what God has done
“What’s this?” she says, leaning into the doorway, that smile wide. She wears blue eyeshadow, like tiny snatches of bright sky calling her eyes up.
I explain that Riley and I are the proprietresses of the stocking stuffer room. “Mmmhmm,” Riley chirps agreeably and the ball on her Santa hat bobs, while I guesture toward the tables–$1; books 5/$1; items gently used, 2/$1. I ask her name–Shelly, tell her we feel honored to meet her.
Tears pool in her eyes. Just like that, because we want to know her, those big skies drip. Already, she’s our sister. Of course, this is not the main store, I tell her. I see her escort (another friend, another Santa hat) in the hallway waiting.
“Okay, I’ll be back,” Shelly says, still through that wide smile, tossing a finger toward the wall as she turns. “I saw ‘God’ on the wall, and I had to find out what this is all about.” Her arms cast wide circles, gathering up the room, Riley, me.
I glance toward the wall where she pointed, back to its black vinyl script: God’s got this. God did this. It’s our prayer wall, pockmarked from push pins, maybe a little sticky with tape, only clean just now for the store. On the one side–God’s got this, we entrust; on the other–God did this, we give thanks. Some of us have stood there with our hands flat pressed against those scrawled scraps, huddled, our arms locked like shields, deep in powerful conversation with God. I have a good idea it’s not just the words on the wall that drew her. There’s something about a prayer-soaked space.
This store–Pride for Parents, it’s called–exists as much for parents as their children. The parents come to shop for new, high quality Christmas gifts for their kids at garage sale style discounts, and during the experience, they receive the kinds of gifts parents especially need: dignity, hope, love. It’s one good thing for kids to receive charitable gifts and still another for their struggling parents to be able to select, purchase, and give their own gifts. Shelly has four boys. I can hear her swapping stories about them with my friend in the big store next door, and I glance again at those words she pointed to on the wall. God’s Got This. God did this. Even the walls tell the Truth. Those walls pretty much sum up Christmas. What we could never do on our own God did Himself, for love. Into the darkness broke the light of a brilliant star, and the Savior came to live right in the middle of our mess, and then nothing could deny the value of a soul any longer. The people living in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2).
We have gift wrapping tables set up down the hall, and when Shelly steps back through our door, one of my friends walks past with her purchases and calls over her shoulder, “Wanna come pick out your wrapping paper first? They’ll wrap these while you buy your stocking stuffers.” Shelly smiles at me and turns, indicating a pause with one finger.
“We’ll be right here,” I tell her, and when she walks back in, Riley and I both get up and start browsing with her, asking her questions about her boys and what they’re like. Shelly’s eyes brighten the more she speaks, sketching a bit of her heart, her boys–one suddenly older and tall (“Tell me about it,” I say to her, and we chuckle, suddenly just two moms in a store shopping for Christmas); another still so young, so active; another always with his nose in a book; another who loves action heroes. We puzzle over gadgets (“What does this do?”), equally confused, and laugh. We flip through the books, and she smiles sweetly, placing favorites in a bright red plastic basket she carries in her hands.
“Oh, look at this,” I say, picking up a small, thick chunk of a book called 3-minute Devotionals for Boys.
“Ohhh,” Shelly says, making a soft, almost mournful sound, again with tears gathering beneath bright-sky lids. She presses the book against her chest like it’s her own precious baby, both hands sandwiching the book over her heart. “I’ll take this one,” she whispers, so softly I can barely hear. Love has drowned out her voice. I know it’s not the book—not the paper, the glue, the print; it’s the relationship such a book represents. Shelly wants to give God to those four boys, wrapped up in a package under her tree. Because when you know what God’s done, when you really know, it floods; nothing can hold it back.
Shelly carefully unfolds the bills in her Magdalene hands, and then just stops and looks at me. “Y’all,” she says slowly, “this is such a blessing.” She closes her eyes and shakes her head, and for a moment, I wonder if she might just pray, standing at the checkout. “Mmm…what God has done,” she says slowly, swaying like it’s a song, and then opens her eyes and smiles again, that big, wide smile. Right then I know that Shelly’s rich, just not at all in the way most of us measure it. For her, this is so much more than dollar gifts in a red basket. Above the items gently used hangs a painting my friend did, a blazing cross splitting the darkness, withering a dozen ugly sins—selfishness, pride, envy. The words scroll into skeletal stems, like ash about to shatter. Shelly turns back to it, lifting her hand. “Is this?” She asks simply, letting the end of the question fade away right on her lips.
“No. Isn’t it cool, though?” I gesture toward the big store. “You know my friend you were talking to in the big store? She painted that for us.”
Shelly just gazes a moment, hand flat against her chest, just below her throat. “I like it,” she says finally. Her smile is gentle, strong, and I can see a thousand stories behind her eyes. I help her gather her bags, and we walk down to gift wrapping as easy as two friends, clucking over her fine choices. I can’t help it—there’s nothing to do now except to wrap my arms around her, tight. Then I walk back down that hallway to the big store and find my friend, the one who painted that painting, and I tell her about Shelly standing there wishing she could buy that blazing cross right off the wall.
“Well, give it to her,” friend says, already moving toward the door. “Is she still in gift wrapping? I mean, I can paint another one.” And so my friend lifts that canvas right off the wall and hand delivers it, and Shelly’s tears finally eclipse all control, rolling over her cheeks.
“This year…You have no idea,” Shelly says to my friend, lifting that canvas up when no more words will come, smiling that wide-lit smile, carried off by the true gift of Christmas.