31: Just Passing By

31: Just Passing By

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Just Passing By

Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.

~Barbara De Angelis

Spending Christmas at a motel in a small town sounds like the plot of a holiday blockbuster, but for our family, this was no movie. Through unforeseen circumstances, we were called away from our home and friends in Minnesota to a new job in southern Kansas.

To make matters worse, the start-up date for the job was three weeks before Christmas and we were forced to make the move in the winter. We decided to do most of our eleven-hour drive at night. That way, our ten-year-old son Jeff and his five-year old brother Jamie would sleep through much of the tedious trip.

I was fearful that our old brown station wagon wouldn’t make the trip because two of the tires were threadbare. I mentioned it to no one, but somebody must have noticed. An anonymous envelope of money was given to us with a note to buy four new tires before we left Minnesota.

That was just like our little community. Most of the love and outreach was a reflection of our Pastor Jim. Everybody loved him. Everybody had a personal story of his kindness and care. He was never too busy to go out of his way to let you know how special you were. The hardest part of our move was leaving him.

At the tail end of our trip, we heard a little, “Are we there yet?” from a groggy Jamie, stirring thanks to the sunrise. I was thankful both boys had slept for most of the trip. Jamie’s question woke his older brother.

“Yes, honey, we just got to our new town. Daddy is looking for the motel where we’ll be staying tonight,” I answered, hoping they would not realize how unsettled I felt.

My husband’s new employer had made arrangements for us to stay at one of the local motels until we found permanent lodging ourselves.

“Let’s all play a game,” I suggested. “Whoever spots the Townsmen Motel first gets to choose where we’ll eat tonight. It’s somewhere along this main street.”

“There it is!” Jeff shouted. “On my side of the street.”

We pulled off the street in front of the office. There were fourteen rooms at the Townsman Motel, all on the same level, all accessible from the outside, all in that L-shaped layout that every builder from 1972 motels seemed to use.

No one spoke. Our silence was broken only by the sound of boots sloshing through the snow as we made our way past the front entrance picture window into the office area. There was a tiny plastic tree on the registration desk, which was framed with colored blinking lights. It was a painful reminder that this year, Christmas would be about making the best of it.

“Hello,” a cheery voice greeted us from behind the desk. “How can I help you?”

Her name was Evelyn. Plump and jolly, doting and nurturing. She was the perfect agent of hospitality for the new strangers in town.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she continued. “The motel season is relatively quiet right now. You will have the place mostly to yourselves. You can park anywhere.”

She quickly checked us in, chatting unceasingly with the boys, and then directed us to our temporary home. Jeff and Jamie, full of adventure, were the first to enter the room.

Two double beds were lined up on one side of the room. An antique dresser with a companion television sitting on top faced them on the opposite wall. A small table with two kitchen-like chairs, a sofa, and an over-stuffed recliner were scattered throughout the rest of the room. Layers of pine green paint with lime green trim were on every wall.

“Okay everybody, let’s start unloading the car,” I quickly instructed, hoping that filling the room with personal things would somehow “brighten” the room. It began to snow lightly as we carried our few belongings into our room.

Day after day, the boys and I passed time in the room. Sometimes we would draw pictures of Christmas and hang them around the room. Sometimes we would play games or watch television. Christmas shopping and house hunting had to be done at night or on the weekends. Three weeks had passed with no housing available.

Three days before Christmas, I made my way through the snow to the motel vending machine. When I returned to the motel room, loneliness seeped through me. The parking lot was still empty, and the motel room with its two double beds reminded me once again that I was miles away from family and friends.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I felt the frigid draft that somehow made its way around the closed front door. I held out a bag of chips to the boys.

“Sorry, this is all they had in the vending machine.”

Jeff shook his head and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, “It’s okay, Mom,” Jeff replied, suddenly appearing many years older. “They look good.”

It wasn’t quite the Christmas we had planned: an older brother too kind to complain, the younger brother worried that Santa’s kid-tracking device wouldn’t find him, and parents too tired and stressed to offer more than superficial comfort.

To top it all off, we knew no one. I tried to stay in good spirits for the sake of the boys, but I was miserable.

“Oh, Lord, I miss Pastor Jim and our friends in Minnesota,” I whispered to myself.

That night after we were all settled in bed, we heard a loud knock on our door. Who would be knocking on our door this late?

My husband and I peered out the window but we couldn’t see through the frost. But then a familiar voice rang out.

Was it possible?

“Open up! It’s Pastor Jim!”

I flung open the door.

“Merry Christmas!” he said. His smile seemed warmer than a fireplace at Christmas.

Tears brimmed in my eyes and I couldn’t find my voice.

There he stood, the best Christmas gift ever; all wrapped up in a military green parka, laced up snow boots, with a red stocking cap covering his ears and a scarf tied like a bow!

Our pastor explained that he had attended a Christian conference in a city nearby and “just happened” to be passing through our town on his way home. Although it was late, he felt the need to stop by our motel to check on us.

We knew the best Christmas gift we got that year wasn’t under a tree. We found it at the Townsman Motel in the caring heart of a pastor named Jim.

~Patti Ann Thompson

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