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Hoping she gets home for Christmas

It was almost 20 years ago when we first told the story we are about to share together. Sometimes our favorite stories are the simplest, aren’t they! They’re the ones that run out to meet you in the front yard. Those heart-warming types of stories seem to live the longest, as it is with today’s story about a little lady on the side of the road. …

The idea for this Christmas story comes, I suppose, from an appropriate place: from a homeless lady standing on the side of the road at a red light with a sign,

“Please help. Trying to get home for Christmas.”

Seeing that lady – many days shy of thirty years – with teeth unkept and clothes shabby, standing there during the Christmas season begging, brought a lump to my throat. I couldn’t help it.

I know. She may make more money in a day than we make in a week.

I know. She may use the money to buy drugs or alcohol.

But I couldn’t think about those things as I rolled down my window and handed her a little money, and asked:

“Where’s home?”

“Oklahoma,” she said, kindly, “I want to go to Oklahoma for Christmas to see my two kids.”

“I hope you make it,” I said, “I really hope you do.”

The light turned green, and she said “God bless you,” and my daughter Rachel and I pressed on about our holiday business, buying gifts, hustling and bustling around.

After a moment, I looked over at my daughter Rachel, and I could tell that she was still processing that little 30-second scene.

“I don’t know whether that girl was really in need or not,” I said, “but whatever brings a person to stand on the corner of a street to beg for money is sad.”

Especially during the holidays.

I’ve carried that little memory with me during this week as I’ve spent time with my own family.  And I thought of all the things I hope to do this week during this holiday season.

The list is long: Drink a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Roast marshmallows in the fireplace. Open presents in front of the fire and watch faces glow. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Home Alone” one more time. Eat fudge and chocolate covered cherries and pretzels dipped in white chocolate. Play cards around the kitchen table. Sleep late and wake to the sound of cartoons and the smell of breakfast cooking. Watch football. Go for a walk together in the crisp wintry air. Jump in the car with family and drive around ooo-ing and ahhh-ing at all the lights and decorations. Drink spicy hot apple cider. Call my grandma and wish her a happy 89th Christmas. Listen to my favorite Christmas song: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where he lay.  The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay …”

And then listen to our second favorite: “Silver Bells. Silver Bells. It’s Christmas time in the city. Ding-a-ling. Hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas Day.”

Walk around the house singing “Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh.  O’er the fields we gooo, dashing all the waaaay” – until my kids say, “Dad, please stop singin’ that song!” Be nice and meet my kids’ request and change songs: “Rudolph the red nose reindeer. Had a very shiny nooooose.  And if you ever saw it, you would even say it gloooooows …”
Then change songs, and the mood, this time for my own sake: “I’ll be home for Christmas.  If only … in … my … dreams.”

You know, that’s what I want most of all.

Just being home for Christmas.

And I really hope that all of you get a chance to be home this year. I hope you gather with your families and loved ones and at least do a few of the things on this list, with joy.

And somewhere up in Oklahoma, I hope there’s a young lady who once stood on the side of the road, now opening presents and singing Christmas tunes with two happy little kids who call her mom.

If that little dream comes true, that’ll be one less person homeless for Christmas ~ December 1999.