23: A Basket of Hope

23: A Basket of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

A Basket of Hope

Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.

~George Iles

I had hidden the car a few blocks away and with finger-over-lips silently motioned and directed our three kids out of the station wagon and toward a softly-lit small weathered house set back from the highway. I felt like a cat burglar, with family-in-training, skulking along the bushes that warned wayward drivers they were far too close to the now snow-filled ditch.

We took a shortcut through the church lot. I could feel a soft smile forming playfully as we passed the church building, imagining our burly pastor’s reaction if he could see us “applying” his message on how little ones would someday follow in our footsteps. Somehow I don’t think this little snow scene was exactly what Pastor had in mind. I paused to belatedly reassure myself that we hadn’t forgotten anything. Yep—the girls and I each had our assigned bags, and our little guy alternately carried and dragged a brightly painted red empty bushel basket.

Another car whizzed by and our little towheaded son was amazingly solemn when I gently pressed my flattened hand on top of his stocking-hatted head—once again repeating my silent message to scrunch down out of sight from the headlight glare passing over the yard. The girls immediately followed suit, quietly ducking until the white light rode over us, the yard, and then finally slid over the bank by the road.

It was their idea after all. Laurie had memorized Luke 2: 8-14 for the Christmas play and its story of the babe with no place to lay his head had profoundly affected her and her siblings as she shared it multiple times in preparation for the big event. Cheri, the thoughtful one, was always reaching out to others, so our eyes met in understanding when she’d climbed into the car without her mittens a few Sundays before, then shrugged her shoulders in response to her daddy’s inquiry, pointing to the new visitors—a red-mittened shy little girl plowing across the snow-covered field with her mom to the same weather-beaten house that now stood before us. I think she had the idea then, but I love to read a different Christmas story each night of the entire month of December and the reading of The Gift of the Magi where both husband and wife gave their precious possessions to purchase a gift for the other had cemented it. All three insisted they could give up one or more of their gifts for someone who probably would not get a gift otherwise, and thus the plan was born. What parent could refuse such a selfless act that also ended up sharing a family tradition—new pajamas and hot cocoa for Christmas Eve?

Add gloves for everyone, a doll for the little girl and a truck for her brother, the makings of a simple Christmas meal and here we were, whispering and darting from one bush to the other. Quietly the children completed the plan—circling the trees that flanked the sloping porch, Kevin first placed the basket. I added the plastic bags of food and raced with him behind the big scraggly bush at the edge of the yard while the girls quietly topped the basket with the wrapped gifts. Cheri retraced her steps to me, and Laurie, as planned, knocked hard twice and raced back to join us collectively holding our breath as the door opened. It was the dad—he stood on crutches, looking around to the left—to the right—then called his wife. She stepped out and also scanned the yard, then bent to pick up the basket. Two little faces appeared stair-stepped in the lighted doorway and excited squeals sounded as eager hands helped to lift and carry the packages in as the door closed off their wondering chatter.

That was our signal and we ran like the wind, our mitten-clasped hands joining reverently this time for a dash across the field to the waiting, and by now, cold car. None of the usual clamoring for front seat, or murmuring about the car’s chill occurred as we each privately recalled the faces outlined in the doorway’s glow, and I knew the children’s hearts were as warmed as mine had been.

It was a special Christmas and the beginning of a fun tradition to find a family and leave a surprise on their doorstep, but this one became especially meaningful a few months later when the family announced at church that the father’s leg had healed, he’d gotten a new job, and they were moving.

As Cheri and I were about to exit behind our family, the mom stepped up behind me and slipped a plastic bag into my hand, which I could feel contained a frame. Don’t open it until you get home,” she admonished, “and,” she paused and whispered, “Merry Christmas.” I looked up in shocked dismay, wondering if she’d discovered our secret, but she shyly smiled and touching Cheri’s hair explained, “I’ve been working on this since your little one gave Edna the red mittens last December, so now it seems kind of Christmasy. Hope you don’t mind, but those mittens were the start of our Christmas hope.”

Touched, I tearfully assured her we’d surely love whatever it was, and after Cheri and I gave last farewell hugs, we rushed to the rest of the waiting family in the car. For once dinner could wait, and the moment we were in the door everyone hovered around the package as I drew out a simple cross-stitched picture of Mary holding a contented baby Jesus, their hearts close. It seemed to remind us that there was the place of Hope—close to the heart of Jesus. We lost touch with that family, but the picture still speaks the Christmas message in our home year-round and I knew Cheri still treasured the memory years later when she told me what she’d named her first little girl—Kristin Hope.

~Delores Christian Liesner

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