It was the day after Christmas and a balmy 70 degrees in Tennessee. We decided to go for a walk through our neighborhood.
“Mommy, look! There’s treasure everywhere!” My three-year-old, Ellis, bent over to pick up a dead, decaying leaf to stuff in her overflowing treasure bag; the bag we took with us on nearly every walk since she took her first steps.
“Do you know what makes a treasure?” I asked her.
She looked up in curiosity.
“The person who finds it.”
We kept walking, hand in little hand. We passed our Asian neighbors’ home, a large pile of every-size shoe lay on their front porch.
“God puts treasures all around us, my girl. We just have to keep our eyes open to see them.”
She shoved a pine cone in her bag as I tried to memorize the curls in her hair, her daddy-shaped legs and the way she grasped my hand.
We continued our walk by Ainsley and Heath’s house, an elderly father and son who live together down the street.
Heath has cancer. “I can’t be near children,” he told me one day, serious-faced. He pulled up his collar as if to hide as Ellis and I approached him at his mailbox. “My immune system is weak.” We conversed awkwardly for a minute from 4-feet away until he quickly retreated from our germ-ridden selves.
It’s obvious at first glance that Heath and Ainsley enjoy gardening. Their house is enshrined among flowers and mulch and trees as if the house was secondary in the picture, an afterthought amidst the greenery.
As we neared their oasis, Ainsley was outside in his yard. “I’m taking it all in,” he said with a smile. “This weather is wonderful but the cold will be here soon.” And he plunged his shovel in the earth with his gloved hands digging for his riches.
The weather was quite different a few weeks before when the husband and I decided to take the girls to a walk-thru Bethlehem experience.
We stood, bundled against the cold, a one-hour wait until we made it through the doors to the warmth of the church.
We had debated about whether to forego the event in favor of a warm evening at home but decided for the benefit of our three-year-old, we would brave the line and the December elements.
“I feel as though I’ve failed Ellis this year,” I told my husband earlier that day. “With our hectic November, I wasn’t able to prepare our Advent calendar of events. And with the baby constantly needing my attention, I haven’t been able to really talk to her about the importance of Jesus in Christmas.”
We watched kids tumble down the hill by the church in all-out joy as we waited. Characters walked the line to encourage people to stick it out.
Behind us a group of 15 or so youth with a few chaperones were excitedly huddled. The teens spoke in an unrecognizable language and their jubilant laughter was hard to ignore. It was also hard to ignore their presence due to the excessive shoving, lack of personal space and obvious cultural differences when it came to queuing.
We were knocked about for awhile and one youth must have found it odd that I was wearing Adeleine in a baby carrier because she kept circling me and only me to catch a glimpse of the baby.
I decided I needed to meet these fascinating people or I’d go insane from the shoving. I made eye contact with the girl nearest me.
“Hello, what’s your name?” I asked.
“Sophie. What’s your name?”
We talked. I learned she had lived in Nashville for only a year. Before that she was in a refugee camp in Congo. She was born in the camp 14 years ago.
“Is your whole family with you here?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said with joy.
“Is all your family in Nashville?” she asked in kind.
“No,” I said. “My mother and brother and sisters live far away.” She seemed sad for me.
“How do you like Nashville?”
“It’s wonderful. There’s food here,” she said.
At this point most of the group was listening in on the conversation. I asked everyone if they had gone through the Bethlehem experience before and if they knew what it was about, to which a boy chimed in, “No. Do we get presents? Is there food?”
I then asked the group if they knew who Jesus was. “No,” all fifteen of them responded.
Then I told them who Jesus was and what he did and how he lives today, handing them the most precious treasure I possess. They listened, enthralled, and my daughter peered up at me, her eyes just visible under the warmth of her winter hat.
As we finally entered the room where the event took place, each of the refugee children bolted ecstatically to the stalls and streets, unable to contain themselves.
This. This was my early Christmas present. This interaction trumped any gift I’d received since the birth of my second daughter.
I thought about this interaction as Ellis and I walked along the sidewalk that post-Christmas evening. Sometimes we must dig for treasure, but sometimes it is thrust before us and all we have to do is acknowledge and grasp it.
My daughter and I meandered back to our home, finishing our walk in silence. She held my hand tightly, our minds engulfed in the treasures we found.