I never thought that emerging from the Bart tunnels with my daughter and up into the chaos of the city, I would meet a stranger who reminded me of how precious life is.

He wore a ‘Cosmo Kramer' hair cut where the frizzy top was a few shades lighter than the waves of curl that clung to his head. He stood tall behind the counter where I placed several Christmas gifts to be rung up.  He folded his hands across his protruding belly hidden underneath his fitted sweater and smiled with a wide, straight-lipped smile.

“You, ladies finished with your Christmas shopping?”

“Yes, thank goodness.” I sighed, thinking about how I was going to make up for the two days away from home where too many duties were waiting for me and for many reasons, how behind I was in planning and preparing for the family gathering taking place at my house on Christmas day .  “Even though I feel exhausted--exhausted from walking up and down California Street because we missed the trolley, twice…”

He lifted his eyebrows, “You walked it twice? He interrupted then nodded, impressed we climbed the steep several-block-long sidewalk that leads to Nob Hill and the lobby where the two-story, life size, gingerbread house stands.

“It was a tough walk but we saw the most beautiful Christmas lights and decorations.” I mustered up a cheerful counter-attitude to battle my busy thoughts.

“And lunch?”

“Yes, lunch too. Unfortunately, the line at our favorite restaurant was too long, so we found a little bakery on O'Ferrell Street, a few blocks off the square.”

“Battling the crowds can be a challenge, but I believe that anyone who takes the time to bless others with gifts should take time to reward themselves a little bit. I hope one of these gifts is for you.” He tapped his finger on the items I placed on the counter.

I laughed out loud at his blunt honesty that made it easier for me to confess, “ I managed to find something for me too.”  He smiled again, an unspoken unvitation for me to continue chatting. “I traveled from the mountains to meet my daughter who just moved to the Bay Area. We planned to shop in the city and see the Christmas lights and the life-sized gingerbread houses in the hotel lobby. We took BART in---that’s always an adventure. It’s been a long time since our last Christmas trip to the city together. It used to be an annual trip when we lived near here many years ago and always seemed to fit it in to the busy holiday schedule."

“Oh, you’re make’n one of those memorable Christmas trips?”

“Yes.”                                    

“I know about making those memorable Christmas trips. My daddy always made the week before Christmas special. He drove the family out of the city to the mountains so we could play in the snow. But one year, that Christmas week was most memorable—yeah, I will never forget it.” His straight lipped smile turned upward as his brown eyes beamed.

“Oh, why?” I asked curious and surprised he was about to take more time to tell me a story.

“It was the year Daddy bought a new Chrysler station wagon. He wanted to show off that new car so we spent an extra day traveling to the mountains. Mamma shopped for our gifts on the way up and put them in the back with our sleds. There was lots of room in the back of that stations wagon and Daddy was proud of that and how spiffy his new car looked.

It snowed a lot that year and Daddy found a great hill we could sled down once we arrived in the mountains. Then my youngest brother sledded into a snow covered creek and broke through the ice. We had to pull him out of the water—and it wasn’t easy get'n him outta that creek under the ice. He was blue by the time we got him out. Mamma knew what to do. She took off all of his wet clothes while we moved the gifts from the back of the station wagon and piled them on the top of the car on the luggage rack. She laid Brother in the back of the station wagon and we all helped rub him until he got his color back. Mamma had to dress him in her extra clothes. We tried to lighten the mood by teasing little brother wearing mamma’s clothes even though in our hearts, we were relieved he survived. We drove back home and Daddy noticed people pointing at our car--all they way down the mountain they were pointing. He was sure it was because we were driving such a snazzy new car. It wasn’t until we arrived home that we realized the gifts were gone. Daddy forgot to put them back in the station wagon and they all flew off the luggage rack as we drove home. Needless to say, we didn’t get Christmas gifts that year but we still had my little brother and that’s what made Christmas--I will never forget it."

 
 

Our lives are but a vapor, James 4:14-17 reminds us, in the appointed time we have to live, Acts 17:25-26 tells us.  And ancient King Solomon, who had the best of everything the world has to offer: wealth, wisdom, women, and power, teaches that living life is a gift from a living God, our Creator to enjoy. But the meaning of life is found in the glory, honor, and purposes of our Creator who gives each of us life because he loves us so much. (Read here, Ecclesiastes 3)

How will your life change if you live this year as if it were a vapor, people are more important than presents, and the joy of rewards is the endless treasure experienced in knowing how much God loves you and has a precious plan for every moment you take a breath?

Have a memorable New Year.

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