It was the early ’80′s, I was eleven, and it was the first Christmas my parents were separated. Ma was attending vocational school full-time and not drawing an income.
Times were tough. Tuna-casserole-for-dinner-four-nights-a-week kind of tough.
On December 23rd, Ma leveled with me. “I waited to do anything about Christmas gifts…just hoping by now I’d have something to spend. I don’t have money for presents, but we’re going to K Mart anyway. I’ll do my best to get treats to fill your stockings. Don’t tell your brother and sister what we’re doing.”
When we got to the big K, Ma ordered us to the towel aisle and forbade us to wander to other departments. She whispered in my ear, “I don’t want them to see toys and get their hopes up. I should be back in 15 minutes. Stay put. Oh, and pray for discounts.”
15 minutes turned into 35, then 45…and the 3 of us got antsy about Ma being gone so long. She was always on time.
I couldn’t handle my siblings’ nervous questions any longer, so the three of us marched up to the customer service desk. A compassionate clerk soon had a microphone to her lips to summon Mom over the storewide public announcement system. Before she spoke, I spied Ma in a checkout lane.
Tears streamed down my mother’s reddened face as she gathered up three full bags. She caught sight of me and dried her tears with her plaid shirt sleeve.
I unwittingly left my siblings standing with the clerk and rushed to Ma. “What’s wrong? What happened?” I pleaded.
“I’ll tell you when they’re in bed. Everything is okay – don’t worry.”
Later that evening, as the littles slept, Ma fixed me a cup of hot cocoa and explained.
“Kerry, God sent Christmas to us. Right there in K Mart!”
“What do you mean, Ma?”
“I was crying in the candy aisle when somebody called my name. It was a man from our new church and he said he was so happy to find me. I had no idea what he meant. ”
“What did he mean?”
“He said he called us, but we didn’t answer, so he drove all the way to our house just to find that we weren’t home. He decided to try us later. But on his way back he got the idea to stop at K Mart and buy some candy for your stockings.”
“Why would he do that? We don’t even know him.”
“I know, Ker. And it gets crazier. He handed me an envelope with $100 in it! He’s one of the deacons at church and they thought that we might have some special needs this Christmas. So, they sent Mr. Body to find me.”
That Christmas I received the most awesome kit of art supplies imaginable. I needed to create something to express the overwhelming joy I felt inside…but I didn’t know how to draw joy. So I made a “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” banner. Ma let it hang in our archway until spring. I’ve been making banners for Jesus ever since.
* It’s so fitting that the man sent to deliver Christmas to us was named Mr. Body. That day he was the hands and feet of Jesus, sent to minister to the least of these.
Five years ago, when my mom went to be with Jesus, Mr. Body attended her funeral. The very sight of him stole my breath away. He walked straight up to me with an empathetic smile on his face and said, “Surely you don’t remember me. But I knew your mother when she was a brand new believer and you were a little girl.”
Oh, Mr. Body, I surely do remember you. 30 years ago you were Jesus to me.