Friday, December 22, 2017

"when I had none at all..."

"When my bankroll is getting small,
I think of when I had none at all,
and I fall asleep counting my blessings..."

Sometimes I am stunned by God's love for us all. This afternoon, He led a dear friend to re-read this post from Christmas, 2010. She, in turn, wrote to say how much it meant to her. So, I re-read it myself. And wept.

How could I have let this moment fade from memory. For months after that day, I woke up each morning "remembering" this example of grace, and used it as a springboard in my prayers and for my actions.  I am so grateful for my friend's email. So, I share this post again -- with Love:

"When my bankroll is getting small..." 

"When I'm worried and I can't sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings..."

I grew up singing this song to myself long into the middle of the night, all through the Christmas season. Long before VHS 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 TV listings in the newspaper to find that one showing of "White Christmas" we could count on each year.

For me,"Count Your Blessings," became a prelude to prayer.

Today this song came alive in a well-worn booth at a McDonald's restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River.

My husband and I had been driving all over the city on post-Christmas errands, and were both thirsty. Thankfully, there was a McDonald's. Perfect. Since the drive-thru lane was already a dozen cars long, 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 around doubled-up pairs of socks for footwear.

We placed our order, and I went to the drink station while my husband waited for his hot chocolate to be prepared.

As I stood in line at the drink dispenser, 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 looked very, very tired, 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 sense of 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.  Before leaving, he asked 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 humility, 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 -- or stocks and bonds, cars and vacation days. I filled my cup, and returned to where my husband was standing. Then I 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.  It was lit by the stars of love 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 then I realized that this time I needed to be a graceful recipient.  Their's was the greater gift.  And I could honor that.

I needed to, as the hymn says, "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.  I needed to respect their manger.  

My gift to them was 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 through their example. It was more than I could ever have hoped.

Thank you for Your unspeakable gifts.

offered with Love,


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