The Man from Hollywood…..and the Christmas Spirit

This afternoon I made a trip up to Daybreak.  We weren’t officially having our Sister Circle today, but since the shelter is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I wanted to go up and see our friends and wish them a Merry Christmas.

As I was saying goodbye to Mac and wishing him a good Christmas, I gave him a hug and noticed that his coat was damp.  The perils of living outside.  When it rains, everything you owns gets wet.  It is hard–this balancing loving someone whose choices put his very life at risk.  He has other options, other resources.  This is his choice at this time, I have to keep reminding myself.  It still didn’t keep me from worrying about the wind that was getting colder by the minute and him in those damp clothes as he limped away to his “camp” with his friends.

I was lost in my thoughts, standing on the sidewalk outside Daybreak watching him go, when this gentleman carrying two bags stopped and said hello. I turned toward him.

“You volunteer here, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yessir, I do.”

He stuck his hand out and introduced himself.  “I’m Sanford Robertson.  I’ve been in Macon twenty-three days now.  I’m from Hollywood, Florida.”

My mouth dropped.  “Hollywood, Florida?  Really?  My Mama was born there.”

He smile grew bigger.  He asked me if it was a specific hospital.  I couldn’t be sure and told him so.  I told him how I’d misunderstood when I was little about Mama being born in Hollywood, as you might imagine.

He laughed.  “Yes.  A lot of people get them mixed up.  It’s not THAT Hollywood.”

Y’all. I felt like I had a wink from my Mama.  Especially with the next words he said.

“You know there’s a blessing coming for you, right?  You just have to hang on a little while longer.  But yes ma’am, there’s one coming for you.”

I felt like Mama was there encouraging me again.  Hang in there.  It will be okay.  Oh my heart.

Mr. R continued to share his story.  He’s in town because he trusted someone, a fiancée, a little too much, followed her here, and gave her all his money. After which she was no longer his fiancée.  And so he’s stuck here.  Until he can work something else out.

In the meantime, he walks the streets of Macon making people smile and blessing them.  And sharing the spirit of Christmas and the Spirit.

Last week he found himself at the bus station.  There was a young woman there, crying her eyes out. “She was a child really,” he said.  “Twenty-two years old.  Babies having babies.  She has two.”

He approached her and asked, “Why are you crying, child?”

She sobbed harder.  He stood there until she could gather herself and speak again.  Turns out she was in a hard place.  She and her sister live in a home together with their four little ones between them–the youngest less than two months old.  She can’t pay the bills and she’s scared.

Mr. R offered to pray with her.  She nodded.  They joined hands and he prayed.  He’s a preacher’s kid, so he’s heard a few in his life.  After the prayer, she thanked him and he started to walk away.

“You ever have one of those moments when the Spirit taps you on the shoulder and wants you to do something, and you look around sure that He’s got the wrong person?  That He doesn’t really mean YOU?”

Ummm, once or twice, yessir.  Sure have.

“Well, the Spirit told me I should offer her the groceries I was about to pick up from the Mission.  I shook my head, and I kept on walking.  At least I tried to.  Yeah, I tried to keep on walking away, but it’s like my feet were frozen in place.  You know what I mean?”

I do.  We’ve all got a bit of Jonah in us, don’t we?

He sighed.  “Well, I finally figured out I wasn’t going to be leaving without doing what the Spirit wanted me to do, so I turned back around, and I told her where I was heading and that whatever I had coming my way was hers.  Hers and that family of hers.”

He tugged at his jacket.  The wind was picking up a bit. He continued his story. “Then she asked me, ‘Just tell me this one thing.  Why do you want to do this?’ and I told her, ‘I don’t want to do this.  But I’m going to.'”

I laughed.  He chuckled too.

“Well, I went on down to the Mission.  I told the man there, I was straight with him, that things had changed a bit, and that I had a friend who was in a bad way.  Worse than I was.  And he loaded me down with a ham, turkey, case of peanut butter, rice……” He listed all the things he could remember receiving.  They were very generous.  He estimated it was $75-$80 worth of groceries.  But I’m telling you I went to the store just the other day.  It was worth a lot more than that.

