IN A HOUSE TOO SMALL for herself, her momma, and her three brothers, a little girl gazes at a crumpled Christmas tree. Heavy with cheap plastic Christmas balls and faded paper chains, half the lights blinking white, the rest glowing in rainbow colors. Momma had tried to make Christmas as magical as she could, but the girl could feel her weariness as she kissed her goodnight before leaving for work. There wouldn’t be much else under that tree, and they all knew it.
ACROSS TOWN a young boy stands outside a kitchen door. His heart thumping hard in his chest as he scans the room full of tables for a place to sit. A place where he wouldn’t attract anymore attention, but also a place where he wouldn’t feel quite so alone. He couldn’t wait for Christmas break when he could finally be away from this place. No more laughing. No more teasing. No more stares. He longed to be home where he was loved just the way he was.
AT THE OTHER END OF THE STATE a small girl looks out a window at flurries drifting slowly to the ground three stories below. It’s cold outside and the tiny flakes fall silently. But inside is a flurry of noise and activity. The machine she is hooked up to, pumping medicine into her veins, whirs and wheezes in a soothing rhythm, and while the small tree in the room glows warm and welcoming, the scarf wrapped around her bald head is unable to melt the chill of fear that fills her heart.
We live in a world where the children down the street go hungry. Where the student at the next desk over has never been called “friend.” And where a toddler’s brief life can end in a hospital bed.
Two weeks ago I had the honor of running with our editor in the St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon. The streets were lined with fans cheering, high-fiving, calling us “heroes” as we ran. Each step in honor of a child fighting to live. We ran past tiny bald heads peering over masks through big, sunken eyes full of hope. We high-fived families, exhausted and strong and grateful. We read signs that made us cry. And we pushed to the finish line alongside tens of thousands of others longing to make a difference in just one tiny life.
This Christmas we are all running alongside those who are hurting. Those with empty trees, empty hearts, and empty hope. And if we get nothing else this Christmas, let’s get some perspective.
Of how incredibly blessed we are. Of how very much we have to give, even when we think we don’t. Of how a smile can spark hope, a present can bring joy, and how a dollar can lead to a breakthrough that saves lives.
Christmas is not a plea for help. It’s a plea for some humanity. For us to be the good. To live love. And when we have nothing left to give, to simply rest humbly beside those who are hurting and lend a little kindness.
Perhaps you are the hurting one — with the empty tree or the empty home or the empty hope. Or perhaps you are the giver, with an aching heart for a broken world. Whichever you are, I Hope it’s You.
I hope it’s you who receives a warm coat on a cold winter’s night. And I hope it’s you who gives out of your excess.
I hope it’s your loved one who opens the doors of their empty home to the joyful song of carolers. And I hope you are the beaming soprano in the front.
I hope it’s your child who gets the trial medication that saves their life. And I hope it’s you who writes the check to help a child you don’t know.
I hope it’s your son who is welcomed at the lunch table. And I hope it’s you who teaches your children to welcome others.
I hope it’s your daughter who wakes to the miracle of full stockings and a tree of presents. And I hope it’s you who takes your daughter to deliver the bags of gifts.
I hope it’s your grandmother who sheds tears over a thoughtful Christmas card. And I hope it’s you who writes words of life until your hand aches.
I hope it’s your soldier who watches a Christmas video made by a second grade class half the world away. And I hope it’s you who presses record on the iPhone.
I hope it’s your brother who receives a hot meal and a kind conversation. And I hope you’re the one pouring the soup.
We can all agree that Christmas is a time of giving. A season of kindness and generosity. When we pray for peace on earth and drop coins into red buckets, hoping to brighten one heart. Lift one weary head. Because people are lonely. Children are hurting. Hearts are broken. Bodies are failing. Small hands fall limp and small hearts limp on. But if one gift can help. If one quarter can save. If one smile can bring hope where there previously was none, well then…