Nine years ago, I wrote a story about an experience at a Chick-fil-A Restaurant near my office. Every Christmas, I reread it as a reminder of my many blessings. Today I want to share it for the first time with TheBuddyBlog.com audience. I hope it blesses you as it did me years ago.
The Christmas Gift
It was December 2009. There was a winter chill in the air, and the businesses near my office were decorated with their usual festive flair. With a number of people taking time off from work, things seemed to be in slow motion around the office. I too had planned to take vacation the last week of the year. So I spent the days before Christmas wrapping up projects, with the hope of starting 2010 without a backlog of work. Little did I know that 2010 would begin with a most memorable Christmas experience.
Her name was Katherine.
She worked at the Chick-fil-A Restaurant in the Food Court next to my office building. Each morning, as was my custom, I would drop by the Chick-fil-A and order a medium iced tea — half sweet, half unsweet. Katherine usually took my order. In her late 50’s, short and sweet, she reminded me of a doting grandmother.
“Half sweet, half unsweet, half sweet, half unsweet…” When I first met her, I was struck by how she would mutter these words to herself as she walked from the counter to the tea dispenser, making sure she didn’t forget my order. It wasn’t long before she anticipated my order even before I said anything. She just looked up, recognized my face and said, “Half sweet, half unsweet?”
The previous Christmas season, I had started a personal tradition of wrapping small gifts, like Hershey candy bars, and handing them out to people I encountered each day as a simple way of saying “Merry Christmas!” The usual targets of this Santa’s giveaway included the security guards, the secretaries, the various receptionists, and, of course, my friendly workers at Chick-fil-A. But as Christmas approached in 2009, I wanted to give something other than a chocolate bar. To my most pleasant surprise, the local Lifeway Bookstore had a $5 sale on my favorite Christmas CD, Peace on Earth by Casting Crowns. I picked up 20 CD’s and went home to wrap them.
The next day, with my seasonal gifts of music all wrapped and in my bag, I left for work with my best Santa Clause grin and proceeded to hand out these token Christmas presents, wishing all the familiar faces a hearty Merry Christmas! When I dropped by Chick-fil-A that morning, I picked up my half and half tea and handed a rather shocked Katherine the wrapped gift. A big smile exploded across her face. “Oh thank you” was all she could say.
Now I must confess that after spending part of my day giving out these gifts, I felt pretty good. It was fun to see people’s reactions and quite heartwarming to surprise someone with an unexpected gift. But I was not prepared for what happened a couple of weeks later.
It was Monday, January 4th, and I was back at work. Stopping by Chick-fil-A, I was greeted by Katherine and her familiar smile, already muttering, “Half sweet, half unsweet?” After filling my order, Katherine, remembering my token gift, looked at me and shared how much she appreciated the gift of the CD. She went on to explain that her husband had recently lost his job and money was so tight they decided not to give any gifts at Christmas. So she had taken my gift home and placed it under their tree. And with a cheerful, almost beaming countenance, she exclaimed “It was the ONLY gift I opened on Christmas morning. My husband and I loved the music, and I just wanted to thank you so very much.”
Stunned and speechless, I managed a bewildered smile and a lame “you’re welcome.” With my head spinning and my knees shaking, I somehow walked outside only to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes. Could it possibly be that the only gift Katherine had at Christmas was the $5 CD I had given her? Humbled, I somehow made it to my desk. The day was a blur as my mind seldom strayed far from that morning’s encounter.
With the love of my family, countless gifts at Christmas and a home filled with joy and the scents of a Christmas season, I could not even fathom a Christmas morning like Katherine had. Grateful but humbled with all that I have been blessed, I was once again reminded that the true gift of Christmas is not what is wrapped under the tree but what was wrapped in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000+ years ago.
“Oh Lord, help me to be a generous man, a channel of your blessings to those around me, not only at Christmas but every day of the year. Thank you that the single gift under Katherine’s tree is a reminder of THE single greatest Gift You gave to all of us.”
Merry Christmas Everyone!