Mr. R started thinking about how he was going to get all of these groceries across town.  “That devil was trying to get me to keep those groceries for myself, I can tell you that.  From the moment I tried to walk away from her, he was a’tryin’ to change my mind.  But I was having none of that.  I used to be full of foolishness, but God’s working on me, and I’m not going to go back on my word that easy.”

He stood outside the Mission.  He had $3 to his name, all in his pocket.  He offered it to a few folks to drive him over to the young woman’s home.  Seems they all were headed in a different direction.  Again that devil was offering him an out.  Then he saw a grocery cart close by.  Just there, belonging to nobody.  So he loaded everything in it.  And tried to figure out how he was going to push that heavy cart all the way to her home.

“Then I seen one of them homeless fellas from down here [Daybreak] walk by.  I told him I had $3 and that was all I had, but it was all his if he’d help me push this cart over to her house.”  He paused and waved his arm out.  “We pushed that thing up all them hills, but you know, he stuck with me the whole time.”

When he got there, the young woman wasn’t home.  Her sister was, and she could scarce believe her eyes.  He opened their refrigerator and there was a half jug of milk and a bottle of water.  And that was all.  Hardly anything in their pantry either.  And they weren’t going to get any more assistance before January 1.

Y’all.  I can’t even.

He unloaded, and the sister timidly asked him a question.  “Mr. R?  Do you mind if I give you a hug?”

He said he has granddaughters older than these girls, and that when that “child” hugged him, she held on tight.  “You just don’t know how you’ve saved us,” she said.  “You just don’t know.”

The young woman who hadn’t been home when he made his delivery called him at the shelter later on.  She, too, was in tears.  “I had no idea you’d bring this much.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.”

By now the clouds were gathering and turning into shades of dark gray.  My sweatshirt that had been too warm on the ride up to Macon was nowhere near enough as I stood there listening to Mr. R’s story.  I was thankful he had on a few more layers.

“So you see, like I told her then, there’s a blessing coming, child.  I don’t know from where or when, but you hang on.  It’s coming.  One day.  It will come.” He asked me my name.  I told him. “For you too, Tara.  It’s coming.”

I looked at Mr. R, and for a moment, I was really puzzled.  Could it be that this man, who was headed out this afternoon, walking to the Salvation Army in the hopes of finding a bed for the night, had not a clue that HE was her blessing?  And in many ways–mine for today?

As we parted ways, me not sure if I would ever see him again or if I would get to hear how his story turned out, I gave thanks for Mr. R and his story.  And his birth and life in Hollywood, Florida.  And for his ways, so much like my Mama’s, who also would have given the shirt off her back if someone needed it.  Or her ham and turkey and last $3.  Whatever it took.

What a story for Christmas!  And everyday.  He reminds me of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.  He was interruptible, and he changed lives with his gift.  I wonder if those little ones looked at the man coming through the door with all those goodies loaded in a grocery cart, and thought that Father Christmas, Santa Claus himself, had arrived at their door.

The Spirit called him, and he answered.  May it be so with all of us.  (And God, when (not if, I’m afraid) I try to walk away, please freeze my feet too!)

Love to all.  And to all a good night.  Sleep well, Mac, I pray you are somehow miraculously warm and dry.  And Mr. R, may you sleep the slumbers of a soul done good, and those little ones and the sisters with full tummies, may you dream the sweet dreams of those who have been touched by love, a love that asks for nothing in return.  The true Spirit of Christmas.  And the Spirit of every day.

Sounds of the Season That Touched My Soul

Sunday night at Evening Prayer we shared the Christmas songs that shaped our souls.  It was an interesting evening of hearing Christmas songs from different genres.  The neat thing is that none were of the traditional carols or hymns.

