The Gift of Transparency Opened Again

Touching vignette by my talented cousin – thanks Buddy.

The Gift of Transparency Opened Again on December 19, 2012
By Buddy McElhannon (

Going to work the week before or after Christmas is usually a lonely experience. So it has been no surprise that the commute this week has been easier and the lines in the Food Court nonexistent. I fully expected my short lunch today to be a solitary affair and it almost was.

Two thirds through my veggie taco I looked up and spotted a familiar face. A former colleague, now a vendor rep saw me and made a beeline for my table. No doubt I was the only one he recognized in the sparsely populated Food Court . Ken had retired a few years ago and moved into vendor sales. He had the personality of a salesman, always smiling, always talking, and always seemed like he was about to make a sales pitch. His manner occasionally bordered on the obnoxious but I only hesitated a moment when he asked if he could join me. Hoping he didn’t notice the cautionary tone, I welcomed him with a “Sure, have seat.”

Our conversation was light just catching up on who was still working, who had retired, and who had died. Unfortunately we knew more of the latter and less of the former. We briefly discussed retirement plans and then to the more immediate topic of what we were doing for Christmas. I could tell from the way he talked he was unaware that I had lost my wife 2 years previous. I decided not to mention it, as I just did not want to spend another 20 minutes talking about it. But something prompted me and when Ken took another bite of his sandwich I simply stated, “I don’t know if you heard but I lost my wife 2 years ago to cancer.”

Ken’s response was typical, a look of shock followed by a heartfelt, “No, I didn’t know, I am so sorry.” What followed next,however, humbled me yet again at how a loving God works in the hearts of men. Ken stared at me as if not knowing what to say next. His blank silent look only magnified the growing moisture in his eyes. He looked briefly away and then as if a decision had just been made he turned back to me and said. “Now I know why I met you today.”

He was no longer a salesman selling. He was a wounded heart thankful for an opportunity to talk with an understanding soul. He related how his wife Patty had just had her annual mammogram with the result being an order from the Doctor for a biopsy. Needless to say, they were stunned. They had yet to tell anyone, not even their daughter. This always confident salesman now possessed all the assurance of baseball batter in a slump. He had no idea what to do, what to say or how to help his wife. With a look that reflected both desperation and gratitude, he confessed, “I may need your help.”

I simply encouraged him and told him to take one step at a time, wait for the results and just be there for his spouse. I commented that as much as he wants to fix it (doesn’t every man), right now he needs stay close to his wife, be a good listener and a strong shoulder. And call me when they get the news and we will talk some more. He once again smiled at the providential meeting and asked for my prayers. I reached out, touched his arm and said “how about right now.” We bowed our heads and I prayed, “Lord, may Ken and Patty know your loving and healing presence. Be with them now and give them strength and faith to follow you through this storm.”

Shaking hands we then turned and walked in opposite directions. That lonely lunch had become a battleground of faith. I remembered my morning prayer. “Lord, help me to help others.”

The gift of transparency had been unwrapped again.

The Christmas Gift

A wonderful vignette written by my cousin Stewart, aka ‘Buddy’, McElhannon a couple years ago.  I hope you find a ‘Katherine’ or ‘some Katherines’ to help this season if you are able.

Her name was Katherine.

She worked at the Chick-fil-A Restaurant in the Food Court next to my office building. Each morning, as was my custom, I would drop into the Chick-fil-A and order a medium iced tea – half sweet, half unsweet. Katherine usually took my order. In her 50’s, short and sweet, she reminded me of a doting grandmother.

“Half sweet, half unsweet, half sweet, half unsweet…” When I first met her, I was struck by how she would mutter to herself as she walked from the counter to the tea dispenser, making sure she didn’t forget my order. It didn’t take her long to remember me, though, and soon she anticipated my order even before I said anything. “Half sweet, half unsweet?”

During Christmas, 2008, I had started a personal tradition of wrapping small gifts, like Hershey candy bars, and handing them out to people I encountered each day as a simple way of saying “Merry Christmas!” The usual targets of this Santa’s giveaway included the security guards, the secretaries, the various receptionists, and, of course, my friendly workers at Chick-fil-A. But as Christmas approached in 2009, I wanted to give something other than a chocolate bar. To my most pleasant surprise, the local Lifeway Bookstore had a special Christmas offer: they were selling Casting Crown’s latest Christmas CD for $5. It was already my personal favorite Christmas CD. I grabbed 20 CD’s and went home to wrap them.

The next day, with my CD’s all wrapped and in my bag, I went to work with my best Santa Clause grin and proceeded to hand out these token Christmas gifts, wishing all of the familiar faces a hearty Merry Christmas! When I dropped by Chick-fil-A that morning, I picked up my tea and handed a rather shocked Katherine the wrapped gift. A big smile immediately exploded across her face. “Oh thank you” was all she could say.

Now I must confess that after spending part of my day giving out these gifts, I felt pretty good. It was fun to see people’s reactions and quite heartwarming to surprise someone with an unexpected gift. But I was not prepared for what happened a couple weeks later.

It was Monday, January 4th, and I was back at work. Stopping by ChicK-fil-A, I was greeted by Katherine with that smile on her face, already muttering, “Half sweet, half unsweet?” After filling my order, Katherine looked at me and shared how much she appreciated the gift of the CD. She went on to explain that her husband had recently lost his job and money was so tight they decided not to give any gifts at Christmas. So she had taken my gift home and placed it under the tree. And with a cheerful, almost beaming countenance, she exclaimed “It was the ONLY gift I opened on Christmas morning. My husband and I loved the music and I just wanted to tell you thank you so very much.”

What could I say? I really don’t remember what I did say other than smile and offer a lame “you’re welcome.” With my head spinning and my knees shaking, I somehow walked outside only to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes. Could it possibly be that the only gift Katherine had at Christmas was the $5 CD I had given her? Humbled, I somehow made it to my desk. The day was a blur as my mind seldom strayed far from that morning’s encounter.

Frankly, at this point I remain at a loss for words. I am a blessed man. With the love of my wife and children, countless gifts at Christmas and a home filled with joy and scents of a Christmas season, I am not sure I can even fathom a Christmas morning like Katherine had. Grateful but humbled with all that I have been blessed, I am once again reminded that the true gift of Christmas is not what is wrapped under the tree but what was wrapped in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000+ years ago. “Oh Lord, help me to be a generous man, a channel of your blessings to those around me, not only at Christmas but every day of the year. Thank you that a single gift under Katherine’s tree was a reminder of THE single Gift You gave to all of us.”