I suggested we park and go in, thinking we'd have a much better chance of getting back on the road quickly.
I was wrong. The line at the counter was eight deep with quite a few folks waiting for their orders to be filled. It wasn't hard to notice that more than a few customers were in pretty dire financial straits. Pennies were being carefully counted out, old sweaters/shirts/jackets were layered on six deep, and one man had duct tape wrapped over pairs of doubled-up socks for footwear.
We placed our order and I went to the drink dispenser while my husband waited for his hot chocolate to be prepared.
As I stood there, I noticed a young family sitting at the end booth very close to where I was waiting in line to get my drink. The dad was very, very tired looking and the children--a boy around 10 years old, and a girl about 6 or 7--looked as if they'd been sleeping in their clothes, coats, and hats for days. But there was also a palpable dignity with which this young father cared for his children. He reminded them to use their napkins, to say Please and Thank You when passing the small cups of ketchup he'd gotten for them, and to excuse themselves when getting up for more salt.
It wasn't long before the dad himself got up to use the facilities, asking his son to be very watchful of his little sister. He hadn't been gone long before the little girl asked her brother, "When do you think we will get our Christmas presents?" Her brother looked quickly in the direction his father had gone, and then said, "This is our Christmas present. It is all they can afford this year." "Oh...," said his little sister.
I looked at their table. Each child had a simple cheeseburger, a small order of fries, and a milkshake. Dad had a cup of coffee.
I was standing there on the verge of weeping when suddenly their father slid back into the booth. His daughter got up from where she'd been sitting next to her brother, and scooched in next to her dad. She wrapped both her little arms around his arm, and laid her head against his shoulder and said, "Daddy, this is the best lunch I have ever tasted. Thank you for bringing us here. I love you."
I could barely take it all in. There was such gratitude and grace radiating from that table. Dad leaned down and kissed the top of his daughter's head, and then he reached across the table with his free hand to cover his son's cold-chapped hand with his larger one.
I walked away sobered, inspired, shaken, and deeply moved.
Talk about counting your blessings instead of sheep. I refilled my drink, returned to where my husband was standing, and leaned into his chest, trying to still the waves of emotion that were on the verge of taking me under.
I wasn't sure if I was more devastated by sadness, or moved with inspiration. I had learned more about grace in that moment of humility, than from all the Christmas "moments" I had witnessed, read about, or watched during the last few weeks leading up to the "big day."
This year Christmas came in the warm manger of a McDonald's booth, with the light in a child's eyes, the gentle wisdom of a brother's words, and the humility of a father's gift.
I thought about giving them something...money, a gift card...but I realized that this time I needed to be a graceful recipient of their greater gift to me.
I needed to "receive it, still." Receive their gift in the stillness of a manger heart. I needed to honor the dignity of their lives by walking away in silent awe. My gift to them is a heart filled with prayer, gratitude, and an aching hope that they neither lose the richness of who they are, nor the sweetness of what they gave to me today.
I have no doubt that God will bless their lives with all that they need. Just look at what He gave me today in their example. It was more than I could ever have hoped.
Thank you for Your unspeakable gifts...