I work at a grocery store part-time and today, the weekend before Christmas, was BUSY. The till whines an incessant tune of:
BEEP – turkey – BEEP – stuffing – BEEP – cranberries – BEEP – flour – BEEP – butter – BEEP – sugar…
I smile at an endless stream of faces and peek into lives as they enter my world for a few short minutes. Today, people are weary. Weary with work and overwhelmed with crowds. It feels like a sea of people, in the same place but with no togetherness.
I see a little girl in polka dots at the checkout in front of me. She’s about three and her hair bounces as she asks for a sticker.
“Cass, do you have any stickers?” another cashier leans over.
“Sure.” I smile and raise my eyebrows at the hopeful youngster. She gleams, giddy as I pass her a small strip of Christmas stickers. I chuckle as that sweet girl attentively and delicately chooses the perfect design to decorate her chubby hand. A Mom hurries her, as we Moms too often do.
“There!” she proclaims it, bright eyed. “This one!” She’s beaming, elated. One sparkly present-shaped sticker displayed on a waving hand. I’m almost in tears watching the innocent joy before me. Pure, unadulterated happiness laid out for all to see.
“Say thank you,” pushes the Mom, oblivious to the child’s disposition. Mama barely cracks a smile.
Say thank you? My heart winces. This moment, this exquisite moment, IS the thank you. Her skipping toes and shining eyes, her exclaiming, “LOOK DADDY! Look! My sticker…” she adores it for a moment. “I’m gonna show Uncle Ron!” Her voice squeals, she’s over the moon.
Such a simple gift she has received, and yet, such genuine, humble bliss. Her eyes, her smile, her waving arms, they all scream thank you at the top of heaving lungs. Her joy is her gratitude and I can do nothing but let tears well at the beauty of it all.
I smile and whisper ‘you’re welcome’ and as always, I’m sure people wonder if I’m truly okay. Yes, I’m okay… just overwhelmed by a relentless God.
She never uttered the words ‘thank you’ but her thank you was written all over her joyful existance.
I smile and nod slow as I think of it later. Yes, that’s it. Her gratitude was in her joy and her joy was her gratitude and they are one in the same. The grateful have joy and the joyful have gratitude. I want both tonight – I lean full-tilt into the truth of that child-like moment and every other small, momentary blessing in my life.
Hours later when the sticker child has long gone, I scan groceries for a beautiful lady with wrinkles creasing her cheeks. She tells me she’s in her eighties and this crazy Christmas shopping is just too much for her now.
“Oh, my goodness, you can’t be eighty,” I smile sincerely. “You look amazing.” I mean it. She exudes a peaceful calm and sweetness in her eyes. I see it in how she moves. She chuckles and waves a wrinkled hand at me. “Oh, come on now.”
In that moment, it happens. A flash mob in the middle of the grocery store. Yes, like the ones I’ve seen on YouTube, only simpler, more quaint. But just as awe-inspiring. First, a single female voice rings out loud and clear, like a morning bell:
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”
And a chorus of perfectly harmonized voices chime in,
“Fa la la la la la la la la…
‘Tis the season to be jolly…”
My heart leaps inside my chest. People everywhere stop, eyes are searching for the source of this captivating sound. A group of unsuspecting carolers have formed a group at the front of a crowded store. Buggies halt, phones flash. The all-consuming madness which was Christmas shopping quiets. The tills stop beeping. The chatter shushes.
The voices ring out:
“See the blazing yule before us…” Me, I’m a puddle of mush again, welling up in my uniform. So much beauty today. Overwhelmed again, I hold back tears as I look around me at the faces, all aglow. The eighty-something friend in front of me smiles sweetly, her eyes creased. After a moment, she sighs and whispers:
“It’s so beautiful… it must be real.”
I laugh, grin, unsure what to say. The moment was humbling, captivating but her comment consumed my thoughts long after she had strolled away and the carolers had received their hearty applause.
It’s so beautiful, it must be real. Life-givers spreading joy to the wounded in the middle of the cultural chaos of shopping. Furrowed brows of middle aged men softening and teenagers stopping dead in their tracks. Staff talking about the beauty of the moment all day long to every soul who missed the blessed song.
A room full of busy people, all strangers, hault everything to breath in the beauty of those voices. The sheer bliss of surprise joy. Voices singing out peace and bringing in love in the most unlikely of places. For a few moments, we were all one. It must be real, this kind of beauty. This is what we were made for. It’s why we stop dead and are mesmorized. It’s why we talk about it for days after. It’s why grown men well up and children fall to their knees. Yes, this must be real.
Our souls gulp it down. It is holy and sacred and deep inside we all know it. Beauty in its purest form is always Truth.
The truth we all need – joy, thankfulness in this very moment. The Christ child.
Truth in the gratitude that comes from dwelling on the little blessings and being willing to jump up and down and wave our arms and whisper, “It’s REAL!” to strangers.
Our dwelling, our wide-eyed existence, our smiles, our wonder, our stopping… this is our gratitude for this moment and for this life. The gospel whispered to me today is this…
“He came so we may have life
and life to the fullest!”
Even in the grocery store. His love is all around us – in the sparkly sticker, polka dot girl moment, in the creased eyes of an old soul, in the ringing voices of willing gifts… He is here. I want to cling to that feeling deep in my soul. That feeling of awe when strangers are lost in a holy moment together. That feeling when children squeal silly joy for a sticker.
Believe in miracles this Christmas. They are all around us and they are waiting to be seen. Christ came so our hearts may be truly open to fully receive the gift of life to the fullest. Embrace it, friends. The sheer bliss of the simplest of gifts.
Every small joy – warm tea, chocolates, children up too late, mashed potatoes, presents under the tree, kids dressed like sheep – they all become grace and grace lived out in joy becomes gratitude.
Yes, these gifts become consuming elation if we open our hearts wide enough and become that child again. That child who pastes her gifts on her wide open hand and waves it around joyfully for all to see.