Riding home from church this afternoon, it occurred to me that I was very, very weary. As I reflected on the past few days, it was no wonder that I was tired. And yet, I was struck by all that the last handful of days had covered.
Thursday evening found me in Cookeville for the TSSAA Division II-AA championship game. Despite the cutting, cold wind, we saw and enjoyed what will surely be a memorable game for a long time to come.
And, while it helps that the team I was there to support did win the golden football, what I most enjoyed what was I saw around me. Our fans outnumbered theirs easily 3:1. Students, parents, grandparents, and others screamed all four quarters as the two teams fought to the eventual 56-55 outcome in double overtime – everyone in that stadium participated in the experience. Before the first kickoff, mid-game when one was injured, and after the final whistle blew, both teams unapologetically gathered together to bow their heads and give thanks. Both teams showed sportsmanship and humility in their congratulations and regards to each other. And even the parents were on their best behavior.
Saturday morning, a group of us gathered at the church to cut, split, stack, and deliver firewood as, yes, it’s the height of the firewood ministry’s season. I saw new participants warmly welcomed, teamwork as all tackled the work at hand, and an eager willingness and obvious pride in the work each was doing in service to our less fortunate homeless friends.
As we made a few deliveries to some area campsites, I watched the eyes of those along for the first time – especially the young’uns. For many, the reality of homelessness had never been so vivid. As one group of homeless friends warmly welcomed our team to a tour of their campsite, I was struck by the irony of their pride against the unspoken conviction of those of us standing there comparing their domestic experience to what we know to be our own. After all, most of us live in and around the Brentwood Bubble, which is as close as Tennessee livin’ gets to building a home inside Disney.
Saturday afternoon, our family and a few friends gathered at a local Christmas tree lot to pick out a fresh-cut tree for our friend Cree. You’ll recall Cree from my prior writing. Yes, he’s still hanging in there – it’s remarkable, really. Anyway…as he recently shared that he has never had a “real” Christmas tree, our objective was to secure said tree, carry it to his home, and decorate it by his bedside so he can enjoy it throughout the Christmas season.
And again, I was struck by a few things of this experience. Everyone involved in making this happen – including Jacob, our Christmas tree salesman – was fully invested in making certain that this was the best and most beautifully decorated live-cut Christmas tree in Middle Tennessee. There was a level of care and attention that was palpable in the room – perhaps driven by an unspoken acknowledgement that this is likely our last opportunity to get this right for Cree.
Once fully decorated and lit, Cree squealed with delight and smiled a smile more broad than any I’ve previously seen on his face. As we were gathered around his bed, we dimmed the lights and played Pentatonix “Silent Night” for Brother Cree. In that remarkable and memorable moment, I knew I was experiencing the true spirit of Christmas.
And then today…
Following worship service this morning, I watched as children and adults of all ages loaded my mission trailer with gifts that we will deliver to another neighborhood tomorrow evening. They brought remote control cars, skateboards, bicycles, clothing, coats, and any number of other gifts.
All who participated gave generously. Young and old, they all smiled as they placed those gifts carefully in the back of the trailer. As they did so, I thought about how their generosity and momentary pause from all of life’s distractions would ultimately redefine the 2015 Christmas morning experience for so many kids in a very different part of Music City.
And finally tonight…
We were fortunate to be with family and friends at a fairly intimate holiday gathering with Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. In keeping with their tradition, Larry Gatlin started us off with the National Anthem. And among the songs that followed, there was a bit of comedic relief, unwavering acknowledgement of their blessings and God’s favor, and humility. Inasmuch as Larry, Steve, and Rudy may be “American with a Remington” – and I have no doubt that they are – there is something special about being entertained by those who have had great success, yet do not take for granted that their gift is one that is entrusted to them for greater purpose.
As I reflect on these past few days, it occurs to me that I could have just as easily chosen to listen to the news-heads on the alphabet networks and become dismayed. Instead, though, I have chosen to look for the good in the moment – and found that it’s generally right there to be revealed, if we are willing to look and act.
Indeed, there IS good. And it is all around us, if only we allow ourselves to be a bit vulnerable in our thoughts and actions.
In this moment, I’m grateful to be tired for having been so blessed by these experiences.