A number of years ago I went with members of my church to serve at a mission church in downtown Oklahoma City. Our task was to prepare a meal for the hungry and homeless, bring it to the church, worship with our guests, and serve them a hot dinner. We had trays upon trays of delicious lasagna, pans of garlic bread, bowls full of salad, and desserts. I had never done anything like this before and it was not only eye-opening, but it was life-altering.
On that cold and icy December night, we came to be a blessing to others and the Lord humbled us with the profound gift of our neighbors. Worshipping with those brothers and sisters I had so often passed by, taught me of the very body of Christ we are. In Christ, there is no separation between an us and a them. It’s always to be an us.
The preacher gave a short sermon and we sang favorite Christmas hymns. We listened to the Word of God read and we listened to one we were serving sit down to the piano and serve us something musically divine. And then, the preacher began to read the prayer cards that had been submitted prior to worship. Some prayed for warmth, others prayed for health, a few prayed for jobs and shelter. Prayers were being lifted up to heal relationships with family members that they hadn’t seen in years, to be forgiven for addictions and choices that separated parents from children, to be given a chance again after being incarcerated. These prayers were prayers for hope, renewal, new life.
Having never experienced serving this part of our community before, I was overwhelmed. Everything in me wanted to go home. I didn’t know how to process what I was hearing and what I was feeling. I didn’t know how to handle my guilt for being a have when others were have nots. I was trying not to make a scene by crying or sniffling, but the tears came anyway. I tried to be strong, but God wanted me weak. And then she stood up…
A woman had come in late to worship. They didn’t normally let in stragglers, but she got in. She sat in the back quietly. She worshipped and sang with reverence. But because she was late she hadn’t had the opportunity to complete a prayer request card. So she stood up and boldly asked the preacher if she could say something. He agreed, reluctantly. I recall she spoke about living under a nearby overpass and how she had lost her children do to her homelessness. She said she’d been sober for about a week. And then she said that though she’d like her children back, she knew they were warm and safe and she didn’t want them on the streets. She hung her head low, in shame and defeat, and then in tears asked the whole room, “so for Christmas this year, I’d like a hairbrush. It’s not much, but I haven’t been able to brush my hair in about a month.” Then she sat down, pulled her hoodie tight over her matted hair, and thanked God for her sobriety.
Last night at Community Dinner, Tate and I were helping people find hats, gloves, hoodies, and coats that fit just right. They didn’t ask for much, zippers that worked and heavy coats for warmth. They were deeply grateful. One woman, pregnant with several months to go, took two coats…one for her back and one to cover her front. And she smiled. Her baby would be warm.
Christmas is about the hairbrush. It’s about sobriety. It’s about warm babies, warm hands, saving lives, giving life. Christmas is about feeding stomachs and souls. Christmas is about a homeless immigrant family with a desperate need for shelter and care. Christmas is about giving our best to others not our leftovers. God gave the best to us in Jesus Christ, and Jesus is meant to be shared.
That woman, our sister, got her hairbrush, and she ran to the bathroom to brush her hair, with more joy than I’ve seen anyone have in opening a gift since. That hairbrush was hope. The coats and meal last night were hope. Your smile and care is hope. Sobriety is hope. Desire for reconciliation is hope. Knowing we need Christ and choosing to live for Christ is hope.
The next time you hold your comb or hairbrush, give thanks, and then think about where you can be hope in a broken world. Then…do something.
Warm coats with zippers that work, hoodies, gloves, warm socks, and blankets are all needed. Used or New. I also need a pair of men’s sneakers/tennis shoes, size 9 or size 9.5.
Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe is the Lead Pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
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