So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.~2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV
Sparkling, sun-kissed snow caused puddles to form on the cobblestone sidewalk.
Tiny streams meandered toward the red brick steps leading to the veranda. White colonnades, wooden rockers, and potted evergreens added elegance to this stately home. It was a picturesque morning. That is, it would have been, except for the turmoil within.
Kimberly stepped outside, and exhaled. “God, I need Your guidance,” she prayed. “You’ve provided for our family well. We lack nothing; but unfortunately, that’s the problem.”
Just then, Kimberly’s mother, Grace, drove up. She took gift boxes from the trunk. “Hey, Kimmy! Have the kids opened their presents?”
Kimberly went to the car, took the packages from her mother, and walked up the sidewalk. “Of course they have.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t come earlier. These bones of mine set my schedule sometimes.”
Kimberly was silent.
“It’s Christmas,” Grace said. “Wear a smile.”
“I’m concerned about the children. The presents are great, but…”
“They’re gift-focused rather than Christ-focused?”
“How did you know?”
“You gave me the headline; it was easy to guess the rest.”
“Paul is trying to break up an argument right now.”
“The new gaming system. They can’t share anything! I came outside so I could think. I haven’t gotten my coffee yet, and the day is ruined!”
“It’s not ruined. Tell me, who was arguing the loudest?”
“I guessed so. I’ll take her with me to the mission today.”
“Mom, if you’re thinking that will help her to be generous, it won’t. Stephanie can’t see past the mirror most days. She would just be rude to the people.”
“Allow me to try, okay?”
As they stepped onto the veranda, Grace touched Kimberly’s shoulder. “Before we go inside,” Grace said, “let’s bow.” Mother and daughter knelt and petitioned the Lord.
TRUCE AMONGST TINSEL
“Grandma!” Stephanie and Brian exclaimed as their grandmother walked into the house.
“Kisses and hugs for Grammy! Mmm! I love you both! Big hugs! Ooh!”
“So, that’s how to redirect them!” Paul said, running his fingers through his hair, “They’ve been arguing all morning.”
“Kimberly told me about it. I’m glad I could interrupt the fight for you.”
“It’ll be a temporary truce,” Paul said.
Grace glanced at the floor. “It looks like they’ve had fun, too.”
“The wrapping paper adds that lived-in look to our home,” Paul said sarcastically.
“Grandma, give me my present! I want it now!” Stephanie interrupted.
“Yea, Grammy,” Brian added, “I want mine too. Gimme, gimme, now!”
“At least you two agree on something,” Grace said, presenting the gifts.
Brian and Stephanie tore through the wrapping paper, adding it to what already littered the floor. Brian briefly lifted his new cargo pants for his parents to see. “It’s clothes,” Brian said matter-of-factly. He resumed his seat at the gaming system, dropping the trousers on the floor.
“Son,” Kimberly scolded, folding the trousers, “say thank you.”
“Thank-ya-mam, think-I-can, get-ta-tha-game, an-turn-off-my-brain.” Brian said, pretending to be a robot from the game he was playing. He continued gaming.
Stephanie held up the cardigan. “Grammy, I love it! Purple is my favorite color!”
“Steph,” Grace said, “come with me to the mission this afternoon.”
“I have gifts for the people. Should I carry them all by myself?”
“Someone will help you.”
“Most of the volunteers will be with their families today. I thought I could rely on you.”
“I guess so….” Stephanie said.
“We’ll leave at 3:00 pm.”
“I’ll wear my cardigan.”
THE MISSION CHURCH
“Grandma, what did you get them?” Stephanie asked when they arrived at the mission church.
“What a Christmas,” Stephanie said, lifting a box from the trunk. “This would be fun if I was ninety-nine years old,” she mumbled.
Grace pretended not to hear the remark. Each carrying a large box, the two entered the processing room in the basement of the church.
“Steph, I need to sort clothing,” Grace said. “Will you distribute these gifts to my friends?”
“But… I don’t know how.”
“Smile, and ask their size,” Grace said. “This box has the kids’ gifts, and this box has the teens’ and adults’ gifts.”
Stephanie stacked the two boxes in the hallway. They were big enough for her to crouch behind. She could see into the classroom where the people were seated on benches and folding chairs. She noticed each person was huddling. That puzzled her because it was warm inside. Not one person who had a coat on took it off. Most carried backpacks, which they guarded with ferocity. Some had the sniffles. One woman had a severe cough.
One man had taken an entire platter of cookies from the refreshment table. He was eating the cookies as if they were a meal. Another man was attempting to take the platter away from him. The first man stuffed three cookies into his mouth and turned away. The platter tumbled to the floor. Both men dropped to their knees, stuffing broken cookie pieces into their mouths as fast as they could. A lady scraped crumbs off the discarded platter.
Stephanie’s mind flashed to the argument she’d had with her brother over the gaming system. I wonder if Brian and I looked like those men to Mom and Dad, she thought. I need to apologize to my brother and to my parents when I get home.
Stephanie continued to observe. Some people needed dental care. Two had tumors. One was partially blind. Several walked with canes. One woman had a shiner.
Grace peered into the hallway. “Steph, my friends are waiting. Are you going to hide behind those boxes, or are you going to bring them some Christmas cheer? Serve my people, please.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Would Jesus serve them?”
“Alright, but I’m just gonna hand those people the gifts and then we’re leaving, okay?”
“Agreed,” Grace said aloud, while silently praying Stephanie would see her friends from God’s perspective.
SHOELACES ‘N SWEATERS
Stephanie felt awkward as she and Grace carried the boxes to the classroom. Grace abruptly left.
“I’ll be back. Serve my friends, please!” Grace called as she scuttled to the processing room.
Stephanie stood motionless. How could she relate to the people? And, if they did relate to her, would she want them to? People began to form a line in front of the boxes.
