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Christmas is a wondrous and joyful time of great HOPE! Hope can turn a weary life into a wonderful life. This story did not happen at Christmas time, but it reminds us of what Christmas is all about and that God wants the Christmas spirit to live in us all year long.
I served with the Missions Area of the Ontario First United Methodist Church as they reached out to the marginal and homeless people of the Inland Empire. This was a quarterly event that included dinner, singing, worship, and arts and crafts with the children. During one of these events, we became aware that there was a need to give special attention and hope in the weary worn community we were serving.
We invited a homeless family to our home in Mt. Baldy for a few days to get them out of the rat race of seedy hotels, lice, and discouragement. The children, ages 6, 4 and 3, could not play outside because it was too dangerous.
In those three days in Mt. Baldy, the parents washed dirty clothes that were piled high in the trunk of their car, enjoyed a few walks by themselves, dreamed and made plans for their lives. The children squealed with happiness as they splashed in the creek, climbed up in the treehouse, hiked to the orchard with Charlie, our neighbor’s Border Collie and picked fruit, played ball in the front yard, and made cookies for the first time in their lives. They also took baths. The little three-year-old took four bubble baths in one day! Her sparkling clean soft curls bounced as much as she did.
They all helped with meals and ate as though they never would again. They were eager to hold hands and say grace before eating.
Tears flowed from their Daddy’s eyes when he came in from a walk and heard his children singing and laughing. He asked me if I knew some of the hymns his grandmother had taught him as a child. I did and he joined us in singing those hymns. It surprised his children to hear their daddy sing and that he knew about God and Jesus. I believe he surprised himself and felt better when he remembered he had a foundation of faith that would help him.
The children were tucked into beds with clean sheets each night but on their last night, they wanted more. They asked Pam and me to tell them a story, teach them how to pray bedtime prayers and sing a goodnight song like we did with our grandchildren. Their mama and daddy joined us.
All scrubbed and clean, tummies full with a hearty breakfast, plus a bag of goodies prepared for each of them, they left the mountain with hugs and kisses and a sheer pleasure, but most of all, with a sense of hopefulness instead of hopelessness. We discovered that it’s not only adults who need hope in their lives, children also hunger and thirst for hope. The next week we went to the motel to see them, but they were no longer there. We prayed they had begun life anew with hope.
God sent the Christ child to give our weary world a thrilling sense of hope. Giving HOPE to others is one of the greatest gifts we can give at Christmas.