I spent the better part of last week trying to decide what song or songs had most touched my soul and heart over the years.  At one time “O Come All Ye Faithful” was my favorite.  I would even try singing it in Latin.  I have one memory of the song that has stayed with me through the past eighteen years.  My Aub was baptized at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve morning.  It was a beautiful service and a beautiful day.  That night we returned to the church for the Midnight service.  The thirty minutes prior to the service beginning was a musical offering.  Just wonderful.  As I sat there with my sweet three-month old baby girl, singing along quietly to the music being played, waiting for the service to start, I looked at the candles glowing in the windows and the way the golden light made the wood glow.  I smiled at my girl who was wide awake, enjoying the music, and trying out her legs by standing up and bouncing.  As she jumped up and down, she ahem, well she created a need for a fresh start.  Still so full of joy, I was undaunted.  I slipped out the side door with her and went out to the car parked under a street light.  I freshened her up, and we started back across the dark churchyard just as the service began with “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  I held my sweet one close and began singing my favorite song…..I mean really belting it out since we were all by ourselves.  Or so I thought.  As I walked up close to the church steps I saw three of the older men standing in the doorway, grinning like a Cheshire cat.  “Merry Christmas, Tara!” they said, chuckling.  I was only a tiny bit embarrassed.  I had a full heart and though it might not have been a joyful noise, it was a thankful and reverent one.

Over time I’ve expanded my world of Christmas songs.  As I was looking at videos and listening to Christmas songs last week, I rediscovered one that I have loved over the years but had let slip from my memory.  “Nothing But a Child” written by Steve Earle.  Ah, Steve Earle.  Daddy loved Steve Earle’s music.  He had his tapes, and his favorite was “Copperhead Road.”  Daddy used to share that one in particular with fellas the sisters brought home, to see what they thought of the music.  I believe it was Daddy’s way of testing their mettle.

So when I came across this Christmas song last week, I fell in love with it all over again.  LOVE.  What a beautiful telling of the journey of the Wise Men.  It reminds me of the story Daddy wanted me to read a few years back, “The Story of the Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke.  I didn’t get around to reading it until last year, and just yes.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  A precious and memorable story of what it means to be interruptible.   So without further ado, I share with you the first of the two songs that have really touched my soul and rocked my world.

Once upon a time in a far off land

Wise men saw a sign and set out across the sand

Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night

Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light

They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west

Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest

They scarce believed their eyes, they’d come so many miles

And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for a while

Now all around the world, in every little town

Everyday is heard a precious little sound

And every mother kind and every father proud

Looks down in awe to find another chance allowed

This a comforting song for me.  “…..guide a weary world into the light of day…..”

And the next one is not.  It is a challenging song.

I grew up in the “We Are the World” generation. (And I’m not talking about the Justin Bieber version.)  How I loved that song.  I could only watch the video once a week (pre you-tube, folks) if I was able to catch it on Friday night videos (no cable for us), but I would sit and listen to the little 45 I had on the record player in the den over and over and over.  I would listen to hear which artist was singing which part.

As I was thinking about my songs last week, the line “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time” kept playing in my head.  I couldn’t find the song, but that’s because it is called, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”  It is done by Band Aid, much in the spirit of “We Are the World.”  And it is a beautiful and hard song.  The lyrics move me and make me ask myself the hard questions.  This one verse alone causes me much grief and pondering.

There’s a world outside your window

And it’s a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing 

Is the bitter sting of tears

The question this song makes me ask (after wondering where so many of these great artists are today–I mean, seriously, this is a Who’s Who of the 80’s music, right?) is:

Who knows it’s Christmas because of me and what I am living?

And my heart makes it harder by asking me this

Every. Single. Day.

The past few Christmases we have been able to be a part of a time with our friends we’ve made at the park and at Daybreak, whether on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, or the day after.  This year I haven’t heard of plans that we could be a part of.  And when I realize how much I will miss it, I remember what Miss N said at our Sister Circle just before Thanksgiving.  “Why does it have to be just one day?”  And I take my head and my heart in my hands, and say, “I don’t know.”

Last Saturday the Fella and I took the littles to see The Nutcracker.  We parked a few blocks away (long story) and made the trek over to the Grand Opera House through the rain.  We were dressed up for the occasion and had rain gear with us.  As we walked past a store with an open and covered front, we saw several of our friends from Daybreak and the park sitting out there, trying to stay dry.  The contrast between us dressed up walking in the rain to see an amazing performance and them huddling under a covered area to stay dry just broke my heart.  What do I do with that?

This year I am wondering how to make a difference.  Who will know it’s Christmas?  What moments will I remember as the most precious from Christmas 2013?

