Friday, December 15, 2006

A Christmas Story - 2006

Christmas 2006

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;”
(Mathew 25: 35)
As we walked through the doors, out into the cold and darkness, I shivered a little as I pulled my gloves and hat on. That’s when I saw him. He was a little ways away from us, walking on the sidewalk. He had an old winter hat on his head, and a coat that seemed just a little too big. From the looks of him, he seemed quite poor, and possibly homeless. He was walking straight toward us, and for a moment, I thought about turning and heading the other way. But just then, he called out. As he did, I looked all around us, trying to see just who he was calling to. But we were the only ones there - standing in the dark and the cold. For an instant, I was afraid - as the stranger walked toward us . . .

“I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”
(Mathew 25: 35 & 36)

They were strangers, and he knew nothing about them. He had been told that the woman had been through tough times, and that she and her daughter needed a place to stay. But that was all he was told. So for a week, he prepared the rooms for the two strangers that would be living in his house. He painted the closets, and rearranged the furniture, hoping to make the rooms as welcoming as possible. And then the day came - when the two would be coming to stay.

He headed out to work that morning, wondering about the two he would meet later that day. He had no idea what he would find, when he came home that night. His wife had told him that the woman was leaving her abusive husband. But he was not prepared for the woman he met sitting at his table. She looked so tired, as if life had beaten her down - one too many times. Her eyes were sunk in, and dark circles were underneath them. She was way too thin, and he watched as she barely touched her food that night. The years of pain and sorrow, seemed to have left their mark on this woman.

That night, she went to bed in the room he had prepared for her. Her daughter was in the adjacent room. The two of them wondered what lay ahead, as they found themselves living - in a stranger’s house . . .

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give you drink?
And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in,”

(Mathew 25: 37)

Over the years, both Ted and I have found that there were times, when our lives were changed - by a stranger. It was true when Ted said yes to letting Jenny and myself live in his house, all those years ago. He had no clue who he was going to meet, when I moved into his house that day. It was the very beginning of a friendship, that would change all of our lives - forever . . .

We stayed in his home, for 3 months. It was a time of learning to trust, as well as learning how to live on my own. Each night, Ted would watch television with Jen and me - laughing and making us feel at home. Over those months, Jenny learned that there were men in this world - who were kind and good - and didn’t hurt us. And then it was time for us to move.

I had no clue where I was going to move to, but I knew that I needed to move Jenny closer to her high school. But as the days started to get cooler, and it was almost time for school to start, I still hadn’t found a place. I was beginning to panic. And then I went to go get my hair cut. As my friend Wendy cut my hair, I told her how upset I was that I hadn’t found a place for us to live. I told her all about my worries, and about all that Jenny and I had been through. And then she told me about her grandparents. They had a house for rent, and she wondered if I would like to see it.

I was so nervous, the day I went to meet her grandparents. As I pulled into the driveway, the couple came over to greet me. As they showed me around the house, I fell in love with it. It was older, with crooked floors and big flowers on the walls - but I loved it anyways. I really did want to rent it - but I knew that I couldn’t. I had nothing - no furniture - no money. How could I rent this house? As I stood in the middle of the living room, the couple asked me some questions. They wondered about where I worked, and about who I was. I told them a little about myself, that I was alone with my daughter. When they asked me about furniture - I told them I didn’t have any. At that moment, I knew that they wouldn’t rent the house to me. How could they? I was a stranger, with no furniture or income. As I turned to leave, Mr. Sandness stopped me. “Do you want the house?” he asked. At that moment, I had goosebumps from head to toe. I knew that God was right there - with us in that house . . .

“And behold, I am with you, and will keep you - wherever you go, . . .
For I will not leave you . . .”
(Genesis 28: 15)

Jenny and I lived in that house for 3 years. To this day, I still don’t know how we did it. I was always able to pay the rent, and there was always food on the table. I worked babysitting, and helped out in ministry - but neither brought in much money. Still, there was always plenty of laughter and joy in that house. Mr. and Mrs. Sandness became wonderful friends, and were like grandparents to Jen. And all of it happened, because they were willing to say “yes” to a stranger . . .

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, . . . In order to register, along with Mary, who was with child.
(Luke 2: 1 - 5)

And so, that day as we left the restaurant, we stood watching as a stranger approached us. He was not old, and walked quickly - even though it was very cold. “They have good food,” he said. And we agreed, even though we had only gone in to get some milk so I could take my medicine. My back had been hurting pretty badly. But as we stood there, the pain seemed far away from my thoughts. The man continued to talk to us. He told us that he would be having Thanksgiving dinner right there, at that restaurant. He then showed us the coupon they had given him. “But I am pretty hungry right now,” he said. And I had a feeling he was telling the truth.

“We have a few dollars I think we can give you,” I told the man, as I looked over at Ted. Nodding at me, Ted pulled a couple of dollars from his pocket. It wasn’t much, but the man seemed grateful for even that. As he took the money, we turned and started to walk away. I thought for sure, our time with him was over - now that he had gotten some money. But I was wrong. The man fell in step with Ted and I.

We walked along the sidewalk, heading to meet up with Jenny and her boyfriend. As we did, the man told us that he had fallen on hard times. As he told us a little about himself, I knew what he was feeling. I too had been homeless, and had even worried about our very next meal - and feeding Jenny. At that moment, my heart started to care about this man.

And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
(Luke 2: 6 & 7)

We walked for a little ways with the stranger. He seemed content to just be there with us. And then we came to a fork in the path. He turned to us, saying good-bye. And then he said: “And God bless you both” and he turned to walk away. As he said it, I felt God’s presence all around us. “Wait!” I called out to him, “What is your name?” I asked him. “Michael” he said. “Is it alright if we pray for you?” I asked. “Of course” he said. And then - he was gone . . .

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; . . .
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy - which shall be for all the people; . . .”
For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

(Luke 2: 9, 10 & 11)

When Michael was gone, Ted and I just stood there, looking at each other. And then Ted took my hands, and we started to pray. We asked God to take care of Michael, to be with him - wherever he was. As we prayed, we knew that God was right there - with us - and also with the stranger we had met - named Michael . . .

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth - peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
(Luke 2: 13 & 14)

I don’t know that we made a big difference in that man’s life, that day. But I do know that in that moment, God’s love seemed to be right there - for all of us. It was as if, because we were willing to care for this man, God’s presence came down from Heaven.

Each day, we have so many choices before us, so many demands on our time. It is especially difficult during this time of year, when there is so much extra that we all have to do. But it is in the moments, when we find a way to stop - and see another who is in need - to hold out a hand to someone who needs help - that God’s love is again - brought down to earth!

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy - which shall be for all the people; . . .”

In every life, there are times of troubles, as well as times of great joy. But it is in the sharing with another, holding out a hand to help a stranger - that we find the greatest gifts of life and Love. As we get ready to celebrate the gift of Christmas - it is my hope and prayer that you will say “yes” to caring - to loving and reaching out to another. When you do - Heaven’s door is open - and the “greatest gift of all” - - - is again found here on earth . . .

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15: 13)

God bless you and keep you, and may you be filled with wonderful blessings during this Christmas Season. Until we meet back here again . . .

In His Amazing Love,
Debbie & Ted Ayers