“These boxes got presents in ’em? Is they for us?” a gentleman asked.
“Yea, what’s your glove and sock sizes?” Stephanie said, stiffly.
“I don’t know. I ain’t never had gloves. Can I have large socks?”
Stephanie looked at the man’s hands and guessed his size. “If these don’t fit, come back and I’ll get you another pair.” How is it possible, she thought, that this is the man’s first pair of gloves?
As Stephanie distributed the gifts, she secretly watched each person’s countenance lift. Soon, the floor was littered with wrapping paper as her home had been. She glanced at the man who she had served first. He was holding his gloved hands wide open, admiring his newfound treasure.
A tear trickled down Stephanie’s face. She wiped it with her wrist and watched, transfixed at this man’s joy.
DANCING WITH A FRIEND
Suddenly, a burst of cold air caught Stephanie’s attention. A family had entered the mission. She handed each of them the gifts, except for the teen, who had withdrawn to the refreshment table. Stephanie followed her. The teen dropped her head. Stephanie realized she was a classmate.
“Marcie? Is that you?”
Marcie slumped. “Just give me the present and go.”
“Why are… you… here? I mean, you’re welcome to be here but…” Stephanie searched for words.
“Mom forced me to come,” Marcie said, burying her head in her un-gloved hands.
“I didn’t want to come either. My grandmother made me come.”
Marcie swung her foot.
“Hey, I know that dance,” Stephanie said, tap dancing around the bench. She sat on one side and rolled her hip onto Marcie’s, causing her to slide off. Marcie pushed back, sending the light-footed tap dancer to the floor.
Marcie gasped. She stood and offered a hand up.
“I’m alright,” Stephanie, grasping Marcie’s hand.
The girls giggled.
“Okay, Marcie, I still wanna know what brings you to the mission church. Your dad has a great job. What brings you here?”
Marcie paced around the bench. Should she share?
“I won’t tell, I promise,” Stephanie said.
“My dad got laid off two summers ago,” Marcie said. She shuffled around the bench in a penguin walk.
Stephanie noticed Marcie was covering a tiny rip on the elbow of her sweater. One shoelace was tied in a broken spot.
Marcie discerned Stephanie’s observation, and blushed. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.”
“It’s okay. Let’s sit. I’ve been standing all afternoon.”
“Yea, I just walked twelve blocks. What did you get for Christmas?”
“We got a gaming system, my brother got a skateboard, I got this cardigan, and…” Stephanie stopped herself from speaking further, realizing Marcie was uncomfortable. “Who do you have for algebra next semester?”
“Mr. Rondelle. Who do you have?”
“I’ve got him too! He’s way cool! For an old-timer, that is.” Stephanie pretended to walk with a cane. She saluted Marcie with an imaginary top hat.
“Don’t tell, but I already took his class and, ummm…” Stephanie stopped speaking.
“Stephanie, his class is tough. Do you have to re-take it?”
“Don’t worry,” Marcie said, “Your secret is safe with me.” She drew her thumb and forefinger across her lips, making a zipper sound.
“Open your presents,” Stephanie said.
“Gloves! I love them! Socks too? Wow!”
“Aren’t you going to put them on?”
“I’ll wait ’till…”
“Come on! I’ll tickle that sneaker right off your foot if you don’t get the sock on it,” Stephanie teased, pulling on the shoe.
“No!” Marcie protested.
Marcie’s shoe came off in Stephanie’s hand. The entire sole of the sock and part of the heel were threadbare. There was another hole straight through the toe area. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… I, uh.”
“Just give me my shoe back.”
“Well, at least put the new socks on.”
“Don’t tell the other girls. Pinkie promise?”
The teens grabbed pinkies.
Stephanie and Marcie went to the cookie table. Marcie poured a glass of punch for the two of them while Stephanie plated cookies.
“Hey Marc, did you get anything else for Christmas?”
Silence revealed the answer.
Stephanie remembered the man who had new gloves for the first time ever. She thought of the abundance of gifts she had at home while her friend was struggling with her father’s unexpected job loss. She remembered stories her grandmother had told her about the recession, when many people struggled to put food on their tables.
Marcie dabbed her eyes; Stephanie seated her on the bench.
“Stephanie, I have my family. That’s enough…” Marcie said.
Stephanie knelt, removed her own shoelaces, and Marcie’s. As Stephanie threaded her shoelaces into Marcie’s sneakers, both girls allowed tears to escape and run down their cheeks.
“What size clothing do you wear?” Stephanie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You do so! You’re just not saying.” Stephanie took off her cardigan. “Here, try this on.”
“That’s new. You got it for Christmas, remember?”
“Let’s trade. I can scrunch up the sweater sleeves so the hole doesn’t show. It’s the newest style, you know.”
“I… guess so.” Stephanie slowly removed Marcie’s sweater.
Stephanie put Marcie’s sweater on, scrunched the sleeves, and draped the cardigan around Marcie’s shoulders. Marcie slid her arms into it.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” Marcie said, stroking the soft fabric. The cardigan fit perfectly.
“Purple looks good on you,” Stephanie said.
The girls embraced as Grace entered the room.
“Steph,” Grandma Grace said, “your mother and I prayed you’d learn to give with a cheerful heart. I can see God has already answered our prayer.”
Who is God nudging you to bless? Will you do so?
Heavenly Father, thank You that gratitude begins when Your grace from within compels me to give with a cheerful heart. Help me to respond to Your inner nudges, and bless every person You place on my heart.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Copyright 2016: The Christmas Cardigan: Diane Virginia: All Rights Reserved
Published, similar version: December 2015: Word Aflame: The Vision Magazine: Karen Myers, Editor: Pentecostal Publishing House: Hazelwood, MO