I had no idea, at the age of 43, how a simple evening of Christmas caroling would affect me . . . or them!
It seems as though we may have had a door or two slammed in our faces, to which we, in our lack of maturity at the time, made comments about Grinch and Scrooge, and then went on our way. We had no idea of what probably strengthened the hands which slammed those doors so forcefully: The hurts, the disappointments of life, left to fester into bitterness perhaps. We only saw it as an affront, a personal insult, a rejection of the gift we wanted to give them. Our teenage reaction was to laugh it off and go on our way.
I don't think I really thought about what I was singing back then. Christmas carols were quaint old songs that brought cheer to almost anyone who sang or heard them--catchy melodies and old fashioned lyrics to be sung at one time of the year, and with a variety of interpretations to be enjoyed by a myriad of entertainers.
Even as an adult, more aware of what I'm listening to or singing, it's easy to take these common songs for granted. I often pull out the Christmas music in October, hoping to stretch out the season a bit. :) At times I sing or hum thoughtlessly along in my busyness. At other times, I take time to reflect upon the words, and am utterly moved by them in my heart of hearts.
Last night, Christmas carols took on a whole new meaning for me. I'm not sure I can adequately describe what I witnessed, but I feel compelled to try.
I hadn't been Christmas caroling, that I can remember, since those youthful winter twilights so long ago, which seem like only a few months ago in some ways. In any case, our church has an annual tradition of loading up buses of carolers to take some singing Christmas cheer to shut-ins from church. Most of them are older people who are too weak or sick to leave their homes to go to church very often, if at all.
It seems so simple. Sing. Smile. See recipient smile. Wish recipient a Merry Christmas. Board the bus and go on to next destination. After last destination, go back to church and eat supper with friends. Go home.
But it was anything but simple. Well, yes, the actions were pretty much as simple as above. The heart and soul of it was not.
This was the first time we were able to participate since having Little Mister, due to schedule conflicts and such. When I read the date and realized we could do it this year, I had this overwhelming feeling that it was something we needed to do. Kevin was all for it when I mentioned it to him, so we signed up. I'm always excited for Little Mister to have an opportunity to reach out to and minister to others, especially as he has no siblings he must do so for on a daily basis. ;)
I had no idea who exactly would be the objects of our serenading, how many people we'd be singing with, or any of the details. I found myself praying for the people we would be singing for, whomever they might be. When we arrived at church, there were lots of people, and we divided among the buses and took off! :)
His wife was in tears already, just holding the door open for us as our large group filed into her home. As we approached the area where the man was sitting in his wheelchair, I saw Little Mister peer around the wall at him, with interest and maybe a bit of the apprehension I myself was feeling. The man looked welcoming enough, yet a wee uncomfortable perhaps, unsure of where to look. You know.
Once everyone was packed into the room, the wife stood by her husband, and we began to sing. How can I describe what happened? Was I the only one to sense it? I couldn't have been.
I just wanted to burst into tears right then and there. I wanted to hug them and tell them everything would be okay. I couldn't cry then, though. That wasn't what I was there for. I needed to hold it together then, but now I can cry as I recall how the lovely lady's chin quivered and the man's eyes teared up like the tenderest of moments. They had tender hearts. God was there, and His Spirit was moving. Of that I am certain. Whether or not they did or will respond to that stirring of their hearts remains to be seen.
Sometimes all it takes to soften a heart is an act of kindness. God can do wonders with a heart that is cultivated by a loving gesture or an encouraging word. He can even use what some might consider to be antiquated, simple songs to reach someone. That's one thing that's wrong with people making old vs. new music an issue of right and wrong. Neither is right or wrong based on its age. It's what or Who is being celebrated in a song that matters.
The look in the man's eyes is almost haunting to me now. How is he dealing with his life without knowing the One who holds it, if he indeed doesn't know the Lord? How does his wife cope without the Rock to lean on, if she indeed doesn't lean? Will they make a different choice in the near future?
The second house was an older couple. I couldn't look in their eyes as we sang because I ended up "stuck" behind Pastor Rick. lol You know, I've never actually considered how tall our lead pastor is or isn't, until singing to his back last night. ha ha. Yep, he's tall. I guess growing up with a 6'6'' father all my life has caused me not to particularly notice how tall someone is. I'm immune to noticing. :) And, once again, we were packed in to the room, so there was no maneuvering around him. ;)
I think the remainder of our destinations were homes of older women--widows or single--who seemed happy to see us and either hummed or sang along with us. Actually, some were in a nursing home, and, as I was toward the back of the line, I was out in the hall and couldn't see the ladies. But there were some sweet residents in wheelchairs listening, along with some of the staff. The beeping sounds of medical equipment, the flashing lights beckoning nurses, and the muttering elderly people shuffling around added to the sense that we were in the presence of needy people, whether it be a need as simple to meet as a smile or a "Merry Christmas!" or as deep as the need for a surrender to the Savior of the World.
And it was a blast watching Little Mister try to keep up with the lyrics--especially those second verses. ;)
All Christmas caroling excursions aren't necessarily dramatic, but it is a sweet and easy way to coax a smile from the sternest of countenances (usually!) and to minister to the most tortured of souls. I'm sad I had so long forgotten, but I know I'll always remember those haunting eyes of a hurting man touched by Christmas.