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.”

Words for the Roller Coaster of Life

Almost fifteen years ago Brent and I went to Six Flags for the first time together.  It was a big date early in our relationship. We spent the day loving every roller coaster and got soaked in water rides!

Six Flags is a blast for me because my wheelchair gives us a pass to the front of every line.   Then we are usually encouraged to stay for a second ride to avoid the hassle and slight delay of lifting me in and out of the seat!  Let me know if you want me to go with you on your next visit.

Toward the end of the afternoon we headed to the amphitheater for featured speakers and a concert with Point of Grace and several other artists.  We relaxed and were thankful that Brent’s back survived lifting me all day and my bottom survived the bumpy rides without my cushy seat.  The speaker, Andy Stanley, began to share.  It was the first time I had heard him, and I couldn’t believe it then, and I still can’t believe it now – the verse he used in his talk was etched in my memory.

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.  Proverbs 22:3

The fact that I walked (I mean rolled) away from a fifteen minute talk with a take away biblical principle and a verse that I have quoted over the years, and shared with others, is a hallmark of why I consider Andy Stanley one of the best communicators.  He has a gift, yet I’m sure he works hard to leave a listener with truth to remember, apply in their own lives, and use to help others in the future.  I’ve experienced other pastors and speakers who do this, just not quite like he does.  His one liners pack a powerful punch and resonate with me long after their delivery.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes/principles from Andy Stanley:

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

“Direction, not intention, determines your destination.”

We have an amazing church home – it’s ‘family’ – and we learn and serve there each week.  Even if you have a local church where you lock in, grow and serve in Christ, I hope you seek additional valuable resources.   Be encouraged by the great technology available to us today and check out some wisdom from outside your church’s walls.  You could start now by tuning in to a message at North Point’s service online ‘live’ at 9:00 or 11:00 on Sundays or during one of four rebroadcasts.  Additionally, the podcast is available later.  This week they launch a series called, ‘Be Rich: Do More. Give More.’   Interestingly,  I just read an article featured in this month’s Consumer Reports magazine, written by a neurologist, titled ‘Surprising health benefits of giving.’  We have some other terrific ‘giving’ resources…ah…sounds like a post on ‘Giving’ is on my horizon.

Be Rich: Do More. Give More”  just might be a new favorite quote after this series.