was my only memory of that Christmas, but it isn't. I remember watching my Father through the window as he began his long walk through the snow to the home of a wealthy farmer who, in return for my Father's labor, allowed us to live in one of his little three room houses for "free." It would be dark when my Father returned home. He was small never weighing over 130 pounds. He would cough until he finally fell asleep. There was no medicine.
I remember going to the well for water. How quickly the snow and ice soaked through my thin holy shoes. How slowly my feet warmed back up. I remember huddling close the fireplace that heated our home. When the fire died down at night, we were at the mercy of Momma's homemade quilts. The bed seemed to warm even more slowly than my feet.
Most of all, I remember wanting another piece of bread. I was just a child, and these are just childhood memories that never seem to go away.
That was many, many years ago. Times have changed. We have cell phones. Even our children have cell phones - and laptops - and things I don't even know the name of. We have three and four cars parked in our driveways.
Our homes glow with lights, Santas, reindeer, snowmen and anything else electrical that lights up and shouts out, "It's Christmas!" We throw away enough leftover food to feed an army. We throw away anything else we don't want (to make room so we can buy more stuff we soon won't want.) When we feel lazy or stressed, there's McDonalds. We
go to movies and buy $6 bags of popcorn. “Life is good,” so the shirt says. Yes, it appears life has changed since
But, wait. Look next door. Walk down a street in our neighborhood. Walk down any street in any neighborhood.
Look at our children shivering in their thin coats and worn shoes. See the hunger in their eyes. Do they wish for love, hope, another piece of bread? There's a homeless teenager who has no idea where he will sleep tonight.
When he thinks no one can see him, watch as he goes through the garbage until he finds the cheeseburger someone didn't finish. In spite of his hunger, he still has pride. That will change. Soon you will see the not-so-young woman with a bad limp. She tightly clutches the plastic bag tied around her waist. It holds everything she owns. Look at
her with your heart, and you will see what your eyes can't--- desperation, fear---for darkness is coming. She dreads the night. On any street, any corner stands the old timer. He's been around. He looks old for his forty-some years.
Weariness and despair darken his thin face. He, like my kind, gentle Father will not live to grow old. A life of hardship takes its toll.
Christmas 1944. Christmas 2011. Some things never change. The needs continue. The Upper Room Disciplines for 2011 states:
"In Christian scriptures, one of every sixteen verses deals with the poor. In the Gospels, the ratio is one in ten. In Luke, it's one in seven. In the epistle of James, it is one in five. "
"Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall also cry himself, but shall not be heard." Proverbs 21:13.
I have been the cry of the poor. My very existence validates that my cry was heard. Don't let your heart weary in hearing the pleas of the hungry, the cold, the homeless. Their cries are our opportunities.
Jesus said, "For I was an hungry, and you gave me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in." Matthew 25:35.
Christmas is about Jesus, the greatest gift ever. It's about His love, the greatest love ever. It's about giving and sharing that love. Jesus was very specific. He didn't leave much to doubt. If His words didn't cover His message, His life did. And His death. In Luke 3:11, we read, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him
that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise."
In a world so unbalanced by wealth and greed versus poverty and despair, the cries can seem deafening. I sometimes want to cover my ears. I don't want to know. I don't want to hear. In those moments of silence, when my ears are stopped, God invades my heart with that great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Love does not turn away.
The winter of 1944 presented many unforgettable hardships. The only hint of a Christmas season came in the form of an unknown church lady and an orange. This season of 2011, I pray my gratitude might be exceeded only by my generosity in sharing with those whose cries for help can still be heard above the noises of a materialistic Christmas. This season, I will count my coats. I will take time to smell the oranges. I will very humbly thank God for the childhood memory of an unknown church lady wearing a gold cross tied around her neck with a bright red