I post this story every year. It's not about me, but to share a gift that was given to me on this day that I will never forget.
The story I'm about to tell you was saved on a computer that crashed recently. I took the hard drive to Office Depot, but the information on the drive was irretrievable. Go figure. So, I sit now at the keyboard to recall the events of the day.
Christmas Season 2008: The economic downturn hit our business extremely hard in the foothills of North Carolina. I was cutting corners every way that I knew how. If it wasn't absolutely necessary, it wasn't coming into the house. This Saturday morning was brisk and cold, the perfect day to pull out those holiday scarves and sweaters. It was grocery shopping and errand day—my scarf and holiday snowflake hat were as festive as it got. Just the basics on my list, except for the Christmas cards.
It seemed I was held up all morning—a delay in walking out the door everywhere I turned. I almost gave up and decided to do this another day. I finally made it into car with my list. Singing along with the radio Christmas tunes, I drove right past Walmart and Sam's Club, too. That's where I'd normally shop for cards, but for whatever reason that day, I thought, "Let's go to Hallmark and get our Christmas cards." Now, I couldn't afford Hallmark's Christmas boxed cards, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to look at all the pretty cards.
The store was filled with people in Christmas sweaters and hats and scarves, Christmas music was playing, and the tree inside was twinkling. "Well, this is festive," I thought. The boxed-card aisle was crammed with both people and cards. I would look at the cards and put them back on the rack, trying not to gasp at the prices. I placed them back with a nod of indifference that I hoped was telling others that it wasn't the price but the wrong verse that made me put it back.
I noticed a lady at the end of the aisle fumbling with one hand to turn over a box and look at the verse. Others were standing by her, and she continued fumbling with one box after the next. I worked my way closer to her just as she tried to retrieve one in the back and struggled. It appeared she only had use of one arm. I reached down and handed the box to her. In the 15 minutes or so that followed, I met a woman as colorful as any character in a Dr. Seuss book. I can't even type this years later without getting emotional. Lime green and yellow scarf, a multi-colored sweater hat, bright coat, bell earrings.
She told me, while smiling, that she had lost the use of her arm due to a brain tumor. I asked her if there was anything I could help her look for. She told me that she was looking for the most beautiful cards she could find with a Christian verse about joy. She wanted them to have gold on them though, not the silver that was so popular that year. I plowed through them as we talked. She told me that she didn't have much money, but it was the best Christmas season she'd ever had, and she wanted to find the best cards that she could to give to the special people in her life in gratitude for gifts she felt she received through the year. She told me that she had found two of the greatest loves of her life that year: Jesus and a man that loved her dearly. She told me she woke up with a smile every single morning. She had been in a loveless abusive marriage for years, but had been totally devastated nonetheless when he walked out on her after she had stuck by him through the mess.
That's when the headaches started. She passed them off as stress for a long time, and then her vision suffered. Tests concluded she had a very large tumor on her brain. They performed surgery, and she lost some vision in one eye and the use of her left arm. I told her how wonderful it was that they were able to get it out. We continued talking, and about this man who loves her dearly? She said she could see the love in his eyes every time he looked at her.
By this time, all of the music and colorful sweaters and business of the holiday crowd subsided into the past. I was enamored by her, and it seemed there wasn't another soul in this busy store. She talked of her kids, and then we got to our plans for Christmas. I told her mine and she told me hers. Same exuberance as before, no change in mood or expression, and then she says, "I may be with Jesus. The tumor has returned, and it is inoperable." My eyes filled with tears, and she stopped me and took me—a complete stranger—by the shoulders and turned me to her and said, "Don't be upset, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, and I will be happier yet when I am gone."
We found the cards she wanted. They were the most beautiful cards. There were three boxes left, but she said she only needed two. I went to put the other box back but couldn't do it. I too had some special people to share with. We hugged and walked out of that Hallmark card aisle in opposite directions, both knowing that we would never see each other again.
I adjusted my grocery list to be able to buy that box of cards. My heart is full when I think of her. She reminds me of some real Christmas gifts: be happy in the moment, share yourself with others, cherish those who love you, respect those who don't, forgive those who hurt you, and live purposefully.