The Gift

27 11 2010

The year was 1998. Christmas had come and we at Miller Manor had finished stuffing ourselves with the tantalizing delicacies that filled the table this time of year. All the presents had been opened and pictures snapped of each person holding or wearing their new prized possession. Only thing left was clean up the mess and then kick back, relax, and breathe a sigh of relief that Cathy and I had made it through another season without breaking the stress meter before the holiday got here. Many can relate to what I’m saying. Much as we adore this time of year, the preparation leading up to it can sometimes bring a person close to the edge. Sometimes I feel a little silly when it’s all over on how worked up I get worrying things will not go well. I try to think of a Christmas that went bad, only to come up with memories of laughter, joy and smiles at each and every one of them. Sitting now in my favorite chair, drinking a cup of coffee while the kids were busying themselves with their treasures, a warm feeling of satisfaction permeates my inner being letting me know all is right with the world. Then, “Hey dad, did you get batteries for this thing? It won’t work without them!” Well phooey! So much for the warm satisfaction of the inner being because now I have to drag my outer being out into the cold to find somewhere open that has batteries! Twenty years prior, you would have been hard pressed to find anyplace open, but in today’s world of the convenience stores, you’ll have half a dozen in a small radius running 24/7/365. The first one I went to was just a mile from the house, but it was so packed I couldn’t get in the parking lot. Guess there’s lot of us who forgot batteries. Driving on I went to the next store a few blocks up, but they were sold out. Ok, up through town to the next. “Sorry sir, we sold out of batteries early.” What’s wrong with these places!? Don’t they know that for Christmas ya gotta stock a lot of batteries for pete sake!? Back out into the cold and onward to the next destination. There I saw it the moment I walked through the door, the tree of AC life! Batteries galore, halleluiah! My jubilation was short lived because I then learned buying at an establishment such as a convenience store; you end up paying twice as much as you would at a regular store. Peering down at the price tag steamed me thinking how dumb I was to forget them in the first place and now the gall of this place to take advantage of my circumstance. ‘Come on Miller, bite your lip, swallow your pride and buy the dumb things so you can get back home to the family.’ Begrudgingly, I headed to the check-out to find myself waiting twenty minutes before I was taken care of. The first person in line was taking their good old sweet time buying a variety of lotto tickets; and my inner being was going burn, burn, burn. With the next customer, the girl at the cash register messed up their purchase and had to start over, and my inner being was going burn, burn, BURN. Then something happened to the register as she waited on the person in front of me and we had to move over to another register, but first she had to feed receipt paper into it and get her cash drawer in order, and my inner being went burn, BURN, BURN! The grumbling from customers was starting to fill the air, and with good reason, right? When the customer in front of me was finally taken care of, he let this gal know just how dumb and incompetent he thought she was. He left and now I was standing before this girl, this child; and her face was red and tears were starting to stream down her cheeks, and my inner being whispered, ‘Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.’ “Hey cutie, that face is too pretty to have it all messed up like that,” I said with a smile (1st one I found since leaving the house). “The manager never told me it was gonna be like this today, this madhouse, and I only started two weeks ago. I don’t want to be here either. My kids are at my parents because I need to work, I need to make money so we can live.” Reaching in my coat pocket I pulled out a small present, something Cathy and I make and handed it to her; “just concentrate on taking care one person one at a time and if you start to get overwhelmed again, use the gift, it’ll make you feel better. Then remind yourself, soon you’re gonna be back with those kids that think you’re the greatest.” That’s all it took. The natural beauty came back to that girl’s face and with a smile and a ‘Merry Christmas,’ I headed for home with the satisfaction I felt inwardly earlier, but now, also humbled. I thought about the girl the rest of that evening and her situation, her dilemma of having to work a minimum wage job to support her and her children. I thought about what it must feel like to work Christmas, separated from the ones you loves and having to deal with people with attitudes, yours truly amongst them. That became the catalyst for a Christmas tradition that my Lady and I have been doing ever since; and now, I share it with you. Each Christmas morn we are up early, armed with boxes of small gifts we’ve made and we head into the community to hand them out to all that we find working. You would not believe the reaction you get when you walk into a place and hand one of those to someone with a smile and “Merry Christmas!” We thought we did pretty well that 1st year handing out 50. Then we realized there were a lot more folks working this day than we first imagined. Besides convenience stores there were hotel staffers, guards at factories, and drug stores. Then you have the police, the sheriffs’ office, the fire department, the EMTs and the hospital staff. Recent years we’ve been adding retirement homes where there’s even more people working. And then there’s the occasional person you just happen to run into that looks like they could use a little cheer. I see no reason to tell you how many we give out, but just say it has grown substantially and probably will continue that way. Yes, the cost can get a little salty, but if you spread it out over a year it’s not too bad. There have been a couple of years I didn’t think we were going to be able to do it when funds were low, but God must see some good out of it because we’ve haven’t missed a Christmas since the first. Now let me make this straight, I don’t tell you folks this to blow my own horn and have you think “isn’t that just wonderful what they do.” I’ve actually never looked at that way. What I’m doing is showing off my Christmas present; to me! Musician and writer John Fischer made this comment recently in his devotionals that sums it up best. “Everyone always asks what did you get for Christmas? But how often has it ever been asked, what did you give for Christmas? And isn’t that what it’s really about anyway?’ Christmas will be festive at the Miller home again this season. I’ll be with my Lady, kids, grandkids and friends. We’ll go bowling (a Miller tradition), come back to the house, read the true Christmas story, let the little ones open presents 1st, then the big kids and finish with food and laughter. That’s one gift to me. But that morning my lady and I will be making our rounds and even adding several places to leave our little presents. That’s another gift to me. On each of the presents there’s a little sticker that says ‘Unto to us a child is born.’ That, my dear friends, is truly the greatest gift. May your Christmas be filled with laughter, joy and love. And as you enter into a new year perhaps you will think of a way to make someone else’s next Christmas just a little brighter. Trust me, it will be one of the greatest gifts you’ll receive, not under the tree, but in your heart.




2 responses

27 11 2010
Lori Kottman

John, what a beautiful story, thank you for sharing your gift with all of us. May God bless you and your family. I do my best to share the true gift of Christmas with others, but there is always more we can do. Thank you for that reminder.

28 11 2010

John, this is one of the most wonderful Christmas stories I’ve ever read and it sure hits home because I used to be one of those people leaving my babies on Christmas Eve to go work a midnight shift at the hospital. Thank you so much for sharing it. It really does make a person think differently. And, I now know why you can smile every day of the year. God has truly blessed you in so many ways and this is just another one of those ways. Through you, He’s working miracles on one of the holiest days of the year. Bless you and Cathy for all you do. I’m honored to consider you a good friend.

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