“It seems colder than last year,” my son, Jordan, said with a smile. One Saturday every December, his church youth group volunteered to man the Salvation Army kettle at our local grocery store. Jordan and I were assigned the early afternoon shift.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “It does seem colder this year.”
Jordan rang the bell while I gave out candy canes to the children who passed by.
Everyone was so kind to us. People smiled and wished us a Merry Christmas, whether they donated any money or not. The lady who worked at the deli counter brought us hot chocolate. And one man, when I thanked him for his donation, said, “No, thank you. I gave a bit of money, but you’re giving your time.”
Their kindness made the time fly by, despite the cold.
Shortly before our replacements were due to arrive, a young woman and her little boy passed by.
“Merry Christmas,” I smiled and offered the boy a candy cane.
The woman looked at me, her eyes full of sadness and defeat. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I don’t have anything to give.”
Her words brought an instant lump to my throat. Just a few short years before, I had uttered those words. And I’m sure I had the same look in my eyes when I said them.
Tearful Thank You
It happened on Christmas Eve 2005. Just four days before, my husband had asked me for a divorce. His announcement had been devastating in every sense of the word, but I desperately tried to maintain a sense of normalcy for my children’s sake. So there I was, walking into my local discount store, hoping to snag a few more presents to go under our tree.
I heard the bell long before I spotted the elderly gentleman ringing it. When he saw me, he smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas. He couldn’t have known it, but I’d been barely holding on to my composure. His kindness was my undoing. Tears filled my eyes as I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to give.”
At my tears, his smile faded, but he quickly recovered. “Oh, dear, you’ve got it all wrong,” he said. “We all have something to give.”
“I really don’t,” I said. “You see, my husband.…”
“Not all of us are called to give money,” he gently interrupted. “Some of us can only offer a smile or a listening ear. Sometimes, a kind word or a hug can go a long way. And praying for someone is always a gift.” He smiled. “So, even with empty pockets, you always, always have something to give.”
I nodded. “Thank you, sir. I’ll remember that.”
“I’ll be praying for you,” he added, “and for whatever troubles you’re having.”
I smiled through my tears and thanked him again.
Back in the present, I thought about the hot chocolate from the deli lady. I remembered the smiles and the kind words from everyone who passed by. Their thoughtfulness had warmed my heart, despite the near-freezing temperatures.
I looked in that young woman’s eyes and—in true Salvation Army fashion—replied, “Oh, dear, you’ve got it all wrong. Empty pockets or not, we’ve all got something to give.”
By Diane Stark