since visiting the shelter again yesterday, i haven’t been able to stop thinking about a young woman i passed there in the hallway. she was heavy with child and, if possible, even heavier with hard life. it didn't take more than a minute standing near this girl for my heart to begin breaking. i didn’t know her story and i didn’t know her name, but i knew she was living in a women's shelter on a wednesday before christmas and that told me enough. and looking into her eyes for just a brief moment told me more than i really wanted to know. she looked worn out, worn through, worn thin. but, in the strangest way, it was her feet which caused the lump in my throat. i tried to smile at her and say hi. but her vacant eyes and slight frown caused me to feel embarrassment -- i’m not exactly sure why. but i looked away and i looked down and that is when i saw them -- sparkly silver sandals. she wore them with socks and they were not one bit appropriate for the december rain outside. her socks, dirty and her feet too large for the sandal size. i recognized them as something old navy sold this past summer. my own daughter has a pair squirreled away in her closet, but she wouldn't wear them with socks and she wouldn't wear them in december, because she owns boots and too many pairs of other shoes from which to choose. and somehow seeing these summer sandals on this fragile woman’s feet in december pierced something deep in me. and the image has played over and over again in my mind since yesterday afternoon.
and here’s the thought which keeps pounding on the sad cracks of my heart: christmas comes hard for so many. how do the hurting deal with pain and heart ache and loneliness when it seems everyone they pass is merry and bright? it is the most wonderful time of the year, and yet i imagine, the most painful for so many. i have friends who have lost mothers and fathers this year. friends with sick children. friends with broken marriages, broken families and broken bank accounts. i know some who have lost jobs and health and hope. and i am sure this week, more than any other, can be a very hard thing. and it is too easy for some of us to forget that.
we were at the shelter yesterday to deliver the coats we had collected. my kids were beyond excited. my friends, kelly and beverly, and i were just as excited as our children. we drove through torrential rain, determined to let nothing dampen our christmas spirit. i had bella and her friend, lilia, in my backseat and we sang carols and chatted and giggled all the way downtown -- buoyed by the thought of helping someone in need. we were taking almost 300 coats to almost 300 women and children and it felt so good to be a part of something like this. and it was. but then i stood in a dirty hallway, with stained carpeting and dim lighting and i watched weary woman after weary woman walk by. and i asked myself, how does this happen? and the truth is, this could be me, or my sister, or even my own daughter. at one point, 11 year old sarah whispered to me, “mom, why are so many of them pregnant?” there really was no way for me to answer that question in a quick sentence or two. “we’ll talk later,” i whispered back.
and it wasn’t long after her question when i noticed this one girl with her thin silver sandals standing nearby. there is so much about christmas that is silver and shiny and bright. i wore a pair of silver heels for a holiday party just a couple of weeks ago, and probably spent too much money on them. for many of us, our christmas days have at least a little something glittery and golden -- pretty gifts wrapped under our trees, twinkling white lights, sugar cookies on crystal, glass ornaments catching the shine, candles on our table, maybe even a cocktail dress and matching silver shoes...
and it is so easy to get caught up in the shimmer of it all. so easy to be blinded by the holiday bling and not see the vacant eyes of the woman on the street or the forlorn expression of the man at the mall. i am so guilty of passing people by every day and failing to see. failing to really see. and i’ll admit, there are even times when i don’t want to look. times when i turn away. it is too hard and it is too hopeless -- or at least it feels like that. i want to gather my family around my dinner table and talk about the beauty of the season. i want to sit in church and sing passionately of comfort and joy. i want to bake cookies and make tea and read stories fireside -- but then i happen upon a young girl with dirty socks and summer sandals on her slender feet and i am just unable to ignore what is hard. and at the back of my mind, i have to think this could be my sister or me. this place to which we have gone twice this week is called "my sister's house." and it is.
it is easy to feel overwhelmed when we see the need. and often the need is that overwhelming. but really it is just about looking and listening. and when we do, we realize it really doesn’t take too much. we fear it might, but i have found, it doesn't. just this week, the young man bagging my groceries began to talk to me. i was only being polite and making small talk as we walked to my car with my overloaded cart, and before i knew it he was telling me his story. john shared with me how he and his mother were fighting and how he was thinking he should move out, but it was christmas and he didn’t know what to do. he told me how sad his mom has been since his dad died and the rest of his siblings have moved away and ignored her. he said, “i’m all she has left, but it is driving me crazy. i want to go to college or the military or something. i am not sure how to get on with my own life. ” and as he was placing my bags in the car i could tell he was pretty close to tears. i had only gone to the store for dinner items and i drove away with something more -- something i never expected.
if everyday life is hard, and it is for most everyone in some way, then holiday life can be harder. i am sure the lonely and the broken want only to wake up and have the whole blessed event be over. these women in the shelter who cannot provide roofs and meals and beds for their children, must feel buried in the expectation of providing presents and peace. impossibilities. i honestly cannot imagine. i feel overwhelmed sometimes as a mother trying to pull it all together in my nice, comfortable life. and then i have a day like yesterday, and i am downright ashamed of myself.
and as i type this afternoon, three days before christmas, i’m honestly not sure what to do with the weight of it all. i don't even quite know why i am writing. i fear i've been too preachy in these past few posts. it is not my intention. i am only sharing my heart. i need to go upstairs and wrap a few presents and organize a christmas meal and attend to some last minute holiday details, but i am still thinking about that young woman and her silver sandals. and i'm thinking of the unborn baby she carries. and i am thinking about the cold december rain. i’m glad we went yesterday. and i’m thankful my kids and my friends and i touched the arms and hands of these women -- these women who touched our hearts. i want us to be people who can help the hurting, not just be women who wear silver heels to cocktail parties. i mean, don't get me wrong, i do like the heels and the cocktail party thing. i love getting dressed up and going to galas and events or even just the movies and pizza, but i don’t ever want to live there -- it’s nice, but it’s not real life. my prayer is for my eyes to be open and for courage to really see. my prayer is to not pass by, but to look and to listen and to, when possible, touch those hurting and heartbroken--especially in this shimmering kind of a season. it could easily be any of our feet walking in silver, summer sandals just a few days before christmas.
“may God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” ~ mother teresa