Shawnee, Oklahoma, a town/city of approximately 30,000 souls where I live, is a quiet place that changes as the Christmas season approaches. This town/city of 44 Christian churches becomes beautifully active in the spirit of the Christmas season. It seems that one in every three homeowners bathes their homes in a spectacular array in lights, ornaments, garland, silver and gold angels, and nativity scenes.
Through the decorations, Shawnee residents scurry through Wal-Mart, Dillards, Penny’s and the other local stores to find last minute gifts for their loved ones and friends. Many people seem pleasant, patient and cheerful in spite of the shopping frenzy. If there is a problem, shoppers say that it was so difficult to find anything suitable for the person or persons they were shopping for that say, “You mean so much to me,” “You are my favorite person,” “I regard you highly.”
As Christmas approach a few years prior to 2004, a teenage girl’s mother had died the month before. Because she had acted inappropriately in her foster home, her foster mother asked for her to be removed immediately. There was not another foster family who would take this young teenage lady. She had to be placed in Murrow Indian Childrens’ Home—a group home in Muskogee, Oklahoma some 85 miles away as a last resort. This teen had come from a divided, poorly educated, drug abusive family. After 10 ½ months of dealing with a multitude of behavioral problems and rebellious acts, her attitude changed when she met with members of the Saint Joseph Catholic Church community. She agreed to remain in school, work part-time and do whatever was asked of her within reason in the group home and at school. Her name was Lisa.
One of the tasks her employer gave Lisa was keeping track of Christmas presents as they arrived. Lisa kept magnificent records with a sense of responsibility. She was grateful to her church family as well to the group home’s staff and wanted to show her gratitude by giving them Christmas presents. Nothing she could buy with her small earned wages could compare with the gifts she daily recorded. It seemed that members of the church and Murrow staff already had everything.
In the quiet solitude of her shared bedroom at the group home a week before Christmas, Lisa concocted a marvelous idea. It was almost as if an angel sat with her face to face saying, “Yeah, Lisa! You’re right! A lot of people in Muskogee have considerably more than you. But there are many more that have far, far less. Pray, Lisa, pray to the Lord Your God for guidance. He will give you your answer.”
Lisa prayed and thought long and hard. On her day off, two days before Christmas, she went to the Dillards Department store in the Muskogee Shopping Mall. She walked slowly along the seemingly narrow store floor looking then rejecting items as she passed. She left the Dillards walking into a December chill of a late Muskogee afternoon and looked helplessly around. Finally, she went over to talk to a police officer on mall security duty.
“Ma’am. Excuse me please. Can you tell me where I can find a poor family? A family that I may spread the joys of Christmas and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ to.”
“Yes. I sure can respond to your request,” replied the police officer. Give me a minute while I call the office. Then I can drive you in the squad car to the place.”
The dusk suddenly gave way to complete and total darkness as Lisa entered the squad car with two bags of presents. “What sort of family would you be interested in helping?” asked the officer. “What is your name young lady?”
“Lisa. Lisa Mendoza. And I would like to help a family that has a couple of little kids who don’t have much. And what is your name, officer?”
“I have just the family for you! My name is Officer Gail Fagan. Then she responded with a smile. “Lisa it’s almost 7:00 PM. I called the office. My relief is on the way. As soon as that person arrives here we will be able to go. I think what you’re doing is an absolutely beautiful thing.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” responded Lisa in a shy manner.
Officer Fagan’s relief arrived within minutes. Soon they were off. They reached their destination in about fifteen minutes after leaving the mall. “Take as much time as you need, Lisa. I’ll wait for you.”
Outside of the house was old and dilapidated. Lisa stared up at the decaying building saturated with despair and hopelessness. She stepped up to the door and softly knocked on the door. The plaid curtains that covered the window of the door just enough to present the eye of a young woman.
“Who is it?” asked the voice behind the door.
“I’m Lisa. Lisa Mendoza. I’m here to give you and your children Christmas presents.
The door squeaked opened a blast of hot air flowed from the house into the cold winter night. A young woman not much older than Lisa opened the door presenting a smile of hope and thanksgiving.
“Please, Lisa, come on in out of the cold. My name is Teresa Hayes.”
“Miss Hayes Police Officer Fagan brought me here for me to give your family symbols of God’s unconditional love, peace, mercy and joy during the season Christmas. I give you these presents from people who have everything.”
After roughly 20 minutes visiting with Teresa, Lisa returned to Officer Fagan’s squad car who returned her to the group home. When Christmas Day arrived, Lisa placed seven cards under the staff Christmas tree in the group home office. When each staff member opened their gift card, they read the following statement:
“I tried to do kindness and love in your name. I gave Teresa Hayes and her two girls things they needed. My husband and their father died for our country fighting for or freedom and the freedom of the Iraqi people. They lost their home in a Thanksgiving Day fire to make matters worse. These things I did in your place. This card and story is my Christmas presents for you!”
How do I happed to know this event? I know about this because Lisa was that young teenager who was placed in that group home under stressful conditions. Having been touched by the compassion, mercy, suffering and unconditional love of God, Lisa so richly blessed a suffering family whom she did not know. She sacrificed what little she earned, did without for herself and gave to the hurting. Lisa offered the Murrow staff something of far greater value: an act of kindness and unconditional love carried out in the name of the staff—a gift of the heart!