I don’t know, but I do know that I have to make it happen.  The only way I can enjoy Christmas morning with all the magic and celebration and family and joy and laughter is to know that I’ve done what I could to share Christmas with someone who needs it.  And not just today or Christmas day or this season, but each day I have the opportunity to.  That is where the best magic and most magnificent melodies of Christmas really come from.

Pinterest Win, Precious Ladies, and a Promise Kept

Last year getting ready for Christmas was pretty much one Pinterest win after another.  Yes, I know, right?

I had gift ideas I tweaked and made into reality.  Recipes? Yes.  As we had decided that for gifts from each other in our immediate household they had to be made or purchased from the GW Boutique or both, I was often on Pinterest for inspiration…..or looking for laughs to get me through all that stress of being crafty.

There was one project in particular that I especially enjoyed.  It was a clothespin Holy family ornament.  I am not sure what the original idea looked like, but I was pleased with the results.  I gave Mama one as part of her pre-Christmas goodies.  She loved it.  “I would love to give these to the ladies in my Circle,” she said, referring to the once a month gathering of ladies from her church.  Since they had already met in December, we decided that she could give them out at the July gathering–sort of a Christmas in July if you will.  I even had the perfect thing to put with it.  “Do you mind making them for me?” she asked.  “I’ll probably need 8 or 10.”

“No problem, I enjoy it,” I told her.

This has been in the back of mind and on my heart for a while now.  I spoke with one of the ladies from the Circle and found out that they had taken a break for summer but were starting back up this month, today in fact.  I knew it was time.  I asked if I could come for a few minutes and bring something Mama wanted them all to have.  The assurance that I was welcome was genuine and kind.

So last night I sat down with a pile of wooden pieces, my fancy cordless glue gun (I know how to maximize my 40% off Hobby Lobby coupons, y’all), and some paper clips.

"Whatcha making, Mama?" Cooter asked. "God and Jesus and His mama?"  Oh my.

“Whatcha making, Mama?” Cooter asked. “God and Jesus and His mama?” Oh my.

Very quickly it all came together.  Soon I had all them all ready.

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Mama wanted to share these with her dear friends from her Circle with a writing I found, interestingly enough, by watching Ally McBeal.  (Don’t judge.  I all but had my law degree by watching the whole series all the way through.)  One of the characters mentioned it in passing and it stuck with me.  Something about Christmas everyday.  We live in an amazing age, don’t you think?  The morning after I watched that episode, I Googled the line and very quickly found the original work.  It is called “Keeping Christmas” by Henry Van Dyke.  I was so moved by it, I shared it when I wrote about my Daddy and Granddaddy and the peppermints they shared with all the children when I was growing up.  This morning I printed out copies to give with the ornament to remind us all to keep Christmas.

And so it was that I sat with a group of sweet, dear ladies who made me feel nothing but welcome and loved, and they shared how much my Mama had meant to them.   We laughed over shared stories, and they loved seeing the pictures of Mama’s two newest grandbabies.  It was a sacred time, and I left them with my heart singing and my soul at peace.  I had taken care of something that was important to Mama.  That I knew it was something she had wanted to do and that I could make it happen–that was precious to me.

My parents were people who tried to live by the ideas presented in this selection.  They were human, after all, so they may not have had it down perfect, but they certainly kept trying.  That’s why it was such a pleasure to share this “work of art” by Mr. Van Dyke with my new friends.  It shouldn’t be just a way of life at Christmas but for all of our other days too.

So tonight my friends, I leave it with you.  I shared it last December, but it’s certainly worth being shared many, many times over.  May you too find it in your heart to keep Christmas everyday.  And may you be fortunate enough, like my Mama was, to find wonderful people around you to join you in this keeping of Christmas.

Keeping Christmas

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.  

Are you willing…

  • to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;
  • to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;
  • to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;
  • to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;
  • to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;
  • to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

 

Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;
  • to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;
  • to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;
  • to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;
  • to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;
  • to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;
  • to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—
  • stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—
  • and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

Six Days of the Week, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924 and 1952.

May you be blessed along your travels--may there always be kind people who make you feel at home and may you find joy and laughter in everything you do.

May you be at peace along your travels–may there always be kind people who make you feel at home and may you find joy and laughter in everything you do.